In praise of good trouble

“Unbelievable how fast a year goes by! I just got the email that it’s time to fill out the 360 evaluation on the boss. Are we sticking with our usual ‘he’s great’ storyline again this year?”

“Well of course, we are. Why tell the truth and rock the boat? I don’t want to look for another job in this economy.”

This small work team had given their boss Joe good marks on his 360-evaluation for the last two years, even though those positives weren’t warranted. Those who had dared in the past to speak up about his self-centered, command-and-control ways had had short and dismal tenure in the department.

Speaking up can be represented as three points on a continuum, according to the NeuroLeadership Institute:

  • Sharing our ideas
  • Questioning another person’s ideas or decisions, or
  • Challenging another person’s behaviors.

All three of these “making our voice heard” actions present the possibility for “social threat,” that is, blowback that may be harmful to us individually or threatening to both us and others. The people on Joe’s team, having seen the negative consequences that had befallen those who spoke out, had decided their best option was not speak up.

People remain silent for lots of reasons, including:

  • Wanting to avoid looking bad or being mocked for being different.
  • Worrying about getting into trouble or facing retribution.
  • Feeling anxious about being on the receiving end of someone’s disapproval.
  • Feeling the pressure to conform and be a team player.
  • Wanting to please people.
  • Believing that our words will be dismissed.
  • Doubting that anything will change.

“Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” ~John Lewis, politician and civil-rights leader

Lewis’s inspiring words were spoken in the context of racial and social justice, however, they’re incredibly apt for anyone looking to make a positive difference in any area. Why not embrace getting into “good trouble” when there’s a wrong that needs to be righted?

Take another look at the causes listed above that keep people silent.

Do you see a common thread that links each reason? The common link is fear—the fear of what might be lost versus the hope of might be gained.

Fear and hope are both powerful motivators.

Fear prompts people to take with the status quo—the devil we know versus the one we don’t. Some level of fear is reasonable. However, when we let our fears take control, we make ourselves small by usually doing nothing.

Hope, on the other hand, gently steers us toward action. Toward making a difference. Toward getting into good trouble for the greater good. Toward managing our fears instead of letting them manage us, which often leaves us feeling miserable.

“The opposite of fear is hope, defined as the expectation of good fortune not only for ourselves but for a group to which we belong. Fear feeds anxiety and produces anger; hope breeds optimism and feelings of well-being. Fear is about limits; hope is about growth. Fear casts its eyes warily, even shiftily, across the landscape; hope looks forward, toward the horizon. Fear points at others, assigning blame; hope points ahead, working for a common good. Fear pushes away; hope pulls others closer. Fear divides; hope unifies.” ~Jon Meacham, historian, and writer

If we believe the status quo—be it a self-centered boss, racial injustice, inequality, etc.—needs some improvement, affecting change starts within us. To begin the change process, it’s necessary to shift our thinking from the inaction prompted by fear, to the action of hope.

When we’re thinking from a hope perspective, we decide to:

  • Let trust, not control, be the basis for relationships.
  • Offer opportunity and not threat.
  • Test our assumptions and not rely on judgment.
  • Think more about what we stand for and less about what we oppose.
  • Be curious about possibilities.
  • Step outside our comfort zone, embrace risk and make some good trouble.

“Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away.” ~Rebecca Solnit, writer, and activist

What good trouble are you going to get into?

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