Thinking outside the box

I heard this line the other day in a song: “You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know.”

I have heard the song a hundred times before, but perhaps it was a heightened state of grunting on an uphill run that made it hit me, like, “Whoa, that is powerful.” Human beings are automatic filtering systems, but how often do we check the filter for what gets through and what doesn’t?

I witness this at play all the time when I notice what I tune out or let in in order to maintain my desired equilibrium. Typically, we accept or reject what we don’t already see as “germane” to our identity. 

In fact, we establish for ourselves and others a “working identity” initially defined and structured by the “benign” job description. Job descriptions could call forth a higher purpose, but for the most part they are mostly structured for base functionality, clarity for the unions, protection for the legal department against future legal claims, etc. I rarely come across any that inspire. Later on, if you want the recipient to think differently or do something else to enhance the experience you often need to change the salary and/or the title. It’s limiting personally and professionally.

Here’s an extreme case but true nevertheless. Years ago, I came to New York City to reposition a boutique hotel that was, of course, unionized. From the moment I arrived, whenever I encountered the doorman, he never smiled, no matter how much I engaged him. After two days thinking he might have a serious case of indigestion or a toothache, I sat down with him to explain the business we were in. He actually told me “smiling” wasn’t in his job description. I documented the conversation and his subsequent instances of angry doorman behavior, told him he needed to move on if he couldn’t demonstrate warmth and actually lost the case with the union because smiling wasn’t in the job description.

Identity is a fragile thing, but the beauty of our identity is it is not fixed. We can always change and grow, become more free, have more fun. Likewise, we can believe our own stories, the descriptions thrust upon us and stay stuck if we don’t question our own authority.