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Five Lessons from Five Colleagues

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Five Lessons from Five Colleagues

The great advantage of this job is the ability to learn so much from some of the brightest authors in the nation and the world. But some of the most important lessons have come not from our books or authors but from my colleagues. Here are five lessons I have learned from my five main editorial coworkers:

1. Steve Piersanti (President and Publisher):  

"We are all sinners and saints." 

I once spoke with Steve about one of our authors who actively  supported organizations with ideals that were in opposition to the values BK espouses and about how working with this author made me feel uneasy. Steve responded by giving me the "saints and sinners" talk. We are all sinners and saints in the sense that every human has qualities that are admirable and others that are less desirable. No one (ourselves included) can be considered "ideal" in any way because to be human is to be flawed. So no one has the moral high ground to judge another. Instead, we should aim to embrace that which is good and positive in others and spare as little energy as possible on the negatives.

2. David Marshall (VP for Editorial and Digital): 

"There is a mostly subconscious passive-aggressiveness in all of our social interactions with almost anyone at all levels."

I was at a loss to explain a particular author's seemingly hostile behavior toward me and was discussing the incident with David when he suggested that the author could have simply manifested deep-seated (but different type of) passive-aggressive behavior. This type involves being upset at someone about one issue, but instead of confronting it directly, being difficult or unresponsive on a totally different issue (or even a different person). It's subtle but can cut deep. Such passive-aggressive behavior remains very common within groups, organizations, friends, and even couples, but that most of it goes unnoticed because it's part of how we function and interact with each other. We notice passive-aggressive behavior only when it is egregious and therefore obvious, and this awareness gives the illusion that the root cause of such behavior is always evident. Whenever you are at a loss to explain a particular reaction or behavior, consider whether a passive-aggressive strain runs through the interactions. You'll be surprised at how often such strains represent the underlying factor in many scenarios.

3. Neal Maillet (Editorial Director):

"Being a good editor means that sometimes I need to edit and work with books and authors whose ideas I don't necessarily support."

Neal and I were debating a particular title with a controversial message when I asked him point-blank how he could support an argument that he did not entirely believe in. Neal pointed out that his role as an editor is not to help present to the world only those messages that he approved of. His role is to disseminate a wider range of philosophies to help people understand how studying multiple points of view -- whether they agreed with what they were studying or not -- made them better informed global citizens. In other words, Neal wants to furnish people with as much information as possible so that they can reach their own conclusions rather than tell them what to think. His selflessness sickens me at times, but he's right.

4. Charlotte Ashlock (Digital Producer and Editor):

"I am a strong environmentalist, and I am also not a vegetarian or vegan. Why should one predicate the other?"

I remember being surprised when I first heard Charlotte order a meat dish when we went out to eat. I had assumed that all ardent environmentalists were also vegans or at least vegetarians. (If you know many environmentalists, you know this assumption isn't a completely ignorant one.) Charlotte explained how one choice does not equate another, but more importantly, she showed me that we often assume certain characteristics about a person based on just a few factors. And we often try to fit certain molds ourselves. Can someone be a liberal and still support gun ownership? Can someone be conservative and still support a woman's choice? Can someone be a libertarian and yet support social welfare? Yes, yes, and yes. We pigeonhole others, and we even force ourselves into convenient stereotypes because we can't or won't accept our own complexity. And labeling is just sad because it crushes true dialogue, debate, and personal choice.

5. Seth Adam Smith (Editorial Assistant):

" Faith is its own foundation and is not based on facts. Faith is making my mind believe that which I cannot through reason alone prove for certain."

Seth is a sharp young man and a practicing Mormon. The atheist in me can't help but challenge him on various ideas and concepts within the Mormon faith, but he has also wisely shown me the limitations of my own beliefs. I believe in facts, so when I find facts questionable, I find everything that those facts support to be equally questionable. Seth, however, has his faith in, well, faith. Whether the facts of certain events are valid or not is irrelevant because facts change. (The truth is rarely the truth, but rather only an interpretation.) Faith, however, is a constant and remains. It matters little to Seth if certain facts are questioned or even proven wrong because his faith is real and solid -- and more concrete than any facts could be.