Today on my ride home I heard a sports commentator discussing a recent abuse scandal on a high school football team. While the commentator did not dispute the evidence of abuse, he asked another whether he had ever heard of such behavior before by a football team. It seemed he was a bit surprised a team or a coach would tolerate systemic abuses of other teammates.
Why are we surprised when an organization tolerates harm done by one set of members to another set of members?
Whenever an organization (football, school, fraternity, or religious community) seeks to best the competition, limits membership, rejects all who would support other groups, maintains secrecy a strong hierarchy, you have a recipe for systemic abuse. Look closer at this recipe:
- A population of individuals who deeply desire inclusion, who want to be in the inner circle
- A population of individuals already in the inner circle and feeling mighty proud of it
- Everyone feeling the need to protect the organization over individual needs/concerns
- Secrecy about decision-making processes
- Leadership who will maintain the hierarchy and encourage fears over what might happen if the system breaks down.
We know hazing and abuse happens on sports teams, fraternities, military units, and any other organization with these above-named features. It is more natural than we would like to admit.
This does not mean that all popular organizations, all private clubs are abusive. Rather, only without significant effort, individual abusive acts will morph into systemic abuse through complicity.
What significant efforts reduce the possibility of systemic abuse? Here are a few for starters:
- Transparency of leadership and decision-making processes
- A culture of protecting the weak over the strong
- A culture of inclusion and collaboration with outsiders
- A culture of servant-leadership and true mutual submission
- A willingness to listen to inside and outside critique
He who wants to be first, must be the least of all.
Do we believe this? Or do we believe that associating with bigger, more prestigious groups will bring us value?