Whenever decisions need to be made in a democratic fashion, while all parties sincerely desire to arrive at the same goal, several divergent opinions arise as to how to get there. There are particular dynamics behind these divergences of methods. Two of them I would coin as the “saw,” and the “scalpel.”
Cutting out a blemish in the wood with a saw does the job quickly and effectively while creating much waste in the form of wood tearing and dust. Making an incision in a human body with a scalpel requires skill, patience, but cuts exactly what needs to be cut out, no more, no less.
It is easy to want to adopt the “saw” approach. It cuts right through the issue. Using a scalpel requires us taking the time to really measure each argument to the fraction of millimeter so we do not create waste in the form of ignoring people power. This has the potential to also take us on a never-ending merry-go-around that can stalemate our decision-making process.
When making decisions then it is first important to decide what it is that we are “cutting.” Is it something we don’t mind to waste or precious material that we don’t want to hurt or lose? In the case of wood, we don’t really care about the wood dust, but when it comes to humans, we have to be very precise.
Of course, in the case of decision-making we are talking about people, and people who are honest, willing, devoted, and dedicated, are the most important commodity of all. Retention and participation is much higher when people feel included as a part of the decision-making process and that their opinion matters.
So which is it? The saw or the scalpel? Both have a cost. One in time, the other in people. Maybe that’s a new twist on the concept of, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost ...,?” (Luke 14:28)
During a philosophical discussion I once had with my high-school class, I suggested that when 2 people argue together, both relying on solid proof-text and undeniable evidence and/or documentation, the argument will never end, and that is because they probably both are right. They are both right but looking at the situation through a different lens, a different angle, a different need. This happens in families, at work, or any kind of group that works through democratic consensus. How do you then solve the issue and come to an agreement?
Since the opponent is also correct in his position, the wise person will humbly acknowledge it and even use that extra information to better his own point. It doesn’t necessarily mean to budge from our own position, but it does mean to incorporate the position of the other person into our own.
These issues often happen in parenting or leadership. How do we maintain control, order, and respect of protocols? Do we exercise the blind and unbending full measure of the letter of the law, or do we try to “temper the wind” to the point of anarchy or enablement? How many a parent have had this discussion concerning the raising of their children.
For a boat to go forward, both the right and left oar must work together at the same time. If either the right or the left stands to go it alone, the boat will continually travel in circles, going nowhere.
We see then that both are needed. King Solomon of the Bible said, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.” (Ecc 8:11) Yet while that may be true, King David, his father, credited his own success greatness not to God’s unwavering punishing hand but to His gentleness, “...your gentleness made me great.” (Psa 18:35)
The truth is that both are right. Justice, or the cold application of the letter of the law, and mercy, the principle of governing with the heart, are like two sides of the same coin. To govern justly one must uphold justice while exerting mercy. It is a difficult act to perform but one every good leader must learn. That is why again, wise King Solomon said, “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged:” “Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.” (Pro 16:6; 20:28)
I read a leadership course one time that taught that leaders must at all times appear stoic, self-assured, and unmovable to their people, especially when they don’t really know what they are doing or are flying by the seat of their pants.This type of leadership may no doubt have its place and time, but should it really be our M.O for everyday relationships and business?
Former First lady Rosalynn Carter aid,”A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” So to me, the real question is, “Does this philosophy of leadership really help me to bring people where they ought to be? Does it make people want to endorse the vision I am trying to impart to them as much as would simple honesty, truthfulness, and humility?”
Everybody loves a hero, until they find out that their hero has , like them, feet of clay, so why not be honest right away. This type of honesty will not only inspire trust but give hope to others that they discover they also can be leaders for the cause. Lawyer Ralph Nader said one day that, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” The world has enough followers who just contribute the minimum they can. Let’s produce leaders who will give their all to the good cause and worthy cause they believe in Here is a story to illustrate that last point.
A conversation is said to have taken place between a hen and a hog when they passed a church and observed the subject of the pastor's sermon: "How Can We Help the Poor?" After a moment's reflection, the hen said, "I know what we can do. We can give them a ham-and-egg breakfast!" The hog protested, saying, "The breakfast would be only a contribution for you, but for me it would mean total commitment!"
“How do you eat an elephant?” is the question. “One bite at a time!” is the answer.
Life sometimes faces us with seemingly insurmountable problems and issues. We don’t know where the head is and much less the tail. We look at what’s in front of us and want to scream. It can be compared to arriving at a disaster scene. One has to keep his calm, assess the situation and come up with a plan.
The worst thing to do in time of disaster is to let ourselves get overwhelmed by every little detail. This would cause us to get confused and discouraged, which in turn would keep us from any positive decisive action.
To properly assess a disaster or a bad situation one must keep his cool; take one, if not several steps back as this helps to see the full spectrum of things and not get distracted with minute details. Once we have done this, we plan our work and work our plan, one “bite” at a time.
Sometime we may feel like we are too small; that as one person there is nothing we can do to solve the problems of the world. I, for one, remember the story of a shepherd who single-handedly reforested a whole area of southern France by planting trees. One seed at a time, he restored life to an area that had been deserted because of over-logging.
There is an interesting African folk tale about a hummingbird. When he saw a forest-fire, while all the other animals fled or witnessed the devastation in despair, with his tiny beak and tiny wings, he went to try to put out the fire. We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once!
Here is another good example of what the power of one can do
When we travel around the country my wife and I like to stop at thrift and second hand stores. We find it especially interesting when in very small agricultural or historical towns. It is in such a place this week that I saw a wooden sign saying, “The extra mile is never crowded.”
This statement came to me in sharp contrast with the crowded Los Angeles beaches we saw as we drove on the Pacific Highway. I personally wondered, “Where is the pleasure and the rest from sitting on a crowded beach?” But I digress. Let's go back to that wooden sign.
I read a poem one time describing the world as a marathon race. In a marathon you generally have three groups. First you have the front runners; those who push to win the race. Then you have the pack; the place where lies the majority of the runners. Then you have the straddlers at the end, those who lag behind everybody.
Of all the places in the race, the front one is the least crowded. Indeed, those who push extra hard, those who go the extra mile to push the concept are few and far between. They are sometimes viewed as obsessed, imbalanced, even irrational. But could it be that they simply are dedicated and without reservation about their commitment? And is that bad?
I dare proclaim that the world is in need of some more of these “imbalanced” folks, of people who are without reservation; who are determined to push for integrity, honesty, for the values of humanity. If one wants to find rest and peace away from the pack of the indifferent “beach goers”, that is the place to go to, the place of those who run the extra mile.
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