Over the next several chapters of the first book of Samuel, the Israelites ask for a king, Saul is selected, and Samuel tells them how evil a thing it was for them to ask for a king. Several different stories about these events are bundled together here, but the general theme is that the people think they will be better off with a leader. They have a good reason to want some kind of change: after Joshua's less-than-total invasion of Canaan and the decreasing effectiveness of local "judges", Israelite society had degenerated into people chasing after personal satisfaction without regard for anyone else. They wanted a king to bring order and justice to their society, because they weren't willing to do it for themselves.
We are not so far off from the ancient Israelites in this respect. We often abdicate personal responsibility to authority figures. We like to be able to claim that we are "just following orders" when we honestly know that what we are doing is out of alignment with our most noble selves. We like it when some loud and angry person on a soapbox gives us permission to feel righteous indignation, even when there is nothing righteous about it. We like having someone else to blame, and we don't like making decisions if personal risk is involved. As long as we have a chain of command, we have a place to point when something goes awry. Especially when what we know is right seems uncomfortable or inconvenient to us personally, we would almost rather listen to anyone else than our inner selves, whether it be a religious leader, a political leader, someone in a position of power in our workplace, or some other voice of authority.
Leadership is not a bad thing, however. There are leaders who organize people into incredible acts of service and creativity. It isn't an evil thing to have a leader over a country or a company or an organization. Samuel's rebuke of the Israelites was about something other than organizational structure. He was pointing out to them that they already knew what they needed to know in order to create the society they claimed to want. A leader can't change our willingness to live based on what we already know. If the Israelites were really looking to sharpen their capacity for living out the truth they already knew, they could have done that without a king.
When people are willing to live in accordance with their most noble selves, a leader can be of service by reminding people what they already know and encouraging people to take personal responsibility for their actions and beliefs. When a leader is more interested in personal gain or personal power, or exclusively represents the interests of people who are not living in alignment with their most noble selves, that leader can not ultimately usher in the kind of reality we most want, whether that be in our places of work, our personal lives, our nation, or our world. We have the responsibility to create the lives we most want, based on our deep awareness of truth, beauty, and creativity that glimmers beneath the fears and lies we have accumulated.
We can't rationally expect leaders to fix things we have collectively broken, and we can't create the kind of world in which we can thrive by abdicating our personal responsibility to someone up a chain of command. Leaders are valuable to us when they empower us to peel back the irrational fears that keep us from connecting with our deepest selves. Leaders are valuable when they remind us of our personal role in our lives. The responsibility is ours to create a world in which everyone has what they need and no one has a legitimate reason for fear. We do not need a king, or a president, or a CEO, to tell us how to live or to take responsibility for our decisions.
Our lives -- our world -- our society -- our relationships -- are ours to nurture or destroy. We don't need an authority figure to bear the weight of responsibility for us. We need connection with our deepest selves and connection with one another so that we can live out our authentic personal responsibility in the most meaningful way possible.