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Alpha Males as Comforters

Just this month I found Frans de Waal's talk where he suggests the popular account of the phrase "alpha male" totally wrong. Instead of associating the phrase with things like dominance and authoritarianism, de Waal would go so far as to say the better association would be emotional healer.

de Waal helped coin the phrase, and now he's upset it has become popular but used to mean something so far from what his research has showed him.

According to his work, it is the leaders of a group who initiate healing and amend tension. Instead of commander-in-chief, he uses the phrase comforter-in-chief.

Violent leaders never seem to hold power for as long as they want. They become scapegoats for the community. But leaders who draw people together without creating scapegoats stay in power longer.

I used de Waal's book, The Age of Empathy, as a source for the book. There might be a lot of opportunities to bring together de Waal's work on leadership and empathy with Bernard Lonergan's work on his idea of "recovery."

This isn't about leaving leadership decisions to the strong, or worrying about leadership decisions in the hands of the weak. It's about being honourable, and choosing fellowship and shared identity as ideals to to be ruled by, rather than chasing victory and will as the pursuits of life.

I talk about the phrase "alpha males" in one part my book. An early reader / editor suggested I remove it from a list of traditional associations with the word "God" in my introduction. But I came back to the idea later on. I used it in the popular account and I wish I had de Waal's guidance before getting to publication.

But like so many cases with popular accounts, it helps to go further, ask more questions, seek better links, and think past the easy understanding of things.

'The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.
And so the rightful king could ever be known.'
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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