What do Jesus and Jerry Garcia have in common?
Yes, they were both iconic leaders, and died relatively young. They were both deified, too, but the most relevant similarity is going to surprise you.
I’m going to be tough on Garcia, so before I go on, I must say he was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. This is not to take away from any of his profound contributions to our world, but powerful people have powerful shadows from which we can all learn. It doesn’t serve to pretend anyone is perfect.
About a year ago, I made a case that Jerry Garcia slowly killed himself as a result of an unconscious inner conflict about leadership. Jerry was arguably one of the leaders of the hippie paradigm, but the problem with that is that hippies abhor hierarchy.
The hippie paradigm is a westernized hybrid of Hinduism and Buddhism blended with classic American notions of freedom and rejection of authority. It emphasizes equality, love, oneness, and childlike notions of freedom I deconstructed last week. Living in the moment, getting to do whatever you want, and experiencing bliss are the consciousness goals.
Everybody knew Garcia was the leader, and as the Grateful Dead band grew into a multi-million dollar enterprise, the demand for him to show up as such grew. Can you imagine how difficult that was for him?
He just wanted to drop acid and play music, but found himself at the top of an org chart with hundreds of people on it. That kind of responsibility alone can be crushing. Add to this that not only did he have no leadership training, but his personal philosophy rebelled against the very concept.
John Barlow, Grateful Dead lyricist, had this to say:
There was a strong belief, primarily on Garcia’s part, that it was important that [the band] be leaderless. He did not want to be the leader. Nevermind that he was, and there was no way around it…and oftentimes bad things happened because he wasn’t willing to assert what was pretty obvious…Nobody wanted to be in charge, and no one wanted to say “no” to anything.
Reality called for him to lead, or alternatively to have the responsibility to recognize the power he had and consciously give it away, which would be an act of mature leadership. But like many teenagers, he tried to have his cake and eat it, too. He used the power he had when it suited him.
Garcia once said, “You can call me the boss, man, just don’t expect me to make any decisions.” But he did make decisions. Jon McIntire, the band’s defacto manager (because they had no such clearly defined roles) said:
Certainly the band has always been the deciding factor [in making decisions], and within the band it’s been more Jerry than everyone else because he’s so lucid and clear about stuff. He’s got real good opinions. If he wants to enforce them, he will. As it works out, he doesn’t enforce them that often.
It sounds like Garcia was a pretty good leader for someone who eschewed the very concept. The friction helped drive him to heroin, and heroin to his death. I make the case for this in the previous piece, and won’t reiterate it here.
So what do Jesus and Jerry have in common that’s so important?
One of the features of fame is that we get to learn from others’ lives, especially their mistakes, so we can avoid having to do so ourselves. The typical way of interpreting the idea that Jesus died for your sins is that through his sacrifice, he redeemed our collective original sin. Ergo, if you accept and believe in Jesus, you are also redeemed. I’m not commenting on whether this is true or not.
Here’s an additional way of looking at it: what if someone “dying for your sins” means they learned some life lessons the hard way, ideally so you don’t have to?
Jesus’ life was a hero’s journey. He was called to adventure, navigated many decisive crises, and transformed in the process. We follow him through self-doubt, betrayal, and seemingly insurmountable challenges. There is a sense of fulfilling a destiny throughout his life and true Christians dedicate their lives to learning from it and how it applies to their life.
Garcia had his own hero’s journey, but do the millions of hippies around the world learn from his life in the same way? Garcia was a rare and noble person in that he attempted to live his paradigm all the way, even when circumstances collided. His self-caused, early death could have been a profound wake-up call for all of his followers: seeking freedom from responsibility doesn’t work; in fact, it may kill you.
It could have been the end of the hippie paradigm, the same way Galileo ended the Church’s geocentric paradigm, the same way, Muhammad and Moses ended polytheistic paradigms, and the same way Pasteur ended the you-don’t-have-to-wash-your-hands paradigm.
But we humans abhor change like Garcia did responsibility, because change imposes responsibility, and many hippies continue today to try to live according to a model that Jerry proved couldn’t work; that is, he died for your sins.
He died from the fear of responsibility, the shadow of the hippie culture. May we learn from his mistakes as much as we have from his triumphs.
These kinds of things are on my mind because I’m currently teaching Clear Thinking 2: Paradigmatic Analysis. When you can think in terms of paradigms, everything looks different. It gives you a kind of X-Ray vision and makes you easily the smartest person in the room.
But the most important thing it does is help you see what assumptions and beliefs about reality you’re testing, and how that process is going. One of the primary ways we cause ourselves suffering is to grip to ideas about reality that it’s telling us aren’t true. Suffering is how reality holds us accountable. It killed Jerry Garcia. What’s it doing with you?
While the live course is currently in progress, all my courses turn into online courses. You can learn more here.