Early American Witches: Fear
By Cathy Hartt, RN, CNM, MS
Human minds grapple with fear everyday - it is how the human mind is wired. We
are taught by our parents to be afraid of people who are different. It is protective - a
survival skill. This fear is also the basis of racism, abuse and terriorism. It is
certainly the basis for witch-hunts.
Studying the witch-hunts brings to mind a picture of the pioneer of total quality
management, W. Edwards Deming. The senario of a Salem courtroom where fear
spread to an entire community, surely, would have confirmed his conclusions about
the impact of fear. Deming taught that true quality (happy workers, quality
products/services, and satisfied customers) could only happen after an organization
"drives fear out." Salem's Reverend Parris attempted to capitalize on fear when he
preached about the witches that abounded in Salem. He encouraged citizens to
point fingers and name neighbors as witches with the unspoken threat that they be
named themselves. In our last article, we also pointed out that the Puritans were in
a new land and were surrounded by elements (both real and spiritual) that made
them fearful of their "new mother country".
One can almost predict, based on knowledge of modern day quality improvement,
that many families would leave Salem after the witch-hunts. Historically, property
values plummeted, taking years to restabilize. The analogy is to a deteriorating
company that failed to produce a healthy work environment, quality
products/services and satisfied customers. The question we will be looking to
answer in this article is "what paradoxes exist when comparing a healthy
environment (where continuous improvement and learning are encouraged) to the
witch-hunt (where fear predominates)?"
With little analysis, it is clear that Salem was based on a stick hierarchy with
top-down decisions. There was also a belief that someone's entry into Heaven was
predestined, so no matter how hard people tried, it made no real difference in their
afterlife. This is a sharp contrast to the advent of team-lead companies who believe
in an abundance of opportunity. And, that such opportunity comes to life through
empowering each and every individual through shared leadership. Imagine how
different it would be from this to stand in the back of an unheated church on a bitter
cold New England winter Sunday as an adolescent woman - knowing that where you
stand symbolizes the lowest status in the community. This was the exact situation of
the young Salem girls before they became afflicted with seizures and began naming
witches. This meant they had the lowest status and least input of any of the Salem
Another element that surfaces in Salem is the win/loose situation around the
selection of the new minister (Parris) prior to his arrival in the community. Two
committees were formed in the local church - a Pro-Parris Committee and an
Anti-Parris Committee. Most of those on the Anti-Parris Committee were later tried
as witches, whereas none of those on the Pro-Parris Committee were "named."
Again, this contains a stark contrast to the quality management of our time, where
win/win solutions that synergise people are seen to yield the most favorable
approaches for all.
Of course, there is the whole issue of the status of women and minorities in Salem.
Both were viewed as further from God and, therefore, more likely to become evil.
This, in-turn, can be contrasted to the trend towards honoring and learning from
diversity that many successful corporations currently embrace.
Quality improvement also looks at ways to eliminate finger-pointing and views most
"paranormal" events as systems problems instead of bad people. Some have
termed this replacing witch-hunts with why hunts. It is often the team, not the
heirarchy, that investigates the underlying problems and develops creative, win/win
solutions. This way, people are encouraged to share "what went wrong" instead of
fearing blame and punishment if they are honest.
Fear has a propensity to put up walls and closes down communication. Perhaps
there is no better example of of the impact of a fear-driven environment than Salem,
MA 1692. It is an interesting side note that most of the afflicted girls (accusers) went
on to lead short, unhappy lives. It is unhealthy for everyone to live in an
environment of oppression and fear. As Americans, perhaps there is no better time
to reflect on this than post September 11th, remembering the road to success lies in
driving out fear and honoring the gifts of every individual who shares our vision of
The above article was edited by Lee Ewy
(Editor's Note: Our next issue will look at the biological aspects of the witch-hunts in
Impact of Fear
Pearl Lake State Park