Archive for June, 2012


Consider that in any two person conversation there are at least four voices present.  There are two verbal voices and there are two internal voices.  Where there is alignment between the verbal and the internal voices then there is congruence.  There are times when each of us verbalizes only a part of what is voiced internally.  Frequently, the listener picks up signals that the internal voice has not been verbalized; these signals are sent to the listener via non-verbal cues.  Sometimes the listener will reflect these non-verbal cues back to the speaker and the speaker will either confirm or disconfirm what has been reflected back to him/her.  My sense, however, is that most listeners do not reflect the non-verbal signals back to the speaker; the incongruence is taken as ‘the norm’ for conversations.

In conversations that we call ‘conflictual conversations’ the two participants generally make a mistake by trying to get at irrelevant matters – e.g., ‘Who is right?’ or ‘Why are you doing this?’   Consider that the following might be more helpful: ‘Why do we see things differently?’ or ‘Why do we choose different responses?’  These tend to reframe the conversation from ‘blame’ toward ‘seeking to understand’ and from ‘winning’ to ‘discerning understanding and perhaps common ground.’

Consider that two types of knowledge might also be helpful:

INTRAPERSONAL knowledge helps us consider why we think, feel and act as we do.

INTERPERSONAL knowledge helps us, via empathy and respect, to consider the other’s perspective, experience, and position.

‘Why do I see the world differently from how you see the world?’  Well, I have different information and/or a different interpretation of the same information that we both have.  My interpretation is rooted in my life experiences, my outlook, my current disposition, my life-disposition, my deep assumptions, my core values [and how I interpret them], my guiding life-principles, my prejudices, my stereotypes, my biases, etc.  I also think that for the most part my conclusions also reflect my ‘self-interest’ – i.e. I ‘lead’ with my-self as the focus, not the other as my focus.

I do better when I move from certainty to curiosity, from surety to doubt, from being rigid to being flexible and when I stop arguing about ‘who is right,’ and when I stop needing to assign ‘blame,’ and when I start to seek to understand ‘your story.’

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Here is a poem that emerged for me in January:


They spoke in whispers 


They spoke in whispers.


The great wisdom figures

their voices long silent

but not unheard

continue to speak to us in whispers.


Be Still. . .


Be Open. . . .


Listen. . .


‘Love the other as you want to be loved.’


‘Invite the other’s voice into your heart.’


‘Include the excluded.’


‘Trust strangers for they are inherently good.’


‘Bind up the wounds given and received.’


‘Emphasizing differences enables guiltless killing.’


‘I see you!’ calls the other into life.


Look deeply into the eyes of all you meet along the way. . .

Look deeply and you will see the Divine residing within. . .

Look deeply and see their eyes reflect the Divine within you.


Be Still. . .


Be Open. . .


Listen. . .


for the whispers that continue to softly speak to your heart and soul.


–Richard W Smith 31 January, 2012

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Consider that any organized group of two or more that is in existence for a certain length of time [this will vary depending upon the specific group] will encounter specific polarities which at minimum create tension within the group and at maximum morph into dilemmas [forced-choice tensions].  The following are not the only polarities but in my more than four decades worth of experience with a variety of organized groups the following tensions seem to be inherent to each organized group.  I list them in no particular order.

Rules vs Exceptions

Universalisim vs Particularism

Individual vs Group [or team or department or. . .]

Gradualism vs Quantalism

Specific vs Diffuse

People vs Cost

Leader vs Servant

Inner vs Outer

Loyalty vs Truth

Achievement vs Competition

Short Term vs Long Term

Appearance vs Authenticity

Now vs Past/Future

Awake vs Asleep

Intentionality vs Spontaneity

Good vs Great

Distinctive vs Mediocre

Hard vs Soft

Conflict vs Harmony

Organic vs Mechanical [or sports or banking or war – metaphors]

Dissonance vs Consonance

Consider that these are not problems to be solved.  They are polarities to be embraced – that is, over time each must receive equal time, energy, commitment and engagement.  I invite you to add some of the polarities that you have experienced as integral to the organized groups that you are familiar with.

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[NOTE: Please see 25 June, 2012’s posting for PART I]

For me, Socrates is the symbol, perhaps even the reality, of the work of thinking together.  For Socrates, for Greenleaf, and for me, thinking is an ethical act.  This work of my mind, your mind, our mind is a preparation for moral action.  This type of thinking together requires me, you, us to be conscious [Greenleaf’s  awake and aware – to who I, you, we are and to who I, you we are choosing to become; which he reminds us can be quite disturbing]; this type of thinking helps me, you, us live a life rooted in conscience, in integrity.

In challenging me, Socrates is asking me: what do you really want to think about?  What are you, Richard, truly searching for?  Greenleaf asks me if I am searching in order to find or if I am searching in order to search.  I experience that Socrates and Greenleaf are asking me the same question.  Am I searching for a destination, for an answer, for the ‘truth,’ am I searching in order to learn more about me, you and us – why am I searching?

What is my question?  How I respond will influence my life?  What do I need to think about?  What do we need to think about together?  Thinking together is preparation for being together, for working together, for living together.  Thinking together is one step in developing, enhancing, and sustaining ‘conscience.’  Thinking together in this way is not rooted in ‘doing’ – action to be taken – but is rooted in ‘being’ – a preparation for action to be taken; it is rooted in inquiry – especially in questions for which I, you, we have no ‘answers’ – we do have responses, but not answers; it is rooted in ‘doubt’ not in ‘surety’ – if I am sure I have no need to question, to search.  Thinking together in this way engages the wisdom of the collective [of course, I have to believe that the collective is wiser than I am].  Thinking together provides me with a safe environment where I can test out my thoughts, where I can doubt, where I can question, where I can be open to being influenced, where I can become aware and, at times, disturbed by what I am thinking and about who I am and about who I am choosing to become.  Greenleaf says that when we are healthy we are living paradoxes; we are seed-beds for both good and evil, virtues and vices and we bring both ‘light and darkness’ to our lives and to our world.  If Greenleaf is correct, and I believe he is – this is my life experience – then I, you, we need a safe place to think together about who I, you, we are as living paradoxes.

When we come together and think in this way together we are enacting the love and friendship that Greenleaf wrote about and that Socrates demonstrated as he spent time in searching dialogues with his friends.

[NOTE: Here is a photo from my friend, Bruce.  It captures for me the invitation to search and seek – to engage the journey and not to seek the destination.]



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Following is a journal entry I made in March, 2009.

I love history and our history as humans has been and continues to be written in blood; it is a history of continuous violence; it is a history of humans using force to bend the will of humans.

If we claim to be awake and aware do we not see that our inhumanity lurks everywhere?  How often do the cries of the exploited and the suffering that is rampant in our world fall on deaf ears; how often do they actually harden our hearts.  The philosopher Hobbes concluded that homo homini lupus [man is a wolf to his fellow man].

A common metaphor that we are raised with in our country is the ‘wolf and sheep’ metaphor.  Do we believe that there is a minority of wolves living side-by-side with a majority of sheep?  In this metaphor the wolves want to kill and the sheep want to follow.  The wolves are also quite smart and so they get the sheep to kill, to murder, to destroy; the sheep comply, not because they enjoy it but because they want to follow.  The wolves are clever; they invent stories about the nobility of their cause, about the need to defend against the great threat to freedom, about the need for revenge [an eye for an eye] and/or the need for justice/punishment.  ‘Honor’ seduces the sheep to act like wolves and to do so guilt free [mostly] – the price is simple: compromise one’s soul and one’s integrity [once a sheep does this, the rest is easy].

I wonder how we sheep can be so easily persuaded to act like wolves, especially since it seems that it is not in our nature to do/be so.  Perhaps a ‘selling point’ is that we sheep have a ‘sacred duty’ – violence is sacred not profane.

A question might guide me/us: Are we inherently good or are we inherently evil?  What is in our nature?  If we are inherently evil then with each act of violence our will to do good becomes weaker and weaker – Why resist the wolves?  Perhaps we are all wolves and some of us wear sheep’s clothing.

I am a Christian.  The Old Testament view is that man has both capacities [for good and for evil] and that we must choose between them.  Even God will not interfere with our choices.  God does help by sending us messages and messengers and that being done we are then left alone to decide, to choose for good or for evil.  The decision is ours alone.

And here I sit still wondering why in the world we continue to choose evil; why can’t we be good?

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Before Robert K. Greenleaf wrote his seminal essay, The Servant as Leader, in 1969 which started the ripples, then waves of servant-leadership washing over the world he had co-founded The Center for Applied Ethics in 1964.  He was concerned that large institutions were not behaving as ethically as they could.  It seems to me, then, that he was interested in ‘moral action.’  It also seems to me that a first step, if not ‘the’ first step, toward enacting moral action lies in the ability and commitment we have to think morally.   To me, this entails the work of thinking together and together to speak from the heart of the mind while listening with love and rigor.  I am speaking of the ethics of thinking together, of, if you will, philosophical love [in his initial ‘inspired’ essay, The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf’s last sentence reads: In the end, all that matters is love and friendship.’ ].

Greenleaf wrote a great deal about the search and the seeker; I assume he also thought a great deal about both.  There are many philosophers who have helped me – and us – engage the search.  I keep coming back to Socrates.  He continues to help me search; for him the search entailed thinking together; thinking together was an act of love.  His goal was, and continues to be, to help you, me, us grow [ties directly into Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the Servant ‘Do those served grow as persons. . .?’ – Socrates was, indeed, a servant in this sense].  For Socrates, ‘truth,’ and ‘wisdom’ were not born in the seeking for answers; truth and wisdom were born in the deepening of the questions – in the dialogue, in the search, that occurred between the teacher and the pupil and, perhaps more importantly, within the teacher and the pupil [this is directly connected to one of Greenleaf’s important admonitions – it begins ‘in here,’ inside of the servant and not ‘out there’].  Socrates often claimed to be a man who understood nothing and by his questioning of who we are he also helps us understand that we, too, know nothing.  We know opinion, we know what others offer us; we know the words between the quotation marks.  We do not know our self, we do not know what we deeply think – we are fond of quoting others as if their thought was our own.  Yet, Socrates believed that ‘our truth’ lies within us and that we have an obligation to seek for it, to emerge it, to name it and to bring it to our world.  Paradoxically, it seems, that ‘my truth’ can only be found as a result of deep searching conversations [dialogue], rooted in aching questions [questions that are ‘life-essential’ and questions about which we do not know the answers].  This, for me, is the wonder of thinking together, of searching together, of exploring together, of learning together and of tapping into my ‘wisdom,’ your ‘wisdom,’ and our ‘wisdom.’

[NOTE: If you are interested in Greenleaf please visit my blog: http://servant-as-leader.com ]


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Following is a journal entry I made in 1996:

The world seems full of bribes.  Take for example the company-take-over game which is a bribery competition for stakeholders.  Little thought or attention is paid to the people who work there; they are expendable – many are for sure.  It seems that every company is for sale if the bribe is large enough.

This must be distorting.  Boards of Directors [I do not see them as ‘trustees’ in the sense of holding in trust for the stakeholders, not simply stockholders] spend more time protecting their shares than overseeing the business.  Shareholders become traders not owners.  These folks seem to be pulled by the ‘dollar’ and they also seem to have a great deal of choice as to which ‘dollar’ to embrace.  I believe in choice – choice is crucial.

Yesterday I found myself saying the following to a student in my Business Ethics Class: Choices are easier if you have principles to guide you.  This young man looked at me and asked: ‘What principles – yours?’  I paused, then I replied:  Yours – the only ones that actually hold over time are the ones you integrate; these become your guiding principles.  He took a few deep breaths and said that many students were ‘buying’ papers for certain courses, ‘It seems everyone is doing it – and they are getting good grades.’  He paused again, tears were welling up in his eyes.  ‘Choice is great, and having principles doesn’t make choice easier.’ 

As I sit here this morning writing this entry into my journal I am thinking that ‘Yes it does, having principles does make choice easier.’  However, in order for this to be so I have to affirm my integrity, I have to affirm my principles and I have to question ‘accepted practice’ as the easy way out.  ‘Why lose out when the accepted practice seems to work so well?’  This is the tough question, the aching question that each of us who state that we have principles rooted in integrity have to embrace.

I love it when I hear that a man or woman is a person of principle; I believe that they are not slaves to accepted practice especially the accepted practices that call for them to ignore if not outright compromise their principles – and in the end, their integrity.   

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