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How Healthy Leadership Supports a Culture of Peace & Individual Resilience

The mission of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics

Stephen Sideroff, PhD

Many people in this country have noticed and expressed relief following the January 20th inauguration of President Joe Biden. Expressions such as “I feel lighter”, “I’m more relaxed”, “I slept better”, “A weight has been lifted”, all attest to the impact of the change in leadership. It begins to illustrate the power of leadership, and how leadership can foster a culture of peace and even personal peace, or cause harm, discord, and stress.

There is a healthy balance between the importance of internal strength, and self-confidence on the one hand, and external, leadership and community support on the other. When there isn’t a balance, we are more susceptible to the messages of leadership.

There are two factors here to be considered: 1) Leadership has power that can be used for both good and bad, and 2) Our culture’s vulnerabilities can be taken advantage of by leadership, giving leaders even greater power. This greater power means that leadership also has a responsibility not to take advantage of this vulnerability. This vulnerability is exemplified by how many people can be unduly influenced and persuaded by the messages of leaders. When a person has difficulty trusting their own thinking and decision making for example, this amplifies that vulnerability.

The self-power of being an adult

In our society there is great difficulty transitioning from being a child – leaning on parental strength and doing “what you are told” - to being an adult and making your own determinations of right and wrong, as well as which choices to make. When this transition isn’t complete, we continue relying too heavily on external messages – either from our childhood, or from those in power.

One of the lessons of indigenous cultures is how they support the development of their young and in particular, how they engage ritual to help adolescents make the transition from childhood to adulthood. This communal process results in the young adult given “permission” to take on adult responsibilities. All too often, because the parent has not gone through this process, they are insecure about their own power, and thus hold on to it too dearly. There is thus a lack of “transfer of power” to the next generation.

This void leads to specific dangers. Since there isn’t enough trust in self, or self-confidence, there is greater leaning on, and susceptibility to the messages of leadership. There is less questioning or skepticism. Many have been concerned about the large number of votes our last president received, even though he lost. What I’m suggesting is that it’s this vulnerability to power that is responsible for this outcome.

Striving for a culture of peace by leadership

The previous leader negatively influenced our culture due to this vulnerability to power. These influences were counter to a culture of peace. At the heart of a culture of peace are the following:

1. Trust in leadership and government, which requires

2. Truth telling, and

3. Empathy – a sense that those in power are concerned about you and they are working for you, not their own self-interest. This creates a sense of community.

4. Focusing on factors of integration, which is the basis of emotional health. This is supported by efforts to bring people together and benefit from diversity, and

5. Messages of belonging, and support, not division.

6. Focusing on what’s right and then addressing what needs to be improved upon. Instead of continually emphasizing what’s wrong and who is to blame.

7. Equality and justice, where everyone has - and believes they have - equal opportunity and justice.

8. Emphasizing behavior that supports the “Golden Rule”: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

These are all factors that I’ve highlighted in my model of resilience and success. They create optimal functioning in individuals, in relationships and in communities. I’ve written about this in my previous blog at Psychology Today, “What defines a resilient community, and why strive for it”, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/path-optimal-living/202011/what-defines-resilient-community-and-why-strive-it

Responsibility of Power and leadership

The bottom line is that leadership must recognize their responsibility to the principals above as a way of balancing out and purifying the power it has been given to influence people. Leadership has the power, and responsibility to foster Cultures of Peace that result in individual and community resilience. These should be the goals of leadership. When this happens, people feel more secure and safe. This leads to less stress and conflict. This, in turn, leads to more effective thinking, behavior and performance. And this results in greater productivity that returns dividends to this process and continues to benefit everyone. Healthy leadership as defined here, ultimately results in greater physical and emotional health in the members of the community. Everyone wins.


Topics: Coalition Building, Compassion, Peace

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