Last week, my wife said, “The pool is green.” It’s not the first time she has said this, as I have a habit of letting the pool go. Interestingly, I know it’s going to happen, but it still surprises me when it does. It seems to happen suddenly, but this isn’t the reality. The final stage of turning green happens quickly, but that is only the end of a long series of events.
Our pool is salt water and should be easy to manage. Instead of adding chlorine, an ionizer turns regular table salt, NaCl, into Hypochlorous Acid, HOCl. This acts as a sanitizer reacting with organic materials in the pool water and then reverting to salt and water. A little effort to keep the pH and salt level correct and the pool should be sparkling and clean.
Well, there is one other thing. The filter must be kept clean so there is enough water flow for the ionizer to function. Over time, the filter gets dirty and, though I know it needs cleaning, I procrastinate. As the flow rate drops, the level of sanitizer drops too. A little bit of algae starts to grow (I notice, but I’m still procrastinating) and clogs the filter even more. This quickly escalates into low or no flow and no sanitizing, and the pool “suddenly” turns green.
The experience we have being part of a community or organization is culture. Culture is an organic result of the belief system of the group because our beliefs control our behaviors. The way we act and treat each other creates the experience. We often take that “experience” or “culture” for granted, but if we stop maintaining it, it can “suddenly” change.
Our culture is maintained by respect. Our basic belief that everyone is intrinsically and equally valuable calls each of us to care about and for everyone else. Another word we could use is kindness. Kindness is about the spirit in which things are done. Kindness flows from a heart that is oriented toward others.
Andy Stanley said that kindness is, “loaning someone your strength instead of reminding them of their weakness.” I really like that definition. While we are all equally valuable, we are not the same. Each of us has unique experiences, skills, and viewpoints—strengths. We also all have blind spots, areas we lack maturity, and a tendency to be self absorbed—weaknesses. In a value culture, we loan each other our strengths to enable each person to grow and achieve their best. We also give people a pass on their weaknesses because we care about them and believe they care about us.
Kindness is the “filter” for our community. Kindness continually filters out the things that would divide us and cause others harm. Kindness removes the judgement and the offense that so easily grows around misunderstandings and mistakes. Kindness cleans things up.
When we stop being kind, little things begin to grow in our community. A slight that is unresolved here, an offense that goes unaddressed there. Like algae in my pool, it is difficult to notice at first. Algae reproduces by cell division or by fragmentation. This means that each algae cell can split into two. If you start with one, and reproduction happens every 24 hours, in less than 20 days you have over a million.
The pool seems to turn green “suddenly”, but the algae has been growing and multiplying for a while before the bloom becomes obvious. Likewise, unkindness is difficult to notice at first, but it multiplies, and once you begin to notice the change in your culture, you have a mess on your hands.
I will get the pool clean. It will take me several days of constantly monitoring the filter and cleaning it out. It will require some expensive chemicals and a lot of my time. I can get the pool back to where it was, but it is costly. It would have been much better for me to maintain the filter and chemistry in the first place and not let things get so far out of whack.
The same is true for our culture. We can recover from a lack of kindness and respect. It takes more work than keeping the culture healthy in the first place. More importantly, it costs us in human terms. We lose things like trust and relationship and connection. These were hard to create and are even harder to repair and rebuild.
I wish I had kept the pool clean. Our community is much more important than my pool. It is much more important that we maintain our culture by being kind and caring for each other. Giving people the benefit of your kindness, allowing for our differences, lending strength, and overlooking weaknesses will keep our community strong and clear, and it is The Kimray Way.