What are You Serving?

(From the project Dialogues with Julian Moody: On Life, Business, Sustainability, and Other Things by Julian Moody and Brandy Walker)

BW: In the topic “No Concept of Priorities” you had mentioned many people are not able to prioritize effectively.

JM: Well, as we already discussed, many of them don’t even know that they need to prioritize in the first place.

BW: They’re just reacting to everything.

JM: They’re basically reactive. One of the reasons—when people get into higher positions, they tend to be having to work with so many situations, so many problems, that they can become very reactive, and by reactive I’m really talking about emotionally reactive. So let’s say a sales manager comes to the president and says “We have a major problem. Our competition is offering some special deals that are undermining our sales.”  Well, that might be very upsetting to the president. Upsetting to the sales manager. Immediately they would go into some kind of emotional reaction. Might be anger. Might be fear. “If that company gets the lead away from us, we’re doomed.” They may not say that out loud, but they certainly think it. Lot of fear. All different kinds of emotions. Some in management can become habitually reactive, day in and day out. In some organizations, depending on the management, you might find everybody reacting. And everybody’s reacting to everybody else’s reacting. Because most humans by nature are reactive. They are not by nature reflective. When you’re in a higher level position, I would say from middle management on up to higher level supervisors, executives, and the president—it’s especially important that they develop the skill to take time to be reflective. One of my specialties was helping the presidents see how reactive they were and why in being reactive, they were actually multiplying their problems. In reacting, they often believe they are responding appropriately, but they’re actually making things worse.

BW: So you’re saying, when people react, they often believe they are being rational.

JM: Sometimes, but most of the time they aren’t even aware enough to believe that because they are reacting emotionally. And when people are reacting emotionally, they aren’t fully aware of how they’re reacting, they’re just reacting. And they don’t stop to think, “Am I being rational? Or emotional?” For instance, we mentioned the case of the president who had two managers underneath him who were constantly fighting (topic “A ‘Dumb’ Truck Driver Reads the Socratic Dialogues by Plato”.) The kind of bickering and fighting that’s going on between the two men is basically emotional. To them it sounds like they’re being rational in everything they say, but they’re being very emotional with each other, they’re angry, frustrated, they’re attacking each other, they’re doing all kinds of things which are emotional. The president, when he said, “Look you guys, you better shape up,” he was saying it in a tone of anger. It sounds logical, “you better shape up,” as in “you need to make an improvement,” but it was anger and anger, of course, is an emotion. And the effect on the men, of course, is that they get more angry. The more the president acts emotionally, the more the men will usually act emotionally. And so nobody is paying any attention to what is causing the fights between them. Emotional reactions of this type are usually nonproductive. They don’t solve anything. They just feed the fire. A good example of this—if you watch teenagers and parents. If the teenagers are angry and upset, the parents will tend to get angry and upset and vice versa. Emotions tend to be contagious. So emotions play an important part in all problems and issues. So my role was to help the president take time to sit back and look at the whole situation. I get him to describe the situation. My primary tool is questions. And so I’m using questions all the time. In the heat of the conflict I might say to the president, “Describe for me what you see going on. What does John say and how does he say it? And what does Harry say and how does he say it? And tell me a little bit about the job of the engineer that’s fighting with the sales manager.” And he’ll begin to describe the job in a factual way. And then I’ll ask, “Describe the job of the sales manager. What does he do much of the time during the day?” And by using questions it’s possible to help a person become more calm and grounded. Because I’m asking him to be descriptive which pulls him away from emotions temporarily. I’m trying to help him move away from emotional reaction into processing facts, analysis, and reflection which is often not easy. My questions are causing him to think factually and also giving him an overview as well as get to the source of the problem. So at one point, I may ask something like, “Now what do you think might be causing it?” And this is usually a startling kind of question to the president. He might say, “What do you mean causing it?” And I’ll say, “Everything has a cause. What’s causing it? What’s causing the two men to fight?” By this point, he might be confused or bewildered. So I ask more questions and dig deeper. What I’m doing is trying to get a picture of the nature of the situation. Every problem is a part of a bigger situation. Very complicated sometimes. What’s going on between the two men is merely a small part of the real situation.

BW: So I can see why you stress the importance of teaching people to step back and take time out from their emotions and be reflective.

JM: They need to take time out for that, but in many cases, they need to learn how to do it. It’s very difficult for executives and managers who are basically emotionally reactive to everything going on, to get them to where they’re willing to take, we’ll say, two hours on a Monday morning to sit and be reflective, not answer the phone, not look at emails, think about the week and the business and so forth. It’s a whole strange world for them, because their nature, from all the competition and stuff of that nature, is reaction.

BW: So obviously, being caught up in the fast pace of the modern, competitive, business environment makes it difficult for people to be reflective.

JM: Basically, yes.

BW: In general, there seems to be a lack of reflection in this culture—just a lot of reaction.

JM: It’s a discipline. So they need to discipline themselves to take time out to be reflective and avoid going into reaction. You need time out to process emotion.

BW: “Prudence” is a word you don’t hear much anymore. The general meaning—good, sound judgement in one’s affairs. People are often stressed and reactive versus prudent. It’s not unusual for people to make decisions hastily in reacting to something.

JM: You especially don’t want to make decisions in this emotional, reactive state. Also you don’t want to make decisions out of fear—fear in the sense of anxiety, worry, irrational and emotional speculations.

BW: As you said, you start with wherever they’re at—you don’t judge the emotions that people are having. It’s how people handle or choose to act on the emotions that can be a problem or not a problem.

JM: Yes, that’s true. It’s commonplace to think of emotions as something inferior compared to say the intellect and also something to get rid of or block out since they can be a source of discomfort or confusion and you can be misled by them. Up until recently, it was much more common for men to deny emotion—they could be very emotional, reactive but claim they were being logical. Men typically deny emotion more than women. And in my generation and older, emotions were not talked about much. They didn’t discuss emotions like some people do now.

BW: Some people say you should only listen to your head meaning reason and intellect, that your head should rule over your heart, meaning emotions. Likewise, I’ve heard people say the opposite, “Listen to your heart” and generally they mean feelings, emotions, implying that you should listen to your feelings, emotions more than your head. As a Christian, I prefer to lean on God instead of my own understanding or feelings, so I don’t think it’s good to pit one against the other.

JM: Both are different but obviously, like we discussed, we need both. Many people try to block out emotion but we need emotion. A person who has emotion is real, human, authentic. You can connect with that person in an authentic, real way. It’s very difficult to connect with someone in an authentic way when they are shut off from emotion. And what a person likes and loves, what they dislike—generally what they feel about things, their emotions—those are some of the indicators of a person’s unique personality.

BW: As we discussed in another topic, we even need emotions that can be negative like anger. Anger in the sense of indignation over injustice. And in that sense anger can tell you something— for example, someone is doing something wrong, overstepping boundaries, trying to take advantage of you or someone, that sort of thing.

JM: That’s true. But feelings can also be wrong. For example, you can feel extremely angry about something and then later, in hindsight, realize that you overreacted, and if you acted on that anger, then you most likely made a fool out of yourself or did something you regretted. We all have egotistical expectations of how we should be treated and react in anger when we aren’t treated the way we think we are entitled to. Or react in anger when things don’t go the way we want or expect. When reality doesn’t match our expectations. So that takes discernment.

BW: And obviously you need analytical thinking. Reason can help you sort through something like a technical problem.

JM: That’s true, but your thinking, thoughts can be wrong. For example, your mind can speculate and assume all sorts of things and then find out later those thoughts were wrong. It’s important to know and remember that both can be wrong. You need both, but both can be wrong. You can’t depend on either completely. It’s part of being a faulty human being.

BW: In some languages, feminine forms and masculine forms exist for nouns and verbs. It’s commonplace for characteristics, attributes, traits to be categorized masculine or feminine. For example, intuition is often categorized as feminine, and intellect as masculine. Just for the purpose of discussion, I’ve heard you nickname “George” what are categorized as masculine qualities or attributes, those qualities that are active, aggressive. And nickname “Georgette” what are often categorized as feminine qualities such as intuition, feeling, nurturing characteristics. I’ve heard you say, “George is the steward of my rational mind. Georgette the stewardess of my creative mind,” that they’re equal but different twins who work together to help you solve problems in your work. I know what you mean when you say that. Some would say in every situation or problem there always needs to be a balance between the two. To clarify, I’m not talking about gender roles, just characteristics or traits that are classified feminine or masculine.

JM: Like some may say or imply if there’s a fifty-fifty balance then it’s all good or some other percentage. Like some assume if you get everything in balance it will all be ok.

BW: It’s really more about what’s appropriate to the situation or problem or circumstances. For example, active versus passive. In the Great Depression and during your season of difficulty finding work or keeping work, you kept doing—you stayed very active and aggressive in looking for work—which is an appropriate and honorable way of dealing with that kind of situation. In an emergency case of survival you stayed active, aggressive, you kept doing instead of being passive. You worked hard when the circumstances required it—such as when you lost everything and still had to support your family—you worked many odd jobs just to stay afloat.

JM: The Great Depression as well as the Great Recession—they were consequences. As you said, you have to go into emergency survival mode. Like in war, you go into survival mode.

BW: In the non-emergency seasons, you didn’t work compulsively like a workaholic to get ahead. You worked hard when it was appropriate to the need or situation. Some people are compulsively doing because of workaholism or keeping busy helps them to avoid deeper problems and issues. In another topic, you mentioned workaholics can actually be unproductive. Hard work doesn’t always pay off like some people like to believe or claim. We began the topic talking about reaction versus reflection. In our culture there is a lot of reaction, not much reflection in comparison. In our culture there is also more doing versus not doing.

JM: Right. In our culture there is constant doing, busyness, activity. What is valued is constant working. In our culture: solve the problem, do it, fix it, get it done. And that can all be very commendable when something needs to get done. But sometimes there can be too much doing.

BW: As we mentioned in “No Concept of Priorities” there are benefits to doing nothing. But some are incapable of doing nothing. Some people can’t leave well enough alone.

JM: That’s a good way to put it—can’t leave well enough alone.

BW: Some people are busybodies. Busybody “do-gooders” who are just meddling or prying in other’s affairs instead of minding their own business and problems. They often end up multiplying or complicating the problems by “helping” or “fixing.”

JM: Or a more common problem, many people don’t know how to let things go in terms of conflict. They engage in a battle when they would be better off not doing so.

BW: In some situations or cases, it is better to do nothing. For example, people of faith will sometimes act as if they have no faith and make a mess of things by trying to take care of what God should take care of. They don’t actually put into practice the theological principle of letting God fight your battles. For example, letting someone fall on their own sword instead of engaging in an exhausting or embarrassing battle with them—trusting that whatever they do or say, such as someone’s slander or gossip concerning you, will at some point backfire. There’s a time and place for confrontation, sometimes you do have to confront something with someone, but there are times it is better not to. I’ve personally found that in difficult situations, when I have prayed about it and did my best to forgive and handed the whole thing over to God, the end result is always better than what would have happened if I took matters into my own hands and tried to fix it or solve it on my own.

JM: But it’s difficult to do nothing since this culture values and emphasizes constant doing, busyness, aggressiveness, “asserting yourself,” and has a disdain for and suspicion of being passive—it’s perceived as too meek. In general, we don’t value meekness. Back to George and Georgette, the discussion of masculine and feminine qualities. In the seventies, the battles of gender were raging. It was commonplace to say women had to be aggressive just like men and watch and follow sports just like men in order to compete, be successful in something like business. They would say ridiculous things like that.

BW: I think there’s still a tendency to be stuck in this seventies, political mindset—this emphasis on whatever category you belong to—I think that can be a distraction. In the battles of gender, I think they tend to overlook what’s more important. In a business environment or any place where decisions have to be made, character is very important. Character has a lot to do with the choices, decisions that a person makes. We began the topic by picking up where we left off in “No Concept of Priorities.” In that topic, we talked about how not being able prioritize in the mundane, everyday sense may be because the individual isn’t rooted or grounded in priorities in the bigger sense of values, beliefs, morals, principles. For example, being self-serving versus having an attitude of servitude.

JM: Yes, we pointed that out.

BW: You may not consciously admit you are self-serving, but you may be. You can also be serving an idol or idols—idols in the form of a culture’s dominant, unspoken values of greed, power, fame, status, wealth, prestige, laurels. When people think of idols, they generally think of statues, the golden calf, that sort of thing, but in the modern age, idols and idolatry are not as literal. So you can be serving one without even realizing it. If you believe in yourself, then you are your own god. An idol is anything you trust in more than God. Anything you place above God. Anything you have more loyalty to than God.

JM: Right. Where do you ultimately stand? What are you ultimately serving?