I’m still fascinated by the seemingly instantaneous collapse of the mega company Enron. It’s demise was actually years in the making, but its problems were so carefully hidden that even most of the employees had little idea that troubles were looming. The documentary, The Smartest Guys in the Room, tells the story of arrogance, lies and secrets that created a toxic and destructive environment that was certain from the start to lead to trouble.
I’ve always been curious about those who possess an exaggerated sense of their own importance. On the one hand I admire their confidence and willingness to take risks, but on the other hand I abhor their almost narcissistic belief that they are indeed more likely to have all of the answers than the rest of us mere mortals. I suppose that we need such souls in some ways because people like me constantly question ourselves and tend to hold back because we are so fully aware of our limitations. We are unlikely to believe that our ideas are necessarily better than others.
Nonetheless, we’ve all encountered people and organizations that are almost haughty in their certainty that they know how to do things better than the rest of us. They possess the audacity to shut down discussions that demand give and take. They push their philosophies and beliefs on the people around them. They are often unwilling to work with others, instead insisting that things be done their way or not at all. Their power grabs are often successful as they appear to be in control of themselves and the world around them until someone has the temerity to question them or to note the emptiness of their thoughts.
In the present day we seem to be overrun with people who claim to know what’s best for the world even to the extent of refuting experts who in reality know far more than they do. They argue and boast to the point of taking the air out of a room and instead filling it with their personal opinions. They belittle anyone who poses questions or offers alternative suggestions. Over time they tear down relationships and wreak havoc where they live and work. When things go wrong they moan and groan and blame everyone but themselves.
There were honest souls who came forward at Enron to warn of discrepancies that did not seem to support the company line. They were smugly ignored, ostracized,and often asked to leave. Instead of listening to everyone, the company followed the loudest and most obnoxious individuals gave them the power of lead positions. By ignoring warning signs of wrongdoing, the lies and deceptions ate away at the integrity of the company and its shocking demise was as rapid as the fall of financial giants in the early two thousands would later be.
On a personal level we have all witnessed individuals who are all too quick to assert their wills over the people around them. They haughtily argue that they are the gifted possessors of all of the answers that we need. Because nobody has a chance of contradicting them, they take center stage while everyone else sits quietly pretending to comply with them. They create a fantasy world for themselves that may look good on the surface but is little more than a cardboard facade.
The real heroes of the world possess a quiet humility and a willingness to analyze a situation and seek answers for discrepancies that they find. My grandson, William, is one of those people. He sits quietly through an uproarious discussion only to speak once he has honestly assessed all of the ideas. More often than not his methodology leads to pearls of wisdom if not perfect answers. We would all do well to adopt his style.
Perhaps we need to be reminded that many of the world’s greatest leaders were humble men and women who understood that great leadership comes from a willingness to hear all voices and only then make decisions based on the general good. This is true of friendships, families, organizations, businesses, and governments. Dictators generally end up only doing what is best for them. Their agenda is to keep power and nothing else. The wise person always understands what others need and strives to honor everyone by actually listening to and hearing them.
We have so many upheavals in the world today that are making us feel uncertain and even at times misunderstood. They are found in the halls of our government and those around the globe. The art of working together seems to be rather unpopular right now even in personal relationships. We are dominated by those who think they know it all while ignoring those who have important things to say. We pretend that all is well when we know that much is very unhealthy. We have generally been as fooled as the world was about Enron and we envision a collapse of things that we hold dear.
What has to happen is a resurgence of integrity and humility in all facets of our lives. Our healing demands respectful and honest communication rather than loud performances designed to hide the truths of our situations. We can change for the better but we will have to demonstrate a willingness to turn down the volume of the domineering fakers and work together in a spirit of compromise and good will.
The best friendships are based on mutual trust. The best families sacrifice in a spirit of honesty and love. The best businesses honor everyone’s contribution. The best government bring the citizens together. Perhaps if the Chinese calendar is right in predicting peace and hope in 2023 we may be on the verge of saving our most sacred institutions just by giving everyone a voice. It seems that the smartest guys in the room are not the loudest, but instead the ones who quietly and humbly speak the truth.