I was recently at my main client, one of the largest (perhaps the largest) law firms who are in the process of deciding whether to merge with a US law firm to become a really big and fully international law firm. Everyone is concerned with whether this is the right thing to do. The timing seems very parallel to Brexit – with similar delays and deadlines slipping past. The head of the firm is utterly convinced that it is the right thing to do. In the same way, there are people who are convinced Brexit is the right thing to do and those who are equally convinced that it is the wrong thing to do.
In discussing the potential merger at the Law firm, I noticed the leaders that I was talking to were concerned with how to achieve the right result – merging with the US law firm. This stirred me into thinking because I saw that it was a case of the ends justifying the means. The firm is trying to decide whether to change its voting structure and have an open rather than confidential vote on the basis that everything should be out in the open. A laudable aim except that it appears that the real aim is to identify those who dissent and force them into the open and intimidate them. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that everyone thought the outcome was the important thing. I was laughing with my client because we were aware that the fact that Brexit was happening at the same time could not be a coincidence. It was clear to me that the same thing was happening with Brexit – everyone was convinced that whether Brexit happened or not was the important thing. The more I thought about it the more I realised that we were being manipulated by whatever consciousness is at play in the universe. Here we all are thinking the outcomes are the important thing yet we don’t control these outcomes. No-one can determine whether Brexit happens or not – it is beyond the individual’s power to influence. It is a collective thing. It is the same with the merger at the firm. It is beyond any indivdual’s power to control.
The situation was very apposite to my client. He had come to a personal breakthrough in his approach to his life. He had spent the last year going through the process to be a partner at the firm and he had failed the first time. He had been so wounded by this that he had finally decided to leave and had received an offer of a partnership at another firm (see!, someone else loved and valued him!). When we met after he had resigned, we were talking through his reasons for leaving. I knew that the whole experience had revolved around a dilemma in him where he placed his sense of value in how others saw him and not in himself. Throughout his life this had been a theme and he had chosen a path where he was continually an underdog who did not feel properly valued by those around him. The real point of the failure was to free him from this dependence on how others saw him and external validators of his value. During this session the final penny dropped into place and he went back to the firm to say that he had made a mistake – that he loved working for the firm and he was prepared to risk failure again to find out whether it might be the right place for him. More importantly his whole approach to his life and work radically changed. He stopped taking on pieces of work based on whether they would influence his reputation and chances of making partnership or get him into other people’s good books but instead on the basis of whether he thought he was the right person and had the resources to do it. The result was that he discovered there were no terrible consequences and his life became more straightforward and peaceful. His attitude to going through the process of becoming a partner changed too. This time he wasn’t trying to convince or manipulate the selection panel to make him a partner. He didn’t see the partners on the panel like gods that he had to convince. Instead, he saw them as fellow men and women who would make their own decision. His role was only to present what he thought and leave them to decide whether they thought he was right to be a partner or not – all the angst and worry about how to say the right thing to guarantee the oresult he wanted reduced.
What he had learnt was to separate himself from the outcome. As he pointed out, he was just finding out whether he was going to be a partner there and then when he had found that out, there would be his next step. He saw that he didn’t need to make his sense of self-value dependent on that. Instead he could see that he valued himself and he trusted that he would find the right outlet for himself; he was just waiting to find out whether it was at this firm and developing himself and learning in the process. We are so concerned with the outcome – whether we are successful or not, whether Brexit happens, whether Trump does awful things etc. Yet we have no control over these things. So we try to control them by manipulating and pushing. This inevitably provokes resistance and our heart closes. People like Viktor Frankl say “Don’t aim at success, the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued….you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run – in the long-run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”
In her work Byrom Katie talks about three things; your business, other people’s business and god’s business. I think most of us are confused. We think other people’s business is our business. We also think that things like Brexit, Trump, whether our firm merges etc. are our business rather than God’s (fate’s, that which we can’t control, the Universe – however you wish to describe it). Most of our lives when we really examine them have a flow to them which we do not control. It is important to us, so we try hard to influence it and this makes us very stressed and wrought up in efforts to make it the way we want it. The ancient Greeks had a word for trying to control or decide God’s business – hubris. It was at the heart of every tragedy. It is hard for us to recognise that things like Trump, Brexit etc. are God’s business – that they are not our business. We are welcome to think about them or have an opinion but we do not control them.
So what do we concern ourselves with? Now that is the interesting point. I saw that it is not the outcome that is important – it is the way we treat other people. It does not really matter whether Brexit happens or not. If we end up with a deeply divided and resentful country which is polarised and intolerant of each others views, then whether Brexit happens or not is not material. If it happens and we have become more tolerant and accepting of others’s views and more willing to co-operate then we have all benefited. If it doesn’t happen and we are more tolerant and accepting of others’s views then we have all benefited. So the outcome is a red herring. It is more valuable to become curious about what Life (God etc.) is up to since it is clearly beyond our knowledge (humility), but if we are curious rather than indulging in hubris we might gain really big insights and perspective. If we judge it from our limited perspective of what we believe to be right then we will probably learn little and be frustrated by the apparent idiocy of our fellow men.
So the only important thing is how we are treating each other in each moment not the outcome. This does not imply that we are passive as most people conclude from this philosophy since that assumes what we do is not important. Yet it is the reverse, what we do is very important and how we deal with this moment and others around us is the important part. Where that leads is God’s business.