Why Educated People in Leadership Tend to Not Be Conspiracy Theorists
This is reprehensible.
Ever notice that well-educated leaders tend to not be conspiracy theorists? Why do you think that is? I share five reasons below.
Reason #1 — Acceptance of the reality of moral ambiguity
When you are well educated and have spent substantial time in leadership, you discover the inherent imperfections in all human systems and organizations. You realize that you will never be able to make your organization perfect. Though this will probably always bother you, you discover that the best you can do is use your knowledge and talent to help the organization to be better than it would otherwise be without you. You learn to work within the system to improve the system. You know that if you angrily rebel and leave the system, you’ll simply create a new system that will soon be as flawed as the one you left. Organizations filled with human beings can be nothing other than flawed. No leader achieves any degree of success without having wrestled with this. Usually it goes like this: idealism->frustration->discouragement->disillusionment->acceptance->and then finally back into passionate ideals informed by human realities.
No human being is all good or all bad. And flawed as they are, many organizations are also doing substantial good. In my church I have occasionally had people get mad at me because I told them our church didn’t have enough money to help an unfortunate person they thought we should help. Some have even said, “This is not the Wildwind Way,” as if I have perhaps lost touch with the heart of the church I founded ten years ago, and can no longer serve as its moral voice. It is so easy for a person to feel that, simply by being angry with my decision to not help, they are morally superior to me. They are now the ones who care, contrasted with me — the callous leader who has become jaded. Once a person makes this leap, it isn’t very far to coming up with more nefarious motives behind a leader’s decisions or actions.
Reason #2 — Acceptance of inherent limitations
We can’t help everybody. We would love to, we just can’t. In my context, the part followers sometimes don’t see is the great good that Wildwind Church is already doing — opening our doors, inviting in all who wish to come, teaching and inspiring people, guiding them emotionally and spiritually, connecting them into friendships they’ll have the rest of their lives, baptizing them and their children, doing their weddings, burying their parents and grandparents, serving them communion, and yes — doing all we can to alleviate their physical suffering as well. It is ultimately not good to help any one person to the point where we can no longer continue to do the great good we do for many people day in and day out.
Reason #3 — Awareness of imperfection, even in true things
Shifting into critic mode is always easy to do. Those looking for flaws, inconsistencies, and “things that don’t add up” will always find them as long as humans are in charge. That is why the stories we need to worry about are not the stories where some of the facts don’t add up, but those where they all add up perfectly (see my previous post). That almost never happens in the real world. Educated people in leadership positions tend to not be conspiracy theorists because imperfect stories — that we know first-hand to be true — are the norm.
Reason #4 — Resistance to attributing bad motives to others
In order to believe conspiracy theories, a person must often be willing to attribute malevolent motives to leaders. This can often be difficult for leaders to do, since every leader has had their own motives questioned and judged by people both inside and outside of their organization. Leaders understand that their job often gives them access to information that a) most others do not have, and b) often cannot be shared for moral, ethical, interpersonal, or legal reasons. Every effective leader understands that secrecy (a far better term, oftentimes, is “confidentiality”) sometimes comes with the job, no matter how that may look to others.
Reason #5 — Emphasis on being sober-minded
Both formal education and real world leadership experience teach sober-mindedness. Rashness, jumping to conclusions, making assumptions about the motives of others, and attaching large amounts of emotion to things about which they are only speculating (and intimately knowing the difference between knowing something, feeling something, and speculating about something), are incompatible with educational and leadership environments. To be effective, leaders must combine idealism (the hard-won kind I describe above) with pragmatism. They must know when they can give ground and when they are standing on a hill they need to be willing to die on. These are constant and even fairly urgent struggles for leaders on a regular basis. Sober-mindedness simply does not, as a general rule, lend itself to the kind of mindsets in which conspiracy theories tend to take root.
None of these things, of course, suggests that no conspiracy theory is ever true or could ever be found to be true. We know that sometimes conspiracy theories do end up being true. We also know that it is very rare. Education and leadership both teach critical thinking, and one’s survival in leadership depends largely upon honing these skills to a point where they are nearly instinctual.
One more reason, of course, is the possibility that well educated leaders are in on the conspiracy.