“Don’t let yourself be a fake person by treating those around you as if they don’t matter.”
That was an unexpected sentence to find in the business book I’d just picked up in an airport gift shop. I don’t usually browse in the business section, but the only other choice was a display of publications by a very worldly religious group.
The title – THE DIFFERENCE: When Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough – had first caught my attention and then, leafing through a few pages, I saw that there really was something to this book. It was a small airport and I had a long time to wait for my flight, so I kept on reading. And then I bought the book. I’ll introduce you to the ideas of the author, Subir Chowdhury, with several quotes and then hope you will buy his small book because it’s worth reading.
Mr. Chowdhury wrote:
“When I came to America, I arrived with a college education and the clothes on my back. … With hard work, perseverance, good fortune, and help from other people, I have been successful enough that I now have more than I’ll ever need in my lifetime.”
In addition to his education and the shirt on his back, he had come from Bangladesh with a mindset that has been central to his life, his success, and this book. He describes a “caring mindset” he learned from his family as one that involves both the small details and the largest elements of our lives. He begins with a story about a toothpick dropped thoughtlessly on the floor because an employee’s not caring enough to throw a used toothpick in the trash may be an indication of a company-wide attitude problem. Chowdhury says we need to care about such small things as well as to treat ourselves, others, and the world around us with respect and consideration. And everyone is worth our thoughtfulness:
“When you empathize with someone it doesn’t matter who the other person is or what he or she does. I know that every person I interact with is valuable and is deserving of empathy. Our housekeeper. My barber. Our mailman. The person who drives the truck that cleans the street in front of my house. My clients. I need every one of them. As a society, we need them all. No one person’s contribution is less important than another’s. Empathy requires only that we value another person as a human being who, like all of us, provides worth to the community, to our society, to our country, and to everyone else. We are all connected; we all impact one another.”
I’ve also learned from spiritual traditions that advise us to welcome difficult people because they too can bring us gifts. Although it can be hard to appreciate – or even tolerate – an irritating or disruptive person, they are a necessary part of the whole community. Accepting them does not mean becoming passive about their bad behavior: we need to face who they are, assess what they are doing and, if we can, help them to change or otherwise do what we can to manage the problems. Perhaps we are the ones who will have to change, to grow. Sometimes we can learn things from difficult people that we cannot learn in any other way. And, although we very rarely consider this, sometimes we are that difficult person.
Chowdhury wrote that, “Kindness is an action. It is the doing part of empathy.”
And he told a story about a time when he was working on an important presentation:
“I had been working on our presentation eighteen or twenty hours a day for several weeks straight. One night, around eleven o’clock, the organization’s office caretaker came to my office while a few friends and I were deep into a brainstorming session about the project. He had already been by four times before. Very politely he told me, ’Sir, you forgot to have your dinner. Do you want me to bring something for you and your friends? If you do not eat, you may not be at your best.’ Once again I told him to not worry about us and suggested that he go home and go to bed. Instead of doing what I suggested, he called the company CEO and told him of his concern for us. At midnight, the company’s owner and CEO showed up at my office with a feast for all of us! He told us that his mother had cooked the food after the caretaker called to express his concern about out well-being. We were speechless.
To me, the caretaker and CEO both illustrate what it means to be more thoughtful: they were not only empathetic, but took action. … Both treated us as though we were special, and expressed their compassion and concern. Both expected nothing in return for what they did.”
Chowdhury wrote that, “People no longer strive to understand one another’s point of view.” But when we do, when we live with a caring mindset and both care and take action, he says we can change the world. His business book is really about the “business” of living well – not just about how to succeed in the world of wealth and status.
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THE DIFFERENCE: When Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough
By Subir Chowdhury, Crown Business, 2017.