I used to ride my bike a lot. For 10 years, I joined the bike ride across Iowa every July sponsored by the Des Moines Register. Each year after about 200 miles, my right knee would be a problem. Each downstroke on the pedal brought a shot of pain. The problem was obvious – my knee was prone to repetitive injury due to the many colossal bike crashes of my youth. I would inevitably suffer through the pain to complete the ride of about 450 miles, but it made me grouchy. As I think back on those rides, I remember my enjoyment of the daily festivities being clouded by the pain in my knee. It hung around my thoughts like a fog, making everything a little less enjoyable.
I’m guessing you’ve figured out that I’m not writing this message to tell you about my right knee. Although your sympathy is always welcome. And if you like to express your sympathy through donuts, I’d like to remind you that my office is just a few yards away from Donutland. This is Jackie, by the way, so be sure to direct the donuts to me, not Courtney or Michelle. They also like donuts, but their knees are fine. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Injury. My knee injury is an analogy for the moral injuries that we accumulate in our lives.
Before I go any further, I need to be clear on one point: Moral injury is a real thing that is caused by mental trauma. People who have suffered mental trauma often benefit from therapy or similar intervention. I’m not kidding around about that.
The thing I want to call attention to is the false moral injury we seem so prone to in the workplace. Especially when that workplace is highly political, competitive, and lacking in positive leadership. In this kind of environment it’s dangerous to be wrong, uninformed or imperfect. When we feel we are being exposed as any of those things, we are driven to protect our ego and justify our actions by putting ourselves in the role of the injured party, essentially creating a moral injury.
“I wasn’t wrong, I was wronged!”
That’s what false moral injury sounds like. Similar to the pain in my knee, false moral injuries hang around our thoughts like a fog and distort our perceptions of the world around us – and not for the better. False moral injuries prevent us from doing the hard work of opening up, being humble, leaning into conflict, embracing multiple ideas, and lowering defensiveness.
Maybe it’s time you take an honest look at how you react to the “less than brilliant” moments of your career. Do you open up to learning and growth? Or do you start telling yourself a story that creates and nurtures a moral injury?
If you’re ready to dial down your tendency to seek moral injury and replace it with a new, healthier habit of opening up to possibilities, give us a call to discuss how our coaching can help. We’d love to hear from you! Even if you don’t bring donuts.