Tonight I attended the first class of the Emerge program at Leadership Austin. We talked mainly about core values – what are our core values and how do we implement them in our daily life and interactions? There’s a lot to be said about this and we had some really interesting conversations. We were asked to make a list of our top 10 core values and then to try to put them in numerical order. I thought it hard to even come up with 10, and ended up with 8; Empathy, Integrity, Creativity, Honesty, Openness, Inclusiveness, Focus, Trust. Now – we were given but a few minutes to do this, and had I been asked again, I would probably change one or two and come up with something else, but these were the core values I put down tonight.
I put down empathy as number 1 and I’ll tell you why;
Empathy is something that has gone missing in our modern society. We are so focused on “making it”, being successful, getting from A to B etc, that we forget to ask each other; “how are you?” and really listen to the reply. There’s a lot of “How are you?” and “How’s it goin’ today?” out there – but do we really want to know how it’s going? Do we care? Aren’t all of us just up to our neck in our own problems and issues? Does it really make a difference anyway?
I say, yes it does.
In my job, I have spent a lot of time listening. I have listened to customers tell me about family issues and drama around a family member passing away. I have sat down with consignors who feel the need to tell me their life story when consigning a piece of furniture, like they have to say goodbye to that rocker they got from their mother at age 12, when they were living in Lubbock and dad had just left the family for another woman… I have spent time listening to volunteers that are in abusive or dead relationships…I have listened to people that are just plain lonely, who come to the store every day for someone to talk to. I have found that all it takes to make someone else’s day a little better is to take a couple of minutes to really hear them, to listen, and to feel their concerns, their sadness or their anger. Every time I have taken those couple of extra minutes to do that, I can see a weight being lifted from that person’s shoulders. Hopefully he, or she will pay it forward.
My mother grew up with alcoholic and abusive parents. God knows what they did to her, but as I grew up, I knew that my mother would not speak to them. When I was in 7th grade, my mother “went mad”, literally. She was bipolar and went into a severe depression and she never really came back from it. For the next ten years she would go in and out of deepening depressions and mental institutions. I remember the shame we felt and how we pretended before our neighbors that she was just sick, as in “Oh she’s got pneumonia” or something. But people knew. And they judged. Because that is what we do; we judge the unknown, thinking beforehand that we know the situation. We leave empathy out of it, because feeling is too hard. It takes too much out of us and we really just want to make it through the day.
When we have angry or upset customers at the store, I always try to feel them instead of picking up on their negatives and get sucked into it. It is not always easy, but it sure beats letting anger get the best of me. Every time the door opens to the loading dock, I make sure that whoever is coming through that door knows that I have seen him or her. I have learned that with a simple nod or “I’ll be right with you” I can defuse anger or frustration before it takes off.
In the conversations in tonight’s class, we came to the conclusion that our core values might change over time; that as life changes for us, we change and when we change we might also change focus on what our core values are. One might argue that it would be letting go of your principles, but I think that our core values evolve with life experience. And how could they stay the same? When I was in my early twenties, all I cared about was my music. How could I reach out? Where should I send my demo tapes (yes, tapes – I am almost 40 and I used to record on a 4 track analogue tape recorder)? I used to dream about all the festivals I wanted to play and for years I planned the tracklist of my debut album. Fast forward ten years and I had accomplished pretty much everything I used to dream of. I had played all those festivals, I had recorded and released 5 albums, toured Sweden and Europe extensively, gotten amazing reviews, received a Grammy nomination and several awards and scholarships. Of course my core values had to change somewhat. My morals are the same, I still believe in the basic foundation of being a good human and treat people fair and just, but my core values have probably changed considerably, and the way I look at the world and how to be that good human being I believe myself to be, has probably changed as well.
I feel very lucky to have been selected to this class. This year there was a 15% increase in the applications, so every student has been through some tough competition already and we were hand picked because Leadership Austin saw something in each of us that they believe to be a quality, knowledge or whatever that will benefit this city and the people living here. I feel humbled to be part of it. Here I am, a Swede who came to Austin with my wife in 2009, looking for a better life, with nothing but a couple of suitcases of clothes and our then 13 year old cat Beppe. We had just enough money to buy a used car, we had a place to stay for free for a couple of months and most of all, we had a dream and a will to change our lives and I believe that even though it has been and still is very much of a struggle, we have come a long way on that journey. I know I have learned a lot about myself that I would have never figured out, had I stayed in Sweden, doing what I did.
Ten years ago, if someone would have told me that I would move to Texas, work for a church, become assistant manager for a million dollar business and take part in a leadership development class, I would have seriously thought that person was crazy and probably having some sort of hallucination, because I was a musician, damn it. I have my career to think about, this is what I do – I live in this apartment, I sit in the kitchen with my guitar, or at the piano in the living room and I write songs about life and death, damn it! Texas?! Are you kidding me?
But here I am now, a student of the Emerge class of 2014. I don’t know what I can contribute, or where it may lead me to, but I’m open for suggestions.