Your mirror is not my eyes

August 20, 2010

I’m sure you all know the old golden rule that most of us were brought up according to: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” A lot of you probably also know that even if the thought behind the golden rule is good, it is trumped by the platinum rule: “Do unto others according to their druthers.”

I first learned about the platinum rule through “The art of connecting” a couple of years ago, but it is quite self explanatory given that we are all different. Why would I like you to treat me according to your liking? If I’m straight forward and you like to wrap things in several layers of honey, we’re not going to get along that well as long as you insist on following the golden rule. If you like indian food and take me to an indian restaurant on a date, you’re stroking this cat the wrong way (also, I’m married so you shouldn’t be taking me on a date at all).

But it’s hard to follow the platinum rule. First of all, it’s really hard to know what makes another person tick. Second, acting according to someone elses druthers might be going against your own very nature. But if we want to succeed in our communication and living with others we need to realize that we’ll always be judged by the context others put us in, not the one we like to think that we exist in.

I’ve already discussed “The Walking People” by Paula Underwood in a couple of previous posts and I’m sure that I will get back to it again since it’s so full of lessons to be relearned today. The people that we get to follow in this ancient Native American history had a saying that they repeated to themselves every time they where confronted with new people (or animals for that matter): “How might we seem to them?” And they adjusted their approaches according to the answers they came up with. They knew, that if they were to learn something from these meetings, they would have to try to see the world through someone elses eyes.

I suggest that all of us start asking ourselves this question daily in our contacts with others; how might I seem to them? Because all of the people who meet us will put us into the context of their lives, of their history and of their models of the world. All of us have different views on the situations we are confronted with and even though most of us like to think that our view is at least a little bit better than the others’, we will be seen through their eyes and we will be judged according to their models.

Even if we don’t come up with the correct answer immediately, I’m pretty sure that we will be better off having asked this question than if we just assume that everyone else are exactly like us. That kind of thinking is what leads people to think that others act differently out of spite. And that kind of thinking is probably what makes a nation start deporting people who act differently, instead of trying to find a way to coexist.

So, how might I seem to you?

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In episode 4 of the TV-show “Undercover Boss” we got to see the owner of White Castle, Dave Rife, try on different jobs within his own company. Doing this incognito gave him the chance to see and hear what his employees were actually doing and saying when the managers were not present. At one point one of the co-workers show him how to make cheeseburgers in a more effective way than the one described in the company handbook. Another employee then tells him to be careful of breaking the rules since doing this could get him fired. She proceeds to tell him that she’s worried every day that she might get fired for not following the standard procedures!?! 

I think that there’s a HUGE lesson to be learned here about human nature; people want to do a great job. Even if it might cost them their job, they rather do things in a way that they think is better for the company than following the directions given to them by management. These are people making burgers that want to do their job as effectively as possible. Can you imagine how these people would perform if they were empowered to do their jobs in the way that they found best without being afraid of losing their jobs?

In his book “The Hidden Connections”, Fritjof Capra discusses this inability of humans to do as we are told. He argues that this is the point where living systems differ from machines; machines can be controlled whereas living systems can only be disturbed in order to perform differently. Capra writes:

“When people modify instructions, they respond creatively to a disturbance, because this is the essence of being alive.”

This is one of the most beautiful arguments that I’ve ever seen against Taylorism. Most people spend one third of their day at work, where processes and procedures often hinder them from actually being alive. None of the above argues against standardization or well-defined processes, but the ownership must lie with the people actually carrying out the work.

So Mr Manager, how many did you kill today by trying to control the way they do their work?

Actually most of them probably survived thanks to insubordination, but please don’t risk it tomorrow.

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