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Archive for November 2nd, 2020

. . . the purpose of consultation is to show that the views of several individuals are assuredly preferable to one man, even as the power of a number of men is of course greater than the power of one man.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Consultation: A Compilation, quoted in the Guardian’s letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of Persia, February 15, 1922, p. 8, Wilmette 1980 ed.)

After the introduction to his book, which I dealt with last time, he moved on to discussing what he calls Habit 1. He covered what to me was fairly familiar ground, not least by using terminology reminiscent of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:[1] ‘We can subordinate feelings to values’ and later,[2] ‘While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions.’

Principles and Priorities

He captured my interest more deeply when he moved onto Habit 2. He labels it ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ The way he describes it suggests it constitutes a major key to avoiding the trap of the primate brain, locked in the cage of short-term thinking, which I mentioned in the previous post:[3]

By keeping the end clearly in mind, you can make certain that whatever you do on any particular day does not violate the criteria you have defined as supremely important, and that each day of your life contributes in a meaningful way to the vision you have of your life as a whole.’

This entails perfecting my maps[4] so that ‘the paradigms from which my behaviour and attitudes flow are congruent with my deepest values and in harmony with correct principles.’ Covey defines this sense of direction as an awareness of our ‘unique meaning,’ our ‘mission in life.’ This initiates a virtuous circle: by conforming our actions to true principles[5] ‘the more clearly we can focus the lens through which we see the world’ thereby enhancing our grasp of the principles.

This is probably one of the clearest explanations I’ve read of how this process might work.

He summarises his position so far by stating:[6]

As a principle-centred person, you try to stand apart from the emotion of the situation and from other factors that would act on you, and evaluate the options. Looking at the balanced whole… you’ll try to come up with the best solution, taking all factors into consideration.

Writing a mission statement, as he recommends at this point, helps, but is not in itself enough. What is needed is[7] ‘the ongoing process of keeping your vision and values before you and aligning your life to be congruent with those most important things.’ He reminds us, in terms of guiding principles, that[8]‘central to all enduring religions in society are the same principles and practices clothed in different language.’

Not only does that idea resonate with me as a Bahá’í, but so does his description of family life from within his model:[9]

The best mission statements are the result of family members coming together in a spirit of mutual respect, expressing their different views, and working together to create something greater then any one individual could do alone.’

That sounds very much like Bahá’í consultation to me.

Back to Quadrants again now, but we need pause only briefly here as this was touched on at the start of this sequence.

An interesting point he makes here that might be worth mentioning is that,[10] if we are going to be able to ‘say “yes” to important Quadrant II priorities’ we ‘have to learn to say “no” to other activities, sometimes apparently urgent things,’ and this is made much easier[11] ‘by having a bigger “yes” burning inside.’

There are many other useful insights scattered along the way, such as[12] ‘people are more important than things,’ and ‘Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people.’ However I very much want to move on to what Covey refers to as Public Victories.

Putting it into practice

Before doing so in detail in the next post in this sequence, I want to bring in some quotes from my diary of Autumn 1992. This was in the immediate aftermath of reading Covey for the first time. I was clearly dead impressed: ‘The book expresses clearly truths and practical ideas that I was groping for and in some cases had got to by a different route and in different words, and it takes them further.’ I even go as far as saying, ‘I am determined to make use of it and not simply admire it.’ There are pages of scribble, which document the way I was making use of his ideas. I summarised this by saying that I was ‘using some of the ideas in Covey’s book to place my life, work and priorities more effectively upon a more principled basis.’

This may seem odd given that I had spent almost a decade at that point striving to bring my life increasingly into line with Bahá’í principles and practice. There is no real contradiction though. Covey analyses brilliantly in my view how to consolidate the implementation of ideals into the daily fabric of one’s life in an enduring way. It captures the pragmatics of self-improvement in terms that resonate with a bookish nerd like me. It would probably have worked in the same way for other kinds of people as well, so don’t let yourselves be put off before I move on to the profoundly interesting parts of his approach.

My first mission statement, devised at this time, was to live more closely in tune with the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh. Because it was not pragmatically specific enough, as future experience proved, it did not work too well. I had to revise it significantly, as I’ll discuss later.

The next stage is his detailed examination of the paradigms of interdependence. He describes this desirable state of affairs early in the chapter on this topic:[13]

As we become independent – proactive, centred in correct principles, value driven and able to organise and execute around the priorities in our life with integrity – we can then choose to become interdependent – capable of building rich, enduring, highly productive relationships with other people.

What does Covey feel is the exact nature and importance of interdependence?

He acknowledges that[14] ‘acute pain’ can be caused within our relationships with others. We mistakenly believe we can treat the symptoms of the pain with ‘quick fixes.’ However, that is an illusion, because ‘until we stop treating the symptoms and start treating the problem, our efforts will only bring counter-productive results.’

We have to invest a great deal of effort and energy in building up trust.[15] When trust is low because my behaviour has eroded it, ‘I’m walking on mine fields. I have to be very careful of everything I say. I measure every word. It’s tension city…’

How, though, do we do that?

More of that next time.

References:

[1] Page 71.
[2] Page 90.
[3] Page 98.
[4]. Page 106.
[5]. Page 123.
[6]. Page 127.
[7]. Page 132.
[8]. Page 135.
[9]. Page 138.
[10]. Page 156.
[11]. Page 157.
[12]. Page 170.
[13]. Page 187.
[14]. Page 187.
[15]. Page 188.

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