The Peril of Pacification

Strong leaders challenge the people they influence. They intentionally edge them out of their comfort zones to stretch them, to challenge them. Bold leadership risks stepping on the toes of team members because the goals aren’t always convenient or comfortable.

When I was in middle school and high school, I remember two distinct styles of substitute teachers. Authoritarians and allies. The authoritarians are veterans of the game; they know students can smell fear. They come out swinging with intensity and intimidation. It’s clear they are forces to be respected; disregard them at your own peril. These are the authoritarians.

But the ally, the buddy sub is different. He doesn’t play the top down hierarchy game; he comes in low key and fun-loving. If students ask the buddy sub to bend classroom rules, he will. He’s got little to lose and, if he can win the class over, won’t have problems. The authoritarian will power up. The ally will pacify the mob to keep them at bay.

Mark 5:15 says “So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.”

In this instance, the trial of Jesus, Pilate has a choice to make. He can release Jesus, a man he knows to be innocent. Or he can release Barabbas, a known insurrectionist. A felon, a murderer.

Wise leadership says, “Do what’s right. It may be difficult in the short run, but it will pay off over time.” Foolish leadership, fear-based leadership, always punts. Pilate releases Barabbas, not because it’s good form and not because it’s just or fair. He just does it because it’s the easiest way out of the current jam.

The crowd is getting agitated. An angry crowd can turn into a mob. A mob can turn into a riot. A disturbance of that scale can cost Pilate his job as governor, so the easy call is to pacify the crowd by simply giving them what they want.

I confess I’ve done this as a parent. I’ve given rewards, treats, bribes to my kids in moments that didn’t truly warrant them. This isn’t leadership and it’s not parenting. Its just pacification. Here’s the problem with pacification: eventually you run out of pacifiers. Once the crowd in this scene knows that if they throw a big enough tantrum, they can manipulate Pilate, they’ll do it again. And again. And finally, Pilate will run out of leverage. You can only pacify people for so long before you realize that you’ve lost the credibility required to lead them.

Beware the pacifier. It rarely gets you what you want.

Craig Custance