I’ve thought about the word “leadership” a lot since I’ve started attending CMC. I’ve written articles on the Forum that have referenced leadership, probing the question of what it means to be a leader at this school. During my summers at home and two semesters abroad, I’ve met students from different universities and small colleges around the country who have reinforced my belief that there is, whatever it may be, something unique about the CMC personality.
So what does leadership mean, specifically, in the CMC mold?
In the real world, leadership can really mean lots of different things. No two leaders do the same thing, both in the literal sense (a judge judges and a manager manages), but also in the abstract: one leader runs the world while another means to change it
As a school set on attracting would-be leaders to its campus, CMC ought to embrace the many faces of leadership, and dedicate its time to attracting and training leaders set on doing different things, and who have different goals.
However, our definition of leadership is currently too narrow. CMC’s under-emphasis on the arts and humanities is one tell-tale sign of this (though we are getting better). Leadership, for us, basically means stewarding institutions, (both government and non-government) and corporations. This is why we have Economics, Government, and IR departments similar in size to ones at major universities.
No doubt, there are lots of advantages to specialization. Anyone who has taken classes in these departments (which is basically everybody) knows how terrific they are. And students majoring in them benefit both from the intellectual experience of a small college and the resources and job prospects of a large university.
But this focus limits our school’s diversity, both academically and otherwise. We end up largely meeting people who have similar majors and ambitions.
There are upsides to befriending similar, like-minded people. We enjoy hanging out with our fellow CMC’ers, we like them, and we care about them. In a funny way, we even contribute to one another’s personal development, for as ambitious and committed to self-improvement as we are, we admire the things that others do well and try to emulate them.
There’s something both real and beautiful to that.
The downside, however, is that we sometimes end up caring too much about what others think. We fail to draw the line between rightful admiration and vain comparison. We try to be savvy and winning whenever we enter into conversations. We endlessly groom our Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, as we struggle to maintain our two selves – the real and virtual.
And as a result, we tend towards conformity. We wear tanks and drink light beers because that’s what CMC’ers are supposed to do. While in class we’re taught to talk in academic jargon, out of class we’re taught to talk in social jargon: “killin’ it,” “living the dream,” “y’all” (all of which I use). We watch similar movies, and listen to similar music.
At the end of the day, CMC’s greatest weakness is that it teaches us, in certain regards, to embrace uniformity; the status quo. And while I would agree that vanity and conformity are found at whatever school you attend, I would also say that they have taken particular root (especially for a school of such intellectual caliber) here.
The problem with this sort of environment is that it’s not really teaching us to be leaders. In trying to imitate others, and in trying to imitate what leaders are supposed to do- manage, administer, execute, finance, govern- we sort of become followers.
Maybe this is the way CMC is supposed to be; this is the choice, some would argue, that we make before enrolling here. If we wanted to spend our lives painting murals or railing against the establishment, we could have gone to NYU or Pitzer.
But maybe the two groups- establishment and anti-establishment- don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Maybe we can learn to be both. Because more and more it seems like the real leaders won’t be the ones with grammar-perfect resumes or picture-perfect LinkedIn profiles, but the ones who have worthwhile things to say, and who can understand and communicate with lots of different people, both inside the establishment and out. In an era in which all information is accessible with a click, leaders will have to learn to integrate themselves with different camps of thought and ways of life.
I came to CMC as a kid from a liberal bastion, a place the New York Times once dubbed “Hipstrubia,” with parents who describe themselves as bohemians. I was, throughout high school, grungy and anti-establishment. I listened to a lot of ‘90’s indie rock and thought Dick Cheney was a [insert last name].
Little did I know at the time, however, that by underexposing myself to corporate and conservative culture (whether it be CEO’s or old school Republicans), I wasn’t ready to be a leader. I had a communication deficit, as I was unwilling and incapable of getting along with people who were different from me.
CMC helped me challenge my own status quo, and taught me that while it’s okay to take issue with “the system”, what a truly fair-minded, thoughtful person must first do is consider why, imperfect or not, that system exists, and to have, as the British writer John Keats once said of Shakespeare, negative capability- the capacity to balance the many nuances of the truth, and to not jump to conclusions; to be able to embrace ambiguity.
I believe we are capable- intellectually, socially, and spiritually- of having negative capability; of being able to put ourselves in the shoes of both insiders and outsiders. I believe we can be leaders in more than just a few fields. And I believe we can embrace the world, but also seek to change the things we don’t like about it.
But it will require us to be willing to force ourselves out of our comfort zones, and not care quite as much about what other people think. In short, it will mean being braver.
This could mean making friends with people who are different from you- in major or nationality or class or even personality. It might mean leaving the California sunshine and forcing yourself to go to a colder, more remote corner of the world for a few months (or even longer). It might mean turning off Disclosure and ASAP and Zack Brown Band (as great as they are) and listening to a genre of music you’ve never listened to. It might mean watching a black and white movie one night instead of “This is The End” or “I Love You Man.” It might mean questioning yourself and your conceptions about what it means to be a leader.
And most importantly, it will mean taking issue with something; not everything, but something. It’s easy to get caught up with how fun this school is, and how comfortable we are here; but find something surrounding you that isn’t perfect, that sucks- maybe something that’s not in your immediate periphery- and make it your mission to get pissed off about it, to talk about it, to get others talking about it, and to help change it.
This does not have to be what one traditionally considers to be an issue; global warming, resource depletion, income inequality. These are vitally important issues, and things worth getting angry about; but the truth is we oftentimes cling to them because they are grand, abstract, and easier to confront than that which is right in front of us- our own shortcoming’s, our friends’, CMC’s.
Before changing the world, we have to be willing to change us; to challenge our own status quo, whatever that may be.