The danger of detachment

Events in the world have been more frustrating than usual for a while. I hadn’t managed to put a finger on what’s different, until recently. Some people would say “it’s the left“. Others will claim “it’s the right“. While the reality is a mix of both, that’s not what I’m referring to. Some would suggest that “it seems worse than it used to be” and that most of that is because we’re far more aware of things than we were in the past. Of course, this comes thanks to changes in how news is distributed – and how quickly. Also true. However, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to something that crosses over – affecting politics, business and much more. It’s detachment.

What’s a “frustrating” event? I’m talking about recurring, widespread activities that you might find aggravating, disgusting, dishonest, unethical (the usual “winner”), etc. As I dig deeper, I’ve become convinced that detachment is at the root of a lot of problems. 

What about detachment is a problem?

Detachment acts as insulation. It creates distance between people. It’s particularly good at creating distance between groups. By distance, I mean  a weaker relationship or no relationship at all. Less understanding. Less intimacy – not romance-wise, but a lower level of comfort.

Think about a flood on the other side of the world in a country you’ve never visited. Many people probably lost their homes and everything they own. While it’s a shame and you feel bad for them when you see the video of what’s going on, the reality is that it doesn’t affect you all that much. Most people will move on. Life’s chasing them around. Right here, right now.

When the distance shrinks

The situation changes when the affected people are family, friends or co-workers.

Imagine that flooded home belongs to one of your employees or a family member. Your perspective changes. Now it isn’t about people you’ll never know in a place you’ll may never be. You know them, their kids and you’re a part of each other’s lives. You aren’t detached because you have a relationship with that person and possibly their family. Moving on will take a while. Perhaps a long while, even if they work at your Houston office rather than south of Bangalore.

That’s how detachment insulates us. 

Insulation equals distance

When you know the people involved, your detachment may not be eliminated, but it’s reduced significantly because the situation affects people you know and/or work with. 

To get right down to it, detachment (like distance) gives us “permission” not to care as much, or at all. Not everyone uses that permission, but many do. In some cases, it gives people permission to care so little that the other person / group can eventually be positioned as our enemy. 

Even if we work for the same company. Sometimes,  even though we’re part of the same family. 

Again: The insulation of detachment gives us permission to care less, or not care at all, even about family members or co-workers. 

This detachment is especially dangerous when you have remote employees because it can work both ways. The distance can help them become detached from you and while you simultaneously become detached from them. 

It can kill a company’s culture, particularly one with remote workers or multiple locations. 

Detachment dehumanizes

The worst feature of detachment is that it dehumanizes the people we work with and the customers we serve. 

Ever heard anyone talk in dehumanizing terms about an opponent, a competitor, or someone with different political differences? Sure you have. “Animal” is a common term you’ll hear, but there are numerous terms that can do the trick. All you have to do is pick a word that you’d (hopefully) never call them to their face if they were a family member, customer or co-worker. These terms let us position other people and other groups as if they’re something to be discarded like trash.

That’s what dehumanizing them allows.

Detachment induced dehumanization can have effects that are much worse. We see it every day, but may not recognize it for what it is. 

Exterminate it.

I’ve seen so much of it, even in business, that I am convinced that it’s essential to exterminate it. Take aggressive steps to identify and destroy it. It’s that dangerous to your business.