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Brokenness and Leadership

Jenifer Wolf-Williams, Ed.D., LPC-S

Brokenness, Danger, and Reconnection

Tonight, I feel unsafe.  My doors are locked, and my neighborhood is quiet.  But my heart races as I pull up the news.  More bombs.  Another mass shooting.  More dehumanization.  More threats against this group.  More threats against that group. 

My chest tightens.  I know this drill – from social psych studies of troubled lands. 

Social psychologists know a lot about how communities—and nations—slide toward extreme violence.  And the United States is on that path.

Societies at risk for mass violence have histories of devaluing targeted groups.  They live with persistent conflict between groups.  They ignore historical social traumas.  They perceive oppressed groups to be “dangerous.”  And they lock themselves in to the voice of authority. 

Until about two years ago, when I gave societal risk factor lectures, I would breathe a sigh of relief on that last one.  It would never happen here.  Not in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Not in a nation built on protest, dissent, and freedom of speech.

But that changed. 

Now I hear it far too often: full deference to a leader, no matter what.  No matter that he disparages – repeatedly – anyone different from himself.  No matter that he rips babies from their mothers’ arms.  No matter that he publicly sides with dictators against his own nation.  No matter that he militarizes our border against a helpless community of refugees. 

None of it matters, or none of it matters enough.  His followers still follow.  Most do not share his values, yet they follow.  They cite his position, the political tradeoffs, their acquired fear of “others.”  And however far he goes, they do not turn back.     

So I am frightened.  Not of a hungry group of refugees.  Not of people who worship on Saturdays or Fridays.  I am frightened of people who look like me.  I am frightened of the powerful, the dominant, who will not step back from a man who leads hatred. 

But I take a deep breath.  Fear is no place to stop. 

And the research does not stop there either.  Societies torn by mass violence can and do find healing.  They learn.  They do the hard work.  They discover shared goals and create shared beauty.  They acknowledge pain and find a path forward.  They choose kind leaders.  They speak thoughtfully.  They listen, think, and listen again.  They craft a shared vision, protect the oppressed.  And when it all feels too hard, they take hands and try again.  Together. 


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