A few rotten apples…

Chief Avsec and his surgically repaired shoulder.

Note from Chief Avsec: As I continue to rehab from surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff, I came across this post from Brian McAsey, Assistant Deputy Chief of the Fire & Rescue Services Division at Calgary (Alberta) Fire Department, on LinkedIn. Chief McAsey graciously accepted my invitation to post his blog here. Thank you, Chief McAsey!

By: Brian McAsey, Guest Blogger

One expression I am hearing often these days is, it is “just a few rotten apples”. It usually comes up when topics like harassment and bullying in the workplace are discussed. It is a reflexive rationalization response when bad behaviour in an organization is realized. The “few rotten apples” implies that some misdeed was an isolated incident (or maybe two or three). Some people have taken to corrupting the already truncated maxim further by saying, “there are always going to be a few bad apples”, resigning themselves to the moral relativism and absenting their role in safeguarding their industry. This isn’t just denial, but an abdication of leadership.

Photo courtesy of Brian McAsey

The notion that there are always bad apples placates us and is usually posited at times of organizational weakness and is almost always accompanied by further rationalization about how every industry deals with problems of harassment and bullying.

Then comes projection—the problem is being overstated… “blown out of proportion”. Often media, the victims, society and hysterical senior leadership are blamed as the true culprits. After all, we tell ourselves, we have good intentions, we implemented an inclusion program, and once a problem was brought up to us in management we went to HR and someone was disciplined.

However, the full expression about those apples that dates back centuries is “just a few rotten apples spoils the entire barrel”. Thus, the few rotten apples are not just the locus of the problem, but inevitably (and quickly) the fate of all the fruit around them. When is the last time someone in your organization actually said the entire maxim? It changes it from a pithy observation to a dire warning. 

Bad behavior isn’t something you can just blame on a few bad members or resolve simply—it will ruin the entirety of your organization and nothing will be salvageable. It is a call to action to root out the bad apples and realize everything they have touched is subject to going bad too. You can’t wait–you need to change the barrel, dispose of any bad fruit and closely attend to any apples that touched the rot.

Next time someone in your organization tries to minimize the issue of bullying and harassment remember, denial inadvertently but certainly creates an environment that allows such behavior to flourish. We are all in the barrel and our collective fate depends on keeping our work environment safe and acting quickly at the first sign of decay.

About the Author

Brian McAsey is the Assistant Deputy Chief of the Fire & Rescue Services Division at the Calgary (Alberta) Fire Department. Chief McAsey first joined the department in January 2001 and has held many Assistant Deputy Chief positions within the department including: Operations and Technical Teams; Executive Office; Capital; and Training, Community Standards and Recruitment.

Chief McAsey holds a BA degree in Humanities Classics/Philosophy, a MA degree in Cultural Studies/Critical Theory and Analysis, and a MBA in Executive Management.

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.