We were having a family dinner. My dad, who was 81 at the time, had broken his back in a skiing accident, he had been in a long recovery and was still feeling poorly. We had a family get-together for Easter and out of the blue, he looked up from his coffee and dessert and announced, “Carol Lee, I want to tell you something, you are a lousy dancer.”
There was so much going into that moment. All the influences of an entire lifetime flowed into the occasion. I knew that I, as the family scapegoat, was going to collect heat from my relatives during get-togethers. But this statement was so odd, so bizarre it stunned me. Now I understood that my father didn’t want to feel like an outcast, and I know he didn’t realize the implications of what he said or why he said it, but I perceived everything about that juncture in a flash. My dad aimed his venom at me to connect to the family. Not wanting to be unkind, I responded, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” It was easy for me to see that the statement itself was irrelevant to his reason for saying it. The comment had nothing to do with dancing or me. Nobody else commented, they were mute but startled.
Every family, team, club, tribe, or organization in time, form a social hierarchy. Currently, the trend for lies and deception is on the rise, and if someone speaks the truth, he or she’ll be attacked because it makes the “in” group uncomfortable. Sometimes, a negative leader will arise. He may be charismatic, charming, and appear powerful. When people like that gain influence, they boost their authority by inviting cohorts to find and attack a target. Often the target is a truth-teller and amicable but does not have as much social capital. Moreover, if the mark plays by the rules, they are at a disadvantage. When they object to manipulation or deception being perpetrated, it sounds like sour grapes, they look like a poor losers. They come off as opposing out of spite.
When a community forms an opinion about a particular person that is not accurate and they refuse to change this view to recognize the present development of a person’s character, it is the equivalent of murder. Their judgment does not represent the behavior of the person that is currently true but their opinion forms an envelope over how that person is seen by the group. One cannot overcome this judgment and it sets up strong limitations on what opportunities are offered to the target. That’s why reputation is so important. As long as the target is vulnerable in a social group, and their stature weak, they must find another community because they cannot survive the bias of the original group.
A way for a target to escape the energy dynamics of the group that has a fixed view is to move to a new community. Being seen in a new light gives people a chance to thrive. Back home, if it’s possible to distract the negative leader with some vital job where they’re doing less harm that might work too. Understanding the power dynamics of a group and social capital is a vital component of emotional intelligence and leadership. Consider the company you keep and if the water has a little bit of poison in it. You can’t purify the water but you don’t have to drink it either.