Me and Meryl Faye
Seven years ago, life was a bit intense for me. I had just become a full-time single dad – no small thing – and I was also deeply immersed in the beginning of what we now call the conscious capitalism movement.
My eight-year-old daughter Meryl Faye and I were living with friends, and I was doing my best to juggle it all. One day, I was getting ready to run out, run some errands, and I barked, “Meryl Faye, let’s go,” and I started moving, and I realized that she wasn’t.
“Meryl Faye, come on, let’s go right now.” And she just stood there, like a statue. “What are you doing? Come on, we’ve got to go now.” “Dad, if you want me to move, you have to connect with me first.” Swear to God. Yeah, you can imagine how I felt, right? So I got down on one knee so I could be eye-to-eye with her: “Oh my gosh, you are so right. I am so sorry. You know, I’m a bit stressed out and overwhelmed. I’ve got so much to do. I really need your support … ” “Okay, let’s go.” And away we went.
So as much as Meryl Faye was saying, “Connect with me, Dad,” she was also saying, “Wake up, Dad. Pay attention.” And when I shifted, you know, my attention from all that was going up here and moved it to her, we connected. And from that connection, we could move. It was an instant lesson in the power of connection, the power of attention to foster connection.
Paying attention is not easy
This simple and not always easy, mind you, this simple act of paying attention is the key to connection: connection with ourselves, connection to others and connections to the possibility of transforming our relationship with the world. Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In this space lies our freedom and power to choose our response, and in our response lies our growth and freedom.” Attention is an incredibly powerful force. It allows us to recognize what’s going on and what we do with it. And attention can liberate us from great burdens. An example: nicotine is as addictive as cocaine and heroin, and as a consequence, lung cancer kills more people every year than the next three most common forms of cancer combined. Astounding.
Smoking and RAIN
I recently attended a presentation by Dr. Judson Brewer, who has developed a mindfulness-based program at Yale to help people quit smoking. Dr. Brewer’s program begins by asking smokers to pay exquisite attention to the entire experience of smoking – notice all of the sensations – and when they do this, when they pay really close attention, they get past the initial rush and calm and they notice the chemical taste of the cigarette, the burning sensation in their lungs and the foul aftertaste.
As ongoing practice, Dr. Brewer’s program employs a four-step process with the acronym of RAIN, R – A – I – N. R – recognize the craving: “I’m craving, craving a cigarette.” Second, A – accept it, let it be okay: “It’s just craving.” Third, I – investigate, investigate the sensations in your body related to that craving, and N, note, moment to moment, how those sensations change and move. And this simple process of paying attention has proven to be twice as effective as the American Lung Association’s equivalent program.
Between stimulus and response, the power of attention can overcome the greatest of addictions. Something has our attention in every moment, right? Take this moment for instance. What has your attention? Hopefully, it’s what I’m saying, but it could be your lunch or the person sitting next to you. Just note what has your attention. I start every meeting that I facilitate with a check-in round in which everyone in the meeting, in turn, addresses the question, What has your attention in this moment? What are you bringing with you? And this simple process of paying attention clears the static in the room and allows everyone to really arrive and be present and connect.
Attention fosters connection
So I’ll use this as a segue into the question of how paying attention fosters connection between people, right? I was lucky that Meryl Faye gave me that wake-up call, which I might add, at 15, she continues to do – whether I deserve it or need it or not, right? But we’re not always so lucky. Many of us make demands on other people and expect them to respond immediately, without any consideration for what they might be doing. Anyone ever do that? “I don’t do that anymore”. And we do this all the time. We make demands; we expect them to respond. And in the workplace, at home and everywhere, it leads to disengagement and missed opportunities for connection and collaboration.
So how does paying attention foster connection between people? Well, let’s do a little exercise. Imagine, for a moment, that you’re in a conversation with someone who really loves you. Just do that. Imagine. Feel them. Could be your parent or your best friend or your spouse – somebody who really loves you. And you’re sharing something with them that you’re passionate about or really concerned about, and they are paying total attention to you. You can feel the love and care coming off of them. How does that feel? It feels good, doesn’t it? And why does it feel good? Because they’re paying attention to you. You feel connected. Now, let’s change the slate and imagine another scenario.
You’re at a cocktail party in a casual conversation with someone you just met, and they are looking around the room to see if there’s anyone they notice – right? – checking their cellphone, not really paying attention to you. How does that feel? Not very connected is it? When we give our full attention and when we receive someone’s attention, we feel connected, and the opposite is equally true. Paying attention deepens our experience of connection with others.
We humans are a clever species. We have essentially created our own world within the natural world. Yet everything we do ripples out and affects the broader world. As John Muir said, “When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it connected to everything else.” As part of our quest to elevate, continually elevate and enhance the quality of our lives, we humans create 10,000 new molecules a year.
That’s 10,000 molecules that show up in thousands of products. Yet we rarely test these new molecules for their toxicity. We release them into the world without knowing if or how they cause harm to us or other forms of life. And they often do. Remember Erin Brockovich, anyone? Julia Roberts – right? – played her in the movie. Well, she uncovered and publicized a highly toxic chemical compound called hexavalent chromium, but it continued to be used even after she publicized it.
The history or PreKote
Around 20 years ago, an entrepreneur named Bob Galanis set out to replace hex chrome in the priming of aircraft before they were painted – so they would put on a primer that had hex chrome, and then they would paint the aircraft. Big application. I mean, aircrafts are big, and there are lots of them, right? So Bob was making great progress when he unexpectedly died.
His daughter Laura, who at the time was an elementary school teacher, mother of two small children, with no business experience, no chemistry experience, decided to take up her father’s torch and pursue this mission. Laura took on the daunting task of gaining acceptance for their new product from the aerospace industry.
After about a decade of ongoing battles against deep-seated beliefs, long-standing relationships, archaic technical specifications, Laura and her company, Pantheon Enterprises, prevailed, and their product PreKote is now used by almost every US commercial airliner, and it’s used on US military aircraft. And as a consequence, millions of pounds of the highly toxic hex chrome are no longer released into our air, our soil and water, and workers aren’t exposed to its highly carcinogenic effects, and they don’t take the residue home on their boots and clothes and contaminate their families.
The lessons from PreKote
No small thing, right? Two keys to Laura’s success. One – she recognized that if the users took into account increased water costs, environmental permit fees, hazardous material handling fees and other indirect but very real costs, that not only was PreKote more effective than the hex-chromed-based product, which it is proven to be, and nontoxic, but it also costs less to use. The second one, and perhaps more important, is that Laura recognized that the true costs of hex chrome included the effects on the health and well-being of people and planet. The point of this story? We can recognize that everything is connected to everything else.
Business is people
We can recognize the full effects of our actions, and we can discover effective ways for doing things differently. And doing things differently through business is not just about the products we create. It’s also about the way we work together, right? So what is business? Business is people, right? People coming together to do something together, to create value for themselves, for others and for each other.
It’s not a coincidence that Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways are consistently the most successful and have the highest customer satisfaction. And it’s not a coincidence that Costco outperforms Sam’s Clubs and other competitors. And it’s not a coincidence that The Container Store and Whole Foods Market enjoy incredible employee loyalty and customer engagement and loyalty.
Through conscious capitalism, these companies, and countless other of all sizes in every industry throughout the globe are transforming the way we think about business. They begin by treating people with trust and care and respect. And many of them even proclaim their intent to treat people with love. If you go to Carrollton, Texas, where The Container Store is based, the roof of their building is painted, “We love our employees.” And you go downstairs, inside, in the offices, and there’s this long wall filled with photographs – 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 years that people have been with the company. They love their employees, and their employees love them.
These businesses focus on creating value for all of their stakeholders – their customers, their employees, their vendors, their investors, the communities they do business in – while respecting and even restoring natural ecosystems. By recognizing and embodying the inner connectedness that John Muir spoke of and by expanding the focus of their attention from shareholders and profit to include people and planet, they’re creating incredibly successful and resilient businesses while elevating humanity and generating effective responses to the challenges we face.
Imagine – paying attention
Imagine – imagine if each one of us tuned into what’s going on inside and recognized how it ripples out and affects others, right? Our actions affect others. And if by extension, every business, every organization, and, if you can believe it, even every government agency was to recognize the broad effects of their actions and to focus their attention on nourishing the health of their whole ecosystem.
And imagine if we were to really pay attention to each other and cultivate a culture of deep connection. Paying attention is the simple yet profoundly powerful key to connection, as it was when I got the wake-up call from Meryl Faye, as it is when we listen deeply with each other, and as it is when we recognize the effects of our collective actions and transform the way we create and use the products that fulfill our needs and desires. Everything is connected to everything else, yet we forget.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. Let’s pay attention to that space. In it lies infinite opportunities to connect to ourselves, to others and to the possibility of transforming our relationship to the world. Our lives and the lives of our children, their children, their children’s children may depend on it. When we connect, we always make a difference. And paying attention is the key to connection.