Leadership & Self-Deception: When You Are Right

“I did not get on the bus to get arrested. I got on the bus to go home. I had no idea that history was being made. I was just tired of giving in. Somehow I felt I was right to stand up to that bus driver. I knew I could have been lynched or beaten when the police came. I chose not to move. I knew that I had the strength of my ancestors with me.”  Rosa Parks

I post my final article in this series on Leadership and Self-Deception today in response to my own feelings and the responses I received from others about the book and this series. I felt it was a necessary addition to address one issue that the book somewhat overlooks: How do you apply the principles of the book when you’re right? What good is it to berate one’s self for self-betrayal when one clearly is the subject of another person or institution’s injustice, misunderstanding, discrimination or abuse? Should a spouse who is subject to verbal or physical abuse “get out of the box” by questioning how she has betrayed herself? Should an employee who is wrongly terminated or laid off spend days in unending analysis of, “What did I do wrong?” Should those subject to discrimination in the workplace, at church or in society simply apologize for their selfishness, refuse to assign blame to their discriminators, and wait for a better day?

I don’t think so. There is a way to properly love one’s self, to stand up for the rights of yourself and others, and to work for justice while being “out of the box.” There also is a way to try to correct injustices “in the box,” but that rarely leads to anything productive. “In the box” blame only leads to physical and emotional violence, harshly spoken words and hastily written emails that we regret, continuous guilt about the hurt we have caused, and unreleased and unforgiven pain. “In the box” leaves our hearts, emotions and thoughts stirring with pain, anger and frustration that imprisons others, but ourselves most of all.

There is a way to have difficult conversations with others, and to confront wrongs, “out of the box.” But as The Arbinger Institute authors point out, these conversations and actions must be done after, and not until, we are out of our own box. Others could correct their own actions towards us, or even ask for our forgiveness, but it will not help as long as we are still in our own box. We will just keep trying to find another reason to blame them for our circumstances, and the cycle continues.

If you wish to confront injustice, wrongs or have difficult conversations, you first need to stop, take a breath, and wait. As I said in my previous entry, “Don’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry.” Write the email you want to write, but then save it in draft form. Write a letter to the person who wronged you, but don’t send it. Then begin to examine your own actions and self-betrayals that have led to the situation — few times are we completely blameless. Once we have honestly assessed ourselves, removing the “plank that is in our own eye,” then we can honestly assess others. But before we can judge or criticize them, we must first find it within ourselves to forgive them and to love them in some way. Then we are ready to have the conversation, send the email, ask for a second chance or correct the wrong.

That seems like hard work when others really are to blame. Why should we be the ones to forgive first? People can’t hear what we say or do if they can’t first love who we are. If you are still angry or blaming them, they will sense it despite your sweet or forgiving words. How we “be” communicates despite words or actions. Until we “be” out of the box, others cannot hear what we have to say. Why? Because we do not treat them as human beings and people until we are out of our own box. Until then, they remain objects of our ambitions, desires, or blame. We all want to be perceived as people and human beings that matter. Then we are able to hear and receive others, including the difficult things they have to say.


We only have to look to the Civil Rights movement for great examples of “out of the box” actions and words to right wrongs. While some resorted to violence, it did not win the day. Legislation and force was the result of a growing cultural consensus against discrimination. It took “out of the box” actions by Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and thousands of others who demonstrated respect and love for those who perpetrated the wrongs, but also a determined and concerted effort to create nonviolent tension that allowed the discriminators to see the injustice for themselves. King and others never apologized for creating the tensions or their efforts to correct the wrongs. But the actions they took were always with demonstrations of respect, love and concern for those who they believed acted against them. This paradoxical way of living and acting was “out of the box.” Listen to King in Letter from The Birmingham Jail as he addresses his oppressors:

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Notice: King first of all admits that he could be wrong, and that his actions could have led to the current situation. He takes account of his possible self-betrayal. Then he treats his oppressors as people, addressing them as “Christian brothers” and countrymen. Then he points the way to a new society and a second chance that is based on their common future together.

So we are to respect or love those who have wronged us before we right their wrong? Before we send the email? Before we have the conversation in the office? Yes. We first of all have to get clear on why we are hurt or angry. It is often because of love, even when we have been hurt. As King wrote of the church he felt had betrayed him, “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.” Once we realize that we still care aboutthe organization or the person we want to blame, then we are “out of the box.” It is only then that we can and should rise up in our own defense and work for the righting of wrongs, ever urging, loving and forgiving, until we reach the place of second chances and prayers for radiant stars of brotherhood to be realized again.

3 Responses to “Leadership & Self-Deception: When You Are Right”
  1. Rhonda Bogus says:

    These thoughts remind me of the saying that “before we try to change others, we would do well to remember how hard it is to change ourselves.” Not to think it impossible…and not to despair, but to keep a right-minded perspective.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Larry Kaplan, Renaissance Comm.. Renaissance Comm. said: Leadership & Self-Deception, The Final Post: Leading When You've Been Wronged. http://bit.ly/e6F8Fc […]

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