• Thomas A. Wilson

Magnetic Personalities?

Magnetism is one of childhood’s first miracles. The mysterious attraction of adjacent paperclips and ball bearings provides hours of wonder. In ancient times, primitive lodestone compasses captured the invisible and useful power of magnetic alignment. So, ancient adults and modern children both were and are captivated by the magic of magnetism.

We now know that magnetic materials possess domains. That is, the individual polarity of molecules form regions, and these regions determine the magnetic behavior of the material. The individual orientation of a single molecule defers to the overall orientation of the larger structure.

Social domains do the same thing. Groupthink can lead to the Abilene paradox or to a space shuttle disaster. While serving as Associate Warden at Montana State Prison, I became aware of a heinous crime committed by three perpetrators. When interviewed alone, each exhibited seemingly genuine remorse. Each indicated that they were horrified that events went too far. Yet, when together, they all went along with the flow of the group agenda. It’s horrifying. Of course, they’re all guilty as sin; every person is responsible for his/her behavior. No. Matter. What.

But it’s not just felons who fall prey to groupthink. Other groups of people, like ferromagnetic materials, cluster up, too.

Ricky Gervais is an atheist and a humanist—and I admire something about him. He’s got the… um, wherewithal to call bull-cookies (Father Mulcahy’s euphemism from MASH) on groupthink inconsistencies within his sphere of influence. Don’t confuse my admiration with endorsement of his worldview. It isn’t.

But that’s my point. I can admire and disagree at the same time. I think the word respect kind of captures what I’m trying to convey. While Gervais’ tactics aren’t something I’d necessarily recommend, I do think that calling “timeout” when groupthink pulls people toward oblivion is a good idea. Some folks who decry so-called hate, for example, are hating like hell. And some folks who just celebrated the Prince of Peace are cheering a drone strike. To both I say, “Seriously?”

An ancient source of wisdom teaches that the Judeo-Christian God does not enjoy the death of the wicked. You can read it in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 33, verse 11. So, why do some believers feel kind of satisfied over Qasem Soleimani’s assassination? (In a similar vein, in the early 1980’s, why were we so quick to run to Romans, chapter 1?)

I don’t know enough about Soleimani to judge whether he had it coming or not. (I’m not in the Judgments Division, I’ve been assigned to Grace and Service.) But, even if he did deserve it, I’m not happy about it. I’m deeply grieved over the polarization of the world and our nation. And, to be honest, while I understand the concept of a just war, there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction, were there? Difference, criticism, and alienation led to economic sanctions against Iran. And those sanctions have now escalated into a drone strike. Again, don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that Iranian leadership wasn’t asking for it. They’re on the same onerous continuum that we seem to be on—the world is badly broken.

And that brokenness is true for a recently deceased Iranian general, and the same was true for mid-20th century European Jewry, and I’m afraid it might even be true for 21st century Oregonian bakers. Are you following my train of thought, here?

With over two decades in state government, I saw the same kind of domain-shifting happen on a much smaller (and less violent) scale. People and ideas moved in and out of vogue. Good people were traumatized, ostracized, demoted, and/or discarded. It is on-going. I hate to admit, and would that it was not so, that it’s easier to tolerate when it’s dished out to others than when one is taking it in.

Since I sat under 5 different department directors, I can now see that the Montana Department of Corrections has not been on a cogent journey designed by one leader or team. In other words, the path has not reflected singular effective vision, but instead, the course was (and is) being dictated by the inclination of various prevalent domains. It’s almost like an unseen entity is calling the shots.

What if world governments suffer the same dynamic?

And, what if ancient people observed this phenomenon and referred to these seemingly unseen shot-callers as principalities and powers? What if there really are daemons (Greek for spirits)? Oh, I’m not trying to convince my readers that there are non-corporeal malevolent entities that seek to undermine the human condition. But I am pointing out that we seem to be on a journey that none of us want—and that should make us think.

So, why not take stock of where we’re at, and where we seem to be going? Why not call bull-cookies on all the vitriol and tribalism, and tell the gang-makers we’re not joining their clubs? It’s time to recognize thuggish behavior. No more grandiose posturing where we get an endorphin hit from the raw use of power—no matter if it’s from a drone strike on the other side of the world, or from the closure of an honest business in an adjacent state, or from the vocational misery occupying the office next door. Sometimes, negative consequences are necessary and appropriate, but they shouldn’t give one a rush—they should break one’s heart.

Yesterday, January 6th, I had an epiphany. If you make someone hate you, they will.


Clear cultural identity, articulated formally, informally, and technically, creates the necessary points of reference for feedback to take place. In such an environment, corrective action helps people move toward goals. Conversely, an identity crisis, as evidenced by confused and conflicted people, manifested in contradictory narrative, renders feedback inaccurate, incomplete, and/or irrelevant.

Affirmation of the Week: In the context of my small-world network, I continually use feedback to ensure I’m moving toward my personal, positive, affirmed goals.

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