A fairy tale for the suffering in the workplace.
Once upon a time there was a pond with the most exceptional fish one could think of. The man who took care of the pond wanted it to be the best pond of all times, and so did the fish.
The man took care of everything because he didn’t trust a single fish. Instead of feeding them and providing them with oxygen, he hooked them up each day. That way, he knew exactly what they were doing and how they were doing it. Each day he weighed each fish, pushed the food down their throat and told them exactly what they should do before he let them into the water again.
The man was quite proud of the way he controlled it all. Any time of the day anyone could ask how the pond was doing and he would explain in detail with colors, graphics, metrics and key performance indicators. By all measurements, this was the best pond of all times!
In order to control the fish efficiently the man threw out nasty bait: a talking worm telling the fish how bad their work was, how the quality sucked, how they were behind schedule and how it made the man nervous as hell. The man thought this kind of bait would keep the fish sharp. And it did. The bait was simply irresistible.
Below the water surface, Red Fish, Blue Fish and Yellow Fish caught every nasty worm. They were smart fish; strong and bright-colored. Each time the bait was thrown out it was only a matter of seconds before they would catch that nasty worm. Red, Blue and Yellow were the best of breed.
• Red Fish was always the first to swallow the bait; “that’s not true” he said; “I’m going to tell him!” But the rage and the misalignment grew with each catch.
• Blue Fish swallowed the bait differently; with each catch his self doubt grew, for he started to believe the accusations that worm was throwing at him.
• Yellow Fish was smarter than that. He would not fight it like Red Fish, nor feel guilty about it like Blue Fish. His approach was to solve the man’s problem. So he swallowed the bait each time, thinking he could solve the man’s problem.
These smart fish were all different in how they approached the nasty worm – so much is true. But there was one thing they all had in common: they always swallowed the bait by their own instinct and each time they got back into the water they felt sore. They didn’t know why; they were bubbled…
And then one day a duck landed on the pond. He said he had seen these situations in other ponds as well, but the fish didn’t pay attention to the duck; for they were too busy swallowing the bait that was thrown at them. Days went by and from the surface the duck could see the daily ritual the fish went through. These smart fish suffered, but they were too proud to admit it. After all, they were the best of breed and besides a duck is a duck. What could he possibly know about fish?
Until one day the hooks left them aching so hard that they needed some time to recover, so they figured they might as well listen to the duck. “OK duck, let’s hear it” Red Fish said. “Things are not OK down here, so tell us what you think is going on.” Blue Fish said.
“It’s fairly simple”, answered the duck; “from up here it is obvious how you are exaggerating on the R-side”. “The R-side; what the hell is that?!” Yellow Fish replied. The duck patiently continued:
“You see, there is a pattern in your daily suffering:
• Red Fish is driven by Revenge. That is the first R – and he is left with resentment;
• Blue Fish is driven by Regret. That is the second R, which leaves him feeling guilty;
• And you, Yellow Fish, you get hooked because you try to Rescue the man, and in the end you are scared because it didn’t work out as planned.
There is just one thing you should know about these R’s: they will always get you hooked”
“But that’s our nature – don’t you understand?” Red Fish said. “This pond is our destiny- there is nothing we can do about it” Blue fish said. Yellow Fish concluded: “The only way out is to change the bait”.
“Hang on – there is another way out”, the duck said, “but it will require you to use a different R than you are doing today.
• I’m not asking you to change your nature, Red Fish, but you need to become aware of it;
• I’m not telling you to change for a better pond, Blue Fish, but you can think of yourself as the pond instead of the fish;
• And finally, Yellow Fish, you cannot change the bait that is thrown at you – you just need to know that you can choose not to swallow it.
So the alternative R I am talking about is called Responsibility.”
The fish were bubbled…
“Just try it – you have nothing to lose. When you approach the bait with Responsibility, you will be able to stop and capture the useful information without getting hooked.” Because the fish had no other alternative they decided to try this crazy idea. Days went by before they could turn off the automatic pilot that hooked them.
Eventually, they did it and they reported back to the duck:
“We managed not to get hooked for a few days now.” Red Fish said. “And what were your findings?” the duck replied. “Well, it’s hard.” Blue Fish said, “because it needs all of my attention. But now at least the pain is gone and we continue our work.” Yellow Fish thoughtfully added: “This is almost as difficult as swimming upstream.”
“Indeed”, said the duck “approaching nasty bait with Responsibility is as hard as swimming upstream. Responsibility means that you can choose how you respond to a situation. And it’s not easy. Just remember that it’s the upstream swimming that makes you stronger!”
The man never changed. Neither did the bait. But the fish grew stonger each time they realized that there is always a choice in how they respond to a situation.