The Personal Nature of Business
"It is personal! Stop defending him!" A decibel above whisper yelling, I was still too loud for the office environment.
And yet, how could I undo this culture's strong and almost loving embrace of the Hollywood movie, "The Godfather?" How could I actually convince the company owner of anything during this recession? He, himself, one of the most loving people I knew, was torn between profitability and people, but would never admit it.
On top of it all, here I was, trying to negate one of the most famous lines in Hollywood. When a line in a movie script is good, really good, it doesn't matter if the movie's actual message is contrary to that famous line. The delay between the famous line and the character's development is so damn long that the viewers forget what a shitty thing that was to say. And then imagine if we're talking about a trilogy!! Memories don't have a chance.
But this line I'm referring to, in reality, didn't stem from "The Godfather." The line was originally the words of a real force of organized crime, a talented accountant who could, like an alchemist maybe, transform elemental math into a disillusioned demigod. Maybe that's exaggeration, but he was really good at what he did and he stepped on tax law just enough to squash what he needed out of it, making possible what should've been impossible.
In the 1930's, Otto Biederman was the accountant and advisor to an American organized crime gangster.
He often said, "Nothing personal, it's just business."
In 1972, the same line appears in "The Godfather." Today, everyone says it like it's true.
But it isn't. It's not true. It's super false.
It's as far from the truth as Beijing is from Washington D.C. Actually, it's not even a matter of the distance between truth and lie.
It's more like a total solar eclipse, when the moon completely blocks the sun and you can see only a crown of light around the moon. Most false statements are like that, mean to obscure truth. But if you look closely enough there is always evidence of truth lurking behind the shadow. Deception is never permanent, just like the eclipse. It's a moment.
Sometimes that moment feels really long, but in the grand scheme of things, like the span of humanity, it's pretty short. Truth lives forever, but falsities eventually die.
When it comes to knowing truth we have to do more than rely on celestial phenomenon to remove the shadow, though observing celestial phenomenon in the process is vital. We have to pay close attention, and if that isn't enough, we have to remove the obscurities ourselves. Dig with shovel, search and research, uncover and unveil, observe and watch and listen, smell if you have to, question and dig some more, see the light in the darkness, and do it all with the love of truth, then truth reveals itself to you.
It took time for me to bring light to this argument with the boss in 2010, which was heavily covered in murky Hollywood lines and accounting schemes. After some years of letting that moment sit with me, I learned that taking something personally and making business personal are two very different things. The boss had mixed these two things up. A famous line, mis-perceived and misunderstood and yet culturally embraced, had obscured two truths for him and so many others. The bad manager we were fighting about was also mixed up, and it took me years to forgive his aggressive behavior and understand it as misguided and culturally accepted business protocol.
The boss cared about people deeply. He was and is a beautiful artist so connected to spirit, so devoted to humanity and its potential. He knew that taking other people's actions personally is a false way of living; that the way other people treat us, whether poorly or wonderfully, has more to do with their personal problems, lives, tendencies, than they have to do with us. In that, he was right. That is the truth.
But he mixed up this golden rule to "not take things personally," with business values of our misguided culture. "Taking nothing personally" is very different from the notion that "it's not personal, it's just business."
Taking nothing personally encourages an understanding that humans aren't perfect, so don't let their actions affect your person. Remain who you are. Keep loving yourself and keep loving others. It reminds us to be compassionate but at the same time to never let others' words and actions infiltrate us to the point where we alter ourselves for their approval.
Business not being personal is excusing humans for their imperfections and selfish motivations. When business isn't personal, individuals driving business take no personal responsibility for the well-being of others. These persons are looking out for themselves and bypass accountability.
The truth is, any one person or company who puts business before people, is thinking and acting from a false premise. Business is quite personal, because business has to do with persons. People - People move business forward and people receive the services of business, and if we deny that business and economy are for humanity, then we are denying humanity. We are denying the people of their humanity when they are working at these self-centered irresponsible self-serving companies that a few individuals direct and profit from.
And we wonder why stress at work is a major cause of illness for Americans. Yes, we are each responsible for managing our own stress, but we are fighting against a strong force of business that isn't personal, and that business sold us the stress we own. This force is destructive.
What does this destruction come down to? First, do you think I'm exaggerating when I say these are destructive forces? I don't think so.
Individuals driving companies on the premise that business isn't personal are denying their own humanity. As a result, these individuals make decisions that negatively affect other individuals, decisions that lean toward death and destruction even when they make us believe they are for life, creation and growth. The only growth these individuals care about is their own, so yes, they are for growth, but not for other individuals or humanity as a whole.
All of our human problems lie in the lap of individuals who put business before people, forgetting altogether the real purpose of business and economy.
The way we do business is personal. It's one of the most personal things we'll ever do. And we do a lot of business in this global economy, so it would do a lot of good if people operated from this vantage point.
As for my old boss and family friend, years later he sold most of his business shares after a horrible family tragedy that has changed his life forever. My heart aches for his family, and yet, I have not had the courage or strength to reach out to him. For me, his loss is so tragically personal and I still have some discoveries awaiting me in that respect.
Reading this story may have surfaced some memories for you, whether past or recent. I urge you to take the way you behave at work personally and consider how your behavior affects others. Consider the reasons for your behavior. Once we all individually strive to work for the betterment of humanity in mind, then we will finally arrive at a true global economy that supports and nourishes the whole of Earth and its inhabitants.