Here is a Zen story I remember hearing about as a kid:
Once upon a time, in a temple nestled in the misty end of south hill, lived a pair of monks. One old and one young.
‘What are the differences between Heaven and Hell?’ the young monk asked the learned master one day.
‘There are no material differences,’ replied the old monk peacefully.
‘None at all?’ asked the confused young monk.
‘Yes. Both Heaven and Hell look the same. They all have a dining hall with a big hot pot in the center in which some delicious noodles are boiled, giving off an appetizing scent,’ said our old priest. ‘The size of the pan and the number of people sitting around the pot are the same in these two places.’
‘But oddly, each diner is given a pair of meter-long chopsticks and must use them to eat the noodles. And to eat the noodles, one must hold the chopsticks properly at their ends, no cheating is allowed,’ the zen master went on to describe to our young monk.
‘In the case of Hell, people are always starved because no matter how hard they try, they fail to get the noodles into their mouths,’ said the old priest.
‘But isn’t it the same happens to the people in Heaven?’ the junior questioned.
‘No. They can eat because they each feed the person sitting opposite them at the table. You see, that is the difference between Heaven and Hell,’ explained the old monk.
The moral of this story is simple: A turn in mind is all the difference between Heaven and Hell lies (一念天堂，一念地獄). Be nice to people and people will be nice to you.
I thought of this story at work the other day. I’m working at a new start-up (Rally) and we are going through the process of defining our company culture. I do like a list with words like honesty and integrity (common for company values made public), but it would be nice to take the most important part of what makes a good work environment and just make one rule. Things like “Don’t be an Asshole” and “Don’t be Evil” have always appealed to me, but these mantras aren’t specific enough.
I think creating a workplace where people give each other recognition on a regular basis and no one EVER takes credit for another person’s work is a foundation for success. The best people I have ever worked with never toot their own horns and sometimes suffer because of it. If I can create a workplace where we are always recognizing each other for contributions and hard work and don’t feel the need to point out our own accomplishments, it would be awesome.
So if the noodles are recognition and the chopsticks are appropriate forms of communication for the recognition at hand, lets make the chopsticks REALLY long.
And then, there are these people: