An interesting power struggle is shaping up that is getting little coverage in the mass media. We’re all aware of the Obama administration’s unrelenting push toward greater and greater statism, and the enhancement of the government’s role in our personal and work lives. What’s not so obvious, but is of equal or greater import, is the initiative, on the part of the political intelligentsia, to replace the “Founder’s Constitution,” with a “21st Century Constitution.” The fundamental shift being attempted here, is to replace the function of the Constitution as a protection against the intrusion and overreaching of the Federal government into individual and state matters, with a new document that empowers the government to create a whole new raft of “rights,” guaranteed by this new Constitution. This is what underpins all the discussions we hear about that refer to “social justice,” “expanded opportunities,” “redistribution of wealth,” and other euphemisms for greater “rights.” On the surface, this has much popular appeal. What is rarely, if ever explored, is the reality that every new “right” comes at the expense of some group or entity that loses part or the whole of what they once had. The Founding Fathers were acutely aware of this trade-off, having experienced this appropriation and re-distribution in their own lives. Whenever I hear people talk about something being a “right,” I think of phrases like- “There’s no free lunch,” and “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”
Watch for discussions about making the Constitution “relevant” to our times. It’s always code for the re-making of this document into a new and expanded charter of entitlements.
One of the most striking realities it has brought to the forefront of innumerable companies and industries, is the shocking lack of key skills on the part of veteran salespeople. To put it in a nutshell, what we are seeing, in industry after industry, is that experienced and long-tenured salespeople don’t know how to close a sale or get referrals from former or current customers. And what further complicates this, is that their level of embarrassment over these deficiencies, keeps them from seeking help and counsel, to remedy the problem.
The behavioral explanation for this malaise is not that complicated. For many years now, salespeople have been functioning as order-takers for willing and able consumers, flush with discretionary income and an almost insatiable appetite for acquisitiveness. This was true for product sellers and service providers alike. When the economic collapse began, in 2007, there was an almost palpable panic in every type of salesforce imaginable. I saw a lot of blaming, accusing, and rationalizing; followed by withdrawal, hiding out, and almost paralysis; ultimately resulting in much denial and depression. People simply didn’t know what was wrong, nor what they could do. They couldn’t figure out how to change things, primarily because the problem was not one of technique or strategy. What was lacking was an interpersonal skill.
At the heart of closing a sale, as well as obtaining referrals, is the ability and, more importantly, the willingness, to generate, engage in, and manage conflict. Without a commitment to participate in conflict, the salesperson simply becomes a “friendly visitor;” often very good at generating interest and conversation, but very poor at getting customers to part with their money. They may occasionally make a sale, often because the customer wants to alleviate their own pain at seeing the salesperson struggle so much to ask for the business. Or the sale may take place because the customer is willing to do almost anything to get the salesperson to stop talking at them, and just get rid of them. Unfortunately, many of these sales produce a high maintenance, high aggravation client, or one who cancels the purchase within a short period of time.
To fully understand the role played by conflict, in inhibiting veteran salespeople, we need to define some terms. Conflict is the behavior we see when people are expressing the emotion of Anger (an equally misunderstood term). And Anger is simply the expression of disappointment in a person or situation. The disappointment comes from an unhappiness with the gap between what we have and what we would like to have. Any time this gap exists, between what is, and what could be, there will be Anger. Where there is disappointment; there will be Anger; where there is Anger, there will be Conflict. This is extremely important to understand! Highlight it; write it down; put it on your refrigerator or your desk or your computer. Disappointment is good. Anger is good. Conflict is good. All three are necessary for growth. They are a vote of confidence in a person’s capacity to be better and do better. Without them, we know that expectations are low, caring is gone, and abandonment has occurred.
So, an Angry/Conflict statement would be – “This is the third meeting that we’ve had over this contract. I’m really disappointed that you still haven’t signed it.”
Conflict is often confused with Hostility, one of the two most frequently utilized behaviors to avoid Conflict. Both Hostility and Passivity are deflections and distractions from directly expressing disappointment. Hostility is a universal accusation, from which there is no redemption. So, a Hostile statement would be – “Every time I put you in front of a customer, you blow it.” There’s not much the person can do to change things, if everything they do is wrong.
Passivity is a blanket denial of one’s needs and a dishonest approval of the status quo. So, a Passive statement would be – “It’s fine with me if we keep meeting about this; I’m in no hurry to get this done.” And we can be assured that nothing will ever get done, and nothing will ever change for either party.
Very few of us grew up with healthy models of Conflict. Almost everyone alive today grew up witnessing Hostility and/or Passivity. This isn’t because we grew up with bad or inept people. On the contrary, we grew up with people who were trying to do their best by us, and were busting their butts making sure their families thrived and survived. There was no time, and little opportunity (or tolerance) for dealing with disappointments and unhappy feelings. The latter are luxuries of affluence. So, expressing disappointment is pretty scary stuff; and very uncomfortable to do. It’s a lot easier for us to get Hostile, or to withdraw into Passivity.
This, then, is what veteran salespeople are up against. Add to this cultural and psychological history, an information-loaded and very challenging consumer, and you have a prescription for stagnation. All the technique in the world isn’t going to budge this one iota. As soon as the possibility of Conflict rears its head, the salesperson is immediately shot back to the very earliest times in their life, when disappointment was unacceptable and impermissible. Another key point: All Conflict-Avoidance is about the past. It is about danger and survivability, from the perspective of a child, not that of an adult. The worst thing that can happen to an adult salesperson, if they choose to engage in Conflict, is that the customer dislikes them, and they lose the sale (which they don’t have to begin with).
So, how do we help these salespeople get through this challenge? We need to give the adult salesperson the courage to take on the freaked-out five year old running their business life. We do this by making it more uncomfortable and painful to avoid Conflict, than to take the risk of engaging in it. For example, we have the salesperson identify the customer relationship that has gone on the longest without a closing of the sale. And then we give them the following assignment: In the next thirty days (or other reasonable time frame), you will close the sale or unequivocally end your relationship with that customer. If you fail to do either one, there will be a significant negative consequence (monetary, write-up, access to support, or dismissal). We are not doing this because we think there’s going to be some magical transformation and an immediate sale. We are doing this for one simple, but powerful reason: To show the salesperson that they can engage in Conflict, and live to tell the tale. In other words, to reassure the five year old, that life, in fact, will go on.
One last point. Courage does not come out of thin air, or from some mystical place deep inside of people. It comes from caring relationships. Relationships with people who care enough to challenge people to go one step beyond where they believe they can go. I learned a long time ago, that great leaders are great because they believe more in their people, than their people believe in themselves.
The widespread Jihad against Western Culture is financed by, organized by, driven by, and celebrated by, Muslims – in particular, by Orthodox Muslims. None of the obscene, horrific attacks against innocent civilians, to my knowledge, have been carried out by Quakers or Swedes. It is important, no essential, that we acknowledge this, openly talk about it, and cut through the bizarre political correctness that tries to deflect responsibility and ownership. Contemporary Islam is in the death grip of the Orthodox community, and there is little evidence that any forces are mustering, either religious or political, to loosen or overthrow this stranglehold. Even the super-apologetic New York Times, pointed out, a few years ago, that Islam is the only remaining world religion, that has not undergone a major reformation. What other world religion tolerates the targeting of individuals for assassination, for what they’ve written or said? It still amazes me when I see TV interview after interview, with women from Islamic countries, who are under 24/7 protection, after writing and speaking about the treatment of their peers in the countries of their birth.
What exacerbates this situation even more, is the rank hypocrisy of the political establishment and the politically correct mass media. What do you think would happen if a Catholic bishop, a noted Baptist official, and a respected Jewish rabbi, issued a statement proclaiming that non-believers in a Judeo-Christian faith were infidels, and were worthy of being slaughtered, like cattle? Barack Obama would be in front of a teleprompter in under an hour, calling the statement unacceptable and stupid; Attorney General Holder would characterize it as ill-advised and possibly discriminatory; the Huffington Post would go more nuts than usual; and MSNBC would declare a national emergency. The statement would be withdrawn within hours, followed by an orgy of apologies and self-flagellation.
A few years ago, if you remember, Muslim cabdrivers serving the Minneapolis airport, demanded foot-washing facilities, to meet the requirements of their religion. Instead of an outcry against this outrageousness, their request was eventually granted. What I find most telling about this situation, is the temper tantrum and threat of litigation, on the part of civil libertarians, every time they discover a crèche or a tablet inscribed with the ten commandments, on public property. I guess that separation of church and state only goes so far.
The saddest thing about the absurd lengths that this political correctness has gone to, as applied to the Muslim community, is the implicit put-down and depreciation of its members. Every time we accord special treatment to a group, and go out of our way to ignore their destructive behavior, we are making a de facto judgment of their inferiority. If they weren’t inferior, we’d hold them to the same standards and values that the rest of us live by.
So besides being disappointing, infuriating, and deeply troubling, what’s the problem with Islam being in the death grip of its most Orthodox members? The problem lies in the very nature of Othodoxies.
An Orthodoxy is a belief system that cannot be questioned. Its primary and overriding purpose is to control its followers and limit their choices – ideally, to one. At the heart of every Orthodoxy is a fear- of life and death proportions – of choice. And the reason for this fear is simple, but powerful. If you tolerate, let alone encourage choice, one of those choices could be to leave the Orthodoxy. From the perspective of the Orthodoxy, this is a death sentence. This is why the rhetoric of crazy clerics and committed terrorists, is so infused with the language of martyrdom and death.
Orthodoxies evolved for two reasons. The first, was to explain the inexplicable: To give adherents a rationale for the sometimes frightening and occasionally terrifying events that they experienced. In this sense, Orthodoxies were the pre-age of enlightenment’s science.
The second, and more important reason, was to guarantee the integrity of the tribe, clan, or subculture. To make sure, in other words, that the bonds within the group would always be there to insure the survival of each individual. As more and more information infused western cultures, more and more choices were available to people. And as people exercised those choices and often left the groups they grew up with (or became less dependent upon them), the very Orthodoxy that had provided security, safety, and opportunity, was diluted, contaminated, and threatened with destruction.
I was born into a ghetto on Chicago’s west side, peopled with a mix of Orthodox and Conservative Jews. Culturally, it was a closed system. Until I was seven or eight years old, I knew no one very well other than Jews. My grandparents work, support system, and social network were totally linked to other Jews. Without those linkages, we would not have survived. Likewise, my father’s practice would never have seen the light of day, without a connection to the Jewish community. But as the Jewish community migrated to different parts of the city (and eventually to the suburbs), the ghetto became less geographical and more virtual. My father’s practice became more “diverse” and my parents’ support system and social network broadened, if ever so slightly. In my generation, the dilution was profound. Every one of my siblings (including me), married non-Jews, and ceased any affiliation with the formal religion or religious observance and practice. My children’s generation has little or no ties to the culture, let alone to the religion. I still have memories of my grandparents’ customs and rituals. My children have none. The Orthodoxy I grew up with is gone. (The core values are very much intact, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
This is what the Muslim Orthodoxy fears and why the West is so hated. Western cultures work to assimilate diverse populations into a values-homogenous whole, built around individual responsibility and choices. This inherently marginalizes Orthodoxies and undercuts their influence and impact. And nowhere is this done as clearly and thoroughly, as in America. This is why we are so hated and reviled. And this is why Islamo-Fascism is a life or death issue for them and us.
I have lost my patience with philosophical discussions of where to have terrorist trials and whether or not homicidal maniacs merit constitutional protection. We are at war with psychopathic murderers, who are obsessed with spilling our blood. What is it going to take to convince politicians and intellectual apologists that this war has nothing to do with “infidel troops” in Muslim land, or the Palestinian situation, or “capitalist excess?” This is about exterminating the West and its freedom to choose. That’s it. Simple and brutal.
There is nothing new, or even recent about this war. I have written before about my experience in the early 1960’s as a student at a radicalized university in England. Quite by accident, I found myself living in a dorm at Leeds University, with Chinese Communists, South American revolutionaries, and Muslim fundamentalists from a number of Middle Eastern countries. I was clearly in the minority – there were five Americans in my dorm.
Even though every night at dinner quickly evolved into “attack the American,” I became friendly with and close to a number of the Muslim students. We talked endlessly about our backgrounds and our respective cultures; we traveled together on school vacations; and I got to know many of their families who visited them during the year. When it was time for us to leave Leeds, and return to our home countries, we got together to say our goodbyes. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but something I said angered one fellow, and he looked me right in the eye, and said – “If I was told to, I would slit your throat.” I was stunned, and so shocked and bewildered, that I didn’t know how to react. I asked him if he was kidding, since I couldn’t believe he was serious. He made it clear that this wasn’t a joke. I then regained enough composure to ask him how he could say that to me, given the relationship we had built over the past year. He looked right at me again and said-
“You’re an American, and a Jew; that’s enough for me.” I shall never forget that day.
So, given the ferocity and psychotic-like intensity of this assault, what do we need to do to protect ourselves and significantly diminish this unparalleled threat to the very existence of our culture? Three things must be done:
1. The Obama administration needs to stop talking around reality, declare an all-out war against Jihadists, abroad and especially here; and actually start using the “M” word. Among other things, it is nothing short of obscene that we tolerate Imams in the United States, inciting violence, and permit foreign countries (often our “allies”) to fund so-called “schools” that spew forth hate and teach children to despise our culture and view us as sub-human. If skinheads and American Nazis tried to set up schools that were funded by foreign interests, and taught white Anglo-Saxon supremacy, and called for the extermination of Jews, Hispanics, African-Americans, homosexuals and other “undesirables,” they’d be shut down in under a day.
2. The mass media in this country needs to come out of its journalistic closet and start holding American Muslim leadership accountable for renouncing the edicts and fatwahs of crazy clerics calling for a critic’s assassination, or some family’s “honor killing,” or the attempts of Muslim student groups to intimidate speakers who challenge their orthodox views. There’s only one question that needs to be asked of these leaders – “Do you unequivocally renounce your fellow Muslim’s statement or behavior? Yes or no?”
3. The current administration in Washington, needs to get beyond this pointless pretext of closing Gitmo. There needs to be a place to keep irreparable lunatics, and even the people around Obama have figured it out. (I guess at this point, they need to come up with a way to save face, given the fact that no one in our country wants committed killers down the road from them.) It’s still hard to believe that the fabrication about Gitmo creating new terrorists had any credibility for as long as it did. There was no Gitmo in the 1970’s, 80’s, or 90’s, when these madmen were blowing up people all over the world. I learned a long time ago, through a variety of experiences, that there are people so destroyed inside themselves, that they can only see themselves destroying others. These people can never be allowed to see the light of day. I often think of the quote attributed to Howard Bloom –
“Almost all great civilizations have succumbed to barbarians, primarily because of their inability to understand them.”
I am very disappointed in the Muslim community in our country. They have shown a reprehensible cowardice in not rejecting, totally, and not keeping the spotlight of disdain on the worst amongst them. Courage is the commitment and risk embodied in calling out your own. The famous quote from Father Martin Niemoller, in the National Holocaust Museum, says it all:
“First they came for the socialists, and I said nothing because I was not a socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I said nothing because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews, and I said nothing because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak.”
I did pretty well all through my 50’s. I kept up my breakneck schedule, traveling somewhere in the world almost every week; lecturing, doing workshops, and facilitating some very intense small group meetings. I thrived on the variety of places, clients, and challenges, and the intensity fed something in me that satisfied my need for impact. Looking back on those days, I’m often amazed by how I did it. I’m a one million miler on United, and a three million miler on Delta. (You know when you’ve flown a lot, when the airline sends you a very nice piece of Hartman luggage.)
Somewhere around turning 62, I hit a wall. It’s like I woke up one day, and couldn’t figure out how I got to be in my 60’s. It may sound weird, but what it felt like was – one day I was forty something, and the next day, I was in my sixties. And I seemed to have no clue as to how I got there. I’m quite aware that this makes no sense, whatsoever, but that’s how I felt.
I also, at this point, realized that I had made no plans for getting old. (I also got real tired of people telling me that 60 wasn’t old at all, and that I was still a “young man.” Forty may be young – sixty is not.) As smart as I am, I was completely dumbfounded by what I was experiencing. I had never thought about slowing down; about wanting things to be more convenient; about making less money; and most of all, about not living in our house, in the future. The latter was crushing. As I’ve written before, our home (and property) in Montana, is not simply our “dream” house. It is the fulfillment of our vision for our life, and the instrument for achieving our personal and professional mission – to change the world, one person at a time.
As a result of hitting this wall, and facing these realizations, I went into an unannounced retirement for over a period of two years. I did some work, but didn’t seek out much new business. I was in deep grief over the decision to put the house up for sale. It made perfect sense to downsize, relieve ourselves of the rather staggering financial burden, and rid ourselves of the responsibility of managing a large piece of property. Unfortunately, that didn’t make it feel any better.
For a period of time, I got stuck in depression. To say that it felt awful, would be the understatement of my life. For the first time in my life, I asked myself some very disturbing questions. Like – “Why am I doing all this?” and “What do all these achievements mean?” I also questioned the value that I brought to the relationships I was in, both personal and professional. At one point in this self-dialogue, I heard myself saying – “None of this really matters, because I’m going to end up dead anyway.” That certainly got my attention. It was a new, shocking, and sobering thought. That lead to the realization and the articulation of something that I knew was there, but had not wanted to face: I was in the last part of my life, and the delusion that I would go on forever was coming to a crashing end.
I’m still not at the point where that realization doesn’t pull me up short, and tend to bring me down; albeit for shorter and shorter periods of time. My friends who have a religious connection and belief system have talked to me about the solace that it brings them, and I appreciate their concern and their words. I’ve tried, at various times in my life, to embrace the tradition I was brought up with, as well as some others. But it just doesn’t work for me. There’s something in my background or my DNA that makes it impossible for me to grasp the idea of prayer or the concept of a personal God. I’d have to meet the man, to move in that direction.
Two things have helped me move through my existential crisis. The first, not surprisingly, has been Arleah’s insight that, as she so eloquently puts it – “You can’t live in a dream forever.” She realized, long before me, that it was time for us to move on; practically, philosophically, and emotionally. We need a new dream. Its time (probably overdue) to say goodbye to the old dream. Our vision and mission remains the same – we are still committed to changing the world, one person at a time. What we need now, and what we’re working away at, is some new ways of doing it.
The other thing that has been very helpful, particularly this past year or so, has been the unbelievable amount of communications from people I’ve worked with over the past years, as to the impact of our work together. I don’t think a week goes by, these days, when I don’t get an email or a phone call thanking for me what I’ve done to change someone’s life for the better. Some of this feedback comes from people I worked with twenty or twenty-five years ago. I’m always deeply touched.
I was talking recently with a former client and then colleague, who off-handedly referred to me as his mentor. When I got off the call, I was aware that the term somewhat surprised me. I have not, in my work or other relationships, thought of myself in those terms. I’ve always known that I make an impact on people, but I never would have phrase it that way.
All this great feedback has made me aware that I have created, unbeknownst to me, a legacy. I have heard other people talk about their legacy, but have never before applied it to me, or my work. It feels good, and I think it will help get me through my Nietzschian moments.
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