SOME INDICATORS. . .TWO PARADOXES

Greenleaf writes: [There are] some valid tests, some indicators that there may be real growth…  First, two paradoxes: a concurrent satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the status quo…  Then there is a concurrent feeling of broadening responsibilities and centering down…

There is a growing sense of purpose in whatever one does.  The idea of purpose becomes important.  ‘What am I trying to do?’ becomes a constant query.  One never loses sight of this question. 

There are changing patterns and depths of one’s interests.  Old interests to which one was once attached drop away and newer and deeper ones take their place.  Choices must be made.

[With maturity] one becomes more willing to be seen as he is. 

…a further test is the growing sense of achieving one’s basic personal goals through one’s work…

‘Status Quo’ = ‘the existing state of affairs.’  Thus far, my life experience supports Greenleaf’s paradox.  It is challenging for me/us to embrace the status quo AND to, at the same time, question its efficacy.  This is easier for the gradualist to do (and Greenleaf, as we know, was a self-proclaimed gradualist).  The ‘idealist’ and the ‘realist’ have a greater challenge embracing this paradox. 

I have also learned that holding the life-question: ‘What is my purpose?’ (in Greenleaf’s words: ‘What am I trying to do?’) is crucial to my own growth.  Here are three additional guiding questions I often hold (after the fact): ‘What were you trying to achieve?’ ‘Did you succeed?’ ‘Was it worth doing?’  The last question, for me, is the critical question. 

As I look back upon my life, I also realize, as Greenleaf notes, that ‘patterns’ change and that what I am deeply interested in also changes with age (perhaps with wisdom) and experience.  In seeking to be unconditionally response-able and responsible I must consciously choose.  I must also accept that I do have choice (although I don’t always like this idea).  Greenleaf notes, ‘Choices must be made.’  ‘Choices will be made’ – ‘I will and I do choose.’  My choices, as the poet Frost notes, will make all of the difference.

How many of us are truly ‘willing to be seen’ as we are?  This might actually be impossible for us to do.  Why?  Because there are ‘parts’ of ourselves that are deeply hidden from us (they cannot be seen by ourselves or by others) and because they are deeply hidden it is impossible for us to be sure that we are ever ‘seen as we are.’  This is a bit of a disturbing idea.  If you, gentle reader, wish to learn a bit more about this check out the concept of the JoHari Window.

In order to achieve our personal goals we have to discern them and name them.  How many of us actually commit to doing this?  For many years now I have striven to hold onto one goal and to live the goal.  Simply stated, this goal is: ‘To live my call.’  My ‘call’ involves using my gifts, talents, abilities, skills and capacities to help address the needs that exist in my/the world.  Given this definition, gentle reader, what is your ‘call?’  How are you doing in response to your call?    

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CONFORMITY — A NASTY WORD

Greenleaf writes: Conformity has become a nasty word.  …The problem is to know conformity for what it is: a completely external adjustment to the group norm of behavior in the interest of group cohesiveness and effectiveness.  …always keep it in rational focus as a conscious adjustment in the interest of an effective society.  Keep it external, never let it become part of you.  Hold it firmly on the outside. 

The great danger is that one will lose one’s identity in the act of conformity, not knowing which is the essential person and which is the conforming act…

Greenleaf wrote these words more than forty-five years ago.  He was addressing college students at a time when ‘conformity’ – especially for them – was indeed a ‘nasty word.’  It was clearly a ‘nasty word’ for me when I was an undergraduate in the mid-60s.  For some today it continues to be so. 

What are some words today that a number of folks would label as ‘nasty’?  For conservatives on the ‘right’ (not the moderate conservatives) the word ‘compromise’ is a very nasty word.  As a result, our congress continues to be more of a do-nothing congress; as a consequence we the people continue to suffer because of the refusal of our elected officials to seek compromise (of course, the responsibility for this rests with ‘We’ the citizens for we continue to elect these folks).  Our Founding Fathers knew well that the success of democracy was rooted in ‘compromise.’ 

Another nasty duo is: ‘Political Correctness.’  In a democracy it is crucial that we citizens support political correctness once we the people have determined what it means to be so.  We citizens determine this via cultural consensus or via ‘law.’  In both cases, the ‘voice of the people’ is believed to determine what is politically correct.  There are exceptions.  Currently 70% of the citizens in our country support more effective ‘gun control laws.’  A minority does not and yet the minority has such political influence that our elected officials bend to the will of the minority (it appears that it is more important for them to be re-elected than to do the will of the people – that is, to act rooted in political correctness).  The minority uses the term ‘Political Correctness’ in a way that moves the term from being ‘correct’ to being ‘nasty.’ 

‘Nasty words’ move from simply being ‘out there’ to becoming ‘in here.’  For example, ‘compromise’ is not an activity that supports the idea that each party will gain something and each party will have to let go of something (a rational approach); compromise, for those who deem the word to be ‘nasty,’ has been integrated into the identity of the conservative who resides on the ‘right wing’ of the conservative movement: ‘If I compromise I will be compromising my identity – who wants to do that?’ 

We all internalize certain words/concepts so they become part of our identity.  And, as Greenleaf notes, when we do this the potential for conflict (if not destruction) is always close by.  Our Founding Fathers demonstrated a way out of this trap for us: Critical Thinking.  They intuitively knew that if democracy, as they envisioned it, were to survive and thrive then we citizens would have to be ‘educated’ (thus they supported ‘free education for all’) and we would have to become educated in ‘critical thinking’ (not criticism or cynicism) and we would have to ‘compromise’ and once a decision was made by the citizens (via their elected representatives, for example or by cultural consensus) we would freely choose to conform (support the political correctness of the decision).  We forget that we are a young country and we have much to learn about being a democracy.  Too often, in our arrogance, we believe that we have ‘arrived.’ 

We also forget, or in our arrogance deny, that so far in recorded history no democracy has survived all have been ‘destroyed’ from within.  We might well be at a cross-roads ourselves.  If we are, which path will we choose these next few years?  Or, have we already chosen one?   

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CONSIDER – ‘THE CONSEQUENCES OF STRESS AND RESPONSIBILITY’

Today, gentle reader, instead of quoting Greenleaf and then commenting a bit I have decided to quote Greenleaf at length.  I invite you to spend some time reflecting upon his words and emerge your own commentary. 

Greenleaf writes: [Consider] the consequences of stress and responsibility.  …both develops and limits.  …both fans the flame and seeks to quench it.  …Whenever I think I have really achieved something, up come those powerful lines from Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of the Open Road.’: “Now, understand me well – It is provided in the essence of things that, from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary.”

…long exposure to these conditions [stress & responsibility] tends to narrow the intellect unless a valiant effort is made to achieve an ever-expanding outlook.  It is not enough just to try to keep up, to maintain the level of intellectual curiosity you have achieved…  The intellectual life must expand.  The great risk which the bearers of responsibility assume is that intellectual curiosity, the search for understanding, will atrophy and that only a calculating rationality will remain.

The test is in the heat of action.  If one has a problem on which it is appropriate to act, and if one doesn’t’ know what to do (which is the constant dilemma of all bearers of responsibility), one should turn to the search for greater depth of understanding about the [challenge, issue, problem, dilemma, and/or paradox].

…I hope you remember this: the main reason you will ever be aware of a [challenge, issue, etc.] is that your understanding of yourself, of the other people involved, and of the area in which the [challenge, issues, etc.] lies is limited. 

…the search for understanding is the most practical of ideas, even though ‘practical’ people often spurn it.  …it is a difficult idea to hold onto when one bears the weight of responsibility for action, especially if the need is urgent.  It is difficult to seek to understand when the heat is on. 

…one needs to develop the firm habit of seeking to understand when the heat is not on.  …make it a firm habit, and try to be aware that this will only serve you well if the habit is firmly enough fixed so you can manage it when the going is rough, when the stakes are real, and when the consequences of failing to understand may be overwhelming. 

…give some thought to Dr. Carl Rogers’ wonderful formula… It is this: try to state to the other person’s satisfaction your understanding of his position; then identity and state as much of his proposition as you can agree with; then, and not until then, state your own point of view.

The risk in this procedure is that you might change.  Opening one’s self to understanding always entails this risk.   

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IN CHOOSING A VOCATION. . .

Greenleaf writes: in choosing a vocation you should have as your primary aim that of finding in the work in which you are engaged that which is uniquely you.

No other achievement, no other end sought, will be worth the effort if through the work that occupies your best days and years you do not find a way to fan your own creative spark to a white heat. . .

One way of discerning your vocation is to identify your natural gifts, talents, skills, and abilities and develop them as fully as you are able and as you are doing so to pay attention to the needs that exist in the world that you can help address by utilizing your gifts, talents, skills, abilities and capacities (in developing our gifts, talents skills and abilities we build our capacity). 

The great English author, George Bernard Shaw provides us with another guideline.  Shaw writes:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

The poet, David Whyte, reminds us in his powerful poem, ‘Out On the Ocean,’ what happens when the wheat heat of the creative spark and the splendid torch is extinguished:

with five miles to go
of open ocean
the eyes pierce the horizon

the kayak pulls round
like a pony held by unseen reins
shying out of the ocean

and the spark behind fear
recognized as life
leaps into flame

always this energy smoulders inside
when it remains unlit
the body fills with dense smoke.

When my body fills with dense smoke I suffocate from within.  How many of us strive to live while being filled with dense smoke?  How many of us do not seek to be still and hear the whisper of our ‘call’ – a ‘Call’ that only each of us can respond to. 

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CONSIDER – ‘MATURITY’

Greenleaf writes: …with maturity one’s world becomes the limitless sphere of people, ideas, and events which each of us influences by each thought, word, and deed; and each of us, in turn, is open to receive influence.  The individual capacity of each of us to influence and be influenced and to absorb the shocks… the drawing forth of what is uniquely ‘us.’ 

This is the central idea of maturity: to keep your private lamp lighted as you venture forth on your own to meet with triumph or disaster or just plain routine. 

…uniqueness…whatever it is, draw it forth and face it; then make something creative and good out of it.  Oscar Wilde has left for us the observation: ‘Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.’ 

How often do we remember that our thoughts, words and deeds influence others?  Do we truly believe that a moment’s encounter can powerfully influence another?  Since we do not know which moment will be the ‘moment of influence’ it seems like it would help us to strive to live the life we would like others to live (the Golden Rule might be helpful as one guide-line). 

Many years ago the President of SAS, Jan Carlzon, wrote about ‘Moments of Truth.’  His message is clear: The most important moment is the moment of truth when our interaction with another (brief or sustained for a time) will positively or negatively impact the other.  On the other hand, the Quaker, John Woolman, taught us by his example that one might have to commit one’s self to years of planting seeds via influence before the seeds take root and the roots are nurtured into plants that bear fruit. 

Greenleaf reminds us that we have to keep our lamp lit (we need to keep our inner fire burning bright and hot; if our inner fire is extinguished the soul fills with dense smoke and we suffocate from within – how many people do you know whose inner fire has been extinguished).  Greenleaf reminds us that it is this inner fire that enables us to meet with ‘triumph or disaster or just plain routine’ and remain committed…committed to who we are called to be in the world. 

There is only one of us and no one can become what we are called to become.  No one can take over for us – it is our life.  No one can answer the call that is meant for us.  The/Our world has needs that only we can address – our obligation is to develop our skills, abilities, talents and capacities so that we might be able to discern and address those needs.  So that in Greenleaf’s words, serve the highest priority needs of the other(s). 

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