Hubris, Anomie, and the Lack of Swim Lanes

I once had a boss whose favorite analogy for chaos in an organization was that of a swimming pool with no swim lanes, an environment in which anyone is free to swim anywhere desired or allowed with no consideration to order or to the other. Emile Durkheim in the early-twentieth century popularized the concept of anomie, a condition or society in which social (external) restraints, norms, expectations, or limits have been subjugated to the primacy of the individual. It comes from the Greek – “no laws.” It reflects a culture lacking in external restraints that once internalized are useful in limiting excessive verbiage and actions. Hubris is indicative of an excessive pride, arrogance, or assurance of being the only true and reliable font (source) of wisdom and knowledge. It is characterized by a mocking or dismissal of anyone who is foolish, ignorant, uneducated, or simple enough to disagree. It is often characterized in Johari terms by a rather large blind spot; a failure to see the hubris in one’s own actions or words or the anomie that is often the result.

In my career I worked in churches, institutions of higher education, K-12 school districts, and for profit corporations. On occasion and in each, I have seen hubris, anomie, and a lack of swim lanes in both the organization and its leadership. Without exception the result has been at best less than optimal functioning and at worst chaos. In an organization characterized by hubris, anomie and a lack of swim lanes there are also massive blind spots, causing the ones creating the dysfunction to look external to the organization or self for the fault or the blame. Organizations or individuals, in which there is a narrow orthodoxy of allowed perspectives are especially susceptible to these dysfunctions.

It appears to me that we are now facing something similar on a much more global scale in our communal and social interactions. Political leaders of all parties on local and national levels are characterized by hubris. Those engaged in social networking with its lack of swim lanes may exhibit this hubris; an arrogance that would not typify them in direct dialogical discourse. Anyone who disagrees is demonized with a direct disregard for the validity of their position. As a society the United States is becoming more anomic. External and social controls are losing way to anger, resistance, and yes, violence perpetrated more and more on an individual basis without regard for the other. Dialogue is dead. The proverbial put-down has become the toxic take-down. The opportunity to learn, stretch, grow, and change is lost. In our hubris, anomie, lack of swim lanes, and our blind spots we post without boundaries, we share without sourcing, we mock without consideration of the other, and are losing the social and civil fabric of our country. We dig into the apple barrel of our experience, beliefs, and biases, and pull out the apple we identify as the fact, the truth; the only apple in the barrel worth munching on. Please remember the wisdom of George Bernard Shaw – “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange those apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” Wouldn’t that be better?