Who would you rather have in your life — a person who lies and cheats or a person who is gracious and supportive?
If both of these people said, “I’ve got some feedback for you,” it is very likely that the lying person would provide insights from their self-serving perspective while the kind person would provide insights from a “service to you” perspective.
What would cause a person to lie and cheat, or to be gracious and supportive, or to be somewhere in between? I believe the core driver of such behaviors is character.
Human character can be defined as “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” One’s character can be beneficial to self, to others, or some combination of both (which is an unusual pattern, but it happens).
Since humans don’t walk around with a billboard that proclaims our mental and moral qualities, people around us are left to interpret our character based on our plans, decisions and actions — how we treat others, who (or what) we are serving, and the like.
Our actions with strangers might consistently reflect our character. I might open doors for others or give a lady the cab I just hailed, choosing to wait for the next cab down the street. Or, I might open the door for myself, closing it right behind me, not noticing others following. I might grab that cab and pull the door closed, ignoring others that might also need a lift.
Our actions with those we interact with regularly — work colleagues, family, and friends — certainly provide evidence of how much our character leans toward serving self or serving others.
If, at work, I am mean, dismissive, call people names and find fault with others more than I find value, it’s unlikely that colleagues would describe me as having a servant character. It’s also unlikely that people would like to work for or work with a person displaying those behaviors — those of self-serving character.
They may not have much choice if a person of self-serving character is their boss or a team member.
I choose to insulate myself from those of self-serving character. I coach others to do the same thing. Life is too short to willingly expose yourself to jerks.
My servant character friends and colleagues are not passive players on this stage of life; they demonstrate passions frequently. The difference between people of self-serving character and those of servant character is they can debate ideas heatedly while continuing to honor the value of their fellow humans.
I’d much rather receive feedback from a person of kind, caring, servant character than from one of self-serving character.
Can we change our character? What causes our character to evolve? Experiences. Reflection. Feedback. These things can cause us to shift from self-service to servant interactions.
Ultimately, we must be vigilant about how we treat others, how our character plays out with strangers, friends, family, and colleagues. If we’re not serving others, we must shift our behaviors and our methods to embrace serving others.
What kind of characters (pun intended) do you work with? How do you manage those self-serving characters around you?
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