What can a leader of a group do about scapegoating in his or her own group? It's too easy to say that it is one of leaderships most important jobs even though successful leaders must protect talent, creativity, differences and fair demography from ... read more
What can a leader of a group do about scapegoating in his or her own group? It’s too easy to say that it is one of leaderships most important jobs even though successful leaders must protect talent, creativity, differences and fair demography from being undermined by the scapegoating process. But how to do it without oneself becoming a casualty? After all leaders are the most common scapegoats in any group, particularly if they are not backed up by absolute institutional authority which often includes the threat of force. Leaders in the United States, say the President, are routinely scapegoated if not assassinated!
Recently I participated in a group in which the familiar and difficult problem of the abuse of women became prominent. The leader was accused of personally perpetuating the abuse of women. It was hard to know whether that was true or not because little thought or discussion time was given to facts as the anger from woman and sympathetic men took over and the scapegoating of the leader gained steam.
The leader said that other more pressing and difficult problems in the group were being set aside by this attack. But all such comments were seen as defensiveness and excuse. When would he apologize, became the cry!
I think the leader knew he could apologize and possibly change the direction of the group. But apologies are not often useful when they are manipulations and not emotionally felt, as was apparently true in this case. In fact, either forced or insincere apologies fuel the very problems that leads to scapegoating. In this case the leader allowed the attack to proceed while carefully suggesting, when he was allowed to speak, that it would be valuable to understand more about what was happening in the group including what was being hidden by the attack. Eventually this approach was successful in that it led to a careful consideration of what apologies did and did not achieve, including the differences between apologies, reconciliation and forgiveness. Nevertheless considerable personal damage was done to both the leader and some of the members who were caught representing abuse for the group.
One of the problems in this example is that the women’s sub group identified as abused were not willing to break ranks with their “sisters.” Emails from women in the group to the leader as well as post group discussions documented this phenomena with much private talk of soul searching about the negative consequences of supporting the leader rather than the women claiming abuse. And yet, in practice only woman could have stopped the “get the leader” dynamic. All men were labelled abusers and therefore their comments were not considered relevant.
Unfortunately this is all a very common occurrence in scapegoating groups. Members who stubbornly holding to politically correct views rather than supporting reflection and exploration about a given situation are complicit in keeping scapegoating alive and well. Of course, victims do need support even when they are perpetuating their own sacrificial roles and creating the scapegoat role for others. One woman told the leader that a sacrifice was needed and the leader was strong enough to bear that. Perhaps she was right. My own sense ws there must be another way.
July 27, 2014 1 Comment
No surprisingly, since my last post in June, given the current events, Dr. Scapegoat has recieved several emails from Africa and the Middle East about the definition of ... read more
June 7, 2014 1 Comment
Why are high school and college students on a rampage against their peers? Eliot Rodgers' horrifying mayhem in Santa Barbara is so well documented by therapists, friends, police and parents that we ... read more
March 20, 2014 1 Comment
Hazing. It’s an activity I particularly dislike. Pain, humiliation and shaming are invoked to “make men and women” out of boys and girls. Think of it like whipping our kids--or slaves, when slaves ... read more
February 6, 2014 Leave a Comment
A rather vexing cartoon from last weeks New Yorker had this lead: “Dan and Irene’s communication problems improve thanks to Richard, their couples therapist.” The picture shows Dan with his arm ... read more
December 2, 2013 6 Comments
Dear Dr. Scapegoat: My question has to do with children. My child’s mother and my family have singled me out as being the problem in the family and cut me out. I have joint custody so my son is with ... read more
November 7, 2013 Leave a Comment
Thanks to All-American lineman Jonathan Martin, we hear that locker room culture in the NFL caters to racism, bullying to “toughen up young players," and all manner of hazing and extortion ... read more