Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spreading Poison

Life Lesson: Make your own judgements of people and their character based on first-hand facts, observation, and understanding before you take to heart and pass on any negative, biased, and mean-spirited opinions of others. It's not fair to those being judged or to yourself for that matter. To be clear, I am not simply talking about the evil weed that is gossip. I am referring to something more sinister. I am talking about the ill-informed judgements of some individuals based on their experiences with others. These "first-hand" accounts can be given a significant amount of credence and can then serve as an infectious and deadly poison if not handled properly.

Countless times during my undergraduate and graduate school days, I heard people say intensely negative things about various professors. "He's a jerk", "He doesn't know anything", "He's a tyrant". I can tell you that several of the "worst" of these professors turned out to be the best instructors that I ever had. They had passion and energy for their mission and their work. They reached out to students far beyond any normative criteria. They truely gave of themselves. However, their reputations suffered because they demanded accountability, consistent effort, and standards. If I had listened to the opinions of others and avoided these professors, in affect letting the poison do its baleful task, I would have been denied some wonderful and unique opportunities that I cherish to this day.

Several years ago, a respected senior colleague of mine at work used to rail against another more junior colleague at every opportunity. Apparently these two had some disagreement a decade earlier. However, instead of letting this go and rising above the past situation, animosity remained and the junior colleague was portrayed as an incompetent fool. I have found
out quite the contrary to be true. However, if I had let the negative portrait impact how I interacted with this colleague, I would certainly have missed out on a dedicated and bright worker who has helped me considerably in my own work.

Usually you don't have to go too far to hear folks talking badly about others. Heck, if truth be told, just hang around me for an afternoon. But we must be careful about letting loose, hurtful, and disparaging words regarding others escape from our lips. We must be mindful both of what we think and what we say.