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Recent Conversations: The fat French farmer.


In a recent conversation with a friend, we talked about how we feel caught, as leaders of nonprofits, between the appeal of doing social good while working to balance professional and personal roles, and the excitement and power of being connected to the “right” people, their money, and their influence.

He shared his analogy of “the fat French farmer” who rarely leaves the farm, lives in worn denim and old cotton sweaters, eats and drinks all the good food and great wine he can, and spends his free time with lifelong friends looking at the same landscape every morning and every evening for his entire life.  We’re on a see-saw, my friend suggested, with the fat French farmer on one end, and the whirling dervish of power on the other.

Any worthwhile book on leadership, service, “doing good” or community development will tell you that leadership is really mostly listening, learning, helping, and seeing the value of all contributions.  Consensus building means that everyone is part of the solution, and no single entity has all the answers.  Sounds to me like that farmer is on to something.

But it’s also true that power, particularly transformative power to make things better for all of our neighbors (call me an optimist but I’m still holding out hope for the end of poverty, racism, and incivility), can get big things done.  I can name a dozen philanthropists in our community who routinely jump in, bringing their resources, intellect and passion to a community problem.  We need them, and they’re intoxicating to be around.

Perhaps the question is how to live like the farmer mostly, but figure out how to play with power better.

Lynnette CookThoughtwell