NOTE ON RULES
The Rules are not actually rules, not in the way we understand them.
There are facts about the actual way this world works. Underneath all our speculation and debate, there are things which are fundamentally true about life, our existence, about human behaviour, which we can summarise as the relationships between Cause and Effect. The better we understand these, the better chance we have of determining the Causes and influencing the desired Effects. There are not Right Ways or Only ways, but there are better and worse ways, and the Rules, if they are anything, are our commitments and guidelines, the conditions and facts about THE GAME which will allow us to better play THE GAME, and to maybe even win this thing!
There is only one game, there are many objectives, and key outcomes, but no other game is more important than this game.
Naturally there are many games. The key dysfunction in the world, in politics, in our workplaces, our marriages, healthcare, education, all our institutions and services, including journalism, media and even charities, is one of misaligned incentives and the learned dishonesty we have around facing and acknowledging this. Where ever there is great need, for safety, freedom, wellbeing, justice, the incentives are broken, or at the very least skewed, and have been for some time.
The incentives are either overt or somewhat obscured, and these form the games we play. Most of us are playing the “attention game”. So there are actually many other games out there, but, in the context of THE GAME, we have to act as if there is only one game that matters.
Only Adults can play THE GAME
This does not mean people of legal drinking age or folks with a valid drivers license. This refers of course to what we will refer to as psychological adults, archetypal adults, maybe even spiritual adults, the kind of people who are more concerned about what is right than who is right, the kind of people who want to be part of the solution in any scenario, not part of the problem, and are prepared to do lean into what it will sincerely take to drive that outcome, even if it does not look flattering or well-subscribed by the masses.
There are ways to tell a psychological adult from a psychological child, which then alludes to the third and forth slightly more tricky categories of the teenager and the animal.
- The Adult. You can always tell an adult by the words they use. They say things like “How can I help?” and they tend to pay attention to the answers, because they sincerely mean to help. Do not be discouraged when they ask tough questions, or push back on your first answers; this is not because they mean to undermine anyone, this is simply discernment, and discernment is a good thing. The fact about adults, is that they arrive with some resources, capabilities and capacities to help, and what is more, the responsibility to apply their resources in a way that allows them to live with the costs of their choices, and any future regret they might wear on the back of those choices. So one would expect them to be discerning.
- The Child. The child is someone who is caught in the drama of the moment. They are more concerned with being seen to be helping, than actually helping. They can be overwhelmed with emotions, change the subject during conversations, they seem illogical to argue with, and are more concerned with being right than with what is actually right.
- The Teenager. The teenager is tricky because they can sound a lot like an adult. They can argue and debate like and adult, but when pressed, you will discover they have the incentives and intentions of the child. Teenagers have a tendency to be self-destructive, nihilistic and anarchic. They are very concerned with short term gratification, they lack a sense of consequential reasoning, until after the act of impulse is committed, and while they are trying to establish themselves as adults, they lack the taste and appreciation for a sense of lived responsibility, and their own confusion around this can present as a sense of entitlement. They argue from place of ignorance and laugh at other peoples misfortunes. Most of society is stuck here a fair amount of the time.
- The Animal. The animal, as you can expect is noticeable by their lack of impulse control, their appetite for violence (physical, emotional or verbal) and excess.
THE GAME, is about Consent. Consent is a core principle of THE GAME, and consent, especially when understood and practiced wholly, cannot be asked or given of a child or an animal. The best way to deal with someone who is not their best adult self, is expectation management, and firm boundaries.
It is important to note, that there are not clear adults and children etc. We all have the capacity to show up to a discussion or an incident with our best adult self ‘in the room’ so to speak, or caught unawares, triggered perhaps, and like critical thinking and compassion, our best adult self, and all the attendant reason and impulse-control that goes with that, does not have an auto-pilot function, that is, it does not appear on it’s own, not without lots of practice, and sometimes a firm reminder.
It matters what is right, not who is right.
For a long part of our shared history in society, we have become so concerned with Shame and Guilt, that we developed an aversion to being wrong. Most people also cannot tell the difference between wrong and being harmed, and so they spend an inordinate amount of time and energy playing a kind of politics with the truth, in relationships, in business, in all strata of interaction and accountability, avoiding risk of making mistakes, covering their backsides, and trying above everything, to be right. Our evolutionary biology developed in such a way, that we ended up holding on to the idea that there is a social cost to ‘being wrong’. It has had the most unpleasant and counter-productive side effects.
Firstly no one is incentivised to take a knock on the chin and self-correct, because of the social stigma of being wrong.
Secondly, when someone has actually done something significantly wrong, we scrabble to moral high-ground, and in the age of wokeness especially, we haven’t really established healthy and consistent norms for people who commit a grievous crime, who wake up to the error of their actions to then to try and seek the forgiveness of the crowd; we simply do not have pathways for social forgiveness.
Thirdly, the amplitude of scandal and drama and the way it captures the attention of the crowd, the way the headline of the drama is locked into our memories, if someone is falsely accused of lets say rape, or theft, or child abuse, even if it turns out they were completely wrongly accused and found to be completely innocent, their reputation and mental health suffer permanent and irreparable damage.
Related to this, is that we treat the transgressors of grievous errors and the transgressors of clumsy faux-pas or momentary lapses of judgement with the same level of social scorn and the same treatment of social banishment.
That said, we need to start somewhere. As we try and play THE GAME, we cannot, as Einstein so rightly pointed out, solve a problem with the same level of thinking that was adopted in its creation. We need to keep reminding ourselves, as we pick our way through sensitive and complex challenges, it cannot matter who is right, only what is right.
Seek the Heart of Daring Leadership
To be a leader is to understand that doing something imperfectly with the right intent; a willingness to take on feedback and a sincere commitment to improve, requires no time to get started and no barriers to starting. It should also require no permission and carry no risk if blame if mistakes are made.
- We start from where we are with what we have.
- Perfect is the enemy of the Good. And to get started, good is good enough.
- We improve over time.
- We adjust our plan, our picture of what is right as soon as we learn better.
- It is okay to have been wrong.
- You cannot judge anyone once they learn better and are prepared to adapt.
- No Guilt. No shame. A willingness to improve should be enough. Make repairs if it is in your power, but correction of behaviour or a misunderstanding is the best apology.
If love does not look like leadership, it is not real love. If leadership does not look like love, it not real leadership.
One Voice at a Time.
Every voice gets heard. Well not every voice, not while we are in problem solving mode. In a time of serious pending crisis, the priority has to be of understanding the challenges, discerning the actual risk, and solving the most pressing problems. Anyone there who is angry or taking up all the air in the room with even legitimate emotion, is not directly helping. Anyone who arrives at a problem solving session and who is still angry, we discover are not actually there for the right reasons. As it happens, if THE GAME is about anything, part of that has to be allowing every voice to speak, hear and process all the pain, listen to the transgressions and create a space of holding and healing. But while playing THE GAME, the direct focus often will require everyone who is actively participating to be in problem solving mode, and that cannot be subsumed or derailed by the expenditure of energy. Aside from this though, the voices that are there to raise concerns, insights, to articulate challenges and qualify both risk and mitigation, have to be given a chance to speak, and the rest at times, need to listen.
It is easier to try listen, it is easier to try and understand someone, than it is for a person to try and be heard, to try and be understood and the person trying to be understood should not always have to do all the work.
Even in our own very personal and private arena of psychological processing, we have multiple person that all talk over each other at once, the needs of the inner child, the needs of the animal, the protector / critic that attempts to keep us from harm and hold us accountable when we have failed at that, and the judge / victim that petitions for fairness and looks who to blame when the world has been unfair; all of these voices need to be patiently heard.