Model the Way: Paper Cuts

Paper Cuts

Peter Alduino

So let me talk about paper cuts. You know how when you get a paper cut, you bleed a little bit and it hurts. What happens if you get another paper cut and it bleeds a little bit and it hurts? And then you get another paper cut and it bleeds a little bit and it hurts. And again and again and again and again and again. Soon it's going to hurt a whole lot, and one of two things is going to happen: either you are going to be in great pain, or you are going to bleed to death. Now, why isn't that exactly the same every single time we violate one of our closely-held values. Every time we violate one of our closely-held values, it's like getting a paper cut. Now perhaps it hurts just a little bit, and you bleed just a little bit, and you say you will get over it. But if the pattern persists and you allow yourself to continuously violate closely-held values, sooner or later it hurts so much that something happens that fundamentally changes you—either because you are in such great pain, (unless you can live with that pain), or because you bleed to death. No, you don't literally bleed to death, but you figuratively bleed from the spirit, so much so that you cease to have a conscience around that value. It disappears. You know the expression, "that is a bloodless guy" or "that person is bloodless." What does that mean? It means the person is unfeeling. So, in our case, it means that we have lost the ability to feel, to connect spiritually and consciously with that closely-held value.

Here is an example. A few months ago I went into the Apple store at the Oakridge Mall in San Jose, California. I was going to buy a battery for my laptop, a carrying case for my iPod and a new power cord. And just as I was approaching the register, the gentleman who was helping me asked: "Are you an educator?" I hesitated, and I said "well no; well yes." I said, "Listen, I am in private business, but my business is education," which is what I do. And he said, "Well do you teach at university?" I said, "Oh yeah." And he said, "can I see your university ID?" And I showed him my ID from University of California, Berkeley from which I have an ID card as a member of the faculty. Now that ID card had expired. I was no longer member of the faculty; that had been 2 years earlier.

But I got away with bending the truth. No, knowingly misrepresenting the truth. My faculty ID card allowed me $5 off on one purchase and $8 off on another. Total was a $13 discount. So I got a $13 discount on a $260 purchase because I was willing to bend the truth about whether I was currently teaching at UC Berkley. You might say, c'mon, so what, it's no big deal. And maybe it isn't a big deal, but it's a paper cut and I felt it. I felt the hurt. I felt the hurt for having intentionally and knowingly lied for the sake of $13. Basically I was willing to compromise one of my closely-held values—daring to be true—for $13.

So let me tell you what I did to try to regain a personal semblance of integrity. I went back to the store, back to the salesman, and said that I was really only a lecturer, and I was not really employed by UC Berkley. What I did not do was just fess up and say "I just lied to you." That was my pride kicking in. That was my lack of humility kicking in. I did not say, "I'm not really entitled to this."

I am able to relate all of these events and thoughts so vividly because I recorded them on my iPod literally 5 minutes after this happened. As I re-listen to my voice, I can hear that I am in pain for having violated the value that I hold most dear—daring to be true. I hear myself shouting, "for $13, I am in pain." Were you to hear the tone of my voice, you would know and hear that I am extremely mad at myself.

Was that worth $13?

Now, I eventually got over this. But this reminds me once again that there are some things, some guiding principles that really are not negotiable. And it hurts a whole lot more to violate them than it does to hold them with tremendous and utmost respect, and to honor them.

If my pattern were such that I had just said: "well, that's not such a big deal," I would probably not think twice when I repeated the same kind of small cheating elsewhere and then elsewhere and then elsewhere. I would probably not think much of it because in the grand scheme of things, I might think that it wouldn't amount to anything.

But it does amount to something. In the grand scheme of things, each time I repeat the same kind of small cheating, I am cutting myself. I am bloodletting. I am bleeding to death spiritually. If I don't love myself, or care about myself enough to hold myself to a standard that I admire, it is going to negatively affect the way that I think of myself.

If I don't admire myself, if I don't love myself, and if don't care about myself, then it is also entirely probable that other people will feel and experience my personal lack of love and caring and commitment. So, if I am in a position of leadership, am I going to be somebody who is going to inspire other people, or am I going to be somebody who gives them pause? I suspect that I would be somebody who would give them pause because they would not quite be sure if I am real or credible. From my own perspective, looking inwardly, I would be sure that I am not credible if I were repeatedly unwilling or unable to hold myself to the standards of my values and guiding principles.

So what is the lesson I draw from this incident? I don't intend for this to become a pattern. What I do intend is that this small incident once again remind me that I and every one of us is fallible, that everyone of us trips up and every one of us is prone to these small paper cuts. What I implore myself to do, and what I implore all of you to do is to take heed when it hurts. Take heed when you cut yourself and ask: "what did I do here to contribute to this hurt?" Learn from it, grow stronger from it. Grow stronger in your resolve and your commitment to adhere to your closely-held values. Grow stronger in your resolve and your commitment to model the way of being and living for which you want to be known and remembered. The result will be a strengthening of yourself that other people around you will feel and sense and admire and want to emulate.

This is how each one of us creates a stronger world, a more principled world, a more purposeful world - the kind of world we want to work in, the kind of world we want to live in, the kind of world we want our children to live in. That is how each one of us models the behaviors we want our own children to embrace and defend. Living, behaving and acting consciously and purposefully in accordance to our closely-held values is not the easiest thing to do. It is hard. But the rewards are tremendous-the rewards of feeling solid and feeling whole and feeling integrated—mind, body and spirit.

"Be the light that you want to see in this world" as Gandhi said. Behave, speak and act consciously and purposefully in accordance to your own closely-held values. Be the person that your children, your colleagues, your friends, and you would choose to emulate. No paper cuts.

© 2005 Peter Alduino

Peter Alduino is President and Founder of Bridge Group Communications, LLC, a San Francisco Bay Area-based consulting practice providing customized leadership development seminars, executive coaching, and custom design and facilitation of mission-critical internal and off-site meetings for executive teams, management teams and project groups. You can reach Peter directly at or 800-762-4027.


We use cookies to ensure that we provide you with the best user experience. By accessing our website, you consent to our Cookie Policy. Read more about our Cookie Policy. Additional information can also be found in our Privacy Policy.