Trailblazers, ferrymen and shepherds: the leaders SA needs

It is ironic that the president of a country that has to deal with devastating floods and loss of lives is more focused on the corruption, looting and stealing of disaster funding allocated to the province of KwaZulu-Natal than the homeless, waterless and hungry victims of the flood. It is an indictment of the country of Madiba to see how far into the depths of greed and moral degradation some of our leaders and public servants have sunk.

Among the enormous challenges we have to endure are a vengeful virus, load-shedding, nondelivery, nonperformance, unethical leaders shod in Gucci shoes and the indolent stupor of some greedy leaders who have been allowed to erode our national psyche. It is more than any nation can withstand. We have to do something to change the behaviour of thieves, thugs and goons who populate our political system. 

We must heed the call to conscious, ethical leadership from the soul-searing conversations of the Conscious Leadership and Ethics Summit on 18 May in Johannesburg. The world’s most brilliant minds and conscious thinkers will there provide a brave intolerance for the nightmares that visit us, such as the trickery and thievery of some of our leaders and their underlings. 

It is also an opportunity for leadership to evaluate and deepen their understanding of power, purpose and service and create a more conscious and humane socioeconomic and political environment. The time has come for leaders who hold the future of a nation or company in their hands to get to grips with conscious, ethical leadership. Failing this, all attempts to unify and rebuild a country that was once a rainbowed global beacon will fail. 

A message from the Dalai Lama to the participants at the summit references the “basic human need for kindness, compassion and care”. He says: “It is natural to be driven by self-interest, which is necessary to survive. But we need a wise self-interest that is generous and cooperative, taking others’ interests into account. When leaders have a genuine sense of concern for others, there’s no room for bullying or exploitation. Instead they can be honest, truthful and transparent. 

“There are three styles of compassionate leadership,” His Holiness continues. “The trailblazer, who leads from the front, takes the risks and sets an example; the ferryman, who accompanies those in his care and shares the ups and downs of the crossing; and the shepherd, who sees every one of his flock in before him. Crucially, these three styles of leadership have in common an all-encompassing concern of those they lead.” 

The multibillion-dollar question is, do you recognise any one of these leadership styles in the government of the day? What kind of leader is President Cyril Ramaphosa? Does he display the leadership traits the Dalai Lama mentions?

The benevolent paternalism of some of our dirt-covered politicians who stand on platforms telling themselves that everything they do, they do in the name of greater good, is farcical and mindless. Their paralytic inaction and the inexplicable lack of accountability, an example of which is the Digital Vibes debacle and the former minister of health getting off unscathed in parliament, should enrage us, but most of us are immune and helpless against blatant mismanagement and crippling corruption. We have sunken into a pool of indifference, despair and inaction. 

I am hoping that those conscious leaders at the summit will be galvanised to act and awaken the hero within themselves. This is not the domain of the feeble-minded, hippies or new-age flakes, as is the perception in most boardrooms, but rather of those who are energised with passion, purpose, productivity and vision for a new way of being and doing business. 

Those within the conscious leadership ecosystem soon realise that the more they awaken to consciousness, the more powerful, courageous and responsible they become. Conscious leaders have a penetrating insight into suffering. They take on the responsibility to do the right thing despite the odds. 

The philosopher Seneca said, “A hungry people listens not to reason, nor cares for justice, nor is bent by any prayer.” 

This holds as true today as it did centuries ago. We are a hungry people despite our natural resources. Rolling protests by the disgruntled and destitute becoming commonplace is just the beginning. 

However, it is not too late for the leader of this country to display courage and change the insidious malaise of corruption and greed that is so rampant in his government. All he needs to do is ask: What kind of leader am I and what is the legacy that I would like to leave? 

Ramaphosa needs to wake up and see where we are headed if he does not act. The summit will compile report to the president to give him and his executives the tools to embed conscious, ethical behaviour and place the welfare of the people of this country first. Does he have the courage and insight to embrace it, let alone read the report?

How we became slaves to our own technology

It is possible that every generation throughout history feels as though the difficulties of their time are greater and more intense than those of any previous era. 

From the struggles of empires to world wars to our current predicament, the individual and shared sentiment of “humanity is sitting on the precipice of survival and impending doom” appears to recur. 

Throughout the ages, little has changed, as unjust corporate and businesses squeeze citizens of life, unconscious governments and tyrannical global leaders play out war games with malevolent intent, and then there’s Mother Nature with her frequent reminders of how insignificant we are, despite our ill-earned arrogance. 

Once again, we find ourselves on a precipice, battling our own advances as a society and a species, but for the first time in our history we have some shared definitions of reality, enabled through aggrandised technological developments.

The sentience of humans is manifesting differently from the other creatures on Earth, although the origins of human sentience, awareness and perception have yet to be agreed upon. These vary from the “stoned ape theory” of Homo sapiens’ predecessors eating psychedelic mushrooms to awaken a consciousness within to a mysterious God or gods who bestowed human beings with their unique abilities. 

For centuries scientists, philosophers and sages have asked questions about what consciousness itself is; our history abounds with stories of people who have breached the finite perception of the physical senses and tasted realities beyond them, along with tales of deities, demons and angels. 

As humans, it is our ability to communicate and use tools that allows us to leverage our unique visions into complex action. We have created skyscrapers and metal carriages that fly across oceans, yet the nature of our consciousness still remains unknown. The observer effect experiment showed that the process of observing a particle changes the way the particle behaves, suggesting that awareness itself is an independent aspect of nature. 

It is only recently that science has been able to begin understanding a fraction of the workings of human consciousness, so the evolution of our tools may exceed our ability to maintain agency over their consequences.

A new wave of brain-interference technology has begun to emerge, promising not only to interrupt brain functions, but also filter our perceptions of the reality we create. Recently, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was able to implant a device in the brain of a 37-year-old paralysed man with the ability to translate his mental thoughts of handwriting into real-time text. Elon Musk’s Neuralink company also made headlines by claiming that a monkey was able to play the video game Pong through an implanted  brain-chip device. 

This approach is often driven by callous business interests: 15 of 23 monkeys died  during the experiments, yet Musk’s business denied any cruelty to animals. 

The day when you can open your car door with your Bluetooth brain-chip may not be far off, but there are still valid concerns about allowing physically invasive technology to mediate our worldview, when profit motives are prioritised far above animals — and humans. 

The pharmaceutical industry also has aspirations to profit from the consciousness industry. Fresh off its record-breaking profits from an opioid-marketing drive that left millions afflicted by addiction, the industry posted even better financial results through its Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, and now has its sights set on altering and inducing states of consciousness and perception with psychedelic drug treatment.

As trust in institutions declines globally, the re-engineering of the human psyche and accessing its unconscious aspects may be spearheaded by an industry with a proven track record of self-interest. 

Our complex, organic shared understanding of reality is already being heavily influenced by digitisation and the metaverse, from Cambridge Analytica and the social-engineering campaigns that skewed voter perception during the Brexit campaign, to the “burying” of Hunter Biden’s laptop

We now have the phenomenon known as “social displacement”; people would rather spend more time on social media sites than be face-to-face with humans. The metaverse promises to immerse us in a digital reality, curating information, product branding and offerings, education and other monetisable worldviews, substituting one’s experience of life for a fabricated existence online. 

Once again, the keys to perception of our “reality” are being handed to an industry with a record of choosing self-serving financial interests over the health and wellbeing of  citizens. 

The fourth industrial revolution seems hellbent on hacking the perceived reality of humans and installing a monetised algorithm under the guise of a more pleasurable user experience. For some, perhaps the shift towards artificial intelligence making decisions for you could be the right choice. But how would you even know if it were your choice? 

Consciousness itself is not a product of the brain, but a fundamental element of nature and, as our generation moves towards integration with technology, the hacking of the human consciousness is being driven without sufficient understanding of what consciousness itself is. As we marvel at the technology that regulates our lives — a technology permeated with political, religious and individual ideologies — we once again stand on a precipice as humanity. We’re on the verge between becoming digital iterations of ourselves and existing as we are in nature, and at the edge of hacking the human from the external and the eternal.