Monthly Archives: September 2009

Social Leadership – selfish or selfless?

Captain’s Blog

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It’s been a week of noticing other people’s generosity, in some unexpected places.  My travelling has been significantly car-based recently, trying to get across country and to some out-of-the-way places.  This means I tune to radio stations that provide reliable traffic news and what’s common to all of these stations is the initial source of the information is constant: it’s the listeners reporting road conditions.  Yes, the traffic presenter checks in with the police to verify the information but it’s ‘Gemma’s Dad’ or ‘Roadrunner’ who phone in to report events up and down the country.

I’m very grateful to them, and I’m curious to know what prompts them to do this – seemingly selfless act of kindness.  On the one hand, they may get a name check, or a word of thanks -but if you’re one driver in a hundred reporting the same hold-up – you’re chances of a mention diminish.  On the other hand, perhaps they do it because, up there in the cab of their lorry, looking across a sea of stationary traffic, they are reaching out to their fellow drivers and sharing a moment of misery, common to them all.

We’d like to think that these impulses are purely self-less; that the opportunity to benefit others is thanks enough. Yet I believe that, each time we reach out to support others, we’re getting something back.  We’re getting feedback, just hearing about ‘my’ traffic jam on the radio provides a sense of being part of something bigger.  We’re also getting by giving – that sense that, if you provide the information in this part of the country today, tomorrow someone else will do ‘their bit’.

The issue isn’t effort here, feedback there; rather it’s the language we use to describe it. To be ‘selfish’ in my childhood was seen as something wrong, and ‘selfless’ had connotations of sacrifice, duty and piety.  My recommendation is – have your cake and eat it too – be generous with your information and share what you know, and indulge in the joy of the thanks and satisfaction from it.

I’m defining this flow of give and take amongst perfect strangers as ‘social leadership’ – where something is given as a ‘random act of kindness’, not for financial or other gain – other than an inner glow of satisfaction or a feeling of belonging.

It’s a perfect time to join in this wave of generosity as the 21st September has been designated as the UN’s ‘International Day of Peace’.  I’m delighted to hear that in some parts of the UK it’s been extended to a whole week of peace-focused activities engaging people across the political spectrum and spanning generations.  I was particularly taken by the invitation to ‘light a candle for peace’ by one of the event organisers, Lin Kear, who suggests we put a lit candle in the window with our message for peace.  ( )


I like the idea that I can focus on my own meaning of ‘peace’ as there are many definitions or things we are told to believe.  My own wish for peace is both personal – that feeling of contentment when time is being well spent – and I’d like to see peace between neighbours – whether down our street or between countries.  Selfish or self-less?  Feeling at peace benefits both me and the people I interact with; getting on with the neighbours is another win-win.  So I’d add another suggestion to Ms Kear’s – when you light your candle and add your message of peace, have a piece of cake – and eat it too.

A change of heart changes everything