Adding That Third Thing: What Nobody Tells Us About How to Handle Charged Situations

There is so much that we all take for granted when going through life.

One of the biggest assumptions that I have gotten caught in historically (and that I see a lot of people caught in) is the assumption that for any given situation, all you have to work with is you and the situation.  If you can’t change the situation (which mostly you can’t, not directly anyway), and you can’t (or won’t)  change yourself, you’re stuck and screwed.

If you’re unemployed, and you can’t seem to find a job, you may become more and more frustrated as you focus on the ‘got to find a job got to find a job got to find a job’, leading to less and less success: You are annoyed, you take that energy in with you to job interviews, it comes across in your interaction even if you try to hide it, you dont get the job, you get more frustrated, and on and on.  Even if you get a job at that point, would you be happy about it? Probably not, with all that energy built up!

If you’re a business, and you are used to marketing through the use of big splashy events and Superbowl commercials rather than providing experiences that surprise and delight your customers, and suddenly your revenues are slipping and you can’t see why, so you keep doing what you’re doing to try to affect the marketplace and make them buy more of your product, spending tons of money on a new campaign with a celebrity saying how awesome your product is, and your share of the market continues to dwindle so you fire your PR people and demand a launch event that will go viral and spread across the internet and whatever Twitter is, and on and on.

The reality of the situation (and something that I don’t think gets taught to us at any point in most of our development) is that there is actually a third element within any situation: the relationship between us and the thing in question.  The relationship is something that we always have the ability to look at and adjust.  We can focus our attention at our relationship to our not having found a job, and choose whether to remain frustrated, or tune it so that our relationship is one that is more calm, accepting “I have not found employment yet, and that is okay, because it does not mean that I will never find employment”, and ultimately useful.

ArcAttack metropolis styleWe often don’t get a chance to look at situations like this, though, since we are usually very quick to respond to a situation directly.  The most important thing to take from this, and something I struggle with but am learning, is to slow down and pause before reacting.  Take a second to look at your relationship to the situation rather than just focusing on the situation itself.  Is an advertising campaign the best way to reach customers? Is frustration the best way to deal with your employment situation?  Probably not, but until we learn to take a look at that third thing, we will be stuck there.

So, where are you stuck on things 1 and 2, where looking at the third thing might be useful?

A small step taken without judgment can change your world.

On the journey I’ve been on the last month, it’s been particularly interesting to become more acutely aware of some of the assumptions I’d accepted as gospel for so long.

Image by jeremymeyers via Flickr

One of the big ones is based around not giving myself permission to try things.  So many aspects of my life had been left untouched based on my being unable to see beyond what I assumed was the size of the first step.

“I should travel more!” I thought, “but I don’t have a passport and in order to get a passport I’d have to get a passport photo and to do that I’d need to remember to go to a photo place,” and on and on.  And so things would not get completed.

In Buddhism, there is the concept of the ‘second arrow,’ which means that we frequently add a layer of judgment to our activities and choices, which causes us to suffer, keeps us in our heads and restricts our ability to connect with our true selves.

I was doing this, and it was keeping me stuck in one place.

But what I’m starting to realize is, there are smaller steps that are more manageable, if I take them without judgment of the past or possible negative outcomes of the future. There are low-risk activities I can do to bring myself closer to my goals.  Taking even the tiniest of steps in a direction and it can make a world of difference, and so tiny becomes the perfect size rather than a bad thing to be judged.

So whether it’s getting your passport, figuring out what you want in a romantic relationship, lowering your carbon footprint, interacting with your customers, making diplomatic overtures to a ‘terrorist state’, reconnecting with an estranged family member… figure out what you CAN do, and do it.  Don’t judge yourself because you think you could be doing more, or that it seems like it doesn’t matter or make a difference. And if you do find yourself judging, do your best not to judge that part.  You are only human, and it’s in our reptilian brain’s nature to judge ‘this is good’ ‘this is bad’.

It really does.

P.S. the Japanese have a name for this process when used in business: Kaizen

The Toxic myth of ‘us vs. them’.

Last week, I and a few others in my group gave a presentation to the NYC office of Waggener Edstrom about digital storytelling, social media and findability. One of the points I made sure to focus on was the gradual decline in ‘us vs. them’ thinking. The same isolating fear-based separation that leads to war, depression, loneliness, and a lot of the suffering that goes on in the world is alive and well in business.

Me Vs You Venn Diagram

Historically, it was very easy for business folks to think of their customers as ‘them’. “how do we get them to buy our product,” people would say, and the answer would often be tactical guesswork, and not lead to particularly effective results.  By beginning the strategy by specifically excluding ourselves and everyone we know, we find that we don’t really leave ourselves with anything to base our strategy on.

In the time when you could safely assume that a significant portion of the country was tuned in to a single piece of entertainment (The Tonight Show, etc), putting a message, any message in front of people would get some return. The talk-to-everyone-to-reach-a-few days are gone, and good riddance.  They’ve been replaced by endless permutations of clusters of people passionate about an endless combination of things, each making their passions known and eagerly anticipating the opportunity to connect, share, get and give value.

The true power, the true awakening, the most effective conversations, marketing, communications, PR, interactions come when we realize and recognize the simple fact that there is no ‘them’. It’s never been more apparent in the history of the world that across geographic, cultural, language, economic and all other barriers, what we all seek under all of our pretense, suffering and assumptions is connection, support and compassion.

Those that realize that we’re all in this together and keep that fact in mind when looking at ways to connect with those around them, to truly listen and engage with people, to provide value, and to empower people will exist happily for a long time.

In spiritual life this connection to the world is essential to feeling at peace.  Different religions suggest different methods of achieving this, from giving to charity, to loving thy neighbor as thyself, to what the Dalai Lama calls Wise Selfishness.  If you’ve ever been depressed, you may remember a distinct feeling of ‘not feeling like part of the world’, isolation, distance from people who care about you.  You may also find your focus turned exclusively inward, unable to include others in your day-to-day life in conversations about anything other than how awful you feel. This is a horribly lonely place to be, and does not result in any kind of engagement with you being at all inviting. It may be valuable to compare this state of mind with business practices of a company you work at or are interested in.

In the same way that feeling like part of the world leads to our personal successes, it is such with business as well.  Even in the distant past, some of the most successful campaigns on behalf of business happened when the company was able to focus outward.  Avon and Tupperware built their empires with this mindset.  Being inclusive and thinking of all individuals as people who could potentially rally around a common cause connected to making their lives better is the only way to succeed.

In other words, there is no ‘them’.  There is only ‘us’. That’s the secret.

[Science backs me up on this, by the way: There’s a whole school of thought on what’s called “ingroup favoritism“]

Header Credit: Strangling Statues by David Sim