It was such a transformative experience – reading War Zones by Jon Lee Anderson and Scott Anderson. It was 1989. I had been asked by a professional organization to give a talk on system issues as they related to larger social concerns. This was a challenge since to that time my systems work had focused exclusively on organizational life. How fortunate to find the Andersons’ book just days before my presentation.
The Andersons described their experiences as correspondents in several of the world’s killing zones at the time – Northern Ireland, El Salvador, Uganda, Sri Lanka, and Israel. What struck me was the recurring pattern: How the killing always begins with some magnificent mission, a great and noble cause, and then… all hell lets loose.
The Andersons’ work triggered reflections on other noble missions: Hitler’s vision of a Reich to last a thousand years, Mussolini’s dream of a new Roman Empire, The U.S. drive to fulfill its Manifest Destiny, the Japanese vision for a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Apartheid in South Africa. Always great and noble causes that inspired passionate followers along with unfortunate “others” – numbering in the millions – who stood in the way of the realization of these visions.
This led to my writing The Terrible Dance of Power. In all these “dances” of death and destruction, there is no sense that the system is blindly falling in an age-old pattern. In each case, the mission, along with the “others” who stand in its way, are felt to be unique and specific to these particular people and these specific circumstances.
My vision, as naïve as it may be, is to illuminate the pattern in a way that would cause both visionaries and their followers who are filled with passionate intensity to stop, and think, and say no, not this time. I know how this comes out and it’s not pretty.
I thought of this as I reflected on the latest visionary – Abu Bakr al Baghdadi – and his vision of a new and greater Caliphate, one that will restore former glory, and rectify wounds both ancient and current. The stage is set. The “dance” is on. All the elements are in place: the vision, the passionate followers, and the millions of “others” who need to be dominated or destroyed.
This may be the most important gift the Power Lab has given me: to see the patterns in our human interactions and, with that awareness, the ability to choose creative life-enhancing paths to follow.