This blog is a mini review of the book Conscious Business followed by an excerpt from the book that discusses the concept of “ontological Humility” as compared to “ontological arrogance”. The author points out how young children cannot conceive of a perception any different than the one that they perceive, yet over the age of 5, they do have this ability. The excerpt shows how even so, as adults, many of us do not use this ability!
Lately I have been reading a fantastic book entitled “Conscious Business: How to build value through values” by Fred Kofman. While this book uses many examples that relate to business and management, it is a spiritual book that really talks about human character, how to develop integrity, stay true to our values, and interact with others in a way that will build positive relationships.
It is one of those books that you can pick up, read one chapter, and be blown away . Kofman writes with such insight and really has a knack of categorising certain types of behaviours and ‘characters’ in a way that helps the reader to really understand things with clarity, how these behaviours are limitations and how to change them.
I haven’t read that many business books, but this book reminds me of the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnage. However this book is far more detailed and more spiritual. It is not just about acting and communicating in ways that are going to get you the best results, but about acting in ways that connect our heart and brain together rather than operating separately. This takes deep work on ourselves, not just a modification of our words although it can start there. Being conscious we become aware of our attitudes, words and actions, and where they stem from. Without this consciousness we are in danger of blindly thinking everything we think feel and do is right, just because it feels right to us and in this way we build walls between ourselves and others, create unhappy work places and relationships, and hamper our own spiritual progress.
So without further ado, here is a passage of the book, I hope it inspires you to read more:
“Jean Piaget, the Suisse developmental psychologist, conducted a revealing experiment. He met with a series of children and handed each a wooden block that they were allowed to examine. The block was painted green on one side and red on the other. Sitting face-to-face with the child, he held the block between them with the red side towards himself and the green side toward the child. Piaget asked the child to identify the color he or she saw. The child always answered correctly, “Green.” Then Piaget would ask a penetrating follow-up question. “What color do you think I see?
Most children younger than five years old answered, “Green.” They proved incapable of recognising that the person across the table could see something different than they did. Older children gave the correct answer. They understood that while they saw green, the researcher saw red. These children demonstrated that they had developed a sense of perspective, the ability to appreciate a situation from another’s point of view.
After fifteen years of consulting work, I’m sad to report that many executives have never learned this basic lesson. They never question the absolute validity of their own perspective. They assume that if they think that a report is a disaster, the report must be a disaster. They see the proverbial green paint on their side of the block and assume that everybody else’s side must be green as well. Often more than forty-five years old, these executives behave as though they have had forty years of experience in being five-year-olds. Their development has stalled because of their ontological arrogance.
My five-year-old daughter, Michelle, says she doesn’t like broccoli because it’s yucky. In fact, the opposite is true. Michelle calls broccoli “yucky” because she doesn’t like it. She doesn’t see it that way of course. She thinks that anyone who likes broccoli has no taste: a typical case of ontological arrogance. Ontology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of reality. Ontological arrogance is the belief that your perspective is privileged, that yours is the only true way to interpret a situation. While ontological arrogance is normal, even endearing in children, it is much less charming in adults – yet unfortunately, it is almost as prevalent.
In charged situations, most of us assume we see things as they are; that is not so. We actually see things as they appear to us. Check out the logic for yourself. When was the last time you met an “idiot” who thought exactly like you? Do you believe people disagree with you because they are idiots? Or do you call them “idiots” because they disagree with you?
The opposite of arrogance is humility. Humility comes from the Latin word humus, meaning ground. A humble person does not see himself as above others; he does not pretend to hold a privileged position. Ontological humility is the acknowledgment that you do not have a special claim on reality or truth, that others have equally valid perspectives deserving respect and consideration. There are many ways to look at the world, and each way has its bright and its blind spots. Only from the perspective of ontological humility can you accommodate that diversity and integrate it into a more inclusive view. Ontological humility makes sense intellectually, but it is not the natural attitude of the human being. It requires, at least, the cognitive development of a six-year-old.”