One of my favorite games is Jenga. You know the game? You stack blocks and carefully remove them without knocking down the growingly cumbersome and wobbly tower until, alas, the blocks are scattered and a winner is crowned. Jenga is fun with blocks, not with piles of kitchen trash. I hate taking out the trash. Someone has always stacked juice boxes, cans, and bottles in a well enginered stack that I simply cannot maneuver. This is especially true on rainy days and in the middle of the night when the prospect of walking outside to dump the smelly remainants of last nights’ pasta bake and fish filet is about as pleasant as eating it. I am usually the unsuspecting victim who chose to volunteer to take the bathroom trash downstairs, or empty the vacum cleaner. In my unwavering kindess to my family, I am often known to pick up those mystery pieces of paper that always finds their way to my kitchen floor. Many times, this ritual is done after a long battle with the dishwasher, homework, and tupperware containers with lids missing in action since the Bush administration. The sinks are wiped shiny clean, the hum of the dishwasher sings in the background and the lights are extinguished for another evening of clean, relaxful slumber. Oh, so I think! Next time, I’ll pretend I don’t see the extra trash.
How many times have you stopped to do something so simple and found yourself facing a monster? Unintended consequences haunt our good itentions. In this case, my intention to clean a “little” has resulted in me cleaning “a lot”. This isn’t simply relegated to the terrible and almost nonsensical analogy of trash can theory. People have debated unintended consequences for years. Gun control is a hot topic. “Gun free zones are safe because there’s no guns allowed.” Sounds simple. Except for the crazy guy who could care less about an ordinance outlawing guns in the local shopping mall. Laws that force small businesses to incur certain costs beyond 50 employees tend to hover around an employee base of 49; not helping the unemployment situation. In many of these cases, the intention was well meaning. Making malls safer and asking employers to provide health insurance are noble goals.
Success is typically not measured by intention, rather than by result. Even more challenging, the result may be two-fold. The expected positive outcome (ie, more people with jobs who have health care) and the unintented consequence (less people with jobs, thus less people overall with healthcare). We must live in reality to achieve real and sustainable success in what we do. You are working hard to build your dream. You work extra hours for that promotion. Missing a few soccer practices, maybe a wedding or a ballet recital? In the end, you may get that promotion. What has it cost you? Time with your kids? Divorce?
Big issues like gun control and trash can theory teach us to think through the course of our actions. You will be measured on the totality of your results. No one will care what your intentions were if there is trash all over the kitchen. What have you done that resulted in a ridiculous unintended consequence?
Rocco De Leo