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September 01, 2008
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Shoot or I’ll Stop

Did I get that backwards? Unfortunately, the answer is that in many cases we act faster than we think. We act before we deliberate on what could perhaps be better courses of action.

The concept of slow deliberation and contemplation has given way in much of our culture to the desire to act fast…to “call in the next 15 minutes!” We want to get what we want, or think we want, with the greatest possible speed.

We seize the Latin phrase Carpe Diem and apply it by adding the word “fast” to many of the actions we take or we value in society. We eat — or overeat — at fast food restaurants. We abhor waiting in lines in doctors’ offices and in banks or, God forbid, the post office or DMV. We complain too quickly if we do not get what we feel is our entitlement. We are fast to blame and slower to accept personal responsibility and accountability. 

A first cousin to acting without contemplation is a perceived inequity. “I am a victim. I whine. It is all because of what other people did or failed to do, rather than what I did.” Perceived inequity, by the way, is one important characteristic of a threat assessment related to enhanced risks of workplace violence. That behavior can also be extended to violence and bullying in school yards or in our own homes in the form of domestic abuse.

With the base desires in our culture to “have it now, have it my way, blame others and whine incessantly when things don’t go as I feel they should,” comes the availability of popular tools to help me “get it now!”

Highly popular among them is the omnipresence of lawyers. We are less willing than in prior generations to resolve our differences by direct and positive interactions in getting to know our neighbors, learning about other cultures and other languages.  Rather, it is easier to dial “1-800-LAWSUIT.” This might well explain why America is not only the land of the free but is the home of the attorney. 

We have about 5 percent of the world’s population but about 70 percent of the world’s lawyers. Spend a quiet few minutes — or a few hours — painstakingly thumbing through the many, many pages of lawyers in the phone book in case you have any doubts.  

When you watch state legislators pass laws that say it’s okay not to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, or that it’s okay to carry a gun in the car at your workplace no matter what the employer feels is proper on employer property, you gain additional ammunition, if you will pardon the expression, into the kind of decision-making that seems to fit the mold of “act fast, worry later” about minor details such as long term consequences, debt for the next generation and what might be needed for a long-term civil society.  Instead of a long-term vision about what could be, we opt for a short-term, immediate gratification model of “what is.”

Without getting into an argument sure to lead to more arguments about the freedom to have the wind blow through your hair as you “head” to the pavement in a motorcycle spill or the right to keep and bear arms to protect America in the parking lot of Disney World, it is important to point out that making it easier to take irrevocable actions in our lives is often not a good thing. 

In making decisions as leaders in local government organizations, within families and within communities, we also come to choose, consciously or unconsciously, a style of decision-making which, if left unattended, will tend by inertia toward action now rather than more quiet deliberation.

The American leader is praised for being a person of action rather than the quieter person living at Walden’s Pond or in Innisfree. In American history, the default to action has served to shape the character of the country and of its people. We have come out well on the whole.  In the 21st century, however, in the way we work in business and governments, and the way we interact in society, the HR Doctor’s experience suggests that the balance between thinking before acting as opposed to acting before thinking will have to be reconsidered and readjusted.

The consequences of continuing to act in certain ways involving our use of energy, our style of eating, being sedentary rather than moving around and in how we choose to use our precious life moments (e.g., watching television instead of participating in the lives of our children and our spouses) will not be positive. Contemplation and nurturing of long-term positive outcomes becomes more important every day in our world. Nurturing is a form of action whether we see it that way or not. Action without serious contemplation in a complex society will create disruption in the office, in the neighborhood and in the world. 

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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