THE BLOG
04/07/2014 04:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2014

Rules and Growth (and a Little Consciousness Thrown in

Ultimately, I believe in rules. Not rules for rules' sake. Not arbitrary or unnecessary rules, not punitive rules. It isn't as simple as needing to give structure to a messy world (although there is that). Places, institutions and communities rely on rules because clear policies save lives, save waste, save time and save a whole lot of mental and emotional energy. Rules help provide definition to complex situations and relationships, and are the bones of long-lasting, true sustainability.

In our teaching kitchen at Haven's Kitchen, we have definitive rules about equipment, tools and conduct. If, for example, you've ever watched a cooking show on TV, when cooks walk around each other with hot pots, and they say "HOT" or "BEHIND," it isn't acting. It's real. Policies like these keep our students and staff safe, spare us from unnecessary food waste, and help maintain a positive working environment. As a result, we will thrive individually and collectively.

In other words, the rules are also good business.

Just watch a well-trained cook chop a carrot. I promise you, there will be as little waste as possible. Not simply because she cares about waste ideologically, but because, in a restaurant with tight margins (as all restaurants have) carrots = money.

So does, as the adage goes, time. Haven's is a small but growing business, and as we create our human resource policies and rules, I'm learning that investing in and retaining employees with policies that are reflective of our values, apart from being the right thing to do is also the smart thing to do because it inherently yields corporate health and well being.

Employees stay loyal to the company for a longer period of time -- they are loyal to us because we are loyal to them. We do not, then, get caught in endless cycles of hiring, firing, training, and acclimating. And that allows us to focus on doing what we do best -- serving that carrot, or enabling others to serve that carrot, beautifully.

Which leads me to a few of our favorite buzzwords lately "Mindful," and the newly- catapulted-into-the-limelight "Conscious." These words, although tainted unfortunately by a new-agey reputation, mean simply that we do our best, most productive work (interpersonal or professional) as humans when we respond, not react.

Responding is thoughtful and constructive. Reacting is what I saw this morning when a terrified father hysterically shook his son who accidentally crossed the street too soon and was almost hit by an oncoming taxi. Reacting is what we do when we throw water on a grease fire. Reacting is our health care system spending more on medicines to treat food-related illnesses rather than creating policies that support preventative diets.

Clear policies are put in place to make sure that we respond (almost hate to write it) "consciously" when problems arise. We cannot prevent all illness or disasters or irritations; but in our case, as we build our business, I'm hoping to create systems that prevent us throwing fuel on the proverbial fires.

I would rather create nests and networks that work and nurture and build towards a common goal.

When we create our operating systems, we are preparing ourselves for the inevitable muck that arises. Because muck will arise, it always does. Things break, people mess up, it rains. That is perhaps the one truth we can rely on: Life is never smooth.

I created Haven's Kitchen to model a business with a mission as deeply committed to social justice as it is to fiscal returns. In Pema Chodron's words, I want to create a business that "adds sanity" to the world through food and cooking. It is important that we make a financial profit. It is equally important that we have policies that allow for the maximum well being of everyone who enters this building, after all, social justice begins with the people you spend 60 hours a week with, no?

And while in my heart, I do want it to be a happy love-fest over here, it's also, in my opinion, the smartest way to run things. Financial and social goals work together to foster growth. They aren't in opposition to each other. There doesn't need to be compromise between corporate growth and personal growth. Sane and thoughtful are sustainable.

As most everything does, this reminds me of my kids: Are they growing in inches? Yes, more than their clothes can keep up with. But are they growing in empathy, in their ability to see different solutions to problems? Are they growing to subdue their impulses and needs for the benefit of others? Are they able to focus and center themselves? That, in my opinion, is true growth.

And so it is with Haven's Kitchen. As we grow and muck happens, how we will weather it all, how sustainable we will be, will ultimately be a function of the policies we create now and how mindful they are.

In the words of Pema's teacher, "Sanity is permanent." It's perhaps the only thing that is.