It was a week no-one would have chosen in Somebody Inside HQ last week.
Both Nic and I experienced losses of the kind that really matter.
And in amongst all the sadness and the grieving and the deep, deep celebration of lives that had touched ours and loved us in their own special way, there is so much to reflect on.
It may seem odd that I want to start here.
With the four word mantra that influenced almost every decision I made in the last five years of my corporate life. It’s just that this week, of all weeks, it became even clearer why it is so important.
I used to have it written as a private appointment in my Outlook calendar every single working day. You would think after a while that it would be incorporated into my life and my decision making and in many ways it was. Yet some days, without it, I know my judgement would have taken a different course.
I would have got a little sucked into the madness that can swim around in corporate worlds where it’s easy to get our perspectives out of kilter. Where it’s easy to give instructions with a ring of JFDI (look it up if you’re lucky enough to have missed out on this particular acronym) and Profit is King in a way that even he didn’t mean for it to be.
My daily message to me was this:
‘Human Beings, not Objects’
It’s not mine you must understand. It comes from a brilliant book called ‘The Anatomy of Peace’ which has nothing to do with corporate thinking and everything to do with life. A bit like the message itself.
I chose to use it IN corporate life, but it wasn’t ABOUT corporate life. It was about EVERY life.
Making it very important indeed.
Let me explain what is being said in those four simple words. Starting here:
The alluring Shadow of ‘They’
Many times in life you will come across people who talk about ‘They’. It’s almost guaranteed you do it too sometimes.
‘They’ are an elusive bunch.
‘They’ issue instructions that must be obeyed at all costs. Even when said instructions are clearly bonkers.
‘They’ are DEFINITELY to blame when bad things happen.
‘They’ allow us to do things we would never do if ‘They’ weren’t around telling us to.
‘They’ pop up with their shadows in all kinds of places. Especially when we want to justify our actions or disown them and helplessly put the blame onto someone else.
Frankly friends, and excuse me for saying this, but ‘They’ are a pain in the backside. They are also a figment of our imagination. ‘They’ allow us to make decisions that we simply should not be making. UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
So let’s look at ‘Human Beings not Objects’ for a minute then.
That phrase reminds us that when we treat people AS THOUGH THEY WERE OBJECTS, or processes, or numbers on a piece of paper, we can do all kinds of things without it hurting our conscience.
When we simply work with numbers on a spreadsheet, it’s easy to turn people into objects, because we can’t SEE them. Suddenly, all of those real people are just a number on a piece of paper. An item of discussion in a debate about what the right thing is to do. And when we forget that REAL PEOPLE are affected by the things we do, we can do all kinds of things.
You know, like:
- ‘They’ can allow us to cut ‘hundreds of jobs’ with the justification that it’s ‘only 10% of our people and that means 90% are fine. 90% is a GREAT outcome. I mean that’s an A+ in any exam! Yay us. Nice work everyone’.
- ‘They’ can allow us to create policies that forget that people are human beings with their own INDIVIDUAL LIVES AND CIRCUMSTANCES that need taking into consideration.
- ‘They’ let us get away with believing that it’s OK to vote for a party that we know won’t give pay rises to our core services, the ones that keep people alive in the most difficult of circumstances, even though we know fine rightly that if it was OUR family member lying on their death bed in a corridor then ‘They’ would have hell to pay. But it isn’t right now and so it’s easier to just talk about the numbers. Then it doesn’t hurt at all.
This week, ‘They’ got their hands on a little process known in the corporate world as Compassionate Leave and now that I’m not being employed, I started to see the impact of it in its true form.
Because across my family, everyone was subject to different treatment in accordance to the Compassionate Leave of each organisation. There were different processes where some organisations had remembered that we were dealing with real human beings around here and where others, well they were still doing the object thing.
We saw policies that defined in clear terms, EXACTLY HOW LONG IT TAKES TO GRIEVE (in some instances, a supremely generous one day, which had to include travel from one end of the country to the other), and WHO WE ARE ENTITLED TO GRIEVE FOR (based on our family tree, which is an excellent idea as we are all exactly the same).
So let me turn to the other argument for one moment. Let’s be fair here, there really is one.
‘Yes, but Danielle, we have a BUSINESS to run and we can’t just let people pop off and grieve for however long it takes. Especially as some of them will take the proverbial.’
I have no words to respond to this.
Oh, wait a minute, that is not remotely true. I have these words.
And then these.
HUMAN BEINGS NOT OBJECTS.
In my corporate career, I worked hard every day to honour this message and yet…
This week I woke up to the fact that even I might have struggled to ask for something different than the traditional compassionate leave policy. In service of wanting to set an example, I might have headed back to work after my days were up, in fact I might have even taken a bit less time than others, knowing that the family tree thing in the policy didn’t quite stack up on this occasion.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not for saying that my organisation would have stopped me taking longer, I don’t believe for one minute that they would. I’m less sure that would have applied for everyone. In fact, I know it wouldn’t have applied for everyone. Because you know, POLICY.
I am saying that under the shadow of ‘They’, I could have started to conform too. I could have fallen under the false pretence that objects were where it’s at.
I could have missed vital moments of grieving and togetherness and family healing because I had forgotten all about the message I had been leading by for so many years.
I could have got pulled into the great vortex of ‘suck it up and move on’. In fact, truthfully, I think it would have been highly likely.
And realising that hacked me off. Big style.
Which is why I’m writing this. In case it sparks some thoughts in any of you that will change your future decisions or even your decisions right now, today.
I’m inviting you to embrace a message of ‘Human Beings not Objects’ in everything that you do.
Because this applies to all of us, even those who are not leading others or making decisions about what people can and can’t do.
It applies when we are making judgements about, ‘fat people, lazy people, miserable people, people in customer service, people with different belief structures, people who have different cultural practices to us, people who speak different languages’.
It applies when we are deciding what to do with our own lives.
Human beings not objects. Individuals, not labels. Single beings who, yes, maybe have some things in common, and also who are uniquely, wholly and simply themselves.
No-one needs batching up into a big group so that we can pass off our opinions about them because somehow we believe we know best.
Every single person is a human being. One who lives differently, loves differently, moves differently, dies differently.
And that includes you.
Let’s honour those differences today and every day.