Sunday, April 22, 2012

Trust Me

What is trust? It is a quality that is easy to talk about but hard to pin down. Relationships require it. Relationships that do not have it can only be described as tentative at best. But what is a relationship? At its simplest, a relationship is an association between two people. The association may be something endowed by the individuals involved or it may be brought about by an external agent.

Does trust require a balanced relationship? It is our western sentimentalism that complains if a relationship is not balanced. And yet nearly every mother is aquainted with profound relational asymmetry. Her newborn infant realizes at only the most basic level that a relationship exists and cannot return anything to it, yet the mother loves and cares for the child (as does the father, one hopes). But how many mothers would say that they get nothing in return? Perhaps when she is especially tired and into a long period where the infant is crabby, but not when the child is in her lap, cooed and rocked to sleep. The infant's steady, whispery breathing and tender facial movements deposit treasure in the mother's heart.

Is the infant trusting? The infant is dependent on mom, but the awareness has not yet awakened for trust to be present. And yet it is impossible to isolate a particular point in time where that awakening occurs. Trust does not barge in, it sneaks in. It is present in the infant only as a seed. Consistent care given by parents waters the seed and it begins to grow. If not, the seed may remain dormant or grow into a spindly shadow of what was intended. Radical gardening may be required later to restore the plant to its original design.

Trust is essential in every relationship for it to be fruitful. Without trust there can only be association, aquaintance, convenience.

Trust can overcome attacks from the outside.
Trust empowers, encourages.
Trust allows roots to go deep.
Trust predicts good rather than evil, success rather than failure, satisfaction rather than want.
Trust is earned, love is not.
Trust benefits from the discipline of remembering the good.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Emotions at Work

In my profession, emotion can carry a bad reputation and strong emotion can be seen as downright sinister. Tales are told in college engineering books and classes of once-prominent stars who later in their career either became emotionally attached to their own creations or who tried to manipulate the emotions of others to affect an outcome, invariably with disastrous effect. Ferdinand de Lesseps and the Panama Canal comes to mind. A critical set of requirements is overlooked, or consequences are not thoroughly worked out, or a design is not tested well enough. Damage is done, property is ruined, havoc is wreaked, lives are lost. If those responsible for such projects had managed to keep their emotions at bay and dispassionately applied their skills, so the stories go, the losses would have been avoided.

At least, that is the message that was given 20 years ago. Nowadays younger engineers don't appear to have heard those stories. Nevertheless, enginering culture changes slowly and much of what brings engineers recognition is their analytic and organizational abilities. Outward emotionalism (except for laughter) tends to brew distrust or even disdain. Permitting emotion into the design room is still seen as a significant risk.

I am a creature of that culture, first taught by my engineering father and reinforced by my formal education. My reflex is to see emotions as distractions at best, and deceptions at worst, to be avoided when working out problems. There is some allowance for levity as a team builder, but not when pursuing technical quarry. Cynicism, chiefly directed at management, has become more acceptable lately, especially since the introduction of Dilbert. The effervescent cheerleading at all-employee meetings, attended by lots of highly emotional types, also finds more sympathy these days among the technocracy.

Yet the Vulcan way is not without its hazards. Just as I wouldn't run outside in March without first checking the weather to see if I'm appropriately dressed, I shouldn't careen nonchalantly through my relationships without concern for the emotional "weather" (mine and theirs). Just as dressing appropriately will help me to stay outside longer, and even enjoy everything from snowfall to hot sun, learning to hike in the emotional climate will help me "play" in the broader world beyond the technical design room.

Emotional intelligence? Perhaps it is not the oxymoron some of us take it to be.