National politics in the United States is in a period (not unusual to our history, by the way) where we have drawn into two sides with each saying the other is the embodiment of evil. This attitude spills over to other areas. My city of about 20,000 just went through a series of very bitter elections for increased local taxes for the school district. After several defeats, it finally passed last November–by one vote. It is almost three months after the election and people still are writing letters to the editor about the rich people in their luxurious homes foisting off higher taxes on the poor and elderly. Some even argue against their own economic well being. (One of the most vocal opponents to the levy is a rental unit owner. If the levy never passed, the schools would face massive cuts back to state minimum standards, reducing to a very low number people looking to move here, reducing property values, therefore reducing the potential customer base for his rentals and the value of his wealth in real estate. Oh, if life were only logical. I feel like Spock.)
Seth Godin ponders this psychology in his blog The False Solace of Vilification. Here is a sample:
A flood hits a town and innocent people die and buildings are destroyed. The widows and bereaved families take it out on the insurance adjuster or government official who has come to help.
The economic downturn hits a town hard and some residents attack, quite personally, the hard-working school board members who had nothing to do with the bad news and in fact represent one of the best ways to ultimately recover.
In each case, the person being hated on is precisely the person who can do the most to help. And yet sometimes, we can’t help ourselves. It takes significant emotional maturity to separate the event from the people in proximity to the event, and any marketer or organization that deals with the public needs to embrace the fact that just because you’re close to where the bad thing happened doesn’t mean it’s your fault.
Emotional maturity. Something I’ve been trying to attain for a very long time. Just when I think I’ve achieved balance, something happens and I explode. Fortunately that’s only once every other year or so anymore. But I’m sure we all need to strive for it. I once was in a training session for managers where the instructor put up one of those famous 2×2 matrices. The two axes were good/poor feel for people and good/poor emotional maturity. Research was done which showed that positive reviews of managers by “subordinates” centered around emotional maturity regardless of “feel for people.”
The next time you’re delayed at the airport because of bad weather, don’t take it out on the gate agent. That person has no control and sometimes knows less than you. However, that person can be your best friend in finding another flight. I’ve seen where one didn’t help the person in front of me who had launched a tirade. But I stepped up with a smile and said something like “tough day, isn’t it?” She got me on another flight, and I got home at a reasonable time. My goal–be that way in all my dealings with people.