Nobody’s Sidekick: Where are the Next Crusaders?

IMG_497604574877~2Matthew Henry Smith, ’16

My little brother, Benjamin, (the last Smith child) recently introduced me to Young Justice. Recently acquired by Netflix Streaming, this cartoon tells the story of DC’s Justice League elevating their assistants from simple sidekicks to Protégés.

You should know Superheroes are taken very seriously in my house. We pour over IMDB for updates on the newest X-Men movies. We debate Christology and LGBT themes in the Marvel Universe. But DC’s Young Justice recently took my thoughts in a different direction.

Young Justice isn’t a coalition of sidekicks. Instead, Kid-Flash, Robin and the gang are tomorrow’s heroes. The concept of Superheroes training the next generation of caped crusaders had me thinking about our own student leaders. Could it be that this Saturday morning cartoon is a serendipitous allegory to for the stories of our campus’ club executives, student writers, programmers, athletes, guides and representatives? You bet.

Even before Buzzfeed came around you were taking tests to tell you “what sort of person you are.” These tests are meant to be helpful, and direct your focus towards preexisting strengths you can hone. That said, they’ve very seriously perpetuated a damaging stereotype of leadership.

Sure, some folks were born with skills and personality traits that are objectively acute for leading. Consider the Type-A’s, the extroverts, those for whom leadership comes naturally. These people are the ones among us who are most sought after to lead.

That said, it is dangerous to think that the only people who can lead were born to do so. Leadership is not always extroversion. Sometimes it’s diligence. But always it’s selfless dedication to a cause that often predates and hopefully outlives the leader.

One of the dangers of narrowing the definition of leadership is that, eventually, we come to expect that only these sorts of people will lead us. And because there are more executive positions than there are Type-A’s, leadership monopolies form like soft student oligarchies. It’s never malicious and isn’t always harmful. But what happens when students who are considering getting more involved see the same faces at the top of every chain of student command? If I weren’t a “Type-A” kind of guy, I might be intimidated to get involved when student leadership is dominated by a similar few.

After thinking about this for a while, I’ve come up with a check-in list for the binary that has formed. Here’s the breakdown for those who weren’t the first to jump on the involvement train:

  1. There’s always time, but not as much as there was yesterday.
  2. Your ideas are important.
  3. There isn’t a perfect formula for leadership. Find someone who inspires you, but lead with your own qualities.
  4. You can lead from unelected/appointed positions.

And here’s the breakdown for the Type-A’s:

  1. Seek opportunities to empower others to lead.
  2. You don’t need to lead every time you are asked to.
  3. Allow for people to try, to fail, to try again, and to prove you wrong.
  4. You can still lead from unelected/appointed positions.

Causes and clubs shouldn’t rise and fall on the backs of singular members. The best leaders empower all connected in the cause to rise to the challenges of these responsibilities. Especially when it comes to campus leadership, we should always remember that less than four years from any point in our collegiate journeys we won’t be part of the picture.

In short we are doing very well. Our clubs are strong and our student leadership is sincere. This is simply a reminder to always seek out who is coming next – especially as some Friars approach commencement.

Consequently this presents the opportunity to announce that a new tab will be appearing soon for students to submit guest pieces to the writers of Friarside Chats. We’re looking for fresh new ideas and, of course, our own next generation of forward-thinking editorialists.

Anyway, you’ve got a whole summer coming your way to consider sharing your own load or helping out with someone else’s.

Keep at it, Super-Friars. And in the meantime, check out Young Justice… if only because it takes place in Rhode Island.

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