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Archive for December, 2021

As a preface to this topic I offer us two quotes attributed to the great Chinese sage, Lao Tzu:

‘To lead people, walk behind them.’  AND: ‘A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.’

What will help a leader live into Lao Tzu’s first statement and experience those led repeating Lao Tzu’s second statement?  Gentle Reader, consider the following.

Connect. . .  Co-create trusting relationships with those who choose to follow.  ‘Leadership’ is a by-product of the relationship between the leader and the led.  The leader and the led provide support to one another; they hold one another accountable; they help one another develop their skills, abilities, strengths and talents; they help one another become unconditionally response-able and responsible; they help one another nurture more than deplete their P.I.E.S. [P.I.E.S. = each person’s Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spirit(ual) Dimensions]; and, they help one another develop more fully specific capacities [e.g. capacity for reflection, for listening, for inquiry, etc.].

Care. . .  The leader and the led demonstrate caring for one another.  They offer one another empathy, compassion, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.  They invite and honor one another’s voice.  Caring occurs when it has been acknowledged; that is, the one cared for acknowledges that caring has actually occurred.  Caring is also reciprocal; that is, each demonstrates caring for the other.  People who experience being cared for function at a higher level and with more distinction than those who do not feel cared for.  People who experience being cared for are more willing to give their discretionary energy to their work (this is the energy that money cannot ‘buy’). 

Commitment. . .  Among other things, the leader must be committed to ‘quality,’ ‘high achievement,’ and ‘distinction’ (versus ‘mediocrity’).  Many years ago W. Edwards Deming provided us three ingredients that must support and complement one another in order for ‘quality,’ ‘high achievement,’ and ‘distinction’ to be realized.  His quality concept was, mostly, a failure in our country.  Why?  Although the reasons were many there was one that was consistent: organizations refused to embrace Deming’s ‘third C.’ We fell in love with the first two: ‘Customer’ and ‘Counting’ (Statistical Measurement) – although much of our ‘customer care’ was anything but.  We ignored, or denied the importance of, his ‘third C’ – ‘Culture.’  Culture Matters…period.  Culture (and her younger sisters, ‘Climate’ and ‘Environment’) is the key ingredient; it is more important than Customer or Counting.  An organization’s ‘Culture’ powerfully affects its members, their relationships with all of those they serve, and their ‘work.’  Just as powerful, and at times even more powerful, are the many sub-cultures that exist within organizations.  These sub-cultures are composed of the different ‘divisions,’ or ‘departments,’ or ‘teams’ or ‘disciplines’ (for example).  They are cultures within the Culture.  Too often the sub-cultures are in conflict with other sub-cultures or with the Culture itself.  These conflicts are frequently rooted in values, needs, wishes, wants, desires, goals, or ‘politics.’ 

Commitment is also different from ‘Loyalty.’ Historically the led are ‘Loyal’ to the leader and as we well know this can lead to great harm being done. Commitment means that the leader and the led intentionally and purposefully emerge clear agreements that all embrace. Then, because of their commitment and their agreements, they are more willing to hold one another accountable when an agreement is not kept.

Remember, I say to myself, ‘Commitment’ is not a word, it is an act. As the author Arthur Gordon noted: ‘Nothing is easier than saying words. Nothing is harder than living them day after day.’

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Good morning Gentle Reader.  As I was paging through a few of my journals waiting for my writing muse to appear I began to have a feeling that my muse might be taking the holiday off.  I set my journals aside.  I picked up a book and began to read.  As I read I became aware of this ‘niggle’ – ‘Why not just offer your Gentle Readers ‘A Few Random Thoughts & Considerations’?  So, Gentle Reader, that is what I am about to do.  I chose three journals, chose one and opened it.  I made a note of an entry and then randomly chose another page; I made another note.  I spent about thirty minutes doing this.  What follows are ‘A Few Random Thoughts & Considerations.’

#1: The great Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, was always a bit put off by the fact that Mozart was a Catholic.  Mozart also openly rejected Protestantism.  Barth related a dream he had.  In his dream he was chosen to examine Mozart’s ‘faith.’  Throughout the ‘examination’ Mozart remained silent.  Mozart just sat, his face covered with his child-like smile.  Now there is a paradox here (or is it irony).  Each morning Karl Barth would play a recording of Mozart’s music.  Then Barth would take up pen and put pen to paper.  Perhaps Karl Barth was unconsciously seeking to awaken the hidden sophianic Mozart in himself – the core wisdom that comes when one is in tune with the divine music; the divine music that is love.  Karl Barth also noted that ‘it is a child, a divine child, who speaks in Mozart’s music to us.’ 

#2: A QUESTION: Is your love for ‘Men’ or is your love for a ‘Cause’? 

#3: THINK ABOUT THIS: One has either to be a Jew or stop reading the Bible.  Consider that the Bible cannot make sense to anyone who is not ‘spiritually a Semite.’  For us Christians the New Testament is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, the promise that Abraham believed in.  The New Testament, then, is not a denial of Judaism, it is an affirmation. 

#4: A QUESTION: Do we instinctively pay attention not to what a politician actually says but to what he/she seems to want to say – or to what we want to hear?

#5: Logical Positivism is an excellent way to organize futility.  This is my understanding of LP’s teaching: Since we cannot really say anything about anything, let us be content to talk about the way in which we say nothing.   Although ‘nothingness’ has its dignity for the LP not even the dignity of ‘nothingness’ is respected.

#6: The atheist existentialist has my respect:  he accepts his honest despair with stoic dignity.  His despair provides his thought a genuine content, because it expresses an experience – his confrontation with and his embracing of emptiness.  Others don’t have the imagination or the good sense to stand in awe of real emptiness. 

#7: CONSIDER: We believe not because we want to know, but because we want to be.

#8: SOLITUDE: Solitude has its own special work: a deepening of awareness that the world needs.  Solitude is deeply aware of the world’s needs and Solitude seeks to embrace them.

#9: Anti-Semitism is a direct attack on Christ. 

#10: If we want to bring together what is divided, we can not do so by imposing one division upon the other or absorbing one division into the other.  We must embrace the paradox of ‘BOTH-AND.’   

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In 1964 I enrolled in a philosophy seminar (I was a sophomore and learned that sophomore means ‘wise fool’ – and that I was).  I relished seminars.  The number of students was small (in this case there were 12 students and the professor); we sat in a circle and conversed and via these searching conversations we learned – we learned to bring our voice, we learned to listen with undefended receptivity, we learned to search together in order to more fully understand.  I ‘fell in love’ with three Stoics: Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca.  This morning, Gentle Reader, I will share some ‘Counsel’ from these three Stoics. 

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… (Epictetus, ‘Discourses’ 2.5-4.5)

All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way. (Marcus Aurelius, ‘Meditations’ 9.6)

Let all your efforts be directed to something, let it keep that end in view.  It’s not activity that disturbs people, but false conceptions of things that drive them mad. (Seneca, ‘On Tranquility of Mind’ 12.5)

The proper work of the mind is the exercise of choice, refusal, yearning, repulsion, preparation, purpose, and assent.  What then can pollute and clog the mind’s proper functioning?  Nothing but its own corrupt decisions.  (Epictetus, ‘Discourses’ 4.11-6.7)

From Rusticus…I learned to read carefully and not be satisfied with a rough understanding of the whole, and not to agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something.  (Marcus Aurelius, ‘Meditations’ 1.7.3)

I will keep constant watch over myself and – most usefully – will put each day up for review.  For this is what makes us evil – that none of us looks back upon our own lives.  We reflect upon only that which we are about to do.  And yet our plans for the future descend from the past. (Seneca, ‘Moral Letters’ 83.2)

Gentle Reader, it helps me to remember that each of these men were writing to themselves; their ‘Counsel’ was directed at himself.  If you have not spent time with one or more of these Stoics I invite you to begin with Marcus Aurelius and his ‘Meditations’ and then move on to Epictetus and his ‘Discourses’ and then to Seneca (whose writings are legion).  Each of these men strove to follow the ‘Counsel’ of the ‘Oracle’ – Know Thyself! 

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HUMAN SPECIES – HUMAN PERSONS

No man is an island. –John Donne

The human Species consists of human persons.  This person is an individual in his/her own right AND yet is not an isolated or solitary individual.  Each person has a fundamental link, tie, similarity with all human persons.  What is this link?  It is our common humanity. 

The nature that each of us shares with all other humans is a ‘natural’ communality into which we are born.  We are born, we come into life, as members of a Species.  One of the major characteristics that separates us, that sets us aside, that distinguishes us from all other beings is our capacity for altruistic love, for friendships of a certain kind.  Of course, we have choice and so we can choose to overlook, or even deny as we sometimes do, our kinship with the other(s) and refuse to share our kindness. 

We can also choose to recognize our kinship, we can recognize the other(s) as naturally connected to us and together we can then choose to create friendships.  Depending upon our motivation – and the other’s motivation – we can choose to form friendships in two ways.  (1) We can form friendships for our own sake, for our own use, for our own pleasure; this is often called ‘egocentric love.’  (2) We can also together form altruistic friendships rooted in altruistic motives; this is often called ‘altruistic love.’  These friendships are the tap roots that nurture, support and sustain what some have called ‘true community.’ 

BUT, how does one’s altruistic motivation tie people together; how does altruistic love enable people to deeply connect in ways that egocentric love does not?

One key to altruistic love, Rumi reminds us – as does Aristotle – is the process of identification.  Consider that in order to love another altruistically, I must identify with that person as MY OTHER SELF.  Rumi, a Sufi mystic, suggests that ‘A man hasn’t truly loved until he looks at another and says, Hello Myself!’  The root of ‘identify’ means to ‘make the same as.’  For Aristotle a true friend sees the other as his other self.  He makes the other’s welfare his own, loving the other in his very identity as a unique person, wish him for his sake, to flourish fully as the person he is called to be in the world.  The welfare of the other becomes his own welfare as well. 

There is an example that we are familiar with.  There is the loving parent who seeks the child’s welfare for the child’s sake, expecting no return in kind.  The child will probably never know all that was done on his or her behalf by the parent.  The healthy development of the child as a unique human being rooted in the community that is the family is the parent’s goal.  I am thinking of the parent who has received custody of a child after a very nasty custody battle; within a month the custodial parent realizes that the child needs to live with the other parent and then ensures that this occurs. 

Aristotle and Rumi are clear: friends love each other for each other’s sake. 

When I then wonder whether I have friends, and who they are and how many, I find myself pausing and asking not whether others love me, but whether I love the other(s) and how well do I love?  The love may be reciprocal – and deep down I want it to be so – but the act of loving the other(s) is the tie that binds.  Paradoxically, when I love this way I am loved in return. 

In the end, all that matters is love and friendship. –Robert K. Greenleaf

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ADVICE – WHEN IS IT ‘GOOD’? 

This morning I was watching a replay of the Ryder Cup.  One of the players was standing over a five foot putt that broke severely to the right.  The player stood over the putt and then stepped back.  The TV golf analyst said, ‘This is a tough putt; he needs to strike it firmly and softly!’  The other commentator said, ‘That’s good advice!’  I laughed.  I watched as the gofer hit the putt.  Then I thought: ‘What is good advice?’  So I turned off the telly and began to reflect upon this question.  I began to think about ‘Advice. . .Good is it?’ 

As I reflected I recalled a story (remember, one never lets facts interfere with a good story).  The great Red Sox player, Ted Williams, was once asked what really irritated him during a baseball game (an interesting question in and of itself).  His response did not have anything to do directly with him – and this is why the story has stayed with me.  He said that what irritated him was when the following occurred; which it did often during the long baseball season.  It is late in the game, there are men on base and the other team’s ‘big hitter’ is coming to the plate.  The manager calls ‘Time Out!’ and walks to the pitcher’s mound.  The catcher follows and the third baseman comes over.  The manger takes the ball, looks intently at the pitcher and gives the following advice: ‘Don’t give this guy anything to hit.’  He pauses and adds: ‘Don’t walk him either.’  The manager gives the ball back to the pitcher and walks away.  WHAT?!  Williams noted that it was obvious to the pitcher that he should, in this situation, not do either of those things; of course he doesn’t want to give him a pitch to hit AND of course he doesn’t want to walk him.  The pitcher already knew this.  ‘Advice…Good?…Not!’

The professional golfer already knew that he needed to ‘hit his spot’ (if the ball rolls over ‘the spot’ he has a good chance of making the putt AND (remember Gentle Reader, there is always an ‘AND’) the ball must be moving at the correct rate of ‘speed’ or he will miss the putt even if he ‘hits the spot.’  ‘Spot’ and ‘Speed’ are both crucial.  By the by, the golfer missed the putt.   

The baseball manager might have said: ‘In THIS SITUATION it is more important to throw a strike because we don’t want this guy walked.’  Or… ‘In THIS SITUATION it is better to walk him than to give him something to hit.’  The manager assess the situation from a focused and from a broad point of view (the pitcher must remain focused on this batter and on this pitch). 

Too often in giving advice we want it all (e.g. ‘hit it firm and softly’ or ‘don’t give him anything to hit AND don’t walk him’).  The best advice doesn’t always get us what we need, want, wish for or desire; it does, however, increase our chances of getting some, if not all of what we need, want, wish for or desire. 

Organizations offer themselves this type of ‘want it all advice:’  ‘Be creative but don’t take risks!’  ‘Experiment and make sure we get (good) results.’  ‘Be Innovative and Be Stable.’  I’ve heard managers give the following advice to a team that has been charged with hiring a new member for the team: ‘It’s your team, make the hire.  Oh, before you make the hire check with me to get my o.k.’ 

‘Advice. . .Good is it?’  Gentle Reader, how is your Advice…Good is it?

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