I was working with an office a while back where morale had sunk to awful levels. At one point in a full-group meeting I excused the management team so I could get a no-holds barred airing of the issues. Wham, did I get it! Both barrels. I had to keep reminding myself: “you were the one who asked for candor, dude,” and “they’re expressing genuine hurt and confusion, so don’t punish them for it.” The experience reminded me again, how authority distorts everything!
So, parents and managers let me offer two thoughts. First, authority’s no party. Authority figures – whether parents, teachers, pastors or governors (just for a random example) stand in for a crazy share and blare of blame. It was what I stood in for from that office when I invited their candor. I heard a priest yesterday that lit up just about every button on my emotional console; with just a few sentences he spoke, I was mentally giving him a piece of my outrage, the build-up of years of struggle with my beloved church. In our very democratic era people feel quite entitled to express themselves with great vitriol, which was what I felt like doing. I’m glad I spared the young cleric.
If you’re in authority you just gotta know you’re gonna be blamed for all kinds of stuff that’s not working for others. I found myself scratching my head the other day when I heard President Clinton twice repeat, “People have a right to be angry.” Really, I thought? They do? I’d agree that we have a right to our feelings, whatever they are. The economy remains a mess. So, some people are afraid. Some are disappointed. Many are frustrated (which rises to anger) because they want to work but don’t have a job. I get all of that.
My problem is with what I took to be Clinton’s legitimization of a “right to be angry” AT. At politicians – Reagan/Bush if you’re a Dem, Obama if you’re an R, and angry at Washington or the Congress, whether you’re a D, R or I. It’s an accepted truism that we have this right to be angry, despise, even hate our elected leaders. I think we need to do a little less blaming and raging, and take responsibility whether as children vis-a-vis parents, or students to teachers, workers to CEO’s, or citizens relative to our elected leaders.
The authorities aren’t all to blame. I know for my part I’ve been lazy as a saver, consumer, parishioner and active citizen. Before you hit the Comment button, however, let me make the second point: The last thing an authority should do is shoot the messenger. Clinton’s true and defensible inference, I believe, was: People are hurting, and we should NOT blame the victims. This is a HUGE authority lesson. At that group meeting I was tempted to say, “Hey, looks to me like you’re the source of the morale problem,” but that would have been so wrong. I would have quashed a needed airing of issues.
Authorities have to absorb some big hits to begin to understand where the pain is really coming from, and to in turn enlist people in the solutions. Some of the hardest work of authorized leaders is to absorb some of the hits and hurts, in order to create space for people to get the really hard work of
leading with their best self!