In early January, I started a position with a new company. Day one, I received a flurry of emails, instructing me to set up multi-factor authentication, sign into various internal sites to add my personal information, and take a series of courses, including one of how to avoid phishing scams and other nefarious attacks.
Additionally, during an afternoon get-together, the new hires were warned that the company’s IT department frequently sends phony phishing emails to test employees’ awareness of scams, and tendency to thoughtlessly click on tainted links or documents.
What did I do on day two?
Click on a pseudo phishing lure. I was so fixated with ensuring my PC was up to snuff and doing all the required activities that when an email showed up in my in-box, telling me to validate my login, I clicked.
The next day, I was informed I needed to take additional security training. Moving forward, I’m clicking on nothing. If anyone or any entity instructs me to do anything, they’re going to have to send me a certified letter with instructions that self-destruct in Mission Impossible-style within 10-seconds of opening.
I’d forgotten about my blunder until a few weeks later, during a casual, virtual lunch with colleagues. While discussing my on-boarding and current assignment, my confession (and embarrassment) of having clicked on a potential phishing email, on my second day, escaped my mouth.
I reasoned, most people, including myself, are trusting, making it difficult to squelch phishing attacks, especially with their becoming more sophisticated and ubiquitous. People want to trust the emails they receive from financial and healthcare institutions, and technology companies. They don’t second guess receiving an email or text from a friend or associate, inviting them to click on a funny video or open a document with alleged important information.
Perhaps to make me feel better, an associate on the call shared that an award-winning Indian news anchor was recently the victim of an elaborate phishing scam, in which she was tricked into believing she’d been offered a position with Harvard University. Thrilled, she immediately quit her job, and announced her intention to accept the position. She hadn’t realized she’d been spoofed until she contacted the university.
Trust. Instead of being commended as a desirable attribute, it’s become a synonym for naivety.
Our mid-afternoon chit-chat segued when we jumped to the question about recent interests and hobbies. A participant shared his genuine effort to connect with others who continue to extol the virtues of Trumpism. He advocated politely listening without rebutting their opinions.
I vehemently disagreed and apologized several times for my unwillingness to entertain respecting their points-of-view. After the call, I was angry at myself for allowing my opinions to bubble out, and undoubtedly portray me as intolerant. For the rest of the day, I was troubled.
Then I started dissecting my feelings. As humans we have free will to make choices and hold beliefs, based on our understanding and perceptions. We’re also free to change our viewpoints, as additional information becomes available and new experiences shape our reality.
Because I’m quick to arrive at perspectives, I often use analogies to help me discern right from wrong, good from bad. In the case of Trump, I routinely compared him to CEOs who are akin to ants with magnifying glasses held above them by board members, analysts, employees, and competitors intent on examining their leadership, decisions, policies, and treatment of others. Tilt the glass one way, and they remain in power. Tilt it another, and they sizzle under the scrutiny, eventually booted from their pedestals.
The same is true for anyone in an executive, management, or even individual contributor role. There are standards of behavior in business and industry, which are continually being defined and rewritten. You simply need to watch an episode of “Mad Men,” to recognize the types of behaviors that aren’t tolerated anymore from male chauvinism to stigmatizing co-workers and discriminating against people of other races, religions or nationalities.
The violation of these behavioral guardrails enable society to move forward from the moment you step outside to driving a car, interacting with associates, purchasing goods, attending events, and socializing in public settings. The foundation of societal norms is built on trust, tolerance, humanity, and morality. And while we’d like to think these standards are implicit, they are instigated by free will. What you do in private isn’t readily monitored and scrutinized.
Trump, however, dropped the curtain. Amplifying behaviors and beliefs, which extend beyond the guardrails, endangering people’s security, safety, and health. He gave permission to push aside intrinsically human traits, such as decency, acceptance, equality, and empathy. He exemplified the destructive nature of perpetually putting ones needs and desires first, and creating an alternative reality rooted in imagination, misinformation, and fear.
I wouldn’t give a “pass” or trust a relative, friend, associate, business or community leader who acted like Trump, and therefore, I don’t feel a pressing need to embrace those who continue to support and celebrate his policies.