The Abilene Paradox

In the 1960s a man named Jerry Harvey discovered a management idea that may be one of the most pervasive and yet unknown occurrences among people working in groups and organizations. He called it the Abilene Paradox. It’s a concept that explains how people in organizations fail to speak up for themselves, and as a result organizations take actions contrary to their members wishes. He based his theory on the events of one hot summer afternoon in Coleman, TX playing dominoes on the front porch with his wife and in-laws.  His father in law suggested they all take a 50 mile trip to Abilene in a car with no air conditioning. Although no one wanted to go, they all agreed out of fear of voicing their own opinion. The concept highlights among other things that while we are waiting on others to be courageous often times they are in the same dilemma, which leads to senseless trips to nowhere in particular. How many times has this failure to manage agreement been the driving force behind pursuits in business and personal life. Time would fail us to recall the numerous times we ourselves have been engaged in activities we did not want to participate in because we were unwilling to speak up for ourselves and offer an opposing view.

The Abilene Paradox may offer a reason for the failure of businesses and the occasional unhappiness we personally experience when we do not hold to our convictions, but it gives insight into a more dire possibility when applied to a nation of people.  We are being bombarded daily with suggestions to take ideological departures to ill-fated destinations. Whether it be the hot button topics of same-sex marriage, race, religion, or social justice we are constantly allowed to give voice to our convictions, or capitulate to popular opinion. With this opportunity comes a cowardly temptation to stick our heads in the sand and concern ourselves with only where we are standing, abdicating our responsibility to someone else like the preacher or media pundit to speak for us. But, this is a paradox as well, because no one else can be held accountable for what you claim to believe. It reminds me of the words of the Protestant Pastor Martin Niemoller in Nazi Germany during Hitler’s expanding terror when he said:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

It is very easy to say that the social ills we endure are someone else’s problem, but that is a luxury lost in our time, when every available technology is being used to pipe some philosophy right into our homes. Not to mention the indoctrination centers our schools and universities have become. Whether you want to engage or not you are in a war–a war of ideas.

This reality sank deep into my consciousness when seven months ago I held my first-born son in my arms for the first time. In the middle of overwhelming joy a chilling thought arrested my attention. I thought… What kind of world will he live in? What will he inherit?  He has 34 and a half years before he is my age and so much has changed in just my lifetime with no reason in sight to believe the rate of change will slow down. That’s when it dawned on me as a Christian, a new father and lastly a minister I must do my part to hold up the banner of truth. In a world teetering on the brink of social catastrophe from moral relativism, familial collapse, and unrest on all sides, what will we say to these things? Will we speak up for the truth that has brought us this far, or will we oblige with our silence and take a proverbial trip to Abilene?

I could think of no better principle to highlight the purpose behind this blog. If there is a time for us to boldly speak up for the convictions we hold dear it is now. I hope that will become an encouragement to you to stand and fight the good fight. Thank you for visiting and I hope to see you again.

Sincerely Yours,

Iran Pitre

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