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Enhancing Organizational Performance

The Last Victim

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As a species, humans have a desire to be first. We want to be the first to climb a mountain, the first to explore a cave, the first to walk on the moon, the first to be a trillionaire. I want to own the tallest building, the most successful startup, the hottest restaurant. I want to be the fastest, the strongest, the fittest, the best speller, the brightest, the most popular, the prettiest or most handsome and we lavish recognition onto those who achieve first place benchmarks. The World Series, the Superbowl, the World Cup, the Nobel Prize, Miss America, being the winner, being first is so ingrained into our societies that we often don’t even realize the significance of where the motivation for those behavioral activities comes from. Much has been written about these desires.

Taken to an extreme wanting can cross over to needing and psychopathology can come to the forefront. Desire is one thing, for it can be motivational, when properly channeled it can drive advances that benefit all of us, but when desire to be crosses over to must be aberrant thoughts and actions can take over.  I have been in many meetings with C-suite types where the C-level person must be the smartest person in the room, even when they are not, not even close. It is narcissistic on their part when they assume they are the smartest and have all the answers, and some of their thinking is along the lines of, “After all I am in this position of power and you are not! I have been recognized for my achievements and placed into this position, and you have not!” In my experience, somewhat more rare but present is the cognitive dissonance of, “I am paid all this money, so I must be the best and have all the best ideas, for if I am simply average like the rest of you, why am I being paid so much?”

Our psychology is such that we when do achieve success we have a tendency to credit our internal abilities and when we fail, we tend to assign blame to some external force. Again, it is normal pattern of behavior, but when taken to an extreme it is pathological, where one can never accept responsibility for one’s mistakes or failures. This pattern causes certain individuals to go through life collecting injustices, these people are the perpetual victim of wrongs being done to them.  They have a tough time ever being truly happy.

We are at an inflection point. The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused tens of millions in the USA alone to lose jobs and the International Labor Organization (ILO) says globally that number may be 195 million. Many more are now without access to healthcare or health insurance. The growth in the number who are now food insecure is enormous and hunger, as in the Great Depression, now roams freely across the land. Medicare and Social Security were created as a direct result of the documentation of the suffering older Americans were experiencing during that time and afterwards, Americans who had worked their whole lives, but could not live out the remainder of their lives with respect and in dignity.

What do we have to do to have everyone live their lives with respect and in dignity? What would it take to shift our orientation from rewarding our first-place finishers to striving to have last victims? The last victims of hunger, the last victims of a broken healthcare system, the last victims of COVID-19, the last victims of homelessness, the last victims of living in rat infested tenements, the last victims of racism and discrimination, the last victims of war, the last victims of unemployment/underemployment or low paid employment, the last victims of a poor education? There are endless ills that need our attention. But the vast number of issues suggest that it is time for a more radical shift than trying to simply get back to business as usual.  I am reminded of a difference between Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia and wanted admissions to be based on merit, those most deserving would be admitted. Benjamin Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania under the notion that education should be available to all who wanted it, in other words, education should not have any victims, all who want an education should be able to get one. How can we all become more like Benjamin Franklin?

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

April 25, 2020 at 9:39 am

Posted in Human Behavior

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