Too afraid to think

During a recent workshop I approached one of the participants and asked them what they thought of something that had just happened or been said. They stared blankly at me and then began to look scared. I tried asking the question again in a more oblique way but they still looked like a rabbit caught in a car's headlights. I eventually had to give up, apologise, and move on.

This wasn't some youngster or someone out of their normal environment. It was a man in his mid-50s, clearly quite senior and in a familiar work environment. Given that I believe that we won't sort the world's problems until we achieve networks of autonomous individuals thinking for themselves, speaking up for themselves, and connecting with others doing the same thing this was deeply troubling.

How did we ever let ourselves get into this situation? And I do mean "ourselves". We have all had a part to play in allowing the workplace to become so frightening and disabling that this grown man could not bring himself to say what he thought in front of others.