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Iran: Leading from the Grassroots

June 18, 2009

The recent events in Iran following the results of the national election have certainly spurred debate around the world. And with the situation continuing to escalate with more protests in Iran and internationally, a movement appears to be in the process of being born. But one aspect that has been largely ignored addressed by the commentators and ‘experts’ on television, radio, newspaper, and the Internet is that of leadership. While watching the censored media coverage emerge from Iran, I have been reading Peter Block’s new book “Community: The Structure of belonging.” (Block is a respected author of such books as “Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest”).

In a section entitled Romanticizing Leadership, Block provides stunningly insightful observations on citizen empowerment that are very relevant to not just what is occurring in Iran but also other countries – Canada, the United States, the UK, etc. He speaks to society’s habit of dependency and its willingness to accept the culture of ‘retribution,’ which enables the heroic leadership mindset: leaders must be strong and dominant, implying autocratic behaviour. This creates the conditions for what Block calls a ‘patriarchal agenda,’ in which citizens are limited in the type of future they wish to create for their communities.

When one buys into this form of top-down, repressive leadership, citizens disempower themselves by embracing dependency from the heroic leader. It was Harrison Owen, who has studied Native culture extensively in the U.S., who said: “If I empower you, you are within my power.” People can only empower themselves.

People often become engaged in their community when they are angry over an issue. Block points to the need for a much needed shift in how citizens come together to effect transformational change. We witnessed raw power in the U.S. and the U.K. when many Americans could no longer stomach watching media reports of banking CEOs receiving huge bonuses. The backlash was swift and, in some cases, violent. But this is not the community shift of which Block speaks.

The people of Iran have been rallying and speaking out against what many see as illegitimate election results. They wish to have a voice and to be heard – and to be part of creating a shared future in which autocratic leadership is absent. Iranians, following the belief of Harrison Owen, are empowering themselves.


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