We Really Have a Choice

January 9, 2016

Just for a moment, take a guess at what percentage of the world’s population woke up today with a mindset of peace and happiness.

If you think carefully about all of the people who don’t know if they will have anything to eat today, or those who are bent on destroying other people, whether it be in an organized group or with some kind of substance abuse, your estimate might be pretty low.

If you include those who haven’t a clue how they are going to survive financially or physically, and if you include those who must steal in some way from others in order to survive today, you might lower your estimate further.

As I pondered the question at length, my own estimate is that less than 20% of the people currently living on earth are actually living wholesome, constructive, and full lives.

Most people are trying to exist in a perpetual struggle as they cross off each day and draw one day closer to their grave.

Even in the richest and most productive country on the planet, a large portion of the population focuses on survival at the most basic level with little hope or optimism for a rewarding life, or they buy guns for the purpose of killing others or for protecting themselves (which is another way of saying killing others). I think it is really sad.

Now let’s flip to the other extreme. Every time a new human infant pops out of the womb, think about the potential that has been created in that little package. Every soul has the potential to become someone of significant positive value to the world.

What are the odds that a particular infant will grow up to be a Mother Theresa or a Nelson Mandela? I think you will agree the odds are infinitesimal, so nearly all of the wonderful potential that is born with each new baby is somehow blunted to the point that the person has no real chance of being a productive human being.

Now let me bend your mind a bit more. If you are one of the fortunate few people that live a comfortable and productive life, how can you use your extreme good fortune to make a difference?

You and I have a choice to just enjoy our luck as we take one more step toward our last day, or we can do our best to actually make a difference in the world. Oh I know, it seems like lunacy to actually try to make a difference because the problems are so immense, so we shrug our shoulders and go for hedonism.

It reminds me of a line from an old song by Buffy Sainte-Marie, “Ah what can I do say a powerless few, with a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye, can’t you see that their poverty’s profiting you?”

There is no solution to this musing and no magic wand to wave that will have a noticeable impact. I just wanted to take a moment at the start of 2016 to remind myself that the choice of what I am doing with my gifts is really mine. I need to step up to the realization that if I decide to make a small change in the world, that is a good thing; and if enough of us do some good things, the aggregate impact may be large enough to notice.

So, I rededicate myself to helping to grow leaders in every way I know how to do it. That is the gift I bring to the world and my reason for living.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Group Punishment

June 30, 2013

Child punishmentIf you have siblings, you remember the drill very well. Your mother comes in and says, “Who knocked over the lamp in the living room?” Of course, nobody knows. She looks around at the children, and each of them is playing dumb. Since she cannot determine whom to blame, she announces the punishment, “Then none of you will get dessert for the rest of the week.”

Group punishments for the sins of a single individual are more common than we think. It happens in the military on a daily basis. If nobody owns up to a misdeed, the entire platoon is penalized with the same punishment as the single guilty soldier would have received. The logic is that one person really is guilty, and the remaining people are guilty of covering up for him, so everyone suffers equally. The leverage is that it puts peer pressure on the guilty person to fess up. In some cases the ploy works, but in others the group solidarity is strong. In the end, the group will find other ways to punish the guilty individual that are not always obvious.

In our society, government has a similar tendency to punish the masses for the sins of the few. It has led to numerous infringements on privacy, like red light cameras, the TSA ordeal we all undergo when trying to get on a plane, gun control, and countless other well-meaning laws and policies that are meant to save the many from the excesses of the few.

Here is another example of the government punishing everyone for the sins of a few. Every publicly-owned company has been forced to spend large sums of money in order to comply with the Sarbanes Oxley Act. This extra cost is a direct result of some high profile unethical corporate abuses by a few corporations over a decade ago. All publicly-owned companies suffer for the prior sins of a few defective organizations and their leaders. This suffering is a lot more than meets the eye, because organizations outside the USA are not saddled with a Sarbanes Oxley Act, and have a competitive cost advantage.

You can see the same pattern in organizations. The boss notices that an individual is leaving work early a couple times a week, so he issues a reminder of hours of work for the whole organization. This leads one cynical employee to blow a bugle at quitting time to let people know when it is time to go home.

It is natural to want to fix the problem when trust has been broken, but we need to ask what price we pay when so many aspects of daily life are regimented and people are forced to pay for the mistakes of others. Does it make people want to be less accountable for their own actions? Does it demotivate them by stifling creative instincts? Does it discourage them from taking risks? Is it fair?

I think of what the world would be like if we did not have a tendency to punish the many for the sins of a few. What would happen if we encouraged personal responsibility and building trust and transparency by reinforcing candor. It would be a different place for sure. When you ask your children who broke the lamp in the other room, one of them would say, “I did, Mommy, and I am sorry.” It would be a kinder, gentler world with far fewer dumb rules we have to follow because a few unscrupulous people cannot be trusted to do the right things.