“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of
Values”, an inspirational blog taken from the writings of
Paul Volosov, Ph.D.
The pursuit of values: We all know what life is and what liberty
is, but what did our founding fathers mean when they referred to “the pursuit of
happiness”? Paul believes
that happiness is pursued by living a life based on values. This
blog will share
some of the values Paul has developed over the years and
illustrate the meaning of
each with a short essay or story.
The best way to handle an argument is to stop arguing. If issues remain after all the parties calm down, negotiate them. If no issues remain after all the parties calm down, the argument was over nothing at all!
Have you ever observed an argument in which the parties seem to be fighting about matters that are less and less relevant to the original issue? The majority of the arguments that I have had or observed follow this pattern. Within minutes of a discussion or negotiation degenerating into an argument, the issues may have absolutely nothing to do with the original topic. In fact, the issues may have nothing to do with any significant issue at all. They may involve real and perceived slights and insults that occurred years or even decades ago.
Once a discussion or negotiation shifts into an argument, no real communication can occur. Each person is concentrating not on what the other person is saying, but on the brilliant argument that he is about to make that will prove once and for all that the other side is dead wrong. Nothing positive can or will occur during the remainder of this interaction.
Once I realize that I am involved in an argument instead of a discussion or negotiation, my policy for the last several years is to say something like this, “I can no longer be involved in this interaction. If you feel you must continue, you can continue without me.” This type of statement usually is followed by a brilliant retort to the effect that, “You obviously do not want to continue because you know that I am right.” I have found that the most effective way to end the interaction is to let the other side have the last word. Walking away and cooling off is the best approach.
There are two issues with this approach. First, it can be used only after you realize that discussion and negotiation are no longer occurring. Because arguments are usually intertwined with strong negative emotions like anger and frustration, spotting this transition usually takes longer than it should. As I have gained more experience with this approach, I have found myself pointedly looking for the signs that it is time to implement it.
Second, using this approach works best when you are comfortable with letting the other side have the last word. The first several times you let the other side speak last, you will feel that you have lost control. After practicing this several times, you should come to realize that letting the other side “win” the argument by having the last word really does not mean much since arguments do not mean much. Moreover, once the other side realizes that you do not mind letting him have the last word, he will realize that having the last word really does not indicate a win. Unilaterally withdrawing from an argument becomes a sign of being in control, not a sign of losing.
On a number of occasions, I have found that significant issues remain unresolved when I use this technique. After a reasonable cooling-off period, I have usually been able to negotiate the outstanding issues. Most of the time, however, I decide that the issues that brought on the argument did not mean much to begin with and that they are irrelevant at this point. I can move on knowing that nothing of significance has been lost.
GOOD FOR ME
As a member of a group, getting what is good for me and bad for the group may not be good for me.
“Who am I?” is not an easy question to answer because I am, and everyone is, many “things.” I am a father, a son, a husband, a grandfather, etc. to different members of my family. I am an entrepreneur, a father-figure, a mentor, a savior, a vendor, a customer, “the big guy,” “that sonovabitch,” etc. to different people who interface with my business. I am a neighbor, an acquaintance, a friend, an enemy, and most importantly “Chana’s father” to different people in my neighborhood. Like everyone else, I play many roles as an individual.
I play even more roles as a member of many organizations. In America, membership in organizations, especially charitable organizations, is an almost ubiquitous function.
Because I am so many “things,” deciding what is best for me is a difficult task. I must always consider the context of the question. Which of the many roles I play is affected by this decision? How are they affected by this decision? How large is the effect of this decision on me in each of these roles?
As a member of many organizations, the question frequently becomes even more complicated. As a member of an organization, I must consider the effect my decision has on other members of the organization as well as its effect on me. What is good for me as an individual and bad for me as a member of a group may be bad for me as an individual because my status as a group member is an integral part of who I am as an individual.
While this complexity appears to be the result of membership in organizations, in fact it is present in each of my roles. Each role I play is in relationship to one or more others. I am a family member in relationship to other family members. I am a worker or manager in relationship to all other people who interface with my business. I am a community member in relationship with all other community members.
Whenever I ask, “Is this good for me?” I must ask, “Is this good for others?” Every role that I play is in relationship to others. In a very real sense, I exist only in relationship to others. I can decide that something is good for me only when I consider how it affects all of the many others I relate to.
A hundred years after a monument is built, almost no one remembers or cares who built it, but many people may still care about what it represents. A monument should not be about eternalizing a man. It should be about eternalizing the values by which he lived.
Men began to erect monuments before the dawn of recorded history. The desire to be remembered forever seems to be an ancient and almost universal drive.
I know I will not live forever, and I am fairly certain that I would not want to even if I could. I do not even want to be remembered forever. What benefit will I get if someone remembers me after I have passed on? What pleasure will I feel while I am alive from the knowledge that I might be remembered by future generations? Neither of these thoughts resonates with me.
Passing on the values that I love while I am alive and after I leave this world does resonate with me. From a religious perspective, the good that continues to occur after my death that is caused by my actions while I am alive continues to accrue to my credit. At my death, the Almighty will judge me and reward me based on the good that I have achieved in my life. Subsequently, I will continue to be judged and rewarded based upon the good that continues to occur because of my actions while I was alive. The wider the values that I love are passed on to others and the more those values influence the behavior of others for good, the more I will be rewarded.
Regardless of the religious significance and the possibility of reward by the Almighty, passing on the values that I love now and in the future resonates with me because it is the most efficient way for me to make the world a better place for me, for my children, for their children, and for all children. Repairing the world, making the world a better place, is doing good regardless of any reward that the perpetrators of good may or may not receive.
Do not build any monuments to me after I die. Just continue to pass on the values that I loved.
There is only one step above mediocrity: better. There are many steps above excellence: better and better and…
To some people, mediocre performance is acceptable. Not everyone can be the best, they reason. If the mediocre performance was a result of a wholehearted attempt to do one’s best, I can almost agree. Almost! To me, a wholehearted attempt to do one’s best is never mediocre. In fact, in the most important way, it is excellent even if the attempt results in total failure. A wholehearted attempt to succeed is a great achievement in itself even if it does not result in an acceptable outcome.
Mediocre performance, to me, only occurs when a person does not really try to do his best when the matter is important enough to require wholehearted devotion. Even if the result of the effort appears to be acceptable in a superficial way, not trying to do one’s best regarding an important matter always is mediocre performance.
The only acceptable response to a mediocre performance by this definition is to do better, not in the sense of a better outcome but in the sense of a better effort. To be better, the effort must be reasonably close to wholehearted. The more important the matter, the closer to wholehearted the effort must be to be better.
Excellent performance, by this definition, always is a result of a reasonably wholehearted effort. A wholehearted effort, of course, is excellent but does not guarantee an acceptable outcome. Even if the outcome is acceptable it rarely is the absolutely best possible outcome. Many improvements in the outcome may be possible. In fact, almost all great achievements are the result of repeated wholehearted efforts that result in outcomes that are closer and closer to the optimal outcome. These progressively closer outcomes are better and better and…
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
Fighting and fleeing are rarely effective business strategies. Negotiating and compromising almost always are better. Negotiating and compromising almost always ensure that I will not get everything that I want, but it does not prevent me from being one hundred percent satisfied with the outcome. The main issue in my life is to grow and develop. I cannot run away from myself. If I choose to fight with myself, I can only lose. Neither fight nor flight is an option for dealing with my main issue in life.
Our biological makeup predisposes us to two alternative approaches when confronted with danger: fight or flight. When our ancestors lived a nomadic life in the wild, this biological predisposition was adaptive. It gave us two complementary approaches to protect ourselves from the everyday dangers that presented themselves regularly in our natural habitats. Following our biological predisposition in dangerous situations maximized our survivability.
Like animals in a zoo, most of us no longer live in our natural habitat. Modern environments, particularly modern work environments, are very different from the environments our ancestors lived in. Our biological predisposition to fight or flight when confronted with danger is no longer adaptive. Fighting with our customers, colleagues, or supervisors has a very low probability of reducing any perceived danger in a work environment. Running away from work (e.g., taking a break before the pressure builds to an explosive level) may be adaptive under limited work circumstances. It is unlikely to be a successful response over an extended period of perceived danger.
We may not be biologically predisposed to negotiating and compromising. Nevertheless, these complementary approaches should be our primary responses to any perceived dangers and problems in modern life.
When I negotiate and compromise, I am very unlikely to achieve an outcome that includes everything that I want. I still can be one hundred percent satisfied with the outcome. An outcome that everyone can live with can be one hundred percent satisfying to all parties even when no one gets the precise outcome that she wants. In fact, I have grown to value an outcome that everyone can live with so much, that I find it much more satisfying than an outcome in which I get one hundred percent of what I want while the other side(s) find the outcome unacceptable. I do not want to beat customers, colleagues, vendors, etc., because I value the ongoing relationships I have with these people. Beating them is totally antithetical to maintaining ongoing relationships.
As I have grown, I have also come to realize that the most important and the potentially most dangerous decisions in my life really involve how I choose to grow and develop. While others have an impact on my growth and development, I have come to realize that my contribution to my growth and development is much more important than the combined contributions of all others. My life is my life first and our life second. That is not to say that my concern for others is secondary to my concern for myself. On the contrary, my concern for others is inexplicably intertwined with my concern for my own growth and development. Ultimately, however, I (and I alone) am responsible first and foremost for myself.
Because my growth and development are the most important issues that confront me, fight or flight responses are not really part of my primary decision-making process. I cannot run away from myself, and fighting with myself is self-defeating by definition. Negotiating and compromising with myself is really the most important decision-making function that I have.
How do I negotiate with myself? I recognize that I want many different things in my life. Each of these “things” is good for me in some aspects of my life and bad for me in others. Negotiating with myself involves determining how each alternative is good and bad for different aspects of my life. Compromising with myself involves making decisions that balance each aspect of my life with what is good or bad for me as a totality composed of many aspects.
Negotiating and compromising with myself ultimately is the most difficult and the most important decision-making process that I engage in.
Love may be the only thing that you have more of after you give it away.
When my wife was expecting our second child, I wondered whether I could learn to love a second child as much as I already loved my first-born son. In retrospect, this was not a very difficult goal, and it was achieved without much conscious thought on my part.
When my children started having children, I wondered whether my love for my grandchildren could grow as much as my love for my children. It could and it did, again without much conscious thought on my part.
How much love can one person give away? Much more than is readily apparent.
As I have grown first as a clinician and subsequently as an entrepreneur, I have experienced love for a much wider set of people. This feeling may be lower in intensity than the love I experience for my biological children and grandchildren, but it is still a form of love. I have observed that I have developed these very strong feelings particularly for people to whom I have given the most. These individuals include some of the adults who came to us with the most severe and challenging reputations for acting out behaviors. Helping them learn to control their behaviors took an enormous effort from them and from us. As a professional with extensive experience dealing with people who engage in exceptionally challenging behaviors, I was called on to work directly with these individuals, particularly when they were experiencing crises. The more I contributed intellectually and physically to caring for these people, the more I experienced emotional attachment to them. For some, this emotional attachment grew over time into a feeling that I can only describe as love.
It has become very obvious to me that love is facilitated more by giving than by getting. Of course I enjoy being on the receiving side of someone’s love. Being on the giving side, however, seems to be a quicker, and in many ways more satisfying route to development of a loving relationship. The more I have given to others, the more I have grown to love them. This should not really be a surprise. After all, a parent learns to love a child faster and more intensively than a child learns to love a parent.
When I was younger, I was not certain whether I was a psychologist, a chief executive officer, a community leader, a father, a husband, a son, a good person, a bad person, a hyperactive person, a depressed person… As I grew older, I accepted that I have many roles and that I am more successful at some than at others. More importantly, I accepted that I am me and that it is ok to be me.
When you meet someone for the first time, what is the first real question you typically ask? “What do you do for a living?” (“How are you?” is a form of greeting, not a real question.) Why do you ask this question in particular? When you meet someone for the first time, you want to find out who he or she is. Asking this question shows that you assume (like almost everyone else) that what a person does for a living is an indication of who he or she is.
What a person does for a living is one of the important roles that a person plays. It has very little to do with who he is. There is no profession that is inherently good and there are few professions that are inherently bad. Given the popularity of the “Robin Hood” story, we may even conclude that there are no professions that are inherently bad. If a highwayman can be good under some circumstances, we must be hard pressed to find any “profession” that is absolutely bad.
Wisdom, in part, is attained when I realize that people should be valued for who they are regardless of their roles and the status these roles convey. A prerequisite for this wisdom is realizing that I am the total me, not just the sum of my roles. Another prerequisite is realizing that it is ok to be me. If I can accept me with all my flaws, I can learn to accept others with all their flaws. (Or is it the opposite?)
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