55 Self stands in the way 7 Jul 2020

One afternoon before reaching teen-age, I did battle with my mother. There was something about school that I thought she did not understand from my viewpoint. I stormed out of the house angry.

There was a friendly nature park in the lot behind our house. After a half-hour walk in the park, I returned completely calmed and ready to drop my case. My mother had been regrouping in a different way. She met me with a barrage of arguments proving the error of my perspective. That reception did not help me to feel good about swallowing pride and coming around to her viewpoint. Nevertheless, I succeeded in keeping my calm and enjoying the reward of harmony. By giving up the argument, I won the better outcome.

Fortunately, I had stayed out of the house until I was quite resolved to make peace. With little hesitation, I said “Mom, that’s what I already worked out.” That parry warded off the expected “I told you so.” By acknowledging having been shortsighted, I obtained a very welcome relief from any further argument. It did not take very much self-control to reach friendly reconciliation. Our unity had far greater value than winning.

Do adults learn this lesson? When there are discomforts, is our goal winning an argument or improving an outcome? If I cannot persuade you that my approach is better, do I help your approach achieve the result? Do I make sure you get the credit?

Success requires no less. The “if” clause allows that sometimes my choice is accepted. The second clause provides the alternative path to the goal. Do politicians understand that? Public service is for outcomes, not glory.

In life the question is not winning or losing a contest of wills. Are we smart enough to get the job done together? It is not “my will or your will.” Reasonable accommodation and realignment lead to monumental successes when we get our selves out of the way of progress. With a little practice it becomes easy to deny self and have joy in sharing. People to whom we have given credit are disposed favorably toward us in future collaborations.

My primary job qualification is that a team on which I serve will be more productive than it would be without me. My contribution is not being the star; it is the positive tenor of the collaboration. The antonym of that is a company’s nightmare, the “toxic employee.” A company that rewards the “most productive” member of the team is killing morale by pitting against each other the very people who must support each other.

Authorities agree. Citing Jesus: Mark 8:35 For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for me and for the gospel, you will save it. (GNT) Citing Zig Ziglar: “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Political example: Article 28 quotes Lao-Tzu. He is similarly quoted “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” The function of leadership is not to strengthen authority but is rather to facilitate achievement by the population as a whole—not the person, but the result.

 Business example: Competition can become an instance of wrong thinking. The Ziglar quote teaches business to focus on results. Negative competition is a fight over who delivers those results. The long view does not remember which contractor built Town Hall. History notes that Town Hall was built. It is about the result, not the person.

Engineering example: Early cars were steered with a tiller. That principle has been totally replaced by the steering wheel. Practicality took over; the inventors of tillers yielded to a change in the accepted way to steer a car. Competition can test which principles work best. When there is a clear best way, only extreme folly tries to keep the alternative methods “competitive.” In the software industry I have read, ”You can’t patent that any more than you could patent the steering wheel.” World progress is not to be arrested to enhance someone’s selfish gain.

This article is the easy harmony story. Friday’s article will do the heavy lifting, applying the simple truth to complex life situations.

Graphic: Quaker Peace & Service

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There was no announcement of Friday’s article 54 “Anti-Christ?” The title is a red herring; the article disapproves being anti-anything. It emphasizes respect of beliefs, whatever they are. There are three warnings and three safeguards, particularly for scripture study.

Today's article gets us back on the positive track. Mastering self makes it easy to get along with others. The world can use much more of that. Examples come from politics, business, and engineering.

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