I Talked My Boss Into Meditating; It Didn’t Work
A little lesson about proselytizing
My former boss attempted meditation after I urged him, a micro-campaign that started innocently enough. One day he told me he appreciated that I tend to stay calm under pressure. I gave credit to my morning meditation practice.
Had I stopped there, I would have followed my rule against carrying on about this particular topic. Appreciation for mindfulness is increasingly widespread in Western culture. But it’s definitely not for everyone. And what could be more off-putting than someone who knows little of your problems trying to force their favorite thing onto you?
Yet rather than stop, I hit the gas, spontaneously bubbling with enthusiasm. I explained that, physiologically, meditation calms the central nervous system. I’m less susceptible to little squalls and more able to respond to situations with wisdom. I told him I believe that the people who most stand to benefit from meditation are people who are Type A, successful, and hard-charging.
I’m sure he was being polite when he said, “Maybe I’ll try it sometime.” Yet it was all the opening I needed. I bought him my favorite book on mindfulness. I pressured him to read it. Then I nudged him to get started. Not exactly subtle.
In the weeks that followed, when I noticed the boss entering our suite’s small private lounge area early in the mornings, I knew he was giving meditation an honest try. I was elated. I was certain it would help him.
I loved my newfound success as a mindfulness ambassador! I pondered renouncing my silly rule, so that more people could benefit from my wisdom and experience, of course. Clearly I wasn’t following the rule anyway.
After a couple of weeks, the boss’s interest faded. He went back to just being himself, a successful CEO and very decent human, no meditation required. What a bummer.
In the magazine Mindful, Dan Harris and Barry Boyce caution against the kind of advocating I did. “If you can tell someone is interested [in meditation], try to find out why, and listen,” they write. “There’s a great New Yorker cartoon where a woman tells her lunch companion, ‘I’ve only been gluten-free for a week, but I’m already really annoying.’ The essence of proselytizing and preaching is talking at, not with, someone. It’s important to hear what someone has to say and be ready to learn.”
The fact is, I pushed more than I listened. Sure, my effort came from a good place. But that’s irrelevant. I didn’t begin meditating when someone recommended or prescribed it to me. I needed my own reasons, on my timetable.
The writer Steve QJ offers a compelling alternative when the urge strikes to argue for meditation. “Rather than presenting a list of benefits, isn’t it better that you embody the benefits so clearly that they can see them for themselves?,” he writes. “Sure, you can talk about feeling calm and centered, but it’s better if they can see what that looks like for themselves. As we writers like to say; show, don’t tell.”
Funny thing is, he could be talking about anything that you or I get excited about. It’s so tempting to carry on about that thing that makes life so much better for me but might not work at all for you.
As I write this, I can think of any number of people in my life who could benefit from meditation. But I try harder now to keep the thought to myself. Meditation is terrific. It’s spectacular. But as with most good ideas, it can’t be hoisted upon someone. A human has got to get there on their own.
Certified Executive Coach. I work with CEOs of company up to $500M to help them get the most of their human capital and to lead change.