PAPER: I tend to think that most everyone shares my perspective that the world would be a better place if we could all at least consider others’ needs along with our own. Unfortunately, my experience in the oil pricing exercise definitively illustrated that this is not the case. Our Alban (the other country) counterparts went into the negotiations with a clearly stated objective of luring us into a trusting relationship solely to take eventual advantage of the situation. I was also disappointed that they saw the exercise as a win-lose environment instead of one in which both parties could fully optimize their circumstances. The situation made me feel naïve and upset that my trust was used against my pursuit of a potentially mutually beneficial goal.
For the last 12 years, my professional (and a great deal of my personal) life has been dedicated to being underway on Coast Guard cutters. It has been a very team-oriented existence. Not much happens on a ship that involves a single person; nearly everything requires the significant effort of many people working together. Trust is quickly built…or nothing gets done. The bridge watch has to trust the engine watch to keep machinery running within parameters, and the rest of the crew has to trust the bridge watch to, well, not run into anything and to navigate the ship safely. With this background, trust comes easily to me.
As the Commanding Officer, I worked hard to diligently and conscientiously build trust and camaraderie among my crews through shared missions, clearly communicated expectations and sincere respect of individuals’ talents and abilities. It is a source of personal pride to me that those crews--my guys--trusted me to be their Captain and lead them during difficult and dangerous situations. So, while trust comes easily to me, I also take it very personally.
During the exercise, when our Alban counterparts nefariously lured us into believing that they would also raise their price to $30/barrel in the fourth month, I took it personally that they blatantly lied to us. It meant that I hadn’t done as good a job as I could have communicating the benefits of a long-term commitment to increased prices. It meant that they were only hearing what they wanted to hear, rather than what we were saying. It meant that we didn’t have common goals. It meant that our trust in them was unfounded. It might even have meant that they were bad people.
The major insight I gleaned from this exercise is that other people’s motivations are not my personal burden. As long as I make my best effort to clearly state relevant concerns and opinions, I am not responsible for their independent actions. If their goals are different, it does not make them bad people. Even if they are deceitful, I have no place to either judge them or take on their "salvation" on as my own cause.
There is a balance required between getting so personally involved that I lose my objectivity and am emotionally hurt by people with less honorable intentions and being so detached to not care one way or the other about the outcome. The balance point will likely change with each circumstance. But maintaining an awareness of my tendency towards emotional involvement may help to find that point at which I can be passionately committed to achieving my own objectives, which usually include some consideration of the Other’s situation with the ultimate goal of making the world a better place.