If you have watched the 1995 movie ‘Harrison Bergeron’ or read 1961 Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, which inspired the movie, you may have considered the similarities of this satirical, dystopian story with others such as George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ or the Science Fiction novel ‘Logan’s Run’ (also a successful movie). The theme underlined in these stories is about a group of individuals or a ‘higher’ intelligence believing that the majority of people are not able to live well or peacefully because their freedom to exercise their agency brings contention and conflict to the detriment of others and the general wellbeing of society. Those that believe that only through a central, very controlled power over others order and harmony can be brought upon, remove, somewhat, the element of free agency from individuals and societies for ‘their own good’.
Obviously, we may say, this does not work. Eventually people and individuals come to the realization that something ‘is not right’ and take charge over the oppressive elite. History is full of examples of this pattern: Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, and, in modern times some authoritarian regimes in South America and the Middle East. The most recent acts of rebellion in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Lybia are a great example of individuals and societies awakening to that realization.
If you believe that democratic societies are immune from this tendency, think twice. Italy’s democratic process today suffers from the connubial conjugation of an entitlement mentality of an individual who believes he is right and makes no bones about it, and his control over most of the media outlets in the country. Remember George Orwell’s ‘1984’ Big Brother and the control over history and facts to the extent of changing those in official documents and chronicles?
Another disturbing trend, which materializes when democratic societies are in crisis and therefore weaker, is when a political party wins a majority in Congress or Parliament or Legislative Assembly, or whatever you define the legislative body of that society, and its leaders feel they have ‘the mandate’ to do certain things and carry out certain promises regardless of the implications to people (a typical example is when certain regulations strongly affecting all people are passed without proper consultation).
I also believe that the economic crisis we went through in 2008 and 2009 was the result of a little Harrison Bergeron effect, not to mention, of course, greed and corruption, which come with the entitlement mentality I mentioned before. Corporations that give into the temptations of the easy way out and the quick fix instead of sticking to principles of integrity and honesty will crumble like those authoritarian nations I described above.
As leaders in what we do and in our relationship with others we can only be truly successful if we value differences and we are not afraid of disagreement, in fact we accept it as part of our personal and professional growth. Remember, though, it takes two to tango. We need to create a culture where people will also accept to be disagreed upon and where feedback at all levels is well established. It is a sign of a good organization.
Victor Frankl, one of the most renowned psychologists and a survivor of Auschwitz, said: “Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.” And we need more and more of it every day…