I have a theory – and it’s not good news. Simply put – you are a part of the problem. No one is talking to you about it because they’re not sure how to tell you or maybe they are just too afraid of what might happen. Maybe they’re afraid they might get fired (if you are their boss) or maybe you will not want to be their friend anymore. Whatever the case – they know.
If it’s any consolation to you, I’m part of the problem too. I’m bringing my baggage to the table every day. I’m bringing it to my workplace, my family, my community, my social media page, my business networking group – you name it. Maybe it’s a quirk or a mannerism. Maybe it’s my disposition or attitude. It’s probably something I’m in denial about. Just ask the people who know me, they’ll tell you – Ron is definitely part of the problem.
Sound harsh? Well – let me offer a personal example.
Let’s go back in time to process some of my early parenting decisions. As a new grandfather I’ve had time to do a bit of that. As I look back over my parental life there have absolutely been times when I powered up on matters that really didn’t need that much power. I decided to make big issues out of things that didn’t really need big issues made of them. I was going to be “in control” – I was going to be the “boss”. I was going to “nip it in the bud.” And it was too much. Ask my wife and children – they’ll tell you!
Now – in true noble fashion I could totally justify my actions – “I was doing my kids and the world a favor”, “I was teaching them the hard facts about living in the real world” – or my favorite – “I’m not near as bad as those other parents.” But hindsight has offered me a different perspective – a perspective that is likely shared by my wife and kids – I over did it.
Did I do the best I knew how to do at the time? Probably. Do I know better now? I hope so. But just because I was ignorant doesn’t disqualify me from the consequences of my actions. My temper impacted my family system. Was it “terrible”? That’s all a matter of interpretation. But what I’m saying is – as I look back on some of my early decisions – I think I could have done better. I know it…and my family sure knows it. I regularly tell my adult children now – when you speak to your therapist – and it becomes clear how your father negatively impacted your emotional development – just send me the bill.
The interesting thing about my personal stuff – and yours — is that it isn’t just relegated to our home lives. We carry this stuff everywhere! If your family knows about your big issue guess who else knows? Probably everyone. Everyone you connect with at work, in your community, at church – you name it.
In the first few chapters of the book, Immunity to Change there is this creative storyline about a couple of organizations that decide to figure out why change is so hard in their context. In one of the stories the CEO has an epiphany (humorously confirmed by his wife) that he is actually a “control freak.” Having been in denial about this issue he is sure that no one in his organization has been overly impacted by it. He was wrong. Listen to his epiphany.
“Basically, I said to people, “Look, if this really is your ‘one-big-thing’ (your issue), if you’ve really dug deep enough, if you’ve really gotten personal, everyone already knows it. I know. Others know. So, there’s this sort of illusion out there that you are sharing something so private, that nobody knows. Trust me, they know! They know and they talk about it. Now, where do they talk about it? Behind closed doors, at lunch, after work, but they talk about it.”*
Now – let’s keep things in perspective. I don’t think that every screw up of our lives needs to be purged by some act of public confession or penance (although some might). But let’s face it…if everybody already knows (our issue) then is there any value in trying to deny or reduce it? Yet many of us work diligently – day after day – to convince those around us that we are not the problem – it’s all those other crazies out there that are screwing everything up. Right?
So let me offer an experiment – for you and me. How might the systems that we currently function in be impacted if we began to entertain the possibility that WE were actually a part of the problem? Even just a little bit. What if we began to get curious, when we saw something that rubbed us the wrong way, about what our part of the “rub” might be? I’m not saying that we blame ourselves for the world’s problems – God knows there is enough blame to go around on those. But I am wondering what it might look like if each of us kept the possibility open that some of the work – was ours.
What might that look like?
*Kegan, Robert & Lahey, Lisa Laskow; Immunity to Change, Harvard Business School Publishing, 2009. p. 81 (emphasis mine).