ACT IV: Fear and Intimidation

A friend of mine told me the following story about a Lieutenant who arrived in Viet Nam fresh from his training in the states. It was the young officer’s first patrol in a war zone. Jesse, my friend, was in charge of the patrol. The Army unit came to a stream. Everyone was tired, dirty, hot and thirsty. Jesse issued standard orders and his soldiers did what they always did in this situation. A hail of 50 caliber suppressive fire was sent up, down and across the stream to keep the enemy pinned down. Jesse then told the young Lieutenant to go down to the stream and fill his canteen. The officer, in fear for his life, refused. Jesse had the officer removed from his unit that same day.

Some of you may know what it means to face death. Most of you don’t. It is a feeling impossible to convey with words. We have come to the limits of book learning. ACTs I-III are understandable without leaving the comfort of your home or community. Life threatening fear is an emotion that must be personally experienced to gain a full understanding. It is an experience you do not like to talk about. You don’t want to remember it, but you will till the day you die. Many women in the military understand clearly what fear, intimidation and vulnerability are like. But they have learned how to keep fear under control so that they will not become frozen into inaction. Their lives, and the lives of others in their unit, depend on each individual’s ability to act, to make quick decisions and protect each other under fire.

The thought experiments in ACT I all involved social groups of varying size and complexity. Regardless of the social scale fear and intimidation enabled a small number to dominate and control a larger number of people. Etienne de la Boetie discussed psychological fear and intimidation in his book entitled Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. (1548) An Atlantic Monthly article in 2007 entitled “The Story of a Snitch” discusses in depth the growing problem of fear and intimidation within American’s inner cities. Across our inner cities, the code of omerta has spread from organized crime to ordinary citizens. “Stop snitching” has become a motto to live—or die—by, as John Dowery Jr. discovered.

We will now “frame” the fearless actions of one woman, Angela Dawson using the Bullying Circle model mentioned in ACT III. Angela Dawson was a woman from inner city Baltimore who had the courage necessary to act in the face of fear and intimidation. She had many of the personal characteristics necessary for leadership. She believed in action over passivity, believed fighting back against bullies and defending her family was better than submission, believed taking responsibility was better than believing someone else would solve the problem. What Angela Dawson did not have was the necessary training and education that would have improved her chances of victory over the bullies. Courage alone, without the education essential for effective leadership, can often result in tragedy.

See the NY Times articles below: Using the Bullying Circle model Angela and her husband were “Defenders”. They believed the drug dealers were a threat to their children, i.e. the children were going to become “Victims” of the violent drug culture if Angela and her husband did nothing. The neighborhood drug dealers were the “Bullies” and the Dawson’s neighbors were “Bystanders.” Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley’s “Believe” public relations program led Angela Dawson to “believe” the government would help protect her family. The government, however, advised the Dawson’s to abandon their neighborhood to the bullies and move to a safer neighborhood. The Dawson’s refused to abandon the neighborhood and died as a result.

For ACT V we will discuss what Angela might have been able to do had she been taught the skills you will learn during the Women’s Leadership Challenge.


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