Through the Looking Glass with Kindness

The Power of One is a novel by Australian author Bryce Courtenay, first published in 1989. Set in South Africa during the 1930s and 40s, it tells the story of an English-speaking South African boy named Peekay. My impressions as I slowly ambled through the book some 20 years ago, included exquisite pleasure with the delicious characters that Courtenay animated across the pages, the extreme challenges that Peekay endured multiple times throughout his life, and the unlimited adventures that one life can afford. I often return to the lessons this book offers on how we must discover our own power again and again to stand up—sometimes alone—and forge our own path, listening ever-so-closely to the voice that speaks only to us.

It is hard enough to do this as an individual. How do we nurture this power of one in our families, communities, or teams? How do we make room for each one’s own destiny while maintaining a sense of harmony and mutual support for the whole? Leaders/Parents who are ethical and wise, recognize that the cared for, well developed individual is the truest reflection of the family’s or community’s worth. Having wide viewpoints and focused intentions are an important part of leading or overseeing anything. It is also essential to see “the individual,” the unique qualities and patterns of awareness that they reflect, perhaps solely. Guides and leaders need to search for the nuances of each individual that bring depth, unity, candor and as importantly, aggression or shame. Once discovered, leaders have the opportunity, if not the duty, to shape the individual further by educating and modeling the values the team or family embraces.

This cannot be accomplished by one leader/parent alone. With modeling and support, it develops into a group endeavor and the team/family learns how to stay tuned into the whole as well as take responsibility for one’s own needs along a specific path. Then what emerges is the individual and team values. If, for example, one of the values is mutual respect, the parents/leaders must behave respectfully with everyone. This means communication is delivered clearly, either directly or along dependable lines of communication, and deep core listening occurs at every level. If one person in the group declares that their ideas are not being heard, or they are not being given an opportunity to express their opinion, it is essential that this be received openly and responded to quickly.

Independent thought is something parents rely on their team/family to bring to the table. In fact, it’s a fundamental aspect of the power of one. If people don’t feel heard, they become less motivated to share their good ideas. It is the expression of everyone’s good ideas that makes for great communities. If members are being listened to, they are much more likely to listen to one another and those outside the group as well.

Still using the example of mutual respect, the wise leader/parent invites individuals to have the courage to remain separate, to think through the truth without being beguiled by convention or the plausible arguments of those in authority. The power of one is the power to believe in oneself—not to be unduly shaped and directed by the needs of others. Rather, to use this belief in self to unite with others and collectively and genuinely contribute to the greater whole.


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