Monthly Archives: June 2018

Mirror Test

STORYLINE: Prisoners are made to work in inhuman conditions and have to produce a certain number of shirts by the end of the day. If one of them falls behind either that person is killed, or the entire unit suffers. The authorities approached one of the prisoners to become a supervisor – he takes up the dreaded role because if not him then somebody else would accept that position. And while he is the supervisor one of the prisoners on his team becomes seriously ill and falls back on her quota. He makes the call to kill her so that the rest of the unit can live a little longer. (This is roughly the storyline of one of the Law and Order episodes)

It was the supervisor’s choice to sacrifice the minority so that the majority can live. Was it the right choice? We don’t know, and we will never know. But in these cases what is most important is: can the supervisor wake up in the morning, look himself in the mirror and be at peace. Ultimately you live with yourself, your actions, your past, your thoughts.

Not all the choices we make in our lives have such dire consequences, but we are responsible for the smallest of our choices. Sometimes I wonder if ignorance is indeed bliss. There are so many moments in our life where we make decisions we are not aware of
– cutting somebody off in traffic
– closing the elevator door before anyone can get it – because we are in a hurry
– using the company printer for personal uses
The list is endless – we even have a term for this – white lies – lies/actions that we believe don’t hurt others.

And for the most part – we are not even aware of these choices, and we can look at ourselves in the mirror and feel at peace. Hence, ignorance is bliss.

The point here is that the size or the impact of your choice does not matter. What matters is how does that choice make you feel? Does it give you sleepless nights or does it bring a smile to your face everytime you think about it?

We all have a certain threshold unique to each one of us which when crossed will disturb our peace. That threshold determines whether we can wake up in the morning and look at ourselves. We have an inner radar, personal check that stops us from crossing the limit – the key is to listen to it. A lot of us suppress the original voice that tells us to stay but we press ahead, and an inner hell of mind chatter replaces our inner peace. We try to reduce those thoughts by other distractions like continually keeping busy, eating a lot of food, watching movies.

Buddha said that hell and heaven exist within each of us and this is what he meant by it. Our choices are pathways to hell or heaven. And for some of us, we have lived in hell for so long that we do not even know there is any other place we can live in.

All great things start with awareness – let the light of awareness shine brightly on each one of us.

Lazy or Lying On The Couch

How many times have you heard yourself think or say the following statements about yourself or others?
– She is lazy or I am lazy.
– She is always late or I am always late.
– You or I never do this.
When we make such statements, we are very harsh/critical and judgemental. But for some of us, unfortunately, this is so normal that we are not even aware of our word choice.

If we were to rephrase the above as
– She was lying on the couch on Sunday for four hours.
– She has been late two times last week by 15 minutes.
– I have never done this once in the previous one month.

Now, don’t these statements have different energy even when you read them. It is because we are not boxing people into a fixed cube from which there is not getting out. It is because we are not using words like always/never which imply forever – a sense of eternity.

Why is it vital for us to move away from such words or mindset?
Because we are creating a reality which is limiting me or others – and nothing lasts forever. Nobody can be lazy forever. Can you remember a comment from your childhood where somebody said – “She is so careless – she will never be able to do this X as an adult?” And now you can do not only X but Y and Z as well.

Let’s say that for argument sake that since change is hard some people might not change. Even in these scenarios, not putting a finality to their behavior will provide more motivation. Also if there was a small spark of change in them – your word choice or attitude might seal its fate. And at the end of the day, you can only talk about what you see, and it is a little presumptuous of us to pass judgment based on the minuscule things we see.

Why do we do this?
Because it makes life easier for us. If we have decided that the other person is lazy then we have a way to deal with them – they fit a box that we know how to carry. For most of us, life is black and white and so are people – but only because we have learnt to cope in a world where it is so. And that does not make the world so. The following poem sums this sentiment neatly.

POEM By Ruth Bebermeyer
I’ve never seen a lazy man

I’ve never seen a lazy man;
I’ve seen a man who never ran
while I watched him, and I’ve seen
a man who sometimes slept between
lunch and dinner, and who’d stay
at home upon a rainy day,
but he was not a lazy man.
Before you call me crazy,
think, was he a lazy man or
did he just do things we label “lazy”?

I’ve never seen a stupid kid;
I’ve seen a kid who sometimes did
things I didn’t understand
or things in ways I hadn’t planned;
I’ve seen a kid who hadn’t seen
the same places where I had been,
but he was not a stupid kid.
Before you call him stupid,
think, was he a stupid kid or did he
just know different things than you did?

I’ve looked as hard as I can look
but never ever seen a cook;
I saw a person who combined
ingredients on which we dined,
A person who turned on the heat
and watched the stove that cook the meat –
I saw those things but not a cook.
Tell me when you’re looking,
is it a cook you see or is it someone
doing things that we call cooking?

What some of us call lazy
some call tired or easy-going,
what some of us call stupid
some just call a different knowing,
so I’ve come to the conclusion,
it will save us all confusion
if we don’t mix up what we can see
with what is our opinion.
Because you may, I want to say also;
I know that’s only my opinion.

Giraffe and Jackals

I recently attended a Non Violent Communication workshop, and they used a couple of metaphors which I loved.
First one was a Giraffe – there were things about Giraffe that I discovered.
1. Giraffes have an 11-Kg or a 26-pound heart.
2. Giraffes have a 1.8m or 6 feet long neck.
3. Giraffes Saliva is magical – it dissolves even thorns. Well, the saliva coats the thorns so well that it does not harm them.

Now, why would this be important in a Non-Violent Communication Course? In a nutshell,
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is based on the principles of nonviolence– the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart.
NVC begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. NVC also assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs and that each of our actions is a strategy to meet one or more of these needs.

It is a means of communication that invites us to meet at the space beyond right and wrongs. This is not about physical violence but the harm we might do with our words.

Giraffe – metaphor reminds us to
1. Ensure that heart and mind are connected. We are not only responding with our mind but also cognizant of the feelings in our heart.
2. long neck reminds us to make sure we have the long-term view and not just this interaction. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and it takes a long time to build – keeping the long-term outlook is essential if we want to create a relationship and not just have a successful transaction.
3. Saliva reminds us to get rid of judgments and let them pass through us.

Second metaphor referred to Jackals as a reference to all the judgments and biases we have – this is nothing against Jackals. When we are judging another person, we are surrounded by Jackals, and it is better to get rid of them or let them pass through.

I knew about Non-Violent Communication almost ten years ago, but I was not ready for it then. And this year the book called out to me. The reason I am drawn to the book is that I have realized how inadept I am at communication.
For example:
I call X lazy when in reality all that person X is doing is lying on the couch.
I want Y to be more responsive when what I need Y to do is to respond to my emails within 25 hours.

As I am reading the book, I realize how I am not clear on what I need and how I am feeling. And if me the originator of the request is not clear then how can the recipient fare any better. And to top it all I blame the recipient for all the miscommunication. I am surprised that I have managed for so long with this kind of thinking.

Like any foundational change – this will take days, months, years but all journeys start with a baby step and here is mine.

VIP – Very Important Person

A scenario from work: Let’s say I have an employee reporting to me and let’s say there are some performance issues. And it is impacting her peers as well. I have a constructive conversation with her and feedback is received well. After a week I check in with her peers. Feedback is positive, and they are surprised by the progress made. As I am about to end the conversation one of them says – “Well, you know I thought that was the end of her.” I asked, “What do you mean?”. He explained, “Well, I thought that we would just let her go.”

In his mind, that was an option. In my mind, it wasn’t – that got me thinking about my style.

100% of Individual is the asset:
I feel strongly about this. When you show up at work – you show up as your entire person, not as 50% of person who shows up for work. Whoever you are – a product of your childhood, circumstances – that entire being shows up at work. If I try to work with you at the deliverables/policies level, then I am just scratching the surface, and it will always be a band-aid. It is a short-term fix – we are only fixing the symptoms – not addressing the cause.

Let’s say as a kid you have been very careless – like forgetting to turn off the light, getting into accidents because your mind is wandering. As you grow up (and assuming you haven’t done anything to address that) you will carry the same trait at work – that will manifest itself in forgetting to update the date in the status report, not remembering to add due dates to action.

Now, I can have a conversation with you about trying to remember to add the dates in the status report, but it might pop up in other areas because the cause of the problem is lack of mindfulness. So, the best way to get to the root of the problem would send the person to mindfulness classes. Unfortunately, our corporate culture is not evolved to that level yet.

So – to summarize keep in mind that you might not be addressing the root of the problem – set your expectations accordingly.

Longer Term View:
Depending on my tolerance level or my take on people I may or may not that let that person go. Let’s say I do let that person go – then what I have done? I have just passed the problem to somebody else who also is a part of the ecosystem I belong to. So, in essence, we are all impacted by it including me – I might not be able to connect the dots right away, but it is a zero-sum game. Most people forget about this and are just concerned about getting their team right. (And I also believe that if you there was a lesson for you to learn then the next person on your team will also display similar issues – you cannot outrun a life lesson)

This does not mean that you don’t put a band-aid on personnel issues or keep people on your team forever because you are looking at the long-term view. Just be aware and balance it with where you are in your journey. I hope this invites you to the think in different ways when it comes to people.