Curmudgeon, bellyacher, and old biddy are but a few of the unflattering terms used to describe people fond of calling out pretense, bad behavior, hypocrisy, or the unnoticed downsides of conventional thinking.
Some of these cross patches live to annoy. Picture the sourpuss who snarls and bites because he’s motivated by malice, the malcontent who sees arguing as a competitive sport, or the family spitfire who delights in disrupting holiday dinners with her dissenting opinions. Big pains you know where.
But not all cranks and crabs are mean-spirited, looking to troll, anger, or insult. Some contrarians see something different; others see the greater good; and their messages should prompt us to reflect, not criticize. Their point, if we listen to it, can encourage us to look further than our own self-interest. There’s lessons to be learned.
Curmudgeons’ versions of the truth unsettle us, and we hold it against them. ~Jon Winokur, The Portable Curmudgeon
About that greater good thing that some mavericks see. In a crazy, busy world in which people take pride in their uniqueness of character and experience, talking about the greater good can feel uncomfortable. Something woo-woo, socialistic, or based in bottom-line oriented cost/benefit analyses.
Aristotle says it’s a shared happiness in which everyone has wisdom, virtue, and pleasure.
Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts, says it’s having healthy children, strong families, good schools, decent housing, and work that dignifies.
Others describe it as improving lives, so people suffer less and feel valued.
Some individuals conflate the idea of a greater good with controlling people’s destiny and dictating their thoughts. That’s not the case. With a measure of self-awareness, openness, and compassion, it’s possible to promote collective well-being without having a collective identity.
There’s lots of truth in, and lessons to be learned, from the old line that variety is the spice of life.
The pressures of conformity, the focus on winning in the quantifiable sense, and the quest for materialism are capable, individually and collectively, of making us forget (ignore? reject?) the joys of difference. The grinches and whiners who tilt against the grain can help us remember.
Civilizations should be judged not by how they treat people closest to power, but rather how they treat those furthest from power—whether in race, religion, gender, wealth, or class—as well as in time. ~Larry Brilliant, philosopher, hippie, and author
In business environments that values profits over principles and people, it can be easy to adopt that same narrow bottom line perspective and forget about caring for or respecting all people. Even if they see the world differently than we do.
Lessons to be learned
However, if we give ourselves permission to be open to considering their message, the grumps and grouches who point out inconvenient truths can help us see the bigger picture.
If we let them, antagonists and killjoys can serve as a reminder for us to be less selfish and insensitive.
If we let them, the malcontent’s message can serve as a hint that it’s time for us to step back and reassess.
Advice from the Dalai Lama is helpful when reassessing. He counsels us to ask ourselves as well as others just who benefits by what we’re about to do. Is it an individual or a group of people? Just one group or everyone? Is the benefit for right now or for the future?
In the rush to grow the bottom line, to have more, and to be the biggest, perspective about the greater good often gets lost. If we let it, the resistance of whiners can help us tap into our curiosity and enable us to see from a different point of view.
The grumbler’s gripes can be like the canary in the coal mine that alerts us to our mind being closed and having lost the ability to see the other side without taking sides.
I place a high moral value one the way people behave. I find it repellent to behave with anything other than courtesy in the old sense of the word—politeness of the heart, a gentleness of the spirit. ~Fran Lebowitz, author
The next time a scold speaks out in a meeting, resist the urge to discredit or dismiss his words. Choose not to be annoyed by her lack of team spirit. Choose instead to listen. To reflect. To consider. To question. To step out of the profit-driven moment and think about the greater good. Look for the lessons to be found in being a better person and making a difference.
Being open-minded is a choice, and curmudgeons are there to remind us that we have it.
Business can lead to cutthroat competition in more ways than one, but I learned that the darkest moments also can lead to the greatest triumphs and best business lessons.
It’s the worst experiences that sometimes teach us the most important lessons. I encountered turbulent times in the inner city of Los Angeles as I built my company into a trusted institution among underserved communities.
My employees and I faced harrowing experiences, such as armed robberies and threats from the mob, which hoped to block some of his expansion plans. The 1992 riots that erupted after a jury acquitted police officers in the beating of Rodney King proved especially distressing. Many businesses were looted or burned to the ground, so we had to scramble to protect my check-cashing locations.
It was gratifying to learn that loyal customers prevented some branches from being torched albeit in unexpected ways. A gang member called us to say he’d always been treated with respect at Nix, so his gang had decided not to burn our buildings because we were part of the community.
4 business lessons learned from hard times
My experiences taught me a number of valuable lessons that relate both to business and life, such as:
This applies to everything that happens, including things you can’t control. Once when an economic downturn left me unable to pay my bills, I contacted each creditor to explain my predicament and work out a payment plan. This upfront approach helped me to avoid bankruptcy.
Never play the victim role or blame game.
Avoid replaying misfortunes over and over in your mind. Accept setbacks gracefully and concentrate on getting back on track. In the 1990s, a business deal that went awry nearly forced me to sell my company, but instead I focused on solving the problem and stayed in business.
The most debilitating human emotion is fear. Learn to keep it in perspective, minimize it when applicable, and harness it to your benefit when need be. Standing up to bullies as a child set the stage for me to be able to stand up to the mob.
Operating with fair play and compassion is important in building trust. The way some community members protected some of our branches during the riots reflected this. Treating people fairly and supporting community programs paid off.
Good times may be more enjoyable, but challenging times provide more opportunity for growth. Realize that bad people, tough times and mistakes are your teachers. Always ask yourself, “What business lessons do I need to learn from these events?”
Today’s guest contributor is Tom Nix, author of the memoir Nixland, a pioneer of the check-cashing industry, and currently a public speaker and writing focused on helping people overcome obstacles and be successful.
A colleague and I were at a publishing conference. We were attending a session on how to be a more effective writer.
“Schedule time every week for serendipity,” advised one of the session panelists. “If you schedule time for serendipity, you’ll make it happen. If you don’t, it won’t; and your skills won’t improve.”
“Did she say to schedule serendipity?” I whispered to my colleague.
How ridiculous, I thought even though I’ve been the beneficiary of accidently tripping into discoveries. Despite my past good fortune, the speaker’s counsel troubled me. From my perspective, there was absolutely no way to schedule a fortunate accidental discovery—serendipity just happened. Right?
Curious about maybe having missed a nuance in the definition of serendipity, I did some research. I hadn’t missed anything.
Author Horace Walpole invented the word serendipity in 1754. A Persian fairy tale, The Princes of Serendip, had been his inspiration. In the fairy tale, three princes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.”
That confirmed my belief the speaker had it all wrong. Sadly, I mocked her advice on several occasions.
Shame on me.
And for that, I got my comeuppance.
I was doing online research about dogmatism for my book. I’d just read the definition of dogmatism, a viewpoint or system of ideas based on insufficiently examined premises, when the aha zap happened.
My reaction to the speaker’s words about scheduling serendipity leapt into mind.
Ewww. It hurt to see it and to say it, but I’d been dogmatic. I’d been that person; the narrow-minded one I criticize when I see people acting the same way I had.
I’d blindly accepted as fact that my belief that it was impossible to schedule serendipity without examining her meaning. I had heard her words, interpreted them with my dogmatic filters, and outright rejected her position.
Shame on me again. Her advice wasn’t wrong, it was flat out brilliant.
In a time-starved world where there’s a plan and time slot for everything, it’s pure genius to leave time open for spontaneity. Time to think, daydream, be. Time for accidental discoveries to happen.
Of course, you can’t will the eureka moment to happen in those moments. However, making time to reflect increases the odds of creativity, inspiration, and innovation happening.
That’s what the speaker had meant. She was telling us to avoid the tunnel vision that comes from having an over-packed schedule and too much to do. She was telling us to make room for unpredictability and possibility.
*big sigh* How could I have been so dogmatic, so obtuse, so blind?
“After the first finger was pointed, the meeting went downhill fast,” said a distressed friend describing a really awful day at work.
“Everyone was in a race to the bottom to throw each other under the bus. Such hateful things were said that I wanted to disappear.”
What a lost opportunity! Imagine if someone had stepped up and stopped the downward spiral with what I call the “Charleston approach.”
That’s choosing to act with grace, curiosity, appreciation, and kindness.
That’s what the family members of the victims of the horrific Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina did a year ago.
In facing the one who took the lives of their loved ones, they could have resorted to rancor and labels. They didn’t.
Incredibly, they reached across the divide and offered not judgment but forgiveness.
The lesson I’ve taken from their example is that if one chooses, the grace of goodness can transcend polarization.
Leadership is both something you are and something you do. ~Fred Smith, Founder Fed-Ex
Hate won’t win. ~Emanuel surviving family member
We get to choose.
That’s incredibly powerful. The surviving Mother Emanuel family members could have pointed the “I’m right, you’re wrong” finger.
No one would have thought ill of them if they had.
What they chose was to transcend differences of thought because they saw a greater good.
To see the greater good, they had to think big. Not thinking bigger—that is, not looking for the greater good that rises above individual preferences—gives rise to mistrust.
Mistrust then fuels all the ugly “isms”—racism, sexism, ageism, and the like—that divide us unnecessarily.
Wrapping ourselves in our “rightness” and others in their “wrongness” builds walls, not connections that serve a greater good.
In a world where the six degrees of separation have become four, where we’re dealing with the hate and horror of the Orlando shooting, where we’re experiencing the animosity of a contentious presidential campaign, it’s time, isn’t it, to replace mean-spiritedness with curiosity, compassion, and a skoosh of vulnerability?
Being mean and lashing out is easy.
Deciding, choosing, and using the “Charleston approach” is hard. Really hard but really purposeful.
It means stepping up to be our best self. We must develop self-awareness, self-knowledge, self-control, and open-mindedness.
It means being eternally vigilant in assessing if our beliefs have hardened into dogma. When we’re no longer open to considering what others have to say because we know our position is the right one, we’re putting our lack of skill in doubting on display.
It means being mindful of the degree of our skepticism. Asking questions is a good thing that can become a bad thing if we’re unwilling to believe other’s answers.
It means being willing to seek out the hidden flaws and virtues that lurk in our blind spots and being gentle with others regarding theirs.
If we choose, we can replace our unfounded judgments—thoughts like liberals are idiots, feminists are bad, and the like—with curiosity. When curiosity takes the lead, we approach what’s different with the orientation that there might be something to be learned from other’s points of view.
When we chose to make this shift, we let go of our absolute rightness. When we let go of the need to alway be right, there’s room to accept ambiguity and paradox because we’ve decided to exchange automatic rejection based on selective facts for openness.
That choice is liberating.
When we use the “Charleston approach,” we’re choosing to think big, not small.
We’re choosing to react with curiosity and compassion, not hate or violence.
We choose to be the tipping point in which we start to appreciate differences rather than work to extinguish them.
Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong. ~Lao Tzu
To end the “-isms” that divide us, we have to resist being the rock that sees anger, judgment, and harshness as the answer.
When we decide to be the water, we can:
Bridge the distance between races, sexes, and generations in a world primed to respond with bias and ill will.
Celebrate the power and possibility that comes from differences in thought, opinion, and perspective.
Engage in courageous-yet-respectful conversations in which we use our head to manage and our heart to lead.
If I had enough “Charleston approach” pixie dust and the help to spread it, we could end the polarization that gets us nowhere. Ready to be the water, join in, and scatter some “Charleston approach” pixie dust in your corner of the world?
Today’s guest contributor is Darlene Hunter, president of Darlene Hunter & Associates, LLC. Darlene is a motivational speaker, author, life and business coach, and award-winning radio talk show host. Her new book, Win-Ability, Navigating through Life’s Challenges with a Winning Attitude, is her fourth on the theme of perseverance.
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