Good Behaviour

If I get good behaviour, I will be out of here by July

Paul Kelly, How to Make Gravy

It’s Gravy Day in Australia, 21 December, a name inspired by Paul Kelly’s song about one disrupted Christmas. With outbreaks & new lockdowns, new strains of the coronavirus, concerns people won’t choose to be vaccinated and more, the quote above feels very apt. We are dependant on good behaviour, but community mindsets seem threatened around us.

Public health responses are community responses. Communities come together to pursue a shared purpose of better health for all. These responses depend on individuals to take actions that might involve minor costs and inconvenience for wider good. These are the actions of socially beneficial good behaviour: wearing masks, keeping distance, isolating when exposed and vaccinating when possible. 2020 has thrown into stark relief the individualistic responses that have held back the effectiveness of these responses. We are still waiting for good behaviour from some.

At a time when our organisations have been atomised by remote work, the collaborative, collective and community will be a challenge in 2021. We can manage the individual but the good behaviour and engagement of the work community will be the challenge we face as long as the disruption of the pandemic continues. Work doesn’t happen in isolated units. Work happens when individuals, groups, teams and communities come together with the right behaviours to advance the collective and shared goals. Aligning, coordinating, sharing context and resources, solving problems are all going to be the work we need to do and the underpinning organisational culture of values and behaviours will be essential to success.

Focusing on good behaviour reminds us that rights bring responsibilities that reflect the needs and norms of the wider community. Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak, not necessarily the freedom from responsibility for one’s words. Freedom of association involves the group taking account of the health and safety of those with whom they gather. The freedom to make individual choices involves responsibility to take account of the implications of those actions for others and the wider community. We have seen recently that the freedom to vote depends on responsibilities that reside in the norms and practices of a democracy. The way we work depends on norms and practices in our organisations which are more dependant on good behaviour of the community than rules, policy and enforcement.

Much of what we do each day depends on more on community norms and good behaviour of others than the forces of hierarchy law and power. When bad behaviour is rampant, the forces of power are surprisingly ineffectual and often easily coopted. In the end, the wider community must often do the work of reigning in the excesses. In the end, the good behaviour of civil society benefits us all, even if it makes for incovenience at times.

So this Gravy Day, I am wishing we all get ‘good behaviour’ in our organisations and wider communities. See you in July.

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