An Ode to Charlie Brown – the Agonizing Hero

It was just yesterday that I saw the new Charlie Brown movie in an shockingly empty cinema hall – it was the first day of its release in India, and we were just three families watching this beautifully crafted film – it does speak a lot about Pune’s movie aficionados.

The movie was intensely stirring for it evoked many an internal conversations between the string of archetypal personas inside me (and in others who have been great fans of Shultz’s work) be it Charlie himself, or Snoopy or Linus … Of course as a fan, without letting the plot out, what was surprising was that Charlie finally encounters the red haired girl.

But this post is not about the film. It is about Leadership.

For years many of us have been mesmerized by the archetype of Charlie Brown and his deeply moving and poignant leadership stances in life, while confronting sorrow, compassion, defeat, and integrity – funnily enough to most contemporary clients of mine this does not sound like leadership at all.

The ‘internally agonizing hero archetype, while encountering defeats’ seems more accessible to and immensely more magical through the masculine symbol of the glamorous Arjuna (an Indian warrior in the epic Mahabharata, quite dependent upon Krishna, to take a stance on various double binds encountered in a war of massive footing) as opposed to a little kid who seems to be the lovable loser, encountering and suffering self-defeat and humiliation despite inner ambition, energy, and the tenacity within. In fact most readers do not experience this archetype at all in Arjuna – often getting stymied by Arjuna’s other feats and adventures.

Schultz himself was perhaps most critical of Charlie Brown, and was quoted as saying – “[He] must be the one who suffers, because he is a caricature of the average person. Most of us are much more acquainted with losing than winning.”

Maybe it is time to celebrate this archetype’s leadership potential from a feminine lens.

 

  1. Charlie Brown is in touch with his own anxieties and inadequacies – he is able to express these, share these, and dignify these as a way of life. He is able to laugh at these but never deny these.

 

He is willing to embrace vulnerability by voicing his anxieties – and perhaps also derive then the strength of working with these feelings.

 

  1. The overtly ‘shy and withdrawn meek kid’ has huge resources of determination and hope Whether it is the Kite tree that swallows all his kites or the continuous streak of bad luck, Charlie Brown perseveres on and on. It is not just deeply personalized ambitions that drive him – but a commitment to collectives and systems and which is reinforced by generosity and compassion to all others within the context. He is caring and deeply protective – whether of his losing baseball teams, his little sister etc.

 

No defeat triggers either deep cynicism or envy – Charlie Brown continues to potter on and on.

 

  1. Charlie Brown works on his relatedness and relationships with all. Those of you who are big fans of the strip, would know that Charlie begins his relationships with Linus and Schroeder as a towering kid when the latter were babies, and slowly changes these relationships into ‘more equal’ and mature friendship.

 

For example, as a leader, he guides the baby Schroeder towards Beethoven, and then this relationship evolves towards mutual respect and engagement. Charlie’s relatedness with Linus (the boy with the blanket) evolves into a close-knit relationship from an earlier relatedness of dependency and inequality. With Linus, Charlie engages with all his inner agonizing and fears, and the latter offers back gifts of understanding and new perspectives.

 

  1. In the end, self worth always wins over self-loathing in Charlie’s case.

 

As a fan of the comic strip, I am awed by Charlie’s courage and tenacity – and these are not defined in a macho way – but in a certain feminine stoic (an oxymoron here as my friend would argue). No matter what happens, Charlie’s self worth seems to overwhelm his self-loathing and his self-pitying. This makes him lovable and a source of great inspiration.

 

Possibly because he is averse to looking at self from just an instrumental view and a certain values orientation and humaneness enables him to move on from tactical failures, many of these are self-inflicted as well.

 

  1. Lastly, his relatedness to Snoopy is most illustrative of managing diverse talent.

 

Snoopy, who refers to Charlie as the ‘round-headed kid’ is an alter-ego of sorts. Wildly imaginative, highly action oriented and impulsive, and extremely playful, Snoopy is often not fully understood by Charlie. But Charlie keeps his puzzlement aside, and invests into providing his companion all the care and support that he can. Charlie ends up offering space, loyalty, and commitment to Snoopy, and the latter is always there for him when needed, offering support and love.

 

You are invited to compare and contrast the abovementioned ‘leadership’ behaviors to what you see around you as epitomizing leadership behavior around you.

 

Do see the movie of course!!cb4

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