“When society requires to be rebuilt, there is no use in attempting to rebuild it on the old plan. No great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible, until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought.”
John Stuart Mill

If you look at our culture, at the world in which we have grown up, the predominant paradigm is that parents know and children don’t, and it’s the job of parents to teach the uneducated child what it needs to learn about life. Unfortunately, given their upbringing, our parents were not very skilled at doing this. Mostly, we were criticized, scolded, hit, punished and treated disrespectfully. Even if our parents were loving, we received plenty of negative messages from other children, from the school system and wherever we went. Negative messages are part of the very fabric of our culture.

When an otherwise intelligent child is treated in this way, they invariably conclude that they must not be very smart, very bright, very capable or some other equally disempowering notion. I am convinced that nobody escapes childhood without concluding, in one form or another, that there must be something wrong with them, maybe they’re not good enough, maybe they’re not okay. Do you wonder why more people fear public speaking than even death? After all, for most people, they feel like they’d rather die than get up in front of a group and expose their shortcomings. This also explains why people are so easily influenced and are so much wanting approval. After all, if you don’t approve of yourself, you look for approval from others.

So the fundamental declaration on which people build their lives is: I’m not okay. And this has some pretty devastating consequences. When one feels that they’re not okay, one has their attention on themselves and literally becomes concerned with their own survival. Life then becomes about proving that they are okay and, in our culture, Madison Avenue has indoctrinated us with the belief that being okay is synonymous with making it in life, achieving the American dream, having the house with the white picket fence, the right number of perfectly behaved children, the top of the line Mercedes, etc., etc., etc.

And human beings have developed some interesting rules by which to play the game of survival. The most relevant ones are: Always, under all circumstances, try to be right and at all costs avoid being wrong; always try to win and be sure you never lose; always be in control of every situation and relationship; always attempt to justify yourself and your actions and invalidate others and theirs; and whenever things don’t work out, blame others and avoid responsibility.

Let’s look at how this plays out in society. Everybody’s trying to survive and make it. People are not about making love, they’re about making war and getting even. And, people are mostly unwilling to take responsibility for their own circumstances. We’ve raised a generation of victims. After all, when anything goes wrong, justify yourself, invalidate others, blame others and avoid responsibility. This is why people are so litigation happy. Nobody sees themselves as responsible for anything in their life. And they’re using the legal system to play the game. Often, very often, people come to lawyers, not because they have a legitimate right they want vindicated but because they want to use the system to be right, or to get even, or to win. People are using lawyers to fight their battles for them.

It seems to me that it’s the lawyer’s job to help people sort all that out, to have them take responsibility, to have them not use the system in inappropriate ways. That’s what Ghandi saw:

“My joy was boundless. I had learnt the true practice of law. I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men’s hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby – not even money, certainly not my soul.”

But here is the real problem. Lawyers are human beings, too. They too are caught up in the reality of life. They too are concerned with their survival, making it, etc. The legal profession is, for far too many lawyers, a place to make it in life. So, are they necessarily willing to be a stand for justice, honor, integrity, fairness, etc. and set the client straight? Mostly, no. They don’t want to lose the client, they want the money, they know the client will just go to someone else, they don’t want to look stupid, etc. So lawyers perpetuate the problem and, they too, pay the consequences for this, which is why so many lawyers end up unhappy and their clients end up not being served. It’s a rotten game and everyone’s losing.

So, where do we go from here? I hope it’s obvious that BandAid solutions are not going to work. As John Stuart Mill said, we really need to rebuild our society and we can’t rebuild it on the old plan. Truly, a great change needs to take place in the fundamental constitution of our mode of thought. Another quote comes to mind:

“I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept into my lap again, clutched at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible… but I kissed it. I think one must finally take one’s life in one’s arms.”
Arthur Miller

So what does taking one’s life in one’s arms mean? Is there another way to be a human being, a way which doesn’t have such a high price tag? How to be a human being that empowers life. If the type of human being that we have described heretofore is the way we are unconsciously, how would we design a conscious human being?

A conscious human being’s conversation about itself is clearly going to be, I’m okay. The thought that there is something wrong with us, that we’re not okay, is just some used up remnant from childhood. It’s not the truth about us. This human being’s conversation about where there is to go is that there’s no place to go. I’ve already made it in life. There’s nothing to be proved, nothing that can be proved. This human being is going to be interested in other people. It’s really interesting. Once people get that they are okay and that there’s no place to go and nothing to prove and that life is about the journey and not the destination, what they naturally do is put their attention on other people. And what they are committed to is empowering people, serving them, contributing, making a difference.

Life is truly paradoxical and here’s the greatest paradox of all: To the extent that you’re in life for what’s in it for you, there is nothing in it for you. It’s only when you’re in life for others that all of life’s riches can come to you.

The only true job of leadership is to facilitate people’s shift from being unconscious to being conscious and you do that by how you are with them and by managing what they have their attention on. What does that look like?

Look for the best in people

George Allen, the late coach of the Washington Redskins, was legendary in his ability to take a group of older, veteran players which other coaches had written off, and mold them into a championship team. Coach Allen looked for and expected the best from his players, and as a consequence they played beyond what others might perceive as their limitations. George Allen stood for their greatness and enthusiastically cheered and supported them.

Is this the ordinary way coworkers operate with each other? Clearly not. Attention on oneself caused by one’s own sense of insufficiency drives people into competition with one another and creates a bias toward critical, negative analysis of another in order to enhance one’s own social standing and appearance. We literally look for the worst in others in an attempt to conceal or dilute our own self-perceived shortcomings by comparison.

In order to counter this seemingly natural tendency, learn to look for and expect the best in all coworkers and become everyone else’s greatest fan. What is it about each individual that makes him or her a valuable contribution to the firm? Who are these people really, and what are their best attributes and strengths? Merely casual relationships with coworkers and clients makes this kind of positive assessment impossible.

Acknowledge people

In his book, The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard mentions the importance of catching people in the act of doing something right and praising them for it. Likewise, the great management theorist, Frederick Herzberg demonstrated that recognition and a sense of accomplishment provide the greatest levels of motivation and increased employee productivity once a minimally acceptable level of financial security has been achieved.

Everyone craves positive attention. Look for opportunities to acknowledge coworkers. What positive impact are they making on the firm? Acknowledge people for doing a good job, for making a deadline, for keeping their promises. Acknowledge them for their appearance, for the way they manage their workload, or for the way they treat others. Always remember to keep it authentic and sincere, and look for and find numerous opportunities to thank people for the many large and small contributions that they make to the firm.

Not only is it important to acknowledge people for their actions and behaviors, but it is also important for you to thank individuals for the intangible contributions that they make, for their sincerity, for their commitment and their enthusiasm. Thank people for who they are and what they bring to the party. Acknowledge them for caring, for their smile, for their devotion and loyalty.

There is so much more that can be said but it will all come naturally if you develop a rigorous commitment to the possibility of real dignity and satisfaction in all your dealings with others. Our lives in the workplace can continue to be spent in anger and frustration; they can continue to be used up endlessly proving our sufficiency and self-worth; they can remain devoted to faulting others and justifying ourselves, or they can be dedicated to creating a profession of genuine human interaction, partnership and peace. You can lead the way. It just takes a willingness and commitment to do so.

Author's Bio: 

Scott Hunter, author, speaker and industry leader, helps people GET UNSTUCK.
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