Monday, August 13, 2007

You Are the Rain King!

A great parable of the power of embracing change is found with the lead character of Saul Bellow’s novel Henderson the Rain King, published in 1959 at the height of the post-war period. A millionaire pig farmer who from a materialistic perspective “has it all,” Henderson feels a lack of any meaningful connection or passion in his life. Hoping for a change of pace and a fresh perspective or epiphany, he heads to Africa—where a series of events lead to the locals declaring him to be their Rain King, the one who will bring about an end to the oppressive drought plaguing their village.

Henderson engages in numerous philosophical discussions with the village’s king, Dahfu, and through this relationship gradually begins to see that life is more than just the slow wasting away to which he has reduced it. Instead, each person has the opportunity to embrace a succession of rebirths, or transformations, through engaging their imagination. Life, Henderson learns, can be a journey of ongoing spiritual growth, ultimately geared toward seeking to love others well.

The protagonist leaves the village with the intent of becoming a doctor when he returns to his home. Before his departure the long-awaited rain falls down, symbolizing how the parched landscape of Henderson’s own soul has at last been nurtured.

As I look back and examine my own seasons of “drought,” they have been windows when I was learning and growing the least—times when I had resigned myself to things as they were without seeking to elicit meaningful change. Organizations and companies, too, hit these patches when leaders or employees are looking to the corporate skies for some evidence of impending showers—perhaps hoping a “Rain King” in the form of the latest innovation, maverick executive or other quick-fix will show up.

And yet, as Henderson found, both individually and organizationally the imagination to give us birth anew is right at hand. What is holding us back from daring to dream and achieve?

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