I love poetry and stories.  This morning Gentle Reader I have chosen three poems that resonate with me when I think of Greenleaf’s concept of the servant and servant, first leader.  Perhaps there is a poem or two or three that resonates with you when you reflect upon Greenleaf’s concept.

 The Contract

 A Word from the led

And in the end we follow them –
not because we are paid,
not because we might see some advantage,
not because of the things they have accomplished,
not even because of the dreams they dream
but simply because of who they are:
the man, the woman. . .
standing up there when the wave hits the rock,
passing out faith and confidence like life jackets,
knowing the currents, holding the doubts,
imagining the delights and terrors of every landfall. . .

We give them our trust.  We give them our effort.
What we ask in return is that they stay true.     –William Ayot


 Silence soothes
heals the fevered nerves
balms hurt feelings.

The comfort and calm
the serenity and repose
the tranquility and peace
that silence offers    
is a vitalizing tonic
the human spirit needs.      –George Kaitholil

It is I Who Must Begin

 It is I who must begin.
Once I begin, once I try –
here and now,
right where I am,
not excusing myself
by saying that things
would be easier elsewhere,
without grand speeches and
ostentatious gestures,
but all the more persistently
–to live in harmony
With the ‘voice of being’ as I
Understand it within myself
–as soon as I begin that,
I suddenly discover
to my surprise, that
I am neither the only one,
nor the first,
nor the most important one
to have set out upon that road.

Whether all is really lost
or not depends entirely on
whether or not I am lost.      –Vaclav Havel

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


This is the unresolved question: Where do I belong?  And what price do I pay for where I choose to stand? –Diana Trilling

Good morning, Gentle Reader. In his essay, ‘The Ethic of Strength,’ Greenleaf continues with his questions; this morning, Gentle Reader, I will briefly offer us two more of what I call Greenleaf’s ‘Right Questions.’

 Can I accept that the best possible compromise is right?  The needs and interests of those who may be affected by my thoughts, words, and deeds are rarely identical. . . .What is a right action. . .a compromise. 

. . .To the informed person, the inspired mosaic of compromise can have heroic qualities that no idealistic conception can ever achieve.  Compromise makes life on this earth possible. . .Gerald Heard called compromise the art of the probable.

Do I have a view of myself on which progressively greater strength can be built?  Everyone who would grow in strength needs a self-view that will sustain the search.  This is the most difficult of perspectives to get: to see oneself and to know who one really is, to judge the attitudes and direction sets that one sees, to know that one is husbanding one’s resources – mental, emotional, physical – as the most precious of assets. 

When I look at myself, above all things I want to see a being who is serious and yet not serious, someone in whom cheerfulness and lightness of step are at all times dominant. . .

Today, in our culture, the concept of ‘compromise’ is looked upon by many as a virus that is to be avoided at all costs.  We elect government officials who pledge that ‘I will never compromise’ with the other side (the ‘other side’ is evil incarnate it seems).  Our founding fathers were clear: Democracy is rooted in compromise.  Progress in government is rooted in compromise.  Our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are rooted in compromise.  Democracy is not possible without compromise.  A simple idea. . . yet. . .

In his questions above, Greenleaf connects himself to the words of the Oracle at Delphi: ‘Know thyself’ and to Socrates’ words:’ The unexamined life is not worth living.’  Anyone who has attempted to engage these knows how challenging they are.

Am I really willing to discern my ‘attitudes,’ my assumptions, my prejudices, my perceptions, my core values, my deep beliefs, my stereotypes, my judgments and then am I willing to understand them and the affect they have upon myself and upon the other(s)?  Am I willing to care for my primary resources – my physical resources, my mental resources, and my emotional resources?  I would add to this list my spiritual resources (Greenleaf speaks of ‘entheos’ the spirit that sustains us, our ‘life-spirit’).

Who do I see when I look at myself?  Who do others see?  What is my response to the person I see?  What is their response?  What is the story I tell – or want to tell — about my self?  What is the story that others tell about me?  What is the story I want them to tell – today and five years from today?  For me, Greenleaf’s question is crucial: ‘Do I have a view of myself on which progressively greater strength can be built?’

Responsible people build; they do not destroy.  They are moved by the heart. –Robert K. Greenleaf

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Live the questions themselves. –Rilke

Good morning, Gentle Reader. In his essay, ‘The Ethic of Strength,’ Greenleaf continues with his questions; this morning, Gentle Reader, I will briefly offer us another of what I call Greenleaf’s ‘Right Questions.’

 Am I sensitive to the needs and aspirations of all who may be affected by what I think, say, and do?  And being sensitive, am I willing to say the words and take the actions that build constructive tension?  I must know something about who the people are who may be affected and what their needs, feelings, interests, and aspirations are.  . . .The best assurance of knowing is to be interested, to take the time to listen, and to have developed skill for doing so.  So much of the desire to be sensitive and know is thwarted because the doors of perception are closed; and they generally don’t open by wishing. 

 I also know that the well-being of the other person may depend on a constructive tension. . .I must weigh my responsibility for saying the words or taking the actions that will bring this tension about. . .

 . . .Am I willing to rise in my group and jar the prevailing harmony by saying, “I oppose this action, and I will use every strategy at my command to block it?”  Or will I say, when the occasion demands, what Voltaire once reportedly said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”? 

 Gentleness, in itself, is not always kindness.  . . .The problem with passive gentleness is that it may be the cloak behind which hides the unwillingness to develop the concern, the real affection, and the ‘skill’ required to be kind…

 . . .one walks a dangerous razor’s edge in these matters.  The tension-producing action can have its origin in a senseless compulsion rather than in a sane and informed sense of responsibility that grows out of concern and affection. . .

Relationships, we know, are crucial.  Trusting relationships are fed by the tap roots of ‘understanding’ and ‘acceptance’ of who the other person is.  They are relationships rooted in trust and safety; relationships where each person seeks to understand the needs (highest priority needs especially), the feelings, the interests and the aspirations of the other.

This requires that one is open to learning about the other; this requires that one approach the other with an attitude of acceptance and tolerance; this requires that one develop not just the skill of listening but once the skill is developed to make sure that one’s capacity for this type of listening is continuously developed (once one ceases to develop the capacity one can begin to lose the skill).  Once we close our perceptions and our heart we have ensured that our ability to deeply understand the other ceases to exist.

If I am committed to the relationship (as contrasted with being loyal to the person) I will be able to provide necessary creative tensions; these tension are created in order to serve the person(s) and the relationship(s).  Anyone who has attempted to do this intimately knows what a daunting challenge emerging tensions that are creative entails.  As Greenleaf notes, one challenge is to determine the motivation for creating the tension; am I motivated, for example, by some compulsion (think: to be ‘right’) or am I motivated by care and concern for the well-being of the other?  Understanding our motivations can also be quite challenging.

What you plant now you will harvest later. –Og Mandino


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


To refuse to examine the assumptions we live by is immoral. –R.K. Greenleaf

Good morning, Gentle Reader. In his essay, ‘The Ethic of Strength,’ Greenleaf continues with his questions; this morning, Gentle Reader, I will briefly offer us another of what I call Greenleaf’s ‘Right Questions.’

 Am I prepared to accept that I will never have the comfort of being ‘ideologically’ right?

 This is a tough question for the brittle, the fearful, the dogmatic, the ‘allness’ people. To such persons, the persistent asking of this question – reflectively and in the quiet hours – may be devastating. But it may be the only way that the sense of responsibility can be opened.

 The rightness of my aim will not be justified by conclusive evidence, airtight reasoning, or immutable law. It will have its own validation.

 Whenever a person says to himself or herself, ‘Now I fully understand this,’ or ‘This is the final or complete truth,’ the chances are that he or she has blocked the possibility for further growth in knowledge or insight in that area. In fact, by taking these positions in only a small area of knowledge, one may limit one’s capacity for comprehension in general.

 It is probably equally limiting to pursue the absolute since it is unattainable. Human growth in understanding is not a movement toward certainty; it is best described by words like ‘perspective, enlargement, insight.’ One comprehends, one feels a part of knowledge, one becomes mobile in one’s feeling and ventures with greater assurance. But there is no certainty. And in the world of practical affairs, this constitutes an aspect of stress. Stress can only be balanced by serenity, which has its roots in the vagueness and tentativeness of all with which we work. 

 Once again, Greenleaf reminds us that ‘awareness’ does not bring comfort; more often it brings disturbance.  However, awareness and disturbance alone are not enough; we also need to be open to our ‘sense of responsibility’ and response-ability.  He also reminds us of a trap: ‘I now fully understand’ or ‘I now have the truth.’ These conclusions hinder us from further exploration, potential growth and development. He also notes that even if we are blocked in a ‘small area’ that this blocking might well hinder us when it comes to the big issues; this is an idea that I too often forget about (or is it ‘deny’).

‘There is no certainty.’ I imagine others, those who are ‘sure about. . .,’ being taken aback by this statement. If I am going to continue to search, seek, explore, question, and learn then it is crucial for me to be rooted more in ‘doubt’ and less in ‘surety.’ I have deep beliefs. I get into trouble when I forget that these are ‘beliefs’ and not ‘sureties.’ I want my beliefs to be confirmed AND I strive to be open to them being disconfirmed (on my good days anyway). When I move to ‘I am sure’ and I closet ‘doubt’ then I quickly experience that I move from being flexible to being rigid; I move from being open to being closed; I move from exploring to defending. I move from being compassionate to being judgmental. Perhaps most importantly, I move from being ‘trusting’ to being ‘cynical.’

Doubt is what gets you an education. –Arthur Mizener

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Honesty is the cruelest game of all, because not only can you hurt someone – and hurt them to the bone – you can feel self-righteous about it at the same time. –D. V. Ronk

In his essay, ‘The Ethic of Strength,’ Greenleaf continues with his questions; this morning, Gentle Reader, I will briefly offer us another of what I call Greenleaf’s ‘Right Questions.’

 Am I sure that in choosing a right aim, I have not become self-righteous? The dictionary of ‘righteous’ puts it as ‘free from wrong, guilt, or sin,’ a state no person ever achieves. Pride in the illusion that one has achieved it is disastrous. The pretense that one has made it by going through the motions, keeping the law, is equally damaging.

 The trap in pursuing the good is that one may be overtaken by the feeling that one is wholly good and therefore not like other people. There is no surer way to become disconnected and lose the sense of responsibility than to become self-righteous.

I sit here today asking myself: Specifically, when have I taken ‘pride in the illusion’ of my own self-righteousness? What was the effect and affect [affect = the feelings that emerged as a result of my acting/reacting in a self-righteous manner] of this upon myself and upon the other(s)? What was the ‘damage’ done to me and to the other(s) as a result [think: direct or indirect result, or an intended or unintended consequence, or an intended or unintended by-product]?  What role does ‘intention’ have – am I ‘off-the-hook’ if only the ‘unintended’ occur?

More questions emerged: When, out of my self-righteousness, have I communicated that ‘I am not like other people’ [think: ‘I am special’ or ‘I am privileged’ or ‘I am different from’ or ‘If not for the grace of God, there go I’]?

How have I treated others when in this ‘I am not like you’ stance? What was the effect and affect of this upon myself and upon the other(s)? Did I become aware of my then being disconnected – especially from the other(s)? What was my response when I did become aware of being disconnected? What does it mean to have a ‘sense of responsibility’ and response-ability? Can I have a ‘sense of. . .’ and not act responsibly? What does it mean ‘to choose a right aim’? What is the attitude I hold and what are the behaviors I choose to enact when I choose a right aim without choosing to become ‘self-righteous’?  How do I react to or respond to the other whom I deem to be acting self-righteously?

I have always found that the hardest mind to change is the one that is self-righteous. –S.L. Alder

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


When is serving potentially immoral? –Greenleaf

 In his essay, ‘The Ethic of Strength,’ Greenleaf continues with his questions; this morning, Gentle Reader, I will briefly offer us two of what I call his ‘Right Questions.’  

 Do I see evil as an aspect of good? . . .Much as I would choose to embrace the good and work to have it prevail, I would not want to live in a world in which there is no evil. . .Medical researchers now point to the adverse consequences of the promiscuous use of antibiotics. . .People cannot survive in a world in which the destruction of what we currently view as unfriendly is carried on with too much vigor.

Do I accept that there is no virtue that, carried to the extreme, does not become a vice, no sound idea that, overworked, does not become absurd? There may be absolute values in the world, but by the time mortals have filtered them through their biases, distorted them with imperfect reasoning, and warped them through inexact vocabulary, the values are only approximate. . . .A good example of a virtue that, carried too far, becomes a vice is integrity. In most ways, there would be no practical limits on the goodness of integrity. But take the example of the person whose integrity compels him always and in every situation to say exactly and completely what he thinks. This might be an absolute form of integrity. It would also be irresponsible.                   

 If we truly have free will and choice then we must have alternatives. In order for me to choose the ‘good’ there must be an alternative choice available to me – generally, we call this ‘evil.’ Evil cannot exist without good and good cannot exist without evil – it seems to me, anyway.

Another way of framing this idea is to consider that as living paradoxes we are BOTH virtue and vice.  We are capable of the greatest good and we are also capable of the greatest evil.  When we become pride-full and deny our capacity for evil then we put ourselves and others at great risk of harm (history tries to educate us to this idea but over and over our pride gets in the way of our learning).

Not only does our self-righteous pride put us and others in harm’s way, so does our being fear-full (or what is more harmful, we become our fear).  The great wisdom traditions have counseled us for thousands of years, ‘Be Not Afraid!’  But, alas, we humans are slow learners.

Now, Gentle Reader, consider this: Over these many years folks have told me-you-us that a virtue we are to hold is ‘truth-telling.’ This is an important virtue to hold and live into AND yet being ‘totally’ truthful can cause great harm; it can even promote evil. Many folks living in Holland during the German occupation in the 1940s understood quite well that absolute truth-telling would lead to great evil.

Greenleaf asks: ‘When is serving immoral?’ This is a powerful question for those who seek to embrace his concept of ‘servant-first.’ Consider that ‘serving’ might well become immoral when those served become overly (if not solely) dependent upon the one serving.

Regarding an idea/concept that becomes ‘absurd’: In our culture we have, too often, taken the concept of ‘freedom’ and adulterated it into what is often termed ‘license’ (i.e. ‘I can do whatever I want to do!).  We forget or neglect or reject the fact that we are, by our first nature, interdependent social beings.  In our Culture we continue to focus on the ‘rights’ (think: ‘license’) of the person over the rights of the community.  This over-emphasis (if not out-right one-sided view) continues to put all of us in harm’s way.

Gentle Reader: This morning I leave you with two questions to hold: When have you carried a virtue to an extreme? What was the effect upon yourself and upon the other(s) when you did so?

We all must be serving someone or something.  Who or what are you choosing to serve right now? –Maya Angelou

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Seek first to understand. –Greenleaf

In his essay, The Ethic of Strength, Greenleaf spends some time framing and then responding to a number of questions. This morning, Gentle Reader, I will begin a series of posts in which I will offer Greenleaf’s responses, briefly respond myself and invite you to reflect and respond.  Given this, let us continue. Greenleaf writes:

 What are the right questions to ask reflectively? I do not know of a standard set of right questions. The development of the feeling of total responsibility is a search, an individual search. The questions will be peculiar to each searcher, and they will probably change as the search progresses. We can get suggestions from the records of other seekers; but in the end, we must each ask our own questions. The following are the questions that seem important to me now in my own search.

 Before I offer us Greenleaf’s response I invite you, Gentle Reader, to pause and reflect and respond to this question: At this time in your life what are the questions that you must ask – what are your ‘own’ questions, the questions that you must respond to now and/or questions you must ‘hold’ and live into?

 Here is Greenleaf’s first question:

 Am I contemporary? Do I have a sense of history? Am I living in the current phase of developing history? Do I look with wonder at contemporary politics, philosophy, religion, economics, art, music, literature, science (both natural and social), business development? . . .The question. . .Can I hear the communication from the growing edges of my times? Am I able to hear what is being said to me before I judge it? Am I listening, really listening? . . .One cannot deal responsibly with contemporaries if one can hear only the voices of those who are dead, either the really dead. . .or those who are yet alive in the flesh but dead in spirit because they have nothing constructive to say to the times in which they live.

As I reflect upon Greenleaf’s questions I discern that, for me, there are questions within his questions: ‘What does it mean to ‘have a sense of history’? How does one know? What are the indicators that I am ‘living in the current phase of developing history’? What does it look like, feel like, sound like for me to ‘look with wonder’ at the contemporary aspects that Greenleaf lists? Do I really want to hear the ‘communication from the growing edges of my times’? How often do I judge before I really hear and/or understand? How often do I truly strive to understand first? How often can I affirm that I am ‘listening, really listening’? What are the indicators, for me, that another is ‘dead in spirit’? How do I know that I am not ‘dead in spirit’ – who can help me discern my aliveness or deadness? Am I searching to know – do I really want to know? How will I respond if I discover that I am ‘dead in spirit’?

Gentle reader: What are the questions that come to you as you reflect upon Greenleaf’s questions?

Why is there so little listening? –Greenleaf

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment