In the days of #metoo, our first reaction of when someone is accused of something is to put as much distance between them and us as possible. We shun them, and we do it immediately, often after hearing only one side of a story or without taking the time to understand exactly what happened.
That needs to stop.
The current shifts in our society are undoubtedly for the better, but that doesn’t give us the right to act as judge and jury without hearing everyone’s input. Furthermore, it isn’t uncommon to read news stories from different providers that give different facts or incomplete information because of their rush to be “first on the scene.”
Don’t get me wrong, jumping to conclusions early can happen in favor of both the accuser and the accused. For example, when Canadian journalist Jian Ghomeshi was initially accused of sexual assault, he was quick to release a passionate, charming statement about a misunderstanding regarding his unconventional sexual preferences. He captured the hearts and support of many before more accusers and photos of battered women came to light.
Do people accused of something wrong deserve a second chance? Is there a difference between willfully harming someone and being uneducated in a society that, until now, has brushed things off rather than deal with them seriously?
Evil, Foolish, and Wise
Dr. Henry Cloud is a clinical psychologist and leadership expert. He presents the idea of there being three “buckets” of people: the evil, the foolish, and the wise.
The wise person is pretty straightforward. It’s not necessarily the smartest person in the room, but rather they are the most willing to admit that there is always more to learn. They are willing to learn not only from their own experiences, but those of others.
The evil person is also pretty self-explanatory. These are the people that willfully cause harm to others and act with malicious intent. There is no changing someone who is evil. They either know exactly what they have done wrong, or don’t care either way.
Then comes the foolish person, otherwise known as your walking gray area. A foolish person does not act maliciously with the intent to harm. Nor do they accept feedback or responsibility for their actions. Whereas a wise person learns from their mistakes, the foolish refuse to do so.
I for one-- and perhaps it will be an unpopular opinion-- believe we should be open to forgiving the wise and the foolish, depending on the situation.
When we discuss misdeeds made by the wise-- because everyone makes mistakes-- it is important to talk to them about the problems that cause these actions; they are wise enough to understand the consequences. With the foolish, we must discuss the consequences as it often takes personally negative implications to start the road to understanding. With evil people, shun them, cast them out, and cut them off without passing GO and collecting $200.
In a business setting, the evil people will wreak havoc and destroy your organization. If you fail to remove them from your organizational culture, you put yourself directly in the foolish category.
Why We Should Forgive
Think of a time when you made a mistake or hurt someone you love. Sometimes it isn’t until you are faced with the consequences of your actions that you truly understand the implications of what you have done. Sometimes, it’s like a fog has lifted and you can clearly see where you went wrong and what you have to change.
To forgive someone for foolish actions does not mean we overlook serious offenses or belittle the experience of the accuser. What I propose is that rather than dismissing someone the moment we hear of an issue, our leaders should take the time to look at individual situations. They should take time to determine if the accused is foolish and requires education or if they are evil and thus, should be terminated.
The foolish person may be unclear on what is acceptable and what isn’t, particularly if they come from a generation that encouraged banter that was always inappropriate, but is no longer acceptable, period. If the person is willing to take steps to change and opens their mind to learn from their mistakes, let’s give them a shot. If they aren’t, then move forward with dismissal.
Note: this applies to individuals who make off-putting jokes or promote someone based on with discriminatory practices, not someone who continuously harasses someone, makes unwanted physical contact or threatens/offers to change a subordinate’s career status based on sexual favors. That falls under evil.
Training and Coaching Implications
We can only make changes through education and open conversations. A wise person might require a candid discussion regarding their actions and how they are perceived because of them. The wise person may need time and space to be able to discuss their frustrations and give their views on the matter. They can be coached toward a better path.
Like I mentioned previously, foolish people are driven by consequences. They need to be shown, plainly, that if they do X then Y will occur. Give them an opportunity to learn and become wiser through coaching and training.
There are no second chances for the evil person. Unfortunately, you can’t always tell which category someone falls into until you start these conversations, which only makes them more important.
You need to make sure that people in your organization feel comfortable asking questions and starting these tough discussions. Making mistakes is human, and not having a chance to explore that mistake can cause a lot of frustration.
Make sure your policy is clearly defined in regards to what is unacceptable in your organization, regardless of gender. Don’t just make it a footnote in onboarding paperwork. Post it in visible areas and discuss it often.
Change isn’t gender-specific. Our society is going through a paradigm shift in how we view sexual harassment in the workplace. What better time to implement changes in your organization and get ahead of the curve?