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When a cause is in sharp decline we would expect that it would grind down quietly as people give up, give in, or go away.

But that’s not how it happens.

More often than not it’s actually the opposite. Instead of quietly succumbing to demise we see organizations, movements, and positions grow more strident, more aggressive, and more convinced even as the end becomes inevitably near. Social media dramatically magnifies this tendency.

Why does it happen?

The Loudest Leave Last.

When a cause is exposed as misguided or success revealed to be too costly or highly unlikely the adherents who are only loosely aligned will quietly slip away, often without any comment. They are soon followed by those who are genuine in their support but have other commitments competing for their energy who prefer to apply themselves where the odds are more in their favour.

This is the inflection point. This is where leaders determine whether the end will come in dignified acquiescence to the reality or as a final fight to the death with no quarter asked or given.

If the latter path is chosen the demands for greater loyalty and more rabid commitment soon follow. The sense of persecution and of being united against a powerful opposition become oppressive to all but the truest believers. Soon all that remain are those who are so passionate, so determined, so sold out that there is no room for anything but absolute commitment. Anything less than everything is unconscionable and the slightest hesitation or capitulation is seen as betrayal.

There is something admirable in people who are willing to give themselves so fully to something they believe in. It speaks to something profound when we see them so devoted to something beyond themselves. But mostly it looks tragic to all but those inside.

Devotion brings out both the best and the worst in humanity, and perspective is often the way we determine which it is.

For those who find themselves among the faithful remnant to a cause there is a nobility in fighting to the bitter end. They become increasingly distinct from the surrounding culture, increasingly distrusting of outsiders, increasingly certain of their own righteousness. At some point there is no longer an option to exit.

As leaders we need to be intentional to avoid the ease of echo chambers that will remove any challenge to our perspectives. We need to be wary of the tendency to radicalize our cause for reasons of insecurity, ego, or power. The temptation is very real.

To be clear; there are things worth dying for. We won’t agree on exactly what they are, but they exist. I don’t meant to suggest that avoiding extremes is always admirable. At times it is more cowardice than wisdom. Commitment (to the right things) is a virtue.

What I am trying to do is to simply point out that just because voices are getting louder does not mean there is more life. More noise does not mean more vitality. It may be the final cries of a falling warrior.

The loudest leave last.
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