We want to be right. Our minds want to make a complex world fit into simple formulas. We want to fix problems quickly without the hard work of discovering root causes. We want to make judgments of others consistent with our preconceptions. And we want to express opinions that are dramatic and influential.
So we jump to conclusions. And then we go splat. It happens in our relationships, it happens in our communities, and it happens in our businesses. Splat, splat, splat.
Recent stories on the news have reminded me of the importance of patience and restraint when making judgments about people or situations. The first is the Trayvon Martin case, in which the layers of complexity are being revealed.
I have no doubt this young man’s death was senseless. I think it’s going to be impossible for George Zimmerman to justify shooting him. But the situation was complex, and too many of us wanted to wrap it up into a tidy ball so we could be right about it. For some of us, Trayvon was the cherubic and innocent victim of a racist hate crime. For others, George Zimmerman was just a guy protecting himself against a young punk. The truth – if we’re willing to face it – resides somewhere in between, calling us to do the hard work of understanding how and why this happened.
And now, Ryan Young, a Safeway employee, has been fired because he apparently got involved in an altercation in which he protected a pregnant woman from her boyfriend’s attack. Now the chorus of “conclusion leapers” is all over this, calling for Safeway to reinstate him immediately because all he was trying to do was “the right thing.” He’s a hero, and Safeway is the unthinking and insensitive corporate power, and isn’t that just awful.
The problem is we really don’t know. We haven’t seen the video; we haven’t heard from all the witnesses. We don’t know if his actions, even if well-intended, put others at risk. We just don’t know. Maybe Safeway was tone-deaf and just dead wrong about this. Maybe not. Of course, we can pretend we know when we don’t. That allows us to be right, regardless of the facts. Splat.
How often do you jump to conclusions about what happens in your workplace? How diligently do you listen and observe, and how rationally do you process what’s happening around you? How often do you acknowledge what you don’t know? How often do you act from needing to be right, needing to solve a complex problem in a simplistic way, needing to interpret things through the lens of your prior beliefs or prejudices?
Don’t be that guy. Don’t make that leap. You have things to decide and judgments to make. Breathe first – then ask “What might I be missing here?” Things might be different than they first appeared.