When Do We Consider People Beyond Redemption?

You’ve seen leaders contribute as professionals. They excel and create a cohort that grows beyond anyone’s expectations. They become famous.

Then, you notice personal behavior that makes you nervous. They might:

  • Drink too much at public events.
  • Make jokes about sexuality, origin, or some other personal aspect.
  • Attempt (or do) use their position to attract people sexually.

Professionally, they lead. Personally? You feel icky about them. Maybe they offend you with their behavior.

What do you do? Do you still follow them and use their professional ideas?

Or, do you think they are beyond redemption? You might use their ideas, but you don’t follow them. You don’t read their books, watch their videos, or otherwise be a part of their “circle.”

Can we separate their work ideas from their “personal” activities?

We all see this—it doesn’t matter where you work or what you do. We each choose to act according to our internal guides.

I see this as a continuum of choices. On one extreme, we can choose to ignore their bad behavior. Somewhere in the middle, we might offer feedback and still use their work professionally. On the other extreme, we stop using all their work, boycott their events, and tell other people how these leaders don’t deserve to lead.

Let’s start with ignoring.

Ignore Personal Bad Behavior

I’ve certainly ignored bad behavior—especially when the behavior appeared to be mostly internal. If you participated in conferences before the lockdown, you might well have seen people have a little too much to drink. If you only saw them once, you probably didn’t think it was a big deal.

I often ignore this “personal” bad behavior.

Should a keynote speaker get drunk at a conference?

I don’t see how that helps their reputation, but if they don’t hurt anyone else, I tend to ignore their behavior.

When do I draw the line? When their actions hurt other people.

Offer Feedback When Actions Hurt Others

Even though I can’t tell jokes, I like them. I particularly like puns.

And, I hate so-called jokes that make fun of people or aspects of people. I guess the only joke I like that denigrates people is the lightbulb joke about software people:

How many software people does it take to change a lightbulb?

None, it’s a hardware problem.

That joke takes the “it worked on my machine” or “it’s not my job” idea and pokes fun at the entire industry.

Poking fun at an industry? Sure. Poking “fun” at genders, backgrounds, even hair color? No. That’s not funny to me.

If I have a chance, I’ll offer feedback. If the joker doesn’t take the feedback, I move closer to ignoring them altogether.

Ignore the Person and Their Contributions

What’s the worst thing you can do to someone who treasures their leadership position? Ignore them.

I’ve happily ignored several so-called contributors in the software and agile areas, because I find their non-professional behavior offensive. As far as I can tell, they haven’t physically harmed anyone. However, their behavior poisoned their ideas for me.

Which leads me to the very few times I have boycotted and asked others to boycott so-called leaders.

Boycott the Offender

I want a free and open exchange of ideas with people who hold ideas that differ from mine. And, I don’t want to see those people use their “leadership” as a way to use other people in any way. Especially sexually.

When I’ve seen that—or experienced it—I have reported that so-called leader. I’ve boycotted that person. I’ve explained I won’t “share” the stage.

That’s the most extreme position—and I don’t take it lightly.

For example, Harvey Weinstein deserves everything he got—and probably, more. However, I don’t work in Hollywood.

I’ve seen my supposed peers act in ways that made me cringe and worry about the safety of the women I saw in their sphere. (I’m sure men experience sexual predation—I haven’t noticed it.)

And, what if the person says they’ve changed? When do we owe them another chance? When are they beyond redemption?

I don’t know.

That’s why I ask this question: When do we consider people beyond redemption? Do you use a similar continuum or something different? I’d love to hear what you think.

2 thoughts on “When Do We Consider People Beyond Redemption?

  1. Marsha

    Johanna, the only setting on my moral compass that absolutely never wavers is this: I cannot, do not, and will not tolerate, endure, or support any person, no matter who it is, no matter the purported value of anything else they may have to offer to the community or the world, once I detect that they are perpetrating conscious cruelty toward anyone. I extend this intolerance to animal cruelty, too.

    Long ago, I realized that if I was going to be a decent human being, that meant that I had to be conscious of, and consistent in, my actions and beliefs regarding the way people treat one another.

    Conscious cruelty, where there is an intent to belittle, harm, injure or otherwise make somebody else’s life a misery, is something I truly believe is reprehensible, and the people who do it, by definition (mine, anyway) are beyond redemption.

    I don’t try to change their minds. I just put as much distance as I can between them and myself, and between them and anyone else I have a care for.

    1. Johanna Post author

      Marsha, yes, and. I have discovered some people don’t realize when they are being cruel. If I think they are cruel, that’s good enough for me. Even if they think they are not.

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