Confronting Tyranny

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—Resisting abusive power

Recognize tyranny and confront it.

Whether it's a pushy person, a control freak, a bully, or an outright tyrant, the problem is the same: their goals are always more important than yours. A difficult, pushy person has gone too far again. They are bossing you around, acting selfish and self-important, threatening you, making demands, barking orders, and abusing their power. Control freaks, imperative people, and tyrants exercise power in a harsh, cruel, or destructive manner. They are oppressive, harsh, arbitrary people who make life difficult for too many of us. They are annoying, inconsiderate, and demeaning. What are they thinking? How can we respond constructively?

Caution: Control-oriented people as described here expect to control the people and events around them. Exposing or challenging their tactics could provoke their anger and result in severe and possibly dangerous retaliation. Expect to be a target of their backlash. Protect yourself and others who could become targets before challenging a control-oriented person.

Objectives[edit | edit source]

The objectives of this course are to help you to:

  • Recognize tyranny,
  • Understand tyrannical behavior,
  • Respond constructively to tyranny,
  • Cope with tyranny,
  • Transcend conflict.

This course is part of the Emotional Competency curriculum. This material has been adapted from the page on tyranny, with permission of the author.

If you wish to contact the instructor, please click here to send me an email or leave a comment or question on the discussion page.

Definitions[edit | edit source]

Tyranny can be characterized as:

  1. Absolute rule,
  2. Abusing power,
  3. Selfish power,
  4. Unmitigated power,
  5. Unrestrained exercise of power;
  6. Abuse of authority.

The Oxford English Dictionary offers these alternative definitions for tyrant: a ruler, an illegitimate ruler (a usurper), an absolute ruler (despot), or an oppressive, unjust, or cruel ruler. The term is usually applied to vicious autocrats who rule their subjects by brutal methods.

Related Terms[edit | edit source]

Difficult people, control freaks, imperative people, and bullies push us around during our day-to-day encounters. They go out of their way to turn every encounter into a dominance contest and often insist on getting the last word. They insist you do it their way, dominating so many trivial issues as well as the more important ones. Going out to dinner with a control freak can easily become an ordeal. Choosing the restaurant, deciding where to sit, what to order, what fork to use, how much to tip, how long to stay, who pays, how to pay, and what to do next all has to be done their way. Tyrants, dictators, despots, autocrats, authoritarians, imperialists, fascists, Czars, Nazis, and monarchs practice their tyranny, totalitarianism, absolute rule, and domination on a larger and more destructive scale.

Tyranny leads to oppression, the sustained humiliation of a group of people. The oppressed people are suppressed, limited, or controlled by unjust use of force or authority.

A Hierarchy of Tyrants:[edit | edit source]

Tyranny can creep into our behavior to a greater or lesser degree. Here are some categories, arranged in increasing degrees of dominance and disregard for others.

A Hierarchy of Tyrants
Cause/Deficiency Behavior
Healthy Self-esteem This is the desired condition. True leaders act from healthy high esteem.
Low Self-esteem Fragile self-esteem drives these people to act superior to disguise their inferior feelings. Controlling others is one manifestation of their need to act superior.
Egotism Egotists are self-centered. They have been seduced by their first-person viewpoint. It's all about them; they are motivated only by their own self-interests. They lack empathy for others. They are controlling because only their needs matter.
Narcissism Narcissists have a grandiose sense of self-importance. They exaggerate their achievements and expect to be recognized as superior, even when their accomplishments are ordinary. They fantasize attaining unlimited success or power. They believe they are special and require excessive admiration. They lack empathy and exploit others to achieve their own ends. They often envy others or believe others envy them. They are controlling because only they matter.
Psychopath Psychopaths are anti-social. They totally disregard the rights of others. They feel little or no remorse for the harm they cause others. They blame the victim and lack empathy. They are deceitful, aggressive, tough minded, glib, superficial, exploitative, irresponsible, and impulsive. Yet they may display a superficial charm. They are controlling because others don't matter.

Leadership and Tyranny:[edit | edit source]

A superficial analysis may show that leaders and tyrants share many characteristics. Tyrants often appear at first as strong and effective leaders. Perhaps this explains why so many tyrants attain leadership positions. This chart can help us discern the differences and avoid the costly mistake of granting unchecked positional power to a tyrant.

Leadership and Tyranny
Leaders Tyrants
Visionary; holds a clear, compelling, well thought-out, and constructive vision for the future. Focused while maintaining broad perspective. Visionary, but fixated on a narrow view. Narrowly focused.
Determined; they persistently pursue their goal and are undaunted by obstacles and setbacks. Relentless, tenacious, unyielding, rigid, close-minded, dogmatic, and stubborn.
Influential; communicates passionately to engage people. Influential, charismatic, captivating, engaging.
Passionate; remains committed and focused on the goal with heart and soul. Obsessed; the goal is all that matters. It must be achieved at all costs.
Increase trust. Followers are intrinsically motivated and provide enduring support. Increase fear. Followers are extrinsically motivated and support ends when the coercion ends. Often resentment endures.
Enthusiastic. Zealot.
Connected with others. Separate from others. Isolated, alone and apart.
Empathy for others. Humble. Apathy for others. Arrogant.
Healthy self-esteem. Accurate and realistic self-appraisal. Solicits and accepts feedback and criticism. Low, or fragile-high self-esteem. Egotism, narcissism, or even psychopathic. Inaccurate and unrealistic self-appraisal. Avoids and rejects criticism and all but overwhelmingly positive feedback.
Primarily concerned for the cause, the organization, and the people being lead. Concerned only for themselves.
Broadly and ethically principled. Fair and generous. Unprincipled or narrowly principled. Selfish.
Responsible. Irresponsible.
Internal Locus of Control External Locus of Control.
Consistent, reliable, logical, authentic, well adjusted, and emotionally stable. Volatile, whacky, irritable.
Realistic. Optimistic.
Listens and dialogues. Monologs, lectures, preaches and engages in tirades.
Respects reciprocity and symmetry. Strongly asymmetrical.
Open, communicative. Secretive.
Concerned with substance. Concerned with image.
Evidence based. Dominance based.
Considerate Invasive, intrusive, and obnoxious.
High, relevant, consistent, and attainable performance standards. Perfectionist, demanding, inconsistent.
Provides helpful and balanced feedback. Critical and demanding.
Benjamin Franklin, Catherine the Great, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Mao Tse Tung, Idi Amin Dada, Slobodan Milosevic.

Tyranny is no substitute for leadership and should never be confused with leadership.

Healthy Control[edit | edit source]

It is certainly important for us to control ourselves and many aspects of our lives. Self-control is an important attribute of maturity, and an essential component of relatedness. Control is an essential element of responsibility. Loss of control leads to anxiety, unhappiness, anger, resentment, stress, feeling helpless, and even depression. Abdicating control, acting powerless, and playing the victim, is irresponsible. But keep in mind that our freedom ends where other's begins. Balance control with the rights and needs of others and respect for others.

Control goes beyond Autonomy and Competence[edit | edit source]

Autonomy—responsible free choice—is a basic human need. But control goes beyond autonomy because it goes beyond what is reasonable or necessary and ignores the needs and freedoms of other people. Control is autonomy gone awry because it is unmitigated by relatedness. Control ignores the no-trespassing sign that autonomy respects.

Competence—successfully meeting an optimum challenge—is also a basic human need that is similar to but not the same as control. You can reasonably ask: How can I succeed at a task if I can't control the activities required for the task? Again the distinction is the consideration given to the rights of others.

Out of Balance:[edit | edit source]

Why do they act so bossy? What are control freaks and other bullies thinking? They have several perceptions and beliefs out of balance.

Reducing Anxiety:[edit | edit source]

The mistaken belief that what I can control can't hurt me drives the behavior of many control freaks. Others are driven by the fear that they will lose control, or at least needed autonomy, altogether. Their anxiety results from vulnerabilities that the control freak tries to eliminate by controlling every aspect of the environment and the people in it. They try to control every threat. They lose track of what they can change and what they cannot. They choose an ineffective approach to coping with their anxiety. There is certainly enough to worry about: the ambitious boss-under-pressure worries the work won't get done, envious co-workers worry you'll get the promotion instead of them, jealous adults worry about their partners; scarcity leads to resource contention, stature-conscious, resentful, or caring but inept parents worry about the kids; and tormented, willful, or confused kids worry about the parents and each other. It must be exhausting.

Uncontrollable adverse events often lead to learned helplessness and stress. Exerting control prevents learned helplessness, unless you try to control the uncontrollable or change the unchangeable.

Tyrants reduce their own fear by removing anyone who poses a threat.

Getting it Right:[edit | edit source]

An obsession with getting it right—when driven by the fear of failure—can result in controlling behavior. Perhaps the control freak does have an important vision worth achieving. Perhaps the goals are worth working hard toward. Perhaps obsessive attention to detail is the best way to get the all-important result. Perhaps they have an outsized but narrow and rigid sense of duty. They may not see other options for solving problems and getting things done. They may be trapped by their own set of rigid but ill-founded rules. Perhaps the control freak just cares more than you do about the goal. They may see the goal as much more important than the relationship, and they don't see how to preserve both. Perhaps the enthusiast has crossed the line and become the zealot. The control freak is deathly afraid of failure, and they don't trust anyone else to get it right.

To placate your micromanaging boss try to establish a better working relationship, demonstrate your interest, concern, dedication, knowledge, and competency; keep the boss informed, request more autonomy. Put the boss at ease, address his fears, work to understand the pressures he faces and his point of view, and he may allow you the space you need to contribute your best. Work to transcend conflict.

Impatience:[edit | edit source]

Impatience—the fear of running late—can stimulate controlling behavior. Often impatient people usurp control in an attempt to speed events along and get more done. This quick-fix rarely works. As the signs say “The hurrier I go the behinder I get,” and “Look before you leap.”

Doing as a substitute for Being:[edit | edit source]

I make up for my pathetic being with more and more doing. I have a relentless sense of duty; I cannot say no. If I do enough my value will become obvious, even to me.

Contingent Self-esteem:[edit | edit source]

The biggest secret is that I'm not as good as I appear to be. My image has to be controlled at all cost. Because I feel inferior, I have to act superior. My biggest fear is that someone will discover I'm a wimp. The only opinion I have of myself is the opinion others have of me. How I feel depends entirely on what you think of me. I depend desperately on your approval to establish and maintain my self-worth. I work full time to cover up my vulnerability. I crave your affirmation and approval. I must control or even humiliate you so you don't humiliate me.

These people don't understand that their self-worth and dignity is intrinsic and is not provided by others. Also, stature is only achieved on an absolute scale, and is not evaluated in comparison to others.

First Person-Viewpoint:[edit | edit source]

We all view the world from our unique first-person viewpoint. But if other viewpoints can't be comprehended, or this viewpoint is unmitigated by healthy relationships with others, or feeling empathy, it becomes disconnected, uncaring, unchecked, fixated, and destructive. This is the root of egotism. The egotist forgets that his freedom ends where other's freedom begins. The belief (or fear) that “no one can get the job done as well as I can” or “if you want it done right, do it yourself” drives many control freaks to interfere, bosses to micro-manage, and poor leaders to overreach. Along with their first-person viewpoint, a fear of failure drives them to control every aspect of their world as they attempt to ensure success and reduce their anxiety. In any case the control freak is preserving their own interests at the expense of other's. Children are born believing they are the center of the universe; tyrants never outgrow this belief.

Mistrusting Others[edit | edit source]

The control freak may simply mistrust others. There can be several causes for this including past betrayals, poor relationships, or poor communication or delegation skills. They may criticize other's work and find it unacceptable. The control freak believes that since others can't be trusted to get the job done, there is no alternative to doing it yourself. To work with such an untrusting control freak it may be helpful to gain their trust carefully and gradually over time.

Controlling Resources:[edit | edit source]

Control freaks may hold the mistaken belief that the person with the most toys wins.

Unaware:[edit | edit source]

Perhaps the control freak just does not know any better and is unaware of more constructive and effective approaches to achieving goals. Perhaps abuse is all they have ever known. Perhaps the only approach they ever learned for dealing with people is to abuse them. Perhaps their only role models were other control freaks. Perhaps you can have compassion for their ignorance and help them learn better approaches to building relationships.

Hierarchies:[edit | edit source]

Organizations are typically organized as hierarchies, with several people reporting to one boss. While this is a common and often effective organization structure, it is no excuse for an abusive boss, and it does not diminish the value of any of the humans in the organization, regardless of their position the formal hierarchy. Carefully designed organizations put in place mechanisms, such as upward feedback, anonymous reporting, and ombudsmen, to prevent or provide early warning of abuse.

Having a Bad Day:[edit | edit source]

When people are under unusual stress they may react by seizing control. Perhaps a generally reasonable person has just been stuck in traffic, had a fight with their spouse, got bad news from the doctor, learned they are about to lose their job, or bounced a check. They may react to this stress by being uncharacteristically difficult and controlling for some period of time. If a generally reasonable person is acting unreasonably today, then perhaps you can wait for their stress to pass and they will return to their more reasonable selves. A good person in bad circumstances deserves your compassion, not your provocation.

Responding to Tyrants:[edit | edit source]

We can choose how we respond to tyrants. There are alternatives to oppression.

Overcome our Fear:[edit | edit source]

Tyrants exploit our primal fears and we typically cower from them. We are seduced by their influence and succumb to their threats as we are easily blinded by fear, anxiety, shame, hate, or guilt. We yield to their tantrums. Fear can easily lead to primal thinking, tunnel vision, and panic. But courage can overcome our fears and with careful and creative planning we can confront the tyrant.

Endure and Survive:[edit | edit source]

Slaves endured the oppression and humiliation of slavery for many years. It was not acceptance, but merely survival until they could work toward better treatment. Tyrants often come and go, perhaps you can wait this one out.

Understand their Point of View:[edit | edit source]

Perhaps the tyrant really does have it right. Work to adopt his point of view and understand where he is “coming from”, what problems he is facing, and what he is trying to accomplish. See if this helps to make his actions and motives more clear. Even tyrants deserve our empathy. Perhaps adopting his viewpoint will allow you to see alternative solutions, or at least cope better.

Disengage:[edit | edit source]

If you don't like it, change it. If you can't change it, leave. Acknowledge the oppression, understand the tyrant, consider your alternatives, and choose your battles carefully. Decide what you choose to change and what you choose to avoid. If this is just not a situation where you have the strength, interest, resources, or will to change now, you may decide to disengage and live to fight another day. If your boss is a tyrant arrange for a reassignment or leave the organization.

Tower, Don't Cower:[edit | edit source]

Although the typical reaction is to cower in response to the tyrant's threats, there is a more elevated and enlightened viewpoint. If we recognize the many fallacies tyrants rely on, and recognize tyrants as the lonely and childish school-yard bullies they are we can avoid being controlled by them. Spoiled brats do not deserve the attention they demand. Uncover, dispel, and shatter the myth. This viewpoint recognizes these powerful truths:

Dignity is intrinsic to every human. It does not have to be earned, it cannot be granted, and it cannot be taken away. The tyrant can neither strip you of your dignity nor can he provide you with dignity. We all share a long list of intrinsic similarities. You remain a worthy human being regardless of what the tyrant does. It is your own choice, your own asset, do not squander it. The oppressed are no less worthy than the powerful.

The tyrant's freedom ends where yours begins. When the tyrant's will infringes on your autonomy, a negotiation is required to resolve the conflict. The situation is symmetrical, you each have rights, boundaries, and limits. Seek shared values to provide principles that can help transcend or decide the conflict. Create alternatives that eliminate the conflict and make it unnecessary. Identify trespass, make it visible, and do not tolerate it.

First person viewpoint is the fundamental asymmetry of humanity. The tyrant is seduced by his own narrow viewpoint. He considers only what he sees and he experiences that clearly, uniquely, and powerfully. His point of view is not moderated by healthy and respectful relationships with people who have alternative viewpoints. Perhaps he is unaware, or intolerant of diverse or conflicting viewpoints. He may fear skepticism and inquiry. He does not welcome criticism or differing points of view. He may not even be aware of any alternative viewpoints. Perhaps he is uncomfortable with complexity. But his is only one out of the eight-billion valid viewpoints on this planet. Your own point of view is equally valid. Find a forum, express your views, and begin the dialogue. The storyteller provides only one viewpoint—it is inherently selective and biased. Go tell your story—it is equally valid and important.

Hate can only be sustained by cognitive error. The tyrant works to control or eliminate something or someone he sees as the obstacle to his goals. He has named the evil other, he hates it, and it must be destroyed. But choosing to hate is an ineffective shortcut that avoids the hard work of analyzing the problem in depth. Hating attributes blame incorrectly; it misallocates right and wrong. To defuse the hate, assess the situation from another perspective, analyze the problem in more depth, identify the real causes, eliminate the errors in thinking, and move forward with an effective solution.

Soviet famine of 1932–33. Areas of most disastrous famine marked with black.

Tyranny is dishonorable. History judges tyrants harshly. Hitler and his new wife, Eva Braun, committed suicide in his underground bunker in Berlin in the final days of World War II. Joseph Stalin's crash programs of industrialization and collectivization in the 1930s, along with his ongoing campaigns of political repression, are estimated to have cost the lives of millions of people. Saddam Hussein was convicted of charges related to the executions of 148 Iraqi Shiites suspected of planning an assassination attempt against him, and was sentenced to death by hanging. Saddam was executed on December 30, 2006. Many of Mao Tse Tung's policies and socio-political programs such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution are blamed by critics for causing severe damage to the culture, society, economy, and foreign relations of China, as well as an estimated 40 million or more lost lives. Their glory is short lived, their disgrace lasts forever. It won't be long before the tide turns against the tyrant.

Might does not make right. Quite the opposite is true; when evidence is available then influence alone can make the point and change behavior without having to rely on coercion. If your views are correct, they do not need an aggressive defense; if they are incorrect they do not deserve it. If Pepsi really was better than Coke, there would be no need to spend $ Billions on advertisements claiming it is better. If President Richard Nixon believed he was the better candidate, then why was the Watergate break-in necessary? If Catholic priests did not molest children, then the Vatican would not have written a secret document, the Crimen sollicitationis, directing the use of pontifical secrecy to cover up the cases. Beginning in 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy became noted for making unsubstantiated claims that there were large numbers of Communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers inside the United States government. It is difficult to estimate the number of victims of his false accusations. The number imprisoned is in the hundreds, and some ten or twelve thousand lost their jobs. Ultimately, his tactics led to his being discredited and censured by the United States Senate. Because their views go unchallenged, powerful self-centered people often get it very wrong. If the tyrant really does have a better idea, let that idea gain acceptance on its own merits. Good ideas speak for themselves. The need to use force is evidence of a weak idea.

Humor provides a new perspective. Political Satire, Political Cartoons, Doonesbury, Dilbert, the Daily Show, and Saturday Night Live all work to balance power by making fun of it. The nursery rhyme “Rock-a-by Baby” may have been a surreptitious way of singing dissent with the English civil war. Be very careful when using humor to disarm power. Respond in a friendly but disarming way that makes light of the tyrant's abusive tactics. Highlight the fallacies in the tyrant's goals and tactics, but carefully avoid humiliating the tyrant.

The best leaders are the best servants. Leadership is not about controlling people; it's about caring for people and being a useful resource for people. The best leaders help people work together and do their best to achieve an important goal. Their actions focus on accomplishing as a team much more than any one person could accomplish alone. Leadership is about helping people attain the goal, not about aggrandizing the leader. Tyrants don't serve and servants don't control. Tyrants are not leaders, and any contrary myths need to be exposed as false.

Scapegoats are chosen as convenient proxies. They are easy targets chosen to accept blame, displace responsibility for problems from where it truly belongs, and to distract attention from the actual problems. Tyrants identify scapegoats to distract attention from their own misdeeds. The scapegoat is not the problem, don't be distracted, look elsewhere for the real cause. Analyze cause and effect more carefully, avoid the fallacy of disproportionate responsibility, determine more accurately where responsibility actually belongs. Draw attention away from the scapegoat and toward the real problem.

Courage can overcome fear. The tyrant uses fear to keep us from seeing alternatives. In the face of his intimidation we typically freeze, flee, become anger locked, or submit to his demands. But if we can focus, summon our courage, relax, comprehend the situation, and develop alternatives, we can create options for moving forward constructively. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks became famous for refusing to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat. This action of civil disobedience started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is one of the largest movements against racial segregation. In addition, this launched Martin Luther King, Jr., who was involved with the boycott, to a prominent position among his people and in the civil rights movement. She has had a lasting legacy worldwide.

During the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 an unarmed man stood in the center of the street, halting the tanks' progress. He reportedly asked, “Why are you here? You have caused nothing but misery.” As the tank driver attempted to go around him, the “tank man” moved into the tank's path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position blocking the tanks, the man was pulled aside by onlookers who perhaps feared he would be shot or run over. Time Magazine dubbed him “The Unknown Rebel” and later named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. Tyrants are often unprepared for truly courageous and well-planned responses.

Human needs are simple and largely non-material. Although autonomy is a human need, steak for dinner is not. In choosing to endure tyrant's abuse you may be choosing to buy a steak dinner at the cost of your autonomy. This is usually a bad deal. Choose simplicity over oppression.

There are always alternatives. Reject the obvious alternatives, create new options, and find another way. Innovation creates opportunities. Dialogue creates solutions that other forms of communication jealously hide. If you can't think of alternatives and feel there is no way out then talk to more people and generate more ideas.

Mahatma Gandhi with Dr. Annie Besant en route to a meeting in Madras in September 1921.

No one is powerless. We each have our own sources of power. The boss depends on the secretary, the doctor depends on nurses and patients, and the manager depends on the workers. Mahatma Gandhi was the skinny little brown man who summoned the power to free India from British colonial rule. Find your source of strength and apply it to the problem at hand. Don't play the victim, you always have choices. Speak up and speak out about what you want and expect from the relationship. End the trespassing and assert your right to dignity, respect, and freedom. Describe the actual, unfair, and unwanted asymmetry of the relationship, how it makes you feel, why it is unfair, and then describe the fair and symmetrical relationship you expect. Say what you mean, but don't be mean. Don't insult, humiliate, or threaten the control freak. Confront the control freak, and plan how to expose and disarm the tyrant.

Helplessness can be learned and unlearned. Oppression teaches you to become passive and stop trying to help yourself. But you can reassess your options and decide to take action to end the oppression.

Everyone, even the tyrant, is vulnerable. Study the tyrant to find out his weaknesses. Balance the power. Apply your strength where he is most weak. Calmly describe how natural forces resisting the tyrant will eventually defeat his efforts.

It is possible to speak truth to power. Don't be distracted or intimidated by the tyrant's positional power, reputation, physical appearance; wincing, bellowing, or rolling eyes; physical surroundings, or other attempts to emphasize a disparity in power and importance. Do not tolerate ego rants. Do your homework, get the facts right, and present your case clearly, calmly, and persuasively. You can challenge an authority by respectfully asking: “How do you know?”, “Why do you say what you say?”, “What is the evidence to support your position?”, and “Who disagrees with you?”

Rana Husseini spoke truth to power and exposed the shame of Jordan when she unveiled the common but unspoken crime of honor killings there. Honor killings refer to the murder by family members of a woman who is raped or is said to have participated in illicit sexual activity. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that is considered as dishonoring her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life. Across the globe, women who are beaten, brutalized, and raped can expect police, prosecutors, and judges to humiliate victims, fail to investigate cases, and dismiss charges. Honor killings accounted for one-third of the murders of women in Jordan in 1999. She wrote a series of reports on the killings and launched a campaign to stop them. As a result, she has been threatened and accused of being anti-Islam, antifamily, and anti-Jordan. Yet, Queen Noor took up the cause, and later, the newly ascended King Hassan cited the need for protection of women in his opening address to parliament. The conspiracy of silence has been forever broken thanks to this courageous young journalist who risks her life in the firm belief that exposing the truth about honor killings and other forms of violence against women is the first step to stopping them.

The tools of influence are symmetrical. The techniques the powerful use to influence the oppressed can also be adapted by the oppressed to influence the powerful.

Extremists discount, dismiss, distort, dispute, or deflect important evidence. But facts are stubborn. As the facts become more widely known and understood, the unreasonableness of the tyrant's position becomes more clear to more people. His support eventually dwindles as more people recognize the emperor has no clothes.

Two women strikers picketing during the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909

There is tremendous power in alliances. None of us are as smart or powerful as all of us. As the scope of the tyrant's impact increases, as more people suffer from his abuse, the more people there are to pool their resources and energy in overcoming his grip. Find the people who are suffering from the tyrant's grip, recognize the common problem you are facing, and find a way to band together and effect positive change. India's independence movement, labor unions, the women's suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, and the anti-apartheid cause all provide prominent examples of oppressed people working together to overcome powerful forces, abuse, and tyranny.

You can choose your battles. You can decide when to ignore, yield to, appease, or accommodate the control-freak's requests. You can also decide when to confront the unreasonable behavior and insist on change. Keep an effective strategy in mind to help you choose your battles carefully. With careful preparation, you can always walk away.

Government exists only to serve and benefit the governed. The United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures”. Tyrants often forget this and erroneously believe the purpose of government is to benefit only themselves. Insist on a government that represents and serves the people.

Privilege and power are distinct from talent. A rich, powerful person may not be very bright while a poor person might be very bright, hard-working, creative, and talented. Don't be misled by image, boasting, intimidation, pedigree, and posturing. Demonstrate leadership through hard work, not privilege. Apply your talents regardless of your present social position. Seek stature, not status.

A traffic jam in Delhi

There are paths of progress other than growth. Flowers develop by unfolding their potential, not by becoming the biggest flower. Bigger is not always better. There are important alternatives, including: peace of mind, integrity, giving and gaining the respect of others, tranquility, clean air, clean water, the beauty of nature, a healthy environment to enjoy now and sustain for the future, family, friendships, community, safety, stability, trust, leisure time, meaningful work, authentic experiences, reciprocity, good health, reduced stress, ongoing education, fun, enjoyment of the arts, transcendence, and making significant contributions that help others. Tyrants often ignore or diminish the value of these genuine alternatives to growth, expansion, and conquest. Challenge the assumptions that growth is good and inevitable. Pursue genuine progress, and don't be seduced by the idea that growth represents progress. Reject the insatiable tyranny of more.

We are all connected. We all rely on others—locally and globally—for needed resources such as food, water, health care, energy, labor, land, and education. The tyrant depends on the oppressed.

Tyranny is childish. Tyrants lack self-control, sound judgment, refined character, respect, wisdom, and transcendent purpose. Tyranny is a tragically unleashed version of a child's selfish tantrum. It is ineffective; tyranny has a clear history of tragedy and failure. In retrospect it often looks preposterous. We can learn to recognize it, call attention to it, act as responsible grownups, and not tolerate it. Maturity is about using wisdom to achieve constructive results. Tyrants lack the wisdom of: understanding the intrinsic similarities we all share, interconnections, relatedness, compassion, respect, accurate history, symmetry, inquiry, humility, and responsibility. Adults don't tolerate tantrums, there is no reason to tolerate tyranny.

Oppression constrains the tyrant. Sustaining oppression requires a narrow worldview based on false beliefs. The false belief that women are not smart enough to vote, the false belief that slaves are subhuman, the false belief that Jews are to blame for the problems of Nazi Germany, and the false belief that the poor are stupid were each essential to maintaining the power of the tyrant and sustaining the oppression. When these false beliefs are dismissed and corrected, we gain a more accurate understanding of our world and we all benefit. Expose the lie and strengthen the community.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The most credible and respected organizations operate in an open atmosphere. Their operations and decisions are transparent and can be easily examined by interested people inside and outside the organization. Organizations that are well run and are responsible to the public not only accept criticism and suggestions, but embrace them. If questions from constituents, the public, or the media make leaders or other responsible parties become uncomfortable, evasive, or disingenuous, the questions are usually valid and the answers are not. People who feel uncomfortable under the bright light of scrutiny and criticism often have something to hide. Shine the light on tyranny to purify it.

Tyrants are lonely, afraid, insecure, and human. They deserve our compassion, even as we withhold our obedience and submission. The many causes of tyranny, described at the beginning of this article, show that tyrants are often driven by deficiencies, inadequacy, loneliness, or fear. Tyrants often see themselves as the victim. Adolf Hitler titled his autobiography “Mein Kampf”, “My Struggle”. Perhaps if they can connect in authentic relationships with caring people, their pain can be soothed, and their behaviors can improve. Even the nastiest tyrants are only human. Understand the similarities you share with them. Connect with them on a human level. Pity the poor tyrant. Have you hugged a tyrant today?

Assignment[edit | edit source]

  1. Read the essay The Hearing.
  2. Consider constructive alternatives for confronting tyranny.

The Land of Oz:[edit | edit source]

Dorothy Gale confronted tyranny.

In the popular movie “The Wizard of Oz” Dorothy Gale demonstrates constructive responses to tyranny. The movie is such a good allegory for coping with tyranny you might be tempted to claim “everything I need to know about tyranny I learned in the land of Oz.” Here is a brief summary:

  • Everyone experiences fear, including fear of humiliation.
  • Courage can overcome fear.
  • We are responsible for our own choices.
  • We all have sources of power we can draw on.
  • Authentic self-confidence increases our power.
  • Inquiry, evidence, and argument are powerful tools for uncovering what is.
  • Alliances can increase our power.
  • We each have our own important stories to tell.
  • Tyrants use the trappings of power to enhance their image.
  • Tyrants suppress and manipulate opponents by exploiting their fears.
  • We often respond to image before we respond to substance.
  • Image is not substance.
  • You can speak truth to power.
  • Tyrants respond differently to compassion than they do to threats, dominance, or humiliation.
  • The Wizard is only human.
  • All things must pass; even tyranny is impermanent.

When Dorothy courageously penetrates the wizard's façade, they finally connect on an authentic human level and each gets the help they need.

Quotations:[edit | edit source]

You may enjoy these quotations related to tyranny.

  • “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” ~ Lord Acton
  • “He that would govern others, first should be the master of himself.” ~ Philip Massinger
  • “Humanity is not divisive, but inclusive.” ~ Neriah Lothamer
  • “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt[1]
  • “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
  • “Pity the tyrant.” ~ Hans Otto Storm
  • “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
  • “When those in power are forced into a process of deliberation, then and only then will reason play its necessary central role.” ~ Al Gore
  • “Never feel overwhelmed when you are overwhelmed with evidence of injustice.” ~ Ralph Nader

Recommended Reading[edit | edit source]

Students wishing to learn more about tyranny may be interested in reading the following books:

  • Snyder, Timothy (February 28, 2017). On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Crown. pp. 128. ISBN 978-0804190114. 
  • Parrott III, Les (February 1, 2001). The Control Freak. Tyndale House Publishers. pp. 202. ISBN 978-0842337939. 
  • Carter, Les (January 1, 1992). Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 978-0840733887. 
  • Lothamer, Neriah (August 20, 2005). Dancing in the Shadow of Tyranny: An Activist's Guide to Inner Disarmament. Elite Books. pp. 192. ISBN 978-0972002882. 
  • Shapiro, Ronald M.; Jankowski, Mark A.; Dale, James (April 24, 2007). Bullies, Tyrants, and Impossible People: How to Beat Them Without Joining Them. Currency. pp. 288. ISBN 978-1400050123. 
  • Futterman, Susan (August 1, 2004). When You Work for a Bully: Assessing Your Options and Taking Action. Croce Publishing. 
  • Babiak, Paul; Hare, Robert D. (August 13, 2019). Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. HarperBusiness. pp. 416. ISBN 978-0062697547. 
  • Greene, Robert (September 1, 2000). The 48 Laws of Power. Penguin Books. pp. 452. ISBN 978-0140280197. 
  • Runion, Meryl (December 31, 2003). How to Use Power Phrases to Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, & Get What You Want. McGraw-Hill Education. pp. 224. ISBN 978-0071424851. 
  • Collins, Jim (October 16, 2001). Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't. HarperBusiness. pp. 400. ISBN 9780066620992. 
  • Stout, Linda. Bridging the Class Divide: And Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing. Beacon Press. pp. 192. ISBN 978-0807043097. 
  • Gore, Al (April 29, 2008). The Assault on Reason by Al Gore. Penguin Books. 
  • Sharp, Gene (September 4, 2012). From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation. The New Press. pp. 160. ISBN 978-1595588500. 
  • Seuss, Dr. (April 12, 1958). Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. Random House Books for Young Readers. pp. 96. ISBN 978-0394800875. 
  • Humiliation and Assistance: Telling the Truth About Power, Telling a New Story, by Linda M. Hartling, Wellesley College
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

I have not yet read the following books, but they seem interesting and relevant. They are listed here to invite further research.

  • Ben-Ghiat, Ruth (October 5, 2021). Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 400 isbn=978-0393868418. 

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Quote Investigator