Earth is a very profound element. It is not particularly revered in religions besides the worship of, what we now call, ‘Mother Earth’. It is not difficult to ascribe meaning to things like water, fire, and air, due to their prominence in spiritual practices world-wide. Earth, on the other hand, is less thought of. However, I would venture that Earth holds the keys to leadership and humility more so than any of the elements.
Many would argue that Earth represents opposition to change and stubbornness, I would disagree. The Earth does not resist change, but guides it. Change that happens too quickly can often be detrimental, just look at the ‘democracies’ that Western governments have created after toppling dictators. The Earth guides change gradually, beneficially. Crops don’t just spring forth, they grow gradually and at different times so as to ensure constant food supply. Water does not just instantly form a river or an ocean, instead it must carve a path in the earth, distributing the water underground and across paths formed by the topography of the land. It is in this idea of guidance that we find the teachings of Earth.
There is no doubt that the earth is a physically imposing aspect of nature. From mountains to stones and soil, the earth supports not only the growth of life, but also the physical masses of everything that dwells on the planet. Even whilst being tormented by humans (because we are, and have been for years, deeply damaging the earth) it continues to support us. If we think of the earth in that manner then we learn the true virtue of strength of character. It is a pure form of love and requires immense strength to go on protecting, providing, and supporting those who hurt you ceaselessly.
Now, just for clarity, I am not saying we must not be fluid and adapt to situations. I am not suggesting that we let people use us and try to maintain toxic friendships. Even the earth has earthquakes, droughts, and famines.
Instead, I am suggesting that our character must be like that of the earth. If we have a duty we must perform it despite hardships. As Water has taught us, we must not only have fluidity, but fortitude. Earth now demonstrates that which complements fortitude: strength. Fortitude is courage in adversity. Strength is our ability to resist pressure- to act in adversity. There is a reason we say that our characters must be “grounded”. More than that, we must have the confidence to stand by our principles. It is not stubborn to resist those who would change you wrongly. Remember, Earth guides change gradually.
Aside from how we interpret strength of character, Earth also teaches physical strength. To us, this is a lesson of health and mentality. We must be physically strong in body and in mind. To accomplish that which we must accomplish, we must feed the strength of that by which we will accomplish it.
Earth, the strongest of all the elements, is the one which all creatures walk on. One of the most powerful aspects of our world teaches us the virtue of humility. Earth makes itself a servant. It gives of itself so that plants may grow, so that we may build and farm, so that rivers may flow. I spoke earlier of how the earth guides change in a gradual manner instead of resisting it. The chief example of this is in the example of rivers. Water runs over the earth, following the path of least resistance. As it does this, being guided by the topography of the ground, it wears away at the rock and earth beneath it. The Earth lets itself be eroded as the water flows, guiding the water to the sea.
It has been said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. This is exemplified in Earth. It does not think less of itself. It knows it is strong. It raises its mountains high for all to see. But even those mountains, the pinnacles of the earth, have rivers which flow from them.
When we learn to think not of ourselves and instead to think of how we may help others, when we learn to give of ourselves so that others may prosper, when we learn to sacrifice even at the peaks of our achievement, then we have learned humility. There is a reason the old saying goes, “You must be down to earth.”
How then does the earth speak to us of leadership? Simply put: strength and humility are the primary aspects of leadership. It is humility which makes you want to give of yourself that others may benefit, it is strength which allows you to do so.
By ‘guiding change gradually’ through erosion of itself, Earth shows that we should lead by serving. When we give of ourselves and guide people to their benefit in a gradual way, not allowing them to simply rush into things, we foster a sense of trust in others. By using the leadership shown in Earth we not only further others, but further ourselves as well.
If you ever chance to speak with a soldier who has seen active combat and saved a fellow soldier, and then you ask them why they did it, they will say one thing: “They would have done the same for me.”
When you give of yourself to others they know that you are someone who will be there for them. The only natural response to this, is to want to support you too. By becoming servants of each other we are able to grow ourselves and grow others in exponential leaps, leading to a better society.
This is how to lead: Strength in Humility; Humility in Strength. This is the Way of Earth.