I find it an interesting dichotomy that some social ideas can be both widely known and widely misunderstood.
Turn the other cheek. “Not me,” you say. “I have no plans to let someone else take advantage of me. I won’t tolerate any mistreatment.” But, is allowing someone else to abuse me and then ask for more what Jesus meant?
In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught a series of transformational behaviors; including this one “…if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” As with any illustration, it is important to understand the social context of the example. In the society of Jesus’ day people used their left hand for unclean acts associated with daily care and therefore never used their right hand in public. So, in order to smite someone on the right cheek, the offender delivering the blow had to strike the other person with the back of the right hand. This act was a power move designed to communicate or force submission. The act of turning the other check says to the offender, “I’m here. I’m ready. If you want to go any further, you will have to treat me as an equal.”
In the same passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used another illustration, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” According to the laws of the day, the soldiers enforcing Rome’s rule could require local inhabitants to carry their armor for a mile. That second mile meant, “You can make me carry that load for the first mile, but I’m going this second mile by an act of my own will. My sense of self-worth is intact.”
The Civil Rights movement in this country provides a more recent illustration of this transformative power where non-violent expressions of human dignity forced the culture to accept blacks as equals.
One of the sad legacies of the Industrial Age is the dehumanizing nature of modern corporations. These larger organizations force people into increasingly narrow and repetitive roles that dull the mind and sap the spirit. Large organizations also give rise to bloated bureaucracies and a stifling conformity imposed by reams of rules and policies. We can either respond to these unhealthy environments by descending into the petty mindset of a victim or react from a well-spring of self-dignity.
Many articles and books on organizational or cultural change focus on the role of the leader. I don’t want to minimize that vital responsibility, but always waiting for the leader is a victim mindset. The transforming power of human dignity compels us to ask, “What can I do to change this situation.”
One of the distinguishing elements of the lean enterprise philosophy is respect for people. This is not just about managers respecting employees or employees respecting those in organizational authority but a culture of multilateral respect. We cannot have a healthy and genuine respect for others unless we first respect ourselves. Absent self-respect our thoughts in any circumstance quickly turn toward our own needs and hurts. We evaluate every action in light of its impact on us. We harbor resentment from slights that offend us. We respond with a vengeful spirit that destroys respect and relationships.
One of the intriguing quirks of humans is our ability to behave our way into a new way of believing. So, rather than attempting to determine what motivates me and the others around me, I encourage you to begin behaving with human dignity. The power of the following ten simple acts to transform a family, a team, a company or a community will amaze you.
- We fulfill our responsibilities
- We volunteer to help others
- We identify and solve problems
- We defend the weak
- We give of our time and money to help others
- We show up on time out of appreciate the value of others’ time
- We resist the urge to lash out in revengeful responses
- We honor our commitments
- We take care of our bodies with proper nutrition, rest and exercise
- We acknowledge the limits of self-reliance and associate in community for a richer and more productive life experience