the overreaction theory

For years I’ve found myself observing overreactions. As a career Human Resources professional, it goes something like this…

When a person leaves a place of employment (regardless of reason), what that person was perceived to be most lacking is what becomes over-emphasized in the one who replaces him or her.

For example, I saw an institution once who’s president unfortunately found himself caught in a rather ugly moral failure. Upon his voluntary resignation, a “family man” was named his replacement.

I saw another instance in which the head of the organization was believed to have been too controlling — too much power and authority all wrapped up in a singular individual. The response? After leaving, the organization decided not to hire a new person. They instead flattened the top of the organizational hierarchy, making multiple persons co-leaders.

The scenario is not limited to corporate new hires. Note the last four presidential elections…

One aspect that unfortunately marked Pres. Bill Clinton’s tenure was his infidelity. His replacement? Another so-called “family man.”

Pres. George W. Bush was always so colloquial; his rhetoric was perceived as quite simple and unpolished. Who succeeded him? A candidate whose words were often eloquent and awe-inspiring.

Pres. Barack Obama then was perceived as fairly politically correct. Suffice it to say that his successor is nothing of the sort.

None of the above examples are meant as criticism — merely observation. And the reality is that overreactions aren’t necessarily bad. It’s simply that the overreaction over-emphasizes singular aspects, thereby often creating a new set of challenges. This happens in employment, elections, and in culture itself.

As we watch current culture, it gives me great hope that we are willing to look at systems and and individual ideals in which we have not adhered to our declared national conviction that all men/women/children are created equal… that each of us are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. 

Note each aspect of that — men/women/children — equal — our Creator — inalienable rights — each is significant.

But where will we overreact? 

(This is key…)

When we overreact, which of the above aspects will we omit because we are so focused on what was originally most lacking?

Think with me, friends. What’s an overreaction?

… defunding the police?

… acting as if no good came from the 4th of July?

… casting one political party, ethnicity, or other as wholly good and its other as entirely evil?

I’ll be honest. I often judge others a little harder than I judge myself. I know… “But AR, I’m my own worst critic.” Yeah, I hear you. And for those of us who like to claim such, my sense is it’s only true to a point. 

The reality is that we typically judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions — in other words, we judge others on the limited picture of what we actually see. For self, we invoke more of a sliding scale.

Relevant to this post, I’d like to think that I never overreact. My reactions are fully justifiable.

My guess is for none of us is that always true.