Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Over the years I’ve often said that a good HR person is someone who is able to, 'think worst case scenario, but act best case scenario’. Lately I’ve come to witness a massive blind spot in that expression. In theory the message is that HR people need to be aware of the absolute worst in human nature but never give energy to that negativity, all the while championing the very best in human nature. This version of - ‘think worst, act best’ is designed to encourage HR people to not just recognize the full spectrum of human nature, but to realize their role and responsibility to steer an organization’s culture toward the greater good. If only it were that simple, right?
The root problem with this GPS is, one person’s greater good can be another person’s stealth camouflage. Take tie dye for example. Some people think promoting their demographic tutelage is a sign of their authenticity, akin to the gesture of ‘open kimono’ - simultaneously an introduction and sign of humble vulnerability. Others think that any cultural artifact that is used to enable tribalism of any kind only adds our propensity to exclude, like those who use sarcasm when speaking to people for whom English is a second language or young kids who create new buzz words to avoid the radar of their parents – exclusionism is in our DNA. The point isn’t one of right or wrong, the point is one of right and wrong.
Take racism, for example. Some people think not-being-racist is the opposite of being racist. No, the opposite of being racist is being ‘anti-racist’. Just like the opposite of being fragile is anti-fragile and opposite of being ‘complacent’ is being ‘anti-complacent’. Standing in the middle of two opposing sides and shouting, ‘why can’t we all just get along’ is not a form of leadership, it’s a form of management and it is precisely what people with ulterior, bad-case motives look for when trying to fool others whose radar is perma-locked on good intentions.
Take many of the well-intended people working in HR, for example. All too often HR people get so caught up in their attempts to do good, that they can forget that at times they must also do the right thing. Like in the classic movie The Bridge on the River Kawi when a British lieutenant colonel comes to the realization that his best intentions to sustain the mental health of his platoon were being completely exploited by the not so stealth political camouflage of others. One would hope anyone still walking around wearing the artifacts of their youth - today - have the clarity of thought, perhaps a eureka moment and realize: damn, I'm being used. One can only wonder what Ben Kenobi would have told lieutenant colonel Nicholson if given the chance? My guess is: do the right thing (not things right).
What have I done?