Guest Blog: Why do we sit back and allow adults to destroy people?

© 2012 By Megan Hunter, MBA Reading about the Holocaust during my childhood left me wondering why my grandparents’ generation did nothing about it for so long. My childish mind could not grasp why adults allowed other adults to destroy people. Now in my 40’s, my mind remains focused on that same simple principle. Why do we sit back and allow adults to destroy people? Today’s sentencing of recently-convicted Charles Taylor, the ex-Liberian leader, satisfied my long-held simple belief. A UN-backed court in The Hague sentenced Taylor to 50 years in prison – a life sentence at his age. The misery and destruction his greed brought on the people of Sierra Leone came to an end a decade ago but the trauma for the thousands who were mutilated, raped or lost loved ones (more than 50,000 died) continues for life. As always, I want to know what drives a person to behave the way they do, and especially how one becomes a despot. Greed is an easy answer, but what underlies greed? It’s easy to say he’s a sociopath – duh – but what does that mean, and how do you spot one and stop them before they rise to power and start destroying people? We can’t diagnose him and other despots because we don’t know them, but a clear pattern of behavior is evident. They: 1.      develop a strong contingency of negative advocates, a term introduced by Bill Eddy in It’s All Your Fault!, who want to follow a strong leader, 2.      deign themselves above the law, pushing boundaries and don’t experience consequences because they get away with it, 3.      show a willingness to hurt others for personal gain, 4.      have a lack of remorse. (page 162 of the Fault book) When someone with these traits has access to a vulnerable population, as in Charles Taylor’s case, things quickly get out-of-control and adults begin destroying other adults.  The 5-year Taylor trial illustrated his: 1.      ability to motivate huge forces of negative advocates in two countries to affect some of the heinous crimes against human in history, 2.      propensity to hold himself above the law for more than five years, 3.      willingness to decimate humanity due to his greed for blood diamonds, 4.      lack of remorse. The sentencing judge cited Taylor’s lack of remorse as a sentencing factor. And now, the world has convicted the first former head of state of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis after World War II. I’m ecstatic! I actually wept after reading of his conviction. Is Taylor a high-conflict personality? Yes, to the extreme. Could we have prevented his atrocities? Probably not, because of Africa’s then isolation and vulnerability. Will Taylor’s conviction serve as a prevention mechanism against other world leaders from doing this again? We know that high-conflict people must have boundaries and consequences enacted and enforced by others because they do not have the ability to do it themselves. In this case, the world court filled the role of giving Taylor consequences. Will he learn anything? Sadly, research tells us he will not. However, a strong message has been sent to other world leaders that if they commit such atrocities, they will face consequences regardless of how powerful they are. Consequences shape society. Last month I met the Vice President of Liberia and other high-level government officials at a trade delegation meeting in Arizona and I’m happy to report that a new age is dawning in Liberia with no despots on the horizon. Co-founder Megan Hunter is a speaker,  author,  and international expert on high conflict disputes, complicated relationships, and Borderline Personality Disorder. She has over 13 years’ experience as the Family Law Specialist with the Arizona Supreme Court, and Child Support Manager of the Dawes County Attorney’s Office in Nebraska.   

Con Artists at Work on Wall Street

street signs that say wall street

© 2009 Megan L. Hunter, MBA       Reports of financial fraud on Wall Street causing losses in the millions for many Americans have been front and center recently. The most striking case of late is the Bernie Madoff scandal although he’s just one of many recent cases. Investors, both individuals and businesses, some of which were non-profit organizations, lost around $50 billion. Shocking? Clearly. Devastating? Undeniably. Especially to those whose individual retirements or organizational viability were wholly dependent on those investments.   While this was a stunning shock to all of us, what was more shocking was the level of financial intelligence of the investors who lost millions. These weren’t first-time investors unfamiliar with the financial landscape. They didn’t appear to be foolishly taking risks as though they were playing slots in Vegas. Why then did financially savvy, prudent, intelligent investors entrust their future with a single individual who ended up destroying their financial security? It isn’t logical.  Adding to the lack of logic, we learned that it was nothing more than a simple pyramid scheme – not a complex, multi-layered, scientifically formulated plot. Why did a simple scam remain undetected by those same financially savvy folks? Again, it defies logic.  While some may attribute their seemingly illogical actions to greed, I don’t believe that greed alone was the common factor. It may have been a contributor but it alone does not answer the question.  So, what is the answer? Why did people trust this man? No one would entrust millions to just anyone. Why did they trust Madoff? Listening to swindled investors in TV interviews, a common thread is easily detected. Madoff was charming and they believed him when he said, “Trust me”. Now they call him a psychopath.   It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Madoff nor his actions could be considered even close to the realm of normalcy or that he just got a little off-track. What he did was cunningly calculated, as evidenced by the length of time he managed to pull it off and his lack of remorse upon arrest. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, July 2008 reports that a National Institutes of Health study of over 35,000 people found that 6.2% of the population have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. An earlier wave of the study indicated that 3.6% have Antisocial Personality Disorder, with about a 20% overlap of both NPD and ASPD. The combined traits of these are a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement, demanding of special treatment and admiration, relationship exploitation, arrogance, lack of empathy and remorse, lying/conning, and violation of social norms/laws.   Could this be Madoff? What do you think? We need to learn something from this nightmare. Not only because we’re in a tough economic environment at the moment, but because we must always be aware of those to whom we entrust our money and our financial well-being. So, how do you know who to trust with your investments and financial future? Bottom line – beware of anyone who comes off as overly charming and implores you to “…just trust me”.   Trust me, that’s a glaring red flag (pun intended)!  Just like your mother told you, if it’s too good to be true, the probability is pretty high that it is. Many of the defrauded investors recalled thinking in the beginning that it sounded too good to be true. That’s where the red flag should have surfaced and further investigation should have been conducted. Before trusting your finances with anyone, follow these simple guidelines: Don’t trust based merely on someone’s assertion that they are trustworthy or have the “magic” formula. Don’t trust based on word-of-mouth from another investor. If it’s too good to be true – run from it. Avoid being seduced by a charmer. Beware of people who say “trust me”. Conduct your own research. You worked hard to save for your future. Don’t let it disappear because of a charming personality.   MEGAN HUNTER, MBA is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. She is a keynote speaker and provides training on handling high-conflict situations in the workplace, at home and anywhere. She created the Conflict Influencer™ Certification and is the lead author of the Conflict Influencer series of books. Megan is co-host of the podcast It’s All Your Fault! with co-host, Bill Eddy.