Image [CC] Gerard Van der Leun

I thought I’d try something different and have a philosophical post to start off the week. Bear with me as I step off my usual path of law firm administrative issues, and discuss some esoteric business management and human interaction issues for minute or two.

Google’s informal motto is the simple phrase of “Don’t Be Evil.” I like that phrase, but really… what it means to one person may not be what it means to another. I thought that Matt Rossoff’s article in the Business Insider last week did a good job of defining what Google means when it says “Don’t Be Evil,” and that is that it will not be evil to its users. Rossoff goes on to explain that Google’s executives can be cutthroat and downright evil to its competitors and those that try to game its search results, but that none of those actions should cause those who use Google as a search tool to suffer as a result.

That got me thinking of a few things I’ve been taught over the years, and how I’ve applied them to the way I do business as a law librarian; as someone who works in a law firm; as a member of a professional association; as a neighbor; as a father, and; generally as a human being. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned as a college student was an off-hand remark that a Political Science Professor made in a class right after we had a State Representative give a speech. I probably don’t remember the exact wording, but the comment went something like this:

Those people that you think are diametrically opposed to your ideals are probably not as different from you as you think… and those people you think are your allies, are probably not as close to you as you think, either.

He was talking about politics, of course, but that has stuck with me for twenty years now, and I often think of it when I’m having battles (personal or professional) with others. Regardless of how set in stone the other person is, I do attempt to try to see things from their perspective and find the themes that we both share. It doesn’t mean that the other person reciprocates (usually they won’t), but at least I can argue the point of what ideals we share and attempt to draw a path forward based on our commonalities rather than sit and scream or pout about our differences.

Although there are people out there that are psychopaths — I didn’t always believe that, but many life lessons have proved that there are simply highly functional crazy people in every profession/neighborhood/family — these folks are usually rare, or are well-known and people attempt to stay away from them or discredit them eventually. As a general rule, I found that most of the people I work with, those I consider my professional peers, friends, etc. are people that also have a motto similar to Google’s “Don’t Be Evil.” Most of them have positive outlooks, want to succeed, and help others succeed.

That doesn’t mean that good people always act good, however. Just as Google defines “Evil” in its own way, it is surprising sometimes to watch good people do bad things because they think that the results of their actions justify the means in which they accomplish their goals. If your ideas are good, but your tactics are “evil,” then your results tend to be tainted. What’s worse is that those people you just ran roughshod over tend to never want to work with you again. You may not realize it, but even those that are your allies understand what you did, and may justify it by saying something like “Well, he’s a jerk, but at least he’s my jerk.” That’s like having a fighting dog and justifying it by saying “well, he’s never bitten one of my kids… yet.” You just never know when that dog (or that person) will turn on you.

So, I go off to face another week and attempt to follow the philosophy of “people are usually good,” that “those who disagree with me aren’t enemies,” and that hopefully at the end of the week I can look back and said “hey, I wasn’t evil this week — but, I dealt successfully with a few people that were!!” So, good luck this week, and remember… “Don’t Be Evil!”