It was a week of contrast.
I encountered several examples of unwarranted anger; surprisingly shared by people you may have thought were likely on opposite sides of the table, so to speak.
It began with a business owner who said that dealing with his employees was ‘like herding cats’. He was tired of them all and felt he was getting nowhere. He admitted to blowing up in anger at his staff and wondered why they seemed to be sabotaging his business.
The second was a man in line at the post office who announced he was a conservative Republican. He was proud of his beliefs, and felt he represented the best of America. Yet this man was so enraged at a woman who dared to disagree with him, he was red-faced and shaking. She calmly held her ground and gave him some logical facts to support her position. He was unable to accept or even tolerate the thought that someone might disagree with him. The ensuing discussion made those of us who were accidental observers very uncomfortable. He appeared to be on the verge of violent behavior – all in the name of being right.
The third example of self-righteous anger came, surprisingly, in the form of a Vegan. Not content to follow his own heart when it comes to the choice of what to ingest, he made a decision to go on a public rant via social media. He clearly wanted to take the role of ‘food militant’, demanding that those listening capitulate to his determined branding of nearly every food or drink as unacceptable. According to him there was a vast conspiracy of those in power (he never really identified who they might be) to hypnotize and brainwash us. It seemed evident to me that most everything one might suggest as potential meal fare was branded ‘poison’. Mind you, no one was talking about eating wild, oddly shaped orange mushrooms. The conversation was centered on breakfast – specifically coffee. My amused comment about becoming an Airatarian* enraged this man, who seemed to lack even the remotest sense of humor. (*Airatarian -one who lives on air and water alone. There don’t seem to be any living examples of this)
It got me wondering. Do Republicans and Vegans have more in common than I thought? Why did at least these two examples in my small hemisphere seem to collide in an explosion of intolerance and misunderstanding? I wonder if either realized that such self-righteous anger was likely far more damaging than a few minutes of listening with an open heart or a drinking a cup of coffee.
There were also a few wonderful moments this week – people who quietly rose above petty, self-serving behavior and set an example by their goodness. While serving a few hours on jury duty, I enjoyed a window into the soul of several people who seemed almost not of this Earth. One was an elderly African-American woman, who was questioned by a rather aggressive defense attorney as to her possible bias. The woman was small and spoke quietly. She had served in the U.S. Army her entire career. When she spoke, it was clear she wasn’t educated, yet in her soft, musical voice I heard self- confidence. It made me sit up straighter and really listen.
She was asked about her children – how old and what were their professions? “I have five children”, she answered. “One is a doctor, another is an attorney, my daughter is an architect, my third son is a nurse, and my youngest, a teacher”. I was touched by her strength and wisdom. Even the defense attorney was quiet for a moment, as we all considered how much this woman must have sacrificed in the name of love to produce such successful children. She was asked if she could be objective in the case – and said sweetly ‘Of course – I will consider all points of view’. Her smile was radiant.
I pondered how the lessons of the week might apply to business. What was there to be learned by observing such eclectic ‘humanness’?
There is a saying in Japan, ‘fix the problem, not the blame’. We seem to see ourselves as simultaneously autonomous and as victims. Why do we need to blame a political party, religion, or food for our ills? Is it because we feel that we have little control over our environment? Why do some employers feel it is necessary to subject their employees with their frustration, or even anger? Perhaps they, too, feel out of control.
The art of listening requires objectivity. Fixing problems requires you entertain ideas that are solution-oriented. Our brains literally shut down and cannot take in new information when faced with anger. We go into ‘flight mode’. When you feel the need to present your opinions, consider that almost no one will hear one word of what you have to say if it’s done in anger.
If you are a small business owner who has begun to feel overwhelmed and out of control – consider how you may be affecting those around you. Get an objective evaluation of your business. Take a look at everything from operations to marketing strategies. You can get control once again. It will make herding cats look easy.