The first ‘Deep Current’ that I invite us to reflect upon is Greenleaf’s opening paragraph in his essay, ‘Servant: Retrospect and Prospect.’ Greenleaf writes:
I believe that caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is what makes a good society. Most caring was once person to person. Now much of it is mediated through institutions – often large, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one more just and more caring and providing opportunity for people to grow, the most effective and economical way while supportive of the social order, is to raise the performance as servant of as many institutions as possible by new voluntary regenerative forces initiated within them by committed individuals: servants.
Greenleaf’s ‘I believe’ statement contains a number of ‘deep currents.’ The first involves his definition of what ‘makes a good society.’ This deep current was at the time and continues to be counter-cultural. ‘Caring for persons’ is what makes a good society. This itself requires a lifetime commitment covering many generations (The Iroquois Confederacy – 1000A.D. – considered seven generations to be the minimum) – talk about a deep current. Now Greenleaf clarifies ‘caring for persons’ by stating that ‘the more able and the less able’ are to serve one another. Our culture appears to be rooted in a ‘dependence’ model where by the ‘more able’ serve the ‘less able;’ the ‘less able’ do not, generally, reciprocate by serving the ‘more able.’ Nel Noddings in her powerful writing about ‘caring’ notes that caring only occurs when it is reciprocal. It takes time, energy, commitment and good thinking to discern the ways the ‘less able’ can serve in caring ways for the ‘more able.’
Greenleaf ups the ante again when he adds ‘more just’ to ‘more caring.’ What does a just society look like, sound like and feel like? Who defines ‘just society’? He continues with ‘providing opportunity for people to grow.’ ‘Growth’ is a major theme for Greenleaf. Growth also requires an organic metaphor to be in place (individuals grow, relationships grow and for Greenleaf, organizations grow – for organizations are ‘organic’ – communities – they are individuals and relationships writ large). Growth is a deep current; a generational current. Growth occurs both in fits and starts and slowly over time; growth can occur quickly and gradually.
Because Greenleaf employs an organic metaphor for organizations they can be ‘servants.’ Organizations can ‘care’ and can promote and support the ‘growth’ of their members AND can help grow a society that is more just and more caring. Talk about a deep current idea.
In order to become growth producing organisms, organizations need ‘voluntary’ (you cannot coerce or manipulate folks into serving in caring ways) and ‘regenerative’ forces (again, this is a big generational idea) that are to be initiated and maintained by ‘committed individuals’ – by ‘servants.’ Greenleaf is clear. This is to be accomplished by ‘servants’ not by ‘leaders.’ This is a daunting challenge for our culture that is focused on ‘individualism’ not ‘community’ and is enamored with the ‘leader’ not the ‘servant.’ As Greenleaf noted, leaders come and go; one is a servant either by first or second nature; it is who one is at one’s core and it cannot be taken away (it can, however, be given up). Deep Current stuff indeed!