Modest proposal for Elgin
Citizens should stop scapegoating, work together
In the 1950s, Ivy League schools Princeton and Dartmouth played a football game. The game had been billed as a grudge match between the two teams and, indeed, turned out to be one of the roughest games in the history of the schools.
Soon after the game, a couple of curious social psychologists showed films of the game to students on each campus. Each saw the players from their own school as the victims rather than instigators of aggression. Infractions of the rules were attributed to the other side.
This study is one of the classic case studies that has helped students of organizational behavior more clearly understand the role that bias and preconceptions play in one of the ways that participants in a group make sense of a situation by blaming each other.
Direct comparisons between the current Elgin City Council and a football game that occurred 60 years ago are limited, but the many letters to the editor clearly illustrate that some members of this divided community are quite willing to engage in holding responsible and blaming the other “side” for the problems that exist.
However, we can only get a skewed version of the real story through personal opinions expressed as settled truth about the matter. It is also interesting to note that while Observer editorial policy clearly states that it will “not publish ... personal attacks against private individuals” it appears that some of the parties involved in this conflict are indeed “on the attack” and are taking highly defensive postures that reveal a very biased perspective of the problems this organization is suffering from.
Information provided in the letters to the editor allows for a couple of observations.
First, it is a good bet that this Elgin City Council is in a poor state of health organizationally speaking.
When organizations are sick or in a period of decline, there are increases in many of the conditions the Elgin group is experiencing: conflict, secrecy, scapegoating, self-protective behaviors and rigidity in attitudes accompanied by decreases in morale, innovativeness and participation.
Second, the problems that exist cannot be attributed to a single person as the cause and it is unfortunate that this mayoral recall election is being touted as part of, if not all of, the solution.
All members of this group are contributing to the problems within this organization. Unfortunately, the recall option has become, in recent years, overused and more of a weapon of disagreement or revenge than the corrective tool it was originally designed to be.
It is the easy way out and too often used as an alternative to doing the real work of organizational healing.
If this group is to heal and achieve a better state of health, then they have to all take responsibility for this goal.
Taking this responsibility means that authentic organizational change can only begin when the city council begins to acknowledge and despair over what they have allowed to happen in their workplace. To embrace that despair intimately is the only “acceptance” worthy of the name. It is not about simply acknowledging the issues and a frontier-style “moving on.”
So here is a modest proposal. Stop the scapegoating, stop the blaming, take a dose of humility and swallow some pride, recall the recall, get some outside help if you need to, and go to work --- together.
Try to back away from the situation. We all get caught up in the action from time to time, particularly when it becomes too intense or personal and we need most to pause.
It is critical to be both “in and out of the game,” meaning there is a time to get up in the balcony so one can look down and observe what is really happening
Get a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture. Then, as one letter to the editor suggested, you can sit down quietly and talk. The most basic question is always the best place to start: What’s going on here? It is up to you. All of you.
David B. Arnold of La Grande is a consultant specializing in organizational health issues.