Responsibility + Helplessness -> Abuse

Another gem from Richard Farson’s Management of the Absurd. He talks about the difference between training and education. I don’t want to get too hung up on those particular words but I do like the distinction he draws between the approaches.

Training… leads to the development of skills and techniques. Each new technique implicitly reinvents the manager’s job by adding a new skill requirement a new definition of the task and a new responsibility… but because techniques don’t work well in human relations the manager is often unable to adequately discharge these new-felt responsbilities… when people feel responsible for handling some situation in which they are, in fact, largely helpless, a dangerous combination of feelings is created: responsibility plus helplessness leads to abuse.

I’m taking a breath here and revisiting that line: responsibility plus helplessness leads to abuse. Those six eloquent words on their own handsomely repay my investment in this book.

Farson continues

When teachers cannot get their students to learn… when parents cannot control their children, they usually do not become compassionate. They become abusive. The same is true for managers.

Saddled with responsbilities created by the growing body of management techniques, managers become frustrated and likely to resort to abusive methods to try and control the uncontrollable.

Training, says Farson, makes people more alike, because everyone learns the same skills.

Education, because it involves an examination of one’s personal experience in the light of an encounter with great ideas, tends to make people different from each other. So the first benefit of education is that the manager becomes unique, independent, the genuine article.

This is wonderful, insightful stuff that makes me feel more alive. I think his thought about helplessness and abuse is very powerful. I think a lot of the time people feel helpless but act in denial of it and yes, they then become abusive, of themselves and/or others. I know I find it challenging when feeling helpless not to lash out. Sometimes the most powerful thing to do, paradoxically, is to admit feeling helpless. Mind you, I’ve learnt to be prepared to deal with the abusive responses of others who can’t bear to be in the presence of such feelings.

I really like the point that the overwhelming barrage of techniques in the world of organisations paradoxically make things worse by increasing the potent mix of responsibility and helplessness. It’s rather like beauty magazines that make people feel ugly. And branding has done a lot to contribute to the generation of false ideals in a way that is also abusive.

One thought on “Responsibility + Helplessness -> Abuse

  1. The Nub

    Farson’s Management of the Absurd

    I’m glad Johnnie is enjoying Richard Farson’s Management of the Absurd. The delight he shares at the book’s gems remind me of when I first read it a couple

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