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Archive for February, 2018

Our Individual and Collective (Think: Teams, Departments, Divisions, Corporations, etc.) conscience is not a matter of external compliance; it is a matter of internal self-assessment and improvement.  It is a matter of what we as fully human beings morally stand for.

Our responses to challenges and crises, then, need to be discerning.  If we sacrifice discernment we sacrifice conscience.  To put it another way, Individual and Collective Consciences are forms of prevention.  Consider, gentle reader, that your-my-our internal moral compasses can become more reliable than external sanctions – legal or economic.

Surrogates for conscience (Think: ‘Law’) are insufficient, for our conscience is neither dispensable nor redundant.  Conscience requires commitment not loyalty.  Too often we compromise our integrity, our conscience, in the name of being loyal – to a person, a group, an idea, etc.  Commitment requires us to engage our integrity, our conscience, and question, challenge and speak up (Think: Whistle Blower).

Unless I-You-We are prepared – and being prepared is not necessarily an easy charge to embrace – to place limits on ‘loyalty to…’ the idea of Individual and Collective Conscience cannot be defended nor realized.  Ethics and Being Ethical involves much more than blind compliance – either with the demands of law or the demands of persons (Think: Leaders, Stockholders, Parents, Religious Leaders, etc.).

In our country-culture there continues to be a growing skepticism about the moral credentials of the profit-centered, profit-driven market system (Think: There is a difference between being ‘profit-centered’ and ‘profit-focused’).  Consider how often in business and in politics we witness with growing intensity an unbalanced pursuit of goals and objectives.  We have seen this at work from Watergate to Enron and beyond.  We have seen it in business and political career crashes and in literal crashes like the World Trade Center and the space shuttles Challenger & Columbia.

Conscience – Individual and Collective – is our primary check on the unbalanced pursuit of goals and purposes.  I-You-We can develop, or develop more fully, our moral consciousness and learn to trust that we can, indeed, discern moral integrity-conscience from its counterfeits.  We can identify wisdom from misguided zeal and from her corrupted sibling, fanaticism.  [Wisdom: I am thinking of the great line in ‘The Raiders of the Lost Ark—The Last Crusade’ – He chose wisely!’]

This is no easy road to travel – perhaps we have to actually survey a new road.  Given all of the tragedies – including the most recent in Florida – how many of us in our Culture continue to argue that the very idea of a moral agenda is, at best, unrealistic, unnecessary, and at worst is dangerous.  Remember…

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

 

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Gentle reader, please see my posting on 10 February, 2018 for PART I.

I concluded PART I with a question.  This is a question that folks have been holding and often responding to for generations; in our country this question and its response was a motivator for our ‘War of Independence.’  The question still holds today.

Our responses must be more enlightened than ever before.  Our responses will ask more of us, both individually and collectively, than ever before.  Like our Founding Fathers and Founding Mothers we will need knowledge, discernment and, to steal Bellah’s book title, habits of the heart [Think: ‘Courage’ as this concept is rooted in the Latin ‘cor’ – ‘heart’: To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.].

If we look at the three example I offered us in PART I, it is crucial for us to seek to discern and understand a common pattern that stimulated, motivated and sustained each of these.  We also need to develop an ethical-moral response that can hinder or block our embracing this pattern.

Consider this pattern: We begin with a Culture (or powerful sub-culture) that is fixated on certain goals whatever the cost; combine it with the culture’s rationalization of its behavior in the name of those goals, and repeat the behavior over and over until the protesting consciences of the participants – and the observers – become detached, etherized.

These are the symptoms of a pathology that can infect – that is currently infecting – our most treasured institutions [Think: Two of the three branches of our government – the Congressional Branch and the Executive Branch].

If we stop and look back to PART I and the three examples we discern the following:

  • We see these symptoms in the fanatical behavior of terrorists;
  • but we also see these symptoms in the obsessive behavior of corporate executives; and
  • in the driven behavior of NASA decision-makers.

Fixation, rationalization, and detachment are symptoms of an occupational hazard of professional and political life – a hazard to which BOTH individuals and groups can, and do, succumb.  Their ‘Objectives’ become ‘idols.’  ‘Obstacles’ [Think: Critical Thinking, Questions, Consequences – especially the Unintended Consequences, etc.] become ‘threats’.  ‘Second-Thoughts’ are not allowed – eventually all of these ‘protections’ fall away, disappear.

Too often we become side-tracked by focusing on the ‘individual’ or the ‘group’ when the most powerful influence for this pathology is the Culture and the powerful Sub-Cultures that are homes to the individuals and groups.

Again, if we stop, step back and re-visit my examples in PART I we see that was/is the Culture and the powerful Sub-Cultures of Enron-Anderson, WorldCom and Tyco and NASA and Congress and the Executive Branch that allow this pathology to emerge and that allow those in the Culture and powerful Sub-Cultures to embrace and support the pathology.

Warren Bennis, a noted author when it comes to Leaders and Leadership Development, wrote: ‘No organization can be honest with the public if it is not honest with itself.’

The pathology described at minimum hinders and at maximum blocks a powerful antidote to the pathology: moral reflection – conscience, integrity.  Once we silence conscience and once we compromise our integrity then it is easy for us to embrace the pathology.

‘Moral Reflection-Conscience’ is our primary check on the unbalanced pursuit of our desires, goals, and purposes.  Consider, one example: My-Our decision-making patterns are fed and nurtured and sustained by a tap root of self-interest [Think: the goal of a congressman is to get re-elected and the focus can become pathological as I have described the pathology – sadly, this is not an uncommon pathology among our elected officials].

How often do I-You-We, at minimum compromise and at maximum set-aside, our ‘espoused’ core values and our ‘espoused’ core guiding principles in order to live into and out of this pathology [Think: Political Conservatives who are willing to set aside fiscal discipline – as many are doing as I type these words].

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MY ANNIVERSARY. . .

This morning I decided to pause and Celebrate the beginning of my blog’s 8th year.  Even as I type these words ‘8th year’ I am stunned to the point of disbelief.  As part of my celebration I have decided to re-post my first entry; my blog administrator, Nancy, posted the first entry on the 11th of February, 2012 and I made my first posting on the 15th.

My commitment to you, gentle reader, remains the same: To share my current thinking as I continue to search and seek.  Speaking of gentle reader, I also want to thank those of you who have been following me for most, if not all, of these past seven years.  Words cannot begin to capture my deep appreciation for your support.  I also want to thank the thousands of folks from 70 different countries who have taken the time to search, seek, stop and read my postings.

So, without further ado (now there is an interesting phrase, further ado) here is my first entry – 15 February, 2012:

WELCOME!

Welcome to my blog.  I am a life-long searcher and seeker.  At times I search to find but mostly I search just for the sake of searching.  The journey not the destination is what attracts me, stimulates me, challenges me, stretches me and intrigues me.  For years others have encouraged me to share my musings.  AN ASIDE: Muse ‘to think about or meditate on; to comment thoughtfully.  A muse in classical mythology is the goddess regarded as inspiring a poet, artist or thinker.  I could really complicate things by describing the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne who presided over various arts but let’s not go there now.  What supports my being a life-long searcher and seeker is my curiosity and my being what I call a ‘random-intuitive.’  Some have referred to me as a philosopher; a lover of wisdom.  I like to keep it simple – I am a searcher and a seeker.

I like this photo that my friend George sent me; you will have an opportunity to see some of his other photographs in later posts.

IMG_0262

There appears to be a hint of a path leading to. . . ah, that is the mystery.  Where might this almost-path take us if we choose to – or is it dare to – follow it.  Does the way open or close?  Does the way broaden or does it become so narrow that the eye of the needle looks cavernous to us?  Perhaps the search draws us to find out what lies beneath the leaves; perhaps the search draws our eyes toward the peaks and not the valleys; perhaps our eyes are drawn to the designs hidden within the stone walls. . . some perhaps.  I invite you to search with me; perhaps some of what I will be offering up will tap into the searcher and seeker residing, if not hiding, within your heart and soul.

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From September 11, 2001 through February 1, 2003 our world changed dramatically.  Why?  The reasons are complex – an understatement I know; one of the reasons, however, is that we discovered that we were living in illusion.  The first illusion was shattered on September 11, 2001.  Not only were our individual lives threatened, our way of life was threatened.  Do you, gentle reader remember that day?  Do you remember where you were when you heard ‘the news?’  I was in an airplane about to land in Baltimore, Maryland.

Then another illusion was shattered with the Enron/Arthur Anderson scandals (October-November, 2001).  We learned that we were living an illusion related to the dark side of financial reporting – there was misrepresentation (another understatement) to employees and shareholders of the non-realities on which their security was rooted — or perhaps better, in which it was ‘rotted’.

Then there was 2002.  Throughout the year we were reminded of our illusions again and again: Tyco, WorldCom, Adelphia, and Global Crossing.  The shattering culminated on February 1, 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry, killing all seven members of her crew.  This, as we know, was not the final shattering of our illusions – nor will most recent shattering – that we are safe from Russia meddling in our elections – be the last.

Consider that these shatterings are rooted/rotted in certain types of fanaticism; they revealed that we have always been vulnerable to them.  There is, by the by, gentle reader, another kind of fanaticism – the political-tribal fanaticism – that is running amok among us and that will, if unchecked, shatter democracy (but this topic is for another posting).

We did react to these – I purposefully type the word ‘react,’ for ‘response’ requires more reflection and discernment than was given to most of these.  For example, we reacted when we chose to go to ‘real war’ in Afghanistan and later in Iraq.  On the other hand, because of Enron/Anderson, Tyco, WorldCom, and others we chose to respond more than react with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.

The Columbia disaster also revealed our vulnerability.  There was an aggressive reaction and response via the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB).  Consider this excerpt from the CAIB’s August, 2003 report:

NASA’s organizational culture and structure had as much to do with this accident as the external tank foam.  Organizational Culture [my italics] refers to the values, norms, beliefs, and practices that govern how an institution functions.

It seems that our instinctive reaction to these heart-soul rending events is to choose to adopt draconian measures – extreme measures where the cure becomes worse than the disaster.  Consider these three reactions:

  • Terrorizing the terrorists AND blaming Islam while attacking innocents (seventeen years later we are still embroiled in all three reactions)
  • Seeking to wipe out corporate corruption by replacing the free market with government regulation (a major unintended consequence of this sweeping reaction was/is to blame and punish innocent companies)
  • Eliminating the NASA Space Program (this occurred as a result of the ‘mission’ being blamed rather than holding the Culture accountable).

When we react in these ways we are, in reality, seeking to fight fire with fire – or perhaps it is more appropriate to say that we meet insanity with insanity.  Ironically, we embrace the very pathology that we seek to avoid.  These reactions do not transform the culture, they simply reinforce the insanity.  They also led us to compromise – if not abandon – some of our most culturally important assets: religious tolerance, free markets, and exploration (in this case, space exploration).

When it comes to our growing tribal fanaticism today, which of our Cultural Assets are at risk – are being directly threatened even as I type these words, even as you, gentle reader, peruse them?

 

 

 

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Mary Oliver reminds me that when I choose to close the door of my heart that I will be as good as dead.  Yet, when I choose to open the door of my heart I do more than simply extend a smile of recognition or offer a nod of welcome to all who seek to cross the threshold of my heart’s door.  By welcoming others – the person or the transcendent – into my heart I open myself to grow and change in unexpected ways, perhaps in mysterious ways.  I risk being transformed; I risk a fundamental change in my character.

The pattern of this transformational process is akin to the physical movement of passing through a doorway.  First, I discern that a door exists in front of me, then I move toward the door – sometimes with confidence, sometimes with a bit of dread or just with hesitancy.  If the door is closed then I must open it.  Sometimes the door is locked and I will need a special key in order to open the door.  Sometimes the door can only be opened from the inside and so I must knock and wait patiently for the door to be opened.  As the door is opened and I prepare to step forward I move across the threshold, the middle of the doorway.  For a brief moment I have choice – I can continue to step across the threshold or I can retreat; either way I choose to move the door will close behind me (as the Quakers so elegantly put it, ‘Way opens and way closes.’).

I imagine that this same type of movement happens internally when life situations – events or moments – invite me to become more fully who I am called to be in my world.  My choices, my decisions, determine whether I will cross the threshold and enter into a space of growth or whether I will turn away and cling to the person I am at the time (you might recall, gentle reader, that in Afghani the verb ‘to cling’ is the same as the verb ‘to die).  I know if I choose to cross the threshold that more than a shift or a change will occur; I know that a transformation will take place.

As I sit here this morning reflecting on my life and my spiritual journey, I remember the innumerable times when I chose to turn away from, or I just flatly missed, the opportunities that waited for me on the other side of the door.  At times I was so self-preoccupied that I even missed that there was a door there at all.  At other times I remember stopping in front of the door full of apprehension; I was aware that if I choose to open the door and cross the threshold I would have to let go of something or I would have to die to something in order to enter the space beyond the door and so once again I chose to cling to what I had, to who I was, and so I turned and walked away.

I can still sense the depth of relief and sadness I felt when I chose to do so.  I can even remember using a great deal of energy as I held the door shut as it was being opened from the other side.  I remember other times when I lingered on the threshold weighing my options.  I also recall being tossed over the threshold by ‘circumstances’ beyond my control; by life’s events.  Sometimes I was nudged over the threshold by a mentor or I was called forth by the ‘being’ on the other side.

More often than not, when I chose to respond to the invitation to discern a door, to then approach the door, to open the door, to step across the threshold into ‘new territory’ that I experienced being filled with awe and wonder as I embraced the mystery, the unknown, that I had stepped into.

I used to think that with age all of this would be ‘easier’ for me; perhaps it is better for me that it is not for I must continue to be awake and aware, intentional and purpose-full when it comes to discerning, approaching, and choosing which doors to open and which thresholds to cross.  As I look up from typing these words I can see the top of a door just over the horizon; excuse me while I close for now and take a step.  Will I choose to step toward the door or away from it?  Ah, this is my question for today.

My Singaporean friend, Yim Harn – who will celebrate her birthday tomorrow – took this photo of a door she found in Japan; thank you my friend for reminding me about ‘doors.’

by Yim Harn -- Door #4-January2013

 

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Epictetus writes (Discourses 2.5.4-5): The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.  Where then do I look for good and evil?  Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…

Consider if you will gentle reader that the most crucial discipline/practice in Stoicism is differentiating between what we can control/change and what we cannot; what we can influence and what we cannot.

How much time do You-I-We spend attempting to control/change that which is out of our control?  How much time do we spend railing against the weather that causes our flight to be delayed or worse cancelled?  How much time do we truly spend on what we can control/change – ourselves?

I am now thinking of St. Francis’ prayer, called by some the ‘Serenity Prayer.’  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I can control/change the choices I make.  At times this seems beyond the pale, beyond a daunting challenge.  In order to control/change the choices I make I must seek to understand myself; I must examine my character, my core values, my core guiding life principles, my core beliefs, my core stereotypes, my core prejudices, and my core deep tacit assumptions.

As I engage in self-reflection, in self—revelation, it will help if I ask and respond to two questions: Does who I am (who I am choosing to become) get me what I want?  What do I want? 

What do I want (need, desire, wish for, covet, etc.)?  This question is responded to first.  A simple question that uncovers a complex set of responses.  Once I have some understanding of what I want I can then engage the first question.

My experience, with myself and with others, is that if I am clear as to what I want and if I am clear that the way I live gets me what I want then I am not open to change; I have no motivation to change.

I am more likely to be open to change if I am not sure what I want (need, desire, wish for, covet, etc.) and/or if the way I live does not get me what I want.

I am thinking of a leader, I have named him ‘Guido.’  Many years ago when I asked ‘Guido’ what he wanted as a leader and did he get what he wanted he replied – after a few minutes of reflection: ‘I want people to be so afraid of me that they do what I tell them to do or they leave my division!  ‘Guido’ was not open to changing.  When I asked the President of the company why ‘Guido’ was tolerated he simply replied: ‘Guido’s division makes more money for us than any of our four divisions!’  The President was also getting what he wanted and so he was not interested in change either.

So, gentle reader, I leave you with these two questions: Does the way you (live, lead, serve, teach, parent, etc.) get you what you want?  What do you want?

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Robert K. Greenleaf tells a story that took place in 1974.  He was providing counsel to a chief executive of a large and influential organization.  The executive was stuck.  He had been attempting solve a vexing problem.  After speaking for some time about the problem the executive asked Greenleaf to respond.  Greenleaf responded with these words: I have no answer to your dilemma and from what you have told me, you have exhausted every avenue open to you to deal with it.  In such a situation, with the problem still urgently needing a solution, I see no course open to you but to set in motion an inquiry to get a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the problem, in the hope that out of this larger understanding will emerge the clue to a new course of action that you haven’t thought of [italics are mine].

Greenleaf noted that as he spoke the executive was becoming more and more agitated.  Greenleaf then noted that he glared at me as he pounded his desk with his fist and literally shouted. “…damn it!  …I don’t want to understand anything.  I just want to know what to do about it.

A Sufi, Yunus, who was a Syrian who died in 1670 wrote: ‘…a man gets an answer to his question in accordance with his fitness to understand and his own preparation [italics are mine].

Greenleaf also noted in the early 1970s that it is crucial that leaders seek first to understand.

What hinders our preparation and hence limits or hinders our fitness to understand?  Why do we choose not to seek to obtain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding?  Why do we, too often, insist on embracing the executive’s position: …I don’t want to understand…  I just want to know what to do about it?

I have no answers to these vexing questions.  I do, however, have some considerations and I invite you, gentle reader, to reflect upon my considerations and I also invite you to emerge some of your own.

First, our culture is one rooted in ‘action-first.’  For example, organizations love to ‘roll out’ the latest idea and then strive to ‘fix it later.’  In our culture we take pride in being able to ‘fix’ stuff.

Second, in order to seek first to understand I must be curious enough to engage a deeper inquiry process.  I must, among other things, be open to being influenced by what I learn.  This is not easy for many of us.  One of the reasons that this is not easy is that too often we equate understanding with agreement.  Anyone who has had the privilege of having an adolescent in his or her life – or has ever been one of these interesting creatures – knows of what I speak.  One of the adolescent’s repetitive refrains is: If you really understood me you would agree with me!

Third, in order to seek first to understand I must not be rooted in ‘surety.’  ‘Surety’ blocks me from being curious, from being open to being influenced and thus from seeking to understand and hence it blocks my ability to understand.  If I am ‘sure’ I have no need to ‘seek.’

Finally – ‘finally’ for this entry – in order to seek first to understand I must develop the skill, capacity and discipline for inquiry.  The questions we frame will dramatically impact our searching and seeking.  Questions open pathways to other questions not necessarily to answers.  Questions tend to promote both deeper and broader searching.  Too often, it seems, once we hit upon an answer we cease the process of inquiry, thus, questions help us to engage the process of seeking to understand.

As Greenleaf notes, the search might not lead to an answer – with vexing problems (or paradoxes or dilemmas) it seldom does.  The search, however, might well reveal a clue.  The clue will also be a pathway that reveals more questions and more clues.

Sometimes a solution will emerge.  However, if the vexing problem is not really a ‘problem’ but is a paradox or a dilemma a ‘solution’ is not likely to be found.  You might recall, gentle reader, that paradoxes require ‘embracing’ a ‘both-and’ and dilemmas require resolution or dissolution.

Thus, seeking to understand first might well help us determine whether we are encountering a problem to be solved, a paradox to be embraced or a dilemma to be resolved or dissolved.

One more consideration.  There is a ‘shadow side’ or a ‘dark side’ to seeking to understand.  I am thinking of the executive who had difficulty making crucial decisions and he put off making them by saying that he was still seeking to understand.  The process of seeking can actually hinder our ability to make a decision.

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