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The late Dr. Marshall Saper was a radio psychologist and host of a call-in show in Kansas City in the 1980s and early 1990s. Dr. Saper hosted the show for about 11 years, beginning on KCMO in 1980, then on rival KMBZ-AM, and back to KCMO in 1983. At KCMO, he hosted a top-rated three-hour call-in show on weekdays.
Earlier in his career, Dr. Saper provided psychological services to the Kansas City, Missouri, police department and taught at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Medical School. He wrote three books, the first of which, “Talking to Myself,” was a bestseller. He also wrote a biweekly column for the Squire, a suburban weekly, for eight years. Unfortunately, he took his own life in 1991 at age 52.
In the mid-1980s, when I worked at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas, I sometimes had his show on in the car as I made media visits in Kansas City. I only caught bits and pieces of his show as I traveled to my appointments; it was mostly background noise for me. But there was one call that stuck with me.
A memorable call and response
A woman called Dr. Saper to talk about her husband. She said her husband was rude and belligerent at work, at home, and in all relationships. His behavior had cost him several jobs, ruined relationships with the neighbors, and caused great anguish at home. After describing her husband’s behavior and how it had affected the entire family, the woman asked Dr. Saper for a diagnosis.
“Do you think he has schizophrenia?” the woman asked Dr. Saper. “How about bipolar disorder? Maybe he is delusional? How about narcissistic? What do you think?”
Dr. Saper answered, “Ma’am, you may have to accept the fact that your husband is just not a very good human being.”
On one hand, his blunt answer surprised me. On the other hand, his candor was refreshing. No excuses. No dodging. No pacifying. Just the unvarnished truth that we oftentimes are reluctant to say out loud.
What would Dr. Saper say today?
I find myself wondering what Dr. Saper would say if he got a call like this today, in 2023….
Hello Dr. Saper. There’s a guy who is applying for a job as the head of our organization and he has asked me to support him. I am not sure what to do.
There are a lot of people who like him, I know, but sometimes I wonder exactly why. This is an important job that has responsibility for a lot of people. It’s an international organization known and respected worldwide, and I am a member of it. I think it is important to have someone who is capable of doing the job, but I also strongly believe the leader should be a person of good character. After all, he would represent me and every other member of the organization. That’s why I want to make the right decision and there’s a lot for me to consider. For example….
He is one of those people who thinks he knows everything about everything and is never wrong. I have never heard him apologize. Not once. To be honest, it’s hard for me to trust someone like that.
He is self-centered and self-important. He takes credit for everything positive, but never takes responsibility for anything negative. There is virtually no accountability.
He never laughs at himself. The only time I see him even come close to laughing, it is in a mean-spirited way at someone else’s expense. How can you trust people, especially leaders, who are incapable of laughing at themselves?
He is one of those people who does not tell the truth. He has routinely been caught in lies about everything from the insignificant to the extremely important. And when he is caught in a lie, he often tells another lie to explain the first lie.
If someone crosses him or is not totally loyal to him on everything, he calls them names in public, tries to discredit and belittle them in any way he can, and even threatens them with retribution.
If he gets this job, he has promised to reward his friends and punish his enemies, and I have no doubt he will do exactly that.
The organization he would be leading is extremely diverse, yet I have heard him repeatedly say disparaging things about women, people of color, wounded service members, and people with disabilities. For some reason, he seems to especially dislike Black women in positions of authority, and immigrants.
When he talks about the organization, he criticizes it and makes it sound as if the only way it can succeed is if he is in charge. He doesn’t seem to appreciate the fact that the organization is bigger than any one person; that being the leader is both a tremendous privilege and a huge responsibility; and that the leaders are there for a relative short period of time before handing off to the next leader who is chosen.
In this position, he would oversee major finances, but he has declared bankruptcy multiple times and may very well have falsified business and tax records.
There’s strong evidence that he inappropriately shared the organization’s most crucial proprietary information with competing organizations.
And he has even encouraged his supporters to threaten people and physically hurt them on his behalf. He actually has applauded violence and complimented those who have committed it.
Dr. Saper, this man is in his late 70s, so he should know better. Is there some medical or psychological explanation for his behavior?
In my mind, that’s when I hear Dr. Saper repeat the same advice I heard him offer nearly four decades ago:
“Ma’am, you may have to accept the fact that the man who is asking for your support is just not a very good human being.”