Article: The Aristotelian Mandate: Do we 'really' need to change mindsets

Life @ Work

The Aristotelian Mandate: Do we 'really' need to change mindsets

We hear so much about the need to change the thinking, but there is so much screaming on this subject all around that the result is actually a cacophony, without the results of course!
The Aristotelian Mandate: Do we 'really' need to change mindsets

Apparently, it was Aristotle who said something to the effect “Act virtuous and you shall be virtuous”.  It is not lost that he did not say “think virtuous and you shall be virtuous”.  Here is a tongue in cheek rejoinder to Aristotle reported from the cubicles. 

At the cost of oversimplifying Aristotle, what he might be saying is that ‘behave good and you shall be good’. It does not matter what you think but as long as you are behaving right, we are fine with it even if you are thinking wrong!

So what does it really mean? It would mean is that if a criminal does good, he is good to the extent of this specific action. Cut to the organizational context — as long as a leader is behaving right, nothing else matters. One can always argue that he will not behave right as long as his thinking is not right. I will deal with this subsequently but at this stage what it would mean is that if by some way we create a template of agreeable behaviors or desirable behaviors and there is a strong governance around that, much less energies will be spent trying to ‘change the thinking’ of folks. (As I am writing this, I cannot believe this line of thinking because it goes against the grain of everything that I have learnt so far – but why argue with Aristotle – the bloke was a genius!)

In the line of work I am in generally and otherwise too, we hear so much about the need to ‘change the thinking’. The underlying algorithm is the classical Feelings>>Thoughts >>Behavior >> Action>> Results. There is so much screaming on this subject all around that the result is actually a cacophony, without the results of course! Most behavior transformation programs without fail begin with attempting a reflection on understanding our own wiring and how that wiring is governing our behavior. It is no one’s guess how much this effort is yielding fruits. 

Maybe we should listen to Aristotle. Maybe the answer is to shorten the path and focus only on action or behavior. Thinking is like sedimentation rocks, layers get created over so much time and events that the whole pursuit of wanting to change might be annoying at best and frustrating at best. A leopard rarely changes his spots! Why not tell the leopard to behave in a certain manner and lo behold, we have a cat instead! A leopard is a leopard because he is violent and prone to attack all and sundry. What if he is told to behave himself, which in the beginning he is unlikely to agree to, but on suitable ‘carrot and stick’-based taming, I am sure his ‘actual behavior’ can be controlled – although I must admit his basic instinct might remain the same. I am sure that is how the lions are tamed in the circus. Imagine all the wild beast we see in the circus or say whales who respond to instructions were put through ‘thinking changing’ programs. How ridiculous. Cut the chase – focus on behavior – what you think to be damned. I am beginning to see the brilliance of Aristotle!

Is it really that simple? Not sure. I am also aware that this goes against the established wisdom which will be up in arms saying ‘’…but that is the point; behavior does not change without a change in thinking’’. Aristotle might have had a better handle on human behavior millennia ago by arguing that it is better to make people act right.

How does that get done? Let me check with Aristotle again. 

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