I am enjoying Edwin Friedman’s book A Failure of Nerve. In it he attacks several common leadership ideas and replaces them with a different paradigm. One key idea in the book is that leaders take risks. An environment which limits risk ultimately limits leadership. Risk means the possibility of failure and pain. Risk is not doing something you know everyone agrees with and will be happy about. A lot of us think we are taking risks, when really we are not.
He also hammers on what he calls “displacement.” What he means by this is that people refuse to take personal responsibility, but instead “displace” their responsibility by blaming someone or something else. He points out that often the thing blamed is important, but it becomes too important in the person’s emotional well-being. He ends this section with this quote, which is thought provoking. The bold is mine.
Today the issues most vulnerable to becoming displacements are first of all, anything related to safety: product safety, traffic safety, bicycle safety, motorboat safety, jet-ski safety, workplace safety, nutritional safety, nuclear power station safety, toxic waste safety, and so on and so on. This focus on safety has become so omnipresent in our chronically anxious civilization that there is the real danger we will come to believe that safety is the most important value in life. It is certainly important as a modifier of other initiatives, but if a society is to evolve, or if leaders are to arise, then safety can never be allowed to become more important than adventure. We are on our way to becoming a nation of “skimmers,” living off the risks of previous generations and constantly taking from the top without adding significantly to its essence. Everything we enjoy as a part of our advance civilization , including discovery, exploration, and development of our country, came about because previous generations made adventure more important than safety.