Guest Blog: Why do we sit back and allow adults to destroy people?

© 2012 By Megan Hunter, MBA

Reading about the Holocaust during my childhood left me wondering why my grandparents’ generation did nothing about it for so long. My childish mind could not grasp why adults allowed other adults to destroy people. Now in my 40’s, my mind remains focused on that same simple principle. Why do we sit back and allow adults to destroy people?

Today’s sentencing of recently-convicted Charles Taylor, the ex-Liberian leader, satisfied my long-held simple belief. A UN-backed court in The Hague sentenced Taylor to 50 years in prison – a life sentence at his age. The misery and destruction his greed brought on the people of Sierra Leone came to an end a decade ago but the trauma for the thousands who were mutilated, raped or lost loved ones (more than 50,000 died) continues for life. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-18259596

As always, I want to know what drives a person to behave the way they do, and especially how one becomes a despot. Greed is an easy answer, but what underlies greed? It’s easy to say he’s a sociopath – duh – but what does that mean, and how do you spot one and stop them before they rise to power and start destroying people?

We can’t diagnose him and other despots because we don’t know them, but a clear pattern of behavior is evident. They:

1.      develop a strong contingency of negative advocates, a term introduced by Bill Eddy in It’s All Your Fault!, who want to follow a strong leader,

2.      deign themselves above the law, pushing boundaries and don’t experience consequences because they get away with it,

3.      show a willingness to hurt others for personal gain,

4.      have a lack of remorse.

(page 162 of the Fault book)

When someone with these traits has access to a vulnerable population, as in Charles Taylor’s case, things quickly get out-of-control and adults begin destroying other adults.  The 5-year Taylor trial illustrated his:

1.      ability to motivate huge forces of negative advocates in two countries to affect some of the heinous crimes against human in history,

2.      propensity to hold himself above the law for more than five years,

3.      willingness to decimate humanity due to his greed for blood diamonds,

4.      lack of remorse.

The sentencing judge cited Taylor’s lack of remorse as a sentencing factor. And now, the world has convicted the first former head of state of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis after World War II. I’m ecstatic! I actually wept after reading of his conviction.

Is Taylor a high-conflict personality? Yes, to the extreme. Could we have prevented his atrocities? Probably not, because of Africa’s then isolation and vulnerability. Will Taylor’s conviction serve as a prevention mechanism against other world leaders from doing this again? We know that high-conflict people must have boundaries and consequences enacted and enforced by others because they do not have the ability to do it themselves. In this case, the world court filled the role of giving Taylor consequences. Will he learn anything? Sadly, research tells us he will not. However, a strong message has been sent to other world leaders that if they commit such atrocities, they will face consequences regardless of how powerful they are.

Consequences shape society. Last month I met the Vice President of Liberia and other high-level government officials at a trade delegation meeting in Arizona and I’m happy to report that a new age is dawning in Liberia with no despots on the horizon.

Co-founder Megan Hunter is a speaker,  author,  and international expert on high conflict disputes, complicated relationships, and Borderline Personality Disorder. She has over 13 years’ experience as the Family Law Specialist with the Arizona Supreme Court, and Child Support Manager of the Dawes County Attorney’s Office in Nebraska.