The Power of the Alternative

A coordinator for a food basket outreach program gets a call from someone requesting a delivery. The only thing is that she is from a different city, and the food basket program only helps out those in the city it is located in because of limited supplies. The  coordinator has options. First option is to comply with the policy and deny the person some help. The thing with this option is that the person would be left hanging and the outreach program wouldn’t fulfill its innate purpose of helping those in need. It could also be possible for the person to throw a fit and get into a yelling match with the coordinator, in which case would destroy the reputation of the program. The second option is the subversive option of helping out the person and break the program’s policy. The person is in dire need, and has every right to get help. The only thing is that the coordinator would jeopardize being relieved of the position as a result of the policy violation.

Instead, the coordinator opted for the alternative.

The coordinator told the person about their policy, but led her to another door by giving her alternative options: providing contact information about other outreach programs she can go to.

The coordinator complied with the policy and was still able to help the person at the same time. On the surface it may look like the coordinator can’t help the person without breaking the program policy. When I was a kid, my sister used to drill this phrase in my mind time after time: “think outside the box”.

It may be a familiar phrase, but most of us may not realize all the time that we end up in a “box” every time we go through a situation. Some situations are easy to navigate through. Some are more difficult than others, though. “Boxes” are not bad in themselves; if anything it puts things in order. Order is a good thing.  The tendency, though, is that the box can limit us to what we could do. The box can put us in an either-or situation; either I win and you lose, or either I lose and you win. Sometimes, the box can even put us in a lose-lose situation with someone.

Stephen Covey‘s self-help masterpiece 7 Habits of Highly Effective People touches upon the difference thinking win-win can have on everyone. Connecting it to the title, Covey does identify thinking win-win as one of the habits effective people do. Everyone wants to feel acknowledged and deserves so. When we think about it, we apply that notion to ourselves far easier than to others. It is more challenging to apply it to others because looking after others is demanding. It demands risking our own good which goes contrary to our instinct. Risking it doesn’t mean we’ll lose it, though, as what Covey is trying to convey (see what I did there?). It just means stretching ourselves to what could be possible. And yes, it is possible to fulfill someone’s need as you fulfill yours at the same time. I remember reading one of the pages from that chapter of his book where he says somewhere along the lines of developing the habit of thinking win-win can have powerfully transformative repercussions to our society.

“Developing the habit of thinking win-win can have powerfully transformative repercussions to our society”

Thinking win-win is often the objective the alternative options. Thinking win-win is often what “thinking outside the box means”. We often think outside the box because we have to, lest we get stuck in a box with others where either of us will win or lose. The thing is we don’t have to be stuck, or feel like we are stuck, because we are not stuck at all. We live with endless possibilities. When we open ourselves up to possible perspectives, we give ourselves a chance to be effective people. Even more so, we give ourselves a chance to experience the Truth.

A few dose of examining the choices we are eager to make is a healthy thing, especially when we have reservations about the circumstances. At the heart of being effective is being able to think through the value and impact of everything we do, including our choices. Examining our choices allows us this space to come up with a better alternative. Or maybe the choice you’re about to make is already the better alternative. Recognizing the value and power of the alternative is an effective way of going about the many choices we go through, whether it has to do with relationships, day-to-day situations, etc. We have endless possibilities before us.

After all, it is in the thought of endless possibilities that a Divine Being chose to be fully human in all ways possible.

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