15 November 2006

Freedom & Integrity

At a recent meeting (which will remain anonymous), someone said something along the lines of "Well, that would be the smart thing to do, but we'd get in trouble for doing it..."

For the sake of argument, let's grant the validity of that negative fantasy (i.e. we'll be punished for doing something smart). Even in that unlikely case, I think we should still do the smart thing, the right thing, consequences be damned.

The funny thing is, the consensus in the room was that since "we'd get in trouble," the smart option was off the table. The group quickly moved on to the dumb options. It wasn't a question of wanting to chose one's battles carefully. It was more like a desire to avoid all battles in the first place. Nobody questioned what type of trouble, how much trouble, or even whether the trouble was real.

Frankly, it disgusted me. I expected more fearlessness & courage, more creativity & energy from that group than I saw that day. I expected more integrity. Like I said, I was disgusted.

I believe we always have the freedom to do the right thing & the smart thing. We may suffer unfair consequences for doing the right thing. People might think we're fools. But nobody can force me to violate my own convictions. We can ignore corporate pressure if we choose to do so. We can trust our own judgement, if we're willing to pay the price. The alternative is, in my humble opinion, absolutely unacceptable.

The old advice to "pick your battles carefully" has been twisted and misapplied by timid, fearful, cynical bureaucrats. They're not picking battles at all. They are simply protecting their own interests and sacrificing the interests of their customers, subordinates, supervisors and organization. I'm not saying we should fight every battle that comes along... just that we should probably stand up for Truth, Justice and the American Way more often than we do.

The truth is, you probably won't get in trouble for doing the smart thing... and even if you do, at least you've done the smart thing. That's worth something.

If you're working in an organization that punishes people for following their convictions and using their own judgement, I've got one word of advice: Run!

As Sally Hogshead pointed out in her book Radical Careering, "Being in a crap job isn't your fault. Staying in a crap job is." (Radical Truth #19)


Anonymous said...

Ugh, as a former teacher this just ticks me often. We spend countless hours trying to teach kids to "do the right thing," but a room full of adults can't find the guts to do the same? Pitiful.

Blaine Collins said...

Good points Dan. What I have been seeing more and more is risk aversion being the decisive factor for many decisions. I'm not sure if this is the result of excessive litigation, or a "finding fault" culture in organizations, or what. People seem to be so averse to possibly attracting criticism, that it becomes impossible to make a reach toward achieving excellence.

Dan said...

Thanks, Michelle & Blaine! Glad to hear the posting resonated. It is indeed funny how many elementary school lessons get set aside as we grow up.

We want our kids to be good, strong and kind, but for some reason forget that those are good things for grown-ups too!

Dick Field said...

I also believe the absence of individualism coupled with herd mentality also contributes to this tendency. Back in the day, we had this thing called non-conformity, which was a good thing, basically, until it got mainstreamed and non-conformity became its own conformity. Its sociological outgrowth was political correctness.

Dan said...

Ah, it's terrible when the non-conformist revolutionaries win, isn't it Dick... 'cause they become the new version of The Man. I guess that's why revolution as an end unto itself doesn't make much sense.

The American Revolution is an example of doing it right, I'd say - it was a revolution for an idea, not just for a guy...