I watched #WhyIDidntReport trend on twitter on the weekend. My heart hurt. What’s the barrier to understanding and acknowledgment? It struck me we approach it as a zero-sum game.Many of these stories I read happened in our workplaces. And even if they don’t happen at work, work is only a subculture of our broader cultural norms and value systems. What does this mean for a person working with people?
Humans can cope with a surprising degree of contradicting beliefs. We do this by creating shortcuts. Stories help us deal with these contradictions. So if A is true, then B cannot be true. It makes processing these contradictions that much simpler.
And this is a conversation of contradictions in a zero-sum game. What one side gains, the other must lose.
If we say most offenders of these crimes are men, it’s taken to mean that all men are bad, or people who say this hate men. Zero-sum.
If we don’t believe that all men are bad, we argue “women commit these crimes too”. Or “women make up stories to destroy men’s lives.” Because in a zero-sum game, women (or children or men who have been the victims of these crimes) have to lose for men to gain (to not be all bad).
Perhaps we need to challenge our zero-sum thinking.
Men are the majority of the perpetrators in these crimes.
Women do commit this kind of crime.
Women have made up stories and no crime has been committed.
These things can all be true, AT THE SAME TIME.
It’s also true that by believing these things I do not hate all men, or even most men.
I do not believe that all men are bad, or even most men.
And that the person in front of me asking to be heard is telling the truth.
The discomfort of contradiction unsettles us further when I try and apply this to people I actually know.
#WhyIDidntReport made me think of my nan. One of her very good friends she had known since primary school was convicted of a terrible crime against boys. She could not believe that this was true. Even though this is one of those times when there was a court case and the victims were believed.
In her mind, nan could not reconcile the contradiction. She could not believe that it was simultaneously true that her friend, who had never hurt her, who was kind and loving to her, could hurt another person so badly. The contradiction was too great. So she chose not to believe the victims of his crimes.
Because a man (who is the offender most of the time), can simultaneously be a good friend, a fun person, great at their job, a loving husband, father, brother, son, a “knock about bloke”, and a rapist.
A person who has your back, who you laugh and joke with, who would never hurt you, can cause incredible pain and hurt to someone else.
Because all these things can be simultaneously true. When the contradiction is this great it seems our mind wants to play the zero-sum game. One side gains, and the other must lose.
So my mind stacks up all the good things about this person and weighs them against this bad thing until I feel a balance. If A is true (this person is good), then B cannot be true (this person did a bad thing). Zero-sum.
Except it’s not zero-sum. Good people do bad things. And bad people do good things. Because no one is all “good”, or all “bad”.
I don’t believe it’s fair that we expect human resources people to “fix” what is a broader societal issue, impacted by our broader social norms. What I do believe HR people can do is be very aware of their own feelings of zero-sum and any attempt to turn this into a zero-sum game.
Because sparks of change start in the smallest places. Each of us working in a human resources team can make sure that we approach someone raising a concern with openness, curiosity, and an awareness of our own biases and that of others. We can listen. We can hear. We can believe. We can help others work through the contradictions and the tendency to zero-sum.
Because revolutions can start with the snowball of a million tiny changes.