Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dull Claws and Soft Paws

The changing of the guard is occurring right before our eyes. It’s not as though change was not underway until this moment but it has clearly accelerated and it cannot be ignored.

The old lions are tired. Most are no longer able to compete in today’s jungle. Prey is increasingly scarce and technology is altering the terrain. And as is the case with all things dying, an element of sadness accompanies their exit. These once roaring beasts are barely capable of an occasional snarl and exhibit feeble behavior in their desperate struggle to hang onto power.

The cubs romp restlessly on the sideline showing respect to the dying breed. But this respect could very well spell the doom of the cubs themselves. They, however, are lost without leadership. They are the young lions who themselves exist at the mercy of packs of hyenas. They lack the courage to seize leadership, are without the stature to negotiate a transition and are held at bay by old lions blindly grasping for a last bone to nibble. It is heart breaking and it has surely broken our spirit.

The irony is that the old lions were themselves a feisty lot that challenged the status quo and agitated for progress and change. They created operational modalities and borrowed tactics from revolutionary thinkers. They were both brash and bold. Well, at least enough of them fit these descriptions to fashion movements that pushed reform. Having done that they latched onto a strained concept of power, which in reality was a surrender to process and trappings. They basked in psychic rays and supped on psychic income. It was a collective orgasm of vanity and perceived power that lasted so long that it has nearly rendered us impotent.

There was some feast, but there was mostly roar. And little if anything was brought home to the pride. The cubs were left starving to fend for themselves. They are still hungry. The old lions did not teach them how to hunt and have grown too weak to hunt for them. The vultures and hyenas are circling and prowling and decision-making time has arrived.

The choice is fight or die. It has been the choice of mankind since time. Whether it is fighting disease, crime, ignorance, poverty or corruption, sooner or later we must decide to fight or die. The old lions have not prepared us to fight well. We have witnessed them reaching out with a half-hearted slap now and again but some have been so comfortable for so long as absolute accommodationists that their claws have dulled and their paws have grown soft. The hunt is a long lost concept. They prefer the confinement of the zoo where meals are regular with no elusive prey to pursue. Many are simply holding on and marking time.

We went to celebrate the birthday of an old lion on Saturday past. He is 93 years old. And as we looked at his body taking on the inevitabilities of long life we remembered prowling the legal jungles with him more than 25 years ago. His swift agile attacks and defensive maneuvers were the stuff of legends. His claws were sharp and sure and his paws thundered when they hit the ground. He defended the greater pride and cut a path that all eager cubs could follow to success. He taught us to be fearless hunters. He taught us to protect the pride with our words and our deeds.

Raymond A. Brown was sitting there, 27 years later at 93 years old. The smile was just as infectious, the memory superb, the acidity just as raw and the profanity still eloquent. But above all, the towering intellect and courage were still in tact. This old lion could still roar. His bite remains lethal and the cutting slap of his still sharp claws is hampered only by the felony that nature has visited upon the quickness of his step. Yet there is no real lion that we know who would not on this day accompany him into battle. He still fights as all old lions should but he has taught so many cubs to protect the pride that he need not lead the charge any longer. He takes comfort in those he has prepared. He is a model for the old lions of politics. And he is also an exception. There will always be a few who perform extraordinarily well beyond their prime. But this should be a function of superior performance—not seniority. There is nothing wrong with staying as long as you can but it is always costly to stay beyond your time.

In generational terms, it is time for us old lions of politics to become teachers and the guardians of legacy. We should phase out willingly and refrain from shredding the future in a futile attempt to cling to what once was. Things are changing fast…moving forward. But we are holding back our cubs. And in so doing we are limiting their opportunities, crippling their efforts, dimming their potential and threatening our own survival.

Why don’t we just agree to teach the cubs everything we know about the hunt and take up our stations at the edge of the poli-jungle and roar with delight as we coach and watch them romp to success? It would be intelligent. It’s the lesson that we learn from what Ray Brown did with his pride.

Too often the old lions are not willing to acknowledge the end of their reign and the young lions turn on them out of necessity. It is completely legitimate to defend oneself against ineffective and/or corrupt leadership that threatens the survival of the pride. Particularly when the old lions have dull claws and soft paws.

May 7, 2008


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