Respond, Don't React--Live in tension. What a dumpster taught me about good decision making
Tuesdays are long days for me. I usually leave the house around 7:30 and I don't typically leave my office until about 9:15 that night.
Usually, the trip home is punctuated with a stop at the dumpster to throw trash out. For a couple of months, I would transport the trash from our Grand Rapids office to our Lowell office. Why? Well, let's look at the dumpster. Do you see the lock not actually locking anything?
This dumpster didn't always have a lock on it. What prompted it? One weekend, someone put their personal trash in the dumpster. No idea if it was someone who rents an office space or someone from the surrounding area.
As a reaction (that's an important word for this post), either the landlord or the management company decided that the best response (another important word for this post) was to put a lock on the dumpster to keep trash out that isn't supposed to be there.
That sounds reasonable.
That sounds like it makes a good response.
But does it.
You'll notice the lock isn't locking anything. It hasn't been for weeks. Which brings me back to why I was transporting the trash from one office to another.
The lock is almost impossible to use. At first, I thought it was just me or the general way that counselors' minds work. I think one of our interns was taking trash home with her rather than deal with the lock.
I called the management company.
I emailed them.
They said, "It works, must be you. Happy to send someone to train you on how to use it."
I've driven by and watched almost all of the other tenants wrestle with the lock. One time, a woman in a nice business suit was down on her knees trying to work the lock while a man in his own business suit was banging on the top of the lock. I've watched other tenants in the building walk the trash to a different dumpster in our complex only to get yelled at from a physically distanced space by that building's tenants. I've watched in rapt fascination as the environmental waste people wrastled (that's like wrestling but more intense) with the lock.
Finally, I drove past about a month ago and the lock was as you see it in the picture. I've never seen it locked since that day. Including, after the trash truck's pick up.
Why are we talking about this? Because this lock is a great example of poor leadership. It's a great example of short-sited decision making.
I know a lot of corporations and people that navigate their own lives in a similar fashion.
We've been at this location for almost eight years. In those eight years, the trash dump has happened exactly one time.
A single event.
Does that really warrant an email about how unfair it is to the landlord and a lock that apparently very few people can open?
Is this evidence of a reaction as opposed to a response?
Responses are thought out. Their outcomes are pondered. They are actions where possibilities have been examined.
Reactions are doing something simply because we must do something. It's about feeling better because something is happening with little concern for the efficacy of what is happening.
I sometimes worry that reactive living is a pandemic in our society.
Think about this lock. It was originally implemented because someone in management had a concern that the Landlord would be paying for trash that is not covered in the rents he is collecting. So they put on a lock that now, it seems, everyone is refusing to use.
They failed to achieve what they set out to accomplish.
They didn't ask questions like "How often has this happened? How likely is it to happen again? How happy or unhappy will our tenants be with a lock? What happens if the trash removal company wants a lock that is difficult to use?"
Really simply, they failed to ask two broad scope questions. Both questions sit on a foundation of how likely are we to accomplish what we are trying to do?
- What is the return or reward of that action?
- What's the cost of that action?
As it currently stands, they have spent money to get the dumpster fitted with a collar and bought two locks, it's commonly believed that the first one was accidentally thrown in the dumpster, and they still have not accomplished what they set out to do.
I doubt that they will any time soon.
Truthfully, I see a lot of people who lead their own lives in this manner.
They encounter something in their life that they don't like. Their mind extrapolates what it would feel like if they have to experience this something for a long period of time and decides that would be bad. They decide that they have to do something!
The problem is that they rarely seem to consider the reward for that action and measure it against the cost.
They react instead of respond.
This seems to be a problem for our individuals, organizations, and even our government.
We need to move to a society that does better at learning to live in the tension of things. Very few things are all or nothing. Throughout life, we will face many situations that require us to sit in the tension of not liking something and the reality that we will have to just stay in those circumstances until we can utilize a measured response.
A measured response asks some hard questions. It allows time for change to take root and grow.
May you grow your ability to sit in the tension of difficult situations. May you move when necessary and be able to tolerate distress so that you can determine when you need to move and when you need to sit still.
Respond, my friends. Think through the possible outcomes, consider the possible costs. Learn to sit in discomfort and pursue wise choices in that discomfort.