The Problem with People

I was having a conversation with someone I value. We were discussing an issue in his business regarding someone who had been creative and productive in the past but had since stopped creating value. My friend told me about all the things his company did to try to get the person back on track, including changing processes and systems specifically to help just this one person. (My friend is the type of person who will naturally go farther to carry someone than he probably should.)

When my friend asked me what I thought, I told him what he already knew was true about himself as a leader and that if he couldn’t find and fix the problem, the problem was the person. His company was being considered for a buyout, and as we talked, he realized if someone from the outside looked at what they had done (and were doing), they would instantly see the problem.

Then the other day, I read an interesting article about how the media treats white people who are drug users differently than it treats people of color who are drug users. The author said, “The media treats white drug users like angels who lost their wings and treats black drug users like demons who must be returned to hell.” Sadly, there is truth in that.

It is also true that many people see addiction not as a disease but as a volitional choice. Hence the question, “Why don’t they just stop?” The war on drugs tends to focus on severely punishing people who are caught, without much attention paid to why they are making the choice to use.

That brings me to this:

People are the problem. We can’t fix the problem, because we are the problem.

I know, that’s a pretty depressing thought, so I won’t end there. In fact, the next part is exciting.

People are the problem, but people are also the point. Systems don’t matter; processes don’t matter; machines, products, and profits don’t matter. People matter. This will necessarily mean different things in different communities.

In the larger community of a nation, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to address the needs of individuals, primarily because there are so many different circumstances and levels of problems. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. But we must acknowledge that a federal solution won’t work for a local problem, and most problems are local because people are local.

At the other end of the spectrum are the communities we call families. Here we have the most chance of giving each person the opportunity to flourish. We know the most about each person, we have hands-on influence each day, and we are potentially in a position to know whether the person is ready for a particular type of growth.

Somewhere in the middle is the community we call Kimray. This community holds a very important position in our system of human interaction. Not only do we provide gainful employment so individuals can support themselves and their families, but we also provide products and services to industries that sustain our currently chosen way of life. However, perhaps our most critical role is in strengthening families (where the most effective growth occurs) and influencing the larger culture so it provides the greatest opportunity for individuals to manage themselves.

One of the interesting things about the Kimray community that differs from the family or the nation is that we are a mutually selective community. You can’t really pick your family, although you don’t have to acknowledge them (and many don’t). Likewise, it is hard to disassociate with the nation. In contrast, we choose one another at Kimray. You must be invited to join the company, and you have to accept the invitation. Both the invite and the acceptance carry a shared commitment and responsibility.

As a member of the Kimray community, I commit to support our mission and core values. I am responsible to manage myself and my behavior in ways that create value for our shared goals. I am not required to have a specific set of personal beliefs or a particular faith, and I am not required to look a certain way. However, I might be required to give up some amount of my personal freedom and expression for the good of the larger community.

In return, the community commits to support me, encourage me, help me grow, and provide a safe place for me to work. The leadership of this community also commits to keep the needs of the community in sight as they navigate the very difficult waters of individual needs. Sometimes this means giving a member of the community a chance to change, and sometimes it means letting someone move on. We must be careful not to be federal in our approach, because one size does not fit all. Yet, we cannot be as individual and flexible as a family.

This is hard work. Systems are easy. Machines can be diagnosed, repaired, or replaced. Processes can be updated.

People need to be lived with, loved, cared for, and nurtured.

Kimray is, and should be, a place where these things are commonplace. All of us are like the addict. We are broken, and that brokenness often limits our choices. If we are not willing to grow and change, Kimray might not be the community for us. However, when we are at a place where we can sincerely say we want something better, the Kimray community will be there to help us achieve that.

That’s The Kimray Way.