Rule #1989: The Chicago Way
When Matthew went to college I heard from him about every two weeks, usually with the routine call of everything is fine, and classes are going well and nothing to report. Basically keeping me in the dark and failing to mention anything of substance , the standard nosey parent report. No lies but nothing incriminating.
So when I got a call on a March morning in 2008 at 9am from Matthew’s older brother Andrew asking me how Matthew was doing, and telling me I should think about checking on him I was confused. The next conversation with Matthew went like this…
Dad: ” What are you doing”
Matt: ” Eating Breakfast”
Dad: ” What are you having for Breakfast”
Matt: ” White Castle Hamburgers”
Dad: ” Where did you get White Castle Hamburgers in Shippensburg, PA”
Matt: ” The White Castle’s on Wacker Drive”
Dad: ” You mean in Chicago?”
Matt: ” Yea that one”
That’s how I learned my son was taking off from school mid-week and driving around campaigning for President Obama in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and New York. It wasn’t that he lied to me, in fact he was very forthcoming when asked. I had just failed to ask the right question, and he was not offering the details without heavy inquiry. I have since referred to this as the “Chicago Way”
I have and continue to have “Chicago Way” moments in my life with my children, business associates and other family. Just a couple weeks ago when I tried to reach Stephen on the phone and became concerned when he didn’t answer, till he called and told me that he had not returned the calls because he was in Hawaii for a week. Oh, Chicago.
I’ve had other calls when I called concerned while he was living in a Hawaii and a hurricane was a approaching to find he was on his way to Burning Man. Oh, Chicago.
It isn’t the Chicago Moments that bother you in themselves, its the moment that you realize that you thought you were playing checkers and all of a sudden the game changes to football, without warning. I would not have stopped Mathew’s and Stephens’s adventures ( frankly I don’t think I could have if I wanted to) but I would have loved to be part of the discussion.
With kids its part of the process. You almost have to experience the Chicago Way for them to become full adults, with independent thinking and actions. Its painful at times but I’ve learned to evaluate these Chicago Moments much like I do the City of Chicago. There are moments when you find them in Wrigley Field eating a Chicago dog ( I call type A) and moments when they are calling from a police south precinct for bail money ( I call type B).
Type A is when they are experiencing independent thought and taking chances- basically living their lives as functioning adults. Type B is when they are doing something they know is wrong and hiding the truth because they are trying to get away with something. There is a huge difference between A and B, both are lies of omission by not all lies are created equal.
I found that understanding the Chicago Way has served me very well in business. Its impossible to run a company with 100 + people and 1200 consultants and know what everyone is doing all the time. And everyday someone will surprise you with changing the game and doing something entirely unexpected. As a manager you have to decide are these actions are Type A or Type B. Surprises are not bad, but ones where there is intent to harm and deceive are the ones that you have to eliminate. So when surprised by new information I first have to ask myself “was this to help us or themselves”. You want people taking chances and thinking of new and innovative ways to do things, but you don’t want people trying to rig the 1919 world series.
A challenge in life is to create a world for your business and family to be both independent and honest. Its too easy to tell yourself a lie, and many people live with the George Costanza philosophy of:
“It’s not a lie, if you believe it”
In my favorite book by Dr. M. Scott Peck ” People of the Lie” the sub-tile is “The Hope f0r Healing Evil”. His central theme is that the malignant narcissism is the root cause of evil. Doing what you know is wrong then hiding by omission is never justified, and is the root the nature of evil. Telling yourself that the ends justifies the means fails when the ends hurt other people and takes advantage of the lies for your own self interest.
We have to create environments in our lives where were are not being cleaver and deceitful but living with openness and honesty. There is plenty of room for unannounced trips to Chicago and Hawaii, and every thought does not need to be shared. ( trust me we don’t want Matthew sharing his deep dark secrets with anyone)
We have to be sure our trips to Chicago are not to hide unpleasant truths but to have privacy and personal adventures. The Chicago Way can be a pathway to great adventure, it is doing it for the right reasons that makes all the difference in our lives.
I’ve been to Chicago quite bit myself, sometimes to enjoy a baseball game and sometimes to hide. I regret the hiding and enjoyed the Cubbies. Our lives can have both wonderful secrets and great shared truths, the success in life is to make sure your trips lead you to where you want to go. The secrets should become things to celebrate when it comes time to reveal them, not to be ashamed of the people they hurt by keeping them.