Breaking the Silence on Complicity

On the one hand we’ve seen the recent rise in naming complicit behavior, and on the other hand the rising response that this behavior will no longer be tolerated. Yet many of our leaders remain sitting on the sidelines. Why?

The word “complicit” was recently chosen as the word of the year by Dictionary.com citing the term’s renewed relevance in U.S. culture and politics. They also noted that a refusal to be complicit has also been “a grounding force of 2017.”

Their website defines complicit as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having complicity.” According to Thesaurus.com, the opposite of complicit is clear, forthright and honest.

Two recent examples include an SNL skit involving Ivanka Trump, and outgoing Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s speech on the Senate floor where he told fellow Republicans regarding the President, “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”

Complicity was found not only in the political realm, but also in society’s role for contributing to climate change, normalizing of hate speech and supremacist groups, and the tacit enabling of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Time magazine’s person of the year in 2017 is “The Silence Breakers,” referring to those women who have courageously spoken out against perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the global conversation they have started. Edward Felsenthal, Time’s editor in chief, said in an interview on the “Today” show recently that the #MeToo movement represented the “fastest-moving social change we’ve seen in decades, and it began with individual acts of courage by women and some men too.”

Tarana Burke created the “Me Too” movement many years ago, but it didn’t go viral until actress Alyssa Milano urged those following her on Twitter to use the hashtag #MeToo if they had experiences of sexual harassment.

“I’ve been saying from the beginning that it’s not just a moment, it’s a movement,” Burke said in the same Today episode. “I think now the work really begins. The hashtag is a declaration. But now we’re poised to really stand up and do the work.”

The rise in the usage of the word “complicit” and American women’s courageous response in speaking out after acts of sexual harassment can serve as a catalyst towards positive change. We may one day look back at this time as a pivotal moment when leaders’ abhorrent behavior was no longer tolerated, and when powerful men across entertainment, media, politics and business were finally being held accountable.

So what are our leaders doing? Are they sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what the voters or customers decide? Are they following the advice of their crisis management consultants who tell them to hold off to see if this blows over before “getting ahead of the story.” Are they putting more pressure on their lawyers to ensure that their financial settlements hold up against future accusations?

Great leaders have integrity. They do not commit nor do they tacitly condone illegal acts and inappropriate behavior. And they speak out when they see wrong doing and stand up to their colleagues, coworkers, partners, friends and others to prevent such acts.

When others lie, deceive, cheat, mistreat women, or disparage innocent people, we must hold them accountable. This includes our bosses, colleagues, coworkers, friends and our elected officials not only for the acts themselves, but also for their complicity. And we must hold ourselves accountable as well.

Because that’s what leaders do. And whether we ourselves are leaders, want to become leaders, or just choose to follow other leaders, we must not be complicit in bad behavior.

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