This blog is a companion to the interview with Barbara Marx Hubbard and Dr. Marc Gafni on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on March 21, 2017 focusing on navigating a smear campaign if you or your organization are targeted. It also recommends tactics to help individuals and leaders avoid unwittingly becoming involved in such a campaign.
Renowned futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard once said, “One of the most dangerous problems we face in the world is extremism on behalf of belief. In many cases, extremists convince themselves that another faith or political system or individual is ‘evil’, and that they are justified in destroying them by any means necessary. We see this tendency, with tragic consequences, in the political sphere. We are now seeing it the so-called spiritual world. People who claim to be apostles of higher consciousness see no problem with trying to destroy others without due process, open dialogue, non-violent communication or the possibility of resolving differences with compassion, forgiveness and healing. Even more problematically they often hide their hidden agendas under the veneer of victim advocacy. The spiritual world is not exempt from malice. Malice, as Milan Kundera reminds us, ‘must never admit of itself so it must always plead other motives’.
This kind of behavior is terrorism. Violence of this sort is very hard to respond to creatively without becoming a terrorist yourself. Yet we have to say NO! to terrorism of any kind, including our own.
With this in mind I am called forth by my sense of justice to stand against the recent extremist process of cyber-attacks, initiated by a leader in the evolutionary spiritual community against Dr. Marc Gafni and the Center for Integral Wisdom and all other acts of extremism that demonize people and organizations because they are different or because they have opposing goals. Our democracy is strengthened by opposing perspectives—shutting them down is antithetical to our core values.”
We are at a new crossroads where extremism is evident across society. We see it in “fake news” that is, in many cases, intended to advance one position at the expense of another. Unfortunately, the news consumer is left to decipher what is true, what is untrue, and what is sheer deception. I believe that credible media sources work very hard to fact check their stories, yet, the very people they call to verify facts may misrepresent them.
For democracy to work, the citizenry must be well and accurately informed, and I am perplexed about inflammatory things that I read and try to discern what is true. I consume more news through a variety sources than ever before in my life, and I still believe I am getting partial truths designed to promote action and reaction. But whose action? Whose agenda? And for what purpose?
Back to the smear campaign targeting Marc…it was well orchestrated by skilled and credible people. Folks were asked to sign petitions, and many did without checking facts. If a petition is inflammatory and the antithesis of what they believe, good people will sign. I imagine most of us have signed petitions against environmental destruction, or killing of baby seals, or mutilation of girls, or sex trafficking. How could you not take a stand against these things? However, when you signed, did you explore who would benefit and how this information would be used? Did you seek to find out the source and who sponsored it? When I regularly signed petitions in the past I didn’t. I was busy and I wanted to preserve our environment and keep young women safe. I trusted the sources and I signed.
So, what can we do to avoid feeding a smear campaign:
- Check the facts. I was on the board of the Center when this started and I talked to Marc. I talked to other board members I trust. I know this isn’t always possible. What is possible, however, is to ask the question: How likely is this to be true? Marc is surrounded by smart and competent people. Some left after the smear campaign. I assume, in part, because of the impact the pressure had on their professional reputations. Many other people I deeply respect stayed. This is important evidence to me.
- Identify who benefits. During the recent election and after, we heard the new term “alternate facts.” Truth and fact are very different entities; one is subjective, the other is objective. When we see a preponderance of misleading stories, identify who stands to benefit from the situation.
- Examine the tactics. If you see tactics such as family members being threatened and threats to destroy the livelihood of those associated with the person being targeted, it is likely a smear campaign. These smears discredit not only the target, but associates and friends. When you see this behavior, you are likely observing a smear attack and not open discourse in an effort to understand. .
- Distance yourself if you have questions. It is hard to know what happens in the lives of others and why these things happen. I like the phrase “trust but verify,” and believe that most people are good and are doing the best they can and. If, however, I am unsure, I step away. There are enough causes to work toward that are positive. I don’t want to invest my energy in areas that besmirch individuals—even when the message is framed as “protecting” others.
As people who value the democratic system and as organizational leaders, it is important to be aware that we are all at risk of being victimized by—or unwitting participants in—campaigns that taint your reputation, or that of your organization. We have a responsibility to be conscious of the impact our actions can have and take deliberate action to avoid smear campaigns that impact others. By building an informed citizenry and being informed citizens, we remove the fuel that feeds these fires.
My invitation to everyone reading this blog is to follow the steps above, whether it is slandering an individual, an organization, or a political party. It is easy to let our emotions lead us and get caught up in the frenzied current climate of reaction. The flip side is when you have checked the facts and have a relatively clear picture—get involved and work to make the changes that will keep us a free and open society!
As a post script on the Center for Integral Wisdom, Marc, Barbara, and the folks at the Center for Integral Wisdom. They have been able not only to survive, but in some very real senses, thrive, despite the smear campaign. In part, that is because of the internal integrity of the people involved. It is also not unrelated to the astounding fact that Marc, as a key leader in the system did not allow the campaign to make him bitter, but keeps his heart open but instead kept going deeper into the work of the center. If you happen to be targeted by a smear campaign, surrounding yourself with supportive colleagues and maintaining focus on your mission—along with strong crisis management and legal counsel—is critical to both individual and organizational ability to take this terrible situation and create a positive outcome.
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About the Author
Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.
Maureen has published several papers and articles and speaks regularly on innovative leadership, resilience, and organizational transformation. She is the author of the award-winning Innovative Leadership Workbook series and the co-author of the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook, winner of an International Book Award for Best Business Reference Book. She is also a regular contributor to Forbes.com.
Please note: I will only approve comments on this post that are constructive in nature. I will not perpetuate negativity and smearing behavior. While we promote different perspectives – they must be framed in a manner that promotes solutions to challenges we face and not framed as personal attacks damaging the people involved in the process.