The humanity ante

The “ante” in poker is a bet that every player has to make before the hand is played. Before the cards are dealt, each player puts some money on the table – usually a small amount – and this makes it harder to fold one’s cards and walk away. The ante puts everyone a little bit on the hook for each and every hand.

In some games, it’s customary for the ante (called the “blinds”) to rise as time passes. Late in the evening, the blinds get big enough that they change the character of the game: players have to pull out a whole new set of tactics and strategies when the blinds are huge.

A similar dynamic is at play when two people sit down across the table for a first conversation – or for their first important conversation. While the rules of this game aren’t as explicit, there’s an ante that each player puts on the table from the outset. This is an emotional ante, a statement of how human you’re going to be in this conversation and in this relationship. You can see the first glimpse of this ante as the players answer questions like “how are things going?” and “what’s been happening on your end?”  The true question you’re answering is: “how real are you going to be?”

I’ve increasingly found that most people will match the humanity ante I’m willing to put on the table. Hold my cards close and they will too. Be willing to take some risk, to show my own humanity – in the form of being willing to share my challenges or flaws, my dreams or my frustrations – and they will also.

This is basically the opposite of what we’re taught in big institutions. These institutions exert a strong socializing power that slowly and deliberately beats the humanity out of us. The message is: be as un-human as possible, because that’s what it means to be a professional. (This is the same reason the emails from these institutions are so unreadable).

Part of what we have to remember is that to do anything that matters we must dare to do emotional labor. And for us to do that emotional labor together, the first step is that we show up as full human beings.

Ante up.

One moment

There’s a chance, in each passing interaction with someone, to say “thank you.”

Not a “thank you for this thing you’ve just done” (gotten me a coffee, given me my ticket to board this flight) said automatically.  Rather, a chance to look someone squarely in the eye and acknowledge in a deeper way that you see that person, that they see you, and that we have a shared humanity in this crazy world we live in.

“Thank you.”

Not-so-small talk

It amazes me how much time we waste in our effort not to waste any time.

Five, even ten minutes to understand who a person is, where they are today, now, at this moment…there’s no way that you can skip that step and hope to create any sort of real connection in a meeting.

Almost every culture in the world knows this – that you cannot start a conversation before you’ve talked to someone as a person.  Except Americans, of course.  We pride ourselves on “getting down to business.”

There’s wisdom in those old civilities of asking after someone’s well-being, their family.

Two people might be able to strike a deal, but two human beings are needed to create any sort of partnership.

Generosity excerpt

A friend sent this in as a non-sequitur in another conversation we were having.

The other day I was coming out of a coffee shop and decided to give a homeless man a $10 bill…what can you get for $1 these days?…I feel like I’ve been giving $1 since I’ve had discretionary income…I subconsciously never accounted for inflation/cost of living increases.  He thought I made a mistake and said: Ma’am, I think you made a mistake.  Did you mean to give this to me (assuming I meant to give him $1).

I replied: I absolutely did.

Nice.  And kinda shatters the whole angle of the panhandler who is trying to pull one over on you, doesn’t it?

I hesitate to share too many examples of giving to people on the street when talking about Generosity Day, since somehow that’s a lightning rod for what I consider to be a distracting conversation (namely: “should one give to people on the street?”).  At the same time, the immediacy and humanity of giving (or not) to someone who is standing right and front of you and asking for help is, I think, something we cannot shy away from.

Do you have more generosity stories to share?