FranklinCovey Consultant Blogs | James Cathcart | Array
In the fall of 1843, Charles Dickens was in a slump. His last published work was not faring well, and debts were mounting. Overwhelmed with the knowledge that his own father had suffered in debtor’s prison, and fearing for his own family, writer’s block set in and things gradually went from bad to worse. Sleepless, he took to walking the London streets, night after night, hoping to find something to spark his imagination. Several times, he came face to face with a side of the city that was hidden from the eyes of most. Everywhere he went during those dark nights, he saw the homeless living in the alleyways, and the children working long hours through the night to help their families make ends meet. While Dickens was aware of the plight of the poor, and had, in fact, written about them in some of his earlier works, these nights had a profound impact on him.
He began to realize that he was not the victim here. He, with his relative wealth and power to reach thousands, was in a position to serve those less fortunate than himself. Thus began the feverish writing of one of Dicken’s most famous works, A Christmas Carol. This famous story of a selfish man obsessed with his own wealth and accumulation, and his subsequent transformation was the story of Dicken’s own life. The more he focused on the plight of the impoverished, the more creative he became. His own problems were put into perspective, and after a period of time, completely diminished in comparison to his mission, which was to bring to light the terrible conditions that existed in England, and rally those who had the resources to end it. Each holiday season, following the publication of this little book, Dickens would do a public reading in theaters all over the city. When he finished the story, and the applause died down, he would implore the theater-goers to learn from the character of Scrooge, and find joy and fulfillment by giving to those less fortunate.
As we wade through the economic crisis we are facing, it is so easy to withdraw and start hoarding in the spirit of personal survival. Times such as these demand that we remember Dicken’s masterpiece. We are an interdependent species and, contrary to our instinct, will thrive only when we reach out and help others.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , Stephen R. Covey introduces us to a model we call The Maturity Continuum. This model shows us how the 7 Habits work together as a synergistic team, rather than as seven separate and disconnected ideas. Anyone who has attempted to live a few of the habits for an extended period of time has probably learned that you can’t live one habit, without understanding it’s relationship with the other six.
One of the most important concepts taught in this model is the idea that in order to achieve the highest degree of maturity, which is interdependence, or the ability to work effectively with others, one must first achieve independence. In other words, if I’m dependent on a single employer for my livelihood, I’ll never truly feel free to talk straight or give honest constructive feedback when asked for my opinion. I’ll tend to “suck-up” and say what I think everyone wants to hear, rather than be intellectually honest.
As I watch the challenges of this new century unfold, I am becoming acutely aware of many whose dependence on their employers is becoming glaringly evident. Consider this story from The October 1950 Reader’s Digest:
“In our friendly neighbor city of St. Augustine great flocks of sea gulls are starving amid plenty. Fishing is still good, but the gulls don’t know how to fish. For generations they have depended on the shrimp fleet to toss them scraps from the nets. Now the fleet has moved. …
“The shrimpers had created a Welfare State for the … sea gulls. The big birds never bothered to learn how to fish for themselves and they never taught their children to fish. Instead they led their little ones to the shrimp nets.
“Now the sea gulls, the fine free birds that almost symbolize liberty itself, are starving to death because they gave in to the ‘something for nothing’ lure! They sacrificed their independence for a handout.
“A lot of people are like that, too. They see nothing wrong in picking delectable scraps from the tax nets of the U.S. Government’s ‘shrimp fleet.’ But what will happen when the Government runs out of goods? What about our children of generations to come?
“Let’s not be gullible gulls. We … must preserve our talents of self-sufficiency, our genius for creating things for ourselves, our sense of thrift and our true love of independence.”
It’s hard to believe that article was written almost 60 years ago. And yet, it’s message is as viable today as ever. In order to truly be able to give our very best to any organization, we must first be independent of that organization. When we have our own needs taken care of first, it’s much easier to reach out and take care of the needs of others.