I’m being facetious when I say that this country needs more wrist-slap punishments, but things have gone to the other extreme far too long.
Pay attention to the news and you’ll be surprised at how many firings and forced resignations (in business and government) come about as the knee-jerk reaction to some minor, isolated infraction. Employees find themselves in a “half a strike and you’re out” situation. The accused may have truth on his side, but if you stand on one leg, lean toward Ontario and squint real hard, you can just make out some horrible offense, as in the case of the New York City Spanish teacher allegedly fired for using the word “negro” (black).
In 1999 David Howard, a top aide to Washington, D.C.’s mayor, was forced to resign because he used the word “niggardly” to describe a budget. This was in spite of the fact that niggardly has absolutely nothing to do with “the N-word.”
Don’t assume that it’s all left-leaning, politically correct types who demand the public humiliation of those who run afoul of them. I remember that in 1987 Donald Wildmon of the National Federation for Decency was breathing fire and demanding that newspapers nationwide ban the “Bloom County” comic strip forever because a one-shot religious character had a name that in Yiddish (!) meant excrement.
The “object so sublime” in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta “The Mikado” was to “let the punishment fit the crime.” Too many authority figures have decided that the nuclear option is the only possible response to a perceived offense. Lazy or cowardly leaders buckle under the slightest pressure and retroactively insert “sacrificial lamb” into the employee’s job description.
Where is the logic or balance? Employees who habitually, willfully engage in boorish behavior receive no more punishment than those who have a fleeting error in judgment. And bosses think that in the case of making a SNAP JUDGMENT about someone’s impulsive behavior, two wrongs somehow make a right.
Heavy-handed punishments are counterproductive to the image and mission of a company or government office. If a manager “can’t be bothered” to put things into context or work out an alternative solution (public apology, two-week suspension, etc.), how is the public to feel that the manager will have the time to read constituent letters, scrutinize advertising claims or ensure quality control? And how can the remaining employees stand tall and proud if they’re walking on eggshells?
By and large, this great nation was not built by people who took the easy way out. But now we seek quick, one-size-fits-all answers.
Perhaps the concern is “What will this employee do next if we DON’T lower the boom on him?” Yes, I suppose that wearing a Confederate belt buckle or crucifix is the “gateway drug” to selling company secrets, siphoning funds into a private offshore account and murdering millions.
The overreaction is partly understandable. People have been burned by ol’ boy networks handling problems “internally” and sweeping reports of sexual harassment or child molestation under the rug with a wink and a nudge. But we’ve gone overboard in the other direction.
Bosses, show some backbone. And voters/customers, stand up for principle; but use common sense. Count to 10 before painting bosses into a corner with unreasonable demands.
Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”
©2013 Danny Tyree