Archives for January 2010



There is something about trauma that changes you, who you are, and even something primal and permanent inside of you. You become one of the people whom bad things can happen to. Your reality shifts from safety and security to possibility and fear. Immediately thereafter, you realize in an undefinable way that you are unsafe. Not because the world is unsafe, but because bad things can visit your world and can hurt you in ways that you could not have imagined pre-trauma. Sometimes, post-trauma, we do believe that our universe is unsafe, we generalize our experience to the world.
Somehow, we are never the same. Random events, unexpected events can come upon us, hurt us, scar us, leave us in fear forever. Etched into our brain, always there is the clear and present knowledge that trauma can come – in a very personal way – to us.


The Dilemma of the American Way

Americans are and always have been fiercely independent.  We are rugged individuals who believe in individual free will.  John Wayne is our hero, the quintessential “rugged individualist” and he didn’t need anyone!  The concept of interdependence has been tough for us to swallow.  As a country, and as a people, we like to define our success in terms of our independence: we’re smarter, faster, better.  The part that we don’t tell, the part that we don’t want to mention, that we are smarter, faster, better THAN YOU.  How do you be great unless you can find a “lesser” to juxtapose your profile against.  That’s really the crux of the matter.  American independence is based on, founded on, the idea that we don’t need YOU!  (Why would we, we’re better?)

I’ve thought about these two concepts often: independence and interdependence.

My new boss, who has an MBA, peruses management articles and news on the web.  He forwarded an article to us the other day, the title is Northwest Flight 253’s Lesson for Leaders.  The article came from a blog written by a Harvard Business School Professor: Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  In the article she details the many mis-steps that led to the “almost disaster” of the flight.  Ms. Kanter first discusses that data was input into a data base about the danger of the terrorist who was boarding the plane, so first lesson: Human Intervention.  She believes that far too many people believe that their job is done when they send the message.  She says that we must take accountability one step further and follow up and make sure that the message was received and acted upon.  This kind of communication is fundamental to interdependence, commununication does not occur without a sender AND a receiver.  That kind of action (following up and checking for a response) requires a different way of thinking.  The thinking I suggest is strategically opposed to the American way.  That kind of action requires that we believe and think “I cannot get my job done without the help of my Team.”  Folks don’t like to believe in this.  We don’t like to know how dependent we are on the “other” guy.  It’s a fundamental dilemma for Americans.

The next concept Ms. Kanter addresses is what she calls “Pattern Recognition” and I quote:  If somebody stumbles upon a bit of information but works in isolation, he or she might not see its significance.  Here we go again…working in isolation keeps us from seeing the big picture and that’s why there is no, as Ms. Kanter says “pattern recognition”.  The central point is that working in isolation keeps us from understanding and comprehending what is around us and available to us.  In order to come out of isolation, we must acknowledge each other and begin a discussion.  A “rugged individualist” might not think it was necessary to gain another’s input, a rugged individualist is more likely to think that the job can be resolved by the self!

The third concept is “Wider Communication”, Ms. Kanter makes the point that though England had awareness of the terrorist, that awareness may not have been shared with the U.S.  Indeed, England put a hold on the terrorist’s student visa in the U.K.  Admittedly when we believe that we have protected our own, we seldom look over the fence to see if our neighbor is okay.  In this new and dangerous world we live in, it becomes imperative that we actually acknowledge and extend ourselves to our neighbors.  Our social system should begin with a concept of “us” rather than “me”.  Over and over again stories like Northwest Flight 253 prove to us that it is only through responsibility, caring and communication that we actually do gain success and safety for all of us.  That includes checking in on our neighbor, whether our neighbor is the United States or Mrs. Smith. 

Ms. Kanter goes on to say ”The lucky passengers on NW 253 subdued the terrorist and witnessed minor fires but no explosion.”   I don’t think so, I don’t think those passengers were lucky at all, I think that they cared, they took responsibility and I think that they communicated.