In her 2013 book The Power of the Herd, author Linda Kohanov described four unproductive habits that wreak havoc in personal, professional, and cultural situations. These “Stone Age Power Tools,” as she calls them, are currently acted out on the world stage in volatile political, religious and social activism contexts. To offer some hope that people can recognize these destructive patterns, and move beyond them, Linda decided to create an edited version of the chapter in which they were originally presented. This extended discussion offers some historical insights relevant to issues that are at the forefront of recent news, as well as an overview of some possible solutions that were presented with more depth later in the same book.
“When I wrote The Power of the Herd, I was optimistic that that these antiquated, intensely aggressive ‘power tools’ were, slowly but surely, losing influence,” she says. “But events in recent months have proven otherwise. As it turns out, greater numbers of people are using them, publically, overtly, and often without apology for the pain and suffering they cause. My only hope is that by sharing these insights in a public forum that we may gain some insight into how to ‘change our evil ways,’ and tap the motivation to both imagine and manifest the new world of possibility awaiting us if we can change.”
An Excerpt from Chapter Twelve: The Challenge
From command/control leadership models and predatory business practices to the current ways people misuse their much-valued freedoms of speech, religion, and the press, destructive behavior abounds in twenty-first century life. It’s notoriously difficult for any species to change instinctual or deeply ingrained habits without a strong outside force acting as catalyst. Modern, well-educated human beings are no different in this regard, which is why any effort to change unproductive attitudes and reactive patterns initially feels like we’re pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Despite our best intentions and proven brilliance in solving technical challenges, we keep making the same grossly inefficient interpersonal mistakes over and over again.
Stone Age Power Tools
Everyone, regardless of culture, religion, nationality, or social status, is essentially grappling with the same antiquated “power tools” their distant ancestors were using in the Dark Ages. In this chapter, I’d like to briefly outline the four most destructive tactics we commonly and quite stubbornly employ to influence others’ behavior. Call these moldy old habits whatever you like. My only recommendation is that you pick something humorous or absurd to further diffuse their power. We don’t need any more commandments or deadly sins. (The devil, above all, hates to look ridiculous, as does the average dictator.) How about the Four Stone Age Power Tools, Interpersonal Sink Holes, or Behavioral Mud Slides?
It’s also helpful to note that these unproductive power strategies are universal, existing below the surface of ideology. And yet they’re sometimes reinforced in the name of tribal tradition, religion, and/or social pressure. In reality major world religions explicitly discourage most of these behaviors, but they are incredibly insidious. Over the last three thousand years or so, religious, cultural, moral, and even legal efforts to curtail some of these harmful habits have been marginally successful as people continue to cling to what they know. I’ve grappled with them myself. I’ve seen devout Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Native Americans, atheists, politicians, scientists, educators, entrepreneurs, horse trainers, new age idealists, open-hearted social activists, and predatory sociopaths all use them over the years, with predictably damaging results, providing short-term solutions that stir up more trouble in the long run, often causing significant suffering that subsequent generations are forced to mop up.
I could write an entire book on these archaic social skills and how “they done us wrong,” providing voluminous case studies from all cultures and eras, but it’s more important to make these dubious habits conscious and move on, practicing new habits, creating new strategies, some of which are outlined in the Twelve Power of the Herd Guiding Principles in Part III of this book, some of which you or your colleagues might someday invent. In any case, here they are in all their irritating and ridiculous glory. I’ve organized these juvenile, in some cases devastating tactics into four classes of similar behaviors, offering brief definitions and examples, followed by related approaches that are more productive. (You’ll notice that it’s difficult to talk about any of these counterproductive strategies without bringing in at least one or two others.)
Take a few notes on these antiquated tactics, how they show up in your personal and professional relationships. Be aware as you watch them acted out in politics over and over and over again. In the future, whenever you use one of these clumsy power tools, notice how much additional time you spend cleaning up unforeseen interpersonal and organizational difficulties that arise as a result. But don’t wallow too long in all this muck. Keep on reading. I promise you; new visions of leadership and empowered relationship are close at hand.
1.) Predatory Dominance: Thriving at Others’ Expense
Predatory Dominance overemphasizes a “competition for limited resources” mentality, employing hierarchical, command-control leadership models combining intimidation, entitlement, violence, and fear-escalation to enslave and/or prey upon others.
As revealed in previous discussions of natural herd behavior, the dominant and leader are often two different animals. In pastoral cultures that move with large animals, master herders learn to combine the roles of leader, dominant, nurturer/companion, sentinel, and predator, acting for the good of the entire inter-species tribe. However, in civilized, sedentary cultures, we’ve lost this richly nuanced understanding of power. Through increasing disconnection from nature, many of our social structures have become unbalanced, overemphasizing dominance, and, even more dangerous, pairing it with predatory behavior.
Carnivores and adolescent alpha-style dominants use intimidation and violence to confuse, disempower, control, and of course, eat others. In nature, however, predators perform a valuable service. If the world had no lions and wolves, horses, cattle, gazelles, zebras, and wildebeests would over-populate, consume all available resources, and die of starvation. Ambitious human dominants — who are smart enough to manipulate and isolate themselves from nature — are not yet smart enough to balance their ever-increasing appetites in service to the greater good. Emphasizing short-term, personal gain, they deplete eco-systems while preying on people in various legal and illegal ways. While slavery has been outlawed in most countries (though it still exists in criminal sub-cultures), predatory dominance proliferates anytime people use fear, intimidation, and/or deceit to thrive at someone else’s expense, hijacking the physical and emotional resources others need for survival in order to bolster an insulated, increasingly luxurious lifestyle.
Predatory dominance includes various forms of bullying and other more subtle ways of disempowering people to maintain control. As socializing factors, for instance, fear and intimidation have been shown to inhibit intellectual development and creativity. At first, this appears to be a plus for conquerors who intend to enslave large populations and breed dim-witted, compliant worker drones for the ruling classes. Yet as discussed in the first section of this book, these techniques don’t even provide the leader with long term satisfaction or peace. There’s always someone younger and hungrier waiting in the wings, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness. As a result, dictators — whether political, corporate, or familial — must become vigilant and increasingly mistrustful to survive, qualities that easily devolve into paranoia.
To make matters worse, descendants and innocent by-standers must also watch their backs with servants, employees, and family members who’ve been victimized by this system. People and animals suddenly and unpredictably become violent when they have nothing left to lose, creating landmines of personal and generational trauma. George Washington gained the dubious distinction of starting the French and Indian War when he was unable to control the Native American warrior-chief Tanacharison’s sudden urge to massacre a group of Frenchmen, though these soldiers were clearly unrelated to the rascals that killed the chief’s family forty years earlier. Similarly, my stallion Merlin repeatedly attacked me for no apparent reason during the first six months of our association. The previous abuse he suffered in the name of “training” nullified his immense potential as a show horse, further underlining the waste of time, energy, and resources this approach reliably produces.
People who lead through fear, intimidation, and deceit must anticipate revenge and constantly manage the hair-trigger responses to minor threats that untreated trauma survivors experience and pass down to their children. Conquerors see themselves as sword-wielding supermen, but they spend more time mopping up blood and grime than enjoying the fruits of victory.
Constructive Alternatives: Historically, some nomadic pastoral tribes have engaged in conquest and slave holding, including treating women like cattle to be traded or stolen. These cultures have also suffered from the noxious by-products of uncontrolled predatory behavior. (See the brief discussion of Genghis Khan in the following section.) Yet there are numerous examples of pastoral tribes that have tempered their aggressive tendencies through daily interactions with large nonpredatory animals. Master herders use dominance consciously and sparingly, for specific, peace-keeping purposes: protecting the group from predators, setting boundaries with adolescent stallions and bulls, and keeping their herds from damaging valuable crops. (Effective boundary-setting techniques are featured in Guiding Principle Four, Chapter 16 in The Power of the Herd.) When larger populations develop these leadership skills, people can use the power of a fully empowered herd to stand up to organized aggressors in business, education, religion, and politics. (See Guiding Principle Eight, Chapter 18 for an overview of predatory versus nonpredatory power styles in nature.)
One of the most fascinating modern examples of non-predatory power in action involves John F. Kennedy’s war-averting strategies during the Cuban missile crisis. The President’s self-control, ability to model the difference between aggression and boundary setting, and his inclination to reach out to the enemy, appealing to Khrushchev’s humanity, arguably saved the world from massive nuclear destruction.
2.) Retaliation: Turning Victims into Perpetrators
Retaliation includes all kinds of knee-jerk reactions to physical violence, insults, and disrespect, including revenge and grudge holding, as well as hair-trigger responses to minor threats that cause some people to overreact, sending them into disorganized flight or fight modes that stir up more trouble than necessary.
Retaliatory behaviors initially seem like justified reactions to the physical and/or emotional violence proliferated by predatory “might makes right” leadership models. Revenge in particular, however, turns victims into perpetrators, channeling creative energy and ingenuity into destructive pursuits. Cultures that fall into the “conquest and revenge” cycle produce erratic innovators who never reach their true potential.
Genghis Khan and Andrew Jackson are great examples of brilliant, charismatic leaders whose skills were compromised by intense childhood exposure to war and abuse. As exceptional horsemen, their mastery of nonverbal communication made them formidable, highly influential agents of social change — for better and for worse. Hailed as saviors by some and devils by others, Khan and Hamilton were both, wreaking immense, unnecessary havoc that still breeds resentment and grief in the descendants of those who suffered most.
These troubled geniuses were products of a defective worldwide belief system, still prevalent yet slowly eroding, one in which survival-of-the-fittest, “power over” leadership models are giving way to mutual aid and mutual empowerment. In looking at the pastoral roots of the Judeo-Christian tradition, nonpredatory philosophies like Taoism and Buddhism, Peter Kropotkin’s long-ignored observations on mutual aid as a factor of evolution, and recent research on the biology of the human-animal bond, it’s easy to argue that aggressive, opportunistic social structures are constantly being challenged by multiple sources. (These elements were discussed in Part I of The Power of the Herd.) Despite human attempts to find ever more clever ways to use religion and science to justify the continued use of predatory dominance hierarchies, God and Nature appear to be on the same side in tempering these destructive practices. Still, there is much healing to be done, a process continually interrupted by revenge and all the toxic waste that results from indulging this counterproductive response to injustice, violence, and pain.
Khan grew up in a culture where tribes were constantly raiding, pillaging and exacting revenge upon each other as men were killed, women kidnapped, and children were orphaned. When his father captured his mother in one such skirmish, Khan himself was produced by rape. Mother and son later endured abandonment by their “adoptive” tribe when Khan’s father died. As a teenager, Khan himself had to rescue his own young wife under similar circumstances, never knowing if his first child was truly his own.
Still, modern historians puzzle over Genghis Khan’s dual nature: His ruthlessness in war was offset by a certain amount of generosity, religious tolerance, and cultural innovation compared to other kings and conquerors, suggesting that the nomadic pastoral lifestyle offered him some support in developing empathy and self-control amidst extreme circumstances, perhaps through the oxytocin effect of caring for large animals. Mongolian creation myths also emphasized a union of predatory and nonpredatory characteristics — the first man was believed to have arisen from the mating of a wolf and a deer. Khan’s ability to fluidly move from savage fierceness to thoughtfulness and sensitivity appears to be as much a cultural/philosophical influence as a personal talent.
Andrew Jackson’s fits of rage, predilection for revenge, and extreme sensitivity to insults hindered his ability to govern fairly as America’s seventh president. Yet considering his background, it’s amazing he was able to function at all. As a fourteen-year-old prisoner of war, he was beaten for standing up to his jailers, forced to live in a room filled with dying men and rotting corpses. His mother, upon hearing that both of her sons had been captured, talked British officers into releasing the boys, but after a grueling journey home, Jackson’s brother and mother both died, leaving him an orphan.
Like many wartime trauma survivors, Jackson was counter-phobic when it came to fear, able to face extreme physical pain, danger, and violence — while at the same time alternately exploding and retreating from the emotional challenges of peace-time relationships. This seriously compromised his ability to collaborate with others, respectfully air differing opinions, and negotiate thoughtfully.
Where revenge was concerned, Jackson’s destructiveness was overt. He was like a bull in a china shop. If you offended him, he challenged you to a duel or came after you in some other obvious way. Equally difficult to deal with, however, are covert forms of revenge, particularly grudge holding. People who engage this tactic are more like vandals who visit the china shop at night, break a few items, then loosely glue them back together, hoping a pricey plate or saucer will break apart in the owner’s hand when he shows it to a customer. The floor looks clean, of course; no violence seems to have occurred. But like more obvious forms of revenge, holding a grudge also compromises our ability to collaborate with others, respectfully air differing opinions, and negotiate thoughtfully.
Studies on grudge holding in the workplace suggest that women use this technique more often than men. Members of either sex who favor this strange little power tool feel disempowered and/or simply lack the crucial emotional intelligence and negotiation skills to use their power effectively. Trauma survivors and highly sensitive people who experience hair-trigger responses to minor threats can rack up a long list of grudges in no time at all, moving from job to job in extreme cases. At the very least, they’re sometimes passed over for promotions despite high IQ and great ideas.
As new employees, grudge holders are hard to spot. When challenged or wronged in some way, they don’t “fight it out” in person; they retreat and undermine offenders from a safer distance. Yet people who engage this passive-aggressive form of revenge are highly effective at blocking communication, innovation, and problem solving efforts, compromising team building, hurting the grudge holder and everyone associated with him or her in the long run.
While overt revenge results in violence and more trauma, grudges draw on a different arsenal of “mops,” spreading dirt around in quieter, more subtle ways through sarcasm, cynicism, “the silent treatment,” and gossip. The latter sometimes involves “pathologizing” co-workers perceived as adversaries, a now-popular technique where amateur “psychologists” diagnose offenders with any number of personality disorders. This twenty-first-century version of objectification/demonization, boosted by gossip disguised as concern, spreads slowly yet effectively through clandestine conversations questioning a team member’s mental health.
It’s important to remember that no matter how satisfying it initially feels to exact revenge, hold a grudge, or lash out at someone who has offended us, these efforts backfire, stirring up more trouble in the long run. This is doubly true for leaders who tend to enlist others in these nefarious pursuits, producing numerous casualties.
On this issue, George Washington stands out as an unusually evolved character. As illustrated in Part I of The Power of the Herd, his courage was matched by an emotional strength that allowed him to maintain sensitivity on and off the battlefield. He actively de-escalated volatile situations, calming and focusing others while exuding power and authority, preventing American soldiers from exacting revenge on British prisoners of war, reducing trauma and turning many captive mercenaries into supporters as a result. Yet Washington remains the exception to the rule. Andrew Jackson’s aggressive, knee-jerk reactions to threats of any kind are relatively common among modern leaders. His erratic behavior provides a classic example of how destructive people can be when they’re unable to match physical strength, intelligence, conviction, and endurance with emotional heroism. (See Guiding Principle Eleven, Chapter 23.)
Constructive Alternatives: Over the years, I’ve found that when someone tries to undermine my authority, hurt, betray, or insult me, it helps to treat the ordeal as an impromptu sharo, (a skill inspired by an unusual rite of passage among Fulani herdsmen described in Chapters 8 and 23). I initially exercised with my stallion Midnight Merlin. With this fiery horse, I found that if I held my ground with a strong yet inquisitive attitude when he suddenly became aggressive (rather than running off or striking out in anger) I avoided causing further abuse while gaining his respect and trust. I’ve yet to experience a human attack that produces anything close to the terror I felt the first time Merlin raced toward me rearing and striking. Even so, this same technique works with intimidating, antagonistic, panicking, or enraged people as well.
If someone literally came after me with a big stick, I’d surely run screaming in the other direction or try to defend myself. But at an emotional level, the sharo is an incredible tool for modulating interpersonal conflict. To take a bit of a verbal beating — waiting for the right moment to respond constructively rather than react with hostility — is a profound act of self-control that pays off in the long run. From a social intelligence point of view, this is not about playing the victim. It’s about overriding unconscious flight or fight impulses to stay present during extreme situations. In this sense, it’s also heroic form of wu-wei, allowing you to assess what’s happening before you react. (See Chapter 23 for specific procedures that transform the sharo concept into an emotional intelligence tool.)
Several additional skills are involved in turning potential enemies into colleagues, friends, or at the very least, respectful competitors. First, you must increase your tolerance for feeling vulnerable (Guiding Principle Five) without panicking. Yet enduring acts of aggression or disrespect are not in themselves enough. You must also address the reasons behind such attacks with the person who attacked you, approaching the difficult conversation that follows from an empowered yet compassionate stance. In this effort, it’s helpful to understand how to set boundaries with aggressors (Guiding Principle Four), engage fear management skills (Guiding Principle Seven), and discuss uncomfortable topics in thoughtful, non-shaming ways (Guiding Principle Nine).
There is absolutely nothing new or exotic about this advanced social intelligence skill. The term sharo may be Fulani, but it’s not an original idea. A good fifteen hundred years before these master herdsmen arrived on the scene, Jesus took this same concept to the absolute limit, not only by encouraging people to turn the other cheek when challenged. He fought extreme violence with uncompromising nonviolence, performing the ultimate sharo, suffering with arms wide open nailed to a cross, preaching compassion and forgiveness to the very end. That many Christians throughout history have had trouble activating this principle under pressure shows how truly extraordinary Jesus was. Yet the evolution of human consciousness and behavior demands that people adopt this counterintuitive approach to power in daily life, no matter what religion they practice.
3.) Objectification and Projection: The Deadly Duo
Objectification involves characterizing other living beings, groups, or cultures as un-evolved, unintelligent, defective, or even innately evil. Projection involves punishing, rejecting, or persecuting others for the same weaknesses and darker qualities we refuse to acknowledge in ourselves.
Because there’s no need to consider an object’s feelings or needs, objectification allows opportunists of all kinds — from politicians, preachers, teachers, pundits, entrepreneurs, and scientists to conquerors, terrorists, child abusers, and psychopaths — to justify ostracizing, destroying, or exploiting people and animals. The more archaic practice of demonizing people is still popular among religious extremists. The modern “arts” of racial profiling, sexual stereotyping, and pathologizing those we don’t get along with are also forms of objectification.
According to philosopher Martha Nussbaum, objectification occurs when we treat a living being in any of the following ways: as a tool, as a possession, as lacking in agency or self-determination, or as interchangeable (and thereby easily expendable). In all twenty-first–century cultures, animals are legally objectified, though laws specifying humane treatment temper extreme cruelty in some countries. The related technique of characterizing a human being as an unintelligent, instinct-driven animal is still used to oppress women and deny rights to certain ethnic groups worldwide. As advanced as we may think we are in this regard, Western civilization has only very recently begun to emerge from the trance of this age-old practice. In 1906, the London zoo featured an African bushman as an exhibit. Hunting licenses for aboriginal tribes were available as late as the 1930s in some countries. In other African and Middle Eastern sub-cultures, selling women, beating them without reprisal, and controlling their sexuality through the brutal practice of female circumcision are still enforced by religion, shame, and tradition.
When we feel strong emotions like hate, disgust, and/or extreme mistrust in relation to people, cultures, or animals we’ve objectified, there’s usually an element of projection involved as well, which means the person or group is acting as a mirror for darker qualities we don’t want to see in ourselves. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t witness people projecting their own shadow onto others: A conservative male senator venomously opposes gay rights, only to be caught having an affair with a man. A notorious Middle Eastern terrorist speaks out against the decadence of Western society by day, watching internet porn at night. Four, close-knit co-workers commiserate about a colleague’s “gossipy” undermining nature, insisting she can’t be trusted, unconscious of the fact that they are talking behind her back with no intention of addressing their concerns constructively.
Catching ourselves in the act of objectifying and/or projecting is hard to do — and extremely unpleasant when we actually succeed in making this behavior conscious: The initial awareness of what we’ve done unleashes waves of shame and guilt, especially if we’ve hurt someone with this “tool.” And yet, as discussed in the following section, there are constructive ways to move through shame, blame and guilt, allowing us to use these admittedly problematic agents as stepping stones to a more balanced, empowered state. When we stop employing shame and guilt as weapons to punish and control others, these grime attracting processes actually fertilize new growth.
Of all the antiquated power tools in our closets, however, the combination of objectification and projection is by far the most destructive. The Deadly Duo, as I like to call it, causes even gentle, well meaning people to feel justified in whipping out a host of other nefarious tools, rallying revenge, dominance, intimidation, shame, blame, guilt, rejection, persecution, and exploitation in service to literal and figurative “holy wars.” Leaders who employ the Deadly Duo stir up incredible trouble, leaving generations to mop up all kinds of trauma, mistrust, and retaliation. Hitler is the ultimate modern example. His devastating, incredibly effective, exceedingly well-organized ability to objectify the Jews, projecting all possible human weaknesses onto a single ethnic group, is enacted to a lesser degree daily, in offices, schools, playgrounds, churches, homes, and most definitely political discussions where any individual or group is treated as a hopeless cause worthy of ridicule.
Conservatives and liberals are apt to employ objectification/projection when they feel frustrated or threatened, usually adding voluminous amounts of shame and blame, invigorated by heart-stopping doses of sarcasm and exaggeration. This creates a most unhealthy stew of angst and outrage that many people, me included at times, actually find entertaining when it’s (ironically) done well: Politically-based comic strips and radio/TV programs thrive on this technique. Yet I have to ask myself: What price do we ultimately pay for these divisive forms of humor? Perhaps in small doses, they’re a guilty pleasure, but only if we realize we’re ultimately making fun of the foibles, frustrations, and cartoonishly ineffective habits that humans throughout history have struggled to release without significant success — at least so far.
Individual Considerations: Recognizing when we’re objectifying and/or projecting instantly reduces the destructive potential. The worst effects occur when people engage this Deadly Duo unconsciously. It’s also important to realize that objectification spreads like an infectious disease in all kinds of unexpected ways. People objectified in one context often objectify others, adding projection to the mix, adopting a form of “selective empathy.” This combination, for example, allows victims to mistrust or punish anyone who reminds them of the original perpetrator (who took advantage, in part, by objectifying them.)
While this sounds like an issue best handled in a counselor’s office, the incredibly irritating truth of the matter is that objectification and projection are often active in the workplace, throwing a serious wrench in everyone’s ability to get the job done. For instance, I’ve encountered female abuse survivors who, despite counseling in some cases, still suspect that all men are insensitive, untrustworthy, potentially violent predators. At work, some of these women engage in emotionally aggressive behavior with colleagues of both sexes, feeling justified in lashing out over minor threats or interpersonal mistakes.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Since it’s so difficult for former victims to admit that they too have the potential to act insensitively, they refuse to see that they’ve overreacted in certain situations. To make matters worse, they sometimes pick a particular team member to demonize, usually the most naturally aggressive male or female on staff, projecting all their darker qualities onto this person, shutting down communication and innovation on all sides. Since the scapegoat is considered evil and/or hopeless, he can never apologize profusely enough for legitimate faux pas, let alone discuss the possibility that someone might have overreacted in other situations. And any improvements he may show as a result of emotional/social intelligence coaching are either completely dismissed or considered superficial and suspect by people projecting their own shadow onto him.
This complex scenario is activated in the horse world as well, particularly with stallions and highly sensitive, fiery breeds like Arabians. I’ve met some cowboys who insist that all Arabs are crazy and dangerous, when it’s clear that these proud, defiant, sometimes emotionally explosive trainers have much more in common with the “demonized” breed than with the calm, submissive quarter horses most ranchers prefer. Aggressive trainers actually seem to draw out and then punish a horse for the same qualities they possess.
This might very well have been a factor in Merlin’s brutal training. “Lacey,” his volatile trainer, didn’t simply correct behavior she found unproductive. Tying Merlin’s head between his legs in that darkened stall was a form of torture that had no training value whatsoever, making him even more dangerous and unpredictable. It would be easy to characterize Lacey as cruel or inept, but it’s more likely that her judgment was hijacked by the exaggerated feelings and reactions all people exhibit when they’re projecting their darker qualities onto others. She may also have been engaging in “transference,” a special term describing how we sometimes overreact to people (or in this case horses) who remind us of family members, friends, clients, or colleagues who have hurt us in the past. In this way, projection/transference can pack a double whammy of uncontrolled emotional responses that have little to do with the current situation.
To clarify: Projection is the act of attributing your inner feelings, perceived weaknesses, and even unrecognized strengths to others because you’re simply unable, or stubbornly unwilling, to see these qualities in yourself. Transference is a more specific type of projection that occurs when your thoughts and feelings toward someone are strongly influenced by attitudes originally developed in a significant past relationship. Both projection and transference can inspire intensely negative or deceptively positive emotions and reactions.
Yet even positive transference can wreak a certain amount of havoc: If a new employee has a similar hair style, smile, vocal tone, or more subtle mannerisms that remind you of your favorite college roommate, you may “intuitively” trust this new person because she reminds you of a long lost friend. Yet when she acts differently (because she’s not you’re college roommate), you may suddenly, “intuitively” feel betrayed.
In Lacey’s case, negative transference and/or projection prompted abuse that she would have felt justified enacting at the time. Who knows what tripped that trigger? Lacey may have been hurt by a black horse in the past. Or, as is often the case with stallions, she may have been acting out all her unresolved feelings about aggressive male energy in general, perhaps because she was abused by a father, uncle, husband, or lover. Had she simply woken from the trance that kept her from seeing Merlin as an individual with his own unique history and needs, she could have stopped herself from unnecessarily harsh treatment that in the long run didn’t benefit her in any way, let alone the “student” who became her whipping boy.
Constructive Alternatives: People who face the Deadly Duo with courage and awareness turn potentially debilitating weaknesses into strengths. When we stop objectifying other people, species, and cultures, we can tap their unique abilities and perspectives to perform ambitious goals. It’s doubtful that George Washington would have won the Revolutionary War if he hadn’t been able to do just that: putting people with real talent, integrity, courage, and dedication in positions of responsibility, regardless of race, religion or social status. And, as observed in Chapter Three, if he had treated his war mounts as unintelligent, instinctual, interchangeable objects, he might never have recognized and further developed the talents of Old Nelson, that one horse in a million capable of withstanding cannon fire, inspiring panicking troops to stay in the fight on more than one occasion.
Projection has a silver lining as well. The people who irritate or inspire you the most are often mirroring qualities that you’ve rejected in yourself, spotlighting hidden talents or unrecognized skill deficiencies that can be useful when developed — and dangerous when left undeveloped. I highly recommend reading Debbie Ford’s The Dark Side of the Light Chasers for some simple yet powerful exercises in this arena.
Transference may also be at work. Whenever you experience unusually strong feelings arising in response to any person or group, take a moment to consider whether you may be triggered by past betrayals, difficulties, or traumas. Rather than lash out in anger or flee in absolute terror, analyze which emotions belong to the current dilemma and which belong to the past. You may realize, for instance, that a colleague innocently used a phrase that your father often uttered sarcastically right before he fell into a rage. The moment you make this conscious, you can avert an unnecessarily heated argument. If you unconsciously punish your co-worker for something a parent said to you twenty years ago, however, you could easily damage a valued work relationship, spending weeks mopping up the mess.
When projection or transference infringe on interpersonal interactions, it helps to notice the phenomenon, then focus on the present situation, wrapping the meeting up early if you’re too agitated to think clearly. Make an appointment with a coach, confidant, or counselor to deal with transference from past relationships or explore any undeveloped personal qualities your colleague may have been mirroring. As a leader, it also behooves you to notice when others are triggered, helping employees manage the confusion professionally. (Techniques for handling strong emotions, projection, and transference in others are featured in Guiding Principles Three and Nine.)
A Cultural Challenge: “Collective transference” adds a particularly destructive dimension to the Deadly Duo when activated in larger populations: Some people have been taught to treat an entire group as innately defective because of war-related trauma, or an ancestor’s negative past experiences with one or two members of that group. Yet the initial awareness that one sub-culture is objectifying, demonizing, and/or exploiting another marks the beginning of a long, often difficult process: Economic and political structures that allow people to benefit from objectifying others must be altered, which means enduring the discomfort of revising antiquated practices to meet the needs of everyone involved: Those acting as conquerors or dominators will initially resist giving up the few dubious advantages they receive from exploiting others. Those social groups oppressed through objectification and/or projection will have to regain their autonomy and self-esteem while resisting the urge for revenge.
Because most socially-sanctioned forms of the Deadly Duo take generations to alter, cathedral thinking is also essential. Without a long-term approach in mind, sensitive, well-meaning people can become frustrated and complacent, blaming the oppressors while doing little or nothing to help the oppressed.
Yet every little bit does in fact help. George Washington saw that the objectified populations of his era (including slaves, Native Americans, women, and horses) possessed intelligence, self-determination, and individual (non-interchangeable) talents, literally saving his life at times. As discussed in previous chapters, he made some dramatic efforts to treat these populations humanely, while realizing it wasn’t possible to change their legal or social status during his lifetime. In this way, he modeled behavior that others were inspired to emulate, making a difference to countless marginalized individuals, who, as they felt valued and increasingly empowered, positively influenced others in turn.
Washington’s evolving response to slavery in particular offers insights into our own limitations in altering widespread, culturally-reinforced forms of objectification. His family and friends were slaveholders immersed in a plantation system that traded African captives as cheerfully as twenty-first-century Americans buy and sell high-performance horses. Yet after fighting for the British in the French and Indian War, and allying with the French against the British during the Revolutionary War, Washington’s ability to objectify any culture was seriously eroded. By the time he retired his favorite war horses, high born officers had betrayed him, and talented slaves like Billy Lee had served him loyally, sometimes in intermediary leadership positions.
As a result of this increasing awareness, Washington refused to callously sell off the family members of his own slaves. Over time, of course, this meant that he was feeding and clothing more people than he needed for labor, losing money in the process. Toward the end of his life, he realized that slavery had two interconnected strikes against it: The practice (1) wasn’t economically feasible if (2) you treated slaves as intelligent beings with their own social and emotional needs.
So why didn’t President George Washington promote legislation eradicating slavery? Letters suggest that he thought it was inevitable, though unrealistic at the time. During the tempestuous post-war era, he couldn’t even inspire Congress or the American people to raise funds to pay the back salaries owed to soldiers who freed the country to begin with. He just barely passed the Jay Treaty while dealing with severely contentious attacks from the press and the public alike.
And though he wouldn’t have been able to put his finger on it at the time — as the terms weren’t invented until the early twentieth century — Washington’s effectiveness as a leader was seriously compromised by positive and negative projection/transference. More than any other president since, people were praising him as a savior, while also fearing that he was, at any minute, likely to become an American version of King George or Genghis Khan. The horrors that some immigrants had experienced with conquerors and inquisitions simply could not be soothed by the promise of a new democracy, especially with slavery proliferating in the South.
During Washington’s presidency, Americans also began engaging in the now time-worn tradition of projecting their darker qualities, and deepest, transference-related fears onto the United States Government. To this day — even among those who haven’t been directly oppressed — the association of central control with tyranny appears to be a collective concern passed down from immigrants to descendents, carrying an intense emotional charge of fear and mistrust that takes generations to fade. After all, in the U.S., we have a mere two-hundred-thirty years experience with a tenuous, sometimes violent, sometimes enlightened democracy — compared with five-thousand years of overtly oppressive social structures. Yet, like some female abuse survivors who initially objectify all men as predators, we must be careful not to scapegoat a government that has, from the beginning, been trying to find a better way.
Public figures and social structures act as projection screens, worshipped and vilified as people work out their previously unresolved experiences with authority figures (transference) and their own personal power (projection) on the models they have in front of them. Anyone promoted to a leadership position must realize this. Knowing up front that the extremely positive reviews and violently negative reactions you encounter daily are not necessarily about you goes a long way in helping you decipher and endure the chaos that accompanies success.
4.) Shame and Blame: Agents of Oppression
By-Products of Transformation
When used as a weapon to defend ourselves, intimidate others or control their behavior, shame is the most archaic and heavy-handed of all the conversational power tools. Injecting shame into a discussion is like hitting someone over the head with a club during an otherwise reasonable negotiation, causing people to become confused and defensive, shutting down communication, empathy, understanding, and thoughtful problem solving on both sides of an interaction.
As a personal emotional message, the related feeling of guilt helps us recognize when we’re overstepping boundaries, manipulating, hurting or neglecting others, helping us “course correct” and learn from our mistakes — if we’re willing to alter unproductive behavior. If we’re not willing to take responsibility for our actions, however, we look for others to blame, a practice that discourages personal accountability, and quickly leads to projection and objectification.
We often think of shame as a personal development issue or tribal/religious/cultural issue, but this social emotion wreaks all kinds of havoc in professional, educational, and political contexts. The human habit of shaming others to influence behavior, discredit, or disempower them is so ancient and insidious that many people honestly don’t notice when they’re using this tool in business-related conversations — or when it’s being used on them. Yet studies have shown that shame does not change behavior in productive ways. In fact, it adds unnecessary resistance, mistrust, and resentment, causing people to attack or humiliate each other, or to stay quiet when others need help.
Social worker Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. calls shame the “silent epidemic.” In her bestselling 2007 book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power, she draws together numerous studies and anecdotes showing that “shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive behaviors than it is to be the solution.”
Like other shame researchers, Brown compares this problematic emotion with the more constructive feeling of guilt, illuminating the difference between the two with the following contrasting statements: “I am bad” (shame) versus “I did something bad” (guilt). When shaming people to gain control, we convey similar sentiments directed at others: “You are bad” versus “You did something bad.”
Shame is about who we are and guilt is about our behaviors. If I feel guilty cheating on a test, my self-talk might sound something like “I should not have done that. That was really stupid. Cheating is not something I believe in or want to do.” If I feel shame about cheating on a test, my self-talk is more likely to sound like “I’m a liar and a cheat. I’m so stupid. I’m a bad person.”
Guilt is holding an action or behavior up against our ethics, values, and beliefs. We evaluate that behavior (like cheating) and feel guilt when the behavior is inconsistent with who we want to be. Shame is focusing on who we are rather than what we’ve done. The danger in telling ourselves that we are bad, a cheat, and no good, is that eventually we start to believe it and own it. The person who believes she is “no good” is much more likely to continue to cheat and fulfill that label than the person who feels guilt.
In working with leaders, innovators, community and non-profit organizations, parents, educators, and professional teams of all kinds, I find the rampant use of shame as a power tool to be the most shockingly unproductive behavior I encounter. Of course, we see this technique used in politics, with each side looking for all kinds of ways to shame the other. And the intent is truly to show that the other side is bad, in other words hopelessly defective.
It’s common to hear insulting, shaming statements in corporate contexts. Many religious leaders use shame to control the behavior of congregation members, and most certainly to discourage people from exploring other faiths, even those based on the same original founders and holy texts. Atheists shame believers, and vice versa. Doctors shame their interns. Academic experts use shaming statements to assert dominance over students, colleagues, and innovators. Riding instructors commonly shame their students into submission. And although animals are highly resistant if not immune to this uniquely human power play, I’ve seen many equestrians try to shame their horses. (The subsequent lack of response to this “tool” usually precipitates a severe beating.)
But even among “enlightened” social activists, mental health professionals, and leaders in the human potential movement, shaming statements abound. I’ve observed thousands of shaming phrases and gestures used in planning and “team building” contexts, each time undermining trust, creativity, communication, and problem solving efforts. And I’ve worked with numerous clients whose careers have been needlessly derailed by shaming attacks from bosses, colleagues, and subordinates. Shaming people in the workplace is more than a silent epidemic; it’s a powerful, incredibly hard-to-break addiction.
Let me give you one, unfortunately typical and rather mild example: The CEO of an internationally-recognized healing and wellness center recently told one of the facility’s founders, “You’re no longer relevant,” in a full staff meeting, thus effectively ending a twenty-year relationship. He could have easily said, “I think we need to update some of the healing modalities in your department.” Instead he callously depicted her as old, outdated, and incapable of revision. She wasn’t the first valued team member to leave the organization after enduring these kinds of insensitive, competitive, purposefully demeaning remarks. And she certainly won’t be the last, under current management at least.
Constructive Alternatives: Many of the Power of the Herd Guiding Principles offer strategies for removing shame and blame from interpersonal and group interactions — without compromising the need to discuss difficult topics, increase personal accountability, and change unproductive behavior. This includes Guiding Principle Three (managing contagious emotions), Four (mastering boundary setting and assertiveness techniques), Five (developing a higher tolerance for vulnerability in oneself, and refraining from using others’ vulnerabilities against them), Seven (diffusing panic), and Nine (preparing for difficult conversations).
Of these, Guiding Principle Four, oddly enough, is key to shame avoidance training, according to Brene Brown’s pivotal research. In her 2010 bestseller, The Gifts of Imperfection, she deftly illustrates how “the fear of setting boundaries and holding people accountable” is the unexpected, root cause of many personal and work-related shaming tactics.
The author herself was “stunned” to find that “compassionate people are boundaried people,” yet Brown’s subsequent personal transformation informed her understanding of the link between the two. Earlier in her career, she admits that she was “sweeter — judgmental, resentful, and angry on the inside — but sweeter on the outside.” Today, she describes herself as “genuinely more compassionate, less judgmental and resentful, and way more serious about boundaries.”
How does this work exactly? “The better we are accepting ourselves and others,” Brown reveals, “the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us.” She insists that “if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their actions.” The related tactic of blaming others, she observes, is also related to boundaries and accountability:
We live in a blame culture — we want to know whose fault it is and how they’re going to pay. In our personal, social, and political worlds, we do a lot of screaming and finger-pointing, but we rarely hold people accountable. How could we? We’re so exhausted from ranting and raving that we don’t have the energy to develop meaningful consequences and enforce them. From Washington D.C. and Wall Street to our own schools and homes, I think this rage-blame-too-tired-and-busy-to-follow-through mind-set is why we’re so heavy on self-righteous anger and so low on compassion.
Wouldn’t it be better if we could be kinder, but firmer? How would our lives be different if there were less anger and more accountability? What would our work and homes lives look like if we blamed less but had more respect for boundaries?
Answers to these questions demand an advanced understanding of power, backed up by significant emotional and social intelligence. Brown goes on to show how one business leader she worked with was initially perplexed by the idea that he was shaming his employees because of reluctance to hold people accountable. It’s clear that we’re dealing with a skill set that most people simply don’t have, no matter how high they climb up the corporate ladder — or how intelligent, religious, moral, and/or caring they otherwise prove to be:
Shaming and blaming without accountability is toxic to couples, families, organizations, and communities. First, when we shame and blame, it moves the focus from the original behavior in question to our own behavior. By the time the boss is finished shaming and humiliating his employees in front of their colleagues, the only behavior in question is his….
It’s hard for us to understand that we can be compassionate and accepting while we hold people accountable for their behaviors. We can, and, in fact, it’s the best way to do it. We can confront someone about their behavior, or fire someone, or fail a student, or discipline a child without berating them or putting them down. The key is to separate people from their behaviors — to address what they’re doing, not who they are….We have to stay away from convincing ourselves that we hate someone or that they deserve to feel bad so that we can feel better about holding them accountable. That’s where we get into trouble. When we talk ourselves into disliking someone so we’re more comfortable holding them accountable, we’re priming ourselves for the shame and blame game.
When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice….It’s also impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment. If we’re going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability.
The use of shame as a power tool is such an epidemic in the professional world that skills associated with managing its effects — and ultimately eradicating shame in the workplace — need to be incorporated into any serious leadership training program. Yet people without overt leadership aspirations also need to address this all-too-often ignored emotional/social intelligence issue. I’ve seen many talented, creative people face needless hurdles in realizing their personal and professional goals due to a lack of shame resilience.
According to psychologist and Epona instructor Pamela Zamel, Ph.D., “repeated and unprocessed encounters with shame can erode your self-esteem and sense of wellness. While the temporary feeling of guilt or embarrassment can lead to positive self-correction, shame is accompanied by the profound message that you are not fit to belong. Shame also interrupts curiosity, enjoyment, creativity, and the desire to connect with others.”
In summarizing Gershan Kauffman’s pivotal insights in Psychology of Shame, Zamel emphasizes that shame is often followed by fear, distress and anger. “The potential for shame exists in every interpersonal encounter. When an individual’s expectations or needs are deemed as wrong, unattainable or ‘too much,’ shame is experienced.” Shame can also be a “private phenomenon,” Zamel emphasizes, accompanying “a failure to measure up to our own internalized view of how we should be, do, act or perform. These internalized standards come from early life experiences, significant relationships, cultural values, and societal messages.”
In 2012, Zamel joined two Epona faculty members — horse trainer Shelley Rosenberg, author of My Horses, My Healers, and psychiatrist Nancy Coyne, M.D. — to create an equine-facilitated personal development workshop titled The Cage of Shame. Working with abuse survivors, many of whom face significant blocks in dealing with home and work-related interpersonal challenges, the course description emphasizes that unprocessed shame “can become an organizing principle in one’s personality, shaping and coloring all perceptions and expectations, and essentially making one more and more prone to future shame experiences.” This powerful equine-facilitated intensive offers skills to interrupt the “vicious cycle” set in motion when people become “imprisoned” by their own shame-based feelings and experiences.
A Deeper Challenge: There’s another side to shame that becomes even more problematic for visionaries, particularly innovators seeking to inspire widespread social change. Throughout history, and quite literally in the biblical sense, shame appears to be an inescapable by-product of transformation — with blame and guilt following close behind.
The now-standard definition of shame as a rejection of someone’s state of being, versus guilt as a critique of unproductive, hurtful, irresponsible, or immoral behavior, is still relevant here, but the issue takes on a wider scope in the context of social evolution. It appears that any time we move from a limited world view, accepting new information, expanding and transforming in response, we encounter feelings of shame for the previously constricted, perhaps selfish or even childish state of being from which we just emerged. This is often accompanied by guilt for the hurtful things we may have unknowingly done to other people, cultures, animals, the environment, and perhaps even ourselves. Recognizing that we were operating from a more narrow state of consciousness is essential to moving through this form of shame, allowing us to take personal responsibility for our actions, change our behavior, and fulfill the promise of a new, more empowered state of being.
I often encounter this uncomfortable yet necessary sequence of events with equestrians who attend my workshops. Once they see that horses can act as sensitive, highly adaptable teachers — that some of these animals show a greater capacity for compassion and healing than most people these students have encountered — many conventionally-trained riders feel not just guilt, but incredible shame for the ways they previously treated these intelligent, open-hearted beings. The same thing happens to scientists who’ve engaged in conventional animal research activities that involve extreme confinement, pain, and death.
If we have any hope of moving from practices associated with predatory dominance, which thrives on objectifying animals, women, slaves, etc., we must temper the urge to shame or punish those who’ve recently “woken up” from the culturally-induced trance that promotes these dubious power tools. People can more easily and efficiently change their behavior when realizing that they are not evil, callous, or abusive, but that the system they grew up in taught them to engage in these destructive practices. Helping people sort through the shame and guilt they feel — while supporting them in learning to use or invent more productive tools — allows them to embrace a new way of operating in the world. Acceptance, understanding, and forgiveness are essential to transformation.
The initial jolt of awakening to a higher level of awareness and responsibility is so jarring that those of us who don’t receive this unconditional support (and, hopefully, some new behavioral skills to go with it), tend to slide backward, desperately grasping at time-worn evasions. We may try to hide, medicate, or lash out rather than embrace the initial feeling of nakedness and vulnerability. We may blame others instead of looking at our own behavior and acknowledging what role we played in some questionable situation.
From there, we can quickly digress to the deadly arts of objectification and projection, easily receding into the ancient human habit of punishing, enslaving and/or preying upon “lesser beings” who aren’t “sentient” enough to warrant consideration, empathy, and care. It’s a vicious cycle: As a result of abusing objectified populations, sometimes simply to release the pressure of our own shame, we must either wake up and finally change our behavior (and both forgive ourselves and make amends for an even longer list of callous, sometimes horrendous acts) or project the additional guilt we feel ever more vigorously, making others pay for the mistakes and weaknesses we struggle desperately to disown. The latter option leads to multi-generational cycles of punishment and revenge. At the extreme end of this spectrum, we find serial killers who dispatch women, men, or even children with incredible cruelty, acting out unresolved betrayals or abuse scenarios in all kinds of “imaginative” ways.
Most shame-avoidance techniques, however, are non-violent, taking advantage of a dubious side-effect of human intelligence: Despite significant potential for innovation and expansion, our big brains can be used to actively suppress feelings, experiences, scientific evidence, and personal observations that challenge our limited, selfish agendas. The Buddha called this mental evasion tactic “ignorance,” recognizing that while it may initially feel more comfortable than letting new information in, this impulse keeps people in an arrested state of mental, emotional, and spiritual development. (Metaphors and techniques for breaking through intellectual blocks to innovation/transformation are outlined in Guiding Principle Six.)
Modern civilization often reinforces the notion that “ignorance is bliss,” but cultural and political structures designed to help us ignore what challenges us only serve to keep us in limbo. Once innovations and life circumstances crack the comfortable shell that was incubating a much larger, more compassionate, creative, responsible state of consciousness, we can never truly go back to that previously insulated state of being — one that, truly, “knew not” what it was doing, and must be forgiven as a result.
Around 500 B.C.E., the Buddha offered mindfulness and meditation techniques to address this multi-faceted issue. Five hundred years later, a dramatic effort to move humanity through an even more fitful stage of intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual adolescence inspired the first four books of the Bible’s New Testament. At the height of the Roman Empire, an innovative social activist and religious leader named Jesus spent three years on the “lecture circuit” encouraging people to evolve beyond an extremely violent, predatory way of operating in the world. While he offered parables and overt directives on the causes and recommended solutions, he also understood the concept of shame as a block to transformation.
Jesus knew that people would feel intense, debilitating shame and guilt as a result of “waking up” and recognizing the “sins” perpetrated daily by anyone adhering to a predatory-dominant lifestyle. The skills he outlined verbally and the behaviors he modeled nonverbally were so sophisticated that civilization is still trying to catch up.
Reading accounts of his words and deeds, we see the following principles in action:
- An ability to reach out to objectified, marginalized populations
- A courageous, uncompromising use of non-predatory power
- Rejection of all retaliatory behaviors, including revenge, grudge holding, and aggressive or defensive responses to insults, shaming tactics, betrayal, and, during the last few days of his life, physical violence and pain
- Compassionate engagement with all cultures and social classes that encouraged people to change hurtful behaviors without rejecting their deeper state of being or their potential to become something greater
- Emotional heroism
- Extremely high tolerance for vulnerability
- Unwillingness to use others’ vulnerabilities, mistakes, and “sins” against them
- Forgiveness in the face of injustice
- Unwavering faith in the ability of humanity to move beyond fear, aggression, oppression, shame, blame, and pain to a compassionate, awakened, harmonious state of being and behaving
- A graphic, multi-faceted, highly symbolic use of what the Fulani later called the sharo — an act of physical, mental, and emotional endurance that, in Jesus’ case, engaged a compassionate form of power that could embrace death itself
The last tactic was so complex and multi-layered in meaning/intent that it is often misunderstood. For instance, I’ve heard skeptics say that if Jesus had actually been a divine incarnation of God, he would have magically conquered his enemies and avoided death on the cross. Some Christians, on the other hand, have used this episode to scapegoat the Jews for the role that a few Jewish individuals played in the events leading up to the crucifixion. In reading the sketchy details outlined in the Bible, however, it’s clear that Jesus did everything possible to guarantee that he would endure this challenge — with an incredibly sophisticated, group consciousness-altering goal in mind.
Riding Between the Worlds
Throughout history and across all cultures, significant innovations in emotional and social intelligence are often accessed through what we now call “shamanic acts,” techniques that induce altered states of consciousness bridging the gap between consensual physical reality and the more fluid, creative, spiritual realities that visionaries tap to bring something new into existence. While some shamans use trance drumming, dancing, or psychedelic drugs, others employ fasting, physical endurance, and/or isolation in nature to jump-start significant transformative states. Major religious innovators from Lao-tzu to Moses, the Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammad appear have done this with a wider social agenda in mind, moving from personal shamanic acts (such as wandering through the desert, fasting for forty days and nights), to creating group shamanic experiences that help others see and process life challenges from a more expanded perspective.
Whether you see Jesus as a divine incarnation or not, it’s clear that he had an unusual talent for drawing large groups of people into transformative experiences, particularly those promoting non-predatory wisdom, mutual aid, and emotional heroism. From his birth in a barn to the sacrament of communion (in which he offered his “flesh and blood” to disciples, encouraging them to carry this highly symbolic ritual forward), Jesus underlined his intent to act as a “sacrificial lamb” for all of humanity, not just his own culture or tribe.
Enduring the public spectacle of the crucifixion, however, was an even more brilliant, intensely courageous move. By performing an extreme sharo of conscious self-sacrifice — demonstrating compassion and self-control in the face of death itself — Jesus transformed Rome’s ultimate intimidation-torture tactic into a symbol of triumph over oppression. Yet from a cathedral thinking point of view, embracing the cross performed yet another purpose: By encouraging people to project their shame, weaknesses, and darker qualities onto him, he invited these painful by-products of transformation to “die with him,” promising a clean, pristine rebirth into a more expansive, empowered existence. In this effort, he literally offered to diffuse shame and guilt for the people who participated in the events leading up to his crucifixion. At the same time, he made it clear that he was ritualistically offering to release these same debilitating emotions in future generations — through the timeless archetype he enacted in the passion play of death and resurrection.
In researching his life on a more practical level, however, I was surprised to realize that during his brief time on earth, Jesus actively preached against and/or avoided all four of the stone-age power tools covered in this chapter. Not everyone was willing to embrace his innovations, of course. But history shows that as his words and gestures spread beyond the Middle East, they tempered the “conquest and revenge” cycle proliferating throughout the world.
While countless individuals and communities have taken the principles he introduced to heart, civilization still condones and even promotes predatory behavior, despite attempts to outlaw it. Sometimes, ironically, dominant individuals adopt Christianity as a social control to oppress and shame large populations into submission. The good news is that anyone can access the original text directly — engaging with Jesus’ innovative parables, sayings, and behaviors, while also using the ever-present archetype of his death and resurrection to release shame and embrace transformation.
New Moon Rising
But what happens after we remove fear, shame, blame, objectification, projection, revenge, and predatory dominance from the equation? What does power look like when the shackles are removed?
Here’s where an all-too-often ignored dimension of history foreshadows an unexpected answer: From Alexander the Great to the Buddha, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, George Washington, Katherine the Great, Geronimo, Winston Churchill, and many other influential leaders, a pattern emerges. For thousands of years, the invisible forces of charisma, bravery, poise, focus, endurance, and conviction have been most reliably bolstered by a silent, nonpredatory tutor. Recognizing the horse’s multi-cultural importance, not just as a beast of burden, or even a companion of kings, but as a teacher of kings, conquerors, heroes, and pioneers, is an essential first step in wrestling this wisdom from obscurity and purposefully exercising it in the future.
The horse stands at the place where all trails come together, and a new moon shines upon us. To retrace the steps of sorrow and injustice, courage, compassion and innovation — elevated by a being that has been used for both conquest and freedom — is to know the dark and light of power.
To become a student of the horse — rather than a calculating, disconnected master — is to master our own predatory tendencies, reclaiming our original calling to move beyond instinct in partnership with nature, tapping our potential to become visionary leaders capable of rallying the endlessly evolving, fully conscious forces of a truly empowered herd.
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Copyright 2013 by Linda Kohanov from The Power of the Herd: A Nonpredatory Approach to Social Intelligence, Leadership, and Innovation (New World Library).
For more information on upcoming workshops and special trainings by Linda Kohanov, see http://eponaquest.com/.
For more information and reviews of The Power of the Herd, https://www.amazon.com/Power-Herd-Nonpredatory-Intelligence-Leadership/dp/1577316762/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1504570902&sr=1-1&keywords=the+power+of+the+herd.