The Problem with Being True to Yourself – Mike Hill
“To thine own self be true” is the immortal and encouraging advice of Polonius in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.
Equally, it has been observed that having the courage to be true to oneself in our current culture is not without its problems. Views that are not acceptable to elitist groups (whoever they are) are quickly trashed on social media. And of course, it’s not just the disruptive views that are trashed, the people who dare to hold such views are also crushed under the weight of anger from groups and individuals whose online efforts can be as vicious as they are vocal. Ask J.K. Rowling!
The climatic conditions for disproportionate responses:
- The rate at which social media can disseminate information, true or false, to large numbers of people on a global scale. So, our problem quickly becomes your problem, or if you dissent, our problem becomes you.
- The psychological impact of lockdown, which as has been observed by others builds pressure which at some point has to find release. This might take the form of flouting Government advice on the one hand or releasing the pressure by taking to social media or ‘not very peaceful’ protests
- The changing nature of authority in our culture, which is easy to observe, but complex to explain. For instance, wearing a uniform. What is clear is that wearing a uniform, which at one point relatively recently garnered respect, now in certain social contexts inspires, abuse and violence. It needs to be said clearly however that such respect can only be maintained by uniformed organisations avoiding excessive force, rather than freely deploying it.
The brooding fear
The net result is that leaders can live in fear of being a dissenting voice or even making a mistake. Much has been written, maybe too much, about the erosive impact of all this upon free speech, but if people are not free to express views I/we don’t like, then clearly free speech is under pressure. No-one likes to be offended, but surely we should fight for the right to offend through exposure to new ideas.
All this has had a huge impact on leadership, not least upon those leaders who occupy the public space. The research suggests that a hidden majority (?) don’t buy into many of the ideas supported by those progressive influencers who are relentless in their attempts to eliminate reasoned opposition.
The problem is that if you stick your head above the parapet and disagree, the hostility and lack of proportionate response experienced is something that most people will do all they can to avoid. Consequently, the ‘progressive’ agenda moves on unheeded, which is of course the intended goal of some. They apparently occupy the high ground of knowing what’s good for us!
What to do?
Anyone who has carried leadership responsibility and doubts the wisdom of this so-called modern ‘progressiveness’, but keeps silent, knows first-hand the uncomfortable mantle of dis-ease that weighs us down. I understand this and constantly review if my own leadership, over the years has been overly fearful.. I want readers to know that I understand the fear, partly because I have been a fellow sufferer!
However, deep within my heart I know that I am called to contend for the truth, not because I think the ideas of those with whom I disagree should be silenced, but because of the responsibilities of my faith, and also because healthy liberal democracy requires such debate. I’m not sure whether the slogan “silence is violence” is necessarily right, but certainly “silence is very often implicit collusion.”
Here are some things for you to think about if you decide it’s time to stick your head above the parapet:
- Limit your exposure to incoming social media posts. Trolls can get inside your head if you allow them! Only as a last resort block them!
- Use language carefully to express your views.
- Be rigorous in not misrepresenting the views of others.
- Seek to model inclusiveness in your desire to engage in debate with those whose instinct is to trash your own views.
- Follow the debate in the media (generally overly supportive of a progressive agenda, in my view).
- Be willing to speak out for truth and for the freedom to express “dissonant” ideas.
- If it’s anger that motivates you, try and filter it out of your contributions. Communication driven by anger makes it more difficult for people to hear you.
Our society needs leaders who’s conscience is troubled by the direction of cultural travel to speak up. Polonius had a point!
You can do this…
Thank you for what you are achieving.
CEO, GLN UK & Ireland
For further thought and discussion:
- This topic was covered in some degree at the June Webinar, ‘Staying True – Leading into a Shifting Culture’. Watch again.
- A helpful GLS session on overcoming fear and taking steps to building your courage is Gary Haugen’s 2017 talk. Watch here.
- I would welcome your feedback on any experiences and lessons you have learned in relation to this cultural situation. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.