Are You a Finger-Pointer?
It’s impossible to escape these days. All the finger-pointing going on. Facebook is flooded with it. Our media is flooded with it. It’s become our modus operandi as a culture. If you post a good rant, you’re rewarded with thousands of likes and followers, so ranting has become the cool thing to do. I’ve even read articles about blog-writing that list “ranting” as something you should do as a writer.
Oh, how I’ve loved a good rant in my day! When I was younger there wasn’t a fight I wouldn’t enter. As some of you know, I had a faulty filter, so I would say whatever showed up in my brain, as there was nothing to stop it cascading out my mouth. I thought I was smart. I suspect there were people out there who might have described me differently back then.
We try to dress it up by calling it “dialogue”, but let’s get real – there’s no dialogue going on. It’s all “I’m-right-and-your-wrong-so-there!”. A dialogue insinuates that there’s turn-taking, and listening going on. Let’s not kid ourselves. We’re not “dialoguing”.
I’m not saying that a good intellectual debate doesn’t make things better, but if we get so mired down in making others wrong that we can no longer hear one another, aren’t we just talking to ourselves? And if we’re already convinced we’re right, what’s the point?
And the finger-pointing is as pervasive in our organizations as it is in our politics. I hear it all the time. Managers blaming their direct reports. Sales blaming Marketing. Marketing blaming Operations. We blame our bosses. We blame our colleagues. We blame our vendors. We even blame our customers!
It’s so great! We don’t have to take responsibility for anything, because everything is always somebody else’s fault!
Except….(you knew this was coming, didn’t you?)
Maybe that’s not entirely true.
I remember when my kiddo was about…five year old, and he would be talking about being scared of “bad guys” – because every book we’d read, every movie, every cartoon, practically everything was about some good guy overcoming some bad guy. There’s always got to be a protagonist and an antagonist. A hero and a villain. And I’d gently explain to him that there aren’t really that many bad guys in the world. There are some, and we do need to be careful, but that there’s far more good people out there than bad.
And I believe that to be true. In my core I do.
When I was growing up, the Russians were the “bad guys”. Now I have many dear friends who are Russian. Really good people. I’ve lived in some of the most conservative places in our country and some of the most liberal places in our country, and I’ve learned that there are amazing, caring, good people who believe very different things.
One thing I’ve learned is that we see what we look for in life. If we want to see how wrong and evil someone is – we’ll see it. We’ll hang out with others who see it too. Who agree with us and tell us how right we are to be so astute as to see how wrong and evil “those people” really are. Whether “those people” are from a different country, have a different skin color, worship differently, love differently, vote differently. Whether “those people” happen to be individual contributors or management. Rich or poor. We love the “us against them” theme – we’re tribal by nature. It’s how we’re wired.
I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday who has a “turn-around-guy” working with her organization and he’s stirring up all kinds of craziness. He’s calling out all the sacred cows, honing in on all the inefficiencies, and questioning the way things have been done for decades. And for the first week, all people could do was point fingers at him and blame the “bad guy” for the big feelings he was stirring up. People were angry and scared. They didn’t feel safe. My friend, who had been through his process before with another company, was empathetically breaking into cold sweats in anticipation of his arrival, as she knew what was about to hit the fan. But she also knew that the work he did was transformational. Because she had seen that transformation in herself years before. And as emotions erupted and people were filing grievances and threatening to quit, she, ever the calming influence, encouraged people to give it time. To listen and absorb. To trust the process. And slowly, people are beginning to see that maybe, just maybe there is something that they could learn.
As she was sharing this story with me, she said, “You know, it hurts to look at yourself and see what you might be doing that is adding to the problem.”
And she’s so wise, my friend. It does hurt. No wonder I don’t like to do it. None of us do.
Look, I’m not saying that there aren’t problems out there – big ones – and that there aren’t people who are “wrong” and “bad”. But where’s it getting us, all this finger-pointing? Nowhere.
Is it possible for a brief moment to put down our shields and instead of pointing the blame, ask ourselves simply, “what’s my part?”. Because we all play a role. Or as my friend Mike Cook likes to say, “We’re all in this soup together”. Can we stop focusing on what others are doing or not doing and start focusing on what we can do or not do that can make a constructive impact?
Because all this finger-pointing? Constructive it’s not.
(oh rats…I just ranted, didn’t I?)
©OnStage Leadership, 2013
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