The Difference between a Leader and a Demagogue

Posted on: January 26th, 2012 by Hayim Herring
SJ2638 : Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Rod Trevaskus

© Copyright Rod Trevaskus and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License.

Imagine two people in a room, sitting in chairs facing one another. One wall of the room is painted black and has no windows. The opposite wall is painted yellow, has multicolored artwork hanging from it and several windows. The two people who are sitting opposite one another are asked to describe the room. The first person proceeds to describe a brightly painted room, with colorful artwork and a view to the outside through several windows. The second person is able to describe the room in three words, “dark without windows.” They each look at each other with a puzzled look. Are they both sitting in the same room? Now, they are asked to switch chairs, and describe the room. By changing perspectives, they now understand what the other had just described.

Leadership is the ability to speak passionately to your perspective while understanding the view of those who differ with you. Demagoguery is self-righteously proclaiming the correctness of your view, while painting the other’s view as wrong, dangerous and destructive. Leaders focus on areas of agreement with the opposition, while demagogues are interested in widening the gap.

A few days ago, my son, Avi, addressed this issue in eJewish Philanthropy (and yes, I’m proud of him!) While the context was Israel, the idea of temporarily changing perspectives to increase understanding is relevant to all people at all times. We may still disagree with our opponents after we do so. But we will at least remember that we’re in the same room.

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