Every couple of years, I re-read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It reminds me of who I am and who I’m working on being … and how much more work I have to do until those two things are one and the same.
For the past year, I’ve said that my moonshot is “to create a paradigm shifter” — something that would enable people to step outside of their current beliefs, assumptions and expectations, to enable them to see things from a different perspective. I believe that the biggest problems people face are either manufactured in or further complicated by our own minds. We tend to hold ourselves back because of our fears, create enemies because of our insecurities, send our children to be traumatized or die in wars over beliefs that are shaped by propaganda. We are often so vested in our self-preservation that we cultivate a culture of deception, endorsing even “white” lies, as we sweep the power of vulnerability and accountability under the rug, and hide from the truth. It’s not healthy.
I’m no exception to this rule. I grew up in an optimistic, accommodating, “can-do” environment. My defaults are reassurance and hope. And I want everyone to feel this way. So when I encounter anyone who runs counter to those attitudes, I usually try to “fix” them or convert them. The problem is, that’s treating them like there’s something wrong with them, that I know what it is, and that I have the solution to it. That’s not helpful for either of us: It sets up a dynamic of authoritarianism versus mentorship, of dictator versus collaborator, of fixed versus broken. It’s antithetical to what I want to achieve. My goal is to help people by empowering them to help themselves, not to become a “guru” that people believe can solve their problems for them. Once you’ve committed yourself to putting the problem first and facing the tough questions (and tougher decisions), no one is better-suited to solve your problems than you are. (That’s a loaded statement: The commitment comes with a whole host of other responsibilities, including the willingness to seek advice from and listen to stakeholders, mentors, team members, etc.)
In complex situations, for long-term, sustainable solutions, asking seriously good questions is far more important than giving people quick fixes. Instead, I’d rather be a catalyst: I want to ask people the questions that guide them to think for themselves, to create their own solutions, and to gain confidence in their own potential and abilities. I’d rather be the friend who says to you (quietly): “There’s a booger in your nose. What do you want to do?” instead of being the acquaintance who pretends they don’t see it and avoids that conversation because they’re afraid of it being awkward or embarrassing — they’d rather “save your feelings” than trust that you’re strong enough to handle the human reality of a little ol’ booger. (And then let you go about your business with other people seeing it.) We need more booger call-outs — “boogies,” if you will — than white lies. As long as they’re compassionate and diplomatic. No one likes a troll. Maybe we could replace “white lies” with “white truths”?
So as I re-discovered The 7 Habits, I’ve been reflecting on a few ideas in the introduction:
- Paradigms are how we see things, and how we see things reflects who we are. We’re therefore resistant to question, change, or step outside of our paradigms, because we believe they are right, or don’t want them to be wrong.
“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” ~Anaïs Nin
- Values are different from Principles. Personality is different from Character. The first of each pair emerges from your interactions with the external world. The second are core tenets that guide those interactions. To be truly honest and authentic, you have to act from the inside out, starting with your Principles and Character as a foundation, not from the outside in. (I envision this “inside-out” concept as “who you are” radiating out from a strong core of Principles and Character. Conversely, I imagine “outside-in” as an attempt to define who you are through a kind of inverse radiation, borrowing and collecting traits from external sources that you want to be identified with, like a black hole sucking stuff into the void.)
- Different people can experience the same thing — their eyes and ears can sense the exact same stimuli — but perceive two radically different interpretations of it. In one study, two groups of people argued extensively about the age of the woman in the picture at right, debating whether she was old or young, even though they were both looking at the exact same image. In more nuanced situations with multiple potential answers, there’s even more room for diverse perspectives and interpretations to complicate discussion. This is why we can’t have nice thinks. Unless you don’t define “nice” as “polite,” and, instead, enjoy discussions that are incredibly complex, potentially contentious, rich with subtext, and rife with opportunities for long walks off short tangents.
Some food for thought. I’m still chewing on it. And I haven’t even gotten to the Overview, yet.