Friday, May 16, 2008

Two Ignoble Instincts

For a long time, I've said that the most ignoble instinct that exists in people is the desire to foment discord between others. Although our society is generally a well-formed and well-developed sort of place, you still sometimes get the chance to see people's baser instincts/nature come out when:

Person A, in a temporary vent or just in the confidence of two-party fidelity with person B, states an other-than-flattering opinion of person C to person B.

Person B goes and relays this (either word-for-word or perhaps in an even worse light) to person C.

In other words, person B has just fomented discord between persons A and C, ostensibly for no other reason that just for the sheer enjoyment of watching a bunch of sparks fly.

Of course, there can be a fine line here -- sometimes telling someone what's being said is the right thing for all parties. I would expect that on some level from my own friends.

But that shouldn't obscure the main point. I think everyone reading this knows a fomenter of discord in their midst or at least has at some point in their life. I think everyone reading this has been "burned" at some point by someone to whom they thought they revealed something in confidence or in a temporary and ultimately insignificant vent.

And if many major religions and philosophies tell us that peacemaking is the noblest of instincts, it seems like a reasonable next step to say that peace-breaking (or fomenting of discord) is the mirror-image opposite. Got it? Check.

Well, here's number two:

When someone's desire to make 'the other guy' look bad trumps his desire to accomplish the goal at hand.

That's pretty messed up, I know, but it happens all the time. The best way to see it is in one of the many "mini-crises" that pop up all the time in everyday work situations:

The presentation starts in ten minutes and the copies aren't ready.

The reception room is starting to fill up and the food hasn't gotten here yet.

We just missed our exit and now we're ten miles past the turn for headquarters.

Tom is getting ready to speak to the boss but just realized he doesn't have a necktie.

We don't often see people's more elemental nature because modern life doesn't present us with too many Lord of the Flies-type scenarios. But these little "mini-crisis" situations, which could be work- or personal-related, really, give us the next-best thing.

Anytime these sort of things pop up, the people surrounding the miniature-train wreck are faced with two basic options. They can think of themselves as team members, spring into action, and help turn their energies towards solving the issue at hand and save blame-casting for later. Or, alternatively, they can immediately spring into finger-pointing mode: shut down, turn off the "I care" button, and tacitly or even explicitly express a desire to watch someone else fail.

To shut down and not help is pretty bad. But a wholly different line is crossed when someone's desire to see 'the other guy' fail trumps his or her desire to see the job get done.

When I see that, some synapse somewhere in my own head gets rewired to tell me this: I have just gotten a glimpse into someone's character, and what I saw was awful.

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