We’ve often explored the concept of Belief Systems and how our personal way of understanding and relating to the world — typically on an unconscious level — directs our behaviors.
Recently I heard what was perhaps the perfect example of how these unconscious beliefs manifest and affect everyone whose lives we touch.
Last month I was cordially, errr… invited to serve on jury duty. During voir dire Thomas Berger, a long-time successful South Florida attorney, related a personal story to help us understand how our personal belief systems (what he termed, “prejudices”) could potentially affect our judgement.
He’d been in a restaurant with a fellow lawyer and was ordering his side dishes from the gentleman directly serving him the food. After requesting cole slaw and carrots, the server gave him a tiny bit of cole slaw and a large amount of carrots. As Mr. Berger noticed this his colleague immediately said to the server, “You hate cole slaw but you love carrots!”
The server immediately replied, “Yes, how did you know?”
Of course, what the server did was unconsciously impose his beliefs on his customer. “If I hate cole slaw but love carrots then it makes sense that everyone else does, too.”
Mr. Berger’s story was right on the mark. As human beings we tend to believe that the way we see the world is not only correct, but that pretty much everyone else sees the world the same way we do. How could it be any different? That’s all we know; the way we understand it.
This is why I define a belief as a “subjective truth.” In other words, the truth as one understands the truth to be.
In reality, Truth just is. The way it’s understood, however, is as varied as there are human beings.
Unfortunately, when we don’t recognize this we can trip ourselves up, such as the sales professional who had difficulty calling referraled prospects because she didn’t like receiving calls from salespeople referred to her. Like the above server, if she didn’t like it then her prospective customers wouldn’t either.
As leaders; as sales professionals; as friends and family members, do we assume that what we like or don’t like is exactly what others like or don’t like, as well?
If so, we are letting our beliefs hinder us from best serving others, as well as ourselves.
Remember, “Value is always in the eyes of the beholder.”
We can only know what another person needs, wants, or desires by asking and then listening; without — as Mr. Berger would call it — prejudice.
Sometimes this results in making a huge difference in another person’s life.
Other times it simply means we give them more cole slaw.
Both are important.
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Thanks for sharing, Bob! Cole slaw is a great vehicle for demonstrating this phenomenon. Here in Ohio, coleslaw is a sweet, creamy chopped assemblage of cabbage, carrots and green peppers that’s served as an essential picnic side dish. In West Virginia, coleslaw is an essential hot dog topping. In some vinegar-loving parts of the country, it’s blasphemic to put mayo in your coleslaw dressing.
But you’ll never know how someone likes their coleslaw unless you ask.
Wow, GREAT points, Kathleen! Thank you!
“Leave him alone and he will figure it out.”
Out to lunch with friends and family. The lady who dictated who sat where, told me to leave my special needs brother alone so he could figure it out. I thought perhaps she is right, and he will figure it out. Perhaps I don’t have to put the napkin on his leg, so he won’t wipe his fingers on his pants. Perhaps it is okay that he put his water drink in his mashed potatoes. Etc…
She proceeded to tell me how her special needs daughter figured things out. I asked her if it was autism she had. It wasn’t.
Before long the waitress was taking his plate away. I said, “Wait ma’am, he is not finished.” The ‘helpful’ lady next to me said “he is finished, because his napkin was on top of his plate.” (At that, the waitress walked away with his plate.)”Amy you need to stop being controlling.” The helpful lady said.
Well the controlling Amy asked the waitress to put in an extra order of food to go. I didn’t feel the need to explain to the real controller that my brother stacks everything, even cups and napkins, while he is eating. Had I sat next to him, I could have helped him keep his stacked plate so he could finish eating his lunch.
In the car, on the way home I asked him if he had finished his meal. He said he hadn’t.
The next time we went out to eat with the ‘helpful’ lady, I told her she can tell me where to sit, as long as my brother is on one side of me.
That really said it all, Amy. Thank you for sharing with us!
PS I love how sweet the waiter was to give an extra portion of what he thought the man would like too. Sweet gesture for sure.
Loved the post and reminded me one of the classea on the Seth’s Marketing Seminar where he talks about empathy. He says that emparhy is hard because it challenges us to leave our comfort worldview in exchange for a different perspective.
I’m quoting him: “Great marketers have empathy-empathy for what’s going through the other person’s head”
Finally, he gives an example that I loved. The person terrify of planes in a Delta flight and how the pilot sat next to her just to listen because he knows that he can’t convince her how safe is flying as she has different beliefs. But still gives her a business card to call him whenever she would need to talk when she is taking another fly.
I really loved your article!!
Thank you, Pili. So glad to know you enjoyed the post. Indeed, great advice from Seth and a terrific example regarding the pilot and the passenger. Thank you so much!
My pleasure, Bob!
Love this quote: “Value is always in the eyes of the beholder.”
I think we tend to come from our own point of view if we aren’t paying attention. Working in social media for clients, I often post user generated content on their behalf. I can think of two examples where I thought to myself, “oh I am not going to post that, it’s ugly.” The first time I did, I was shocked at how well it was received. Now, I think from our communities point of view. Who am I to judge.
Thanks for sharing your insight.
Lori, thank you for your kind words about the quote, and thank you for sharing that terrific lesson with us from your own personal experience. It’s always amazing, isn’t it, how what we like and what others like are often so very different? LOL. And, of course, it ain’t about us! 🙂 Again, many thanks!
Brian, thank you for your kind feedback!
As always, thanks for sharing a thoughtful and inspiring article, Bob!
All of us should internalize this “Cole Slaw Parable” and try to question and change our own prejudices and our personal, subjective, limited point of view.
It is so simple and true. Just because I (don’t) like something, it doesn’t mean everyone does(n’t).
Thanks again, Bob! Have a fantastic weekend!
Thank you, Fred. Many thanks for your kind words about the post!
“This is why I define a belief as a “subjective truth.” In other words, the truth as one understands the truth to be.
In reality, Truth just is. The way it’s understood, however, is as varied as there are human beings.”
Love it Bob!
Finally, a simple way to explain the differences an objective truth, which is and has existence whether we perceive it or not, and a subjective truth which is our self-perception of a truth. (objectivism vs relativism)
The server dictated his truth, that carrots tasted better than coleslaw (his subjective truth, POV), to the customer without even considering the customer.
Believing in subjective truths can be very selfish.
Your story points out the dangers of relativism in a funny yet poignant way.
“We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” -Benedict XVI
– Server’s own desires and preferences: More carrots, less coleslaw.
“Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of education is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom, it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own ‘ego’.” -Benedict XVI
– Server’s subconscious: Carrots are better than coleslaw, so I’m not serving as much, even if the customer might like coleslaw more…
Hi Dean, thank you, both for your kind feedback and for your well-thought-out commentary. Much appreciated!