A heart turned outward
Seeing people as people, instead of objects, allows organizations' real problems to emerge.
Some time ago, I was on a tour of a large homeless shelter. The staff member showed me some of the new and innovative things they were doing. There was a library of signed books donated from one of my favorite authors that anyone could access. There was a state of the art security system, a stocked break room for employees, and extensive technology use throughout the facility.
As we passed through security heading back into the facility's heart, it was clear from the commotion among the guests that something had happened. Laying on the floor was a man having an apparent medical incident.
Not my problem
About six feet away behind a counter sat a staff member. My guide asked her if everything was alright - Her response was to shrug. She was effectively saying, 'not my problem.'
Another guest mentioned that they should call 911, which caused another shrug. Finally, yet another guest said he called, and an ambulance was on its way. Slightly embarrassed and perturbed, my guide walked me away from the scene, explaining that this happened often and that the person was probably faking it.
He then thought better of leaving the scene and asked if I could find my way out. I assured him that I could and walked my way to one of the exits. As I neared the entrance, I could hear the pounding of someone on the door. I opened the door to discover a team of paramedics trying desperately to get someone to pay attention to them.
The majority of the team rushed past me, leaving a single team member with the ambulance, parked partially blocking traffic in a major city. I asked the team member - "How long have you been here?" his answer:
Hearts at war
This story is a tragic illustration of a problem that plagues many organizations. None are immune, especially those that serve vulnerable individuals. The stress and stakes of these situations often leave those receiving services and those providing services at odds with each other. Fear, anger, and resentment fuel actions that perpetuate caricatures that are far worse than reality.
Occasionally this tension grows to the point that 'antagonistic' is the default stance between them, and trust becomes nonexistent. Each group's heart goes to war with the other.
When our hearts are at war, we tend to do things that perpetuate the conflict instead of resolving it. We launch passive-aggressive attacks and build an image of the other person or group that doesn't reflect reality. Instead, we construct a self-deceiving view of those we're at war with, painting them in whatever brush gives us the most justification. We think of people as lazy, mean, spiteful, and in some cases, evil.
A warring heart is so common it might be the single most common state in humanity.
The price of peace
"All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal." ― John Steinbeck
We all want peace, not only in the world but also in our hearts, especially in our relationships. No one wants peace more than those groups serving vulnerable individuals and the individuals themselves.
Thankfully the price of obtaining peace in our relationships is low but must be paid repeatedly - daily, hourly, even by the minute. The price is viewing someone as a person with hopes, dreams, fears, and failings. Not seeing someone as we've built them up to be but instead considering them as they are.
When we see someone as a person, our hearts wave the white flag - we call a truce on our wars, and we take the first steps toward resolving the conflict because they only have existed within.
Any effort we make to see others as people by listening to them, learning about them, and loving them will pay dividends for that relationship and every subsequent one we will have. It might be the most significant investment any organization can make.