There’s a popular Jewish camp song (sung also at Hebrew schools and JCC’s etc) that seems to have been mistakenly attributed to Albert Camus, and author is (presently) unknown. It goes something like this (with a few variations):
Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow;
Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead;
Just walk beside me, and be my friend;
And together we will walk in the way of Hashem
It’s a very sweet and pleasant song, I’ve sung it a lot myself, especially as a kid in overnight camp. But I came across these lyrics again this weeks and I began to question. Is this just a happy go lucky kumbaya song? Shouldn’t people take the lead? Don’t leaders need followers? Are teachers and students, parental figures etc all obsolete?
Here’s my take: This song isn’t denying the need for leadership and followers. (And Rebbe insisted that we are all suns & moons, givers and takers in different ways, but that’s a different story for another time). Yes, someone has to walk in front, someone has to take the lead. Companies do need CEO’s, classrooms need teachers, organizations need presidents who will take charge. This song is talking about the type of leadership and type of following.
Leaders need to lead, but it ought to be in a way that is alongside and together with the people they are leading. Not marching off up front, up and away from everyone else. It ought to be empathetic and inclusive, engaging and empowering. And followers can’t just follow from behind, from a distance, from a disconnect. They ought to be part of it, invested, connected. Perhaps this is the meaning of: “don’t walk in front of me, don’t walk behind me, just walk beside me”. Leadership should be with the people not above or different from them.