Posts Tagged ‘Yale University’

Tyranny Prevention

May 24, 2017 1 comment
Keynote: Timothy Snyder

Keynote: Timothy Snyder. CC BY-SA 2.0

Yale University’s Levin Professor of History Timothy Snyder has written a manifesto for democracy titled On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017). This little volume (128 pages, 6” x 4.5”) packs a wallop. Although he never names anyone as his focal tyrant wannabe, the reader knows that this book is a call for individual action to prevent the inevitable consequence of inaction in the face of power grabbing.

As one action that I will take in response to his words, I have summarized his 20 admonitions for those of you who do not relish reading. That said, I strongly urge you 1) to read this little book, and 2) to find your own way of preventing tyranny. Together, we can.

The bolded introductory statements are Professor Snyder’s wording. The defining examples are my wording, including a couple of his examples.

  1. Do not obey in advance. “Anticipatory obedience” occurs when eager followers desirous of pleasing the leader initiate acts they imagine the leader would encourage, as in the SS killings in 1938 Germany before being commanded to do so.
  2. Defend institutions. Advocate for organizations that are important to you: EPA, NEA…
  3. Beware the one-party state. Fight for the integrity of the electoral process—stand up against efforts to gerrymander districts. Hurrah for yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling against two gerrymandered districts in my home state of North Carolina!
  4. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Czechs wanting nothing to do with Communism posted signs such as “Workers of the world, unite!” thinking authorities would leave them alone, assuming they were of a Communist leaning. Didn’t work. Remove or otherwise eliminate signs or symbols of hate or intolerance.
  5. Remember professional ethnics. Professional associations can make stronger statements than can individuals—while it may be difficult for one lawyer or one doctor to resist a malevolent force, they may appeal to their colleagues to provide ethical force in large numbers. In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, one woman couldn’t stop war, but when all women threatened their men with abstinence, war was rethought!
  6. Be wary of paramilitaries. In a democracy, only the acknowledged governments (local, state, federal) have the right to police.
  7. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you must carry a firearm, maintain the personal authority to say “No!” to its use as a tool of unjust oppression.
  8. Stand out. Without Winston Churchill’s emergence, England may well have languished. He stood out, and up, to Hitler. Similarly, Gandhi, MLK Jr., and Sally Yates have stood out/up/alone.
  9. Be kind to our language. Tyrants repeat misused words until followers reify them. Resist by keeping your public language fresh and accurate. “The American people” is not the same thing as “my fan base.” Read great novels for ideas on how to speak truth to power.
  10. Believe in truth. No declamation without verification. Insist on knowing sources. Demand verifiable evidence. Check with the fact checkers. Protect the fact checkers. E. O. Wilson in Consilience posits that it is not politics and religion that divides us, but rather cultures that do not respect evidence.


    Mother with her Dead Son. Kathe Kollwitz. 1993. Berlin. (A memorial to the victims of tyranny.) CC BY 2.0.

  11. Investigate. Develop a nose for sniffing out fake news. Turn a deaf ear to blatant misstatements (“My program is the best possible that could ever be conceived.”) and correct them when and where possible. Before passing along a suspect, outlandish tidbit that stretches reason, check it out on Inform yourself—don’t shy away from reading a longer article when you suspect it has helpful information. Be one of the (hopefully increasing) well-informed electorate. Don’t just follow sources that confirm your biases. Conservatives must watch channels other than Fox News, and Liberals must watch other channels than MSNBC. I intentionally follow Al Jazeera on my iPhone. And the BBC. Look beyond your backyard/border.
  12. Make eye contact and small talk. It is easy to look friends in the eye and chat them up. It typically takes more effort to look strangers in the eye—particular those different from us—and make friendly small talk. Catching the eye of a potentially downtrodden person—or even someone who is visually different than you—and chatting briefly with them will make their day (better) and leave them less fearful.
  13. Practice corporeal politics. Get your bod and brain out into the world and make friends and connections beyond your private circle. On the other hand…
  14. Establish a private life. Protect your privacy and that of others by securing your computer and supporting organizations that advocate for human rights.
  15. Contribute to good causes. Support two or more organizations that advocate for a civil society—dollars add up, so don’t hold back because you could only make a small contribution! Think of autopay of a dollar a month to your good cause(s) as an inoculation against tyranny. When a million others join you, we have budgeted for tyranny prevention.
  16. Learn from peers in other countries. Keep your passport active, maintain relations around the world, and establish new ones. In the worst case, you may need a new home.
  17. Listen for dangerous words. Tyrants are extremists who are under the illusion that they are mainstream—that everyone values their agenda, and they use alarming words to cajole the masses into huddling into their fold: “so-and-so is a liar, so don’t listen to them—listen only to me,” “these are extreme times, so embrace my extreme methods,” “terrorists threaten our democracy, so bear with me as I suspend your liberty to stamp them out,” “emergency conditions require extraordinary responses powers,” “such-and-such is a total failure, so you must embrace my replacement for it,” “circumstances require that we make exceptions to the law,” or “Deutschland über alles.” Prefer “America and Germany and all their co-inhabitants of Mother Earth and the Cosmos.”
  18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Founding father James Madison identified emergencies as the primary hotbed for tyrants—authoritarians emerge to manage terrorism and exact the price of personal freedoms in return. Their mantra: “I’ll keep you safe if you do all that I say.”
  19. Be a patriot. Pay your taxes. Support our military. Vote. Volunteer. Support our news organizations. Decry bad leaders at home and around the world. Support the values that our country espouses—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
  20. Be as courageous as you can. Be prepared to be demeaned, to be fired, to be imprisoned, or even to die, by insisting on the rule of law and the separation of powers.

Establishing Rapport—When in Rome…

Robert Frost said it best—“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,/That wants it down.”

Walls keep cows in pastures and people in their comfort zones. In similar, wry New England style, Lake “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg” is loosely translated from the Nipmuc (an Algonquian language) as “You fish on your side; I fish on my side; nobody fish in the middle.”

So what is the best way to get around a wall, to meet in the middle to fish? This is about establishing rapport. When two people sense that they are significantly different from one another, the differences create obstacles to rapport. The more ways two people differ, the more difficult rapport.


The goal for establishing rapport is to minimize differences in a way that is authentic and non-threatening. Richard Bandler and John Grinder found the secret to the magic of several famous psychotherapists, including Virginia Satir and Carl Rogers. To reach quick rapport with their patients, these so-called “magicians” would match the physical imagery in the language they used with their clients. This imagery tended to be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic, and by using similar imagery, an easy rapport emerged.

Patient:               I’ve been grappling [kinesthetic] with this issue for years.

Therapist:           Mmmm, this is something you’ve wrestled with [matching] for quite a while.


Patient:               I can’t quite get a focus [visual] on where I need to be headed.

Therapist:           Let’s see if we can shed a little light [matching] on that issue.


Patient:               My past reverberates so loudly I can hardly hear [auditory] myself think.

Therapist:           I hear what you’re saying—kind of like constant thunder [matching].

Apparently, by matching the patient’s imagery, the patient felt immediately understood and accepted. Bandler and Grinder extended this simple principle to other areas.

Dress: To minimize differences and work to establish rapport, try to match the attire of the person(s) of interest. That is why we wear suits to weddings and funerals—to show respect. That is why some schools require uniforms, to discourage young people (and staff) from focusing on differences. That is why some world leaders adorn the garb of their host countries when traveling. One day while consulting, I was at a bank headquarters in the morning and on a manufacturing plant floor in the afternoon. I decided to wear nice tan slacks with a Navy blue blazer, light blue shirt, and regimental stripe tie to start the day. En route to the plant, I ditched the tie and blazer to more closely match the attire of my next clients.

Language: If you use multisyllabic words and your partner uses a simpler vocabulary, try slowing down and matching them by preferring Anglo-Saxon words: “use” instead of “utilize,” “make” instead of “fabricate,” and so forth.

Tempo: If you speak or walk fast, and your partner speaks or walks slower, then slow down and match their tempo. Or, speed up to match theirs.

Volume: If your partner is quiet-spoken, then don’t hold forth in stentorian bombast, like a bull in a china shop. Conversely, if they are louder, speak up.

Location: If they live in a castle and you in an apartment, then meet on neutral turf (Starbucks?).

Temperament: If they are warm and effusive, step up your game to smile and touch. If they are cool and aloof, don’t smother them with hugs and guffaws. If they are a slob, don’t try to redecorate their digs (unless they ask!). If they are perfectionist, be attentive to standards and details. If they are tactful, be more guarded; more direct, be more blunt.

Travel: If you’re with Arabs who are offended by the sight of others’ shoe soles, then keep your shoes grounded. If you’re with Japanese who carefully present their calling card, don’t casually throw it on the table—treat it respectfully by studying it and carefully placing it in your folder. For other ways to “do as the Romans,” see Terri Morrison and Wayne Conaway’s Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands—The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More than 60 Countries (2nd ed.).

Niccolò Machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli

Some call matching and pacing manipulation. I call it respect—taking the time and effort to meet a person on their terms, in their comfort zone. Not all that different from asking your kids to watch their mouth and manners when visiting the grandparents. Niccolò Machiavelli, much maligned and misinterpreted for his recommendations in The Prince, urged leaders to avoid being rigid—to use both ends of each personality trait continuum, as it were. Leaders should be brave, yes, but sometimes reticent. They should be tough, yes, but sometimes tender. Leaders who remain fixed at the brave and tough ends of the continuum are not respected but feared and often hated.

Mental health is dependent on one’s ability to draw upon each pair of opposing traits as the situation demands—sociable when you must, then solitary; perfectionistic at one time, more casual at another; methodical today, spontaneous tomorrow; tactful with Tim, blunt with Jim. To adapt one’s behavior to the situation is not manipulation, but good mental health. Yale’s Robert Sternberg defines intelligence as “mental self-management.” Manage your mind.

When Julia Roberts playing Erin Brockovich in the eponymous movie leaned over the counter and squeezed her shoulders and elbows together with results that turned the stubborn clerk into a compliant, whatever-you-want-ma’am puppy, THAT was manipulation. That was not matching and pacing. It WAS acknowledging the clerk’s baser instincts as an avenue to get what Brockovich wanted.

Manipulate—to influence someone in an unfair manner. Rapport—a harmonious relationship where communication and understanding abound. With no intention of following through on her body language, clearly the Brockovich character was manipulating, not establishing rapport. Not to say that the body language didn’t serve a noble cause, but, in the film’s storyline, it WAS manipulation!

When possible, I vote in favor of building and establishing rapport, but not at the cost of being one’s authentic self. Establish rapport, then be yourself. But isn’t going a little out of your way to establish a form of being yourself? Hmmm…