I had the special opportunity to teach a management class to the nicest, most inquisitive people I have ever met. The class was in Nairobi, Kenya. I then stole three days to go on safari in the game preserve above the Serengeti.
I pictured non-stop trekking through forests and across the planes. Instead, we had a game drive every morning from 6-8 am, and every afternoon from 3-6pm. Not much goes on in the heat of the day. From the activity in the camp where I am staying, the same is expected of humans.
I made it through the first day with a book and a nap. On the second day, I went in search of something to do. I ran across a young man from the Maasai tribe digging a hole. He told me it was a wonderful time to think.
“About what?” I asked.
He pointed to a big shade tree. “The tree likes you to think about it,” he said. “And if you sit under it, the cicadas will be quiet. They only make noise when they are lonely. You bring happiness to the cicadas and meaning to the tree when you sit under it. Do you have something better than that to do?”
I sat under the tree. The world became still around me. I thought about last month’s article on our restless culture where we compete on who is having the busiest day. I realized that we talk a lot about the search for meaning, happiness and wholeness, yet spend our time wanting what we don’t have, wanting to do what we aren’t doing, and wanting to be who we aren’t. Who started this?
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE: We might be responsible for our choices, attitudes and actions, yet our culture drives many of our tendencies. No matter what culture you come from, if you desire to be happy and your business/career to be successful, you must look at your problems in the context of your economic (ranging from scarcity to wealth), political, religious, cultural and spiritual views.
According to Christopher McCullough, Ph.D., author of Managing Your Anxiety, before we can resolve a conflict or improve a situation, we should explore the “worldview assumptions” that may be guiding our decisions and actions in each particular case.
BRAIN TIP #1: Before talking about how to improve a relationship, both parties should explore what are their views of partnership. Each may see sharing, support, and communication differently. Before asking employees to improve their performance, concepts of improvement, performance and success should be explored (listen to their ideas first without judgment or argument first). Is the employee being difficult, or is the employee acting out of frustration with a system that doesn’t recognize individual effort? Or maybe the employee is demonstrating our culture’s value on “rugged individualism” which runs counter to cooperation.
Before looking for skills and solutions to our unhappiness, reflect on what balance, joy, purpose, contentment, triumph, and completeness mean to you. What is desire; what is longing? What is excellence; what is ordinary? Look from the angles of how you are similar or different from your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. What is reflected in your religious, political and spiritual teaching? What is real, what is man-made, and what is really important?
BRIDGING OUR BRAINS: First, we should seek to discover what constructs we live by as individuals. Then we need to discuss them with those with whom we live and work. Fritjof Capra, author of The Turning Point, describes a tribe in Zaire that brings a member who has committed a crime before the tribe and asks, “What is wrong with us that this individual has this problem?”
It is time we discuss more than what we are going to do and how we are going to do it when it comes to solving our problems. We must first look at “why” in the broader sense.
We are what we think…and feel, perceive, judge, assume, sense, and repeat. If we take the time to understand the essence embedded in our actions instead of just looking at causes and remedies, we might be better able to let go of our attachments to our assumptions and create new worldviews together. Using dialogue, we can explore what we think then seek common ground to walk on.
BRAIN TIP #2: To start, put reflection and dialogue into your daily diet. Recognizing social constructs allows us freedom of choice. Take time to chew on your thoughts and views.
I thanked my tree of knowledge and promised the cicadas someone else would come by soon to keep them company. I passed my wise Massai friend on my way to dinner. He was still happily giving the stick and the ground a purpose for being.