Community Resilience Realities. An Essential Reading During the Upheaval of COVID-19

I had this colleague once; a classic extrovert.  I was coming out of an arduous and painful divorce when I we first began spending time together.  She was tall, blonde, voluptuous and loud.  I am average height, brunet, unassuming and discreet.  She was new to town and didn’t know that many people.  I lived in town a long time and didn’t know that many people.  We agreed to spend the holidays together in Mexico because neither one of us wanted to spend it with our families.  

I was, conveniently for her, the butt of her jokes.  She was, conveniently for me, a replacement part for my broken-down marriage.  As our friendship waned in the following months, I began to see myself as an outcast; like someone who was rejected by and ultimately vilified by her.  She dressed provocatively, would shake her chest right in the face of other colleagues and was constantly cackling with her new friends as if in a passive aggressive attempt to intimidate me.  It seriously sounded like a pack of hyenas.   To be honest, such behavior reminds me that we humans really are no different that the rest of the animals living on this spinning orb. We are dressed, however, in faded jeans and organic bamboo t-shirts. Consider how a peacock struts and displays their flamboyant feathers, or a gorilla beats their fists on their chest or crows squawk irrepressibly to show their dominance.  We are the emperor with our notorious invisible clothes. 

The competitiveness between us eventually mutated to a point that became painfully obvious to me.  She won the promotion and all the glory that seemed to go along with it.  I became a sacrifice she had no qualms about making.  Very soon after I found myself quietly holding in my ideas for fear she’d laugh or criticize them.  I more than one time noticed that something I was already doing quietly seemed to somehow become her new moment to shine.  The vulnerability was too much to bear.   I retreated to the proverbial sidelines and licked my open wounds.  There is something to be said for magnanimous personalities with natural leadership abilities.  We have certainly shifted from the “culture of character” where people expect others to conduct themselves with quiet integrity and are rewarded as such, to a “culture of personality” that celebrates bravado and activates the “herd mentality.”

Brené Brown, a popular social scientist, TED Speaker and author, finds that when the “herd mentality” is allowed to operate with impunity in the workforce, with extroverts at the helm, blame and shame create barriers to creativity and innovation.  Because workers are afraid to share their ideas for fear they will be ridiculed or bullied (nearly 37% of American workers have claimed to be bullied), introverts, usually more creative individuals, stifle their contributions.   

Collective fear stimulates herd instinct and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd. ~Bertrand Russell

It was Carl Jung who devised the terms extrovert and introvert in the 1920’s.  Afterward, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers brought them mainstream and offer an online test, MBTI.  They identified 16 personality types with the goal to help others have a better understanding of life and how to make clear decisions based upon one’s own individuality.  There is a common misperception that introverts are boring, incapable of fulfilling, creative leadership roles in society.  However, the opposite seems actually true.  When researching “famous extroverts” on Google, I found no real stories or sites of value, but what was interesting is that a whole host of sites and articles revealed a quiet fascination with the introvert.   In fact, some really amazing people are identified as introverts, including Oprah Winfrey, Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, and Rosa Parks.  Famous extroverts? Donald Trump for one.  Oh, and Newt Gingrich too.  Enough said. 

There is growing evidence that extroverts do not necessarily make good leaders.  They tend to want to dominate the landscape and rarely have capacity to give others a voice.  In fact, according to a study by researchers at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, while extroverts represent nearly 96% of the leadership positions in the workforce, they only represent 50% of the population.  They go on to say that representation in leadership roles, bullies on the playground, popular public figures and numbers of “likes” in social networks tends to be skewed because extroverts hang out with other extroverts and are therefore overrepresented compared to the general population.  

Another study from University of Leeds, revealed that it takes just a minority of five percent to influence a crowd’s direction when moving through public spaces and that the ninety-five remaining percent often follow without realizing it.  Why is this important?  Think of disaster scenarios?  If one person, who is bold, loud and easy recognizable takes the wrong turn and the herd essentially follows, there is greater risk for casualty.  As this scenario plays out in our schools, in our universities and workplaces, we are faced with the growing understanding that we are headed in the wrong direction.  For example, take the general consensus on global climate change, the economic conditions, and the most recent, gun violence. 

I see it over and over again in the workplace, in our schools, in pop culture, and now, certainly in the wake of COVID-19 all over social media.  The loud and aggressive win out again and again over the silent and reflective.  If you have ever been to a city or community council meeting, invariably there will be one or two regular, outspoken, personalities from the minority which consistently call for policies to be changed, while the silent majority is at home donating to NPR.  Right now, we have members of my very own community making violent threats to our Chief Medical Officer because he is opting to follow the instructions of the Governor, the CDC, the WHO with an intent to save lives.  They have chosen to take to the streets demanding their rights to have a haircut and go back to work (because they don’t want the government handout), which they claim is more important than civil stability, public health and the resiliency of our health care system. 

Brown notes that, when the culture of a one group mandates that it is more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of individuals or communities, you can be certain that shame is systemic, money drives ethics, and accountability is dead.  

The thing is the violent call for Nationalism and individual rights will never be sustainable.  If humanity seeks to survive this pandemic and all the foretold calamities yet to befall us due to an unstable and changing climate, volatile economic markets and a society at the edge of its threshold, we need to heed the traditions of indigenous cultures who valued stewardship of and celebrated their inclusivity with nature rather than attempt to dominate it.  This so-called prisoner’s dilemma of self interest inherently leads to individual wins but society’s collective loss.

Even economists agree that unfettered free market capitalism does not self-regulate, has too many externalities to avoid sacrifice zones and systematically rewards the rich and powerful.  You see, you cannot have winners in the economic game if there are no losers.  Fragile systems – ecosystems from which raw materials are extracted for the purpose of gross product production (GPD) or social systems impacted with low wage, extractive industry that pollutes and oppresses the most vulnerable are not sustainable and have clearly demonstrated, especially now, that we’ve crossed the resilient threshold of these systems. 

Power begets power.  Never mind that altruism offers the biggest benefit to society (i.e. pay it forward mentality), but the top 1% who retain a powerful grip on information, global supply chains and political connections will fight dirty for every last shred of influence before it is all said and done.  And yes, they have mesmerized so much of our society, that they are blindly following these extroverted Nationalists in the wrong direction, waving their signs, wearing the MAGA hats (likely made in China) and gaslighting those who don’t agree with them.  But their argument cannot survive its one-sidedness.   

We must stop the ‘taking mentality’ of extractive capitalism.  We cannot continue to harvest natural resources for profit at an unsustainable rate at the expense of clean air, water and health and safety.  We cannot continue to consume energy at an unreplenishable proportion and expect to be able to keep the lights on.  We cannot continue to emit wasteful emissions and generate untold tons of waste expecting that the smell will not eventually contaminate the Oval Office (as did dust from the Dust Bowl).  This will only perpetuate the intergenerational and historic wealth, class, race, and gender inequality which lifted the top 1% into their status as it exists today.  We need to consider circular systems – circular energy, economic and waste (surplus) and social justice systems.

And this idea doesn’t stop at natural ecosystems or social circles. It is painfully evident in our current 24-hour news cycle. The media (both sides) parasitically consume our energy and regurgitate sounds bites mistaken for truth. The endless barrage of he said-she-said spins out of control like a bad record perpetuating the divisiveness.

And sure, I can agree with some of those who denigrate the concept of a green new deal.  It is a no-deal without a plan to provide base-level income for the jobless who will invariably become impacted by manufacturing moving overseas, machinations, and shifting technologies.  But the irony is that their nostalgia for the old days, (i.e. Nationalism and patriotism) fails to include the ugly truths that many those programs, which drove our economic rise in the post-industrial times or in the roaring ’80s, marginalized indigenous cultures, people of color, those already living in poverty and especially African Americans.  And today’s policies perpetuate this same dogma.  

The way I see it, we have a lot of wealthy, powerful extroverts making a whole lot of noise right now and the folks who are following them are headed in a drastically dangerous direction for not only our environment, but for our economy and society – and as COVID-19 has emphasized, not just a few will be impacted, but more than likely 60 to 70% of us will be pushed towards the inaccessible exit door should we choose not to shift our values and policies to create a more just and circular future for all.  One that not only includes the misfits and introverts but gives all members of society a voice so that we create a more antifragile, resilient future.  If you think that your wealth, acrylic nails, sweatshop clothing, indulgent judgments of others, and gaslighting will insulate you from the realities of how systems actually function, there is no amount of truth or data or liberal eye-rolling that will persuade you otherwise.   

My former extroverted colleague? There is nothing wrong with her. Nor is there anything wrong with me. That is not what is at stake here. It is not about who is right and who is wrong or who wins and who loses. We all lose in this scenario. Well, maybe the top 1% will be insulated from worst of it.

I honestly don’t want to waste my time worrying about what happens on Capitol Hill. The only things I can control are my responses to my environment and how I feel inside. Let them have their word wars. I choose to take the road less traveled; the one with the misfits and introverts who consciously choose to take the opposite route of the crowds wielding pitchforks and torches.   I choose love, stewardship, altruism, and faith.  Faith that Mother Earth knows more than the President of the United States, or for that matter, the president of any county.  Faith that balance is a synonym for truth.  And truth is truly the opening to individual freedom.

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