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)
Email HSCT:

Santa’s Accountability Problem

Trust during the holiday season is freely given. It must be something about the charitable feeling and spirit around the  month between the day after Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas.

Whatever the psychological, theological or emotional motive this feeling of trust  springs from, the public is sure to hear stories in the news about organizations (the Salvation Army), corporations (any retail giant) and governments (yes, I’m looking at YOU abusing this trust for nefarious means.

It kind of puts in perspective what was said here and here this week; but bear our indulgence on this point for just a moment:

Trust requires that the giver and the receiver engage in a dance of vulnerability and responsibility.

The giver must be willing to put down cynicism and suspicion and the receiver must be accountable and responsible.

The charities and organizations that are doing best—both now and in previous holiday seasons—are those that focus on the intersection between quality, accountability, transparency and relationship.

When trust happens between the giver and the receiver, a relationship is built up over time that neutralizes deceit, suspicion, obfuscation and irresponsibility.

And that’s a process that’s even more scalable than the industrial based processes that got us to where we are now.

Remember, it took us 100 years to get to this point…it will take at least that long to get us back to sanity.

Are you, and what you are building, up to the challenge?

-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: