The Picture From Life’s Other Side

The Picture from Life's Other Side

As some of you know, before coaching found me I spent almost 40 years in business, and during that time, found out that a lot of the stuff I learned there was as much about life and human nature outside business as inside. That’s why, since the whole point of this blog is to serve you, I’m hoping that occasionally sharing some of the stories and incidents, (the lessons from which have served me), might benefit you too. Let me know.

When I was 22 and still an idiot, (apologies here, to any 22 year old readers -no offense meant), I had only been out of school for less than a year and working in the family enterprise for about six months when my dad died, so I was there with my uncles.

Anyway, about 3 months after my dad died, my uncle thought I could use a break to decompress, hang out, chat and so forth. Our extended family owned a condo in Palm Beach and so off we went to Florida for a week or so.

Back then we had a factory with around 1000 employees, and a chain of stores with another 2000 people, each group represented by a different labor union. Based on my vast business and life “experience” (HA!) and my ignorance of the outrageous and horrific greed based actions of business owners against their workers over the centuries (making the creation of unions inevitable and necessary), my opinion of unions and their members was pretty dim. After all thought I, what kind of a person (lazy, un-ambitious, right?) wants to put his pencil (or whatever task) down at 5:00 o’clock sharp and go home?

It took quite a few years until I “got” that maybe, that kind of a person wants to “get a life”, be there for his family, know his kids, and “work to live” instead of “live to work”. Actually, that actually doesn’t sound like such a bad plan, does it?

[Interestingly, on the very day that I’m writing this, I spotted a piece in the SF Chronicle on this very subject. I quote:

“Research from Stanford University suggests that workers who get paid by the hour are happier than salaried employees because they see a clear link between output and reward.” Prof Jeffrey Pfeffer, at Stanford business school, in a collaboration with Sanford deVoe of University of Toronto stated: “to the extent that time becomes money and money becomes more salient, the linkage between how much you earn and your happiness increases.”

Their research summarized that: “hourly employees know the worth of each hour of work, think about their income regularly, and begin equating the value of their time with their degree of happiness.” This link, between hourly wage and self worth, seems to affect off the job thinking as well. If you are paid by the hour you come to see your time in a certain way that doesn’t change when you walk out of your employer’s door.]

Wow! Who knew? But I digress…

Anyway, at that particular time, we were in a protracted and difficult negotiation with our factory union. Their rep, I’ll call him  “Jim Shane” was, (it seemed to me) being particularly obstinate on certain issues which were very important to them (duh!), but which I perceived as being totally ridiculous. They were adamant. Negotiations were stuck. I was angry. (When you are “sure” you are in the right and the other guy doesn’t agree, you get angry, right?)

That afternoon, we had stopped by the fish market to buy some shrimp, which we cleaned and cooked, and brought out onto the deck overlooking the pool to have with a drink before dinner.

I started ranting about the union and about Jim Shane. My uncle listened patiently until I was done. Then, with a very deliberate gesture, passed me the bowl, looked me right in the eyes, and said quietly: “here Michael, have some shrimp”…(“Uh Oh” says I to myself, “Something’s comin.”) Then he said: “tell me Michael, do you see Jim Shane, or any of his people sitting down there at the pool, under a palm tree, eating shrimp and drinking Pina Coladas? Perhaps you might feel calmer if you try to see the view from where they sit right now, in addition to where you sit.”

Wham!!  In 30 seconds I had taken and graduated a course in conflict resolution 101, maybe even better, because I still clearly remember that very moment, and think about it pretty often, even 43 years later. That lesson has served me well, not only in that business when I participated in labor negotiations over the years, but in my own business afterwards, and also in regular life.

I’d now like to share the number of times since then that I have successfully (which means permanently) resolved any dispute in business (or in life) without “seeing the picture from the other side”: it’s zero…nada.”

If, of course, at that point in time, the power is all on your side, you can impose a “resolution,” but it won’t stick. It can’t. People who feel wrongly treated (whether it’s your workers, people you hire to work in or on your home or your car, or entire nations full of citizens) will eventually, when circumstances change, seek and achieve redress for their legitimate grievances, (and most likely at a cost to you higher than you would have had to bear in the original instance).

That one incident has reminded me to consider the other person’s point of view in all manner of life’s situations, and has spared me a lot of grief (and expense).

The attached song, ‘Picture From Life’s Other Side” was recorded in 1944 by the late Woody Guthrie (legend, muse and inspiration to Bob Dylan). The words and music were composed by Charles Baer 1896. It’s right on this point. Have a listen:

And, if you’re not too bored by now, I’d like to share one more story. (If you are, you can stop):

A few years later, still on the young side of 25, (by then I had morphed into a buyer for ladies wear), I was being pitched to buy some garments (raincoats, I think) in one of our little buying cubicles. Frankly, I didn’t really like the coats that much, but I thought that if I could get them at a really low price, we could sell them on a quick sale, and make a nice profit, so I was really pressing hard, very hard, on the vendor. I was really reaming him, and he was distressed. I could tell he really needed the order (it was maybe around 1000-1500 garments). I had the power and I was pushing hard (already forgot my lesson…see above).

Guess what? Same (wise) uncle (basically my mentor) walks by the door, observes this for 2-3 minutes, and walks away (probably so as not to embarrass me, although I was already embarrassing myself by means of my actions). Later, he stopped by my office and said: “I guess you really didn’t want those coats did you?” I explained my reasoning to him. He said “If you want the coats, buy them at a fair price for both of you. If you don’t want the coats, just thank him and tell him nicely that you are not interested. What you were doing to him was not right. You can’t grind another human being down like that, because you have the power. If he is having trouble in his life or in his business, it’s not right to take advantage of that for profit.”

That lesson was absolutely huge for me, and not only for the lesson in ethical behavior. Years later, when I had my own stores, rule one was that I never, never considered a product at a reduced price, if I wouldn’t be willing to have it in my stores at it’s full price. In business (and in life) your identity (and integrity) are everything.

Practice Tip Push PinPractice Tip: The residue – there is always residue – from all those “bargains” (moral compromises) obscures your identity (hides your face). In business (and in life), if they can’t see your true face, you are gonna be lonely.

Who are you?  Your customers, (if it’s business), or your friends, colleagues, teachers, neighbors, lovers, even your family (if it’s life) need to know who you are and then count on what you do. This is crucial. This is your face.

“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” (Alan Simpson)

Please be kind to yourself,




About Michael Scott

Michael Scott is a life coach, author and teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. After spending 35 years in business - coaching found him - and he's never looked back. Michael uses his coaching training and experience, in the service of his clients, as their constant and loving guide towards joyous, fulfilling lives which are genuinely their own. He lives with his dear wife in Sausalito, CA.

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