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Intolerance and 'one size fits all'

Poseidon, Greek mythology’s God of the Sea, had a son named Procrustes. He occupied a home along the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis, where he offered hospitality to passing strangers. He would invite them in for a night’s rest in his iron bed. He bragged that his unique bed would perfectly fit anyone who slept upon it. What Procrustes didn’t tell his guests was that if they were too short for the bed, he would stretch them on the rack (“Procrustes” means “the stretcher”) or, if they were too tall, he would use his sword to modify their leg length. Thus, the term “Procrustean bed” refers to any forcibly imposed limitation that seeks uniformity and abhors diversity; it manifests utter intolerance to what does not conform to a single-minded view or outlook, a complete disregard of individual differences or exceptional circumstances.

An unconscious leader risks falling prey to this tunnel vision, which leads to arbitrarily, often ruthlessly and violently, forcing conformity with a system or method. Such a leader will promote a culture that tolerates no deviation or change and into which employees are forced to fit. A strong company culture, “this is the way we do things here,” affects productivity and morale by causing employees to artificially predetermined behavioral standards that discourage personal initiative and engagement and, ultimately, employee retention.

Poor self-awareness translates into a growing chasm between formally promoted and celebrated skills in corporations, such as ingenuity, diversity, and creativity, and the actual intolerance to change or accept a different viewpoint. When presented with conflicting information, leaders will try to ensure that they understand and lop off what they don’t. And they would do the same with people.

The road to increased self-awareness and empathy is steep and long, and the starting point of personal growth should be acceptance. If we were to go anywhere, we need to accept the truth about who I am, with my flaws, strengths, weaknesses, and everything I am experiencing. It is a human tendency to agree with what we understand and conform to our point of view. Accepting conflicting information and outlooks and not feeling threatened by the unknown is a virtue.


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