In his 1966 essay, The Search and the Seeker, Greenleaf wrote the following:
This is my present leading; I must better establish my own bond with the great events of story and history in which man’s potential for nobility has been tested and refined so that my search can be more a carrying forward from these events through my own experience. Much as I value the tradition in which I live I feel a compelling obligation to leave it a mite better than I found it. ‘Man is an unfinished creature,’ says Gerald Heard. His tradition is also unfinished. Cannot every man aspire to carry its development a little farther?
Greenleaf provides me and you, Gentle Reader, with an invitation and with a challenge? Am I, are you Gentle Reader, willing to say ‘yes’ to both and then to embrace both?
In his 1966 essay, The Search and the Seeker, Greenleaf wrote two sentences that continue to touch my heart and soul.
. . .I married a woman [Esther Hargrave Greenleaf] who taught me what love could mean and that it is, as Paul said, the greatest. And we learned together. [The Searcher and The Seeker, p. 3 in the unpublished draft]
Gentle Reader, I offer you some questions to reflect upon: Who taught you, Gentle Reader, what love could mean? Who do you teach aboutwhat love could mean? Who do you learn with? Who have you learned with?
Bob’s son, Newcomb Greenleaf, gifted me with a wonder-full photo of Esther and Bob. I now gift you, Gentle Reader, with this photo. Thanks, Newcomb for gifting us.
For me, Socrates is the symbol, perhaps even the reality, of the work of thinking together. For Socrates, for Greenleaf, and for me, thinking is an ethical act. This work of my mind, your mind, our mind is a preparation for moral action. This type of thinking together requires me, you and us to be conscious [Greenleaf’s awake and aware – to who I, you, we are and to who I, you we are choosing to become; which he reminds us can be quite disturbing]; this type of thinking helps me, you, us live a life rooted in conscience, in integrity.
In challenging me, Socrates is asking me: what do you really want to think about? What are you, Richard, truly searching for? Greenleaf asks me if I am searching in order to find or if I am searching in order to search. I experience that Socrates and Greenleaf are asking me the same question. Am I searching for a destination, for an answer, for the ‘truth,’ am I searching in order to learn more about me, you and us – why am I searching?
What is my question? How I respond will influence my life? What do I need to think about? What do we need to think about together? Thinking together is preparation for being together, for working together, for living together. Thinking together is one step in developing, enhancing, and sustaining ‘conscience.’ Thinking together in this way is not rooted in ‘doing’ – action to be taken – but is rooted in ‘being’ – a preparation for action to be taken; it is rooted in inquiry – especially in questions for which I, you, we have no ‘answers’ – we do have responses, but not answers; it is rooted in ‘doubt’ not in ‘surety’ – if I am sure I have no need to question, to search. Thinking together in this way engages the wisdom of the collective [of course, I have to believe that the collective is wiser than I am]. Thinking together provides me with a safe environment where I can test out my thoughts, where I can doubt, where I can question, where I can be open to being influenced, where I can become aware and, at times, disturbed by what I am thinking and about who I am and about who I am choosing to become. Greenleaf says that when we are healthy we are living paradoxes; we are seed-beds for both good and evil, virtues and vices and we bring both ‘light and darkness’ to our lives and to our world. If Greenleaf is correct, and I believe he is – this is my life experience – then I, you, we need a safe place to think together about who I, you, we are as living paradoxes.
When we come together and think in this way together we are enacting the love and friendship that Greenleaf wrote about and that Socrates demonstrated as he spent time in searching dialogues with his friends.
[NOTE: Here is a photo I took many years ago. It captures for me the invitation to search and seek – to engage the journey and not to seek the destination.]
Before Robert K. Greenleaf wrote his seminal essay, The Servant as Leader, in 1969 which started the ripples, then waves of servant-leadership washing over the world he had co-founded The Center for Applied Ethics in 1964. He was concerned that large institutions were not behaving as ethically as they could. It seems to me that he was interested in ‘moral action.’ It also seems to me that a first step, if not ‘the’ first step, toward enacting moral action lies in the ability and commitment we have to think morally. To me, this entails the work of thinking together and together to speak from the heart of the mind while listening with love and rigor. I am speaking of the ethics of thinking together, of, if you will, philosophical love [in his initial ‘inspired’ essay, The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf’s last sentence reads: In the end, all that matters is love and friendship.’].
Greenleaf wrote a great deal about the search and the seeker; I assume he also thought a great deal about both. There are many philosophers who have helped me – and us – engage the search. I keep coming back to Socrates. He continues to help me search; for him the search entailed thinking together; thinking together was an act of love. His goal was, and continues to be, to help you, me, us grow [ties directly into Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the Servant ‘Do those served grow as persons. . .?’ – Socrates was, indeed, a servant in this sense].
For Socrates, ‘truth,’ and ‘wisdom’ were not born in the seeking for answers; truth and wisdom were born in the deepening of the questions – in the dialogue, in the search, that occurred between the teacher and the pupil and, perhaps more importantly, within the teacher and the pupil [this is directly connected to one of Greenleaf’s important admonitions – it begins ‘in here,’ inside of the servant and not ‘out there’].
Socrates often claimed to be a man who understood nothing and by his questioning of who we are he also helps us understand that we, too, know nothing. We know opinion; we know what others offer us; we know the words between the quotation marks. We do not know our self, we do not know what we deeply think – we are fond of quoting others as if their thought was our own. Yet, Socrates believed that ‘our truth’ lies within us and that we have an obligation to seek for it, to emerge it, to name it and to bring it to our world. Paradoxically, it seems, that ‘my truth’ can only be found as a result of deep searching conversations [dialogue], rooted in aching questions [questions that are ‘life-essential’ and questions about which we do not know the answers]. This, for me, is the wonder of thinking together, of searching together, of exploring together, of learning together and of tapping into my ‘wisdom,’ your ‘wisdom,’ and our ‘wisdom.’
Near the end of his essay, The Servant as Leader, circa 1969 Greenleaf writes: The urgent problems of our day: a senseless war, destruction of the environment, poverty, alienation, discrimination, overpopulation, are here because of human failure – individual failures – one [person], one action at a time failures. Despite our massive education (or alas, perhaps because of it) we are desperately short of talent – everywhere. We will recover from this by growing people, one [person] at a time, people who have the goals, competence, values and spirit to turn us about. We can and must turn about quickly and start solving problems faster than we create them. Large numbers of people in vast complicated actions will be involved. But at the base it will be one [person] and one action at a time because there isn’t anything else to work with. . . . The builders will find useful pieces wherever they are, invent new ones when needed, all without reference to ideological coloration. [pp. 39-40]
How far have we really come since 1969? It seems to me that Greenleaf described us as we are today in the year 2022. If this is true, now what? Who are the ‘builders’ today? Who are the servant-first Leaders? Who is embracing unconditional response-ability? A question for each of us: ‘I am one person AND what one action am I willing to take that will leave me and at least one other person better off?’