Being “Regular” and Being a Leader

News flash: Raised-poor girl realizes, “Hey, I am a leader!”

I’m someone who was never “supposed to be” a leader by the oppressive society’s standards. I come from people who have been treated like and told that they are stupid, that they don’t matter, that they are insignificant, and that they don’t have minds worth anything more than serving others. You don’t need a mind of your own if you are doing the bidding of, the cleaning for, rich people, right?

I’m a female who was raised poor, working class, and Catholic. I am mixed heritage—a Filipina/Native/white daughter of an immigrant father and a mother born and raised in the Southern United States. I didn’t come from the “right kind of people” to be and think of myself as a leader.

I am proud of my parents. With what the world presented to them, what they were able to do is amazing. My parents didn’t graduate from high school; my father didn’t even make it out of the third grade. He immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. He spoke four languages: Ilocano (his first language, the language of our people in the northern part of the Philippines), Tagalog (the national Filipino language), and two languages that are the direct result of the colonization of Pilipinos—Spanish (which he learned from the priests and nuns during his little bit of school) and English (everyone in the Philippines was and is required to learn English in school).

My father wasn’t considered smart. He “talked funny”[1] (as racism and anti-immigrant oppression would say). He was strong, athletic, and short in stature. He was a boxer. He was brown-skinned. He could work very hard, but he felt stupid. He felt way less than anyone else around him, especially white people. He apologized a lot, held his head low.

He did lots of kinds of work when he came to the United States, including working as a farmworker, a “house boy” in hotels, and a busboy and cook in restaurants. He also worked on the fish boats and in the canneries in Alaska (USA), where many immigrant Filipino men used to work. He was both proud and defeated at the same time.

My mom is a solid, “salt-of-the-earth”[2] white/Native woman, born in the Southern United States, who worked incredibly hard while feeling stupid. She wanted to sing, to perform—be in opera even—but she was told she was not beautiful, not talented. She struggled with spelling, with math. She was told she was “slow.” She knew she was solid on “practical” things—if something needed to be done, my mom was the person to do it. Her body was strong but got used up and discarded by classism, sexism, male domination, and the attempted genocide of our people.

My parents had thirteen children. They lost one in a miscarriage and gave birth to a dozen, five of whom died at or near birth. One son was killed in the U.S.-Vietnam War. I was born into this struggling family, number five of the seven that lived past infancy. My parents were wonderful people who didn’t have the resources necessary for themselves or their offspring. I was a younger sibling—not “leadership material,” or so I was told.

I have been trying to reconcile in my head (with my distress confusing me) my picture of myself as a small, stupid younger sibling—not of any significance, coming from people targeted for destruction—with the picture of who leaders are “supposed to be.” The oppressive society says that certain people can think and lead. I haven’t felt like one of them.

What I can tell[3] is that I am a regular person—really a person off the street. That is what raised-poor and working-class people are for the most part—nothing special, at least no more special than anyone else. I don’t have any particular qualities that make me more capable than anyone else. I’m regular.

I didn’t go to the “right” schools. I don’t talk the “right” way. I don’t use big words. I’m not flashy. I don’t know how to dress fancy. I am not super smart. I don’t do things in the world that make a lot of money—things that society says are “successful” and worthwhile.

But Co-Counseling has given me an opportunity to understand better what a leader actually is and does. I have had many opportunities to try leading and then discharge about what it was like to lead. As Harvey[4] said, every one of us is a leader. Without oppression to confuse us, all of us would, without question, set about[5] to see that things go well around us and organize other people to do the same. It turns out that[6] this is what I have been doing my whole life, in my family and beyond, and that this is what a leader does.

I can see what I have that everyone else does, too—no matter what their class background is, or ethnicity or gender: I have an intelligent mind, a good mind. I have my own mind. I also decided (well before I was in Co-Counseling) that I wanted things to be different for the people around me and that I would see to it[7] that it happened. So I have a mind, and I decided something. And I’m willing to face whatever I have to face to make it happen.

Tim[8] once told me that what I need to do is set my sights on the biggest vision and goal I have for the world. If I can keep my eyes on that prize, and move toward it, I can make it happen. I don’t have to know everything. I don’t have to be not afraid. I get to try. And importantly, I have a Community of people supporting me, believing in me, where my distress confuses me about these things. My chronic material[9] (the result of oppression) has obscured to me that I can be, am, and will always be a leader. Others have believed in me long before I could believe in myself. Apparently I’m the last person to know that I can think and that I am a leader!

Leaders are regular people with an intelligent mind who have decided something about the world around them—sometimes in spite of how things feel. Regular people are leaders. Leadership isn’t about a title or anything like that. It is about how you think about people and the world around you—how you influence things, decide to see that they go well. Raised-poor people, women, people of the global majority take this kind of leadership of the world every day. It is part of our way of being to see that things go well; it comes from our inherent power as humans.

Re-evaluation Counseling theory and the RC Communities are great leadership-development tools. We have been a leadership-development organization from the start. I think of leadership development as concentric circles going out from ourselves, with a growing awareness. This means that to start with we must see that things go well in our own lives. This means thinking about ourselves, taking responsibility for what has happened to us, seeing the reality of who we are. It means having Co-Counseling sessions! We each get to take responsibility for how we have been hurt and decide to clear those things up.

The next ring out is deciding to see that someone else’s life goes well, assisting another person to think about his or her own life. We get to think about someone outside of ourselves. This is part of taking responsibility: assisting someone else in his or her re-emergence, in moving out of distress.

From there we can decide to take growing circles of “responsibility” for things going well around us. In RC this includes being a Community member, having a job in our class, assisting a leader, organizing, teaching, and so on. We get to think about our local Community as well as learn about, think about, and be a part of the International RC Community. Each of these requires that we take charge of ourselves and then think outside of ourselves in bigger and bigger spheres of influence, in which we remember and act on the basis of our human qualities.

Of course we can go farther and farther out with our spheres of influence—as Harvey said, to the farthest reaches of the universe. There is nothing that we can’t take responsibility for! We can think about all things, all people, so that all of them are taken into account.

Regular people are the leaders we have, that we need. And we need leadership every place in our societies. There is so much room for lots of leadership and initiative in the world.

Teresa Enrico
International Liberation Reference
Person for Pacific Islander and
Pilipino/a-Heritage People
Seattle, Washington, USA

[1] “Funny” means strangely, oddly.
[2] “Salt-of-the-earth” means good, reliable, and honest.
[3] “Tell” means see, notice.
[4] Harvey Jackins
[5] “Set about” means move with intention.
[6] “It turns out that” means what has been shown to be true is that.
[7] “See to it” means make sure.
[8] Tim Jackins
[9] “Material” means distress.


Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00