Let's Give Them Something To Talk About
by Peter Block
Sorry We're Closed: Diary of A Shutdown
Let’s Give Them Something To
This is the second in a series of
columns about how changing the conversation can change
the culture. One way to understand culture is to look at
the nature of the public debate and which questions are
worth answering. The public picture we receive of the
culture of the American workplace is that all that counts
is financial performance, executive rising and falling,
and the drama of mergers and acquisitions.
For example, TV business shows ask few questions about employee perspectives, the dominance businesses have over their community or the social value of the products produced. The last thing the media confronts is why businesses have such a contemptuous relationship with government, why they so condemn public education and the management abilities of the not for profit sector. We do not have to let the public dialogue defined by other interests control the conversations we choose to create.
After the media left, he said a different conversation began about the fact that the tragedy was a failure in community. The question shifted to what role do we, as neighbors and citizens , play in supporting families in crisis so as to prevent this kind of loss. This is a very different question than what is usually discussed. Instead of talking laws, TV programming, and blame towards schools and parents, the talk shifted to community, compassion and our collective accountability for the wound this violence created. This conversation became the basis for hope, where the earlier conversation only led to despair.
What this means for the workplace is that we can shift its culture by redefining what is worth talking about. Lets talk about freedom, justice, forgiveness, faith and collective responsibility. Why not call these the bottom line issues and let economics, technology and control be concerns we attend to as occasionally interesting human interest sidelights.
The offender then decides what restitution would be appropriate for what they have done. They offer to the victim either tangible assets or some action which would signify that the offender confesses their crime, is truly apologetic and has a sincere wish to make amends. The final decision is in the hands of the victim who can accept, renegotiate or refuse the offer of apology and restitution. The process is more complicated than this, but these are the essentials. I am learning about it from Thom Allena, who is working with justice departments to implement this practice.
It is a local example of the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation that has been South Africa’s way of dealing with its violent history. Their stance, in stark contrast to the Nuremberg trials after World War II, is designed to restore wholeness to a divided nation. Bishop Desmond Tutu is chairman of the Commission which is betting its future on the power of confession and forgiveness. He says that retributive justice, which is what we now do, is built on punishment and has the effect of keeping the cycle of harm going. All that changes over time is who is persecutor and who is getting hurt. Penology originally meant restoration of harmony, a far cry from our common thinking about justice.
Both of these approaches are really large scale searches for new, more productive, conversations.
We would talk about how we all played
a part in plans that went awry and we would focus on our
contribution to the problem. We would stop “setting
examples” as a deterrent to failure, which it
Our fear of restorative rather than punitive strategies is that forgiveness means we have condoned the failure. Not so. To understand is not to condone but to acknowledge that these are intertwined human systems filled with human beings.
Lets sponsor a conference on how to create a culture of forgiveness? A culture where confession is not reserved for the sanctuary, where faith is a workplace and business practice. When we make these the questions of common interest, the culture will have started to shift simply in the choice to raise the questions. We will have shifted the dialogue and begun to rename what is real and important. This gives us something to talk about.