The Metaphor of Bamboo

With excerpts from

bamboo-metaphoreThe bamboo is a meaningful and vibrant metaphor for the mystery and mastery of leadership. When initially planted, it usually doesn’t (seem to) do much for the first few growing seasons. The first two years it puts out roots in its new location and usually by the third year it starts putting out larger culms. (stems). The fastest growing woody plant on this planet, it grows one third faster than the fastest growing tree. Some species can grow up to 1 meter per day. One can almost “watch it grow”. Bamboo feels so good. Grasp a culm (stem) and energy is defined. A strong culm advances from underground to sky, often many tens of feet, many meters, in a matter of weeks. All of it is there from the moment it breaks ground. Every thrusting inch, foot or meter, from node to node, every future leaf is compactly folded in place ready and willing to come out.

Visited daily, growth is measured first against a human body and that dwarfed, then against the taller and then tallest of other natural forms.

Bamboo is vitality and paradox wrapped into what appears to be a plant. A plant of many personalities and still more personas. It is possibility and potential. It is warp and woof of a carefully interwoven nature.

Bamboo is a mystical plant as a symbol of strength, flexibility, tenacity, endurance and compromise. Throughout Asia, bamboo has for centuries been integral to religions ceremonies, art, music and daily life. It is the paper, the brush and the inspiration of poems and paintings. Among the earliest historical records, 2nd century B.C. were written on green bamboo strips strung together in a bundle with silk thread. Instruments made of bamboo create unique resonance.

For ancient Chinese for whom Dao, Buddha and Confucius formed boundaries of actuality, a measured, meaningful life was defined and created in terms of, in relationship with, bamboo.

The Chinese said, believed and knew that “it”, meaning quality of life, began with bamboo and ended with bamboo. Study of meaning in life began with familiarity and ended with mastery. To study bamboo, to master its many modes, its many utilities, its aesthetic dimensions defined a lifetime well lived. Bamboo is a natural. Like grass it grows rapidly and propagates itself if left alone. Like wood it is strong, grows many places and has many, many uses. Given its way, bamboo will hold hillsides in place against raging waters unleashed from above. Given its way, growing profusely among peoples judged materially poorest on the planet, without gigantic industries cutting, gathering, processing, transporting it; bamboo is here, waiting to serve. It is here to shelter, to fashion tools, to weave baskets, to help water obey, to provide beauty and sounds.

Wind moving through bamboo forests or thickets makes symphony orchestras seem impotent. Wind moving little pieces of bamboo to strike against each other gives joy and peace to those who hear it.

How are all these elements similar to the growth, fellowship and practice of leadership? Each in our own way, each in our own place and time, we can learn to live like bamboo, to invest in a bamboo – like future, making our personal commitments to a wonderful gift of nature, a gift of patience as our gifts take root. We can then to grow and give exponentially when we have achieved our personal mastery and co-created a strong harmonious community of fellow leaders.