steve duross - craftsman. artisan. entrepreneur. musings on running and growing a small business

wiping the slate clean

relationships are hard.  romantic, business, familial, neighborhood, political... doesn't matter really. we have to work at keeping the mechanics of our relationships lubricated lest they cease up and breakdown. depending upon the type of relationship, the lubrication varies. let our city and our neighborhoods degrade and the end of your political career is nigh. throw late night parties and break the building rules, your neighbors will instigate a process that has you searching for a new home. you get the idea. small things begin at first to grow into much larger issues. when those issues infringe upon the group, then we have a problem. everyone in our lives comes with a certain amount of stuff. how to make everybody's stuff work together is the charm.  but when you find a staff member who pushes up against the norm once too often, you have yourself a scapegoat.

the original context of the term scapegoat was a jewish purification ritual described in the book of leviticus, wherein a goat was symbolically infused with the transgressions of the community and driven into the wilderness. in christian thought, jesus came to be seen as a scapegoat, whose sacrificial death led to the purification of the human community.

the ancient greeks practiced a "scapegoating" rite in which a cripple or beggar or criminal (the pharmakos) was cast out of the community, either in response to a natural disaster (such as a plague, famine or an invasion) or in response to a calendrical crisis (such as the end of the year). building upon these religious foundations, "scapegoat" has become a common term for an individual who is selected to bear blame for a calamity. "scapegoating" is the act of holding a person, group of people, or thing responsible for a multitude of problems.

mobbing is a form of sociological scapegoating which occurs in the workplace. scapegoating is an effective if temporary means of achieving group solidarity, when it cannot be achieved in a more constructive way. it is a turning inward, a diversion of energy away from serving nebulous external purposes toward the deliciously clear, specific goal of ruining a disliked co-worker's life.

psychoanalytic theory holds that unwanted thoughts and feelings can be unconsciously projected onto another, who then becomes a scapegoat for one's own problems. if the scapegoating pattern continues into early adulthood, development towards healthy personal identity is likely to be compromised, with a strong likelihood of developing histrionic, compensatory narcissistic, and/or obsessive-compulsive, as well as passive-aggressive traits. such misplaced feelings are also understood to potentially yield severe, ego-protecting "affect management behaviors" including substance and behavioral process disorders. how messed up is that? so if someone's parent's got their damage all over them, they in turn can project whatever damage was caused to them on the people in their lives, including the workplace? sometimes i just want my old life back.

forgiveness is an easy virtue, for the majority (we hope) recognize our basic humanity. our flaws. by offering redemption we offer another a chance of wiping the slate clean. it is also an opportunity for self forgiveness.

life is hard. recognizing that as a fact makes life easier to manage. when we step into any relationship with our eyes wide open, when our expectations are right-sized, it becomes easier to manage the diverse relationships our lives proffer. hiring and managing employees is the nexus of this idea, for more often than not, we won't see what's really going on for some time to come. by then the dysfunctional processes are well under way.

i am not a psychoanalyst, nor would i want that job. figuring people's motives is far above my ability or pay grade. but i am no saint either. my baggage is plentiful. a lifetime of sinning has taught me a great deal about forgiveness. fyi: for those who do not already know, the root of the word sin is taken from a term in archery. to sin or syn is to be in error. to miss the mark. for me, the whole of my life is the act of learning from all moments equally, whether spot on or missing the mark. to be blissfully and blessedly human. i firmly believe that my ability to be flawed is one of the traits that make me an effective leader.

as business owners we have to be mindful that we don't allow ourselves to scapegoat, and that we don't allow it to happen to our people. everyone is coming onboard with stuff. everyone has tendencies that drive us to distraction. i was reminded of this lesson quite recently. instead of loading the board further with a list of grievances, i chose to wipe the slate clean. the best and brightest often upset the status quo. it is our job to make it all work anyway.