A special friend of mine, Harold Woodward, recently sent me a little maxim for life knowing that I tend to collect them:
“Be yourself; everybody else is take”
I really like that and I find that it has resonance with a famous verse to be found in the Ethics of the Fathers (Heb: Pirkei Avot 1:14)
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Hillel the Elder said this in the 1st Century CE so perhaps we should ask ourselves why do we still need to look at how we relate to others and what action are we taking?
This ancient lesson deals with the tensions between the self and non-self. In other words everyone struggles on a daily basis between what one does for oneself and what one expects from others.
Hillel is saying that the bottom line is that one’s life is in one’s own hands – don’t expect anyone to manage your life for you because they can’t and more often than not, they won’t. You will only ever live the life that you create for yourself.
On the other hand if one’s focus is only on oneself to the exclusion of others then what values does this person have? To be completely selfish is to lose touch with the rest of the world, to lose touch with life itself.
The point it seems to me is that, as usual, we have to find some sort of balance in our lives, to adjust our expectations of what others can or will do for us and to understand that we cannot take responsibility for other people’s problems.
We live in a society where the state takes responsibility for endeavouring to ensure that no one is left destitute or needing help. It doesn’t always work that way of course but the main thrust of welfare for those that need it is manifest.
Sadly this has also resulted in the “I’m entitled” syndrome and that is corrosive.
I recall the story told to me by a past member of my Vistage CEO Peer Group who was appointed to the board of an NHS Trust. At his first meeting during a break he was chatting to a senior executive about holidays and she said that she was going to South Africa for six weeks.
A little surprised he asked how this could be possible or even justified and was told that she had four weeks statutory holidays and as she also had two weeks “sick leave allowance” without having to send in medical evidence, then she was taking that as well.
The fact is that there can be a “something for nothing” attitude with some people and that means that if we are not careful in business, we can assume everyone is tarred with the same brush when this is manifestly not the case.
So many business leaders these days take a far more realistic and understanding view of the way that their people are treated. In the main gone are the days of the brutal mill-owner who considered that the people were only extensions of the machinery and could be treated as such.
There is no question that any leader who treats his/her people properly and with respect, will find that there is a resultant payback; treat people properly and they will respond positively.
One of my members was so pleased with some work that a member of staff had done, staying very late to ensure that the task was completed and making sure that the customer was satisfied, that he sent to he home a card of thanks and some flowers.
Six months later according to a friend the card was still on show on the mantelpiece.
Treat people properly and responsibly with respect, understand their issues and problems without taking responsibility for solving them and that will create a society and relationships that are sustainable.
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