Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bushido IV - Benevolence

There are seven aspects to the ethical code by which the Samurai composed themselves - Justice, Courage, Benevolence, Politeness, Sincerity, Honor and Loyalty.  I have chosen to spearhead an organization which can help chefs and other service industry professionals to make positive changes in their lives and I believe that those who are looking for change will find it on this path.
Each week we will examine one of the aforementioned virtues and see if Bushido may be a good path for the Order of the Chef to use as a guideline in inspiring industry professionals young and old...

BENEVOLENCE - the feeling of distress

"Rectitude carried to excess hardens into stiffness, benevolence indulged beyond measure sinks into weakness...the feeling of distress is the root of benevolence, therefore a benevolent man is ever mindful of those who are suffering and in distress."  
                                                                                     -Inazo Nitobe

Benevolence - Jin
I think Benevolence is the most complex of the seven virtues and somehow a cog in the wheel of Bushido: a central concept supported by and supporting of the others in a synergistic symbiosis.  It is certainly a concept built into the very nature of restaurants as, at our best, we are here to alleviate your distress in every sense.  A well heeled restaurant staff will immediately attend to your every need without your having to make a single request, they are sensitive people, will notice your slightest hesitation and preemptively resolve any potential discomfort.  They also won't take any shit from you.  At all.

Courage and unflinching righteousness are both prerequisite to benevolence...and before you start, I could easily write volumes on this one, weaving in and out of modern socialist banter, rebuttal after witty rebuttal until the ensuing logic blanket grew to cover the sun and signal the end for generations to come.  Please, spare us all the touchy-feely bullshit - benevolence is a balanced blade.  It is like the nature of water, and like water, should it bend too far to its softer side it will puddle and stagnate, filling the room with flies and stench.  Should it bend too far to its harder side it will crush shorelines, changing the shapes of continents, wiping out entire civilizations.

Zen master to the sword masters, Takuan Soho
We in the restaurant business in general are great at being benevolent servants, bending on our knee to cater to the most seemingly ridiculous requests day after day, night after grueling night.  While this description fits more often and more easily into the front of house (FOH) profile rather than the back, chefs have many opportunities to practice benevolent action and I think that it would serve to polish all facets of our industry if we, as chefs, took every possible chance to practice walking the tightrope of the benevolent dictator.  After all, we are always looking to balance things aren't we?

More than just benevolent action in the service of our clients (which may align more with duty or loyalty), this sensitivity to distress in others is vital to the internal functions of a restaurant.  Every position in the company structure has its own set of pressures and every individual employee has certain reactions to these as well as pressures that may exist for them outside the workplace.  The most successful restaurant owners and managers are those who are capable of simultaneously alleviating feelings of distress both in and out of the workplace while keeping the 'pressure to produce' valve cranked full-tilt.  And we all know that some people are just not cut out for this business - on both sides of the equation!

Somewhere between this.... 
These masterfully benevolent people who reign supreme in restaurants around the world are always ready and able to help surmount the insurmountable in every arena.  They are kind, supportive, empathetic, patient and well informed about a great many things.  They are also hard-wired for combat intensity, intolerant, pushy, always busy and they don't take shit from anyone up or down the ladder.  They can be brutally honest because they have a sincere desire to make the best of things whether those things be clients, employees, recipes, standards of cleanliness, and so on and on and on.  Most importantly, they know when to use the front of their swords and when to use the back.

...and this!
There is a certain difference between the ability to discern a feeling of distress in another and the ability to act appropriately in order to effect the dissipation of another's distress.  One chef I worked for used the term 'striking them with a velvet glove', another always prescribes 'a punch with a hug' in order to create effective changes in people's behavior.  

In general, there is a lot of teaching going on in the restaurant industry and benevolence seems to send a universal message which challenges the most cutting edge technology as a transmitter of understanding.  People tend to absorb more information from a benevolent source, whether they want to or not, they reflect and grow from interactions with benevolent teachers more than from the iron fists of tyrants.  The prism of benevolence collects its light from justice and courage and shines in rays of politeness, sincerity, honor and loyalty.  It is the key to the effectiveness of our path.

1 comment:

  1. Again. Another thought provoking and otherwise true to the nature of what being "of service" is.. And having a code of ethics in our chosen profession is one of the things most overlooked.. From respect of the ingredients, like having a sharp enough knife NOT to bruise the field greens being cut, to the respect given to the self and to those we are truly in service of.. Ego should be smashed, to the extent that we are all on the same boat on the same journey. Some longer than others. Some detoured. Some never make it. But true devotion to the craft. And honor will always prevail over the ego, if you're aware enough to allow it.