“Followers of God”
Anecdotally it seems that 21st century society is obsessed with “leadership.” Students are encouraged to be leaders, we are raising a generation of leaders, and leadership is considered a virtue up there with honesty and hard work.
This sentiment has always struck me as being a little Ponzi-scheme-ish. Quite simply, by definition not everybody can be a leader, and emphasizing leadership not so implicitly degrades the followers, when in actuality the leaders are nothing without the followers. If anything, I think there are too many people trying to be leaders, and that aspiring to be a leader is not necessarily a virtue, with a surplus of people wanting to be leaders without a willingness to be a follower. The phrase “overproduction of elites” comes to mind (I got the term from Ross Douthat at the NY Times, but I’m not sure if it’s original to him). We have raised a generation or two that they will all be presidents, A-list actors, public intellectuals, great civil rights leaders, and yes, General Authorities, and not with the idea that having a typical 9-5 job, family life, and secretarial calling is a fulfilling and worthy existence. As a result, we’re left with a bunch of disgruntled middle agers who didn’t “make it” because the number of slots available is drastically less than the number of people aspiring for them.
(As an aside, a common critique of this point is that that is all well, but you probably want *your* kids to be leaders, so it’s a little disingenuous to argue that there should be fewer aspiring leaders. Except at this point there is such a surplus of people with “soft skills” with grandiose visions of the future who want to lead, and such a shortage of people who are reliably and consistently good at a needed, hard skill, that the latter is a better route to a more comfortable upper middle-class existence for my children than the former, and that’s our own Cranney family educational philosophy, FWIW).
What does “overproduction of elites” look like in the Latter-day Saint context? I suspect we have more than enough aspiring Future General Authorities of America among the 20-somethings (I had, like, five in my high school alone); there’s not exactly a dearth of those types. I don’t have some inside scoop on the frequency of this, but another manifestation would be people who would be willing to serve in a glamorous role but not the roles with higher work-to-glamour ratio (which, if I had to rank order them, would go something like this: ward clerk, seminary teacher, youth leader, executive secretary, and EQ presidency). On an individual level, I’m familiar with cases of people in the running for fairly prestigious (religiously/socioculturally speaking) teaching positions at Church schools who, once they were passed over, left the Church. On a more subtle level, it might be manifested in members simply being less energized about their more typical callings, about organizing youth activities and balancing the tithing (okay, that last one was very hard for me to get spiritually enthusiastic about) than they would be speaking a stake conference, presiding over a disciplinary council, or acting as a Judge in Israel. And yes, some of this wound is self-inflicted by our rhetoric in the Church, but still, whether in our careers, family, or Church callings, the quicker we become satisfied with the equivalent of the typical 9-5 the happier we’ll be.