Thursday, October 02, 2014

It's not (just) my fault

I think there was a time when I assumed that everything that went wrong in my life was my fault, particularly at work. If something went awry on a project, I would assume that it was my fault. But often, after investigation, something else came up and that became the root cause.This isn't to say that nothing is my fault, it's to say that often, I'm not the only one involved.

The act of living, for most of us anyway, involves many other people. What I see from here is just the surface of a very deep and complex interaction among people, including me. So when something doesn't go right, even if I assume that its my fault, I can still find factors that are beyond my control.

I had something like this happen yesterday at work. Something didn't go quite right. Emails fly. My first impulse was to assume that I did something or failed to do something. but I kept my calm and watched as other people sorted it out to find a root cause unrelated to me or anything I did. My job then, was to work with the team to solve the problem.

Assuming that when something is not right it's my fault, all the time, is a sort of grandiosity. It says that not only am I responsible when things go wrong, I'm responsible when things go right. Some of the greatest politicians and wealthiest people in the world are happy to assume responsibility when things go right. But you won't hear them talk about all the help they got along the way, and you won't hear a peep when things go wrong. You might, however, see a finger pointing away from them when things go south.

The big picture is that we are just specks caught up in a massive current, with everything in motion, so little within our control. As I mentioned in The Grand Carousel, we are moving in orbit on many levels. We have no control over the motion of the earth, the sun, the galaxy or the local group of galaxies wherein we reside. On a cosmic scale, we're just a pale blue dot with absolutely no control over our fate. One big burp from the sun and we're well-done. One gamma ray burst from within 1000 light years of us, and we're toast.

Now let's look inside. I have a body and a brain to manage it. I have, at best, used maybe 1 or 2 percent of my brain at any given time as conscious thinking power. The rest? Memory and autonomic action. The brain keeps my heart beating, day in and day out. It manages everything going on in my body without conscious control. From breathing to colon evacuation, I don't have to think that much about living in the physical sense. I just try to eat right, exercise and have fun when I'm working and when I'm not so that I don't take myself too seriously.

I like to say that if I had better than 1% control of my body, I'm sure I'd screw it up royally. A billion years of evolution have led to you and me. We have finely tuned the art of living to be able to do what we do. But individually, our circle of influence is infinitesimal on a cosmic scale. Even on this planet, our circle of influence is still small.

When we work together, we can make fantastic advances or wreak havoc. When we act as a team, we have no control over our teammates, their actions, their words, their inaction. When something goes wrong on the team, it would be grandiose to assume fault. That assumes we have power over others when we don't.

I don't really want power over someone else, anyway. I don't need that much control and seeking that kind of control prevents me from noticing my part in the world, in the events that turn the world around. Besides, it's not possible to change other people. I can only change myself, and that might change how people respond to me, but my motivation is to change myself for my benefit, and let everyone else sort it out later.

Nowadays, when I see something going wrong, I stop and breathe, pausing to remember that there are other people out there. They are self-conscious, too. They might not be aware of me and what I'm doing. They might assume fault for something that went wrong. They may even admit fault for an error.

Whatever happens, the duty of the team is to fix the error, record the event, have a contingency plan in case the error is made again and plan for prevention of the error. Everyone can learn from it without casting blame. Considering the state of the world, with accelerating loss of species, ecosystems and global warming, we might have to enlarge the definition of "team" to include all of humanity. We might come to realize that we're all on the same team. Imagine that.
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