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EVOC 518 Essay on Steven Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.


I had to first get past my initial prejudice knowing that Covey is a Mormon (whose doctrine is very much contrary to the fundamental Christianity which I hold).  But once I had put that aside, I was generally pleased with the contents and readability of the book.  While many of the principles set forth in the book I have heard before in slightly different terms, there were several things that made a real impression on me and I think they could have life-altering consequences.  I will comment on four different principles set forth in the book which I thought would be helpful in my life.


Firstly, I was impressed with the thoughts behind the Character Ethic set in contrast to the Personality Ethic.  That is, so often ethics are rooted in changing others in order to manipulate them to do what I may want.  Positive thinking, winning friends and influencing people, good communication skills, and personality growth are all good things, but only if they are based on inner character.  If pasted on the outside, they become simply tools of manipulation.  The example the author used of his son’s apparent inadequacy and how he and his wife learned through painful introspection that they need to change themselves before they could have any real hope of helping their son was very appropriate to the point.  After reading this, I found an immediate change in my own outlook.  I am in a partnership with my brother, and have been for twenty years.  My brother is of an entirely different personality, far less driven than myself.  I am in the process of trying to develop a piece of property we jointly own.  I have been burdened down with pressures of work, this class, teaching in Spanish, teaching for the college in the spring, and working on this development project. I was debating about how to ask my brother for some help.  Then my wife told me the pressures my brother was feeling with moving his in-laws into his home.  I decided, instead of asking him for help, to ask him instead how he was doing, feeling as well as showing genuine concern for his burdens.  I did a little introspection and realized that all of my battles are self-chosen; his are not.   I felt then and later that this realization and feeling genuine compassion for his situation was much more beneficial than whining about how much of the load of the business was resting on my shoulders, both for him and for me.


The paradigm shift:  This concept was not new to me, but I appreciated the reminder.  I enjoyed the multiple examples Covey gave of the paradigm shift, or more simply, of looking at things from a different angle, or having an altered viewpoint of a situation.  Along with this, I liked very much the oft-repeated habit number 5, first seek to understand and then to be understood.  I think of this in the context of my interest in people of the Spanish language, who I have been visiting in their own countries for over twenty years now.  I remember coming back from Peru some eight years ago and telling the wife of a dear friend (who had the same interest I did in Latin people) “I will never understand these people”.  I’m not sure to this day that I ever will.  However, I see more than ever the need to try to understand them, before trying to be myself understood.  I have made a lot of mistakes reversing this paradigm.  I could go into a lot of detail but I don’t think it would be necessarily relevant to what I have learned, or at least, am learning.  Just today I thought of the incredibly difficult situation of a Peruvian family, whose practices have been very painful to me personally.  Yet in reality, when I think of their struggle for life and the care of a thirteen year old daughter who cannot walk, talk, or go to the bathroom, I have to take a very different viewpoint of the things they did that seemed an expression of insult to me.  My feelings of offense fade into relative insignificance when I look at their actions in this different light.  So indeed, the paradigm shift is an answer to many an offense, many a hurt feeling.  And the basis of it is to first seek to understand; really understand not superficially.


The next thing I found helpful, though not new, is the principle (habit 2) of “begin with the end in mind.”  This is basically the same thing I learned many years ago as to goal setting and long-range planning.  At first I found this to be extremely difficult, so accustomed was I to short range “planning”.  Actually, calling it planning is not accurate, because what I was doing was extinguishing fires every day, metaphorically speaking.  But I started my change by setting goals for five and ten years down the road.  I was surprised to see how difficult the contemplation of anything more than one day away was.  But this exercise was of real and lasting benefit in reforming my way of running a business and running my life.


But on a rather different level, there is a certain additional truth to something I read in Calvin and Hobbes: The tenth year anniversary book.  Bill Waterson touches some profound things in his comics and I have enjoyed reading them for years.  But this is what he said that seems to conflict with Covey’s teaching “I never write stories with the ending in mind, because I want the story to develop a life of its own and I want the resolution of the dilemma to surprise me.”  This statement took me completely by surprise coming from a man who writes comics.  An author being surprised by his own story !?  How odd is that?  Yet it is fascinating to think of the Calvin and Hobbes stories being developed in such a novel fashion.  I meditated on that a bit and thought that such a “paradigm shift” may not be always inappropriate.  Now this in no way sets aside my agreement that wandering in a business with no goals, and wandering in the classroom with no performance objectives is ruinous.  Yet there are places in life where Bill Waterson’s approach could lend a lot of interest to things.  Travel, for example; maybe I take a trip somewhere, to someplace I know nothing about, simply to wait and find out where I end up.  I’d like to think that my quest for a BVE degree is something like this.  I really have no idea what I am going to do with said degree.  But, I’m traveling down this road and looking forward to seeing where it will end up, and enjoying the journey as I go along.


Finally, I appreciated the reminder about win-win.  Once again, this is something my business advisor has pounded on for years.  And I have heeded that advise on many an occasion because it is solid advice.  It guards against a very human, yet very hurtful tendency towards revenge and vindictiveness, something guaranteed to make the perpetrator unhappy.  Looking for a win-win with my family, my business, and with my students is indeed an exercise in interdependency and when achieved is so very rewarding.  It is not universally obtainable though, and realizing this is important.   Suppose a customer shows up at 5:00pm on a Friday evening with a water pump leaking.  A potential win-win in the mind of the customer and in the mind of my pocket book might be to go ahead and do his water pump in spite of the late hour.  But when I think about my family, I realize my family will be the losers if I take this approach, and therefore, another Covey habit take precedence “first things first”.  My family has not gotten its rightful place many times in years past.  I had my priorities mixed up, but I have been working on correcting that lately, making the win-win in connection with my family instead of with the customers.  Generally, the two things can go hand in hand as long as I stick with the rules and ask the customers to do the same.


In summary, this is a valuable book with lots of solid lessons.  Though it is not new information, it is organized in a useful fashion.  It gets overly wordy in places I think, but still it is a worthwhile read.