In the work I do I am often called on to ask an individual or a group: what are you trying to accomplish? It’s not a brilliant question, in fact it is the kind of thing you often just take for granted –surely this has been considered before embarking on an action. Right? Well the answer I think is “maybe.” Maybe we have thought about what we are trying to accomplish, or maybe we are just reacting to something else, a behavior or a situation, or maybe the goal is more of a justification for doing something else we want to do. So I ask this a lot in work, and I am starting to ask this more in the not-work aspects of my life. And the answers are certainly interesting.
Here’s the thing about asking a question before you do something: it makes you slow down to answer. You have to hear the question, you have to comprehend the question, hopefully you think about a response, maybe you modify and then you answer. Even if this happens quickly, you are still running through some kind of pause step, and I believe there is a lot of important information to get from that pause.
I heard on the radio today that a family is suing a public transit agency in the area where I live because a group of young people staged a mass robbery. This family was a victim of the robbery. They are suing the agency for several million dollars, the claim being that the agency did not do enough to protect them from crime. So when I heard this the first thing I thought to myself was, “what’s the goal?” The family was on a public transit system, the robbers were not employees of said system. Guess who pays for the public transit system? That’s right – the riders and the tax payers. So my cost will go up when the agency has to pay out a multi-million dollar settlement for something they did not cause. Crime, unfortunately happens. I have been robbed and did not sue the city in which the robbery took place for failing to keep me safe. The goal here it seems is to get a bunch of money, not a particularly altruistic goal, and the people impacted will once again be the regular tax paying public. They say, per their spokesperson that the goal is to punish the agency for not doing enough to stop crime. That sounds better but if that is the case I would suggest there are better means of achieving the goal.
And that is why it is important to ask, “what is the goal” when you start down a path. Be honest when you answer so you can be clear along the way about what it is you are trying to do. In this case maybe the problem isn’t with goal setting it is with honesty: we were victims, we are angry and hurt and scared and believe that money will make us feel better. Okay – I don’t agree but at least this is now honest and we can fairly address what is going on.
Over and over in work and in life I hear people say, “I don’t have time to think, I don’t have time to plan, I can’t deal with this right now,” but I wonder if that is the case how much of our lives we just spend bouncing around in reaction without being honest with ourselves or with anyone else. I may not like the answers when people are clear and honest about the goal, but at least I, and we all know what the answer is. It makes it easier to work together, it makes it easier to communicate with each other because you know what is really going on. It does make it harder to justify some of the things we don’t really approve of, but then perhaps we need a little less of that kind of thing anyway.