The American writer, Margaret Wheatley, tells a heartening story about a junior high school which had to be evacuated during a rainstorm. When it was safe to return to the building, the principal was the last inside and was greeted by eight hundred pairs of shoes in the lobby. In the face of a crisis, the children had independently decided what they needed to do to help take care of their shared environment. In how many other high schools would the students respond in such a thoughtful and intentional manner? It is perhaps easier to understand the young people’s response when you know that the whole school community base all decisions and behaviours on just three rules:
• take care of yourself
• take care of each other
• take care of this place
Inspired by the school’s example, at Space2think we decided to adopt the same principles ourselves – adjusting the last one slightly to ‘take care of business’.
Take care of yourself
In speaking about the plight of women, Michelle Obama shared a philosophy which should apply to us all: “We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.” But, in practice, we treat whatever it is that rests and refreshes us as a reward for completing all our other tasks. We never reach the end of the ‘to do’ list, and we fall into a routine of self-neglect. Perhaps we must stop seeing the things we enjoy as recompense for our hard work and treat them more as the energy which our productive selves need to function. A habit of inserting acts of self-care throughout our ‘to do’ lists helps us prioritise our essential maintenance and recuperation.
Take care of each other
When considering how to take care of each other our thoughts turn quickly to what we can do directly for others, such as attending meetings on their behalf. These gestures are important, but perhaps there are more subtle ways in which we can take care of our colleagues too. Remembering people’s names and facts about their lives communicates care, as does taking time to listen. We can ask ourselves whether, by doing what we usually do, we are neglecting others. If you regularly send emails at unearthly hours, are you setting a standard which others will – to their detriment – feel compelled to follow? And modelling how to accept help by letting people take care of you is important in creating a co-operative working community.
Take care of business
By removing their shoes, the children at the junior high demonstrated that they instinctively understood their community would be a more satisfying one to be part of if they looked after their building. We too must endeavour to address the needs and consciously nurture the development of our shared places – our organisations. We should continually question how our actions impact the business. Do our emails communicate warmth and friendliness, which will draw people to us? Do we devote time to develop relationships, strong enough to withstand bad times as well as good? Are the expenses we incur necessary and reasonable? Developing a culture of caring about the business begins with individual actions and can lead to a satisfying and rewarding working community.
We feel that adopting the ‘take care’ principles at Space2think has made us a stronger community by giving us a deeper awareness of ourselves and the impact of our actions. In helping other organisations we hope that the outcome of our work is the creation of working communities in which acting to take care of ourselves, others and business is as intuitive as removing wet shoes after rainfall was for the children of the junior high.
1. Story of a junior high school. The Promise and Paradox of Community in The Community of the Future (Jossey-Bass, 1998) Margaret J. Wheatley & Myron Kellner-Rogers
Space2think Ltd is a person-centred learning and development business. They deliver a range of blended and tailored training and development opportunities. www.space2think.org