In Latin, Memento mori means “remember that you have to die”. It’s a reminder of the inevitability of death and the brevity of our time. As awful as it sounds, there is a powerful lesson behind it: our resources, starting with our time, are limited, and we should make the most of them.
A few months ago, a group of facilitators led a one-day session for more than sixty people. After the appropriate introduction, we presented the participants with a set of rules that defined how we would work during the day.
Among these rules was defined a sign to ask the speaker to summarize and conclude. The purpose of the sign was to convey the information without interrupting the conversation, so the person knew they had to finish.
We wanted to avoid the possibility of the conversation being dominated by a few people and to have a higher participation.
As expected, there were people who began to dominate the conversation, spending a lot of time talking and preventing others from participating, so my partners and I began to use the sign. As a result, many of them were upset that we didn’t allow them to spread themselves too thin.
In the afternoon, a big conflict arose because of this. Some of them couldn’t understand why we were asking them to get right to the point, even after we explained the reason.
Lack of perspective
In theory, we all understand that resources are limited, but when it comes to a specific situation, we can forget about the big picture and the impact of our decisions. It’s here that I find it useful to remember this memento mori concept.
Where could I put my resources to best use with the big picture in mind? The answer is not easy and requires a lot of awareness.
In all decision-making, there is a great tension between the short term and the long term, and a tension between my ego and the good of the system. We have to learn how to reconcile all of this.
So instead of maximizing a short-term benefit, it might be a good idea to stop and look at each situation with the appropriate perspective. This will help us resolve the conflicts mentioned above.
When this big conflict came up in our session, we asked them what would happen to other people’s contributions if we didn’t limit their time. We also asked the less participating people how they felt about the others monopolizing the conversation.
At some point, many of them clicked. From a larger perspective, they were able to understand the impact of their behavior in the group, and how they were missing an opportunity to learn from others just by talking.
Using this memento mori idea can help us raise our awareness, so we can grow and do it better next time.
Image by Diana Parkhouse at Unsplash