Archive for Education

Towards a theory of thralldom (from Carman de Voer)

Hi Lisa,

I love Sundays! Thank you for the references to Solzhenitsyn. It’s interesting that thralldom figures prominently in his text: “The whole raison d’etre of serfdom and the Archipelago is one and the same: these are the social structures for the ruthless enforced utilization of the free-of-cost work of millions of slaves” (Chapter 5). I’ve been bridging concepts we’ve discussed over the months and believe I see sufficient patterns to construct a comprehensive Theory of Thralldom.

Patterson describes the slave as dehumanized being who lives only through and for the master:


“The slave was a dominated thing, an animated instrument, a body with natural movements, but without its own reason, an existence entirely absorbed in another.”


“The proprietor of this thing, the mover of this instrument, the soul and the reason of this body, the source of this life, was the master. The master was everything for him: his father and his god, which is to say, his authority and his duty…Thus, god, fatherland, family, existence, are all for the slave, identified with the same being; there was nothing which made for the social person, nothing which made for the moral person, that was not the same as his personality and his individuality”(Henri Wallon on the meaning of slavery in ancient Greece, Cited in Patterson).

Though Friere does not use the word “thrall” or “slave” in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he does use almost identical language to describe “the oppressed”: “For the oppressors, ‘human beings’ refers only to themselves; other people are “things” (p.39). Friere says that the “oppressor consciousness” tends to reduce everything-including people-to “objects at its disposal” (p.40) Science and technology, says Freire, “are used to reduced the oppressed to the status of things” (p.114). The educational system is their “enemy” (p.16) and management is an “arm of domination (p.50).

Patterson’s decription of slavery also illuminates Freire’s statements, such as “adhesion to the oppressor,” the “boss within,” subjects-objects, and Friere’s discussion of the difference between animals and humans (thank you for your reference to dogs!). I could never quite understand why he devoted so much analysis to the distinction. Animals, for example are “ahistorical,” “beings in themselves,” “cannot commit themselves,” are “not challenged by the configuration that confronts them,” and so on (pp.78-79). Obviously, animals and thralls are subhuman, objects, things. Now I see why Freire spoke about the “ontological vocation to be more fully human-“fully human” versus “anatomical fragments” and “automata” (things).

Middle class educators reading this blog might bristle at my suggestion that we humans exist within a web of thralldom. Freire predicted such reaction when he spoke about the middle class’s “fear of freedom” which “leads them to erect defense mechanisms and rationalizations which conceal the fundamental (i.e., the conditions of oppression) emphasize the fortuitous (i.e., let’s be “positive”) and deny concrete reality” (the misery of the oppressed) p.85. (parentheses mine). Freire was clear that praxis meant reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.

Freire’s indictment of global educational systems is understandable now given that the “educated individual is the adapted person, because she or he is a better fit for the world” (p.57). It now makes sense to me why Freire saw the need to develop a completely different “pedagogy”-a pedagogy of the oppressed, whose organs of sense perception have been switched off so long that they need educators’ help to reactivate those. I can now understand why Freire’s text appears in many graduate programs (I met “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” while enrolled in Athabasca University’s MDE Program).

I appreciate your allusion to perception Lisa. Patterson (quoting Weber) notes that slavery is built upon a power relation which has 3 facets: social, psychological and cultural. Perception, I believe, falls under the second category:

1) The use or threat of violence in the control of one person by another (Social)

2) The capacity to persuade another person to change the way he perceives his interests and his circumstances. (Psychological)

3) Authority: the means of transforming force into right, and obedience into duty (Cultural)

But how is slavery distinctive as a relation of domination? Perhaps we could discuss that later on.

Bye for now,


I would call my posts ‘messays’ because they represent mental chaos searching for coherence. Thank you for the ‘mutual flourishing’ you promote Lisa.


Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Harvard University Press, 1982

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2007.

Perspective & transformation

Carman, Your example of the transformation of Scrooge in the Christmas Carol, illustrates how third parties can stimulate transformation by helping a leader see the current situation and dynamic more clearly, and consider new perspectives and possiblities.

This whole area of the process of transformation is intriguing. By definition, it involves some kind of diversity — an encounter with a different perspective through dialogue or “cognitive diversity.” For me, cognitive diversity, in practice, means accessing our holistic, creative, “right brain” as well as our analytical, sequential “left brain.”  Transformative spiritual experience, creativity, imagination and vision, seem to strongly involve “right brain” processes. (A neuropsychologist would, no doubt, point out that this is a gross oversimplification).  

The process of coaching involves both aspects — the holding of the mirror, to help a person see more clearly what is otherwise too close to see — to see lens with which we see the world, so to speak,  and the facilitation of imagination, to experience a new perspective.  

When we are able to see the lens with which we see the world, we have already experienced a cognitive shift in that we have separated who we are (the observer) from a particular perspective, and we have freed ourselves to more readily explore perspectives that are healthier, more effective, etc.

The act of imagination, envisioning other possiblities, is extraordinarily powerful and taps a vast intelligence. Because in the West, we so strongly identify with our rational egos and our analytical, sequential thought processes, that we overlook the genius within each of us — that intelligence that creates entire worlds in our dreams, for example. It’s not always completely rational, but it contains all the connections that are not always visible to our sequential thought processes.  

In discussing spiritual transformation, William James makes the point that when we’ve exhausted our usual resources, when our rational-analytical processes fail us, we then, often in despair, throw ourselves open to other possibilities, and experience a shift and illumination. And Zen koans operate on a similar principle: the left brain lets go and there is a shift in perspective. 

Transformative leadership need not, in my opinion, involve complete illumination, but I think the inherent humility of recognizing that “we are not our thoughts and perspectives” and our consequential ability to imagine new possibilities — to dip into our own creative potentials, is key to personal and organizational transformation. 

Carman, I enjoy your notes about the environment, there. It sounds beautiful. It’s been raining heavily here; we need it!  Best wishes, Lisa

Additional examples of radical transformation & on bells staying rung

Wow, Carman, your discussion of sudden and radical transformation throws open some doors that would be interesting to follow!

Yes you draw an apt and fruitful comparison between transformation per se and spiritual transformation. In addition to the Christian concept and experience of metanoia that you discuss, this kind of spiritually transformative experience is found in other religious contexts and outside of them, as well, suggesting that it is a universal human experience.  Some examples are: the themes of birth-death-rebirth or descent and emergence in the Mysteries, shamanic experiences of dismemberment and reconfiguration as a “new person”; Eastern enlightenment experiences, and also the sponatneous “cosmic consciousness” described by Burke. Also, there are rites of passage in many cultures that lead to new roles and ways of being in the world. No doubt I am omitting many other important examples.

This kind of reordering or “re-membering” is sometimes understood to be literally healing, and also reflects an improved and more “appropriate” (for the lack of a better word in the moment) relationship the context or larger whole.  This process or whole “event” is compellingly interesting in itself.

From what I understand, these kinds of radical transformation are not always “sticky” in that it can be easy to revert to former ways of thinking and being. However, as much as we are drawn back into comfortable, habitual ways of thinking and being, one cannot entirely “unring” the bell.  And, thus we create a vision or carve out a space for a new way of being, and we can begin to create new habits in that space. I’m reminded of the famous face/vase illusion. After seeing the new perspective, we can still revert to our original perspective; however, having seen it’s complement, we can more easily find it again. 

Would you agree?

How perspective draws out or diminishes human potential

One famous experiment that really illustrates how perspective can draw out or diminish human potential is the experiment first conducted in the 1960s by American teacher Jane Elliott, who went on to become an anti-racism activist.  In this exercise, she praised brown-eyed children as “hardworking” and “intelligent,” and dismissed blue-eyed children as being innately less hardworking and intelligent. In light of that premise, she institutionalized a set of privileges for the “superior” and “more deserving” brown-eyed children, such as extra food at lunch, restricted access to a new jungle gym, and extra time at recess.  In contrast, brown-eyed children were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains and were made to wear a paper armband.

At first, the children resisted the new order. However, after Ms. Elliott provided the pseudo-scientific explanation that the greater intelligence and better work ethic of the brown-children was related to their higher levels of melanin, the children came to accept this view, with dramatic results. The “superior” brown-eyed children became arrogant and bossy and treated blue-eyed students with disrespect.

Even more dramatic was the effect on the self concept and performance of each group: The brown-eyed children began to perform better academically, even doing well in areas that had been difficult for them in the past. In contrast, the blue-eyed children performed more poorly, even in areas where they had previously done very well. They also became more timid and submissive.  

When Elliot reversed roles the following week, she received similar results, in reverse, although the discrimination was noticeably less acute: those who had experienced the pain of being deemed “inferior” seemed less inclined to inflict that experience on others. Eventually, of course, she concluded the experiment and the students experienced a rather emotional reconciliation…

It’s not difficult to see how a similar dynamic can be found with the whole range of “isms” (racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, etc.).

This is not to say that we all have identical interests and aptitudes; but a key take away might be the extent to which perception, expectations and the structures we create actually invoke or suppress human potential.  This is also illustrated by the example in which a “low-performing” student was accidentally noted as being “gifted” in the transfer to a new grade. The new teacher, believing child was gifted, gave him/her attention, encouragement, challenge; the child excelled academically.

As leaders, the “halo” effect is a reality for us, isn’t it? And, in contrast, some people seem to do worse and worse.  How much is the person and how much is due to our own leadership style (or the culture or organizational environment)? 

Some questions that might be interesting to explore around this topic are:

* What is your perpective/perception regarding others in your organization (especially those over whom you have some power and influence)?

* Is anyone going “up” or “down”? What are the dynamics surrounding that?

* What beliefs do you have/does your organization have regarding superiority and inferiority of different people?

* How are these beliefs reflected in your organization structure?

In upcoming posts, we’ll explore some successful applications of this principle, going into greater depth on the dynamics. We’ll also explore how organizational structures and roles shape our personalities and experience, with an eye towards the practical implications for leaders and organizations…

Why do people not create or innovate?

The key quesiton isn’t “what fosters creativity?”  But it is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? but why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything. — Abraham Maslow

Maslow observes that creativity and innovation are natural endowments — we only need to watch young children and remember our own childhoods to know that this is so.  So, why do we, as adults, commonly think of creativity and innovation as qualities that primarily describe the relatively small group of professional creatives? And, why do organizations struggle with the question of how to become more innovative?

Almost 40 years ago, futurist Alvin Toffler observed that our education system was designed to develop citizens who could take up their positions in the industrializing world, as cogs in the great machine (Future Shock, 1970).  Beyond the content of the coursework itself,  schools teach children how to show up on time, follow directions, work within an incentive system that emphasizes external rewards and punishments and to conform to a social program.  Creativity and innovation are generally channeled into art (where classes in art are still offered).  “Play” is considered childish.  Speaking personally, it wasn’t until graduate school that I felt encouraged to think for myself and to create new ideas and knowledge …

Then, as Alfonoso Montuori describes, our organizations are still dominated by bureaucratic forms of leadership and organization designed for the industrial age, which values conformance, compliance, industry, and relies primarily on external reward systems.  Although, as leaders, we intellectually know that our organizations need to become substantially more innovative to survive and thrive, at an emotional level, most of us in this culture, have come to value control and compliance even more…

Maslow’s good news is to remind us that we are all naturally creative. Just as we learned how to suppress and narrowly channel our creativity, we can also begin to unlock our creative potential by removing  those learned barriers (both institutional and internal). 

In order to do this, we will need to circle around to a discussion of the concept of control or power-over, which seems to be creativity’s chief antagonist…

Riane Eisler and Alfonso Montuori on Women’s Radio!

This is a great opportunity to hear Dr. Riane Eisler interview Professor Alfonso Montuori about the new Transformative Leadership program at the California Insitute of Integral Stuides.

On metaphors, maps and transformational learning

 Given the “perpetual white water” of the contemporary business, Peter Senge has pointed out that one of the most critical skills that organizations need to develop is “learning how to learn.”  Real learning can be contrasted with “shelf-ware” – that brand of learning that remains intellectual and theoretical, until it is ultimately forgotten… In contrast, real learning changes the way we look at a situation, the way that we think, the way that we are, the way that we behave – it is truly transformational.Transformational learning involves seeing things from a new perspective, so that new kinds of behavior become natural and obvious rather than “politically correct.” 

In an earlier article, I wrote about how the metaphors we use to describe leadership and organizations shape our perception and interpretation of a situation and therefore, our behavior (  Metaphors act as a kind of map of the territory; yet, as we know, there is an enormous difference between the map and the actual territory.

We need simply compare a street map to the full experience and complexity of our own neighborhoods to see that the map simply represents one way of perceiving and thinking about a much richer and complex reality. The number of physical, social, psychological… maps (not to mention the interactions amongst these categories) that we could create are only exhausted by our imaginations. Each new map would give us new insight, but taken all-together, they could never exhaust reality.

For this reason, we need to hold our perspectives more lightly, to experiment with new ones to see how they work or don’t work for us.

One prevalent metaphor is the organization as a well-oiled machine. In upcoming articles, we’ll explore this metaphor in more detail to see what it buys us and also what it costs us with respect to collaboration, innovation, and organizational effectiveness.


In what ways is your organization like a machine? How is this analogy useful to you in thinking about your role as a leader?

In what ways is your organization different than a machine?

What different metaphors do you use for thinking about your organization?

Transformative Leadership Degree with a Concentration in Partnership Studies

I’m so pleased to share with you that the California Institute of Integral Studies is launching a new graduate degree program in Transformative Leadership, with a concentration in Partnership Studies.  As you know if you have been reading this blog, I am excited about the potential of a Partnership orientation to meet the challenges we are facing in our organizations today (as well as at every level of our culture). 

Riane Eisler and Susan Carter will be co-teaching the first course this Spring.  If you are interested in a leading-edge graduate education in transformative leadership, I hope you’ll take a look…