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The Institute for Human Relations, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study of a technology for human relations skills that empower individuals, organizations and communities to address critical issues in areas such as diversity, education and athletics.



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Leadership in Crisis

by Steve Davis, Founder and CEO
The Institute for Human Relations, Inc.
June 3, 2020

Watching on television another person of color die unnecessarily at the hands of people who have taken an oath to “Serve and Protect” American citizens, floods me with emotions. They first hit me all at once and then they rose separately in a vicious cycle until I was almost paralyzed. Flashbacks of my own encounters with “the law” makes me realize how fortunate I am to not have suffered a similar fate. I give thanks to my parents and grandparents for teaching me how to respond to police officers, “yes sir, no sir,” move slowly, and never try to run away.

My emotions are compounded when I think of how the parents of those victims must feel, having taught their children the same lessons, and yet they watch their child’s life taken away on television as the child practices what they were taught! I can’t imagine the depth of pain, conflict, anguish, and confusion they must feel as all the television networks replay the event in a cruel cycle of “breaking news.”

Unfortunately, this is not new to black Americans, and it is not new to white Americans. Just in the last few weeks similar situations have occurred in Georgia, in Kentucky, and in other areas of America that did not make the breaking news. Take a look at the USA Today article, Police Killings of Black Men in the US and What Has Happened to the Officers.

I do not make this reference to vilify police. They are people who have taken a solemn oath to “Serve and Protect” us. They are people who put their lives on the line, every day! Many of us have family members who serve in law enforcement and we are so thankful when they come home each day after their shift, and terrified by some of their accounts of their day.

However, something is wrong! There are some individuals who believe they are above the law and there are systems in place that support that attitude and behavior, and systems are repetitive.

In 1971, Dr. Robert Carkhuff performed an in-depth analysis of a report provided by The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission, formed following the riots of the summer of 1967. One outcome the report revealed, was that the disorders were not the result of isolated incidents but a Cycle of Social Failure. A cycle that began before the founding of this country.

In his book, The Development of Human Resources, Dr. Carkhuff outlines the six principles of social failure: In summary, they are:

1. Create the dimensions in which one group is systematically conditioned to experience itself as “superior” over another group who is conditioned to experience itself as “inferior.”

2. Create and sustain the exploitation of the oppressed group by the “superior” group to create a state of frustration.

3. Periodically raise up then dash the oppressed group’s hopes, opportunities, and initiatives to create a state of aggression.

4. This phase depends upon the whether the power holders act or do not act to address the grievances of the oppressed group. No action is an action. It means that they choose not to care.

5. If you want the exploited group to explode in uncontained fury, provide the conditions which enable the “superior” group not to act upon the grievances of the oppressed group.

6. To perpetuate the cycle of social failure, provide the conditions which enable the “superior” group to engage in repressive behavior towards the first group. These are the same repressive activities that led to the original exploitation and privation.

cycle of social failure

In recent history this cycle has repeated itself in situations like Watts, Newark, New Jersey, South Central Los Angeles, Little Rock, Ferguson, Missouri, and now we are watching it once more play out “live” on television. However, one thing we do know about cycles and systems is that they are repetitive. If they are repetitive, then they can be anticipated. if they can be anticipated, then interventions can be planned. So, the question for our leaders is “What is your plan?” Surely, after so many iterations of the cycle one would expect there would be a plan. There are no signs that a plan exists or, if one does, that there is any initiative to implement that plan.

On the other end of the same page are the protesters. The definition of protest includes organizing as a way of publicly making one’s opinions heard as an attempt to influence public opinion or government policy; or they may undertake direct action and attempt to enact desired changes themselves. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Protest is the language of the unheard.” The first step in his strategy of organized protest was to bring those in power to the negotiating table. There can be no resolution without conversation. The last act before going to war is to cut the lines of communication! Even in my day of college sit-ins, the goal was to bring the administrators and leaders out to discuss our demands. Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference provided intense training of their activist at places such as Highlander Folk School, and on many college campuses. Protesting was a skill with standards geared to achieve mutually beneficial results.

Unfortunately, what we are seeing today, aside from those with the deliberate intent to be destructive, is a result of untrained, impulsive, highly frustrated individuals without a plan or standards. If the goal is to resolve the problem, keeping in mind that the events that initiated the protest are only a symptom of a deeper problem; there must be a process that leads to a dialogue about the root cause of the problem. There must be ownership of the source of the problem, and an action plan implemented that is monitored, evaluated and continuously improved until the problem is resolved or turned into a mutual benefit.
There are key elements to an effective protest:

1. Define the issue, who it affects, what those effects are, and the consequences of those effects (both upon those directly affected and those secondarily affected).

2. Identify who is directly producing the effects, who is encouraging those people producing the effects, and who has responsibility for the initiators and their supporters.

3. Create a protest strategy that should include goals, objectives, and tactics.

4. Design methods to implement the tactics.

5. Select the people to implement the tactics.

6. Train those people in the strategy, goals, objectives, tactics the implementation methods, and the possible personal consequences of their action. If they don’t know the why along with the what, and if they don’t know the risks along with the how, they won’t be properly prepared.

7. Select the right people to lead the protests.

a. Teach them how to select and train protesters

b. Teach them how to identify, remove, or neutralize those who want to use destructive methods, or who want to disrupt the protest.

c. Teach them how to collect information and observe protest opponents to understand their motivation and the probable methods they will use to stop and/or eliminate the protest.

d. Teach them how to develop counter measures to their opponent’s methods

8. Teach them the interpersonal skills to engage with their protest targets so as to lay the groundwork for change.

9. Teach them how to motivate and coordinate large groups of people to keep them on task and path.

10. Teach them how to problem solve and adapt to meet changing conditions and opportunities.

11. Teach them how to continuously improve what they do by studying and reflecting upon past events.

12. Teach them how to transition from protester to change implementer and help those who have been protesting make the transition to change implementers.

13. Teach them how to involve the opposition in making and supporting change.

Hopefully, this will provide protesters with a “Hip Pocket” and Guide to Constructive Protesting.

Now that the protesters have a plan, we have to again ask our leaders, what is your constructive plan for a mutually beneficial resolution to a crisis? Leadership makes all the difference! Out of a crisis comes the opportunity for true leadership. During a crisis you find out who you really are. A Leader’s responsibility to respond reveals their ability to respond! Is the response constructive or destructive? An effective leader would have a plan to respond to each level of protest. The plan should include what you need to do before, during, and after each level of protest so that we don’t repeat the same behaviors that got us here in the first place.

Dr. Carkhuff’s analysis of community and government leaders in 1968 found that,
1) they have no plan to prevent the crisis; 2) they have no plan to anticipate the crisis; 3) they have no plan to alleviate the crisis, they only have a plan to suppress the crisis. They only have a plan for repression.

Fifty years later, we have to ask how much better have our national and community governments become at leadership, in equal opportunity, and social justice. If repression is still their only response, then we have to protest, but if destruction is our only method of protest, then there’s little hope we will ever address the root cause of this crisis of opportunity and justice. We will continue to wonder who will be the next family to watch their loved ones lose their life needlessly on television… again.

Dr. Carkhuff concluded his analysis with this sobering prediction. The price of continuing to do what we have been doing is staggering. “There can be no victory. This is a conflict which the Black American cannot survive. This is a conflict from which the white American cannot recover.”

We are staring squarely in the face of a choice between continued Inaction or action for social change that can reverse the Cycle of Social Failure. What is our plan? Without a plan the outcome is predictable. I strongly suggest that we all read or reread Dr. King’s final book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community. There is no guarantee we will have another chance.

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