What is the psychological process by which people who are free allow themselves to become subjugated by another? Sometimes the answer is clear: you wake up one morning and see a military patrol rolling down your street. But that’s not the case that interests me for the moment. What I would like to understand better is how people who are free gradually surrender some of their freedoms so that after a period of time, they can no longer recall what it means to be free.
That is one of the questions I’m thinking about as Passover approaches.
Classical rabbinic sources are replete with hypotheses on this question. After all, the Israelites did not become slaves overnight. Their enslavement was a process that took place over a long period of time until the erosion of freedom was complete. There were clearly external forces that limited the Israelites’ freedom. But there were also inner forces that enabled their acceptance of these limitations.
Often, organizations and individuals confuse external restraints – those that are beyond their control – with inner restraints that they impose upon themselves. They attribute their powerlessness, their inability to change their situation, to forces outside of themselves even though they still have more ability to act then they choose to admit. They internalize these external restraints and over time may even make themselves prisoners of their own fears of using the power that they have to change their situation.
Whether you are a volunteer or professional leader, here’s a question to think about as you prepare for Passover: what situation in your organization do you actually have the ability to change, because you now recognize that what you thought were external constraints are actually self-imposed?
Chag Kasher v’Sameach,
Rabbi Hayim Herring