Don’t hide

There will often be times when it is wise to take a backseat, to keep your head down and not get involved. Some situations are best avoided, as the hassle of getting involved far outweighs any potential benefits. But, there will also be times where we are tempted to bow out, to slip quietly away and leave it to other people to sort things out when perhaps that is not the wisest strategy.

For example, there will be times when someone is being treated unfairly or in a way that undermines their dignity (bullying clearly comes into this category). We may be tempted to stand back and pretend we haven’t noticed. However, much of such bullying (and other forms of unacceptable behaviour) flourishes precisely because people do not challenge it.

I am not suggesting that you ‘cause a scene’ or put yourself at risk, but often all that is necessary is for it to be made known, subtly and gently, that you are aware of what is going on. That will often be enough to stop the behaviour from continuing. Knowing that they have at least some degree of support can also encourage the person on the receiving end to feel more confident in doing something about it – or at least not feel so isolated or vulnerable. By contrast, if we, in effect, hide we are giving the perpetrator a subtle message that what they are doing is acceptable.

Another example would be a training course I once attended. There was only one female participant and the male trainer was being consistently patronising towards her. The response from her and the other male participants was nervous laughter, which just seemed to encourage him even more. I decided that I could not let this pass, but was conscious that it could be uncomfortable for everyone (including the woman concerned) and thereby block learning if I openly made an issue of it. So, instead, every time he did it, I pointedly made eye contact, frowned and shook my head. This soon had the desired effect. I reinforced my point on the evaluation form at the end of the course. I subsequently received an email from the company who had commissioned him to say that they would not be using his services again. Let’s hope he learned the lesson from that.

But, it isn’t just bullying or discrimination that we should not hide from. I was once siting in a hotel lobby and I noticed an elderly woman try to use the revolving door. The door was moving slowly and so she pushed on it to try and make it go faster. The result was that the built-in safety feature made it stop. This made her push even more, thereby making sure that the door stayed firmly still. She was now trapped, unable to proceed and unable to go back out. I could see that she was getting distressed. I could also see a man sitting nearby who had witnessed what was going on but chose to ‘hide’, to bury his nose in his newspaper, leaving the woman at the mercy of modern technology designed to protect her. I got up to go across and tell her that she just needed to stop leaning on the door and it would start to move again, but another woman, closer to her, beat me to it, and the ordeal was quickly over. A distressed, but now relieved, person was able to escape. The ‘rescuer’, I noticed, glared at the man with his newspaper who had decided that alleviating the woman’s distress was less important than not getting involved.

As is so often the case, it is a matter of balance, neither putting ourselves at risk, nor failing to be decent citizens by hiding.

Aim for thriving, not surviving

Strange though it may sound, good enough sometimes isn’t good enough. Very often people are so busy that they will settle for getting things done to just about an acceptable standard and then start to focus on the next task, rather than get the first thing as far beyond ‘just good enough’ as possible. What we end up with then is mediocrity at best.

There is a technical term for this: satisficing. This is a made-up word, derived from combining satisfactory with sacrificing. It refers to the tendency for people to settle for what is satisfactory and thereby sacrifice producing the best results possible. Freud captured this idea when he said that the good is the enemy of the best, by which he meant that we can so easily fail to fulfil our potential by not looking beyond what is good enough.

Imagine being asked at a job interview: ‘How will you ensure that you achieve the most positive outcomes in your work?’ and replying with: ‘I won’t; as long as things are basically good enough, that will do me’. Not very impressive, is it?

But, it isn’t just about impressing (prospective) employers. It’s also a spiritual matter, in the sense that our personal strivings are what help us to get a sense of meaning, purpose and direction. Ironically, in the modern world personal strivings can so easily become materialistic: more money, more material goods, more of the things that ultimately don’t make much real difference to our spiritual well-being. It is ironic because focusing on material goals, rather than goals of achieving the best we can, will make it less likely that we will flourish enough in our work to earn the necessary income.

I am not suggesting that we should all become perfectionists, as that too brings its problems. We need to be balanced in our approach. Aiming for achieving the best we reasonably can is likely to give us a much better quality of life in a number of ways, not least in terms of giving us a stronger sense of purpose and, of course, the satisfactions to be gained from making as much of a positive difference as we can.

What can stand in the way of achieving our best is the problem of low morale. Operating in a culture of low morale will tend to sap motivation, undermine hope and, in so doing, make it more likely that we will settle for good enough. And, as is so often the case with low morale, this can lead to a vicious circle in which settling for surviving, rather than thriving, contributes to, and reinforces, low morale which then has the effect of making us more open to settling for just good enough.

Of course, it can be difficult to be positive and aim for thriving if you do happen to be faced with a context of low morale, but this means we then have to ask ourselves whether we want to struggle to do our best, despite the low morale (and thereby play at least a small part in eating away at that low morale), or make do with mediocrity (and thereby allow the low morale to eat away at us).

So, what is your idea of the best results you can achieve and what do you need to do make sure you are doing your best to achieve them? How can you make sure that setting for just good enough is a last resort, something you would only do when you really have to?

But, if you are already committed to thriving, rather than just surviving, how can you help those around you to appreciate the benefits of this approach and support them in adopting it?