One of the mistaken “blink-of-an-eye” decisions we can easily make in a time of change is called value judgments. When people and things do not behave in the way we want them to we can all too easily judge them as being ‘bad’, ‘stupid’, ‘irrelevant’, or ‘wrong’.
But a story from ancient China illustrates how qualities and behaviours considered ‘bad’ in one situation can become ‘good’ in another:
“A city came under siege from a superior army. For many months the people suffered until one day a notorious thief, locked up in jail, offered to help. At first the people rejected him. After all, he was such a bad person. But after a while they listened to his plan and decided to offer him a chance.
That night, using his skills, the thief crept unseen into the enemy’s camp and left a dagger in the sleeping general’s tent. The next morning the enemy general was astonished and afraid to find the dagger there. He told his men to double the guard.
On the second night the thief again crept in between the enemy soldiers and left another dagger, this time on the sleeping general’s pillow.
The next morning the enemy general gathered his troops and left, because he knew that on the third night the dagger would be left in him.”
When situations change, behaviour that was once considered ‘bad’ can become ‘good’, and vice versa. In a time of change, both sets of value judgments become unreliable.
We all have a mix of strengths and weaknesses. We can all make a contribution in some areas and are best avoiding others. When we lump together who a person is with what they did and label the entire person as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ then we are making a value judgment. In times of change this can only reduce our ability to get the results we want.
Judgments also come pre-packed into much of our everyday language. When we use words like ‘strength’, ‘weakness’, ‘opportunity’, or ‘threat’, for example, we are pre-judging what the situation represents to us and closing down our range of options for responding.
Judgments are assumptions based on the way the world used to work. In a time of change, making these assumptions increases our risk. Learning to spot our value judgments and see beyond them makes us more likely to achieve the results we want.
Adapted from Inner Leadership.