Book of the Month/March 2024

Sharing Options

This month’s selection is Joe Rigney’s Leadership and Emotional Sabotage. I just finished reading it on the plane, and I am hastening over here to tell you all about it.

A few years ago, Joe created no small stir when he appeared on Man Rampant, where he and I discussed the hazards of empathy. For the record, we were not discussing the hazards of being a decent human being, or the perils of being sympathetic the way our great high priest is (Heb. 4:14-15).

Picture a river which represents someone’s troubles or afflictions, and that someone is floating by you about ready to go down for the third time. Picture also the solid stability of the river bank, which represents objective reality, the way things actually are. Fellow-feeling, or sympathy, enables a person on the bank to have compassion on the drowning swimmer, and to throw a rope, or extend a hand, always making sure to maintain a foothold on the bank. This, in distinction from untethered empathy, which identifies with the drowning man in every possible way, and takes a header into the river in order to share the experience completely.

Now even though the word empathy is a recent coinage, it has been in existence long enough for many ordinary folks to start using it as a basic synonym for sympathy. No sensible person would object to this. Language does what language does. But the apostles of therapeutic self-salvation have a dogmatic insistence on untethered empathy—people such as Brené Brown. The only way they would ever allow sympathy and empathy to function as synonyms will be after they have managed to get sympathy completely untethered as well.

Well, back to Man Rampant. From the reaction, you would have thought that Joe had smuggled a dead cat into the wedding of some European princess to her second cousin, the Duke of Whatsit, and then, at the most solemn moment of the ceremony, swung the cat around his head by the tail, and let fly. Such behavior is generally frowned upon, and in a similar way, Joe was also frowned upon.

Oh, right. This is a book review. In this small but very potent book, Joe pulls together a number of the theological strands that make this such a compelling and practical thesis. This book is for leaders—in the family, in the church, and in the public square. It shows why you should expect—and budget for—emotional sabotage whenever you make a serious attempt to lead in a godly fashion.

Here’s a quote to whet the appetite: “Every act of faithful leadership will be met with an equal and opposite act of sabotage.”

Or as P.G. Wodehouse once put it, somebody is always up to the something, and the rest of them are up to something else. Slight overstatement, but you get the drift.

The best thing this book will do for you is clarify some of the mysterious conflicts you have been in. Most of the readers of this blog are in positions of leadership, whether in the home, the church, or in the public sphere. This is a book you need, and will be grateful it is on your shelf the next time the inexplicable happens.