Out of the Shadows

Zito’s Deli was packed at lunch and Zach and I pretty much hoovered our sandwiches as we spoke. It had been a while since we had the chance to really catch up and have the great conversations we always have. Zach is one of those guys who, in spite of the all too infrequent times we have together, is truly one of my best friends. He is exactly the kind of friend I had in mind when I wrote my previous posts on my circle getting smaller and the rhythms of relationships. We don’t have to see each other every day, every week, or even every month to know our friendship is intact.

One of the things I love about Zach is that from the moment our friendship started, he exhibited a desire to be forthright and honorable. When he tells me something — good or bad, easy or hard — I know there’s not a trace of bullshit to be found anywhere.DSC_5662.jpg

The other thing to know about Zach is his commitment to recovery. He’s battled a host of demons and he’s seen me battle my own. We’ve been through the hard path of getting over both the hurts we’ve experienced and the hurts we’ve inflicted on others. That’s why I love what we talked about today.

If you’re not familiar with nor have ever been through a twelve-step program of recovery, it’s important to understand that several of the steps involve taking a good hard look in the mirror and coming to grips with the ways you may have done damage to another. Once you’ve done that work, then you have to contact those you hurt and make amends. Not an easy thing to do and a big part of why so many never make it through the process. It’s hard enough to admit where you may have hurt someone else, but then to have to face them and do what you can to make it right? This is where a lot of people check out.

Our conversation turned to my last blog post, “Why my circle is getting smaller.” In it, I touched on the idea that just as we can have relationships with people, we can also have relationships with organizations. And “just as relationships with people can be flawed and dysfunctional, so can relationships with organizations.” This led us to wonder if recovery is something an organization can and should consider going through just like an individual. If that’s true, what would it look like for an organization to make amends with those they’ve harmed?

Not long ago I finally had the chance to watch Spotlight. The film dramatizes the true story of an investigation by a team of journalists from The Boston Globe into cases of child sex abuse in the Boston area by Roman Catholic priests. What was discovered in Boston was eventually brought out of the shadows in cities all over the world, including my hometown of San Antonio.

Most of the faithful had no clue what was going on. I didn’t. I grew up Catholic, went to Catholic schools, served as an altar boy, and had no idea any of this was going on. I, along with the majority of people, was one of the fortunate ones who was spared becoming a victim. For the most part, I look fondly on my upbringing. But, as we now know, just because most of us were doing fine doesn’t mean nothing was wrong.

This is an extreme case of an organization doing damage to individuals and rather than dealing with the wounds they inflicted on people, they chose to ignore it and try to make it go away. The problem is it didn’t go away. It just kept going and spreading and doing more damage. How does this happen? Why does it happen?

What about less extreme instances of harm? What happens when it’s not “newsworthy,” but is nonetheless very real?

When I went through recovery, the twelve steps I learned — which are pretty much the same in other programs — were these:

1. We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.

8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.

Organizations are as much living, breathing entities as any individual person is. They are, after all, made up of people, each of whom bring their own hurts and worst ways to bear on the daily life of the organization. If an individual can be dysfunctional, why not an organization? I mean, just look at the state of our national government and tell me it’s not dysfunctional. Imagine what it would look like for the branches of our government to make amends with its citizens.

If an organization can be dysfunctional, is it possible that it can wound and cause damage to people? What would it look like if there were recovery programs for organizations? What would it look like for an organization to work through the twelve steps? What would it look like for an organization to work through those steps? What would it look like for an organization to make “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of itself? To admit to God, to itself, and to another human being the exact nature of its wrongs” and to make “direct amends to such people whenever possible?” 

As Zach and I finished lunch, we agreed that the likelihood of such a thing happening was practically non-existent. Organizations are much too consumed with their daily business to get bogged down in inventories and making amends.

We did the standard bro hug, expressed our love for each other, and committed to a next time at some non-specific point in the near future, which is just how we like it because it’s the current of our relationship.

Still, as we walked away from each other, I couldn’t help wonder.

What if…?

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