Lin Weeks Wilder

Lin Weeks Wilder


The Institutionalization of Denial: Legacy of the Social Sciences

The institutionalization of Denial: Legacy of the Social Sciences

You know them when you meet them. Or read them. Or have the privilege to study under them. Those rare people gifted with the courage to perceive their limitations; even trumpet their errors. Edwin H Freidman was such a man.

Although you may be tempted to read politics into this piece, do not do so. For there is wisdom contained here, if it is reduced to politics, it disappears.

Edwin Friedman was an ordained Rabbi, psychoanalyst and family therapist, and a leadership consultant in Washington, DC. He founded the Bethesda Jewish Congregation. The author explains that forty years of experience as a family therapist, consultant with the Lyndon Johnson White House, and pulpit rabbi have taught him that the antidote to our worsening family and institiutional problems lie not in continuing to work harder for solutions. But rather it is defintional: For decades, American society has been imprisoned in what Friedman calls “social systems theory” : reason, talk, masking and anesthetizing normal life events with euphemisms, diagnoses, and medication.

More than fifteen years ago, my Texas sister Lee’s then priest,

Fr. Rob Price, wrote an online article about the book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Era of the Quick Fix. Lee forwarded his article. Almostly instantly I read and devoured it, even buying and sending copies to seven friends.

Finishing the book, I wrote : “I wish dearly that this book would be mandatory reading for anyone in a leadership position, for all parents, for all leaders of churches and all parishioners; in short, for all of us whether teacher or student.”

This past week, I found and reread it.

The colossal misunderstanding of our time is that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. If you want your child, spouse, client, or boss to shape up, stay connected while changing yourself rather than trying to fix them.A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Era of the Quick Fix

The wisdom of Edwin Friedman is a partial answer to a question I and many others ask. How did we get here?

To the insanity boiling all around us, in our schools, churches and governments?

On this second read, it was impossible to get past the introduction without stopping to wonder at Friedman’s piercing, forthright prose.

It was in fact my consistent inablity to predict the future course of relationships on families and institutions over the course of several decades that first led me to question the adequacy of the social science construction of reality and eventually led me to wonder if an intended source of enlightenment had, in fact, become a force for denial

In this book on leadership, I will describe a similar failure of nerve (to the Socratic Greeks) affecting American civilization today. But I will add, when anxiety reaches certain thresholds, reasonableness and honesty no longer defend against illusion, and then even the most learned ideas can begin to function as superstitions.Failure of Nerve


Friedman’s theory of leadership, begins with a person, one with integrity-integrity in the sense of willing to stand apart, take command. A leader with nerve because he-or she- has a “differentiated self”. Someone with the “presence” to take a stand, apart from the consensus, relying not on data or consultants but on her abillity to act. Make a decision while accepting that there will be hundreds or thousands who may hate him or her. Accepting that there will be sabatoge, an inevitable result of leadership. There will be resistance.

Here are just a few of his major points (I confess that some of the wording is my own)
  • Social theorists’ insistence on highlighting the culture of individual persons, families and insitutions is called cultural camouflage . Friedman terms it camouflage because the real problems are hidden.
  • Denying the overriding emotional similarities of human persons regardless of gender, ethnicity and/or original culture mask the real problems. Immaturity, refusal to take responsibility are not identified. And become intergenerational.
  • A steadfast refusal to acknowledge the overlay of emotion in relationships, both in families and institutions.
  • Decades of “therapy” among Americans have done little but amplify an endless list of complaints.
  • Complaints which are bolstered by the medical profession with “diagnoses.”
  • When families fix on the symptoms: alcololism, abuse…rather than the emotional problems that keep them chronic instead of the emotional problems that keep them chronic, they will perpetually recycle the problems.
  • The same is true of society. Of us.

...The reactivity that is characteristic of morally regressed America can induce a more discouraging failure of nerve among society’s most individualistic leaders than did the Communist hysteria forty years ago that involved issues far more critcal to the survival of the Republic.

Are Friedman’s theories close to my heart? Oh, yes, indeed,, they are.
Meet Kate Townsend, investigative reporter from my first novel.

“The rise of reason did not take power into account.”
Starting with his first sentence, Nobel Prize-winning author
Paul Starr debunks the attributes given to medical professionals
by the sociologists of the mid-twentieth century and instead
characterized physicians as mere mortals subject to the same
flaws and foibles of all of us.

Starr then describes the complex factors which coalesced in the last century to create this illusion of a category of persons thought to fly higher than most of
us. The Social Transformation of American Medicine portrays
the culture of the early twentieth-century American as one
who was fiercely independent of the influence of any authority
over his health and that of his family. Americans were born at
home, had their babies at home, and died at home.The Fragrance Shed By A Violet: Murder in the Medical Center

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Lin Wilder

Lin Wilder has a doctorate in Public Health from the UT Houston with a background in cardiopulmonary physiology, medical ethics, and hospital administration. 

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