‘MORAL MAN MUST ALSO. . .’

Greenleaf writes: Reinhold Niebuhr’s intriguing theme, ‘Moral Man, Immoral Society,’ stems from our willingness as individuals to qualify as moral by caring only for persons.  If we are to have a more moral society, then moral man must also care for institutions.  We need to criticize the impersonal system; but it is our attitude and our level of caring, not the ‘system,’ that needs criticism and improvement.  How much we care depends somewhat on our estimate of the need for our caring. 

 Niebuhr wrote Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics in 1932.  Given all that is unfolding/infolding in our democracy today Niebuhr’s book is a ‘must read-study.’  By the by, Gentle Reader, Niebuhr is not an ‘easy read’ AND I believe if you take the time to read it and reflect upon his ideas that you will find that it is still relevant today.

Greenleaf is clear, in order to qualify as moral we are to care for persons.  He, once again, as is his wont, ups the ante when he then writes: If we are to have a more moral society, then moral man must also care for institutions.  What is an institution?

Consider that an institution (think: any organized group of two or more folks) is first composed of individuals and relationships writ large.  Therefore, moral people care about and for both individuals and relationships (think: teams, departments, divisions, and the institution).

Secondly, consider that institutions are ‘hybrids.’  Part of the institution is ‘organic’ and ‘developmental’ – the ‘human part’ of an institution.  In addition, part of the institution is ‘non-organic’ and ‘strategic’ – the ‘inhuman part’ of an institution.  BOTH must be attended to so that both survive, thrive, and are ‘healthy’ (I always find it interesting that we view the inorganic part as needing to be ‘healthy’).

How much time do the people in institutions – including the institution’s boards of directors – invest in the ‘caring for the organic’ and how much time do they spend focusing on the ‘inorganic’?  How often is there an imbalance – with more emphasis on the ‘inorganic’?

Greenleaf is clear when he writes: it is our attitude and our level of caring, not the ‘system,’ that needs criticism and improvement.    

One of the ways those in an institution can begin to assess all of this is to emerge and become clear about the major metaphors that have been integrated.  The Culture and the Sub-Cultures emerge and integrate major metaphors.  Sometimes the major metaphors complement one another and sometimes they conflict with one another.  The major metaphors also reveal which of the two – organic or inorganic – are dominant.

For example, I had the privilege and opportunity to work with a large healthcare system located in the Northwest and at the same time with one located in the Midwest.  Both were considered in their industry to be ‘successful.’  The major metaphor for one was the banking metaphor and so people were assets, commodities and resources (inorganic metaphors).  The major metaphor for the other was the community metaphor and so people were fully human beings who need to be cared for so they could care for those they served (one another and those who came to them for healthcare).

Greenleaf’s last sentence provides us a guideline and an implied question: How much we care depends somewhat on our estimate of the need for our caring. 

 

 

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