Defend the absent

Dr. Wayne Dyer was a prolific author and speaker introducing many to his life coaching skills. He had a common sense, not-preachy way of offering his counsel. One of my favorite lessons of his is to “defend the absent.”

What does that mean? When his children would speak ill of a classmate, he would take up for that person. When his children would complain, he would say, since he or she is absent from this conversation, I thought I would defend him or her.

His point was two-fold. First and foremost, no one is perfect. No one. Second, talking about someone without knowing all of the circumstances, does not permit the target of the criticism to defend him or herself. Not that they did not do wrong, but they are not there to defend themselves.

I mention this today as there seems to be open game on anyone with a public history. We seem to judge past actions based on current norms that oversimplifies the issues and context of the day. I am not defending or condemning any decision, I am saying context is important.

As an example, LBJ was a good public servant, but coarse man. There was no better leader to navigate major legislation on Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Often, he offended people who wanted him to move faster or not move at all. Yet, he horse-traded his way through and these bills were signed into law. He appealed to people’s better angels, knowing he would likely drive some folks from his party.

Former Senator and Vice-President Joe Biden is a good person and public servant. He may or may not be the best candidate for President, but his long history will reveal the good, the bad and the ugly of governing. He is known to be a collaborator and, in spite of the opinions of strident party members on both sides, we are in need of collaboration to get things done. Collaboration is not a dirty word.

So, as Democrats consider candidates, please do so through the lens of context and defense of the absent. Why did someone vote a certain way? Why did they compromise with someone who would make your blood boil? What favor was traded to get a key bill passed?

Defend the absent. There are no perfect people. Even Mother Theresa had faults and doubts, and she was one of the finest people to walk the earth.

I was scared to leave the table

We have all been around people who openly denigrate others in front of us. For some reason, they feel by putting others down, it elevates them. In actuality, the opposite occurs. It shines a negative light on the speaker.

An old colleague framed the issue nicely, when he related to me the title of this post.  Let me offer some context. He was at a business dinner with several senior colleagues, including a new executive. Apparently, she liked to talk about people, so as each person left table to go to the restroom, she would express the negatives she had heard about that person seeking concurrence. After seeing her do this with three people, my colleague said, “I was scared to leave the table.”

He wisely assumed, if she talks about others, she would also talk about him. This is not a very endearing trait regardless of one’s gender. It is even more true when a person in leadership does it. Namecalling, denigrating, bullying and pitting people against each other is not leadership.

Please remember my colleagues’ words. If someone talks about others in your presence, take it to the bank, he or she will do the same about you. What should you do – don’t take the bait? Life coach Wayne Dyer would suggest you even defend the absent. At a minimum, try to change the topic. But, picture that person and how you would feel.

 

Bless his heart or God love him, we are all imperfect

There are two expressions that either precede or follow a phrase where someone’s imperfections are mentioned. A Southern minister once told a group that “Bless his heart” is used to sand over a more offensive indictment. In other parts of the country, “God love him” would fill that role.

“She does not have the sense to get out of her own way, bless her heart,” someone might say. “He is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, God love him,” another might add. Invariably, the author of the quote would have their own imperfections.

We are an imperfect lot, all of us. Mark Twain famously said, “Common sense is not all that common.” Having been a manager of people and a HR consultant, one of the observations a colleague made sticks with me. “Every employee thinks they are above average, but that cannot be true.” If you contrast the self-grading performance to that of managers or peers, the self-grading would tend to be higher.

So, maybe we should use “Bless my heart,” when we self-reflect. “I need to do better at giving people the benefit of the doubt, bless my heart.” Or, “I need to not be critical of something I know little about or without knowing the context it was offered, God love me.”

Let me close with a great lesson from Dr. Wayne Dyer, the late, renowned self-improvement speaker. He used a term to “defend the absent.” So, if he was in a conversation which went in a direction of running someone down, he would defend the person’s actions since they were not here to defend themselves. “You know that does not sound like something (that person) might say,” he would interject.

We are all imperfect, bless our hearts. Let’s do better to listen to each other and understand points of view and the context in which they are offered. I am reminded of a Black man who convinced KKK members to turn in their robes – he did so by asking questions and listening to the answers. What a novel idea!