I recently received an email from a friend born and raised in southeast Texas (where if you don't know, it is very warm and humid in the summer and quite mild by U.S. standards in the winter). He has been working in Qatar, on the Arabian Peninsula, for the last couple of years. Here is part of his note to me:
"The weather is nice by your standards but I have been here long enough now to really be cold and uncomfortable at 60�. I may never be able to come back to Texas or risk freezing to death. This time last year, I laughed at all the locals and their heavy coats when the temperature got below 70�. Well, now I need the coat and it is not so funny!"
His email made me smile, and think of some weather stories myself.
Sears and Roebuck
I remember learning in a college marketing class that Sears stores stock the same cold weather gear in most all parts of the country - that you could buy the same coat in St. Paul, Minnesota and in San Diego, California. At the time, growing up in an area of cold winters (Michigan), it seemed absurd to me that people in San Diego would want or need winter coats.
Moving to the Bay Area
Not long after college the San Francisco Bay area became my home. We moved in the late fall and the weather was great! It was odd to Lori and I that people were wearing medium weight jackets - a long sleeve shirt was plenty for us. By January it was the "rainy season". Typically when people think of "the rainy season" they think of the tropics. San Francisco is NOT in the tropics. 45� F with a wind and a light rain is VERY cold. Six months before I would not have believed 45� F could have been so cold. Believe me, it can be.
As the winter fades to spring, I always notice people are ready for the new season. How can I tell? I can tell by how they dress. You ever notice how on the first warm day, you start to see shorts, and no jackets? This all makes sense until you look at the thermometer. People in shorts when it is 55� F? It might be sunny, but logic says this doesn't make sense! Why do people do it then? Because it feels warm, because it is so much warmer than it has been for months. Contrast this to the first fall cool snap. 55� calls for jackets then! (Not only that, but who would put on shorts in their house at 55� F?)
In my work as a speaker, trainer and consultant, I fly often. Many times I go to places warmer than where I am. (Sometimes to places colder - like to Edmonton, Alberta in January, but that is another story!). I notice that I typically dress differently than the people around me. If I go south during the winter, I don't "need" as much of a coat as those around me - the temperature feels good to me.
Back to my friend's email. He closed his description of his weather experience with this question.
"There may be a lesson in there somewhere?"
Lesson 1: It's Relative
Yes Dennis, I believe there is a lesson, perhaps more than one. 60� F doesn't sound like coat weather to most of us. But how many of us spend many months a year in temperatures of 120� F? Relatively, 60� is 60� below what these folks are used to. Take sixty degrees off of your summertime high temperatures. Does that resulting temperature lead you to wear a coat?
There are absolutes in life. But more things are relative to your point of reference than I once thought or believed. These weather examples highlight this in a graphical way. Our bodies adjust to a temperature range, and when that changes we become uncomfortable. Where the discomfort occurs depends on our frame of reference and experience.
This manifests itself in our lives and mindsets in thousands of ways�
- How comfortable with change we are depends in part on how much change we have been through.
- How much money it takes to be financially "rich" depends on your experience and how much money you have now.
- How big a King size bed feels depends on the size of bed you typically sleep in.
- How much you value travel depends, at least in part, on how many places you have been.
- How many hugs you need depends on how many you have gotten in the past.
- How effective you expect your team to be depends, at least in part, on your past team experiences.
I could go on, but I'm betting your mind is doing it for me.
Lesson 2: Walk in Their Shoes
All of this weather talk reminds me of a second lesson, one we have all heard before - it is important to "walk in another person's shoes" before we can understand them. I can't imagine being frigid at 60� F. I also can't imagine living at 120� F for months at a time. The point is, without one, you can't get the other.
People will do things that don't make sense to us. Often we moan, complain and criticize them because their actions or feelings seem so off base. Often, if we take the time to understand their circumstances, we will understand their response much better. (Even with this understanding we may not agree with their approach, but we will certainly better understand what led to their decision or actions.)
Walking in the other person's shoes requires us to be open-minded, less judgmental, and more inquisitive. It also allows us to be more understanding, helpful, and to build better relationships.
Watching the Weather
Many of us watch the weather daily. There is a whole channel devoted to it in the U.S. and Canada. Weather is always around us and I would guess you rarely think about it as a source of learning and reflection. Now you know it can be just that.
Take my weather stories and think of your own examples. Think about how you would react to being cold at 60� F (16� C). Think about the lessons I drew from this series of thoughts, and most of all, think about the lessons you will draw yourself.
The results will be refreshing, like a soft spring rain.
p.s. Thanks to Dennis Mulkey for allowing me to use his personal email to me in this essay!
p.s.s. I know this article was written using the Fahrenheit scale, to others who use Celsius, here are some conversions for you:
- 45� F = 7� C
- 55� F = 13� C
- 60� F = 16� C
- 70� F = 21� C
- 120� F = 49� C
p.s.s.s. If you would like to read another Vantagepoints about a weather lesson, go to: Vantage 0109
Yours in Learning,
The Discian Group
Kevin Eikenberry is a speaker, trainer, author, and President of the Discian Group - a learning consulting company committed to helping Organizations, Teams, and Individuals reach their performance goals through learning. For information about the Discian Group or its products and services, visit our website at Discian.com
� Copyright 2002, Discian.com. All rights reserved.
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