A pandemic is a crisis. In crisis people sometimes engage in dark acts. Sometimes they engage in noble acts. As we move forward we might do well to keep the noble perspective in mind.
In Ho Chi Min City is a war museum. A few months ago, I visited and was exposed to the story of the conflict as experienced by the people of Viet Nam. It is a horrific tale. I found myself filled with discouragement. Then I entered a room that told the stories of the army massacres. Soldiers were killing civilians en masse; wiping out entire villages. In the middle of the horrible accounts was a stunning tale.
U.S. soldiers were herding villagers towards a ditch to kill them. A U.S. helicopter pilot saw them, and landed his aircraft. He told his men to cover him, and if the soldiers fired on him, they should fire back. When he reached the soldiers he asked them what they were going to do. They said that they planned to kill them, and the pilot responded, “There is a better way.” He went to the ditch and offered his hand to a villager. He led everyone to the helicopter and flew them to a place of safety.
Soldiers are not inherently evil, but if they are trained by a hierarchical culture and placed under pressure, they will act out of fear and become capable of unspeakable acts. Fear prevents the emergence of conscience. When immoral dynamics unfold in a hierarchy, any hierarchy, they are almost impossible to stop. Yet in this case, one man, driven by conscience, rather than circumstance, became a positive leader. In the short term, he saved innocent lives. In the long-term, he did something else.
I am no different from the soldiers. Fear can block the call of conscience. I am capable of dark acts. Yet, decades after the actual event, I can read one story of one person operating from conscience in the middle of chaos. It is a story of excellence in leadership.
The story elevates my awareness and registers in my memory. The account now resides in me like a pebble on one side of a great scale. The pebble is a small influence tilting me towards courage. I am grateful for visiting the museum, suffering the pain of witnessing the inhumanity of man, of encountering the example of one positive deviant, and carrying away the energy that still radiates from his conscience driven act of excellence.
- Have you ever witnessed an abusive or immoral act driven by hierarchical pressure?
- How often are such patterns reversed?
- What is necessary to reverse such a pattern?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?