The Responsible Middle 

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Several years ago, we started hearing the term “dumpster fire” to describe a situation that is out-of- control. It’s a good thing we have the phrase today because every source of new information, true or not – important or trivial – makes full use of the handy description. From national and international politics to neighborhood conversations “dumpster fire” is a label we think we understand. Keep in mind that what I think is a dumpster fire may not be something you believe is a dumpster fire, whether there’s an actual dumpster involved or not. Some people exaggerate and think everything is a ‘dumpster fire’. 

Let’s look at the responsible reality of it. Who’s the one ultimately responsible enough to put the fires out? Divide the earth’s population into three groups, Top – Middle – Bottom. Of the three groups, which one will, in the end, truly take care of whatever it is that needs attention, not as a planner, but as a doer? The one in the middle, right? These are the workers, the ones you can count on. Every single time. 

Got a war to fight? Look at the population for the best to serve in the battles. The middle is where you look. A foxhole is a good place to discover who will watch your back while you are watching theirs. Someone who will take a bullet for you before they would leave you alone. “I’ve got your back” can apply in almost any situation, including putting out dumpster fires. 

If you’re the least bit pessimistic you might think the whole country is a dumpster fire. Maybe you’re just watching too much television or reading way more than you should on the internet. Or, just perhaps, the information is at least somewhat accurate. The problem is not the news it is the frequency of times people who will never in their lives be the first person available to actually put the fires out that are sounding the alarms. They don’t live on our streets, where the middle folks live, the ones who actually do the hard work. But, they think they can solve problems by telling us there is a problem and that we (the middle) need to fix it, while they take credit but never the blame for the end result. Leaders need to let the workers work – assign the task and get out of the way. But the workers also have a responsibility; not to be the leader, but to fulfill their responsibility to do the work. 

We know we need more of us, you and me, the people in the middle if things are ever going to get better by getting done. But we don’t want to be in that top, “I have all the answers and you don’t, smarty pants, can’t seem to get anything right, group”. No thanks, we’d rather not be hypocrites who tell people how things should be done then do the opposite ourselves. Doing the actual work requires a discipline those at the top don’t understand. Until you’ve raised a family with no money in your bank account, or hauled hay off the field racing ahead of a thunderstorm, or worked two jobs so you could pay the rent you will never ‘get it’, you won’t understand the middle. And no one will ever want you in their foxhole. Experience matters. 

To get things done, and done correctly, we in the middle must put our feet on the ground and go but only after we have the skills training needed to complete the task in a satisfactory manner. 

A Fine Line By Greg Henderson

Greg Henderson is the retired founder of the Southern Oregon Business Journal.

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

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