Arbitrary Colors

Railroad engineers decided in the 1830’s that red meant “stop,” white meant “go” and that green meant “caution.”

Seeing Red

Now, the idea of red indicating danger goes backward in history, beyond the Roman Empire itself and no one is really sure whether natural or social evolution is the driver here.

So, it’s arbitrary. We could just as easily have decided that green meant danger.

Well, wait a minute:

  • When we are angry we talk about “seeing red.”
  • When we are talking about conflicts we sometimes use the term “blood on our hands.”
  • When we talk about war, the banners of war tend to be the color red.

Even our blood is red.

Humanity has embraced the color red in an arbitrary manner that is indicative of how we embrace conflict. It is no coincidence that our language around conflict is colored red.

Marketing is the most arbitrary practice in any organization, though the outcomes can be objectively measured through analytics and metrics.

Just as the metrics of stoplights and “go” lights can be measured in the reduction of traffic accidents at a particular intersection.

Conflict communication management—and it’s unmentioned cousin, reconciliation—is considered equally arbitrary, but the outcomes of training, workshops, interventions, discussions and feedback, can be objectively measured through sophisticated analytics and metrics.

But, too many organizations would still rather arbitrarily pick a color for a stop light at the intersection of their workplace conflicts, rather than purposefully pick a series of solutions based on measurable, agreeable outcomes.

The hard work in an organization is not picking a stop light color. The hard work is agreeing that there should be a color for the light at the intersection in the first place.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
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