Robert Wyatt

Robert Wyatt

I first heard the terms demagogue or demagoguery during my teen years when they were applied to Malcolm X, an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a prominent figure during the civil rights movement.

A spokesman for the nation of Islam until 1964, he was a vocal advocate for Black empowerment and the promotion of Islam within the Black community.

He urged fellow Black Americans to protect themselves against white aggression “by any means necessary,” a stance that often put him at odds with the nonviolent teachings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

A demagogue is defined as a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people by stoking fears and divisions rather than by using rational argument.

The demagoguery of political opportunists for instance.

This description would appear to be antithetical to Malcolm X, as he was not a political leader but, rather, a spiritual leader to those who followed his teachings.

In later years, I was exposed to books titled “Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships” by psychiatrist, Dr. Eric Berne and also “I’m OK ... You’re OK” by Thomas Harris.

These books describe both functional and dysfunctional social interactions between people. As a former behaviorist and also one who co-facilitated human interaction workshops for those who held leadership roles in business and academia, these books were two sources, among others, used in our endeavor to get workshop attendees to take a critical look at themselves so that they could “peel back their onion” in an attempt to get them to see themselves as others see them.

As humans, we often believe that we project one image of ourselves to others but what others actually see is usually counter to what we believe that we project.

One of the games people play, as emphasized by Dr. Berne and Thomas Harris in “I’m OK ... You’re Not OK.”

Accordingly, this is a projective position. This is the position of persons who feel victimized or persecuted, so these persons victimize and persecute others. They blame others for their own miseries.

Seeing the (perceived weakness) in others triggers them to act-out their contempt for that part of themselves in order to hold onto the I’m OK position.

We have seen examples of I’m OK, you’re not OK, being played out in the political discourse among our citizens in recent years: I’m a Republican, I’m OK; You’re a RINO, You’re not OK; I’m a Conservative, I’m OK, You’re a Dem, You’re not OK. I’m a Trumper, I’m OK; You’re never a Trumper, you’re not OK; I’m a facist, I’m OK; You’re an anti-facist, you’re not OK, etc.

As ordinary American citizens, all of whom love this country, and many of whom served in combat to protect the freedoms of our fellow citizens, we have been exploited, manipulated and divided based upon our differences, rather than unified by our common interests.

As my friend, Jaime Kurzman often reminds me, we are all in this same boat together. Our boat has sprung a leak, has taken on water, and is sinking. And while we take opposing sides, bitterly debating over whether we should use a bilge pump or a bucket to alleviate the problem, we are all drowning.

Robert Wyatt is a Johnstown native who makes his home in Philadelphia.

Robert Wyatt is a Johnstown native who makes his home in Philadelphia.

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