Some people used to think that culture at work was the snacks or the foosball tables. That’s only a tiny part of a culture. We’ve seen over the pandemic that real culture is what we can discuss, how we treat each other, and what we reward. (That’s my interpretation of Edgar Schein’s work.) That means we see culture in our actions and discussions. Even more important, we see culture when we choose to react.
That means every single person in any group chooses when to create and reinforce a specific culture.
Yes, each of us has the possibility and maybe the responsibility to create and reinforce the culture we want.
The Will Smith slap and our media’s reaction to it was quite telling for our current culture.
I have never thought physical confrontation works for a workplace dispute. That’s part of how we treat each other. That slap was Smith’s reaction to a bad (IMO) joke. Why comment on another person’s appearance, especially if they can’t control that appearance? (What we choose to discuss.)
In my opinion, we have two “bad” actors. Rock chose something unreasonable to discuss, and Smith chose to respond with physical abuse.
But, why did no one in the audience choose to confront Rock or Smith at the time? I suspect people felt uncomfortable assuming an authority they didn’t feel they had. The longer we delay our public reactions, the more the act reinforces a particular kind of culture.
That means it’s even more important to react when we notice a culture problem.
Culture is Infinite
We always have our immediate culture. And that culture exists with the larger culture. You might think of this as turtles all the way down, that infinite regression of turtles/culture.
That’s why I wonder about our media’s fascination with Smith’s punishment and how Rock feels—over the war in Ukraine. I’m sure it’s just me, but until the Academy does something to punish Smith, I’m not sure why we’re still talking about this.
We spend a lot less time discussing:
- What prompted an Applebee’s exec to explain they would pay people less. Yes, that guy lost his job, but I bet he was “just saying what other people thought.”
- Or the mass shootings that occur almost every day in the US.
- The good news that each network has.
When we choose to discuss just celebrity, we create and refine a celebrity-obsessed culture.
Imagine what our discussion might be now if someone there had chosen to act.
When Do You Choose to Act?
I suspect the “who’s in charge” question made celebrities reluctant to act. However, everyone can decide what they want to comment on. What if one person had booed Rock’s joke? Or booed Smith’s slap? What would we be discussing now?
That person’s courage.
When we use our courage to change the culture, other people can join us in how we create and refine the culture.
That courage can change the discussion, too. When one person has the courage to change the conversation (what we discuss), we can change how we treat each other and what we reward.
And when we don’t know the hierarchy or who’s in charge, we have more difficulty finding the courage to take that first small step.
That’s the question this week: What kind of a culture do you want to create and reinforce?