Telling It Like It Is - The Real Alpha
Many years ago I ran a training program for a large organisation, during which we were discussing society's unwritten rule about acceptable, reasonable, understandable, tolerable, questionable and unacceptable behaviour. Most of the group had similar positions when given certain scenarios to consider and the room had reached somewhat of a consensus.
Enter the Alpha Male
One of the guys in the room obviously considered himself to be the alpha in the room. He arrived late, interrupted and then ignored me and joked with other participants as he made his way slowly across the room to his seat, whereupon he looked at me with a "what are you going to do about it?" look. I didn't play along. As an ex-police trainer I think I've dealt with some of the toughest audiences (e.g. detectives opening newspapers in the back of my classes) and I'm smart enough not to lock horns with this guy too quickly in case I lose the entire room. I continued and looked for an opportunity to draw him into the conversation. It didn't take long. He eventually spoke his first words:
'I reckon this is all bullshit!' he said.
Nervously others looked away and shuffled their papers. In that moment I realised that his alpha behaviour didn't necessarily endear him to the room. Interesting. 'OK,' I said. 'What do you think is bullshit?'
'You're saying it's intolerable in society to kill someone who is in your home and that's bullshit,' he answered. 'A man's home is his castle. If I go into my home and someone's in there, I don't know what they're in there for, or what they're capable of, I should be allowed to kill them to keep my family safe.'
'That's a pretty strong view,' I said. 'But, if you don't know anything about them, how do you know that it wasn't someone with dementia who happened to wander into the wrong home? Or someone with a mental illness?'
'Well, that's bad luck for them. They shouldn't be there and I should have the right to protect my home and my family.'
'So, do you advocate the survival of the fittest?' I asked
'Yep. The strong survive and the weak don't.'
I had never done this before and have not done it since, but I took my opportunity. 'Well good!' I said, raising my voice and stepping towards him. 'Do you know why? Because I'm younger than you, I'm bigger than you, I'm stronger than you, I'm probably more aggressive than you and I'm a trained martial artist. So in this room I make the rules. So how do you feel when I tell you to just sit there and say nothing unless I tell you to?'
He was stunned!! Trainers don't speak to people this way!!
'I s'pose you've got the right to do that,' he answered, rather feebly.
'No! No, I don't!' I said. 'That would be totally inappropriate and the least effective or efficient way for humans to interact. We are complex, deep-thinking, creative, social creatures. We survive as a race because of the interactions that take place between us ... because of the acknowledgement of the strengths of each individual and the cooperation of the group. If I rule simply because of my size and strength then it overvalues one small aspect of my character and undervalues the other aspects of me. It also immediately rules out the smaller, more introverted, less aggressive, more creative people among us, let alone most females! We have evolve far beyond the dog-eat-dog, kill or be killed world of the predator and THAT is why we are the dominant species on the planet. So you DO have a say and you are welcome to it, as has everyone else in the room, as long as you're aware that you have that right not because you're an alpha, but because we value all people.'
To cut a long story short, that same guy participated really well for the rest of the day and approached me at the end of the workshop. 'Thanks for a great course,' he said. 'And thanks for showing me I was wrong. I learned something today.' The he shook my hand and left.
We all have big and small friends, strong and not-so-strong friends, extroverted and introverted friends, loud and quiet friends, practical and creative friends etc. We must learn to value all personalities and stop revering the he-man who can only lift heavy things. Of course he has his role, but it's the cooperation between us all that matters; the recognition of the skills that people bring to the table. In basketball, not everyone can be a power forward. We need guards and centres to make up the team. We build a team around a combination of strengths. Society is really just one BIG team ... perhaps we should be starting to treat it like that.