When Jim learned that the drinking water in his town is polluted for quite some time, he had every right to be angry. After all, he used the water to shower, cook coffee and most importantly to nourish his children.
The authorities did not share information about the degree of the contamination and which pollutants were found in the town´s drinking water.
His worry for the safety of his family and his anger that he did not get the information he so rightfully demanded, made Jim infuriated. I guess we can all sympathize with Jim and would have been angry too.
And the feeling of being helpless added to his anger. No matter how many times he called, he never seemed to be to be able to talk to the person in charge.
The problem concerned every person in the town so that they implemented a special phone number and hired agents to answer the enormous amount of calls from angry citizens. The agents had no authority whatsoever and certainly no detailed information about the degree of the problem.
In his last frustrating call, Jim got so angry that he started threatening the call center agent. It was not like Jim, but he told her that she should be careful because something might happen that would endanger the health of her family.
All of the calls get recorded, and the call center agent went to the police and filed a complaint. Jim had to pay a pretty high penalty and in addition to that, he was in deep trouble with his wife. Only when his wife told Jim that she would rather drink a whole cup of the toxic water than being married to a jerk did Jim come to his senses.
Jim started an action group and called it “transparency.” The work group was soon able to get a court order that required the authorities to give them detailed information about the water quality and the pollutants the citizens had consumed.
Jim received a lot of appreciation from other citizens for leading the movement that influenced the speed of change. The group then continued to suggest actions to enhance the water quality and make sure of the safety of all citizens.
From troublemaker to changemaker
It happens to the best of us that sometimes we attack the bearer of bad news, rather than the source of the problem. Depending on the nature of the issue the source might be difficult to reach or persuade. Sometimes even impossible. That can make us impatient, and we could forget that we mean well and are uplifting, non-violent people.
We might engage in toxic behavior.
There are three problems with that:
- we distract people’s attention from the original problem
- we behave hostile and hurtful towards people who neither have the authority to influence the change we are looking for nor have they created the problem
- when we become aggressors, we will likely be seen as part of the problem, potentially the bigger one
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
We see it on LinkedIn
A great example for the right message gone wrong is LinkedIn. I don’t go to LinkedIn to solve math puzzles or share cat pictures. But many people do, and I tolerate that. Meanwhile, there are as many people posting trivial content as there are people attacking it. A third group is attacking people who do either.
Not only is it counterproductive because it helps to spread the trivial post. LinkedIn’s algorithm rewards engagement. It does not differentiate between negative and positive engagement. What makes it even more absurd is that disconnecting from people or hiding their posts costs a simple mouse click.
A scream for professionalism is most effective from people who act in a professional way, and not anti-social.
Some people go even further and would like to ban certain professions from the site altogether (for instance the topic you and I connect through, Empowerment). I am not sure if they consider how attacking the post of a plumber that is trying to promote his service makes that person feel.
I am sure though who will be perceived as the problem, or even a bully. Influencing change from the position of a “bully” is certainly harder.
If I am unhappy with a system of a site like LinkedIn there are three ways to deal with it that will not make people mad:
- I can try to change it
- I can remove myself
- I can accept it
Generally, I stick to the rule of attacking the sources of problems and not innocent people. Being hurtful and toxic is never okay in my book and before you know it you are the one in the wrong.
Please understand my statement from a humanitarian and pragmatic point of view.
It is every citizen’s rights to be concerned about changes that seem to endanger their culture. It is also every human’s right to look out for his safety and the safety of his family.
Attacking a person that executes his right to make sure of his survival and the survival of his family will most certainly only change people´s perception of us – not create change or constructive discussion.
Those are just two obvious examples you and I see every day. Examples where I wished people would show a bit more empathy before they decide on appropriate actions to reach their goal.
- To create change we have to modify the source of a problem
- Becoming an aggressor can distract from our intention and message
- Generalizing can lead to hurting people we are potentially not aiming at
- Whenever we are a part of a diverse community or society, empathy and tolerance go a long way when attempting to influence change
- Having realistic expectation regarding the time, measures and traction needed to influence change can help with frustration