Wednesday, November 2, 2016

But In The Real World

An old story I’d almost forgotten resurfaced for me today.

A guy who spent his entire career in the same company, in the same state, mostly in the same building, mostly with the same bosses who were of the same management philosophy once corrected me when I was talking by saying “yes, but in the real world…”

It was the first time it became clear to me that “in the real world” could not only suggest that my views are naive, but that the speaker is from a very specific (and perhaps naive) context.

It didn't have to be. Sometimes I am naive, but not every time.

"In the real world" only meant that my experiences did not coincide with his, and therefore my sense of cause-and-effect seemed far different from the "laws of work" where he spent his time.

I must have looked like an alien to him, as he did to me.

The things I said about trust, team work, values, and practices sounded entirely unworkable because they didn't follow the rules of his control-based organization where everyone knows that people only do their work because they have no choice. All this "hippy crap" didn't make any sense.

Except that it always has made sense and worked in my experience.

Travel Broadens One

I've always been pretty mobile. I've been with a lot of really great consultancies even before the one that makes it possible for me to travel the world these days. All of my clients and all of my companies have always had things to teach me.

Some of the things I learned were pretty context-specific, and didn't carry from one real-world experience to the next. Some were more universal, but were moored to a point in time or a way of working that has since become quaint.

Some things I learned, the most important things, have weathered a lot of storms and changes in fashion. As far as I know, they may be universal. They're certainly well-represented in ancient wisdom and sacred texts. But I can't assume the universal reality of them either.

Being in a lot of organizations and helping to solve many technical and cultural issues has granted me a lot of relatively brief but intense exposure to a lot of companies and contexts.

Unlike my friend above, I didn't stay in any one of those contexts for decades. I don't know what it's like to have only a very deep exposure to a single culture. I don't know what it's like to have all your history, relationships, and experience tied so deeply to your neighbors and lived so deeply in your daily work. Our worlds are very different, indeed.

At one point, when we were in mid-transformation he enlightened me to his context, explaining that he avoided upset (no matter what) because "these people are your neighbors and you have to live with them."

I forgot that not everyone is mobile and not every community is temporary. I was (in this case) naive to his context.

How Tiny Our Perception

I've written about getting through to each other before, and how experience and mindset controls how we hear others' words and how we choose our own. Sadly, this is one of those moments where we would need to look each other in the eye if we were to come to any kind of certainty that we're communicating this important idea, but I'll try:

"There are more things in heaven and earth..."

All our “real worlds” are tiny one-person slices, and yet all these contradictory experiences are "real".

 If you live in the city, the country life seems the naive and unreal one. If you live in the country, you see city people as strange and out of touch.

But we're tiny and self-involved beings. We tend to measure tallness and shortness of trees by our own height. A "long time" is some proportion of our own lifespan; just ask a 5-year-old how long it is between birthdays or Christmases.

If my life is one person's slice out of the whole of existence and the whole of history, it is a very small measure of reality. It's impossibly thin.

So when one of us calls out "in the real world" we hear them as invalidating our experiences (oh, self-involved self!) but really it's just a curiosity space.

And then we find out that they have things to teach us, too.

Not So Easy

"In the real world" is a pretty arrogant thing to say, and frankly triggers me a bit.

I'd like to say I was past this, but I still have to process the upset and forgive the arrogance of the speaker and this listener.

After I process that all I can reorient, enter into curiosity, and start to communicate again.  But I have to take the time still.