Applying lessons from ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ in today’s world

Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the movie ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ or read the book yet.

Recently, while watching ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ – the gripping prequel to ‘The Hunger Games’ series – I was struck by the compelling and complex evolution of Coriolanus Snow from a young man to the authoritarian leader we know.

This transformation offers a thought-provoking lens through which to examine modern leadership challenges.

Snow, initially a sympathetic figure grappling with family legacy and societal expectations, embodies the perils of ambition untampered by ethical considerations. This stark contrast highlights the transformative power of context and choices in shaping a leader’s path.

This narrative arc resonates strikingly with today’s leadership landscape, where the balance between strong leadership and authoritarian tendencies is often delicate. ‘Learn to know thyself’: This ancient wisdom underscores the importance of self-awareness in leadership to prevent such a descent.

For instance, Prophet Muhammad’s leadership was deeply rooted in self-awareness and humility. He consistently sought feedback and counsel from his companions, reflecting a keen awareness of his responsibilities and the impact of his decisions.

Similarly, Umar Al-Khattab, the second Caliph, was known for his transformative leadership characterised by self-reflection and accountability. He famously said, ‘Judge yourself before you are judged’, emphasising the critical role of self-awareness and self-assessment in effective leadership. These historical examples illustrate the timeless value of introspection and ethical vigilance in guiding leadership actions.

Several key factors contribute to Snow’s descent into the ruthless dictator he becomes:

  • Ambition and desire for power: Snow’s ambition drives much of his actions. He’s determined to regain his family’s lost status and will do whatever it takes to ensure his rise to power.
  • Moral choices and manipulation: The book and its movie adaptation show Snow making increasingly morally questionable decisions. His ability to manipulate and strategise is evident, laying the groundwork for his future as a political leader.
  • Influence of the Capitol’s society: The values and politics of the Capitol, including its elitism and disregard for human life, significantly shape Snow’s world views and actions.
  • Personal struggles and losses: Snow’s personal struggles, including poverty and family pressures, contribute to his hardened outlook and determination to succeed at any cost.
  • By the end of the movie, the transformation in Snow’s character becomes more pronounced. The experiences and choices he makes set him on the path to becoming the cold and calculating President of Panem seen in the ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy. The prequel provides a nuanced understanding of how his early life experiences and choices led to his eventual rise to power and tyranny.

While Snow’s journey is fictional, it underscores a real-world imperative – the need for leaders to cultivate ethical decision-making and empathy, balancing ambition with a commitment to the greater good and the importance of accountability in leadership, and to reflect. How do we navigate our ambitions, make ethical choices, and impact those we lead? How do we avoid the pitfalls of power and stay true to our core values? How to maintain ethical leadership in challenging environments?

Finally, while drawing parallels from fiction and history, we must also recognise the complex realities faced by leaders in real-world conflicts. The recent escalation in Gaza, with significant loss of life, reminds us of the critical need for ethical leadership in such situations.

In watching ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’, I am reminded that the principles of ethical leadership are not just theoretical concepts but are vital in addressing real and profoundly complex issues in our world.

As we close the year, my thoughts are with all those affected in conflict zones like Gaza. The situation there stands as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for compassionate and effective leadership that can bring about lasting peace and healing.

In these times of reflection, may we all strive towards such leadership in our respective roles. Happy New Year!

Eliza Mohamed leads FineTouch’s strategic communications. She also mentors students at her alma mater, the University of Leeds.

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer and do not necessarily represent that of Twentytwo13.

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