“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”
—Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
In meditation practice, we learn to observe sensations, thoughts, feelings, and our responses to all of these. As we cultivate the ability to observe and to create that space, we increase our ability to choose how we respond.
In some ways, work and the conduct of business can be moving mediation practices. That is, we are doing much more than simply observing sensations, thoughts, emotions, etc. in business and at work, but we can also observe ourselves – even in the most intense circumstances – and choose our response. This cultivation of awareness and the ability to choose, is the foundation of Working for Good.
So how does this relate to Working for Good? To making the world a better place through our work and the businesses we create? Here’s a story from my role as parent as a starting point for the answer.
I vividly remember one day when my daughter Meryl Fé was 8. As was often the case, I was in somewhat of a hurry, and needed to get her moving, out of the house, to the car, and on the road. The more anxious I was about leaving, the slower she moved. The more I beseeched her, the more belligerent she became. Until she finally said something to the effect of, “Dad, if you want me to move, then connect with me first. Don’t just try to pull me along.” Needless to say, that was like having a bucket of ice cold water dumped on my head. I immediately stopped, took a breath, got down onto my knees so I could be eye to eye with her, acknowledged what it must have felt like and apologized, then told her how I was feeling, and explained where we needed to go and why. I then asked her if she understood and if she had anything to express. She responded that she didn’t, and said, “let’s go!” which we did, with ease, joy, and great flow.
I wonder if this sounds familiar at all. Have you ever had this experience at work? Begun a meeting or a conference call, or even initiated a project, running full steam ahead and expecting others to keep up. Or perhaps you’ve been the one pulled by someone else. We do it all the time. In my pursuit and practice of Working for Good over the past three decades, I’ve found that how we work is as, if not more, important than what we do. We can work in a green business, a social service organization, or some other endeavor focused on making the world a better place, but if we treat others and ourselves unconsciously, with disregard or disrespect in the process, we end up creating something far short of our intention. The process is the product. And the process is about connecting, which begins with awareness – of ourselves, of each other, and of the effects we have on each other.
My late grandmother used to say “we don’t see ourselves” when someone would criticize someone else. My colleagues on the board of the Conscious Capitalism Alliance have taken to using the metaphor of someone’s “wake” – as in the wake a boat leaves behind it in the water – which Kip Tindell, CEO of the Container Store talked about at the C3 Summit last Fall. If the boat (or the person) is moving too fast or taking up too much space as they move, their wake can tumble people or things that might be in their path.
For many of us, emotions are difficult to recognize and understand. And when we do feel them, they can be overwhelming and all-encompassing. Emotions are important barometers of our internal condition and indicators of the effects our circumstances and others have on us. Equally important, our emotions can have profound effects on others and dramatically influence relationships and the way events unfold. When the boss comes to work in a bad mood, visibly angry and agitated, fear, anxiety, and stress often permeate the office. When she comes to work with a positive, friendly attitude, inquiring about people’s weekend or well-being, a different atmosphere pervades the space.
One of the reasons we cultivate conscious awareness is to maintain perspective in relation to our emotions, so that they do not overwhelm us and drive reactive, unconscious behaviors, such as passive-aggressive expressions of unexpressed feelings, subtle racist or sexist put-downs, shaming, blaming, or other belittling behaviors. Another reason is so that we can understand the messages our feelings are trying to communicate to us, in order to draw on their insight and wisdom. Tuning into and consciously relating to our emotions can profoundly influence our actions and their consequences, such as owning and expressing our fears and concerns, acknowledging a decision to exercise our authority, and exploring our unconscious prejudices. Emotional intelligence—the ability to skillfully relate to our emotions—has become widely recognized as one of the most significant attributes of an effective leader.
Awareness practices – such as mediation, Yoga, martial arts, among others – support us to observe and choose how we respond to experiences. As we observe the effects of our words and actions, and the effects of others on us, we can respond explicitly and purposefully—even if it means overriding our conditioning, predispositions, and tendencies. In addition to increasing presence, connectedness, and creativity, cultivating our mind in this way reduces stress, increases clarity, and promotes steadiness and a sense of ease.
Our colleagues form another great support for awareness. As we establish trust and commitment to each others’ growth and development, we can serve as mirrors for each other, fostering individual and collective awareness. There is little more powerful that a group of conscious collaborators, supporting each other to see their shadows and grow through their edges. I’ll get in to this more next week, with a post on collaboration.