Tuesday March 5, 2013

To Know, and to be Known- A Birthday Reflection

pictures of chris nordykeDifferent hats.

5 years ago I saw a revolution beginning. Social networking adoption was exploding, and a new culture of transparency and authenticity appeared to be emerging. I became a zealot.

All the social norms that plagued the baby boomer generation and disgusted the gen x/y’ers seemed to be shifting.

The idea that we could lead integrated lives, flowing seamlessly between our work, play and family, without having to don the proper “hats” appeared to be taking hold. All of it enabled by this new connected web. No matter where we were, we were connected to our “friends”.

The technology was world-changing, but socially, the very dysfunctions that plagued generations before, still persist.

The idea that I act differently based on the context I find myself in. You know, the idea that drove your mother or father to say “Now when we get to church, you better behave” is still alive and kicking. Or depending on your background you might recall a mad scramble to clean house before “company” comes over, despite the fact that cluttered is the norm.

I have found from my own story, and observing countless others, that this dysfunction almost entirely stems from our need for affirmation. The need to know “I am okay.” Or “I am normal”. Or “am I really everything that people have me cracked up to be?” Or, “My kids really are…” You get the point. The big underlying fear is- what if they see me in an unguarded moment and they realize I’m not ______ (Fill in the blank)

Facebook and Twitter haven’t really changed this dynamic. It’s only made it easier for us to present ourselves the way we think others want to see us. Or, it’s made it easier for us to find communities of people that are like ourselves. We’ve quickly adapted to this new social structure and have enacted new rules.

More of the Same

We’ve learned to control each other online with sarcastic comments like “TMI” or “That’s an overshare!” The moment you offend me or make me uncomfortable, I have to reign you in. Of course I’m going to do it in a “tongue in cheek” way, so I don’t risk you thinking I’m an asshole. But I want you to learn where the limit is that I’ve set for you.

We’re very careful to maintain a certain image for ourselves. A version of our best self, but more importantly, an image that elicits affirmation from our so-called friends. Affirmation comes in the form of “likes”, “shares” and retweets. Oh, and don’t forget the “Follow Fridays” (#FF).

So essentially, we’re no different than our stoic, depression era grandparents, or our baby boomer keeping-up-with-the-joneses parents. We just have tools that allow us to be even more manipulative and strategic. #Fakebook

In Jewish culture, the term Yada is used to frame the idea of relationship. It means “To know” or “to be known”. It is often used in a sexual context, but really that is just because it’s describing an “intimate knowledge”.

The older I become, the more desire I have for Yada. I have less patience for superficiality. I want to model Yada for my children. I want to know and be known. I like bullshit less and less. Even over beers.

This concept of Yada, of course, doesn’t give a free pass for vulgarity and obscenity. It simply presses toward the more significant. Yada seeks to understand. Yada acknowledges the need for affirmation, yet instead of offering flattery, seeks to understand the need and/or the hurt that it flows from.

It turns out Facebook and Twitter et al are just platforms. How are we going to use them?

Yada in business

I’ve experimented with this concept of Yada in business context over the last year. I’ve intentionally crossed the professional/personal line, just to see what would happen. It was cool.

About a year ago I had a client in my office discussing some insurance stuff. During the course of normal conversation, it came up that this guy and his wife were divorcing after 20 years of marriage. Normally I would just say something like “sorry to hear that” or some other throwaway comment.

Instead, I paused and said, “would you mind sharing just a bit about that? My wife and I are only going on 10 years, but we’ve had some real struggles during that time. Is there any wisdom you can share with me? Anything you’d do differently if you could go back?”

It was magical. Really. The guy opened up. I opened up sharing my own stories and examples. Yada happened. I could tell it was rich for both of us. We might have hugged at the end. I don’t recall.

The trick is, someone has to reveal first. The guy never would have opened up to me if I hadn’t shared how my wife Cara and I have struggled. But once I made myself vulnerable, it gave him license to do the same.

There’s no more divide between business and personal life. I refuse to wear two hats anymore, and that feels like something to celebrate.

Chris Nordyke is an integrated marketer and strategy consultant. He works with owners and senior business leaders to transform and grow service companies via a unique holistic approach that drives referral business and client retention. Click here to schedule a complimentary consult with Chris.

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