Might is not always right
In today’s society we often get the feeling that mantras like “might is right”, “wrong and strong”, “my way or the highway”, “I don’t care” and “you better not take my kindness for weakness” reflect the aggressive nature with which we too often interact with each other.
The saying “manners maketh man” is not limited to social graces such as dining etiquette, but can be generally applied to ensure that our everyday interaction with others is more courteous. At the centre of topical issues such as bullying, labour-management impasses, inadequate customer service and domestic violence can be inadequate respect, empathy, civility and recognition of our interdependence. Our families, organisations, communities and nations all represent systems, which like the human body, can only become most productive when the constituent members recognise that they all play different yet important roles within the survival of the whole.
I recall where a judge told a defence attorney, after he had very forcefully cross-examined a witness for the prosecution, that one could “cross examine without being cross”. This judicial (and judicious) intervention was quite insightful because it revealed that even in the highly adversarial environment of the courtroom, which has been described as “the arena where gladiators meet to do battle”, one does not need to be discourteous to get one’s point across. Therefore, firm advocacy of a position need not equate to being disrespectful of the other side. The utilisation of a firm but fair and courteous approach is not an academic argument or utopia, but one that I saw being used by my executive director at the Barbados Employers Confederation in a recent conciliation/negotiation.
Oftentimes when we think of an agreement we only consider the substance of what that agreement contains. However, the type of interaction or process by which an agreement is reached may perhaps have a more fundamental impact upon the perception and sustainability of the agreement than the actual terms set out. Remember that any agreement can be broken, despite the possible sanctions. Ultimately, the parties to an agreement will only uphold the bargain if they want to. Therefore a little professionalism, mutual respect and general decorum, rather than unprofessionalism, prejudice, unwillingness to move from entrenched positions, and so on, can go a long way in truly finding consensus. As the old folks often said, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”.
Someone recently said in the context of industrial relations that too often we operate in an environment in which “the biggest bully gets his way”.
Moving beyond the realm of industrial relations, it might be useful to examine to what extent we can afford to perpetuate such an approach in our spheres of endeavour, while simultaneously decrying incidents of bullying at school; indiscipline on our roads; aggressive interactions in our workplaces; domestic violence in our homes; reduced neighbourliness in our communities; and so on.
We live in a time in which we love to assert our rights but there is often less recognition that one’s rights never come without a commensurate obligation. Additionally, it should never be forgotten that rights are neither absolute nor solely to benefit one person.
In an April 6, 2014 article entitled We Are Failing Our Youth, Barry Gale, QC, former president of the Barbados Bar Association, critiqued the effectiveness of the home, the educational system and the workplace in Barbados. Gale admonished those entities for inadequately promoting the importance of etiquette, decorum and interpersonal skills to the pursuit of personal and national success. A “do as you please” attitude might appear to be expedient but such only serves to deteriorate the relationships that are necessary to achieve truly meaningful and sustainable progress in our society. If manners maketh man and no man is an island, then manners can represent the mortar with which we can seek to build cooperation towards the achievement of progress.
Human nature is characterised by a desire in all of us to feel important, appreciated and respected. Such can be observed in our pursuit of power, wealth, beauty, fame, infamy, influence, knowledge, a sense of belonging through face-to-face interactions or having many “friends” or other contacts on social media, etc. Unfortunately, we often fail to consider that perhaps we are more likely to be deemed as important, appreciated and respected by others when we help others to feel important, appreciated and respected. Whether you call it karma, the cycle of life, what goes around comes around, cause and effect, our actions can have a way of coming back to either help us or to haunt us.
The late German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe profoundly said: “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being”. Therefore, let us try treating others in the courteous, positive, considerate and respectful manner in which we expect and are often quick to demand to be treated and see how much it can build more mutually beneficial relationships. Our workplaces, homes and communities will be the better for it.