Over my life a characteristic feature has been that I remain in groups where I have a position of leadership and that I do not remain in groups in which I am a follower. It’s about control, of course, and it’s a characteristic I have been aware of since college, but only recently have I gotten insight into what drives me to behave this way.
In my career as an academic physician, researcher, and administrator, I was often in collaboration with others, but that collaboration included both explicit and unspoken hierarchies of power (for example, seniority of authorship or academic position). For the past decade as a member of Be Present’s Board I have worked in a very different collaborative model, one in which decisions are made collectively and by consensus and where deciding to just “go along” with the group is not part of the true process. It is still a struggle for me to be fully present in collaboration unless I am also present with my awareness that in such settings I have strong emotional reactions that can drive me to controlling or manipulative behavior. If those emotions are suppressed or not acknowledged, anger will accumulate and emerge forcefully and unexpectedly at some future time and often in another context.
So, what is new about a wealthy, white, Jewish man, accustomed to positions of power, acting to push his ideas and thinking on others or feeling entitled to act out his anger on others? It fits so many stereotypes and expectations, and when I can look at myself from outside my emotional distress, then I can see the assumptions of superiority and privilege within me that fuel such stereotypes and that I wish I were rid of. However, emotional distress often will grip me before any lightbulb turns on to reveal that I am about to act out my distress. Why is that distress so quick to come and so strong in its influence? Read more