Yes, I am mixing metaphors, but the reason for that will become clear.
If I subtly hint that the administration of a large country is chaotic, would you know who I am referring to? If I even more subtly hint that the reason for this public impression is the public utterances of the president of the country, and that the actions of his staff don’t help to change the impression, would you know what I am talking about? This president lives on a diet of social media poison and misinformation coming from him or being exacerbated by him.
That is as far as I can go, if I don’t want to be forced to resign my job – but then I am not a diplomat from a country with whom the president and his country has a “special” relationship. This poor diplomat made the mistake of stating the bleeding obvious and putting it in writing.
When the furore over this resignation of the diplomat hit the news, the comment was made that the diplomat was ‘caught in public saying something that is widely believed’. His ‘punishment’ was that he was forced to resign, because the political situation became intolerable for him.
Sounds unfair, but what can we do?
But so far it is a situation on the international news, and it doesn’t really affect any of us. Or does it?
What do you do when things really go off the rails, and you are part of the situation? You may be part of the situation because you live in the country, or because the city where you live is under/on fire, or even because you are in a work situation where what happens is against your values and to the detriment of everyone involved. Do you keep quiet? Do you listen to the news and say to yourself ‘the world is going mad’ and turn your attention to something else? Do you say something to a friend and shake your head and move on? Do you voice your opinions out loud and try to change the situation?
This is not a recent moral dilemma, but rather one that is as old as humanity. I am not a Christian and I am sure that different scriptures address this issue, but I can only quote from Leviticus 5:1 because I recently became aware of this text: "'If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.”
This indicates a moral obligation to speak up, and to bear the consequences, no matter what.
It is interesting how something comes into your awareness, and then the test follows.
I once found myself in a work situation where incompetence, dishonesty and a general lack of regard for the client was allowed once, then twice, and then quickly became the norm. This was because of a total lack of leadership, or rather leadership that took the entire team to the abyss.
I was part of this team, and I realised within my first month that dishonesty and extremely damaging work practices were the norm. What do you do when you are new in the situation? I did what I normally do, which is never to turn the other cheek, but to rather determine whether what I discovered was my misinformed view (which could change because of the facts I discover) or an informed view which would be borne out by the facts.
In this instance the facts were plenty – and all the facts indicated that the emperor was stark naked in terms of integrity and competence, and he had his sycophantic followers who convinced him that his invisible cloak was beautiful. The emperor also enjoyed raving whenever his ignorance and incompetence were challenged, in the belief that pure anger and hatred would gloss over the massive cracks that he not only created himself, but also condoned in others. This habit quickly filtered down to those of his followers who had not yet tried to use tantrums as a cover for incompetence and ignorance, and they discovered that not only did the tantrums work, but the emperor supported them, as images of himself.
This is the recipe for a toxic work situation.
What to do when you are in this situation? This is where I feel empathy for the diplomat who was forced to resign because he stated the bleeding obvious, which not only his colleagues, but the entire world knew.
I worked from my sphere to tactfully expose the dishonesty, by providing solid proof to the emperor. To my absolute astonishment, I was told to “do introspection” because I was focusing on dishonesty towards a client, where regular “white lies” do the job. I started collecting the evidence of dishonesty.
I believe that it is only fair to criticize the skills of others when I am in a position to give them the skills. So I provided the tools to counter the incompetence, en ensured that the tools were accessible. Not only was the reception very cold, but the emperor told me in so many words that nothing I could offer would ever be welcome – I presume because anything I offered exposed his nakedness and his raving madness.
Since it was clear to me that the client was not only suffering losses, but was also losing confidence in the emperor in his team, I decided to escalate the issues by stating the bleeding obvious to a higher level of management, first in person, and then in writing. What happened? Nothing. Why? Because for those who could step in and set down the rules that would create a healthy workplace, collecting the fees every month was far more important.
Meanwhile the emperor was making regular noises about “straight talk” – which meant “do as you are told, without questioning” and “collaboration” – which meant “I will tell you from my limited experience and what I grabbed from a book somewhere what standard I expect you to set without arguing – and yes, the standard is low, but remember, so is my intelligence and level of competence, so shut up and obey.”
My cognitive dissonance, where the difference between what I believed was right and what was happening around me, was growing every day. Was it me? Was I the one with the warped view of the world?
When colleagues approached me to test their observations, which were identical to mine, I realised I was not wrong. When the client became quite verbal about their dissatisfaction and started talking about prematurely terminating the contract, I realised my observations were real.
And nothing was done to change anything.
I then discovered that the emperor had been escorted out of a previous work situation for the exact reasons I observed, and he was marched straight to this unsuspecting client, who was now paying the price for accepting him.
What could I do? Resign and walk away. I would have preferred to stay and root out the corruption, but one person can only be effective up to a point.
To my surprise, once I handed in my resignation, people from various corners (including the client who was losing on all fronts, and my employer who finally realised that I was not crying wolf) approached me - not to stay, but for me to provide as much evidence as possible of the rot that I had observed. They all realised that I would never thrive in a situation that will take a very heavy hand to change, and nobody tried to stop me. I handed it all over and walked away - after observing the emperor being fast asleep in a client meeting, while an irate client explained how the emperor and his team had failed. And nobody took any action - they were too busy admiring the emperor’s invisible clothes.
I could have taken a strong case to the labour court, but as tarot teaches us, justice (where each one of us has to account for our deeds at the end of our lives) is far more important than judgment (where I could win a huge victory, but at the expense of my own wellbeing).
Rumour has it that the emperor will be marched off the premises again soon, this time in disgrace with no option of a new victim who will unknowingly accept him and the damage he does. I am happily working in a new environment where everything I can contribute is accepted with open arms.
There is hope for the diplomat as well – he acted and he will get his reward. On a cosmic scale, he played his role by speaking up. And he is not the only one. The tide of voices against the corruption is rising world-wide.
This is how we make the world a better place. We speak up and voice our concerns, and we take action, even if it is on a small scale, because if we don’t say or do anything, we condone our dark sides. Are you part of the tide of integrity and well-being?
Karma is a bitch – if you approach her from the wrong angle.