As colours go, black and white are very simple. Put next to each other, there is no confusing anything. This one, white. That one, black. And here is the line between them. Very nice, very organised. Very good.
People aren’t like that. And situations aren’t like that. But, intrinsically we would like them to be. It just seems to clear things up. It’s really distracting, and exhausting to realise that in all the earth, there is not one truly bad person, or one truly good person. Those absolutes are reserved for another world.
We are all floating somewhere in between on the scale from Abhorrent to Awesome. And, unfortunately for our “Black and White” sensibilities, so is that person we have just had a run-in with. And, spectacularly, so is the person THEY just had a run-in with (us!). It’s all perception. All through tainted glasses. All somewhere in between correct and incorrect. All quite grey, in fact…
So, there we are, in our workplaces. It’s the aftermath of an altercation, a dispute, a run-in, a confrontation. We both had things to say, and we both said them. There was a process, there was a decision, and now we have to live with it. But we both know the decision wasn’t as much in our favour as it should have been. Of course it wasn’t. They got away with murder, they did. And it’s not right.
We need vindication. We need to make sure, just one last time, that we were in the right, and they were in the wrong, and we deserved the victory. Maybe we can steal a glance at them when they are looking at us and shoot a dagger or two from our eyes. And look away so we can plead innocence if they call us on it. Better still, what about completely isolating them so they feel awkward around us? Maybe we can even subtly make them feel excluded from groups of people, to situations where they could attend, so that they feel the weight of our disapproval.
There are a million ways we can play that game, depending on our authority levels, our social circles, our verbal ability, our manipulative ability etc. somehow, there is always a way to exert control over that person.
Ah, yes, Vindication. A good feeling.
Vindication is a Dragon, and it is only defeated by the warrior wearing the Helmet of Humility.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a vindication that is perfectly fine. But it is not a vindication engineered by ourselves as we internally celebrate victory and jostle again for social supremacy in the aftermath. Legitimate vindication comes from being found to be in the right. It is the decision of another, communicated by another, and it is understood by all parties. The end. It’s over and we move on.
Vindication that comes from personal effort and one-upmanship is not vindication. It is bullying, plain and simple. It is oppressing the vulnerable and the defeated, crowing over their misfortune and enjoying too much, the sense of victory.
Someone who has not been vindicated in a conflict is highly sensitive and vulnerable. They are at a low point, very tender and embarrassed even, and may feel that they are in an extremely weak position in the organisation. And that may be true. But it is not anyone’s place to enhance those feelings and to deepen their difficulty. Especially not the victor’s.
Or, if it is attempted by the “loser” as a means of coping with their loss of face, it can be just as bad or even worse. Because it will be even more surreptitious and underhanded, now that the company’s official position is clear, and not in their favour. This kind of informal “vindication” is intended to socially invert the official position, to create a world where the company’s official decision is “known” to be misguided and incorrect and where pity and support are offered to the victim of misfortune.
I am painting these situations in bold and clear language. Most of them are far more subtle than that and it might even be hard to put a finger on the situation. This Dragon is a beast, and like the Dragon called “politics”, it manifests subversively and not in the open. It perpetuates injustice in the name of justice, and unfairness in the name of fairness. It elongates and extends division between teams and individuals, and bifurcates a workplace that could, just as easily, become more unified. This is a culture killer.
It is defeated only by humility. Winning graciously and losing with dignity.
“For what does it gain a man, if he wins the entire world, but loses his soul?”
In the aftermath of confrontation, there are still battles to be won. The battle for relationships, for dignity, for kindness and for restoration. For a better workplace culture and enhanced collaboration. These battles can still be lost. And if they are lost, then I have a question for you – “Was the original battle ever, really, won?”
Humility by the victor says “Enough”. I have enough victory. You have enough defeat. We have had enough of this confrontation. It says “tomorrow is a new day”. Humility brings graciousness to the victory that heals wounds quickly and removes the need for retaliatory actions in defense of lost dignity. Because, in a confrontation resolved graciously, the only loss is an intellectual one. A decision made as to what was correct and not correct. There are no human casualties in a gracious victory.
Grace in victory gives dignity to the one who lost. And with dignity intact, any person can be restored. Any relationship can be restored. Any wound healed. No collateral damage.
Humility says I will fight fair. I will contend for the truth and stick to the issues concerned. If I lose, I lose with dignity and if I win, I will win with grace.