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Life As War

Another phenomenon parallel to The Lawn Mower Syndrome is the prevalence of war themes and analogies not just in business but in everyday life. One of the best examples from my business experience was when one of my long time clients, a major health care company, was being acquired by a larger rival. I was working for the head of R&D at the time, and he was fiercely proud of the quality and value of his unit. He had an equal measure of disdain for that of his counterpart.

Early in the discussions about integrating the two units, it became clear that the rival R&D organization would dominate in areas deemed “redundant”. In other words, wherever it appeared that both units were doing much the same thing, my client’s people would be eliminated and the rival’s people kept.

My client was extremely unhappy about this, and he called a meeting of the top three echelons of management below him. The meeting was a frenzy of bile and vinegar, with vows to “fight tooth and nail”, and “not give up to the last man standing”. A “nuclear option” was even offered, whereby my client might withhold information, but they stopped short of that. In short, what resulted was more or less a “declaration of war” with much virulent and violent rhetoric.

Afterward, I asked my client if all this was really necessary, and he replied, “It is a fight or die world out there, and this is no different”. I remember wondering to myself, “How did we go from a ‘dog eat dog’ world to ‘fight or die’?”

Ever since President Reagan declared “War on Drugs”, we have been surrounded by visions of violence in almost everything we do. When I was a teenager, I watched and heard about the struggle for equal rights. Then it became a fight. Now we routinely hear accusations of a “war on women” or a “war on minorities”. A senator who recently said something controversial was described in the news as “under attack” and “taking heavy fire” from opponents. Comments that were once considered “controversial” or “provocative” are now described as “outrageous” or “incendiary”.

I think part of this is a symptom of The Lawn Mower Effect. A cause or a movement that is only a “struggle” hardly seems worth bothering about these days, especially when there are wars out there. And if everything is now a “war”, how will future conflicts be differentiated? Will we eventually be hearing about the “women’s rights apocalypse”? Or a “civil rights Armageddon”?

But I think there is also something deeper here related to the prevalence of violence in society. From children’s cartoons in the 60’s and 70’s to video games today, everyone has been brought up surrounded with images of violence and mayhem as a matter of course. But all that violence carries no pain, no cost. I suspect a great many people know what it is like to struggle for something. But fighting? In a war? It is all too easy for someone who has never really experienced the consequences to take up the rhetoric of violence.

So I, for one, scrupulously avoid violence metaphors in both my business and personal lives. But maybe that is not enough. Perhaps we need a “War on Violence”.

© QuakerSmith Capital, LLC April 2017 All rights reserved

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