The power of shifting the conversation from who is wrong to what went wrong


I dedicate this post to my wife who is the source of this insight, this conversation.

The default: one party is good/right, the other party is bad/wrong

When conversations, actions, events and relationships don’t work out as we want or expect them to work out what happens?  Look carefully and you will find that the default is that we look to figure out who is wrong.  And from there we go and label some person/group as bad/wrong and another person/group as good/right.  If we are one of the parties to the upset/conflict then we end up declaring ourselves as good/right and the other person as bad/wrong.

Even as an observer, if you listen to one of the parties to the conflict sharing his story, his take on the situation, the temptation and the default way of being is to want to work out who is right and who is wrong, who is good and who is bad. Even as an observer we get drawn into and cannot resist taking sides.  And in taking sides we validate one person and invalidate the other – usually without even hearing the others side of the story.

How does this default way of being/showing up in the world tend to work out?  My experience is that it does not tend to work out.  Taking sides  – labelling one person ‘good’ / ‘right’ and the other ‘bad’ / ‘wrong’ just perpetuates the myth: some people are ‘good’ and some people are ‘bad’. And it keeps us stuck in the existing context which says that ‘bad’ results are the result of ‘bad ‘people.

Creating an ‘extraordinary’ context for dealing with that which shows up and which does not please us

Leaving aside evil people and I am clear there are evil people – they tend to be labelled psychopaths – is there value in operating from a context of whole-complete-perfect?  What do I mean?  What would become available if we acted as if each person is whole-complete-perfect?  Put differently, what would become available if you/I operated from a context that each person is doing what shows up for him/her as reasonable, as good, as right?

What my wife and I have noticed is that if we operate from this context then we have a powerful way to deal with the upsets and conflicts that show up in our lives as we go about in the world.  How exactly?

Operating from a context of each person is being rational/reasonable given how the world show up for him/her we can ask the question that is almost never asked:  how is it that two (or more) reasonable people ended up creating this undesirable situation/outcome?  Put differently, we focus on the question of what went wrong and not who is wrong.

What we have found is that when we relate to people as whole-complete-perfect and focus on what went wrong we get powerful insights that enable us to:

  • deal effectively with what went wrong;
  • figure out how exactly (step by step) it ended up working out the way that it worked out;
  • generate insight and affinity with the people who are involved in the events unfolding as they have unfolded; and
  • prevent the reoccurrence of that which occurred and left all parties unhappy, resentful, frustrated, angry and even violent.

Summing up

If you want to be powerful in the way that you show up in the world for yourself and for the people with/around you then:

  • shift the context from ‘good’ people and ‘bad’ people to everyone is ‘whole-complete-perfect’; AND
  • shift the conversation from who is wrong to what went wrong – how is it that events turned out this way given the good intentions of all parties.

In the context of relatedness/affinity it really takes something to say “No”


An insight into the machinery of being human

There is a certain joy that is present when I encounter someone who occurs as being a “fruit of the same tree”. There are only a handful of people that I know who show up that way in my world. As you can imagine these people occur as special and so the inclination (off the automatic machinery of being human) is to say yes to the invitations and their requests. Put bluntly, the automatic machinery (of being human) does not wish to put the relatedness/affinity at stake by saying “no”.

A person whom I like/admire/respect makes a request of me

This week such a person, a person who I like/admire/respect, reached out to me and requested an endorsement. Upon receiving this request I noticed surprise and delight: “Wow, this person considers me worthy of endorsing him.” As as I grappled with this request I found myself in a bind.

I felt torn between competing values and commitments. How do I honour the distinction “endorsement” (not devalue it) and at the same time take on the request made of me by friend? The issue was not an issue of the competence of my friend: I am confident that he is competent, highly competent. Rather, the issue is that I have never worked with my friend and as such I am not in a position to provide an endorsement without devaluing the endorsements that i have already given to people with whom I have worked.

The bigger issue underlying this issue was the fact that I did not wish to say “no” to the request and thus hurt the feelings of my friend. And I did not want to put our relationship at risk. I noticed the temptation to pretend that I had not received this request for an endorsement. So I did nothing for a couple of days.

Eventually, I chose to be authentic, to act in accordance with my stand. So I wrote back to my friend thanking him for his invitation to endorse him. I explained how I found myself in a difficult position. And I told him that I was choosing not to accept his invitation/request. Once I hit the send button I was at peace knowing that it will work out the way that it will work out. And, that both of us are big enough to be with what there is to be with.

Is there an insight here?

It takes courage to be true to our stand especially when it occurs to us that we are at risk in some way. And it is very deep caring and commitment to our stand which provides the courage to be and to do that which is in authentic alignment with our stand when our automatic machinery is yelling/screaming at us to take the short cut, to give in, to please, to not put self at risk.
I notice that self-respect and a sense of being powerful shows up when I am being in accordance with my stand. The opposite is also true for me: when I fail to be my stand then I notice a loss of power (in my being / showing up in the world) and self-esteem.

Is it possible that when I stand for that which I have chosen to stand for, and do that in a manner that honors the dignity of my fellow human beings, I am creating an opening, an invitation, for my fellow human beings to express their voice and stand for that which matters to them?