Our family’s small business has several important computer systems, but there’s only one of them that has the distinction of being called the “Main Computer”. (To get an idea how important this system is you should mentally queue an angelic choir hitting a sustained inspirational note when I say “Main Computer”.) And believe it or not, it’s not my personal system or even the souped-up one that handles our company’s payroll and accounting. No, the Main Computer—our most critical system—is the one that receives and prints out the digital blueprint inquiries that we receive from our customers. In other words, it’s the heart which pumps that vital lifeblood of cash into our business. If the Main Computer stops doing its job then eventually all of our other computers (including the fancy one up in accounting) will do the same. Needless to say, we do whatever it takes to keep this system running in prime shape. This includes premium virus protection, firewall and a slew of diagnostic software etc.
Unfortunately, as we recently found out, sometimes all the premium software in the world is not enough protection when you get a ‘human element’ involved.
The other morning the Main Computer’s trusty Internet Security Suite relayed a message that said something to this affect: “Hello, I’m a nasty hard-drive eating virus. IF you’d like me to suck the bits outta your bytes until your fancy-dancy system operates with all of the computing efficiency as a glorified Etch-A-Sketch then just click ‘OK’.” Of course the Security Suite’s anti-virus (I call her Aunt V after Aunt B of Andy Griffith fame) voices her skepticism with a small, red-lettered message that the visitor “has been recognized as a high-risk infectious program” and suggests in her quiet unassuming, grandmotherly style that we decline this invitation.
In other words, up to this point everything is working just as it should. Now, enter that human element we discussed earlier.
On this particular morning one of my well-meaning albeit technologically challenged co-workers determined that Aunt V was just being hurtful and that as a modern, ‘equal-opportunity business’ we should accept ALL files irregardless of where they come from and what other people’s fickle opinions of them happen to be. So quickly he quickly hits ‘OK’ and welcomes the virus into the Main Computer with a hug and handshake.
Needless to say it wasn’t long before the phone in my office was ringing. One of the harsh realities of managing a business is that usually by the time you hear about a problem the damage is already done. That was certainly the case here. I’ll give you two guesses about who spends the next day and a half restoring, reloading and reconfiguring the Main Computer with the stress of knowing that every moment that the system was down the more money was being wasted. Yep—bet you only needed one.
Now, in case you didn’t know, the human body (as amazing as it is) is completely unequipped to passively deal with stress. However, there is a natural “overflow system” that can very actively vent excess tension. Of course I’m talking about the mouth. Now admittedly, there are some people who have a very high tolerance of frustration and stress. They seem to possess the supernatural ability to handle aggravation long enough to at least make it back to the privacy of their own home before they start flopping around on the floor kicking and screaming. But I’ll be honest—that ain’t me. I blame a lot of it on my Dad. Though the years have milded him considerably, my Dad is simply not wired to hold onto any anger or frustration. And trust me—you don’t want any young children or old ladies around when it vents because Dad is also a master at what us southern folk call the fine art of “cussing”. He can wield a four-letter expletive with the precision and skill of a samurai warrior wielding a katana. For him cussing seems almost therapeutic—like he’s scratching some burning, hard to reach itch. It works so well that, frankly, it makes me a little jealous of him because I was raised by momma to keep my tongue as close to a PG-rating as possible.
In the case of fixing the Main Computer all of the screaming, cussing and fit-having in the world would be useless though. So I resorted to the first runner up (and my personal favorite) of all vocal vices: complaining. Now, where Dad is a master of cussing…I am the undisputed heavy-weight champion of complaining. I bet I’ve got everyone in the readership schooled when it comes to armchair-analyzing what exactly is wrong in a given situation and passionately bringing it to light. The problem is that complaining only works as therapy if there’s someone there who will listen to you. Remember the old saying that misery loves company? It’s true. You have to be able to pass that aggravation on. If you can’t then it just recycles and compounds. If unchecked then the complainer quickly finds themselves what momma used to call “in a stew”. And basically that means that the stressful energy has broken all of the rational laws of thermodynamics and has become self-perpetuating. I’ve been in stews so bad before that if scientists would have known and could have somehow harnessed their energy then America would no longer be dependant on fossil fuels.
Wisely, everyone left the room and shut the doors as I began the restoration process on the Main Computer. (You’d think that they knew me or something.) Seeing that my need to verbally vent my frustration was going to go unanswered (and because I didn’t want to risk ‘getting in a stew’) I resolved to spend the long hours of reloads and reboots doing something more constructive: reflecting and thinking. Yeah okay, to be completely honest I did do a little bit of complaining to anyone who was compassionate enough to bring me coffee or transfer a phone call during the arduous process. But finding no real satisfaction in it I stopped trying to complain at all (queue that angelic choir again) and decided to just put myself in the present moment and enjoy the process. And what do you know—eventually all of the constructive thinking really paid off.
Somewhere in the long hours between reformatting the hard-drive and downloading ten-thousand Microsoft Windows updates I came to a profound realization: Our mind is in a lot of ways just like the computer system that I was restoring. All of us have a choice of what thoughts that we allow in and which ones we don’t. How many times do we as human beings have a negative thought or feeling “pop-up” on our emotional screen and just hit ‘OK’ to allow it in? My good-friend and colleague who allowed the file-eating monster loose inside the Main Computer did not have the training or skill to make the right choice and in the end the entire company suffered. Likewise, I wonder if sometimes we can be ‘emotionally ignorant’ and inadvertently allow destructive forces to ravage every aspect of our lives. And just like a nasty computer virus those negative attitudes can easily spread to others and cause profound (and sometimes irreparable) damage to our closest relationships.
One of the most important parts of developing character is conditioning our self to respond appropriately to negative thoughts, feelings and attitudes when they arise. There was a time when our culture put a greater emphasis on teaching people how to deal with negative emotions but, sadly, it is an art that has almost faded completely away. So many people have no idea what to do when anger, fear or even desire pops up on their screens. Many rely on drugs or other forms of evasion to keep their feelings at bay while others just allow those feelings to take root and grow until they themselves are emotionally unstable. (It’s not funny but just in the two days I’ve worked on this article I’ve talked to one person who almost went to jail for pulling a knife on someone and two who have started prescription meds for anxiety.)
Personally, I believe part of the answer might come from cultivating a strong inner Aunt V. And I think that at times she does need to be warm and grandmotherly, especially when dealing with other people and their feelings. But I think at other times she should be a camo-wearing, bayonet-wielding special forces operative that can identify negative thoughts and slit their throats before they can even get their gun out of their holster. To build that kind of inner awareness takes a lot of time/patience and a bunch of “want to”. There is a passage in the book of Proverbs that says “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” In other words the battles that we fight on the inside are the toughest battles that can be fought in this life. A person who can overcome themselves is the greatest warrior of all.
One of the most helpful things that we can do is to remind ourselves constantly of the big picture. We have to be allowing of mistakes from our selves and from others because as long as the ‘human element’ is involved then they are going to happen. The only crime that can happen is if we make it worse or perpetuate it by reacting to it wrong.
In the end, I got the Main Computer back up and going—and guess what? It’s working better than ever! Part of this is because I took the extra time during the restoration process to reorganize and streamline the way we would work on it. I updated the drivers and reconfigured many settings to help everyone do their job faster and more efficiently. In all likelihood, if I would have just allowed myself to stay in a bad frame of mind I probably would have never gone to all of that extra trouble. I probably would have just dismissed doing anything extra as “useless” because “no one around here can take care of anything anyway”. I’m glad I made the better choice. In the days since the restoration ordeal everyone is not only pleased with the changes but they seem to be going to great effort to learn more about using it properly and keeping it safe.
So, in the end the company gets a smoother-running system, my colleagues feel like they have more of an ownership in the company’s assets and I get a CQ article—all from one simple choice to face someone else’s mistake with a little bit better attitude than I normally would. (Queue that angelic choir to hit one final inspirational crescendo.) Boy, it almost makes me wish that everyone around me would make mistakes more often… What? I said almost!
Until next time…