How many times have we had someone say to us or about us: “Oh, what you are facing is really not that big of a deal – you will be fine” or “Lots of people have faced situations like yours…it is not that big a deal”?
I have been astonished at how calloused and unconcerned people can appear relative to others’ trials and adversities. I have personally experienced this first hand over the past several months. Though I will not delve into the specifics in this particular article, suffice it to say that a diagnosis late last year was (is) quite serious and the treatment has not been fun – at all. I will be including this most recent experience in my 3rd book being written right now – as I believe it has become my responsibility to be an advocate and ambassador relative to this disease.
Yet, pertinent to this article, the point I want to make is how critical it is – in life and in business – to develop and exercise a genuine empathetic muscle toward other people. It has been shocking to have individuals look me in the eye and say things like ‘you are not dying right now’ or ‘my friend died of that five years ago’ or even giving me casual ‘know it all’ direction on what I ‘should do now’ relative to my approach to treatment – not to mention my life. It is simply mind-boggling. Though these actions may be well-intentioned; they are not helpful, encouraging, or supportive.
So you may ask, what is the relevance of this article for leadership and/or business? Well – much can be learned through how we respond to the ‘big challenges’ we each face in life as well as the ‘day in – day out’ experiences of life. I have had the opportunity over the past six+ months to visit with many individuals facing similar challenges, and their perspective and associated wisdom is where the bulk of the following insights derive.
- It is never a ‘big deal’ until it happens to you.
My mom used to say this to my sister and me when we were growing up – as there were occasions when others were not interested or supportive of something going on in our lives, and we did not understand ‘why’. She said that often in life, folks are so busy thinking about themselves, that the challenges we face are minimized in their minds – until they may face them themselves. This is so true.
Last week, I had the blessing of visiting with a friend who has been stoically battling cancer of the worst and most horrific form over the past 7 months. She has lost well over 40 pounds, and has experienced the most painful forms of treatment. She was observing and discussing the nonchalant responses individuals showed when they learned of her diagnosis. She stated (just as my momma had over 40 years ago): “it is not a big deal to them, until it happens to them”. This is a truism; and one which we can all look in the mirror and embrace. We can learn from her observation. We can seek to change our response and align to the other person’s reality. We will all face our own challenges in life; and as my daddy says: “None of us are getting out alive.” Thus, we will all face our own mortality at some point. What can we learn from this reality? How can we show love and empathy when those who cross our paths are facing the most scary and ambiguous of situations? In our heart of hearts….we know the answer. Before we admonish the situation as ‘not a big deal’….think how WE would feel it the shoes were on OUR feet.
- The Platinum Rule rules.
Most of us know and embrace The Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Since I was a little girl, my parents reared us with this commandment as our foundation. This was THE grounding wire for our friendships, our interactions, and the way we were expected to ‘meet the world’. About ten years ago, I learned an enhanced version of this Biblical truth, which I have tried to adopt. It is The Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – IF YOU WERE THEM”. This emphasizes meeting people where they are – not where we are. It has made such a difference; as not everyone wants the same responses or types of interactions. For example, as an introvert, I need to ‘hole up’ and become quiet when I am healing or sorting through things. Others want lots of attention, drama, and people around. So, taking the time to learn and respond to what folks need and want makes such a difference. This realization can be integrated in daily business interactions, client responses, and even our friendships. One size simply does not fit all.
- Assume nothing.
Once again, I find myself referring to the book, The Four Agreements, by Ruiz as a tremendous resource. Often we make assumptions about what someone needs, wants, has done, or will do. Making assumptions can be dangerous AND damaging to a relationship – not to mention a team and/or organization. In a nutshell: when in doubt – ASK – assume nothing. I cannot tell you how grateful I was (am) for those friends who did not make blind, rash assumptions relative to my illness, treatment, and prognosis – they ask with sincere, genuine care and interest. They listened intently and understood if I did not want to share more. This approach can be applied in any and all situations. Imagine how a co-worker would respond if rather than pontificating instruction or ‘know it all’ answers, we ASKED for input, perspective, feedback, and creative ideas. That person would feel heard, valued, and appreciated. This truth is universal. Period.
- Karma is a B#@!* – and she knows where you live!
My friend and colleague in Australia made this comment on a call last week when we were discussing another coworker’s actions: “Karma is a B**** and she knows where you live.” After a hearty gut-rolling laugh, we both agreed how true this is. Again, when I was growing up, my folks would say to my sister and me when ugly things had happened: “What goes around, comes around.” And we, too, will all be held accountable to this truth.
Of course, in Hinduism and Buddhism, Karma refers to the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, will decide their fate in future existences. For those of us who believe and follow the Bible, there are numerous verses which do not refer to this as ‘Karma’, they do indeed support the belief of ‘doing unto others’. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12), for example. Again, treating others the way you would want to be treated is the mantra.
We are all in the human condition in Earth school, and thus we all have so much to learn and areas in which to grow. I will state very passionately, that I stand in amazement when women (and men) will treat others with disdain, judgment, and most certainly treat them in a way they would not appreciate themselves. I have been the recipient of treatment over the past several months which continues to puzzle me. Others who have witnessed what is happening, have stated unequivocally that ‘this is a reflection of the other person’ – which I do believe. Logic certainly supports the fact this is about the other person and their insecurities, frailties and in some cases mean-spiritedness. However, it does not make it any easier to weather the rejection and rudeness. All I can offer in handling these types of situations is what my momma encourages of me: 1) What can you learn or teach from the experience? 2) Pray for those who hurt you. 3) Do not waste your valuable energy on these individuals – focus on your growth, your love for others, and your contributions in life. Frankly, I struggle with these hurtful experiences and have a tendency to hang on too tight and obsess. I beat myself up on ‘what have I done’ or ‘what could I do’ to correct the situation. Most likely, the answers are not solely within my control.Yet, what I believe for certain is this: I am here for a reason and it is my job to optimize my life and live it to its fullest. This last diagnosis late last year continues to drive this point home. And yes, Karma (by whatever definition or verse you wish to call it) is real. I own my life. I own my choices. I own my actions. I don’t own anyone else’s. That is the big deal – big enough for one life for sure.