Being Good vs Being Great


We Sufis tend to be such gypsies… Of course, many of us are aging hippies who believed in the “geographical cure” prevalent in the late 60s through the 80s, so a good many of us have run around the world for many years looking for our hearts’ desires, while continuing to be and build a loosely structured community, at least on paper and in our hearts. Thus, I have friends all over the world, and now that we can keep in touch via email, we tend to carry on conversations about our organization and the beliefs and ethics that underlie it, as we watch them grow and unfold. I believe this is true of most so-called religious bodies, and it is certainly true of the “New Age” communities that have grown up during these years, Buddhists, Sufis, Yogis, and all such Eastern ideologies. Exposes of scandalous behavior have historically taken awhile to reach the public, but it is not so easy as it once was to keep unethical behavior secret, and some of us marvel at the extremely bad behavior of those of us who are supposed to cherish and live by high ideals. A Canadian Sufi friend of mine and I have often spoken of this, and one of the themes that predominates our conversations is the behavior of those of us who are supposed to be among the greatest of our leaders. In other words, so often it seems to be the leaders, rather than the followers who allow the power they hold to encourage them to behave badly. Many of us have heard the stories of sexual abuse of children in “spiritual” schools, for instance, or the mismanagement of finances for personal gain. Worst of all, I often note that the followers themselves are willing to turn a blind eye to this kind of behavior, rather than calling for their leaders to take responsibility for the trust that has been given them.

Last night, our family went to see the latest “Thor” movie (this is what happens when you raise a child late in life: I am an expert in all things Harry Potter and the various superhero films that seem to shape the current worldview of our youth). Sometimes, I actually find these films worthwhile (well, I usually like the books better), and last night, I was moved by something Thor said to his father Odin at the end of the story, when he was telling him that he didn’t want to take his place as King of Asgard and protector of the Nine Realms. He said that he was willing to be a protector of their worlds, but that he had realized that there was something about being a great leader that tended to twist and profane the ideals of said leader. “I would rather be a good man than a great king,” he said. This struck me as a profound statement, as I have often noticed that it is the followers of great teachers who tend to move through life doing their best and sort of keeping their heads down, while the great leaders so often are guilty of, sometimes–often–scandalous behavior. What does this say about those of us who are unwilling to hold the leaders we put into power responsible for the trust we invest in them? Are we lazy, cowardly…or idealistic, holding firm to our ideals against often blatant evidence to the contrary?

The fall of Napoleon may be dated from the day that he abandoned Josephine. With the breaking of the ideal, the whole life cracks and dissolves. As soon as a man begins to think, ‘I have done wrong by such and such a person, or such and such a principle’, he ceases to be a king within, and cannot be a king without. This does not mean to say that the good succeed in life and that the evil fail, but rather that man only progresses through sincerity in his ideals. For the good of each man is indeed peculiar to himself. –Inayat Khan