Although it was written in the 1990s, Edwin Friedman’s book A Failure of Nerve fits as well today as it ever has. In the book, Friedman outlines what kind of leadership is necessary in the age of quick fixes and anxiety. How can you operate as a non-anxious presence in an anxious environment? That’s a question I think he answers quite overwhelmingly.
This is not a Christian book. Friedman was a rabbi and family therapist. It may not be written by a Christian but it is a helpful book, becoming even more helpful in the years since Friedman’s passing. Here’s a few of the best quotes from the book.
“It has been my impression that at any gathering, whether it be public or private, those who are quickest to inject words like sensitivity, empathy, consensus, trust, confidentiality, and togetherness into their arguments have perverted these humanitarian words into power tools to get others to adapt to them.”
“A major criterion for judging the anxiety level of any society is the loss of its capacity to be playful.”
“Children rarely succeed in rising above the maturity level of their parents, and this principle applies to all mentoring, healing, or administrative relationships.”
“It is the integrity of the leader that promotes the integrity or prevents the ‘disintegration’ of the system he or she is leading.”
“The ultimate irony of societal regression, however, is that eventually it co-opts the very institutions that train and support the leaders who could pull a society out of its devolution. It does this by concentrating their focus on data and technique rather than on emotional process and the leader’s own self.”
“What chronically anxious families are largely incapable of seeing is that trauma is often, and perhaps usually, less the result of the impacting agent than of the family’s own evolving emotional processes.”
“The critical issues in raising children have far less to do with proper technique than with the nature of the parents’ presence and the type of emotional processes they engender.”
“A focus on being empathetic toward others, rather than on being responsible for one’s own integrity, can actually lessen the odds for an organism’s survival by lowering the other’s pain thresholds, helping them to avoid challenge and compromising the mobilization of their ‘nerve.'”