Get Published | Subscribe | About | Write for Our Blog    

Posted on January 19, 2017 at 9:52 AM

Aesop is credited with the first writing the familiar phrase
“United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” In my brief search to find the origins of
this phrase also offered a brief writing of two of the fables, which I will
share here to frame my thoughts on managing the risks of ignoring cavalier,
authoritarian leaders who prey on those who fail to muster the necessary
strength and group support to oppose such behavior.

“The Four Oxen and the Lion:

A lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used
to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they
turned their tails to warn anther, so that whichever way he approached them he
was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell [to] quarrelling
among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in the separate corner of
the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all
four.” (

Let’s not be quick to dismiss this as a mere child’s story. But
let’s start there. Where did most of us first learn about bullies? Probably in
grade school – either as a victim, a bystander, or as a perpetrator. Tactics
for dealing with the abuse may have ranged from passivity to seeking help from
persons with greater authority to intervene, though this may have had mixed
results. What happens when those with authority dismiss the claim, or otherwise
fail to help? The abuse gets worse. What happens when the peers stand together
alongside the victim? When the bystanders become active in stating “this stops
and will not be allowed here – on our playground, in our group, our community”?
When the bully is ‘iced out’? The power of the perpetrator recedes. As adults,
employees, citizens, and those with and without social privilege we know
intuitively that we have more power as a united front counteracting threats.

So that’s the idealistic answer. Confronting and sustaining
the energy to hold a careless leader accountable is not easily done. A person
rarely comes to a position of power in our society without having some
significant skills of persuasion. Though often superficial, it may not be
readily apparent because of well-honed abilities to confidently dismiss
deficits in qualifications or knowledge, build collateral support with charm
and social rapport, and diverting attention away from concerns when
inconsistencies emerge – all with a smile or a wave of the hand. Perhaps the
most dangerous of all patterns is one in which those relying on this leader to
represent the well-being of all, instead creates divides by splitting
dissenters against each other. Like the lion, the oxen are easily devoured once
the distracted by matters other than looking out for each other.

As a democratic society, we are at risk of becoming prey. I
have devoted my career to serving others who are in crisis of some kind, and
providing whatever tools I have at my disposal for navigating an uncertain
future, for somehow accommodating events that cannot be undone. But, perhaps
most importantly, never giving up on the inherent ability of people to come
together to get the right things done…to watching out for the lion together. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.

Comments are closed.