Blame The Pen!
How often do we blame the pen? Or even worse, how often do we completely ‘ban the pen’? A pen neither creates great poetry nor stabs an eye out, the wielder does Few years ago, when I was consulting for an educational institution, I witnessed a feud between two student groups which escalated beyond the usual college brawls. Fights between students are not surprising and it has been a common phenomenon since the beginning of institutionalized education. However, this one slipped out of control in no time; it went outside the boundaries of college with locals getting involved, families being dragged in and in short, the whole works! However, if we strip down to the core of the problem, it involved inappropriate social media ethics and misplaced authority between three students. A photo circulated on social media by one individual was asked to be taken down by another individual since his partner was also in the picture. Interestingly, the girl did not mind the picture being on social media but insisted it be taken down just out of fear of her partner. As you can already guess, the first individual denied to do so and the rest is history. Among the many issues I had to deal with during my tenure at this educational institution, I would rate the gravity of this particular issue at 6.5 out of 10. The interesting part that perplexed me and forced me to go toe to toe with the disciplinary committee & board of management was the action plan that was proposed in retaliation to this issue. Correctional or Confinement Very often, in disciplinary meetings, a good amount of time gets wasted discussing how to penalize the individuals rather than brain-storming on creative measures to equip them to become better. Among the various ideas, suggestions and actions, the proposal to ban cameras within college premises absolutely did not sound right to me. In my opinion, which I had passionately and vehemently voiced out then, I saw this event as an opportunity to help these young adults understand themselves better and help them grow as individuals. It was important to help the girl realize her individuality and self-worth, teach her partner that he doesn't own the other person in the relationship and to address to the student community at large about the social media ethics. The Tool or The User Instead, the focus was put on the tool, ‘the camera’, how ‘the camera’ is to be blamed for the fight and why it is imperative to ‘ban the camera’ in the institute to prevent similar mishaps in future. On the other hand, I feel this kind of over-reactive, short-sighted and non-constructive policies could be one of the methods by which human beings learn to absolve themselves from taking responsibility for their actions. This incident happened early in my career while I was still a novice in my leadership journey. If back then had I had a better understanding of leadership as I have today, I would have approached the situation much differently and the outcome would have been quite different. However, back then I operated from a traditional concept of leadership, which is to win the argument. So being the impulsive person I was, I fought with my tooth and claw, made a lot of noise, tried giving many logical reasons, but all in vain, the outcome still did not change. The management went forward with their decision to ‘ban the camera’. Shakespeare and Hitler, both had pens in their hands, but the outcome could not be farther apart. Shakespeare brought thought and art into the world, while Hitler brought fear and death into the world. We can write great poetry, draw a beautiful picture, or write an amazing story. Or like in many actions movies, we can use it to jab into the neck of the villain, and paint someone in poor light. The pen is just a tool; it has no power to do anything by itself. It is us who give it meaning, power and purpose. Meaning-Making Machines In our lives, we are quick to seek out objects of disaffection and blame them for everything that goes wrong. These objects can be our looks, our childhood experiences, our boss, our spouse, our education, our TV, or, even our computer; the list is endless, it can be anything, because human beings are ‘meaning-making machines’. We can actively seek out and assign meaning to everything in life. Therefore, most people are not even living in reality, rather they are living in the ‘perceived reality’ of their past experiences, beliefs and self-worth, which, most of the time are flawed and does not serve them in achieving their dreams. Isn't it interesting how we do this, even when we know the actual truth; this is because, ‘blaming the pen’, is much easier than transforming the wielder. Like me, many of you would have observed the same things happening at your work place, in your place of worship, in your families, in your national policies, and many other contexts. If you have not seen it yet, I urge you to look through the critical lens and you will most definitely see plenty of examples for 'blaming & banning the pen' happening all around you, all the time. Take a closer look into your life and ask yourself, if and where you are blaming the pen? Most likely, it is this object of disaffection that is holding you back from your success and greatness. When you identify these areas where you are blaming the pen instead of taking responsibility for your actions, you will be taking the power back from this object of disaffection and will allow yourself to achieve more of your dreams, celebrating life.