At some point in our lives we each have felt surrounded by people who see the world incorrectly. Sometimes it’s the accountant who works for a management team that doesn’t understand numbers. Or it’s the artist who works for a marketing team that doesn’t understand font. Sometimes we feel so certain that we are right and they are wrong that we think we need to leave.
The key to getting along with other people is to keep your eye on what really matters and let the rest go. This is the attitude that conveys poise and self-confidence in work life. And this is the way you will learn to stop caring who is right and who is wrong.
I learned this lesson early because my three brothers and my mother are colorblind. My mom and brothers see color, but they don’t see it how the rest of the world sees it. If you say, “What color is this?” and point to something, sometimes they’ll get it right and sometimes they won’t. I could say, “It’s blue, not green.” But they don’t care. Sometimes they just shrug. Or say, “Well, maybe to you, but not to us.”
There’s not much I can do when they are the majority. So I became philosophical about who is right. I realized that in most cases it doesn’t matter that I’m right and they’re wrong. So we called the family car purple, even though I knew it wasn’t.
But sometimes capitulating is not an option – for example if someone is breaking the law, or if someone is making you truly unable to do your job. But usually, in the case of ignorance, there is a way to compromise.
Once I was driving with my brother and discovered that none of my colorblind family members can see the green light. They depend on seeing if the red or yellow light is on.
I had a fit.
He said that it didn’t matter. He pointed out that my mom hasn’t seen a green light in forty years of driving.
Of course, I am right, that driving like this is a hazard. But ultimately, my family will continue to drive. And ultimately, it is an issue for the department of transportation (who I hope reads this because 10% of the population is colorblind). I would gain very little by insisting that I am right. So I concentrated on saving my life and reported the color of lights for the rest of the trip.
Many of you find yourselves surrounded by people who are, in effect, colorblind; They don’t know what they’re looking at and don’t care. Instead of insisting that these people admit they are wrong, let them think what they want while you keep your eye on the parts of your job that matter long-term.
Meanwhile, to quell your urge to be rude or mean, remember that few people are stupid in every category. So keep good relations with the chronically ignorant because they could prove useful at a later point.
I find that the most annoying part of being surrounded by the colorblind is that I’m right and there’s no one to acknowledge that I’m right. And that goes back to the fact that the best people to work are poised and self-confident. In most cases one’s own insecurity rather than brilliance makes one feels alienated by stupidity.
In search of poise and perspective in my career, I have tried to focus on myself and the smart people around me, and that has made me feel smarter and happier in my work.