I was reminiscing the other day about an old TV show from the ‘50s called Who Do You Trust?, and it started me thinking. I wondered how many people . . . no, I wondered if you have anybody you completely trust. Do you have anyone in your life you fully and completely, absolutely and thoroughly, wholly and entirely, totally and unconditionally trust? With your heart and soul and everything else? Do you have anyone to whom you know you can entrust your life?
Do you have somebody, who you know with certainty, who earnestly and conscientiously, deliberately and affirmatively looks out for you? I mean, someone who is acutely alert and keenly observant and who sincerely and genuinely looks out for you and your interests. Someone upon whom you can count to always stand by your side, who always has your back, with and through everything, and has a stated and expressed promise to do so—through thick and thin, for life, so you can, when necessary, “sleep with both eyes closed,” and feel safe, because you know there’s someone thoroughly qualified on-watch. Someone who is, in your opinion, competent, sharp, and sufficiently quick-witted, and who is always vigilantly and diligently attentive to your well-being. Someone who is extraordinarily trustworthy and equally able.
Imagine what your life would be if you felt safe and secure, because you knew that you had someone who was dedicated to safeguarding your welfare and well-being…24 hours a day…in all circumstances, no matter what. And I don’t mean just a bodyguard. I’m talking about something more akin to a LIFE-guard, in every sense of the word—physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Someone who lives not only for him- or herself…but also lives for you. Someone you know whose definition of self also includes you. Assuming a person like that really exists—as fantastic as it may sound—don’t you wish you had someone like that? If you did have someone like that, what effect do you think that would have on your life? And again, assuming there are people like that, how many of them would you like to have? And what do you think it would take to have that.
Now that I’m on the subject, what about you? Are you someone to whom people could entrust their lives? Do you have people who consider you to be that trustworthy, qualified, and competent? Do you want people to have that kind of confidence in you? Do you have that kind of confidence in yourself? Do you have people who can actually trust you so completely that they know that they can trust you with their lives? Can anyone trust you totally and absolutely? Do you consider yourself sufficiently capable and worthy of that kind of trust? Can you honestly say that you are that honorable and that trustworthy? Now tell me this…if you were a person who held the lives and well-being of others in your hands…would your life be better for it…or worse? And how about theirs? Would their lives be better for it, or worse? Do you have people to whom you could say, “You can trust me with your life”? And, obviously, I don’t mean saying it without meaning it. I mean saying it and meaning it, as well as knowing in your heart that you are that reliable and that trustworthy, without ever having to say it. What effects would that have in your life? Most people would say what a terrible burden that would be and that they already have enough—maybe even too many responsibilities and that they have too much weight on their shoulders already.
So, I think it’s probably becoming obvious that I’m talking about partnership. And partnership requires trust, doesn’t it? It requires many other elements, of course, but I only have room here to address a few of them. (There will be more about this in the future.) Given what I’ve said about trust and how it shapes a relationship, I think it’s equally obvious why partnership is such an exceptionally rare thing. It’s sad that it’s so rare, but it is rare, isn’t it, don’t you think? Almost everybody I’ve spoken to about this would say that they want partnership, but because there are so many counterproductive and restraining values in our culture, our efforts become terribly hampered and gravely confined.
There are many things in our heritage and in our environment that interfere with and prevent partnership. Some of them are subtle and expertly camouflaged; some of them are cloaked as social and cultural icons. For example: Competition. Sadly, our culture worships it. And competition in any form is dangerous and unhealthy. It’s also the foremost barrier to partnership. Many of you reading this—probably most of you—will disagree, but give me a little room and hear me out, and I’ll make my points.
Here’s the gist of my argument: First, you don’t need me to tell you that competition has become synonymous with sports, and you also don’t need me to tell you about the world’s fascination and even reverence for sports. From Friday Night Fights to the Olympics and the World Cup…from Monday Night Football to the World Series and the Masters—as long as sports and competition are as linked as they are, people will likely opt for competition over partnership. (Personally, I can’t figure out what the attraction to competition is, but it’s probably some leftover hostility from some unexpressed anger about something. Did you ever notice the faces people make when they win?! Did you ever notice the way they hold up their fists? It’s not pretty. But I’ll leave that for another day.)
Second, just about every business expert and business “guru” will tell you how necessary competition is. In fact, most of them will argue that the entire free-enterprise system is based on and rooted in competition and that competition is good and that competition is necessary. Very few people would ever dare challenge that idea. This “wisdom” is so conventional and most people are so brainwashed that few would ever think for themselves or have the courage to disagree. But what about when competition exists within a business and among its colleagues…or within a family…or between friends…or between brothers and sisters…or between nations? What happens then? And if you’re thinking the words, “healthy-competition,” read on. I‘ve heard it all before, and I think it’s hogwash!
My point, simply put, is that there is no competition in a partnership. There can’t be. Absolutely none! Positively none! Not ever! Not even a little! If you want people to be your partners…you can’t compete with them. If you were to compete with them, you’d be making them your opponents, your adversaries, and your enemies. You’d no longer be their partner. Anyone with whom you’re competing is not your partner. I don’t know how many different ways I can say the same thing. Opponents are not partners. Competition prevents partnership from occurring. And even a little competition in an existing partnership will very quickly destroy that partnership. In fact, competition ruins all relationships sooner or later.
If you’re still thinking the words “healthy-competition,” read a little more. “Healthy-competition” is such a crock! “Healthy-competition” is an oxymoron! If it’s healthy, it can’t be competitive; and if it’s competitive, it’s not healthy. Think about it before you disagree so fast or for too long. If you are competing, your purpose is to win, isn’t it? That means that while you’re competing, the other person, whom you now see as your opponent, must lose in order for you to win. So while you’re out there trying to win, you’re all the while rooting against your opponent—you’re wishing, wanting, and hoping for your opponent to make a mistake and lose, and you’re doing things either passively or assertively to bring that about.
Partners never compete with each other; they rally. You know, as in tennis, before the official match begins. The players play all-out, enthusiastically and assertively, and they play passionately, fully, and insistently, always doing their best. But—and it’s a rather large “but”—the object of rallying is to keep the ball in play and NOT to take out the other person. The purpose of a rally is to continuously keep the ball in play! That’s what makes it a rally! It simply means that when people are partners, they don’t try to get each other out. Not ever! Not in a conflict, not in a disagreement, not in a dispute, and not in anything else.
Another serious obstacle to the creation of partnership, or the threat to the deepening of an existing partnership, is the doctrine of suppression. That seems to be another national pastime. You know, the “I’m right, and you’re not,” stuff. Or the “I’m right, and they’re wrong,” stuff, whoever the “wrong” might be. It’s widespread; it’s rampant. Listen to some of the synonyms: abolish, annihilate, beat down, bottle, censor, check, clamp, conceal, conquer, contain, cover up, crack down on, crush, curb, cut off, extinguish, hold back, hold down, hold in, interrupt, keep in, keep secret, muffle, muzzle, overcome, overpower, overthrow, put an end to, put down, put the kibosh on, put a lid on, quash, quell, repress, shush, silence, sit on, smother, snuff out, squash, stamp out, stifle, stop, subdue, trample, and withhold. And in all its forms, these are partnership killers. So, if you’re serious about establishing a partnership—or about maintaining or expanding an existing partnership—there must not be any suppression! None, not ever! (Even a little won’t work.) And there are far more interesting, exciting, and creative ways of conducting your life than being “right” and endeavoring to suppress the opposition. Trust me.
If you want a real challenge, try this one: You must not suppress yourself either. This will take a lot longer to explain, and I won’t be able to do it justice here in this writing. It’s probably a whole year’s work . . . maybe even a lifetime of work. For this document, consider that suppressing yourself is the same as going against your values and ideals. If you’ve ever done that, recall how well that worked out for you. I’m guessing that when you look back on those times, you have the most regrets.
We are, I think, a culture of self-denial. But that’s not for this document either. My point, at least for now, is this: If you want a partnership, you can’t suppress. You must stay true to yourself, and you must encourage and root for the other. You must not suppress yourself, and you must not suppress your partner. In other words, you must not betray yourself, your wants and needs and values, and you must not ever deny or betray your partner’s. And that can get very complicated and very tricky.
You have wants. You have needs. There are things that you want to have. There are things that you want to do. There are things that you want to be. To have partners, you must equally want, and equally insist, that your partners always have, do, and be exactly what they want. You must want and encourage and, in fact, demand that your partners be authentic and free. You must want your partners to be great—their way! You must continually and aggressively want it. Not passively, but actively and assertively. Not occasionally, but unceasingly. Not intermittently, but faithfully, loyally, decidedly, and perpetually! All the time! And in all circumstances. Like in wedding vows—in sickness and in health, in rough times and smooth times. Forever! If you want partners, that’s how it is.
The reasons are simple. (The truth usually is.) The freedom you want to be granted by your partner must be the same freedom you must not endeavor to take from your partner. You have to give it to get it. Or, more accurately, to have freedom, you must not do anything that would interfere with your partner’s freedom. Because when it comes to freedom, you simply cannot have what you don’t give. That’s really worth repeating: You can’t have what you don’t give. The rest of the truth is that freedom is really not something that is ever granted or endowed. Rather, it is something with which a partner never, ever interferes. Freedom is a birthright. Therefore, it is not for one person to grant to another. If you were born, you were born free. Period. What happens next determines everything. Here’s my point: When you stop interfering with your partner’s freedom—when you do all you can to promote your partner’s greatness—you thereby attain your own.
One of the best examples of partnership I know is the one we see exemplified by great cops—particularly, the way it is frequently idealized on TV. I think it’s idealized because it’s the kind of alliance I think everybody wants. If you’re in that kind of relationship, you know you can depend on two things: (1) If necessary, your partner will take a bullet for you, and you will do the same for your partner. (2) Your front, back, and sides will always be covered. Always! That’s the meaning of “backup.” You can count on your partner being there. In front of you, when that’s necessary. Behind you, when that’s necessary. By your side, when that’s necessary. Always with you. Always next to you. Always at your side, watching your front and watching your back. Always! And you never ever even have to ask. It’s just the way it is.
Partnership is a special relationship—probably unique—and it’s a function of communication and rallying. It’s never suppressive, and it’s never competitive. Partnership establishes interdependence (one hand washing the other), which is different from dependency. It establishes reliance, and it creates trust (with your life). If it works both ways—if it’s a two-way street—it’s a partnership. Me, I want to be a partner, and I want to have partners. There are obvious benefits to being and having partners.
So, whom would you like as your partner? And with whom do you want to be a partner? Is it worth doing the necessary work to achieve partnership? What would it take to experience partnership with everyone in your family? Imagine a partnership with your kids! Imagine what your family would be like if your children knew—and I mean, knew in their bones—that you were their partner. What would your organization produce if everyone in it were in partnership? What if you considered that you were in partnership with everyone in your life? What if you considered that you were in partnership with everyone in the world?