Self-selected leaders are not leaders

Photo courtesy of | PPP junior Colin Lang asserts that leaders are not the people with the loudest, prejudiced opinions.

When you are entrusted with a leadership or representative position, it’s a good feeling.

It’s a sign that a person or a group of people trusts you enough to lead their efforts toward a goal or represent their interests, whatever those may be. Make no mistake, it is a privilege to have that kind of trust, and I would say there is an inherent duty for you not to let them down in your role.

There are two primary ways leaders and representatives are selected in a democratic society like ours: group affirmation through election or appointment by a higher authority. When doing a group project, we can pick a leader (affirmation) or we can have one picked by a professor or boss (appointment).

However, since reaching Xavier I have come across a trend of self-appointed leaders and representatives who claim to speak for the entirety of a group of people but have little to no proof that they actually are valid speakers for that group. They begin by identifying what group they are speaking for and then state their opinion as if it were the opinion of the whole group. This is emphatically wrong, and I would argue that these leaders and representatives are not only invalid but also committing an injustice toward the group they are trying to represent.

So what does this look like? If you’ve ever been in a class where someone has said “As a (group identity), I think that…” then you know exactly what I’m talking about. What inevitably follows those statements are typically the opinions of the person speaking, not the true goals or interests of the group for which they claim to speak. This is wrong for multiple reasons.

First and foremost, this is a prejudicial way of thinking. I mean “prejudicial” in the most literal sense of the word: pre-judging something without an in-depth understanding. Now, I’m certain that most people who speak like this are not intending to use or employ prejudicial thinking, but it’s important to be aware of the implications of speaking like this.

This way of speaking implies that the entirety of a group thinks and believes the same way as the supposed representative about a topic by virtue of belonging to the same group. Think about that for a moment. One of the core assumptions of discriminatory and prejudicial mindsets like racism or sexism is that the individuals who make up the different races and sexes are all monolithic and cannot hold complex and diverse beliefs or opinions. Using this group identification confirms a core assumption for those discriminatory and prejudicial mindsets: that all people in a certain racial, gender, socioeconomic, etc. group think and act the same because they are a part of said group.

That is wrong beyond all reason.

Second, they are almost always expressing an opinion. Opinions are a great thing to have, but they don’t hold the same value of standing as a fact. If someone says “As a (group identity), I think that…” and then follows it with a statistic or with a representative sampling of that population, then they would likely have a fact that is worth paying attention to. However, without that support, all they have is their own opinion masquerading as a fact.

The third and final point is simplest: We human beings are individuals capable of making choices for ourselves, including the choice of who we want to represent us.

Someone who assumes they can represent others simply because they share skin color, gender, etc. is wholly wrong and should be disregarded.

Being elected a leader or representative is an honor and privilege beyond all measure. We cannot, and should not, allow someone to be a pretender to that honor. So stand for yourself, your principles and your dreams. Don’t let someone else assume that role.

Colin Lang is a junior History and Philosophy, Politics and the Public double major. He is a staff writer for the Newswire from Westlake, Ohio.