Thursday, June 11, 2009

Last Meditation (or maybe the first)

This morning I gave my last Bethel College Cabinet meditation. We all rotate each week and the meditations are as varied as our Cabinet members. This time I chose to go into a little detail about how I approached my work with students and how it can also transfer to how the Administration can think about their role with others on campus and their leadership in general. This also signifies for me an end to my professional time with Bethel. My last day is tomorrow and it is certainly time to transition to thinking and preparing for Colombia.

The content, research, and methods briefly described below have been the focus of my professional development for a couple of years and have recently culminated into the final stages of an exciting trainer certification for me. It is my hope to continue to explore and implement these ideas in our work in Colombia.

These thoughts are pretty elementary. I am hoping to provide more examples and a little more depth in some upcoming posts.

Cabinet Meditation
June 11, 2009

The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Also known as the ethic or reciprocity.

We have all heard this saying countless times. In fact, I would guess that many of us try to implement this idea into our lives at some level. Often I have interpreted this saying as "Treat others like I would like to be treated". I simply looked at the literal translation: If I want to be treated fairly, nicely, lovingly, respectfully, then I should treat people in those ways and, at the same time, if people are treating me poorly I often find myself wondering how I can approach them differently so as to not illicit such a response.

Over the last 15 years I have thought off and on about the meaning of these ethics and what more there might be to them. I can say it probably all started here on this campus as a student when reading Engaging the Powers by Walter Wink...that was my first under the surface look at the notion of "turning the other cheek".

In the last five years I have stumbled across and engaged in various readings and trainings that I have found to have some deep connections to these lessons. In fact, much of my time at Bethel has been a time of regular attempts at putting these morals into practice and discovering how truly profound they can be. To better illustrate how this has transpired I would like to take the next few minutes to describe for you some of the assumptions under which I have been working and even some of the behavioral research that has informed my work with students on a personal level over the last several years. I'll attempt to refrain from "researchy" language however.

First, I approach life (at least when it comes to this area) with two assumptions:

1. Individual human behavior is highly predictable.
2. There is incredible variety and opportunity for growth and change within each person.

Yes, these assumptions appear to be incredibly opposed to each other. We will see if I can clarify AND bring us back around to maybe a slightly different understanding of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It is clear to me through reading, studying, observation, and personal experimentation that the vast majority of us have one of a few lenses through which we view the world and a clear set of what can be called psychological needs. The psychological needs we can think of as the specific information, beliefs, contact, emotion, alone time, and action that, when met appropriately, will fill our tank and keep us operating in healthy ways.

An example: For myself, and people fairly similar to me, the way we come at the world is through likes and dislikes. Typically we filter the world and what comes at us with a fairly immediate reaction (like or dislike) first before moving on to other perceptions. We are motivated by contact or physical interaction and usually seek out what we think will be fun, exciting, or creative. In addition, there is a set of very observable behaviors that we can go through when experiencing distress and there are distinct and efficient methods for bringing us out of distress.

Where as, another sizable group of people may experience the world and what it has to offer through their values, beliefs, and opinions and they are motivated by recognition of their work and convictions. They too experience a very observable set of behaviors when experiencing distress and have a different set of distinct ways to bring them out of distress.

An even more specific example: My first descripition fits my personality structure it is the way I come at the world the majority of the time if I have the option. The second description would fit many people that usually sit around this table and also fits my wife. It is beneficial at this point for me to say again, that these descriptions do not begin to describe the intricacies, variations, and details within each of us. There is much more depth that I am going in to today. I am not at all interested in ideas that pigeon hole people. These brief descriptions simply provide a framework for communication that research has shown to be quite reliable. So, the specific example...

Given our very different profiles I'll briefly describe the same situation from the perspective of Jen and me:

When staying home with the kids I would focus the vast majority of my attention on the kids and not really pay attention to other household issues. It was more FUN to interact with the kids, play, visit other families, and take little field trips...whatever moved us.

Jen, however, would provide excellent care for the children, attending to their needs, address household chores with efficiency, and plan each day to provide the best value for our childrens growth and education.

Jen would come from work all day and ask me "What did you DO today" and I would ask her "How ARE you". Can you see the different styles and preceptions used not only in the behavior but even in the words, gestures, postures, and tones? I think we were attempting to give each other what we needed ourselves. I won't tell you how those interactions continued!

There are four other distinct behavioral groups that are all different from each other and different from what I have discribed thus far.

Interestingly enough, all six of these can be found within each person to variying degrees and can be accessed and nurtured with practice. Moreover there is also potential for our lense and motivators to change, which all means there is an incredible amount of variety within each person.

So, maybe now it is more clear why I can operate under these two seemingly oppossed assumptions: on one hand our behavior is highly predictable in an observable way given our individual make-up and yet there is great variation and room for change in each of us.

How the heck does this apply to the Golden Rule?

The research, which provides a framework and roadmap for understanding behavior by grouping our behavior into 6 very distinct types as I mentioned, also provides a clear process for connecting AND motivating each type. In other words, all of us can learn to communicate with others like us and different from us in ways that help insure we are connecting and also in ways that are motivating. In fact, many people are quite natural at this.

The point...what if the ethic of reciprocity or the Golden Rule doesn't mean just treat each others like you want to be treated. Rather, what if it was more to the point to think of it as "Treat others in ways to best connect and motivate them given who THEY are not what we need"

If I meet a person who receives the world through a lense that sees logic, work, and thinking and is motivated by recognition of work and time structures but I try to connect and motivate them by interacting with them the way I am wired or the way I want to be treated (slapping them on the shoulder and saying "what's up dogg") we will be miscommunicating for sure and I no longer believe I would be living by the Golden Rule.

All this is to say, if we are aware of the variables involved with connecting and motivating people is it appropriate to treat them the way we prefer to be treated or is it more efficient and beneficial to interact to meet the needs of others first? That seems to feel better. In fact, the beauty is when people experience interactions suited to their needs they can more easily reciprocate to meet the needs of others. It is a win-win.

At the micro level it pays to be cognizant of our own preferences how they inform our own behavior in everyday interactions, including in distressful situations, and how they differ from others around us. You may leave your desk clear and clean everyday and not everyone does. Your most trusted colleague or loved one may prefer to wing it or be spontaneous and you may think or believe that is irresponsible or inefficient. Giving them a planner and itinerary may not be well received.

At the macro level this has implications as well. At Bethel we prize tradition, commitment, mission, integrity, and rigor among other things. By analysis of the words we use alone we have the potential to resonate with at best 40-50% of the 18yr olds with whom we come in contact. I think a closer look would reveal closer to 30%. The rest of them resonate with fun, incidence (action), imagination, and feelings.

The process of working here has developed my sense and abilities of what it takes to work within systems and with a close group of people. Thank you for your unique contribution to Bethel and to my own life. My hope for each of you as a Cabinet is that you find ways to better connect and motivate each other and our campus community.

Update: I failed to mention, in this blog post, that much of this information I learned from the Process Communications Model (developed by Taibi Kahler) and Nate Regier.


  1. Hey dog, what did you do today? BC is going to miss you!

  2. I'll take this opportunity to say, without having to look either of you in the eyes, that you are each singularly wonderful people, and together a fine example of beautiful humanity. I know I am a better person for knowing you both. Thank you both for what you bring to the table. I'm not crying.