Which side are you on?

There’s a traditional strategy for debates; both teams do research and prepare for a debate…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

There’s a traditional strategy for debates; both teams do research and prepare for a debate on a given topic, and then, at the flip of a coin, the sides are chosen. In other words, both teams prepare arguments and evidence for both positions. Another approach is to take a recess in the middle, and switch sides then.

Either way, the intention is to ensure that those making an argument see the validity of the points of the other side.

It is a strategy, apparently, long lost in our cultural set of tools to set policy and define our identity.

How many times have you heard, or been a part of, a discussion on a topic, it could be large or small, which size of package to buy at your local grocery store or the pros and cons of a minimum (or maximum) wage for example, and the discussion quickly becomes an argument, and the argument becomes hostile and the hostility becomes irreconcilable?

One aspect of these conversational conflagrations is that, many times, the hostile parties don’t even remember what they were fighting about.

And if they do remember, it is usually the most petty subjects that generate the most wrath.

It is said, for another example, that most church splits are not about theology, but over the color of the choir robes, or even the shade of the new carpeting.

And many divorces are hinged upon how the toilet paper roll should go, or how dishes should go in the dishwasher.

Most businesses, friendships and marriages dissolve over small, not so important issues.

In other words, it is not the event or decision, it is the process or possibly the motive that makes the final decision – the dissolution – inevitable.

But if somehow we could look at the situation from the others person’s side and see why – and how – their position, while different from, and possibly opposite of ours, is, from their perspective, quite reasonable – perhaps even more developed and thought-out than our own.

“Where you stand has a lot to do with where you sit” is an old saying that helps us understand the other side (or sides) of an argument.

A person of any particular upbringing, ethnicity, or faith will, by definition have a very different set of experiences which will form very different assumptions which then will lead to very different sets of values in motion as decisions are processed and established.

Under normal circumstances, a mix of views, life experiences and skill sets has been seen as a source of strength. For whatever reason, party allegiance – as opposed to ability, knowledge or even experience – has become the litmus test in many settings.

How many arenas of life, from politics to work to neighborhood or community projects, have you encountered that have devolved into “camps” of us VS them, where time and resources are squandered as problems grow larger – and often deeper – as personality issues dominate.

My bias is very simple; once we fossilize into factions, the focus is not on the problem or even the solution or, worst of all, the community or the relationship.

In a business setting, our biases become even more confirmed and we hire people more and more like ourselves and those voices barely heard become even weaker.

And then survival, and certainly success, depends more and more on compliance and less and less on competence or diligence.

We see this in our cities and neighborhoods. Regions that are “liberal” become more liberal; areas that are conservative become more conservative.

Companies that are nerdy, become even nerdier. Wealthy areas become wealthier and poor areas become poorer. Educated areas become even more educated.

Wealthy nations become wealthier and poor nations become poorer.

Conformity, sameness, becomes the (usually unspoken) rule. And paralysis sets in.

In other words, we, like any flourishing ecosystem, need a constant inflow and outflow of ideas, personalities and perspectives to make an organization from a family to a multi-national corporation function.

Every company and organization needs the vision and energy of youth, alongside the perspective and acquired wisdom and experience of those more established.

We need the diligence of the hard workers, the eye for data of the accountants, the vision and organizational know-how of management and many others.

Once we devolve into camps, we, and our adversary become the focus. The problem tends to fester and become even more difficult to resolve.

“Sides” and defending those sides, become the ultimate distraction.

For any organization to thrive, it, and its future, must be the priority, not the rise or demise of any particular faction.

We, after all, are a nation known as the “United” States. If we are not unified (not uniform) what are we?

In the many places I have worked, I have seen that once people claim a side, or are assigned one, the real work becomes secondary, if that.

Little gets done toward the greater health of the community.

So, in answer to the question “Which side are you on?” I consider myself on the “side” of the organization, the “side” of getting things done.

Besides being the ultimate cultivar for paralysis, taking sides is always temporary. Situations change, challenges emerge.

And we just might change our perspective. Consider how management looks at labor, for example.

Is labor the adversary? Or is labor the ultimate asset? Are the people who do the actual hands-on work of a company a cost? Or are they the ultimate irreplaceable resource, the foundation, the one element without which nothing gets done?

Many years ago I worked for a company with a charismatic leader. He had come to America as a young man, started the company, made it successful and charmed his way into local business, civic and religious groups.

And yes, he had been married and divorced multiple times.

He was charming and likable guy.

He just didn’t know how to run a business – or treat people – or pay his bills.

He prided himself on knowing every aspect, large and small about his business.

One time he went on a vacation and was gone for about two weeks. The company did just fine, possibly even better in his absence.

After he came back, his primary administrative assistant took one week off.

You may have had this experience…..

While she was gone, everything fell apart; no one knew where important files were kept, mail was lost, messages weren’t taken.

We found out, by the second day, that the one who claimed to know every cranny of the business actually knew very little and the one who actually kept things working smoothly got very little recognition and she made sure that the focus was on the business and keeping things flowing and not on the theatrics of the boss.

She was not charismatic, but she knew that for the business to succeed, for each individual in the business to succeed, the not-always-glorious work had to get done, the bills had to get paid and products needed to be shipped out and delivered on time.

Not every company has, or needs, a charismatic leader. They can be inspiring; they make work more than productive; they make it meaningful.

But there’s a dark side to that charm.

My boss back then, like many charmers, flirted with customers, bankers, competitors and finally with disaster and bankruptcy.

Most of us have made mistakes, or even left a position under questionable circumstances, but people like this tend to bring the whole company down with them. No friend, spouse or business partner is safe when the business unravels.

There is no safe “side.”

Just before I left, the bookkeeper had abruptly resigned – and left town.

We hired a part-time retired CPA to take over the books. Even though my job was in sales, I was assigned to help get him acquainted with our system.

After a couple days of going through our paperwork, he came to me, his face ashen – “If we get audited, someone’s getting fired.”

It turns out that our charming boss was helping himself to company funds, deferring bills, stringing along vendors, and, in general treating the business as his personal slush fund.

A few days later he quietly came to me – “If we get audited, someone’s getting arrested.”

Our CPA left a few days later.

And I left shortly after that.

The irony was that our former boss, and the business, just kept going.

His first principle, that loyalty to him was the only rule, had served him well.

He believed that there were two sides; his and everyone else’s.

This principle protected him through divorces, lawsuits and bankruptcies.

Like I said, it worked well for him. Somehow he maintained, or even “fell up.”

His business partners, employees and spouses did not fare so well.

It was no way to run a business, or a family or even one’s life.

Defining, or in this case, forcing sides was destructive for everyone involved.

Anyone who did “side” with him didn’t stay there long, and even as they did, you could tell they were constantly looking for their way out.

It was a crazy workplace, with clear lines of who was trusted and who was not, who belonged and who didn’t, who would stay and who wouldn’t.

In other words, taking a side, at least from my experience, is always a losing proposition.

There is only one side. We are all on the same side.

If you need to pick a side, pick the side of us against the challenges, crises and catastrophes we all face.