Too often, people respond to a serious concern with a ritual that allows them to maintain the comfort of the status quo. That’s what Roger Bourke White Jr. calls a “goat sacrifice”— it’s a tradeoff that doesn’t do what it is intended to do: solve the problem. These sacrifices make people and communities feel less guilty and fearful, but do nothing to end the serious problems. Examples of modern goat sacrificing include searching all air passengers so we’ll feel safe, striving to protect our children so much they can’t play outside, and criminalizing large segments of the population for drug-related activities so we feel like we’re fighting drug abuse. These solutions cost huge amounts of money and attention, but they do nothing to solve problems. Even worse, they include unseen costs beyond the obvious goat that distracts us from finding true, lasting solutions. It’s important to study why goat sacrifices occur, how to identify when we’re wasting money, so we can instead spend those dollars well. We can do all of those things by getting smart about good intentions and recognizing Goat Sacrificing in the 21st Century.
Getting the context wrong
One of the most common sources of blind-spot thinking is not understanding the context – the circumstances – within which an action is taking place.
Here is an example from a comedy movie: A man is walking from his cell on death row to face a firing squad. He lights up a cigarette. Someone watching says, “Hey! You shouldn’t do that. You will get cancer.” Will he get cancer? No. His circumstances will not permit it. Did the person making the comment think of that? No. That person was engaged in blind-spot thinking; he or she was applying their own circumstance to that of the condemned man.
An experience close to home and experienced by many people involves parking a car. The following experience happened to me as I was writing this book.
I headed for a bi-weekly get-together that I had been attending for about a year at a coffee house. Two doors down from the entrance had been a vacant building with a parking lot. I would park there. It was convenient. In the year that I had been using that lot (with a 20 car capacity), it typically had from two to four cars in it on the evenings I attended the get-together.
Well, congratulations to the owner. He got it rented.
The blind-spot thinking incident came about when the new tenant started moving in and started treating the parking lot as “his parking lot” and riffraff were not invited. He shooed me out when I arrived and put up a chain across the lot entrance.
This is a case of dueling blind-spot thinking:
• The blind-spot thinking of the tenant manager is thinking that those parking spots are his parking spots and only his customers should use them.
• My blind-spot thinking is that of being a customer - I don’t care which shop I go into after I park; I just look for a convenient empty space. This guy is cutting me off from convenient parking.
This is the difference between a communal viewpoint of parking versus an ownership viewpoint. It’s a really good example of how circumstance alters how we think about an activity.
The other fascinating part is how huffy both sides get on an issue like this. Even though my business side is happy to see a new business on the block, my customer side knows that this tenant guy is 100% jerk (I’m sure he feels the same way about me), and that’s the side that is controlling my feelings about this situation. I am not recommending his business! Note that this particular clash-of-circumstances issue is the basis for the truism “The customer is always right.”
Roger Bourke White Jr. is a careful observer of life and people, and he’s done so from many interesting perspectives. He was a soldier in Vietnam in the 1960s, a college student at MIT in the 1970s, a computer network pioneer in the 1980s, and a teacher in Korea in the 1990s.