You may have seen the video of former CIA officer, Amaryllis Fox sharing her biggest lesson from being undercover. “Everybody believes they are the good guy,” she says as she describes the current conversation about ISIS in the United States as the most oversimplified it’s ever been. She goes on to articulate how Americans most often view the motivations of Al-Qaeda or ISIS as, “they hate us because we are free,” and how people in Iraq or Syria most often view America’s motivation as, “they are waging war on Islam.” In both cases, each party clearly sees themselves as “the good guys.”
It is a challenging message given the brutal things we’ve seen people do in the name of Al-Qaeda or ISIS. It is extremely hard to see a different perspective when so many have been harmed so deeply.
Yet, the message of this video applies just as well to our day-to-day lives and interactions with others, even though the consequences are not as severe. As I reflect on the stories I share when my husband asks “How was your day?” it strikes me that I am often the hero of my story. I’m the “good guy,” the one who had the good idea, or landed the difficult task, or had the needed conversation. Frequently, my story involves the obstacles put in place by others that I had to overcome. Would I recognize myself in the version of the same story told by those I’ve interacted with? By those who placed the obstacles? I have to wonder.
I also see this “good guy” concept show up when we are partnering with organizations in the work of Values Based Leadership. In our conversations, we use stories of interactions from our own work lives to illustrate concepts of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, or feedback.
For example, one of my colleagues often shares a story of an interaction where her need for efficiency was conflicting with a co-workers need for collaboration, and the feedback conversation that resulted from their conflict. Almost without fail, those listening to the story relate to my colleague as “the good guy” in the story, and the co-worker as the obstacle to getting the work done. They tend to see it first as a clear cut right vs wrong scenario. The funny thing is, when the story is told from the perspective of the collaborative co-worker, the listeners see her as “the good guy.” My efficient colleague becomes the heartless task-master. Same story, different perspective.
What new possibilities might be opened up – in our work lives, our home lives, and our nation – if we could simply remember that “everybody believes they are the good guy.”