Updated: Mar 9
“In all of life, there are sequential stages of growth and development. A child learns to turn over, to sit up, to crawl, and then to walk and run. Each step is important and each one takes time. No step can be skipped.
This is true in all phases of life, in all areas of development, whether it be learning to play the piano or communicate effectively with a working associate. It is true with individuals, with marriages, with families, and with organizations.
We know and accept this fact or principle of process in the area of physical things, but to understand it in emotional areas, in human relations, and even in the area of personal character is less common and more difficult. And even if we understand it, to accept it and to live in harmony with it are even less common and more difficult. Consequently, we sometimes look for a shortcut, expecting to be able to skip some of these vital steps in order to save time and effort and still reap the desired result.
But what happens when we attempt to shortcut a natural process in our growth and development? If you are only an average tennis player but decide to play at a higher level in order to make a better impression, what will result? Would positive thinking alone enable you to compete effectively against a professional?
What if you were to lead your friends to believe you could play the piano at concert hall level while your actual present skill was that of a beginner?
The answers are obvious. It is simply impossible to violate, ignore, or shortcut this development process. It is contrary to nature, and attempting to seek such a shortcut only results in disappointment and frustration.
On a 10-point scale, if I am at level two in any field, and desire to move to level five, I must first take the step toward level three. "A thousand-mile journey begins with the first step" and can only be taken one step at a time.
If you don't let a teacher know what level you are -- by asking a question, or revealing your ignorance -- you will not learn or grow. You cannot pretend for long, for you will eventually be found out. Admission of ignorance is often the first step in our education. Thoreau taught, "How can we remember our ignorance, which our growth requires, when we are using our knowledge all of the time?"
I recall one occasion when two young women, daughters of a friend of mine, came to me tearfully, complaining about their father's harshness and lack of understanding. They were afraid to open up with their parents for fear of the consequences. And yet they desperately needed their parents' love, understanding, and guidance.
I talked with the father and found that he was intellectually aware of what was happening. But while he admitted he had a temper problem, he refused to take responsibility for it and to honestly accept the fact that his emotional development level was low. It was more than his pride could swallow to take the first step toward change.
To relate effectively with a wife, a husband, children, friends, or working associates, we must learn to listen. And this requires emotional strength. Listening involves patience, openness, and the desire to understand -- highly developed qualities of character. It's so much easier to operate from a low emotional level and to give high-level advice.
Our level of development is fairly obvious with tennis or piano playing, where it is impossible to pretend. But it is not so obvious in the areas of character and emotional development. We can "pose" and "put on" for a stranger or an associate. We can pretend. And for a while we can get by with it -at least in public. We might even deceive ourselves. Yet I believe that most of us know the truth of what we really are inside; and I think many of those we live with and work with do as well.
I have seen the consequences of attempting to shortcut this natural process of growth often in the business world, where executives attempt to "buy" a new culture of improved productivity, quality, morale, and customer service with the strong speeches, smile training, and external interventions, or through mergers, acquisitions, and friendly or unfriendly takeovers. But they ignore the low-trust climate produced by such manipulations. When these methods don't work, they look for other personality ethic techniques that will -- all the time ignoring and violating the natural principles and processes on which high-trust culture is based.
I remember violating this principle myself as a father many years ago. One day I returned home to my little girl's third-year birthday party to find her in the corner of the front room, defiantly clutching all of her presents, unwilling to let the other children play with them. The first thing I noticed was several parents in the room witnessing this selfish display. I was embarrassed, and doubly so because at the time I was teaching university classes in human relations. And I knew, or at least felt, the expectation of these parents.
The atmosphere in the room was really charged -- the children were crowding around my little daughter with their hands out, asking to play with the presents they had just given, and my daughter was adamantly refusing. I said to myself, "Certainly I should teach my daughter to share. The value of sharing is one of the most basic things we believe in."
So I first tried a simple request. "Honey, would you please share with your friends the toys they've given you?
"No," she replied flatly.
My second method was to use a little reasoning. "Honey, if you learn to share your toys with them when they are at your home, then when you go to their homes they will share their toys with you."
Again, the immediate reply was "No!"
I was becoming a little more embarrassed, for it was evident I was having no influence. The third method was bribery. Very softly I said, "Honey, if you share, I've got special surprise for you. I'll give you a piece of gum."
"I don't want gum!" she exploded.
Now I was becoming exasperated. For my fourth attempt, I resorted to fear and threat. "Unless you share, you will be in real trouble!"
"I don't care!" she cried. "These are my things. I don't have to share!"
Finally, I resorted to force. I merely took some of the toys and gave them to the other kids. "Here, kids, play with these."
But at that moment, I valued the opinion those parents had of me more than the growth and development of my child and our relationship together. I simply made an initial judgment that I was right; she should share, and she was wrong in not doing so.
Perhaps I superimposed a higher-level expectation on her simply because on my own scale I was at a lower level. I was unable or unwilling to give patience or understanding, so I expected her to give things. In an attempt to compensate for my deficiency, I borrowed strength from my position and authority and forced her to do what I wanted her to do. But borrowing strength builds weakness. It builds weakness in the borrower because it reinforces dependence on external factors to get things done. It builds weakness in the person forced to acquiesce, stunting the development of independent reasoning, growth, and internal discipline. And finally, it builds weakness in the relationship. Fear replaces cooperation, and both people involved become more arbitrary and defensive.
And what happens when the source of borrowed strength -- be it superior size or physical strength, position, authority, credentials, status symbols, appearance, or past achievements -- changes or is no longer there?
Had I been more mature, I could have relied on my own intrinsic strength -- my understanding of sharing and of growth and my capacity to love and nurture -- and allowed my daughter to make a free choice as to whether she wanted to share or not to share. Perhaps after attempting to reason with her, I could have turned the attention of the children to an interesting game, taking all that emotional pressure off my child. I've learned that once children gain a sense of real possession, they share very naturally, freely, and spontaneously.
My experience has been that there are times to teach and times not to teach. When relationships are strained and the air charged with emotion, an attempt to teach is often perceived as a form of judgment and rejection. But to take the child alone, quietly, when the relationship is good and to discuss the teaching or the value seems to have much greater impact. It may have been that the emotional maturity to do that was beyond my level of patience and internal control at the time.
Perhaps a sense of possessing needs to come before a sense of genuine sharing. Many people who give mechanically or refuse to give and share in their marriages and families may never have experienced what it means to possess themselves, their own sense of identity and self-worth. Really helping our children grow may involve being patient enough to allow them the sense of possession as well as being wise enough to teach them the value of giving and providing the example ourselves.”- Page 7, “The 7 habits of highly effective people “ by Stephen R. Covey