deeper into why

It’s easy to feel alone in the world.

But it’s not pleasant.

And, the way we market our businesses can actually help heal that.

In his book Start With Why, which you should really go and buy from a locally owned bookstore, Simon Sinek shares a familar old story,

“Consider the story of two stonemasons, you walk up to the first mason and ask “Do you like your job?” He looks up at you and replies, “I’ve been building this wall for as long as I can remember. The work is monotonous. I work in the scorching hot sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them all day can be backbreaking. I’m not sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime. But it’s a job. It pays the bills.”

You thank him for his time and walk on.

About thirty feet away, you walk up to a second stone mason and ask him the same question. He looks up and replies “I love my job. I’m building a cathedral. Sure I’ve been working on this wall for as long as I can remember, and yes, the work is sometimes monotonous. I work in the scorching hot sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking. I’m not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime. But I’m building a cathedral.”

What these two stonemasons are doing is exactly the same; the difference is, one has a sense of purpose.

He feels like he belongs. He comes to work to be a part of something bigger than the job he’s doing. Simply having a sense of WHY changes his entire view of his job. It makes him more productive and certainly more loyal. Whereas the first stonemason would probably take another job for more pay, the inspired stonemason works longer hours and would probably turn down an easier higher paying job to styay and be a part of the higher cause.

The second stonemason does not see himself as any more or less important than the guy making the stained glass windows or even the architect. They are all working together to build a cathedral. It is this bond that creates camaraderie.  And that camaraderie and trust is what brings success. People working together for a common cause.”

Think of a non-profit and, hopefully, you can think of a larger cause that’s being addressed. But non-profits are not the only ones allowed to have a mission. Businesses can too. We all can.

It might be easy, at this point, to think that your ‘why’ must be something outside of you. Some larger cause or issue that you are joining.

And, that might be the case, but it’s worth exploring the often surprising personal connections we might have.

I’ve written a bit about how our deepest wounds are often our truest niche.

That you have likely gone through struggles in your own life and that these struggles have given you a keen empathy and insight into a certain emotional terrain. If you’ve struggled with something and come out the other side, there’s a really good chance you’ll be able to help others with that struggle to. If you’ve been on a certain journey, you can likely help others with that same journey.

But, if we step back, and remove it from the personal we can start to see how deeply and widely these wounds are shared.

Your most personal wound might not only be the wound you’re most able to help other individuals heal, it might be the collective wound in the world you’re addressing to.

I think most movements are started because of some wound. The loss of dignity, freedom, safety . . . and the desire to have it back. As we connect with our own story, we are more able to connect with the larger story.

The personal is political.

Those things which are most personal end up being most general.

It’s an amazing moment when you really, really get that you’re not alone in your struggles – and, in fact, that no one is alone. That there is a whole community and tribe of people struggling with the same issues. And, that when we boil to the essence of the struggle – it’s often something that everyone struggles with (e.g. love, optimism, self acceptance).

So, part of it is seeing our business as a part of a bigger story. And maybe the biggest story there is – the story of the healing of the world. As it’s called in the Jewish tradition – Tikkun Olam.

Most of us feel isolated and alone. And, deep down, we all crave to contribute some portion of beauty back to the world. Most of us crave to play some role in a story that is larger than ourselves. The warning in the Narcissus myth is not to not fall in love with ourselves. It’s to not fall in love with our reflection and miss the larger story. This culture promotes a profound self obsession. A ‘what about me?’ neurosis. And it’s just this neurosis that has us feel so alone. And the belief that we’re the only ones in Hell – is Hell.

There are two ways to live in the end. One is, ‘what’s in it for me?’ and, in the end, this is profoundly unsatisfying (no matter what kinds of privileges come with it). The other is, ‘how can we all get our needs met?’.

In the end, the only wealth there is is community. Each other.

the shady side of the road – by rabindranath tagore

I lived on the shady side of the road
and watched my neighbours’ gardens
across the way
revelling in the sunshine.

I felt I was poor,
and from door
to door
went with my hunger.

The more they gave me
from their careless abundance
the more I became aware
of my beggar’s bowl.

Till one morning
I awoke from my sleep
at the sudden opening of my door,
and you came and asked for alms.

In despair I broke the lid of my chest open
and was startled into finding my own wealth.

Caitlin Matthews, Celtic scholar and author, poses the question like this:

“How can the soul or the world be re-enchanted once it is lost the enchantment? Only by returning to the story of the soul and retelling it up to the point of fracture; only by placing our story within the context of the greater song.

She tells that when Merlin is exposed to the terrible carnage of the battle of Arfderwydd “he becomes mad an runs into the depths of the forest. Within the forest’s embrace, he becomes one with the trees and seasons and puts aside the terrible sights he has seen to focus upon the gifts of the wild world, becoming rusticated and “uncivilized.”

Ever pertinent and prophetic, he sees through the pretexts and pretensions of those who come to lure him back to civilization with the sure instinct of an animal,”

He does not respond to anyone except his friend, the Welsh poet, Taliesin who comes to sit with him. Only then “does Merlin respond, asking the odd question, “why do we have weather?” This seemingly trivial query is all that Taliesin needs to help his friend. He begins to recite the creation of the world. At the end of Taliesin’s recital, Merlin is restored as the sacred context of his story is given back to them.”

What does this all have to do with marketing?

Our business can feed on people’s insecurities or it can invite them into a larger story.

It’s powerful for people when they find a home.

When they find a community of people who think like them, see the world the same way, have gone through the same struggle and are about the same things. It’s incredible to find a community that has a shared point of view and sense of ‘why’ about their lives.

And you can make your business into that. A home. A sanctuary. A place where people connect not only with you but with each other. Our businesses can become hubs that actually foster, tighten and deepen community.

You need to build a hub around a platform – some strong center that can hold it – and there are four things that can be.

You can see some examples of hubs built around a point of view here and ones built around a strong ‘why’ here.

As David Korten puts it, “we can’t just talk these things to death. We need to live them into being.”

You can become a voice of hope and clarity in challenging times inviting people not to become lost in their individual struggles – but to see themselves as a part of a larger story. You can help them move their focus from their lonely troubles to shared solutions we can all work towards. We can startle them with their own wealth.

When your community looks into the mirror that reflects the current world’s woes and feel such despair and overwhelm from it – we wave our hands and the mirror becomes a window through which they can see what’s possible. And, with another wave, that window becomes a door and we invite them through.

Let’s keep reminding people what it’s really about.


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