“By seeing the seed of failure in every success, we remain humble. By seeing the seed of success in every failure, we remain hopeful.”Mel Ziegler
We’ve all heard the phrase “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Sometimes it’s used in reference to muscle strength. In other cases, it applies to memory or more broadly, our thinking skills.
Can it apply to integrity, too?
Another maxim we’re all familiar with – learn from your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes – after all, nobody’s perfect. Our educational system is designed not just to train our youth, but to test them as well; each experience becomes an opportunity to learn and do things a bit better (subjectively) the next time. This applies, in theory, to social interaction, too – kids date to determine what they like and don’t like in mates, as well as sort out which approaches work and don’t work. All this training ostensibly prepares them to find and land a good mate.
This process applies equally to politics. Elections are the proving and continual testing grounds for politicians as well as political techniques and methodology. Polling provides an even more frequent performance metric political folk, or business folk, can use to judge their relative strengths.
While life as a training ground makes for a lovely notion, it hardly plays out this way in reality. There are guys and girls who never learn to mesh well with others; they might blame themselves, or they might feel it’s always the other person who’s the problem. In business and in politics, there are those who never fail themselves; their failures are trickled down to the market, to shareholders, to government. These are the stereotypical 1%, the kind who say (and believe) things like “we’re smart, they’re dumb” in relation to opponents, stakeholders, even team members or supporters. The more often they place blame on others, the easier and more instinctive a response shirking accountability becomes.
A stereotypical 1%er once told me you don’t have to know what you’re talking about; what matters is that you sound confident while saying it and employ enough bluster to make the other person feel you’re right or, at least, that someone else is wrong. This same person told me that nothing makes them happier than seeing staff they’d let go for some reason or another succeed, but when pressed, could barely recall a couple of names. When I sought out some of those deposed folk, the opinions they gave me were remarkably similar to what you’d expect of a person who’d been thoughtlessly dumped by a boy/girlfriend.
This isn’t to say that the people at the top aren’t smart and capable; they quite often are. That’s how they managed to get their first taste of victory. In business, politics and civil life, however, success often works the same way as it does in evolution; I don’t need to be faster than the bear, I just need to be faster than you. In any large institution, success involves moving up a hierarchy, a change in title and access to different resources and a different “social class.” Call it a Starbucks-vs-Tim’s social stratification.
The further up the ladder you go, the further removed you become from reality at ground-level. Ironically, living in “the bubble” is like having an addiction; the first taste is agreeable, then the euphoria becomes the norm. Eventually, what had been a positive experience has become a dependency. Instead of needing the drink or to gamble or have sex, you need money, power, finery, access. Success slowly shifts from being the thing one strives for to the thing one tries to maintain; accountability regresses into entitlement. What results is corruption.
When it becomes about winning, not achieving, you’ve lost.
We’ve all seen it a thousand times; the periodic pop-up in the media of some high-profile individual or organization who gets caught with their hand in the cookie jar. In Canadian politics, longevity (facilitated by a fractured opposition) left the Federal Liberals without many mistakes they needed to learn from; instead of providing the best option for Canadians, the increasingly-bubbled folk at the top spent their time fighting over the best seats at the table.
The same is now happening within the Canadian Conservative Party – where once they fought for electoral dominance to put forward an agenda focused on safety and security, their concentration is increasingly just on power itself. Sadly, the result is this thing called corruption.
Governments defeat themselves; as the Harper Conservatives’ grasp starts to falter (due to their own negligent arrogance), their actions will become increasingly desperate. The net effect of complacent elitism is always, always the same – you reap what you sow.
What happens when your internal focus comes at the detriment of respect for your voters? You lose elections. What happens when businesses undermine their clients? Those clients get picked up by someone else. More broadly, what happens when the top of a social hierarchy becomes woefully disengaged from the majority? You get movements like Occupy. Remember the left-behind staff/jilted lovers from before? It’s a lot like that. Put another way; suggesting that “Canadians don’t care” is the political equivalent to saying “I’m just not that in to you.”
If people aren’t willing to make mistakes they’re never going to make any right decisions. The same holds true for taking ownership of mistakes – which is what integrity is all about.
Success doesn’t have to come at the expense of responsibility. In fact, lasting success never does. That, essentially, is what the whole post-capitalism movement is all about. The world is looking for leadership that doesn’t skirt past responsibility or download accountability to the next generation; we want leaders who don’t mind rolling up their sleeves from time to time and doing the hard work.
Of course, the only reason the populace is itching for more from leadership now is because the times are tough for a growing percentage of us. Remember, we say 99% today, but we didn’t get here straight from zero. There are always those on our streets, in our schools and in other countries that have continuously been left behind. The truest integrity challenge we face is demonstrating how committed we are to moving forward together.
UPDATED Tuesday July 23, 2015: A study conducted by Sanford DeVoe and Jeffrey Pfeffer found that individuals who are paid hourly or bill their time are less likely to volunteer.In another experiment they conducted, individuals who billed their time in the experiment were less likely to send letters to the sick children than those who did not bill their time to volunteer. Remember this the next time you bill your clients.
Yup. It gets better:
Research by Elizabeth Dunn, Lara Aknin and Michael Norton has found that those who spent money on others rather than themselves reported greater happiness. In addition, in an experiment where individuals were given money and told either to spend it on themselves or on someone else, those who engaged in prosocial spending – spending it on someone else – reported the greatest levels of happiness. Moreover, this effect has been replicated in 136 countries.