What is the formula for success? How do we get to the top? In modern day societies worldwide, it feels like power and competition are the only things that matter. Whatever happened to “love makes the world go ’round”? In such an ambitious — even aggressive — environment nowadays, it seems that only the loud and the tough succeed, regardless of their other qualities. Ever since grade school, certain “popular” kids rise up to take charge and others get stepped on. But why is it that being “cool” so often entails passing off our emotions and caring less? This lofty rebel image has been glamourized for decades now in films and television. The sensitive kids, the ones who care too much about school, or about books, are deemed “nerds,” and by extension, inferior and weak. This is the group that is mocked on every TV show and every pop culture movie featuring teenagers. This is the group that little kids dread falling into when they grow up. This is the group that is too thin-skinned to experience the world and step outside the box. As a result, these “geeky” ones who feel too much, the ones who care, are often overlooked, as the bossiest rise to power. (John Green discusses the joy of enthusiasm that so many lack.)
Sensitivity is often associated with weakness in our world, as though one cannot be assertiveness, strong, and feel at the same time. It’s as if real emotions can only be reserved for the most significant life changes, like at funerals or weddings. Otherwise, “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.” (Frozen). People seem to think that intelligence and emotion have an inverse relationship. They really don’t. The brain and the heart aren’t separate entities; they work together, in balance. The problem is that the importance of the mind is so emphasized now and compassion is so overlooked. In the elementary afterschool program that I work at, we give out badges for kindness, and it is sad how few of them are awarded (for the record, this is not a badge that I myself will ever be worthy of). It is unfortunate that a special recognition of kindness is necessary at all, and that especially few boys have ever gotten it.
Suppressing our feelings all the time is pretty much the root of what is wrong in our world. “A 2010 University of Michigan study shows that college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago, with much of the drop having occurred since 2000. (The study’s authors speculate that the decline in empathy is related to the prevalence of social media, reality TV, and “hyper-competitiveness.”)” (Susan Cain, Quiet)
Genuine kindness is so undervalued now, especially in leaders. The tough guise makes it so hard to reach out without being creepy or intrusive. Everyone is expected to deal with their problems alone, to sort all their messes out independently and put on a composed face for the world. Society expects an unwavering mask that makes it impossible for outsiders to know how much an individual really goes through. (“One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.” -Ron Weasley). As social beings who live in tight communities, we have to share not only milestones, but everyday stresses and trivial excitement as well. It is in valuing these little things that the best leaders are born.
My father once told me that I am a much more honest person than my brother; while his tone was respectful and true, it was also pitying and wistful, as though he knew my future wouldn’t be as easy. When people rise to the top, it is so hard to not be corrupted by greed and arrogance along the way. That is why the greatest leaders, like Mandela and Gandhi, are so special. They are rare because they moved mountains with pure hearts, wisdom, and genuine love for all. We need more leaders like them. With all the weight we place now on strength and intelligence in such competitive settings, it is easy to breed bossiness instead of true leadership.
These terms are so far from synonymous and yet, they are being used interchangeably because it’s almost impossible to be kind-hearted, honest, and a strong, respected leader anymore. The amount of competition has rigged it so that success requires being selfish, stepping on others to climb the ladder. In encouraging this kind of ruthless approach, we are only stepping further and further away from any hope of world peace.
It’s time to start reaching out. Look to the less fortunate. Be passionate, and take it all in, then give back. It is in feelings — of concern, of guilt, of love — that a greater world lies.