Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic Fiction, Dystopia

You Should Be Learning from this (Fictional) Leader

Lauren Oya Olamina is a young 15 year old black woman who becomes a great leader in the apocalyptic fictional series “Earthseed” by Octavia Butler. “Earthseed” is a duology formed by “Parable of the Sower” which came out in 1993 and the follow-up, “Parable of the Talents”, which came out in 1998. The future Octavia Butler writes about begins in 2024. That is very close and the dystopia it foresees doesn’t seem far fetched at all.

I loved this series for many, many reasons. I think, from all the Apocalypse fiction novels, this one is the absolute best. It has everything you want in Apocalypse fiction but, also, a lot more. The most important thing and the thing that really sets it apart from all other apocalypse fiction novels is that it also presents a new philosophy.

The book reads, in a way, like an auto-biography. We follow Lauren Olamina’s journey – a 15 year-old black young woman who lives a relatively peaceful life in the midst of chaos. The world in 2024 has become very divided between the rich and the poor. Climate change has damaged irreparably parts of the world like California where rain is now falling just once in a few years. Water is more expensive than food. There is unemployment everywhere and a growing number of people use dangerous drugs. There are gated communities because the poor are so desperate they have become violent. Only men dare leave their communities for work and even that is dangerous. Lauren lives in a protective environment in her community, but, when that falls apart, she is forced to leave. She decides to travel to a better climate and takes with her two other survivors of her community. With them, she starts the seed for her new religion and the basis for a new community she plans to create. We then follow her journey to a new land and witness how she gathers people around her, how she talks to them and convinces them of her views. It is masterful and I can’t think of a more amazing lesson in leadership and a better book to understand the process of getting to people’s hearts.

Of course, community building is a huge undertaking whose fruits won’t be available for years to come. The process is all the more complicated when we understand the terrible times she lives in. Practically the government is becoming more authoritative and, all the more terrible, freedom becomes tied to financial power. Police corruption is the main cause for that. People can’t trust authorities any more and violent groups must be fought by the communities they attack directly, as no one else will intervene.

In this terrible world, Lauren Olamina is not at all perfect, but she is a visionary and an exceptional leader. The lessons she can teach us are too many to count, but I especially admired five I’m going to talk about. These five make up the essence of a good leader in troubled times and speak the most of her as a character.


Lauren has a gift. From her own point of view, for most of her life, she sees it a course. It’s hyper-empathy and that means she can feel whatever the persons around her feel. Either good, or bad. That makes her extremely vulnerable and makes the decision of hurting someone very difficult, as she will feel the same pane. The situations she is put in become, thus, a lot more complicated, especially if she is alone. However, this gift has made her also very observant of everything. Even from a very young age, she is extremely aware of the people around her, as well as the world’s declining situation. She is used to observing and paying attentive to everything. This is what helps her perceive the coming fall of her community before the others. Further along, observing becomes part of her religion philosophy. Being observant is key to see the world and its perils as well as its possibilities. She always says in her journals that everything she knows is from observation. Of course, that is not enough.


Observing is key, but what you do with your observations is equally important. Preparing is equally a second nature to her. From a young age she understands it’s important to read and learn about growing crops, choosing the best plants according to soil, what plants are edible, how to do practical things. She reads whatever she can get her hands on just so that she will be prepared for harsher conditions, because she is aware she lives in a privileged community. This preparedness is what helps her survive. Later, in her own built community, she will have emergency packs with essentials hidden all around their land, she will always have watches posted day and night and emergency plans. This way of leaving is what keeps the community from falling apart when the worst happens.

Aim for the stars

Lauren’s religion philosophy is extremely interesting and, most of all, ambitious. She leaves in a time when people consider space exploration an unnecessary cost, too expensive for the current living conditions for most people on Earth. Of course, that may be so. She recognizes the poverty that surrounds her, but she also recognizes that people need an ideal. They need to strive for something more, something great and inspiring. They need to believe in something that is just a little out of reach. This becomes the basis of her religion. The idea that man need to continue space exploration, that they need to spread Earth Seed among the stars.

This goal is perfectly chosen. It helps the people in her community get involved in learning more. It is something they know they won’t do themselves, but they need to make the world better so that their children or grandchildren actually have that opportunity. Working and living not for themselves but for their children is what makes them better people and makes the entire community flourish. This is the main reason I find this book so inspiring and an absolute must read.

Be involved in your community

Lauren is a true visionary. She doesn’t let anything deter her from the future she sees for her community, but the most important thing she does, as a leader, is to be the first to set an example of expected behavior from her followers. She is involved every day with every aspect of her community’s life. She educates the young. She educates herself permanently. She goes out to gather resources, to establish commercial connections with other communities, to represent her community in the area – all very perilous jobs in her times. She chooses to put herself in harms’way even though her position would allow her to take easier tasks. She really embodies the leader as a server to her community, always asking herself what is the next important thing to strive for or how can we seize every opportunity possible. Being involved is key to making this kind of decisions and, as a leader, she is better for it.

Accept change as inevitable

I chose this as the last important lesson Lauren can teach us because I think it is also the most important one. Change is the main struggle for everybody. The incapacity of some to adapt to it is a major hindrance for them and their community. But it also very much ties with the capacity to observe and prepare. Observe, prepare and be able to change are all crucial for surviving and thriving.

Change is in the fabric of everything and Lauren recognizes that and makes it the base of her philosophy. The fact that Buddhism and Stoicism – philosophies that best help with resilience in face of troubles – also recognize it as a major focus is also a thing to notice. Her philosophy states “God is Change”. This implies there is no one to save one from change – it is something to be accepted and dealt with. Change is everywhere and happens all the time. It is the individual’s duty to be prepared to take all the opportunities it provides and to weather the hard times.

We understand her goal, but the book also shows her struggling with this ideal of always accepting change. I found that perfect. She is an imperfect leader and that makes her even more powerful and authentic.

All in all, I loved the “Earthseed” series. Both “Parable of the Sower” and “Parable of the Talents” are exceptionally well written and, evidently, the main character is a spectacular role model. The fast pace, the struggles, the world Octavia Butler built – there is absolutely nothing that isn’t perfect in these books and I plan on rereading them and talking about them a lot more!

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