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The missing step metaphor

Saturday February 27th 2021 by SocraticDev

Imagine entering an unfamiliar house and immediately you notice that a step is missing from the main staircase. You worry out loud about the danger this represents. But the host silences you:

"Yeah ... We know it's not safe, but everyone in the house has gotten into the habit of taking a longer stride to avoid the hole. In fact: we've never had a problem ! You just have to be careful. "

The missing step metaphor conjures up a problematic situation tacitly accepted by a community instead of being corrected. The blog The Pervocracy is credited for its characterization in an article dealing with tolerance towards a known sexual predator in a community (in real life).

The metaphor is not limited to the silence and inaction of a community toward criminal acts. We can speak of the missing step in different contexts:

  • A friend has the habit of borrowing money without ever giving it back;
  • A colleague at work never completes the tasks entrusted to him;
  • Part of your computerized system relying on code that only one employee can understand and work on.
How to recognize this kind of situation?

This is a situation known to most of the group. When a new person joins, either they are surprised by the situation or an insider passes on the infamous information to them by suggesting they close their eyes.

The group is able to function normally because its members have developed a workaround for the problem.

Why is it a problem?

This is the tragic question of truth and justice. It would take more energy and courage to face the problem than to tolerate the status quo. However, this is a lie that takes its toll. Instead of blaming the negligence and laziness of the owners of the missing house, the community is led to blame the person who could not avoid the hole. The victim becomes the culprit.

Absurd and tragic. No?

Translated by Google translate