The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is probably the biggest ecological disaster of all time. It’s probably also the biggest corporate PR nightmare of all time.
Just last week one of my Roundtable members devoted his hot seat to strategizing a new viral marketing campaign propelled by BP outrage.
Millions of dollars will be made just by selling ways for people to vent their anger – NOT including lawsuits and finger pointing contests.
I rarely go very far off-topic in my business emails and blog posts…. but this is not off-topic. It’s everybody’s business; and not for the reasons you might think. Today I want to talk about a NON-obvious reason why this is everybody’s business.
The major news networks are covering this 24/7. As you witness footage of dying wildlife and mucked up beaches, you want to go strangle somebody.
I haven’t checked, but I bet some BP executives literally have had to hire security guards to protect themselves and their families from retaliation.
Blame and accusation is at an all-time high. Everybody who was even remotely involved in the catastrophe feels like a pariah.
Because: The #1 urge that ALL of us have is:
TO CRUCIFY SOMEBODY.
I choose the word “crucify” very deliberately. Everybody’s furious. We’re looking for scapegoat. A fall guy. Somebody to attach the blame to. A damsel to throw in the volcano.
Of course it’s totally understandable. It may take decades to clean this up. A lot of things have been permanently ruined. A lot of damage cannot be undone.
In any case, here’s what happens:
- Politicians promise to find the person responsible and make them PAY. Everyone cheers: YES! YES! YES! Make them PAY!!!
- All the companies and vendors involved vow to attach the blame to somebody else and absolve themselves of responsibility.
- All the companies, vendors and individuals who worked for BP are judged as “evil”
- Protesters urge the government to pass tougher environmental regulations so that nothing like this ever happens again.
- People Boycott local gas stations that had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Shop owners can’t buy groceries. Employees are let go.
- Competitive oil companies gloat over the fact that they are innocent and their rival gets to take the bullet
- Politicians respond to the protesters promising to pass tougher laws and nail the ‘bad guys.’
- Reporters, writers and camera crews do “investigative journalism,” chronicling the egregious irresponsibility of the oil rig crews and the failures to comply with safety regulations etc. etc. They craft dark foreboding accounts with melodramatic foreshadowing of all the sins that led up to the Gigantic Horrible Catastrophe. We’ll all be watching documentaries about this for years.
- Every failed attempt to plug the hole is interpreted as more proof of the sinister motives of everybody involved.
- Politicians do pass tougher regs – FAST. They cobble together new rules, ram them through committees and pass them into law. Now it takes 600 pages of paperwork just to unscrew a bolt on an oil rig. (It’s exactly like Sarbanes-Oxley, a US law that was passed after Enron collapsed. It’s a gigantic, humongous boondoggle, a colossal paperwork nightmare that mid- and large-sized companies have to contend with 24/7. It does almost nothing to actually improve the operation or integrity of their businesses. It just adds bureaucracy.)
- The people who do finally plug the hole (after going weeks without sleep and making themselves sick just by being there) are in a lose-lose situation because even when they’re successful everybody’s still furious at them. Recalls veterans returning from the Vietnam war and having paint and urine thrown at them when they stepped off the plane.
- Politicians who had almost nothing to do with the actual solution (other than showing up for a photo opportunity next to black seagulls and dead seals), take credit for what the slime-covered hole-pluggers actually did. And they extract more tax money via fines and levies.
Do you see how incredibly counterproductive the blame and accusation is?
NOBODY intentionally created this. Nobody woke up one morning and wanted to blow up an oil rig. Nobody wanted their employees and contractors to die. Not on your life. Nobody wanted to kill tourism. Nobody wanted to suffocate birds and turtles. Nobody wanted to ruin the fishing in Louisiana.
And don’t forget this: ALL of us have, at some time in our life, created a disaster that other people had to clean up.
ALL of us have created messes that we could never clean up ourselves. Other people had to expend their time and money and blood, sweat and tears to fix the mistake we made.
ALL of us have felt the blame and accusation and condemnation – the GRATING SELF HATRED – that you experience when you’ve made a major screw-up.
Some of us went bankrupt and it cost other people and vendors hundreds of thousands of dollars. We were deeply ashamed of what we had done. We wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
Some of us made mistakes in our marriages and relationships. Some of us destroyed our families. Some of us injured spouses and children very deeply.
Some of us wrecked dad’s car and didn’t have two nickels to rub together to pay for it. Dad had to cancel the family vacation just to buy a used car.
Some of us squandered a college education that our parents paid for with all their savings.
Some of us squandered a college education that we ourselves are STILL paying for. Some of us took out $100,000 of student loans and have nothing but beer cans to show for it.
Don’t fix the blame. Fix the problem.
They made a giant mess. Now they have to clean it up. The best thing we can do is assist them as they do this dirty, ugly job.
Imagine the BP senior manager who was in charge when the rig blew up – a guy who’s probably desperately wanted to jump off a building for weeks now – appears before a crowd of people and confesses his failure.
Imagine everyone responding:
“We know you didn’t do this on purpose. We forgive you. Let’s just roll up our sleeves and solve this thing once and for all.”
Suddenly, his mind freed from condemnation, an idea appears that he never thought of. It’s simple. It’s elegant. It’s inexpensive. It WORKS. The mess begins to dissolve.
And it sets a good precedent for all of us… because all of us make mistakes and all of us have deep regrets. ALL of us need grace.
I would like to suggest that the best thing we can do is to choose to deliberately adopt a spirit of forgiveness to the people who made this huge MISTAKE. I propose that we recognize that nobody at BP or any of their vendors was out to screw up the world.
They were doing what all of us do – they got up every morning and tried to do the best they could at their job, and to make the most of what they’d been given.
I know it’s totally counter-intuitive, but the most powerful, creative, life-giving thing we can bring to this situation is to choose to be graceful instead of pouring out contempt and condemnation.
Live by grace, die with grace.
Live by the sword, die by the sword.
Which way do you want it?
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