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Listen to Your Gut To Serve a Higher Purpose

March 26, 2019 Joe Mechlinski


A couple of years ago, my gut brain urged me to give back to the city of Baltimore. This was following the notorious incident when a Freddie Gray, had died in the hospital after being arrested by the police. 

The city wanted SHIFT’s support with interviewing and assessing candidates for the position of Baltimore City school board CEO. We did the work, but received criticism regardless of our noble intentions. This episode, following the process of interviewing and assessing candidates, changed my perspective on politicians. 

I knew that plenty of politicians who acted out of corporate or self-interests. At the same time, I'm aware that a considerable group of politicians want to make a difference and help their communities, and they put themselves in the public eye knowing they, their families, their good work, and their reputations will take a good amount of abuse. At SHIFT, we had done good work, in helping the city choose a candidate, but we were criticized nevertheless for helping, as if we had done something underhanded. Neither were we supported by politicians looking to score an easy mark. 

We chose not to rise to the criticism. We decided against issuing a comment. We weren’t going to acknowledge that there was even a question of impropriety. We knew our actions were pure and just. One of the things my gut brain has told me is that when you act right, you know it – and this is important in life, at work and at the home. I've worked for years in helping to create a engaged workplace, and I knew that one of the most important forms of engagement is being true to yourself. This is what happened here. 

If presented with the same opportunity, our team would make the same choice again without hesitation. In life, there’s a constant battle between what you should do and what you need to do. Perhaps we shouldn’t have taken on this job since, as my wife, who works in PR, had said that it was a no-win situation. Still, our gut brains told us we needed to lean in. This was a biological need that we couldn’t ignore, with the brains in our guts calling us to a higher purpose. That’s why we didn’t feel regret.

Regret only surfaces when you ignore the need and follow the should.

The role of the gut brain in calling us to a higher purpose is best summed up by the famous quote from The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas: “All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.”

We know what it looks like to lead a moral and ethical life but leading our lives according to those ideals is difficult. How many times have we seen another country treat its homeless and disabled in a way we find appalling, yet, on a daily basis, we find ourselves driving past these same people without lifting a finger? As a nation, we are charitable, but we’re also regularly missing opportunities to contribute more or make charity a routine part of our lives.

Is closing our eyes to the half of the country whose lives are heading in the wrong direction morally acceptable simply because our lives may be headed in the right direction? We should be thankful if our lives are going well, but it doesn’t give us a free pass to ignore the misery that others experience.

The movies we love are the ones where the hero puts his own life at risk to save many. The selflessness of soldiers, firefighters, and police is the reason we celebrate them in our society. In the book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, Laurence Gonzales uses science and anecdotes to show that the people who survive life’s great challenges are not the ones who act out of self-interest. Rather, it’s the people who are focused on achieving the best result for the entire group.

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