don’t be someone you hate

My Peter Bregman obsession only grows. Is it inappropriate to have a celebrity crush on a strategic consultant?

His most recent blog is titled How to Avoid Becoming a Person You Hate. He talks about the negative consequences of isolating others for certain criteria, while excusing the same traits in others, for insignificant reasons.

When empathy plays favorites, we should all be scared.

It makes us feel better to separate ourselves from people whose behavior we don’t like. It makes us feel moral, safe, and beyond reproach. But separating the other people as evil means we are more likely to lash out at them and, before we know it, become cruel ourselves.

I am not saying that we should excuse violence or poor behavior. There must be consequences to people who act destructively. But psychologically separating ourselves from them makes us dangerous.

Preach it, B-man.

The next paragraph is fascinating. It hits on something I’ve thought about and debated many times. Is it illogical to maintain distrust and ill will toward others for things they had no control over, but clearly connect to?

[…] I was still filled with emotion from the last conversation when Günther, a German man, started yelling in German, and slamming a tennis racket onto a large foam block, one of the tools that Ann uses in her workshop to get energy moving.

Every time the racket slammed down, I flinched. His accent, the yelling, and the slamming brought me back to my family’s memories of the Holocaust. My mother and her family were in hiding in France during the war, and her newborn sister, Ariel, was killed by a doctor who gave her milk that was too thick. He said he did it because she was Jewish.

I imagined Günther in a Nazi uniform, cold eyes peering out behind a low-hanging army cap, emblazoned with a swastika. I was flooded with rage, sadness, and fear. My whole body was shaking. I pictured baby Ariel, dead, wrapped in a blanket, as I picked up the racket.

I slammed the racket on the cube with all my strength. “Stop it,” I screamed, completely swept up in the moment. “Stop screaming. Stop the hatred. Stop the violence.”

In that moment, I could have killed Günther.

But Günther isn’t a Nazi. He’s a software developer with a German accent.

In other words, I didn’t want to kill Günther for something he had done. I wanted to kill him for something he represented. For his accent.

In that moment — and I feel chills down my spine as I write this — Günther wasn’t the Nazi. I was.

I’ll be transparent about the fact that I’ve made this exact type of displaced judgement. I’m Jewish and grew up with baby boomer parents and grandfathers who were both veterans. I was exposed to indirect scorn of all things German, and never questioned it – it seemed like a terrible place capable of terrible things. So despite Bregman’s realization of misdirected anger, I still relate to his reaction. But then there’s this point:

In different circumstances — perhaps raised by a parent who taught us differently — who’s to say what choices we might make? Any one of us is capable of just about anything. And unless we acknowledge that, we are at greater risk of becoming the person we fear the most. We’re more likely to lash out against others to defend our view of ourselves.

Uh, yeah. Chew that one over a few times. Depending on when and where you’re born, and who your parents happen to be, you could have ended up your own worst enemy. It makes the entire notion of our loyalty to our religion, home country, political affiliation, etc, seem a lot more subjective.

This is not just about world leadership and violence; it’s about mundane leadership and everyday relationships, as well. Any time we think or say, in disbelief, “Can you believe what that person did? What kind of person does that? I just can’t understand her!” we are separating ourselves from other people, making them essentially bad and us essentially good.

When we do that, we are, at worst, dangerous, and, at best, weak leaders.


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