Flaws and All

While reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, I was on the hunt for examples of Lauren’s demonstration of leadership, even before she turns 18 years old and starts her journey north.  Lauren isn’t a leader because she has a group of people backing up her beliefs and following her word. She grows into a leader from being aware of her surroundings and observing all the people around her and also by conducting her own research to draw her own conclusions and solutions, which is a big step before becoming a leader.  She realizes that people will ignore a problem with the hopes that it will solve itself and return back to what they know as normal.  She is proactive and takes action, not only for herself but for the others of her community also.  Although she tries to warn others, she knows her age hinders anyone believing what she has to say and offer: survival skills. Another leadership skill that Lauren cultivates is knowing that change is needed in order to progress.

With Lauren’s ability to feel others’ pain as well as her own (hyperempathy), I found myself battling to understand if this was a strength or a weakness for Lauren.  Although she believed she would looked as weak and become a target if others found out,  I believe it helped her humanity and compassion, which was also needed for her to be a leader and build her Earthseed communities.  The question I pose is can a leader hide their “flaws”? If not, that does not make them less than a suitable leader, right?

Side Note: For me, the fact that Lauren Olamina’s birthday was July 20 resonated with me because my birthday is July 21 and in our world astrology is something that could be dated back to BCE time period and I, for one, believe and am interested in being more knowledgeable in it.  The zodiac sign Cancer is associated with birthdays between June 20- July 22. We are taught that empathy is the ability to understand and share the emotions/feelings an of another.  Empathy happens to be a main trait of the zodiac sign, Cancer, which gave me a different way to connect to Lauren and interested to read on to see how she overcomes.

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6 thoughts on “Flaws and All

  1. Interesting question. I think leaders have a right to hold back a bit of themselves. Being in a leadership role already puts you in a sort of fishbowl and privacy becomes more precious. I think it is also important to let people be in control of their own narratives, even in cases where their “flaws” may make the group they lead vulnerable.

    Lauren was amazingly good a reading people. Her hyper-empathy helped! As you pointed out, she was adept at revealing information when people were ready for it. Building their trust first was important – another leadership skill.

    Thank you for posing this question. I “re-read” (via Audiobooks) Parable of the Sower for the fourth time about a year ago. You’ve made me want to pick it up again.

  2. I would like to focus on the question: “Can a leader hide their flaws”.

    I believe to be the best leader possible one must let their flaws be known. This is because when there is something a leader can not do the people around them should be able to help and step in. A good leader should not be afraid to mention their flaws because they help them become a better leader. When one recognizes the flaws there need to be people around to fill in the gaps.

    I believe in the novel when she finally let them know that she had this hyper empathy it made them stronger. Bankole for example said that being a doctor he would help her be able to control it making it easier for her to witness pain. Also they could recognize that they all needed to help in protection of one another because Lauren would not be able to do it all by her self.

  3. Spelchelly, I know that you meant it as a side note, but I am really drawn to the fact that you shared about Lauren’s birthday and where it falls in the zodiac. As I read Parable of the Sower, I couldn’t help but marvel at Ocatvia Butler’s depth of knowledge in constructing this novel, the world and the characters. I love that you considered Lauren being born under the Cancer sign of the zodiac and used it as a means to making a connection to yourself! In my opinion that is what great writing by a careful writer does, it draws you in by allowing you to connect on a personal level. 🙂

    In terms of the question that you posed, I believe that “can” implies that that question can be answered simply in black or white terms, but as it relates to leadership there is no room for binary answers. While I think yes, a leader can hide their flaws just like you and I can, but as Stephen commented, it may not be in the leader’s best interest to hide their flaws. On the other hand I also think no a leader cannot really hide their flaws, because one hallmark of leadership is that you are in the public sphere(how ever relatively public it may be) and nothing can be hidden forever.

  4. I loved the fact that Lauren has this hyperempathy condition. As I was reading, it reminded me of a checks and balances system. Because she feels what others feel, she almost cannot become too powerful. Often times leader say they understand where their constituents are coming from but really cannot understand unless they have been in that exact position. Lauren’s hyperempathy puts her exactly where a person in pain is in that exact moment. Because of that condition, she is able to make decisions that truly affect the greater good. I don’t know how much we can truly hide our flaws–don’t they eventually reveal themselves anyway? All we can do is work on them and strive to be the best versions of ourself. I think about my flaws regularly and actively; for me, that’s the only way to make sure that I’m working on them and getting better.
    Also, love your side note about the zodiac. Very interested in horoscopes. Great point!

  5. I’m glad you wrote this because throughout Parable of the Sower, I was constantly thinking and evaluating Olamina’s leadership skills. Out of all the books we have read so far, her character is the one that makes me think about the makeup of a leader the most. It may have to do with the fact that her role is very clearly stated and executed, in comparison to other books where their leadership roles were less clearly defined. But, in writing Earthseed, I think Olamina made leadership rules for herself and others. She didn’t place anyone on a hierarchy, but she did acknowledge that the environment chooses the leader. When she wrote her first entry about God being change, she said that it was up to everyone to shape change and shape their God. She became a leader because nobody was willing to accept change–instead, members of her past community clung to old visions of the U.S., hoping that one day soon it would revert back to its original state. Olamina realized that the person who recognized the need to accept change and make plans acknowledging instead of ignoring it, would be successful. I think this intuitiveness is what makes her a strong leader. You’re correct in that it doesn’t come from people being willing to follow her– she realizes and accepts responsibility to be an agent of change and to continuously be in touch with it. Her hyperempathy definitely aids her in that endeavor. The leader that isn’t in touch with reality stops being a leader and will sooner move to dogmatism or apathy or even worse: “greater good” actions. Olamina can’t do that because each of her decisions not only affect her companions, but they truly affect her. That is a quality of leadership that isn’t easily acquired, so I consider it a huge strength for her.

  6. We all know I hated Parable of the Sower when I first read it and Lauren, but I have to say my third reading made me like her a lot more, especially after discussing her with all of you. I think she pretends to be someone I wouldn’t like, but you’re right, she is actually quite compassionate, though she sees that as a weakness. Maybe by my fifth reading I’ll actually like her.

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