Letting People Down

down or depressedThe president began the meeting with, “We can’t do any business because we don’t have a quorum.”

It has happened before.  A carefully constructed agenda and set of to-do’s was turned into just an interesting conversation.  The meeting ended with nothing getting done in spite of the fact that the organizational clock was ticking.

Those who didn’t attend had lots of reasons.  Worked spilled over into the meeting time.  School called to ask a parent to attend to a sick child.  Second thoughts about belonging to our group.  Too many commitments and not enough time.  All legitimate reasons.  But all shutting down the actions of the group.

This sounds harsh, but what’s a group to do that can’t fulfill its mission?  On the one hand there are issues of understanding and compassion.  After all, the child of the absentee was sick.

On the other hand, is it fair to ask a busy person to attend a meeting where nothing gets done?  Might the situation have changed if the absentees had realized that they have an obligation to a whole group of people?  Perhaps they might have called someone to say “I won’t be there.”  Or “Perhaps I should resign this post, because I can’t keep my commitments to the group.”

The sensitivity required to think those thoughts requires the plural pronouns we and our.  These are the only words that connect individuals to others — a skill in short supply in western culture.  We mostly use “I” and “mine.”

It would have been nice if the absentees had considered how their absence would affect the group.  Not that they could have changed their situation.  But they might have communicated with the group instead of just not showing up.

But if you don’t have plural pronouns you never think about such things.