I grew up in South Africa.

It used to happen to me all the time, now a little less infrequent.  I guess when you live in one place long enough you get to know the people, but every now and then it’ll still happen.  I’ll just be chatting, at the bank, a clothing store, or a restaurant and someone will invariably say – “I love your accent, where are you from.”  I have the response scripted.  “I grew up in South Africa.”  Q2…”So how long have you been in the USA?”  A2…”about 20 years now…I came over to study years ago; met my wife, have kids, a dog, etc.”  Q3…”So why were you in Africa? We’re your parents missionaries?”  A3…”Actually our family roots can be traced back to the late 1600’s in South Africa.”  Q4…”So do you guys have like lions and tigers?”  A4… “Lions. Yes.  Tigers, those are only in Asia or South America.

So outside of the obvious lack of geographical or wildlife knowledge…I always find it interesting that people ALWAYS say “lions & tigers.”  You do realize that these animals do not exist anywhere in nature together? (Sidebar – there are no bears in Africa either…just FYI) In fact, the only place they could be seen synonymously is at a Zoo.  I get it, I’m not trying to be dishonoring of anyone.  But I would love to meet the person who put these 2 cats in the same sentence.  Even at a Zoo, they are separated and do not mix or breed.  (except for the “Liger”… haha  **movie reference).  These 2 cats could not be more different.  One is striped, one not.  One loves water and swimming, one avoids it.  One roars, one chuffs….and on and on the list of differences goes.

So why the dual-unrelated-reference?  Probably because the Western world probably only saw these animals displayed, when they were given as gifts, to kings and queens, from the Orient or the Dark Continent…rolled past them in grand cages, signs of virility and victorious power over these savage, unsophisticated nations.  So I guess if you grew up in in the last 300-400 years, you would have seen these 2 animals, often together, but never in their natural context.  In many ways the reference to these animals was not about their beauty or raw power or their deadly skills… it was a reference to subjection of a ‘lesser’ peoples or nation.  Take their symbols of strength and cage them, display them as attractions, while silently disenfranchising it’s people.   The circus parade is viewed as a triumph, but its really not.  We all know that the colonization of the world was no noble event, but often came at the expense of the people conquered.  That the ‘explorers’ who discovered the lands (already populated by natives) got richer and famous, and those in these nations who lived on the edges were increasingly dehumanized and became more dependent on their ‘conquerers.’  But I digress.

Tigers are reclusive – rarely seen.  They slink around in jungles.  They are cunning, smart, calculated.  Lions are open plain animals, they form packs, they have battle plans, they work in teams.  Tigers are often loners, lions are family-oriented.  But both are deadly, both are masters of their domains.  So what is my point?  This odd pairing reveals something about us.  We are naturally drawn to power – often without any regard for the implications of it.  We love to pair these together, because there is something we relate to in each beast.  However, this is the rub.  You can’t be both. This is my point, we love the savagery of these 2, but in our own journey, we have to choose what ‘type’ we will be.  I am not suggesting that we are animals, but in regard to power, we are either cunning or team leaders…we either keep power to ourselves in silence, or we share it with the pride.

Animals teach us a lot about how we deal with power and leadership.  Ironically, when people abuse power, we often call them by animal names – bad rap for animals… but I think we are showing a person who reverts back to a primal way of thinking, rather than using our evolved brains to be the kind of leaders we should be, because we know better.

So WOW… this all started with an inaccurate comment about animals and now we are talking about leadership.  Weird.  But maybe in the midst of this musing, a light appears.  Are you a lion or a tiger?  How do you lead?  Only 1 is the king of the jungle.  We aspire to become one of these, but sometimes we become the other and we have to fight this urge to be overwhelmed, drunk, on this kind of unpredictable power.  When one is a leader, they have tremendous power – sometimes unrecognized – so be careful with how you use your influence.  You can destroy people, or raise them up…bring them together or tear them apart.  You have the power to lead.  Choose well.   Rrrrroooaaaarrrr! 😉