Lessing’s THE OSTRICH*

Posted by jlubans on June 06, 2022

THE arrow-swift Reindeer once saw an Ostrich, and said: "There is nothing remarkable about the way in which the Ostrich runs.
But it is quite likely that he flies much better."
At another time the Eagle saw the Ostrich, and said:
"To be sure the Ostrich cannot fly, but I dare say that he may run rather well."

How often do we see this in the workplace?
When I mentioned how something I did was well received one supervisor responded: “Oh., yeah, what you do there is notable, (adding sotto voce) but not much else”.
The hand writing was on the wall, as they say and it was more like what you find on the side of passing boxcar than on a certificate of merit.
In the theater of the absurd which we call Performance Appraisal, there’s even a label for this systemic error: Self Serving Bias.
Generally, I’ve used the term to describe the not unusual phenomenon in which the evaluator inflates the evaluation scores of his employees to gain credit himself for their performance. “See, my team is really hot stuff”
Lessing’s high-flying eagle - seeing as how the ostrich can’t fly - is magnanimous in suggesting the ostrich runs well.
But, the swift (and jealous) reindeer minimizes the ostrich’s excellent running speed, instead, suggesting the ostrich “flies much better” even though he can’t.
Self-serving bias on display.

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Translated by G. Moir Bussey in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.


And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

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