THE PARABLE OF THE STICK
Sometimes we attack an urgent problem without putting too much thinking into our action plan, and even when we solve the issue, we end up having a negative outcome in the long term. This could be the result of forgetting one of the seven universal laws, the cause and effect law; every action is bound to a reaction.
Steve Shallenberger: Greetings to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, and I have so much been looking forward to being together with you. Not long ago, a friend gave me a stick for my birthday. Now let me describe this stick so that you can understand it. It’s about two feet long and it has four distinct sides. And here is the inscription on each side of this stick. On one side it says, “The person who picks up one end of the stick picks up the other.”. Here’s the next side, on one end of the stick, it says “choice” and on the other end of the stick “consequence”. As you flip it and rotate to the next side, it then says “if”, the word “if” and the other end of the stick “then”. So, if I do this, then this will happen. And then as you continue to rotate it on the final side, it says “one end and the other end”. That’s a way of saying that things rarely are as clear-cut as they might first appear. And whatever you do might influence something else which you hadn’t thought about at first. This kind of thinking could keep a lot of people, teams, and organizations out of trouble and help them get to their best. It is holistic thinking all the way, it’s global thinking, it’s thinking about the whole ecosystem and how things affect one another.
Things usually are not as simple as they might appear on the surface. And that is why today I would like to talk about the parable of the stick, that things rarely are as clear-cut as they might first appear and whatever you do might influence something else, which you hadn’t thought about it first. So, by considering the parable of the stick in our lives, it will contribute to greater success, happiness, health, prosperity; and to ignore the parable of the stick will lead to short-sightedness, potentially costly mistakes, and missteps that can cause a great deal of pain, misery, and despair. I love the comment by Dr. Seuss, “Think left and think right. Think low and think high. All the things you can think of, if only you try.” That, in other words, that’s right in the heart of the parable of the stick.
Now let’s look at a few examples of the parable of the stick and the impact. Some years ago, about 25 years ago when one of our sons was a teenager, a young teenager – this is Steven – he and his friend John Hamer went to the grocery store with myself and the dad of John. When we came out of the grocery store, there was John in full-motion pushing Steven, who was sitting inside the shopping cart at full speed, and just when we tried to shout out, John released the shopping cart. As it careened downhill across the parking lot, it was headed straight for a car where it impacted the car probably – I mean a stopped car, a parked car – at 15 miles an hour. I mean, we thought “Oh no man. Steven’s head.” Well, anyhow, he was okay, they dodged the bullet. And it was at that time that when came up and shared the experience the thinking of point A and point B. And the lesson he had for these young teenagers is there is a point A it’s what you’re doing now, but you need to think about point B where things are going to end up. And here John was having a great time pushing Steven in the cart – point A – but once he released it they had not considered point B which could have been devastating. And so, this takes on many forms, this whole idea, right? Different forms like driving under the influence point A, point B, or speeding or being reckless. Not only with cars but with your behavior, language, attitudes, and with others. Every one of these points As has a point B, right? Well, this is exactly what we’re talking about in the parable of the stick. When you pick up one end of the stick, you automatically pick up the other end of the stick at the same time. So, what does that look like? I appreciate this comment by Mark Twain, “20 years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails, explore, dream, and discover.” Now, the deal is, before you move out of that harbor, you’d better be thinking about point B, right? So, we all have dreams, we all have things we do and they require action, but we just can’t jump into a boat and head out into the ocean. We want to consider all the things that are needed.
Let’s come back to this idea of thinking about your behavior, how you treat others, including your style, your tone, and the pitch of your voice, and how others feel around you have a huge impact on the other end of the stick. So, have the foresight to see the impact of your actions.
Maybe I can just give a couple of examples of this. I attended a seminar with Chris Voss, about a year and a half ago. He talked about never split the difference, it was a course on negotiating. And during the course, he talked about the different types of people there are. And Chris had been one of the head negotiators for hostage negotiations to release hostages around the world – he worked for the FBI. What they discovered is that there are three different types of people or styles, if you will. The natural, assertive, direct voice and the analytical voice, and the third is the accommodating voice. Now here is what their experience and research taught is when someone uses the natural, assertive, direct voice, that it’s counterproductive under all circumstances when dealing with others. In other words, this is the style, “Let’s get this done.” It’s assertive, and it leaves little room for negotiation and it may have its purpose, but what Chris pointed out, it’s counterproductive. It may have short-term wins, but really it leads to long-term loss and especially if it creates anger because anger leaves a negative residue. The second is the analytical voice, this is kind of like the nighttime DJ. It moves slowly, it processes everything; in other words, “Welcome to the show. We’re glad to have you here.”, it’s walking through the issues. But the DJ voice can slow things down and be helpful when negotiating, especially with an analytical person. And so, it’s interesting to see these different types. Now the third one, the accommodating voice, is the happy, friendly, positive voice. Here’s what the statistic shows, is your 31% smarter and more effective with a positive frame of mind. Use this one – Chris said – 90% of the time. It can make all the difference in the world. He said that what’s interesting is it seems like as you look at the different types of people that 1/3 seem to fall in each category, but the voice you choose can have a big impact on the outcome and this is the other side of the stick – is that if we have a happy, upbeat, positive voice, we’re accommodating just the style, can make a difference. This is point A, point B. Lift up one end of the stick which is how I treat other people, the consideration that I offer, the levels of trust that I build with other people, all of these have an impact on the other end. And so, starting to think about that point B, looking down the road and considering the overall ecosystem, if I do this, it’ll have this impact and if I do this, it’ll have this impact. And this is how if I train and provide leadership training or if I give communication training or time management training, this is the impact or if I listen to other people.
So, let me give an example of these different voices. Many years ago, when I first started the first company that I purchased, was a publishing company and we had sales reps throughout the United States. One of those sales reps lived in Phoenix, and his name was Kevin – we’ll just call him Kevin, it’s not his real name – but he had a high-pitched voice, he always seemed agitated, and he was assertive for sure. He was from Latvia, so he had this accent and people thought that he was always mad. He was very interesting. So the office staff did not want to take his calls. That’s point B, right? That’s the other end of the stick. And people unfortunately dreaded talking with Kevin. They perceived him to always have a gripe or a problem. I became his direct supervisor as the new owner of the company and so I went to Phoenix and visited him and his wonderful wife in their home, where I was their guest, and stayed overnight. I got to know Kevin much better along with his wife at the same time, and we fast became friends. Well, what I discovered is that I was able to see both ends of the stick much better and help others to get to know Kevin, that he was not upset that this was just his nature, this is how he talked to people. He wasn’t high-strung. And once they understood that, they were able to settle down and they were able to see the other end of the stick. He was a top producer all the way, he meant no harm with his approach. Well, once we all understood that we ended up at a better place, we were able to be far more effective together. So, taking the time to learn, to listen, to understand, to learn other people’s stories, helps us to understand the lay of the land and to better judge that other end of the stick. So, you learn and you grow as you go. Have a bias for thoughtful action and you don’t want to wait till you understand everything, but you certainly want to be perceptive about the lay of the land. I like what C.S. Lewis said, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird. And it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg.” We are like eggs at the present and you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary decent egg. We must be hatched or we go bad. And so, I think what C.S. Lewis is saying here is we need to get into the game and we learn, but at the same time, we want to have enough wisdom and foresight to be thoughtful about what is at the other end of the stick.
Let me give an example of this. And even people that are really extraordinary need to continue to be thoughtful about this because things are always changing. I’m currently reading a book by the name of Hamilton. It is a fascinating book, it’s a large book by Ron Chernow – I think it is – and it talks about Hamilton’s early life and then coming to America, being involved in the Revolutionary War, becoming an aid to George Washington. And then, as the Revolutionary War matured, and the various colonies were successful in the war, they started to shift into forming the country. At first, it was a loose 13 colonies and then they came together and came up with the Constitution. And from there, they formed the government for the first time and it tells about all this. I mean, it’s just off the charts fascinating and how hungry Hamilton was, each of the players, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and how hungry they were to learn. And then it talked about how brilliant Hamilton was that he helped write – along with Madison – most of the Federalist Papers, establishing, the idea was to establish a strong central government which didn’t exist at the time, form a government and they came together all of this was hanging by a thread and balance was state rights. Once the Constitution was formed, it was passed by the various colonies, then they had to establish the government itself. So, Hamilton was appointed as the first Secretary of the Treasury and so he established the budget, a banking system, taxation, borrowing, all doing this for the first time. They worked together to create something that was extraordinary, really a miracle when you go back and look at what took place. They did it by working together, even though they had strong ideas, but it was through compromise and they worked hard to try to look down and see the impact that this would have. And especially as the country would grow westward.
Well, then something really tragic happened because as they started progressing, they started taking different political sides. And Jefferson and Madison became bitter enemies with Hamilton. And at first, this was private. One end of the stick, right? But then, as their differences sharpened, the action started becoming public and they started bitterly criticizing each other by name. This is public which almost split the nation. You had Jefferson that was the Secretary of State and Hamilton as the Secretary of the Treasury and it almost split the country. Now, this is where it went wrong. And of course, you had Washington, who was so amazing because he was thoughtful, principle-based, conciliatory, and they convinced him even though they were very split to run for a second term to hold the nation together. So, just imagine for a moment, at that time, if Hamilton and Jefferson and Madison could have figured out how to be more decent to each other, if they could have connected with one another and said, “Let’s have a meeting and sit down and figure out how we can have differing points of view, but how we can do it in a constructive way, and the impact that would have had on all the colonies.” But because of what they did, of course, it is complex, this led more and more to a divided nation that ultimately led to the slavery question and the civil war that came up. So, it’s interesting how things come together. We didn’t say it would be easy, right? We’re just saying that highly successful leaders make a practice of thinking about the parable of the stick, the point A and the point B.
Let me give a funny example of this. A neighbor of ours was going on an international trip and she was at the skycap at the airport and she got in line behind a fellow that was absolutely berating the skycap. He was just bringing him out one side down the other, yelling at him. And so finally the skycap took care of this guy, and off he went in a huff. And then the skycap pleasantly turned around to Carolyn Fillmore and said “Now, Ma’am, how may I help you?” She looked at him and said, “How in the world, Sir, can you be so pleasant when that guy was so mean to you?” He said, “Well, that’s easy, Ma’am.” He said, “That man is going to New York City.” He said, “Now, his luggage is going to Israel.” And then he laughed and he said, “Now how can I help you?” Oh, man, that’s great. Well, people have a way of getting back, don’t they? So, I like this comment, it really doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong or who’s at fault; what matters is how to get things right. So, how do we get to the best place? So, let’s go to work and solve the problems together. And this is what we do. We set ourselves up for a chance to win. And then as we’re thinking about the stick, we set up conditions so we can learn together but we don’t want to make fatal mistakes as we pick up the stick from the get-go.
And I would like to just kind of give an example of this. Some of you are aware that I lost my wife not long ago, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s and dementia. I miss her terribly, but I know that she’s in good hands, I know that she’s doing well and the day will come that I’ll see her again. But in the meantime, I’ve concluded that it’s not good for man to be alone. And so, I am back in the dating and courtship game and I’ve thought quite a bit about this. So, let’s just think about this subject and how it applies to the parable of the stick, of point A and point B. One end of the stick is marrying or having a significant other in your life. Well, now the other end of the stick, especially if this is not the first time around, might be existing family members, right? Or an ex, a former husband or a wife, or finances. What impact does that have? Or choosing a place to live. The history and background of the other person, might they have lawsuits, or may they have served jail time. Are they kind? Are they considerate? What are the things that you should know about them? Look at the history, get to know each other well. So have a good idea that when you choose A – the one end of the stick – it will lead to a good B, the other end of the stick. One that’s sustainable, one that can be happy, one that can work. And so, you can make choices at A that helps your B be wildly successful. And the failure to consider B can lead to disaster and failure. And so, this is just a good example in dating and courtship, to be very thoughtful about the parable of the stick to give yourself the chance to be successful and to end up with the right person. I hope that makes sense.
And that is why the principle of Becoming Your Best and the six steps to create and inform an educated mind using wisdom and a sense of judgment on how to make things work and to think of the overall ecosystem, to think globally is so important. In other words, when I do this action and make this choice, here is the impact it will have and I see the bigger picture. So, as you consider an issue and you’re looking for the best outcome, this practice of having this in mind will make all the difference in the world. As you think about things, look down the road, consider the impact of your behavior and choices. This is one of the grand gifts and endowments of humanity, is that we are each given an imagination, right? We can consider the options, “Here’s A, and if I do A here are some of the outcomes. But if I choose B, here are some of the things that will happen. If I choose C, this is…” We can get a sense of right and wrong, we can listen to our feelings, and then we can make a plan and work to execute it by choosing the best option. We can think about the ecosystem, the impact, if I pull out an apple here, do three more drops somewhere else, right? And then we act and you will act with a feel for the other end of the stick. And so, this kind of thinking will bring greater happiness and peace and joy and satisfaction in your life and it’ll impact your family, your relationships, your health, your team, and your organization.
I love what T.E. Lawrence said, “All men dream, but not equally. And those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people. They may act their dreams with open eyes to make it possible.” I’m going to say that one more time, I love this quote by him. “All men, people dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people for they may act their dreams with open eyes to make it possible.” Walt Whitman was a classic, oh my goodness. And some of you may have heard his poem, “O me! O life!” He really does a reflection on life and how challenging it may be sometimes, but I love this perspective that he has.
“O me! O life! Of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?”
Well, the answer is,
“That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
And I love the great question asked by Robin Williams in the Dead Poets Society. He turns to the class and he says, “So, what will your verse be?” Well, as you dream, you take action, be armed with the parable of the stick. And as you do that, you will maximize your chance for the best in life. The best and closest, the most solid relationships of learning, of growing, of going, and the contribution that you make in the world. I wish each one of you the very best in this grand adventure. And wishing each one of you a great day as you continue to apply this great parable in your thinking, and your thought, and then your decisions. May this be a great day for you and wishing you all the best.
Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.