Heretics as Leaders
I’m currently reading (a phrase I use a lot) Tribes by Seth Godin and I’m slowly making my way through it. It, like much of Godin’s material, is deeper than it appears and must be waded through. Well written and brilliant, he packs so much into his works.
In this chapter, near the beginning, he talks about the heretic. He writes:
“Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.
The marketplace now rewards (and embraces) the heretics. It’s clearly more fun to make the rules than to follow them, and for the first time, its also profitable, powerful, and productive to do just that.
This shift might be bigger than you think. Suddenly, heretics, troublemakers, and change agents aren’t merely thorns in our side — they are keys to our success.”
This was exciting, encouraging, and challenging for me.
First, let’s start with the challenge. It is a sad statement, that someone who is thinking outside the box should be a heretic! If we want, but more accurately need, these people, identifying them as heretics makes little sense. Perhaps because they push against preconceived notions, they are by definition heretics. I might argue, at least in the context of the Jewish Tradition, my frame of reference. That heretic has a narrow meaning.
Here’s where I contradict myself. There is a famous Jewish heretic, Alisha ben Abuyah. He is more regularly known as Acher, the other. He is quoted often in the Mishnah and Talmud. This is mind-blowing and totally normal. Rabbis LOVE keeping opposing positions within the texts. They presume that if it is legitimate, although not the majority, it will eventually have relevance. This famous heretic follows this paradigm, being quoted often, albeit with some separation, due to his heretical status.
It is exciting and encouraging, within a Jewish context, to be Godin’s type of heretic. We need this kind of innovation and thinking desperately in the Jewish world. We need to fight our resistance (see Godin’s work). We need to understand the benefits that come from this. We need to see that the troublemakers (which there are many) are bringing something valuable to the table. We also need to recognize that there are boundaries that are too far beyond, that there are truly ideas and approaches that are beyond the pale.
I hope that I’m that kind of troublemaker. Will you make trouble with me?