Before I can be part of a community, before I can build mastery, before I can earn respect, at the very least I must be treated as human.
The past few decades have been unkind to us in this way. We’ve been treated like interchangeable parts in corporate machines, and we’ve learned to think of each other by our positions or roles instead of by our uniqueness and humanity.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to establish humanity with another person, be it an employee, a customer, or your spouse:
- Human beings are unique. I don’t just mean we’re all “special snowflakes.” Every human being has an important individuality of experience. Even if we could say that everything in the world is known, we could never say that everything in the world is known in the same way by everyone. What this means is that even an intern has a unique contribution to make. Instead of focusing on level of experience and rank within your organization, ask yourself what unique contribution each person around you can make, and work to bring that out. Recognizing uniqueness is a key to innovation and growth.
- Human beings are social. In the previous point we find our uniqueness, in this point we find our sameness. We have similar experiences, we have similar needs, and we react to one another. When we see somebody else getting something we want, it hurts. When we help somebody else get something they want, it makes us proud. When we see how we contribute to something larger than ourselves, we feel a sense of purpose. Recognizing the social will weed out a lot of problems before they take root.
- Human beings are alive. It sounds odd to say, but from time to time you may forget that the people around you are living, breathing organisms and not brains in jars. We grow. We change. We have chemicals in our bodies that are in a constantly shifting balance. Believing not just in the ability for change but in the inevitability of it will prevent you from sabotaging your employee relationships or asking them to neglect themselves, while still remaining flexible to the needs of your business.
There are limitations inherent in any attempt to summarize in a short blog post something that people have been writing books about for over 2,000 years, but if you keep in mind that the people around you–not just in your family but at work, even people whose names you don’t know or whose faces you don’t recognize–are living, unique, social creatures just like yourself, it will make the smallest differences that over a lifetime can shape an entirely new reality.
(This post is part three of a series.)