The Two Most Important Rules

Following up with yesterday’s post, I want to speak towards managing relationships. We need relationships, we need people in our lives. We need people to laugh with, cry with, eat with, and share life with. Even if it’s because we need a paycheck to get by – someone will be writing that paycheck for you.

But, relationships shouldn’t be reduced to strategy (despite the tactics we use to manage them).

So, how do we value those relationships in an honest way? I think there are two rules that guide honesty in relationships. The two most important rules are:

  • Do onto others as you would have them do onto you (the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31), and
  • Love thy neighbor as thyself (the second commandment (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:36-40).

From Christian theology – we are called to love and respect through compassion. I was taught that first we love, and then we do as my mother encouraged, walk in another man’s shoes (for a mile) before we begin to judge. When we walk in another’s shoes, we suffer with them, which means we are called to compassion.

We are all works in progress, but if relationships are driven by love and compassion, their authenticity would rise and our call to make the world a better place would make enormous strides.

Examples

So, those are the rules, and here are five examples: three where the rules go wrong and two where they go right.

Example 1: I can’t hear you

They complained to each other. The complained about the conditions, the compensation, the lack of understanding. They didn’t feel respected. They didn’t feel like their experience was honored. They didn’t feel like they were truly given ownership of projects they were tasked with executing. They felt like they were being treated as puppets with multiple masters. And, they didn’t like it. There were various bosses who floated through, even though some had only been there a few months.

The bottom line for these people were their complaints weren’t being heard. They had tried to go through all the proper channels, but they kept getting back to square one. Finally, they were told to just put up or shut up.

The other perspective, for the newcomer was that they were all petulant children. They were throwing tantrums in the work place, and that’s just not how things were done.

In another instance, the employees who tried to make their concerns heard found themselves looking for other work!

The result: the newcomers failed to listen. And, in the other instance, management chose to replace employees, rather than fix issues.

Example 2: I’m smarter than you

He had turned to her for advice. She had been in an important role longer than he, and he needed to hear her story. He was amazed at how much she did, how much she controlled, and with such few resources. The first few months of their relationship, he was in awe of her expertise.

Something changed, and he realized that maybe he grasped things better. Maybe he had more training around their shared interests. Maybe he really did have more experience than he gave himself credit for. The bottom line was that he no longer needed, nor did he want, her advice. The irony was that he was now in a position to influence others whether or not she still had a job.

The result: because he no longer needed her advice, he diminished her expertise and worth and saw her as a disposable employee.

Example 3: Teammate not pulling their weight

She wouldn’t pick up her things. She didn’t attend mandatory work parties. She didn’t communicate with the other members that she had a need. The bottom line was that she was a part of the team, but she was not pulling her weight. They had all agreed to do a certain amount of work, and that work wasn’t forthcoming from her, for months. To the point that her lack of work was becoming a burden on other members.

Another member said, “Someone needs to have an uncomfortable conversation with her, and I’m not sure how that should happen.” To which the reply was, “With compassion.”

The result: shock at the suggestion of yielding to compassion to lead a conversation. The summation: compassion is so far from our thinking that we jump to quitting relationships, and not suffering with someone and building stronger relationships.

Example 4: Compassion in coaching

As a parent, we have a lot of kids DVDs floating through our house, on loan from the library. A recent trend was a slew of Bob the Builder videos. In one video, Lofty the crane’s fear of heights yield crippling results. Instead of switching him out for a better crane, Bob compassionately works through Lofty’s fears to help him be better.

The result: Lofty learned how to overcome his fears, and Bob strengthened his team through compassion. The summation: Bob chose to make a “good employee” out of Lofty by working with him. This helped Bob have a stronger, more loyal team.

Example 5: Listen, please

Last month I read that empathy careers are on the rise. The article summarized that with our emphasis on digital communication, we are losing our face-to-face connections. As such, we are supplementing with therapists of all shapes (massage, physical, psychological) to bartenders and fitness coaches. So much so that these “empathy careers” are expected to be 20% of the jobs by 2020.

The result: We aren’t being listened to so we’re creating a market of listening.

(More on empathy in firms of endearment and the benefits to a company.)

In Short…

The disheartening realization from examples one through three is that they happen daily. We are so caught up in our daily lives that we forget as leaders we have the power to make tough relationships, great; or turn sour, good relationships. In the busy-ness of it all, we are relegated to low hanging fruit. And, that means the low-hanging fruit of relationships – relationships that are easy, and without conflict. Relationships, leading with compassion and love take time, and we don’t budget that necessary time into our task lists. So, relationships suffer, and then we wonder why we don’t succeed in our goals.

I would like to challenge you, dear reader, to listen more and lead with compassion when giving advice – especially if it’s how to manage a project. We would all be served to lead with curiosity instead of simply reminding people of where they went wrong, how we’re smarter than them, and more mature – which means we don’t have to listen.

Equity in 2013

One good, tangible measure of sustainability is the triple bottom line. The idea that we find ways to and enact on measuring equity (people), environment (place), and economics (profit) in equilibrium. We take each, and if one is failing – if we don’t make enough money for example, then we consider that we haven’t achieved a sustainable mark over the time in which we are measuring these indicators.

So, how sustainable are we in 2013? We have surpassed predicted carbon emissions, indicating we are on a road for disaster in an ever-changing climate induced world. Our recession still has a strangle hold making it hard for families to get ahead. And, we have reports every day – it seems – about another company cutting corners in such a way that its workers suffer the most egregious abuses.

And, in the midst of that, while working in an organization undergoing its own transition and struggle with change – the obvious thought reveals itself in startling clarity – we don’t value people.

Sustainability argues that we must hold these things: people, place, profit in tandem. We must balance them equally lest the three-legged stool topple over for ever more. And, what I have realized for the better part of the last 7 years is that we value equity least of all in this triptych. We grasp onto the things we can measure easily. We can measure if we made our profit – or not. We can measure if we planted enough trees – or not. These are easy things in which to define success.

But, when it comes to people, the number of indicators to use grows exponentially. What do we measure? Do we measure wages? Do we measure healthcare? Do we measure access to healthcare? Do we measure … happiness? In a sense, I think it boils down to the latter. This ubiquitous, moving thing that is difficult for an economist to measure strictly against a black and white line… so instead of trying, as a society, we just don’t.

Then it rears its ugly head in contract negotiations, workplace equity, overall societal health. It impacts the never-ending challenge of balance between work and family life – because we chase the greasy buck instead of the success of the people earning the buck. It turns loyal people unloyal. It makes people seek autonomy elsewhere. It creates and fosters toxic work environments where blame is placed haphazardly, and instead of listening to the real problems – petulant children are blamed and then reinforced the excuse on why we don’t need to listen.

So, where are we in 2013? Where is our equity? I would say it is far away, despite recent Supreme Court rulings and in spite of recent Supreme Court rulings. I would say there is more of this conversation to have – where we need to collectively assess our values, envision work-life balance in harmony, and propel ourselves to a future we do want to pass onto our children.

 

People Forgetting People

Iraq War soldiers and bombing
Image via Wikipedia

It was 2004. The Iraq war had waged on for about a year. I, and my friends, [we] were still in shock over all that happened. He hadn’t listened! We protested. We wrote. We petitioned. We called. We bitched. We complained.

We didn’t want another Vietnam. We can’t do that to our people again. We can’t do that to our brothers and sisters. We can’t let them suffer for a cause, for a rich man’s war, that isn’t really about freedom at all.

So why is he doing this? Why? Why is this Yale graduate, son of an oil man, baseball team owner, married to a librarian enforcing this war?

The simplest answer, and the most comfortable one for my little brain to wrap around, has been that he was simply taking care of those he cares about. On the surface, it seems that he cares about contractors making $6k to $10k per day more than soldiers without shoes. On the surface, it would seem an oil company was more important than the people working for the company.

I related it to my own cirlce. I want my family and my close friends taken care of. I want them healthy. I want them to have secure jobs that give them benefits to help ensure good health. I want them to have access to clean, healthy food. I want them to be educated on healthful (clean air, clean water, clean soil) ways to take care of their families. I want them to have access to the American Dream, and not just the same station in life in which they were born.

My wants certainly can’t be that different from Mr. Bush’s, can they? On that macro level. On that big, 50,000 mile high level. We all really want the same things. We want our loved ones to be taken care of.

The difference is who the loved ones are. And, someone, in this myriad tangled web of life, we forget about people we don’t care about.

Mr. Bush is an extreme, political example, but I hope it highlights what I see happening all over. Recently, I was a part of a conversation where it was argued that the only thing missing out of a particular sustainability equation was the Environment. I was shocked, since the conversation was about an organization that only does work in the environment. No where, though, were people mentioned. Not the people who do the work voluntarily. Not the people who get the details done to do the work. Simply, people were missing from this conversation, and no one recognized it.

Sustainability was put on hold the year I graduated from college. With bank, market, and housing crashes – all fell like dominoes after 2008, it’s as if we couldn’t focus on anything but that which was right in front of us. And, still, three years later we are reeling. We’re still trying to calm the frenzy around us in order to organize our lives and dream about the American Dream.

In the frenzy, the environment wasn’t forgotten. The Sierra Club is still doing their job. I”m not saying the environment doesn’t suffer, I’m simply saying it wasn’t forgotten. But, people were.

Wages dropped. Homes were foreclosed upon. Details were lost that made people homeless and lose their jobs. benefits were lost affecting the health of many.

People were forgotten.

You can’t have a balanced three-legged stool without people. You can’t have a true balanced Triple Bottom Line general ledger without people. You can’t have a world, without people.

I am dismayed that after all we’ve been through, we still take two steps back. I’m dismayed that people are still forgotten and the gap between the haves and have nots widens. I’m dismayed that people are forgotten.

But, as if by a miracle, a group has risen up and shouted to not forget us. My question, today, is this: Can the Occupy Movement get people to remember people?

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S-S-S-Sustainability!

Cover of "Ecotopia"
Cover of Ecotopia

“I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society.”

That’s what I want to do with my life. In some shape or form, anything I am doing, I want it to mesh with that belief. The belief that we should live in a sustainable society and we owe it to ourselves to get there. The belief is also contingent upon the thought that what we are doing is not sustainable and that there is oodles of room for improvement.

I heard of sustainability first, while reading Ernest Callenbach‘s Ecotopia. In it, he referred to this concept of sustainability as a stable state system. A system in which everything is in equilibrium with everything else. There was a process for nearly everything to make sure that you really had the best information moving forward about making a decision. You harvested the wood if you wanted a wood frame home, for example.

A co-worker, during one of those nice “just go out to lunch with one of your co-worker” things, prodded me after I asked him why he was doing Construction Project Management. He returned the question. I wasn’t expecting that. I started with, “Oh, I don’t know.” But I had to pause. Because, I knew it wasn’t true.

I was at the end of a nearly 5 year break from college. I had gained more life experience, talked more with different people, read more about different ideas, and began formulating my own. Yes, in fact, I did know what I want to do … and I apologized for my cop-out statement and came up with that.

“I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society.”

Sustainable. But, what does that mean? I had the opportunity to go back to school, and back to school I went. What a fortunate time it was. Sustainability was popping up everywhere! Lucky for me, minors and specialized programs were too. I didn’t want to do another dual major attempt but rather, efficiently wrap all my interests under one degree.

One of the amazing opportunities I had after I decided on my minor in Sustainable Urban Development was to visit Italy for two weeks on an agri-tourismo property that specialized in sustainability. We were a crew of about 15. Some of us were young, some were middle-aged, and some were fresh of the boat young college kids. One of my favorite attendees was a Bosnian gal who spent much of her adult life in the US. I loved hearing her cross-oceanic view of the world.

People, she said to me, in one late night conversation around the farm table with tea and wine. People. People often forget about people. Labor. The people who do the job.

As someone who was raised in a blue-collar family with white-collar dreams, I can relate.

What did my minor say about that? Only that to define this stable state equilibrium, we should measure people, profits, and place on the same playing field. A field in which they all get equal play and are measured so that no one suffers. Equity, Economy, and Environment. The Triple Bottom Line. The Three-Legged Stool. Sustainability.

But, why then, if that’s a decent measure of how to define sustainability, do people still forget people?

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Passion

A palette of watercolours and a brush.
Image via Wikipedia

In response to my Cooking post, she said something like, “Wow, Michelle, I enjoy your passion about things.”

I thought. I paused. I reflected.

I was questioned several years ago why I won’t do art as a career. I can draw (always have been able to). I enjoy it. I love it. I love getting better. I love hearing new things and experiencing new things I can do with pen, paper, paint, paints, charcoal, any medium really. But, why don’t I pursue it as a career? I said, “I don’t want to ruin the thing I love with the pursuit of money.” He retorted, “Why not do the thing you love because you love it?”

Indeed. It’s too personal is the other answer. I don’t want what is so close to my heart criticized. And, there are so many other things I like doing, why be pigeonholed? I need a career that can encapsulate most of what I like to do – simply to keep me engaged!

I have realized that there are about three things – ideas – where I like to focus my daily thoughts: food, the earth (environment, planet, etc), and housing. There are skills I enjoy utilizing to talk about these ideas: drawing, sketching, presenting, creating, office busy work, talking, facilitating, organizing, motivating, problem solving, writing, reading, teaching.

I can use art to talk about food, but the creation of the artistic thing doesn’t have to be the only thing, and it doesn’t have to be tied to my heart or a commission. I can use the design skills I’ve used to help educate and inform marketing choices at work or in the clubs with which I work. I can use my writing to help with websites, newsletters, business letters – and it’s just part of the picture – not the whole thing.

I have learned I have to diversify my interests, but not too much because I can’t be stretched thinner than I already am. I learned that I can’t be a crisis counselor full time no matter how much compassion I might have for the person or the cause – but volunteering a few hours a month works. I have learned to overcome certain fears: like asking for money. I have learned that it’s even easy to ask people to support causes I love.

I have learned that I don’t want just any job and that it must be tied around a passion in order to motivate me to do it. Working a as a secretary just anywhere won’t do – it has to be around my interests. Several years ago I realized that my personal goal is to “teach people about the importance of a sustainable society.” Sustainability as defined using the metaphor of “people, places, and profit” all in equilibrium suggesting a balance in environmental use, the people who do the work, and ensuring there is a black bottom line for the finance people.

So, yes, friend, I would agree – I am passionate. But, I don’t know how else to operate! I feel like there is no point if I don’t go with where my passions direct me. Thank you kindly for your observation because it has given me this opportunity to reflect.

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Consensus Training

Consensus plain 2
Image via Wikipedia

Our consensus training is finally upon us! I am very excited. Our group has been self-learning consensus for the past 10 months, and I think it will be good to have a seasoned user show us some things to do.

In May, it became clear that majority rule wasn’t a good fit for our group of bottom up thinkers. So, I suggested consensus, and we’ve been trying it on ever since. One of our members made a comment that she lived in community, with consensus, for almost three years. She didn’t feel she even began to understand how consensus works until she was at the end of her stay in community. This was a very telling comment to me, as we hadn’t lived in community, had been doing it for less than 7 months, and it has felt awkward to me. Her comment validated my concerns. For the third time, I was referred to Tree Bressen; so I called her.

I read the Tao of Democracy by Tom Atlee almost 6 years ago. What an eye opener! The belief that in empathic situations, people really are smarter together. Most of our food club meetings have shown this to be true. We state concerns, work through problems, and come up with a much more brilliant answer than any one of us could have come up with on our own. It’s a true consensus process, truly bottom up planning.

I am hoping that tomorrow’s training will kindly show us some tricks and traps and how to navigate through those traps. One of the handouts is “Nurturing Dissent.” I’m a terribly excited.

Stay tuned for more.

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Living on Credit

Levi's Cleanup
Living on credit sometimes means we have messes to clean up. The mess Levi cleaned up here was the size of about 1/4 of one towel. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Budget, budget, budget – crisis. It seems, today, everywhere you look, everyone is suffering from a budget crisis. Business, non-profits, families, single people, countries. What I found most interesting about this concept, right now, is the emotional stress it causes when not dealt with.

If you have 6 eggs, and you know you aren’t going to get anymore for 2 weeks, and you need an egg a day to survive – you’d probably ration your eggs. Some people, though, would rather risk the eggs, eat them once a day, and not have any for 8 days. It’s Aesop’s fablesthe grasshopper and the ant. The ant stores away, day after day, while the grasshopper plays. Then, winter comes, and the grasshopper is surprised. He has no food. The ant has enough food because he’s been preparing all spring, summer and fall.

When we live on credit: credit cards, borrowed money from friends, and lines of credit from the bank – we are playing the part of the grasshopper. I’m observing here. My husband and I are guilty of living on credit. We recognize it’s a problem, and are trying to have those hard conversations to stop it – but they are hard conversations.

I find it interesting how we are unwilling to have those hard conversations. We know what will happen, but in my case, I’d rather not give up my newspaper, netflix, and mobile phone. So, we live on credit and risk another windfall. We can’t plan for the windfall. We have to plan for the somewhat secure income.

I say somewhat, because hopefully we all know how risky even those secure jobs are nowadays. Unions on the chopping block in Wisconsin, so much rage, so much apathy, all coming up against each other – crashing. Egypt, Libya, Tunisia – this global unrest from the micro to the macro – and in some way – it stems from living beyond our means.

Sometimes, I think it stems from arrogance and lack of understanding. Like, when I try to piece together why the whole Northern American continent was basically clear cut in the 19th century. While studying sustainability at Portland State University, I took a sophomoric class in the university studies program. Our professor introduced this concept of short-sighted-ness with a story about shephards living on a hill. They all wanted to add just one more sheep to their flock – each. But, what happens when all 100 shepards add one sheep each? You have 100 more sheep! The hill can only hold so many, and if the shepards add another sheep to theri flock every year – at some point you’ll reach the carrying capacity of the hill.

The idea is that if you plan for the future, you will make wiser decisions for the group. Individually, or for families, the idea is that if you plan for your future you won’t be destitute and will be able to navigate tragedy with a stronger plan, or safety net. If government can help us out, I think that’s great. I also think, in a society as rich as ours, it should be a moral obligation. But, ultimately, we really need to say the buck stops here, and we need to plan for ourselves. So, it’s building within and building without. we need to make our own houses strong, strengthen our communities (that meas you have to get to know your neighbors), and have honest dialogues. Honest dialogues that recognize living on credit, while a luxury, isn’t the best course of action.

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Fiction: Veronica

She looked in the mirror, again, examining the little lines around her eyes. “Those didn’t used to be there,” she thought. Age, such a condition of time. “How the kids keep getting younger, and today I look closer to 40 than 30.” She stretched her arms out in front of her. Still trim, but the skin was getting a little looser. “No, definitely not 20 anymore.”

How many grandparents had she put in nursing homes? Four. The hardest was her maternal grandmother. Her own mother was only 57, still a long ways off. She used to have a theory that those who continued with their routines were exempt from Alzheimer’s. Than her farm-living maternal grandparents got dementia. Blew that theory to shreds with one phone call. It only took six months for each, paternal and maternal, grandfather to die once put in the home. It didn’t matter how nice it was – they weren’t home, they were facilities. Her grandmothers faired better, but it wasn’t living.

She wondered, again, why religion and society looked down so much on euthanasia. She chuckled how her own thoughts have done a 180 on that topic. To think, when she was in high school, she had a passionate piece describing the point of cherishing life – always for abortion, because you never know who’ll need it, but against euthanasia. At least more states have changed their minds about mercy killing. It is all choice, isn’t it? Who has the right to choose – the person or the government?

“Well, enough oggling over how I’ve aged,” thought Veronica. Today she had plans to work more with the farm-to-school programs. The local Farm-HUB proved too expensive for most, and she preferred the direct connections and conversations. Getting others to network had always been a secret passion of hers. And, now, finally she was putting it into place. She lad to live in a place long enough to develop those connections, and once she learned that, the rest was easy.

The “People, Places, Profit” slogan had been used so often, that it was now second nature to most. Sustainability was little more than a question, although the Amazon Burn was a big wake up call for the whole world. She was only 16 when it happened – a formative teen. That was certainly a turning point in her life, from a suburban kid to an “activist.” It wasn’t so surprising, when you thought about how socially liberal her parents were, even if it was a quiet liberalness.

Time to walk the half mile to the Mag Train.

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Community

Only Group Shot
Our Sustainable-Tuscan-PSU Community. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was either 2005 or 2006. I was taking my first Urban Studies & Planning course, Film and the City. It was a sort of introductory course to Urban Planning through the eyes of film. The first movie we viewed was a Chinese film called Shower. This film introduced the concept of community and how design works with community and how community changes as design changes. There were many other levels to the film, but it was first, for our class, an introduction to this concept of community.

Los Tres Imanes
Image via Wikipedia

As a film class, one-page write ups and group discussion were par (for the course, ha ha). I was either 27 or 28 at the time of this discussion. My other classmates, or the ones in the discussion group, were in their early twenties. (It’s amazing to me how the difference of 5 years in your twenties means a lot.) We were asked, after having viewed the movie, how we would define community.

I suddenly found myself in a disagreement with my discussion group on what community is. I feel that we have many different communities. We have communities in which we select: church, certain social groups, classes we take, work place communities, and so on. Then, we have broader groups, our neighborhoods, cities, states, nations. When I was arguing for these micro communities, my classmates disagreed with me. They suggested that this idea of community was too narrow and didn’t allow for diversity. For example, I could have chosen to live in an all-white neighborhood and that would have been too singular in what I heard them arguing to actually be defined as community.

I cannot remember their exact words now, four or five years later. But, if that was truly their argument, I still, to this day have to vehemently disagree with their concept of community.

Garden City diagram
Image via Wikipedia

What is community then? I still believe a community is simply the circle of people with whom we surround ourselves. Whether it be our street, our neighborhood, our work place, our school, or our churches. All these places have different people, offer different things, and they serve as a community for us. A community of living, of economy, of knowledge, of spiritual growth – whatever. It’s still a form of community, and we sometimes turn to those in that community for assistance. We could look for neighborly assistance, as in, “Please, could you watch my house while we’re on vacation?” to study buddies to prayer circles. All forms offer some support if we choose to lean on them for that support. All forms can offer fun, learning moments, teaching moments, conflict and resolution.

Still, what is community? I am busy. I have a lot of interests. I cannot afford to spend my time randomly. While I appreciate random encounters for those teachable, fun moments, I have chosen to spend my time with certain people. Family and close friends. From there, I reach out to my church community, my food community, and a local mom’s group. With this local mom’s group, I subscribe to a daily email list, and have thus far attended one event. Many of the moms overlap with my food community.

What does community do? Community is there for you when you need them. Today, I hope I was there for a fellow mom. I’ve seen her name on this list a million times. I have met her exactly once, to the one event attended and organized by this mom’s group.

Today, 8 days before Christmas, she was in a car accident. No one was injured, but who’s to say how the family mini-van will fair. Although I had a front row seat, I actually didn’t see anything. I still can’t believe this happened. That I didn’t see anything. I had no helpful detail of information to share. It all happened so fast. SUV turning, me dazing, crash, call 911, tow truck pulling through, cop following, hanging up since 911 isn’t needed. Recognition. I know her. Parking the car, hazard lights on. Validation. Rolling window down, stating her name. Yes, I know her. So, I did the only thing I could think of to do. I got out of the car and gave her a hug. I only told her that I was a part of this mom’s group.

I got back in the car, went to a fellow mom’s house, she wasn’t home. She’s usually good at organizing these things, so I called her first. By “these things” I mean care packages. She was a little unsure of what to do, so I later phoned the Queen Bee of the mom’s group. She advised the other mom to call her insurance and began organizing an evening meal, while working.

Community. That’s what community is.

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