‘Devil’s Advocate’

img902Are you part of the problem or the solution?

I used to hate it when a boss or coworker would throw that question in my face when I dared disagreed with what they wanted to do. I’m a ‘look at the big picture’, ‘come at a problem from all perspectives’ kind of problem-solver. I’d rather deal with a potential problem than an actual one I never planned for.

But now that I’m older and calmer – I was going to say wiser, but some days I wonder about that too – I wonder if pointing out all of the potential problems that might possibly happen for the rest of time is a good thing to do – especially when I’m in a room of people doing the same thing.

Because criticizing and finding problems is an extremely easy thing to do. It’s also easy to pile it on as the bandwagon circles the room – or Facebook feed… And something I’ve noticed recently is that criticism can be disguised as solutions.

You have a problem – here’s my solution, but first I’m going to tell you everything that you’ve done wrong since birth that led to this problem…

There is no doubt that our society is going to hell in a hand basket. Bad shit happens hourly. People seem to be capable of more and more awfulness. It’s sad and disconcerting and scary.

And we all want to help. We all want to make it better. That is my fervent hope.

Then I read my Facebook feed and I’m not so sure. We’ve become so focused on pointing fingers and assigning blame – which is way more fun than actually solving problems and growing as people, right? – that the solution just keeps getting further and further out of reach.

Everyone has their two cents and we feel we have to keep spending them. If I kept spending mine every time I wanted I would never be debt free… And yet it’s the first thing I want to do, either online or in person. Someone posts something and I instantly think of what’s wrong with it and want to tell them.

How messed up is that?

We whine and cry and yell about free speech, but we all want to shut it down when someone says something we don’t like. Or, in a more passive-aggressive fashion, we tell them how they couldn’t possibly be part of the solution so they must be part of the problem and here’s how they can fix that.

Or how about when we’re on a team in charge of a project at work, have you ever said, ‘let me play devil’s advocate for a minute’ and then picked apart every idea in the room? I’ve never said the devil’s advocate part, but sure have done my share of picking. I’m pretty sure I’ve left grown men crying in their cars on the way home.

Ugh, why is so easy to tear people and their ideas apart? Why is that a default reaction? I’m sure there are some people out there who don’t do that. I’ve met a couple. People who made me a better person for knowing them. Who spent their time actually trying to find solutions. Because sometimes problems become so big that it no longer matters what started or whose fault it was. What matters is that we’re able to move past it and make sure it never happens again.

You know, learning from past mistakes…

So the next time you want to play ‘devil’s advocate’ ask yourself if it’s actually going to help or just give you a perverse sense of pride because your voice was heard.

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