Respect starts with you and me

What happened to respect?

What happened to human decency in our communication with each other?

I am truly wondering these days.

As an active person online I read comments and discussions in many forums.

What disturbs me is the propensity so many have to debase others with vitriolic attacks.  We are well beyond name calling. And I truly believe that the old adage ‘sticks and stones may hurt but names will never hurt me’ no longer applies. Why?

Well I don’t think we are as thick skinned as people claim. Also behind words is intent and energy.

Many defend online slagging as a way to balance the argument, make it real. The test for me though is would you, could you say what you write online to the person’s face looking them in the eye? Then I would ask after saying this emotionally ladened well fuelled comment how would you feel later? And in the morning when you awoke would you have rested easy knowing you got the bitterness and anger out of your system directed at the nearest target?

This is my perception. So like everyone else I am entitled to share. And what I am doing is just sharing. I am not pointing fingers nor accusing nor blaming. Observing and sharing.

In doing this I ask the question though-can we lift the conversation up a bit?

Sarcasm is well and truly alive. It has a place in comedic interactions and social commentary. Satire as well can be a well travelled art form when expressed in context.  Sarcasm taken too far is a masked form of anger and aggression. Satire out of context loses the point.

I use sarcasm. I know this because I can have a bit of a go from a sarcastic perspective at times and miss the mark.  I am getting better at noticing this because it is also a cultural aspect of the culture within which I live.

But on a global scale it seems that it is now acceptable practice to jump first to a verbal, critical, stranglehold on a person’s virtual identity before asking questions.  What ever happen to seek first to understand before being understood (thank you Steven Covey).

I am not saying be all soft, warm and fuzzy. No way. I learned a long time ago that a dose of tough love goes a long way compared to sugar coating.  Instead I ask people to stop and really think about WHY they say what they say, WHAT they say and ultimately HOW they say what they say.

Behind the delivery and the words is the intent. Is it possible, and I am truly asking this question, is it possible that we can come from a higher place rather than than the basement of the dungeon in our thoughts?

A person who chooses to be in the public eye does so for a variety of reasons. Many I would agree have an egoic drive that may push them into the limelight. And yet there are also people who by default of their position are thrust into the limelight whether they like it or not. They sign up for the work and then get the rest.

I like the saying ‘a person did the best that she/he could do in that moment with what they had within them and around them’.  For example lets take a public figure who fails to perform in their role. We see the vitriol roll off the fingertips like oil out of a bottle. It flows, seeps and covers everything. The odd constructive comment barely has a chance to poke it’s head up. Yet this public person is still a person.

Authors get it

Or let’s consider authors. I watched a couple of TED videos the other night. I noticed by chance that each one talked about how either readers or critics told them how they should have written their book or how they should write their next. Laughed off as a sign that their work made it to the next level, the truth is that we are too ready to pull apart, judge and dismiss.

An author, especially a fiction author, to me is the best example of a person who is thrust into the melee of opinion. They are caught in the duality of desire to sell their work and stay true to their craft and voice.  As they are aiming to attract more readers they are vulnerable to popular opinion. Yet popular opinion is what lowers their standard. Instead of writing from the heart with their unique voice they filter for the masses.  I tend to read more non fiction than fiction. However I have attended a few writers’ conferences to hear this story.

Politicians get it

The other area that begs for some respect is the political sphere. I think it goes both ways though.  Politicians are voted in and elected to serve their constituents. This is quite a challenging contract. If, and rarely this happens these days, the politician is authentic about who they are and what they stand for, then when someone votes for a person they get a real deal in the implied social contract. These days though it seems that politicians are created and produced by a party. The image portrayed, the story spun, the drip feed of information ‘leaked’ sways the public opinion. We get what we are allowed to see.  We live in an era of politics by social media popularity poll. So yes I can see that trust may be an issue which might trigger some of the negative response.

Yet on another level a politician signs up for one of the most public roles possible on earth. They are thrust into a role where everything they do and say is scrutinised, especially as they climb the political ladder. Because politics divides people down emotional lines and separates by belief, an individual becomes the trigger point symbolically representing what we like or hate in society. It is almost like the politician becomes less human and more a live characterisation of our psyches, well the unconscious part.

Business leaders get it

The amalgamation of all these aspects of society is ultimately represented in business. I see businesses as microcosms of the world within which we live. Each business, irrespective of size, is a small community on it’s own. So within this community are people being the politicians, the artists, the innovators, the authors. The more a person steps forward in business the more that they expose themselves to the feedback of others.

In business there are processes, programs and learning opportunities in place to help leaders develop and manage feedback.   These processes are a great step forward.  Yet in my view unless the off the record culture supports these processes we still have a world where people are vulnerable to acting out of self interest,  trying to please or being victims of emotional misperception. This leads to situations where leaders make mistakes not of skill but more of character and action.

Leadership is a challenge on two levels. For those who choose to be leaders there is the hurdle of stepping forward and staying true to self as a leader. For those who are a thrust into a role by default or without choice there is the hurdle of acceptance and ownership.  Either way a leader in a business is on a dual platform of scrutiny from the start - from the inside by employees and colleagues and from the outside by all external stakeholders in the broader community.  The ensuing balancing act emerges for a leader of self versus others.  This balancing act even becomes formalised through feedback and evaluation processes.  Depending on the culture of the organisation this duality becomes a balancing act of managing interests and perception.

In this environment what happens to passion? change? innovation?  How do leaders survive and thrive in such a place?  We all have a vested interest in how businesses work and serve us. So just as we have a vested interest in the artists, authors and politicians we need to care about how we conduct ourselves in business.

Holding people accountable is still and always will be important. How we support our leaders and work with them then matters.

Where does this all start?

I think about the psychological process of projection. Theoretically when a person says something about another what they are saying is something that they don’t see in themselves. I often see this in leaders who are very capable yet see other leaders as more than they are. I also see it when people are angry and want to blame another. The last person they want to look at is self. So for example, when I consider politicians we get what we get. If a person is elected then there are enough people who want this person. Those who complain will sit on the sidelines and complain more. What do they do? How do they respond? What action do they take?  

Well these days it seems to be to sit comfortably in a chair behind a computer and write degrading comments. Really constructive, not!

Think of a community you belong to for example. What do you do for the community? What do you expect from the community? Is it two way or one way.

How do we in our society want people to treat each other? How do we want to show respect? How do we want to be constructive?

These are questions I ask to start a conversation. I do not presume to have the answers. I am making an observation.  I invite you to reflect on your perspective, actions and insights. I also invite you to look around at the the communities where you participate. What is the answer for you? What do you want to see change? What can you do about it?

It starts with me.

It starts with you.

Otherwise there is no we.

Jenn Shallvey