The Week in Ethics: NRA Leadership, Culture of Violence, and the Self-Seal

We will know in a few months whether National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre’s response to the murders of first graders, teachers and the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut speaks for the majority of its 4 million members.

LaPierre blames the murders on gun restrictions and America’s culture of violence — which he says includes the media, video games, movies, and music, and not enough guns — with military-type assault rifles and other weapons of war being readily available not relevant to the problem.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun,” LaPierre said, “is a good guy with a gun,” proposing that armed volunteers (trained by the NRA) be deployed in every school. Gun control advocates denounce that position.

LaPierre, very protective of his turf, dismissed that gun control in any form will make any difference to violence, and isn’t worth addressing.

His parochial response reminded me of the dangers of leaders who “self-seal” and encourage the self-sealing of their organizations.

In Finding Our Way: Leadership For an Uncertain Time, Margaret (Meg) Wheatley writes: “We create ourselves by what we choose to notice. Once this work of self-authorship has begun, we inhabit the world we’ve created. We self-seal. We don’t notice anything except those things that confirm what we already think about who we already are.”

The capacity to look beyond our own point of view shifts this dynamic. It is also at the heart of effective leadership.

Wheatley continues: “When we succeed in moving outside our normal process of self-reference and can look at ourselves with self-awareness, then we have a chance of changing. We break the seal. We notice something new.”

Rather than pointing the finger at every other aspect of society as contributing to a culture of violence, and summarily excluding any impact of any type of gun, the NRA should be at the table as one of many participants looking at how we change a culture of violence.

It hasn’t committed yet on whether it will participate in the effort to reduce gun violence led by Vice President Biden, but said if gun control is part of the agenda, it won’t.

What will it take for the self-seal to be broken?

Gael O’Brien December 23, 2012

The Week in Ethics

This is the second of a two-part series; last week’s column was Changing a Culture of Violence. Gael O’Brien is also a columnist for Business Ethics Magazine; read her December 2012 column.


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