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8- NotSupposedTo

"If I won't say it, who will?"

As a part of our initial client interviews when consulting, The Muse and I would eventually get around to asking what we could not talk about. Recognizing that we were aliens in each client's organization, and as aliens, we were likely to violate at least one invisible rule, we asked. Most hiring executives would quickly respond that anyone could talk about absolutely anything in THEIR organization, but even the client knew that was bullshit. Often, the hiring executive had no clue what couldn't be talked about. The smokers on the loading dock know only too well, for they carry more experience talking big, at least as long as the executives aren't in earshot.

My Eighth Ethical Responsibility of 'Project' Work, one I include at The Muse's emphatic insistence, reminds me that I have to Talk About What I'm Not Supposed To Talk About.
The Muse claims that this duty holds together the other seven ethical responsibilities:

1- Acknowledging My Blindness and Yours
2- Pursuing with Personal Purpose
3- Extending Trust
4- Making The Most Generous Interpretations
5- Working The System (So The System Can Work)
6- Sitting With The Mess
7- Making Informed Choices.

Without the responsibility to talk about what's not supposed to be talked about, my ethics stand mute and unworkable. Like you, I quake at the thought of exercising this responsibility. I'd usually prefer to stand mute before the apparently immutable power of squelched speech. Who will be the one to finally declare that the emperor has no clothes? Who will point out the presence of that inconveniencing elephant in the room? Who will name the crushing silence in the hope that labeling it might lift its influence? If not me, then who? This question embodies both ethics and ethical dilemmas.

This responsibility provides no free pass, nor does it sanction impolitic blurting, trolling, or shaming. It's an invitation to open up the smothering conversation, not permission to engage in verbal brutality. One properly tip-toes into these things, overplaying innocence, perhaps, to gain an ounce of acceptance.

"Have you noticed …?"
"What do you think might happen if we talked about this [apparently unspeakable topic]?"

Best, I think, not to engage in unspeakables as if critiquing or, even worse, offering suggestions for improvement.

"Is it time to talk about [the glaring omission] now?"
"Is this one of those things we're not supposed to talk about?"

Each question innocently deployed.

I try to remember to carry a light heart into any heavy conversation. Everyone already knows that the 'project' sponsor is a jerk. Simply mentioning that can transform everything. It offers permission for others to acknowledge and accept the obvious, which might be the best sort of transformation any 'project' team can experience. Unspeakables insidiously influence every effort, blunting expectations and frustrating aspirations. I think talking about what's not supposed to be talked about might be anyone's most significant contribution to any collective effort. Not to embarrass, but to lighten up the proceedings. Yea, dad's a creep. Let's go on from there.

As I said at the start of this exposition on ethics, I consider my Ethical Responsibilities to be more I Will choices rather than Thou Shalt imperatives. I do not always, under every condition, talk about what's not supposed to be talked about, but I've had enough humiliated conversations with myself in the stairway back to my cubicle after not speaking up that I more deeply value the power of even my small voice, especially the self-destructive power of my voice held mute. Yes, I have occasionally been screamed down after uttering the previously unspeakable, but even then, I left the conversation a tad taller than I entered it. So I hold this responsibility close to my heart to provide requisite courage (or foolhardiness). If I won't say it, who will?

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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