Greenleaf writes:

 Gradualism [is] more a disposition than a method…and is equally applicable to any ideological framework I know about…

 My first perspective on gradualism came from what I learned from the Quakers…  I was particularly intrigued by the business meeting in which there was no voting, they moved only by consensus…  The Quakers are humans like the rest of us, I discovered, and I have been in a few meetings where people got mad and called each other names but they never voted…  I have watched particularly the art of clerking, by myself and others.  And I have been careful to observe what tactic and behavior by the clerk seemed to facilitate consensus and what seemed to hinder.  And there seems to be, first a critical quality of faith, firm belief by the clerk that consensus is achievable, no matter how deep the divisions seem to be. 

 Any manifestation of anxiety by the clerk, either by manner or facial expression, no matter how subtle, practically assures that the meeting will get hung up.  Then there is the art of stating and restating a possible basis for consensus, inventing and reinventing both ideas and language (and the two are really inseparable).  Proceeding toward consensus on a controversial matter is slow, sometimes taking several adjourning sessions.  It is true gradualism and it can take a lot of time and patience, especially by the clerk. 

 My most extensive, and interesting, experience with the process, however, has been in my business life.  In any meeting on a contentious issue, whether I was in the chair or not, I often emerged as the consensus finder by manifesting faith in the process and searching for the unifying ideas and language…

 I am grateful to the Quakers for giving me the opportunity to gain confidence and skill in the process before I took it into the sometimes highly charged business environment.  I was not self-conscious about my tactic at AT&T.  I had learned it gradually through my work with the Quakers and it just became a part of my normal way of working, wherever I was. 

[Greenleaf relates a story about his encounter with the ‘Chief’ at AT&T – the ‘Chief’ was the top person at AT&T and at the time AT&T had more than one million employees.  For more than thirty minutes the ‘Chief’ explained his dilemma.  Greenleaf then writes:

So when he finished in about half an hour I said to him gently, ‘As I see your dilemma, your problem is that you don’t understand the problem.  And the only course I see available to you is to set in motion a process of inquiry so that you will get a better understanding of the problem.  Then you will see clearly what to do about it.’

 As I was making my little speech I could see the color rising in his neck and I knew that when I finished I would catch it.  And I did.  He gave the desk a resounding crack with his fist as he literally shouted: ‘G… it.  I don’t want to understand anything.  I just want to know what to do about it – NOW!’ [To be continued…]

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Greenleaf writes:

I have in mind the lives of two great culture shaping gradualists…

 This morning, Gentle Reader, I will share with you the second of the two great culture shaping gradualists – Nikolai Frederik Severn Grundtvig.

Nicolai Frederik Severn Grundtvig (1783-1872)…was the passionate advocacy of the Danish Folk High Schools that significantly raised the quality of life of his country and left a lasting imprint on all of Scandinavia.

 There emerged in Grundtvig a firm faith in the wisdom and hardihood of the Danish peasants that would remake the Danish Culture…

 He conceived of the Folk High School for Danish youth as ‘schools of the spirit.’  These were residence courses of a few months for the farm youth.  They were taught in the Danish language at a time when the so-called ‘cultured’ people spoke and wrote in German and were abandoning their own culture.  Those cultured folk saw Grundtvig as a confused visionary and contemptuously turned their backs on him.  But the indigenous leaders among the peasants heard him and responded to his vision.  They built the schools, at first with peasant resources but later with a government subsidy.

 The teaching was all oral in what Grundtvig called ‘the living word.’  …he personally did extensive research to recover and make available the ancient Nordic myths which, along with Danish history, gave to these eager farm youths a solid background in their culture that was needed for their later creative leadership as adults. 

 No social or economic ideology was taught and no blueprint for a future design for Denmark was suggested.  Grundtvig, a Bishop and a man of deep Christian faith, advocated that the schools should not be explicitly Christian.  Such faith, he believed, could only find a congenial place in the psyche of one who was thoroughly grounded in his culture.  Grundtvig never himself founded or operated a Folk High School although he lectured widely in them.  He gave and sustained the vision.

 The consequence of Grundtvig’s fifty years of passionate advocacy of his vision and making his home a center for sustaining the spirit of the folk school movement was that, in the next generation, the farm youth who had been inspirited and culturally rooted by the schools remade the rural economy by producer and consumer cooperatives on the model taken from England and became a new political force in assuring a sane society.  Today, 100 years after Grundtvig’s death, there are 400 active Folk High Schools throughout Scandinavia.

 …As I reflect on Grundtvig’s life, his last fifty years are seen as an example of the power in an idea when it is passionately advocated and supported with spirit as the central focus of a life. 

 Again, gradualism at its best. 


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Greenleaf writes:

I have in mind the lives of two great culture shaping gradualists…

 The first of these is John Woolman (1720-1772) American Quaker of humble origins.  Largely self-taught he was a dedicated journal keeper and left a document that has become a literary classic.  His claim as a great culture shaping gradualist rests on his work to free the Society of Friends of slaves.  His method was unusual…

 John Woolman’s way was to reason with the Quaker slaveholders, one at a time, as he manifested his love for the slaveholder as well as the slave.  His visits were welcomed by the slaveholder.  Over a period of thirty years, while he earned a modest living and supported a small family, he traveled the East coast on foot or horseback visiting and revisiting slaveholders and pressing his gentle but firm argument.  ‘What will this practice do to your children?’  ‘What kind of legacy are you passing on to the future?’  These were some of his questions.

 Others joined the effort and by 1770 the Society of Friends became the first religious group in America formally to denounce slavery and forbid its practice among its members – 100 years before the civil war.  Woolman could wait.  As an appointed minister by his Meeting, he never ventured forth without the approval of his Meeting.  One of his several memoranda on slavery lay before the Meeting for fourteen years before they acted on it and it could be published.

 What if there had been fifty John Woolmans, or even five traveling the American South during the early 19th Century pressing Woolman’s gentle nonjudgmental arguments?  That effort might have made the difference and prevented that awful war.  John Woolman stands to me as the model of the gentle persuader, gradualism at its best. 

 It can be argued that the Quakers were better conditioned, ethically, than most to respond to Woolman’s approach, and they may have been.  But slaveholders were numerous among 18th Century Quakers and they were a conservative lot.  They were not pushovers for Woolman’s approach. 



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Gentle Reader, I concluded my last entry with the following:

It is in this spirit of sharing that I will reflect on some events in history in which heroic changes were made swiftly – sometimes at great cost of life and property – and ask the disconcerting question, ‘What if skillful gradualists had been more influential than confrontationalists in that situation?

This morning I will continue exploring this question.  Given this question Greenleaf writes:

How might the quality of the resulting society have been affected?

 …I will address these questions and examples from the perspective of my special calling, a student of organization, how things get done.  I have been an institution watcher since I was twenty-one and received that fateful advice from my professor.  I began with a critical look at the college where I then was…  And I have been examining critically every institution I have had a chance to look at… 

 And rarely have I been able to give any institution high marks when this question is asked: What is reasonable and possible service by this institution with its available resources, human and material?  Very few institutions, including the most prestigious, scale above mediocre.  The opportunities for dedicated gradualists in this world are limitless. 

 …Whether a life has been spent observing flowers, antiques, or paintings those who pursue their fields with concentration are apt to see things that the casual observers might miss.  So it is with an institution watcher. 

 And what I hope to show about the role of gradualism is how it looks to a student of organization who is prepared to raise some questions about celebrated events and actions where a ‘solve it quick’ confrontation tactic was used.

 One result of a long commitment to gradualism is a belief in the reconstructability of our many institutions, large and small, if an ethic can emerge that encourages more of the strong people who evolve to resist the temptation to go immediately for the ‘quick fix’ and at least reflect on the slow but sometimes more effective gradualist approach.

 …I have in mind the lives of two great culture shaping gradualists…  The first of these is John Woolman (1720-1772)… 

 Gentle Reader, we will pick up John Woolman’s story next time.  In closing – and in preparation – I leave us with the following counsel:

Become the change you want to see. –Gandhi



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Greenleaf writes:

Gradualism, as I see it, is more a disposition than a method.  One is comfortable with a slow pace and accepts taking opportunities when they come rather than trying to batter down offending walls that are not ready to give way. 

 One can anguish about injustice and yet accept that it cannot quickly be eradicated without incurring side effects whose long term hurt cannot be calculated.  And one can take comfort in the judgment of John Milton: ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’  I have done a lot of waiting.  And I have pushed over some offending walls by waiting for the right moment.  Some of the waits were long.

 Gradualists, because they are slow and willing to wait, run the risk of being mistaken for donothingers.  But the difference is profound.  The donothinger does not ever intend to push the wall over.  The gradualist fully intends to push the wall over when it is prudent to do so – which may take a long time.  The confrontationalist intends to push it over right now…

 Serve, as I have used that word, is best judged by the consequences on one being served.  Does that person, while being served, grow wiser, stronger, healthier, freer, more likely her or himself to become a servant? 

 I have no quarrel with the rapid action people who sometimes (at great cost) break down an offending wall that is not ready to give.  For myself, I have no grand strategy for changing the world, and I grant that confrontational strategies, with which I would not be comfortable and for which I have no skill, may be more appropriate than gradualism in some situations.  Such strategies sometimes call for heroism and are more likely to make history than the quiet time-consuming ways of gradualists.

 In summing up my reflections I simply want to make the case for gradualism in the hope that it may be made known to those whose life styles have not yet been set and who are open, as I was at age twenty-one when I heard those seminal remarks by my professor, to a fundamental choice of direction in their lives. 

 And there may be some oldsters who are tired of trying to batter down walls that do not want to give and who would welcome a fresh start.  I would like to share with them too.

 It is in this spirit of sharing that I will reflect on some events in history in which heroic changes were made swiftly – sometimes at great cost of life and property – and ask the disconcerting question, ‘What if skillful gradualists had been more influential than confrontationalists in that situation?



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Many years ago I was presented copies of Greenleaf’s papers, the ones found in the Greenleaf Archives.  This morning I am going to offer you, gentle reader, part of a note Greenleaf wrote; it is undated but from the content it appears to have been written while he was still employed at AT&T.  Greenleaf writes:

A few years ago an acquaintance, from middle management of another business that I know intimately, came to my office in an obviously disturbed frame of mind.  He was puffing violently on his cigarette as he started an outpouring of pent-up feelings which began with, ‘I am leading a life of quiet desperation,’ and went on for an uninterrupted hour of bitter complaint about his situation in his company: unappreciated, unrecognized, little freedom to manage, the victim of other people’s mistakes.  You are no doubt familiar with his story. 

 As I listened I recalled what I knew of his situation and I was sure that if I could get the honest views of this man’s subordinates, they would say the same for their lot.  So when he finally finished his sad story, I said to him as gently as I could, ‘Did it ever occur to you that if you were to make a greater effort to create for your own subordinates a climate so that they would experience less frustration than you do, you might feel better about your own lot?

 Remember that great line from the prayer of St. Francis, “for it is in giving that we receive.” 

 The choice any of us can make, no matter how intolerable our own lot, is to use what little freedom and resources we possess to make lives of those around us more significant and more rewarding.  The choice to make life more tolerable for others, in all of our relationships, is open to all of us.  Too often, by reacting to the treatment that we receive, rather than choosing how we will act when the initiative is ours, we compound someone else’s error rather than creating our own good.

 Why is it that human beings have such difficulty being human in terms of taking the initiative to make life more tolerable for others in all relationships? 



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THE ‘DREAM’. . .

Greenleaf concludes his 1962 essay by relating a dream he had.  Now, a bit of context might help.  In the 1950s Greenleaf spent a number of years working with three different Jungian Analysts.  One of the gifts that Jungian Analysts give those they serve is the gift of ‘dream interpretation.’  The dream that Greenleaf shared in this essay is also essential for he took it to mean that he should not ‘fully plan’ for ‘life after retirement’ (he retired from AT&T in 1964); he kept his options open.  The dream also provided him with a ‘garden metaphor’ which was a metaphor he brought with him when he began to write on the ‘servant-theme’ in 1969.

I invite you, gentle reader, to reflect upon this dream and I invite you to consider your own dreams and the gifts-messages they are attempting to give you.  Greenleaf writes:

This can be one of the great excitements of life – the surprise when you discover what you have become and realize that more is yet in store.

 Along the way I had a dream – a big dream.  I’ve only had four or five big dreams in which I came sharply awake realizing that something important had happened and remembering enough so that I could reconstruct it in detail. 

 It is a beautiful day and I am in a lovely woods on level ground in which there is a labyrinth of paths.

 I am riding a bicycle through these paths.  In my left hand I hold a map of these paths by which I am guiding my journey.  I am riding rapidly and buoyantly as I follow my map.  There is a delightful certainty about it. 

 Suddenly there is a gust of wind and my map blows out of my hand.  As I come to a stop, I look back and see it flutter to the ground.  It is picked up by an old man who stands there holding it for me.  I walk back to get my map.

 When I arrive at the old man he hands me, not my map, but a small round tray of earth in which fresh grass seedling are growing. 

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