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Enhancing Organizational Performance

Fear Itself…

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In 1933, during the darkest days of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt in his first inaugural address delivered a solemn message to the American public.

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

His concern was that the fear the American public was suffering through was paralyzing the efforts needed to emerge from the economic chasm into which we had fallen.

“In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things.” 

He asserted in that speech that the values of the American public were in fact intact and strong and where we were falling short was only on the material front. There can be a good deal of debate about that point, but he lay blame for those conditions on the bankers and money lenders for incompetence, stubbornness and for abdicating their responsibilities to society. FDR was certainly not an unblemished figure and in his speech he fell victim to the lure of scapegoating, assigning problems to others, as a way to rally the population.

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.”

In his address he spoke, as he said, frankly and boldly. Today, we are again facing fear, but this time the fear has been purposely induced, it has been foisted upon the American public to gain power, to control, to bring forth behaviors that were held in check by our values. The behaviors that have been brought forth induce divisiveness and discord and attack the most vulnerable in our society as the “other”, to blame them for our problems. The discord and divisiveness in our society is cheered on, nurtured and sometimes orchestrated by our adversaries, for while they can’t stand against us as a strong democracy, as our rule of law and our democratic institutions weaken they see a path to victory over us.

The threat we are under today is the opposite of the threat America faced during the Great Depression. Economically we are strong, but morally, from a values standpoint, our government and part of our population has lost its way. It can creep up on you and each little cut can be brushed off, until it is too late and you realize you have hemorrhaged and lost a fatal amount of blood. It is time to heal our wounds and to regain our footing. Our government was of course elected by the people, in this case a minority of the population, but there are real grievances that led us to where we are and those must be address if we are to ever move forward.

What we are experiencing right now should be a wake-up call to just how fragile our democracy, any democracy is, how easy it is to imperil our freedoms, to corrupt our values and how we must safeguard them all. Democracy along with strong values, can’t be taken for granted. They must constantly be nurtured in order to survive and the public can’t give into its fears when faced with a fear inducing challenge. We have been far from perfect, but we were on the right path.

Societal culture, just like organizational culture, can enter periods where it is more fluid, more able to change. Kurt Lewin described these periods as unfreeze events. We have been in an unfreeze event and the various elements in our society have been pushing this way and that to change the culture to the point of view they desire. The risk is that the culture will refreeze into a culture that is inherently undemocratic, based on autocratic policy. That is not who we are, that is not the country the founding fathers envisioned and it must be resisted at all costs.

Those who are attracted to this autocratic orientation are a varied lot. It does no one any good to paint with a broad brush when you describe their motivations. There are those who have been speaking out but it is time, way past time, for those within our government, those with a platform and those with an understanding of just what is happening, who have been quiet to join in and speak out and to speak out frankly and boldly, for we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

July 13, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Ethics

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