Archive for November 9th, 2020

Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts.

(Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh – CXXX)

. . . it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature.

(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – page 158)

We ended last time on the question, ‘how do we build up trust?

This is where we see Covey’s ability to operationalise what is so easy to see as something we should be able to do automatically but can’t. And he does this in a principled way that completely excludes the legitimate possibility of anyone abusing his guidance to manipulate others.

Integrity and Interdependence

The first step he recommends in the building of trust is[1] ‘really seeking to understand another person.’ The aim is[2] ‘to understand them deeply as individuals, the way you would want to be understood, and then to treat them in terms of that understanding.’

While he also emphasises the importance of keeping commitments, he makes it clear that we may not be experienced by the other person as doing so if expectations are not clarified:[3] ‘unclear expectations will lead to misunderstanding, disappointment, and withdrawal of trust.’ He shrewdly observes that ‘we create many negative situations by simply assuming that our expectations are self-evident and that they are clearly understood and shared by other people.’

Beyond that an ‘integrity’ which ‘includes but goes beyond honesty’ is required. By this he partly means being[4] ‘loyal to those who are not present.’ This bans backbiting. When we criticise others to our friends it suggests we would do the same about them to others, and when we breach someone else’s confidence to a friend, the friend might well wonder whether they can trust us with theirs.

Again these points perhaps resonate so strongly with me because they are important within the context of the Bahá’í Faith as well. I think the Faith’s forceful injunctions against backbiting are known to all who have explored the Bahá’í Teachings even cursorily. For example,[5] the ‘seeker should also regard backbiting as grievous error, and keep himself aloof from its dominion, inasmuch as backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul.’

The importance of trustworthiness is similarly emphasised:[6]

The fourth Taráz concerneth trustworthiness. Verily it is the door of security for all that dwell on earth and a token of glory on the part of the All-Merciful. He who partaketh thereof hath indeed partaken of the treasures of wealth and prosperity.  Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquillity and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it.

Covey links integrity and interdependence closely together:[5]

Integrity in an interdependent reality is simply this: you treat everyone by the same set of principles. As you do, people will come to trust you.

I won’t go into the same detail about his Habit 4: Think Win/Win. It did not resonate so strongly with me in terms of new insights except for one key point. He looks at aspects of character which relate to the ability to achieve win/win outcomes. In addition to integrity, which we have already looked at, there is what he labels maturity, by which he means[6] ‘the balance between courage and consideration.’ He unpacks this by explaining:

If a person can express his feelings and convictions with courage balanced with consideration for the feelings and convictions of another person, he is mature, particularly if the issue is very important to both parties.

If I have that balance, he feels,[7] ‘I can listen, I can empathically understand, but I can also courageously confront.’ That’s not an easy combination of qualities to achieve. I probably lean too far towards the first, except when angry, at which point empathic understanding goes out of the window. It was useful to be reminded of the need to balance them in combination. I am beginning to be able, I think, sometimes at least to keep calm, listen (not sure yet how empathically!) and speak my mind firmly if I feel the need arises. The roots of this, I have recently worked out, may lie in the fear I developed towards my own anger after a traumatic hospitalisation in childhood. There will be more on that in a later post.

Empathic Communication

Which brings us to the next topic on Covey’s list: empathic communication. His aphorism is:[8] ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ And I’m sure many of us would resonate to this description:[9] ‘We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand: they listen with the intent to reply.’ Ring any bells?

Not that we should mistake understanding for agreeing, as he makes clear:[10] ‘The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.’ In this way, he says, ‘you have focused on receiving the deep communication of another human soul.’ This has to come from[11] ‘a sincere desire to understand.’

When I was looking back through my journals I realised that at this exact period I was involved in a therapeutic process that created an immense breakthrough for one of my clients, a deeply depressed lady who had no clear explanation for her state of mind. I have blogged about it earlier.

Our work together had plateaued on bleak and distressing terrain, more tolerable than her previous habitat but too unwelcoming to live on comfortably for the rest of her life, and yet with no detectable path towards more hospitable ground.

Frustrated by the protracted lack of movement, I began to see discharge as a very attractive option. I discussed this with my peer supervision group. We decided that I should continue with the processes of exploration but make sure that I did not continue my habit of stepping in relatively early to rescue her in sessions from her frequent experiences of intense distress.

I continued to see her. Laura and I consulted carefully and jointly agreed that I would allow her to sink right into the “heart of darkness” in order to explore it more fully and understand it more clearly.

This extract from my diary at the time describes what happened after a long period of painful silence, the terror of the nightmare she was experiencing plainly visible on her face.

I sat in the same room with her, sensing her horror like a cold mist in the blood crossing into her brain, fearing that I am no Virgil to her Dante in that hell, feeling helpless, fraudulent but somehow amazingly undeterred, with only my clipboard to cling to!

‘My mother threw me away as soon as I was born,’ she repeated, over and over, as though realising a long familiar truth for the very first time.

I stared at the hieroglyphics under my pen, opened my mouth, cleared my throat and said nothing. During the long silence that followed, every five minutes a lorry would go roaring past ten yards outside the open window. My neck would stiffen in case she spoke and I would not hear. Whenever she confronts her horrors, her tone gets hushed. She whispers, barely audible even in silence. Her face looks pale and drawn. Her eyes stare. Like a child in the presence of a snake, desperate not to provoke a strike by the slightest unnecessary sound, she moves her lips just a little.

‘Why can’t I change?’

That is a question that confronts us all every day of our lives, whether we realise it or not. I think it only fair to acknowledge at this point that one of the more important tools I have found to help me change has been this book. Sadly this is the first time on this blog I have ever acknowledged that, except in an almost invisible footnote.

Further reflection after I’d finished the first draft of this sequence enabled me to draw a rough map of the way, for me at least, the different levels from dependence through independence to interdependence might interact with the distinction he makes between feelings, values and principles (the page references are to his book).

To express it briefly for now, in a mainstream Western culture, stalled at the level of independence reinforced by competitive values, we are trapped in the box Tom Oliver calls the ‘self-delusion’ which prevents us all from realising our true potential. The patriarchal oppression that still persists, even in the West, constitutes an even bigger challenge blocking a woman’s path. The Bahá’í concepts of humanity’s essential unity and our consequent interconnectedness offers a principle that removes all such obstacles and, with the tool of consultation in our hands, we can develop the kind of synergy that gives a practical expression to our interdependence.

The next post goes on to look in a bit more detail, amongst other things, at how the close match between parts of Covey’s message and some aspects of the Bahá’í Faith combined to confirm these insights.


[1]. The Seven Habits of Effective People – Page 190. Unless otherwise specified, all references are to this book.
[2]. Page 192.
[3]. Page 195.
[4]. Page 196.
[5] The Kitáb-i-Íqán – page 193.
[6] The Kitáb-i-Íqán – page 37
[5]. Page 196.
[6]. Page 217.
[7]. Page 219.
[8]. Page 237.
[9]. Page 239.
[10]. Page 240
[11]. Page 252.

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