Example 1: “I love dogs,” he said. “I hate dogs. A dog bit me once,” she countered. Immediately the conversation was over. Her negativity to his opening salvo sunk his boat. Dead in the water. There was no reason to go on with the conversation. Everything that he needed to know about her was in that first remark. He had spoken of love, she of hate, but it was more than that.

She showed that she wasn’t open-minded. She could have said, “While dogs aren’t my favorite animal, I recognize that dogs are known for being compassionate, loving, and loyal. Great qualities in dogs and humans.” Had she replied with this comment, she would have turned something so simple as a love for dogs into to a discussion of the greatest attributes humans can aspire to.

Example 2: My friend Helen is a Vice President of a multi-billion dollar software corporation. She told me that when she is considering hiring a new employee, she always takes them to an exotic restaurant they have never been to. She watches to see what and how they order. When the food comes she also watches how they begin to eat.

“The way that someone “thinks” about food tells you a lot about how they will “live” in your company,” she says. If the person only goes for safe entrees like a hamburger at a Vietnamese joint…that tells you something. Do they order off the menu? Do they ask questions of the server? How do they treat the server? Are they genuinely interested? Do they ask for recommendations? Are they adventurous?

If they treat the staff with respect, trust their recommendations, and yet arrive at their own decisions that says a lot about how they will treat not only with clients, but support staff. If they are more than cordial, but interested in the server and make them feel valued, this is a good sign for how this potential employee views relations with suppliers. But, the biggest tell tale sign that the candidate isn’t right for Helen’s company is what they do when the food arrives. If without tasting the food, they reach for the salt…they aren’t hired. They already have a preconceived notion of the “status” of things, and they aren’t open to new possibilities. They will kill your company.

Example 3: I met a beautiful man today dressed in a tailored blue pin-stripped suit. Everything about this man radiated friendliness, generosity, and kindness. His beard was trimmed nicely, shoes polished, and we walked across the room to meet me with his had extended and a smile on his face. He was well put together but not in an overly forced way. Wayne is the Vice President of the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Wayne had the ability to take a “Dog” comment and change it into something beautiful. He could have viewed me with suspicion. “What is this guy with a blue tunic, baby stroller, and a cowboy hat doing on my campus?” But he didn’t.

We talked a moment or two about my pilgrimage, and then about the weather. We talked of the heat and global warming. It was at this point that Wayne took a moment to share with me a learning moment. A story from experience. One that challenges perception and our cultural values, and asks are we better off in our paradigm…or not.

Example 4: Wayne told me of a 75 year-old man that came to work at the university from Africa. The two made fast friends, and as summer approached and the temperatures began to rise Wayne would offer the man rides home. The man would always reply, “No thank you. I must do this the African way.” Wayne, kind man that he is continued to offer, but he always met with the same reply, “No thank you, but I must do this the African way.”

Then one day, the man called Wayne and asked if he would give him a ride to a car dealership? Of course Wayne obliged. There, the man bought a brand new Mazda for cash.

If you are like me, as Wayne told me the story, I thought that the man was just being stubborn. That “The African Way” seemed to be a way to say, “I walk” unlike you lazy people because I am African. I can deal with heat, I am from Africa. Then, when he called Wayne for a ride, I thought, “OK, see the heat got to him, and he submitted. The heat broke his will.” Then when he wanted a ride to the car dealership, I thought, “Yeah, gave in.”

This story isn’t about the African Way, it is about me. It, like the dog, Helen, and Wayne examples point out my and our inability to see a possible “other” way to be. More importantly, a different way to think.

It never occurred to me as Wayne told the story that everyone could walk until they could afford a car. It didn’t occur to me that had saved his money and dealt with the heat in order to buy the car with cash. He was prepared to pay before he played. It didn’t occur to me we all could work hard to get a reward instead of relying on credit, handouts, and rides from friends. We all could be willing to endure a little to make the pay off more worth it.

I could stand for my mind to be opened. I could stand to have a paradigm shift. The African Way is a paradigm shift. How you treat people isn’t just as important as becoming the VP of a university or a company…it is the way in which you become a VP. See all things, including dogs, for the merit that is intrinsic. Look for the best in all people. Be the peace.

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