Archive for Philosophy

Starry Skies, Diversity, and Vision

Hi Carman,
A beautiful Sunday morning to you! I agree that Partnership does not need to answer to Paul, Plato or Shakespeare, although I do enjoy dialoging with them from time to time.

Thank you for sharing your deeply thought through and fresh thoughts on Paul. One observation I would add is that whatever was or was not the intention of people at the time, Christianity and Judaism  –or rather, as different streams of thought converge, a variety of Christianities and Judaisms  — exist today.

Because we are exploring emerging ground, we have the opportunity to consider some interesting questions, that I think have some broader applicability.  One relates to focus.

Alfred North Whitehead describes how every fact “drags around with it” a universe of assumptions in which that observation or fact is both comprehensible and true. Essentially agreeing with Whitehead on this point, feminist philosphers have long observed that the practice of using fixed and firm categories — such as the often very firm boundaries between academic disciplines — to describe reality reifies a particular worldview by obscuring other potentially useful categories and the way that categories interconnect to form the “sacred canopy” of our worldview. 

On the other hand, when changes do occur in a particular field, the process of cross-fertilization of ideas is slowed. (This is one reason, as you know, that trans-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary studies are presently such a wellspring of new thought and innovation).   Also,  being too fixed with regard to category implies a world in which all things can truly be separate and static — described by one category or model without reference to others. For example, years ago, when I was in a leadership role in organizations (before I became a coach and consultant), I was  unable to immediately see the connection between emerging ideas in scie nce and emerging ideas in leadership. I thought that it was academically interesting but had nothing to do with the “real” world. Obviously, I’ve come to change my views!

The categories we use illuminate some aspects of reality and hide others.  With left-brained thought and language, it’s often the connections amongst things that are hidden.

Because the paradigm we are discussing is holistic, we can’t assume that the whole universe of assumptions is known to the reader, or even to ourselves.  Rather Partnership recognizes that different perspectives will “see” different patterns, and that, with a conducive social dynamic, multiple perspectives can, reflect more light on a given subject. Further, a holistic perspective suggests that reality is holographic in that nothing stands alone but is shaped by its context or world.

Because this blog seeks to explore a new paradigm of leadership and organization, it consciously oversteps conventional categories in order to describe both this paradigm we call Partnership and also the views of the cosmos, including the patterns of the stars, we each see from where we sit (both physically and on the basis of our life experience).

So, in discussing a Partnership approach to leadership and organizations, we talk about the literatures of leadership, organization, sociology, psychology (so far so good), and continue on to philosophy and theology which have been held, until relatively recently, to be separate and distinct subjects. Religion in particular has been considered a separate realm best avoided because it can raise passionate differences. “Sensible” people avoid it. By virtue of where I sit under that starry expanse, I am unable to be “sensible” in this respect because ideas in all these fields shape our view of the world. Certainly, as you have pointed out, the experience of a religious conversion or mystical insight is an example of a personal transformation which yields a sometimes radically different worldview. (My sister also described motherhood this way).

On the other hand, I appreciate that some who visit here may be put off when we venture “off topic” sharing our views of the patterns we see in that sky.  In a sense, this is a microcosm of a Partnership organization. Different members sitting on the grass, looking up and being able to share what they see. And also with respect to our collective endeavors, focusing on the shared values and vision that pull us together.

As you have probably noticed, I see the coaching approach as enacting Partnership, supporting the emergence of trust, collaboration and creativity in organizations. I am very excited to mention a new project that I am becoming involved with, to bring coaching training to leaders and teams, and coaching the development of a coaching culture. I’ll write more about it in this blog, but as this is also a kind of a letter, I wanted to share it with you here.

My best,


P.S. We are having a break in the rain today. It’s cold and overcast, with the holiday lights making a nice contrast as it grows dark in the evening.

On Plato, Paul and Shakespeare

Paul was an orthodox Israelite Rabbi [Pharisee] who experienced paradigm shift due to a life-changing event. As I propose in my document The Secret Synagogue Paul directed his discipline at teachers-Israelite men-who had been called out of Israelite society into schools [congregations].The School of Jesus was, in its inception, indigenous to Palestine but Paul extended its influence to Israelites living among the nations. Its mission was to promote their [Israelite] Messiah, Jesus [Christmas carols unwittingly acknowledge Jewish exclusivity: King of Israel, Little town of Bethlehem…]. I should emphasize that there is not a scintilla of scriptural evidence for the idea that Paul taught non-Israelites or Gentiles. In The Book of Acts Paul is always in synagogues-or wherever he can teach Israelites. Gentiles are not even on the radar, so to speak.

So, when Paul says that “women are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission” I believe he is speaking as a man of his times and from deep within a patriarchal culture. When he says women were not to speak, I take that literally. Speaking is speaking, and submission is submission. [I imagine the First Century Israelite culture as analogous to modern Hasidic Judaism]. The men Paul counsels have an urgent task to perform and he will brook no distractions. The Titanic [Judaism] was about to strike the iceberg [their God] and so lifeboat training was pressing. [Forgive the overworn analogy]

Now, modern readers may recoil at this interpretation because of its implications for “the Church.” To this I will say, there is no “Church.” There is no “Christianity” [there never was] and there is no Judaism. The apostolic letters do describe a messianic movement within First Century Judaism, but this movement was not a “new religion” per se. I would liken ancient Messianism our modern labor movements. Workers, attempting to organize, are not interested in establishing a new company but, rather in modifying existing relations with management and in securing benefits. Likewise the First Century Messianic movement was an innovation within Judaism-albeit one that claimed to be Judaism’s peak and precipice. The Messianists taught that God sent his son into the Jewish world [society] to save it [John 3:16] but also that that Jewish world was passing away [1 John 2:15-17].

Hence Paul’s words have no bearing on or application to the present. As I mentioned before, “Christianity” was a 2nd Century fiction concocted by men who evidently wanted to extend and increase power-to make it catholic [meaning universal]. My purpose in inserting Partnership into Paul’s words was to suggest that for Paul “spirit” connoted a paradigm shift. He was not speaking individualistically because his culture was collectivistic. Hence, while “spirit” meant a transformed consciousness [see Romans 12:2] it was still a group phenomenon.

Let’s discuss Partnership. I would compare and contrast Partnership and Messianism thus: a cruise ship and a battle ship. While conceptually they may share commonalities [a ship is a ship] they are also fundamentally different. For example, Eisler’s Partnership speaks about “putting a nation in order” by “first putting the family in order” by “first setting our hearts right.” Leadership and the State are bracketed out. First Century Messianism, by contrast, spoke directly to power and promoted conflict. Because it disturbed the Established Order Jesus likened it to “new wine in old wineskins.” John the Baptizer and Jesus Christ seemed to have been dissident intellectuals who challenged the dominant institution-and paid dearly.

Tragically, self-serving institutions, conservative commentaries, and traditional worldviews have blunted their radicalism. What was elevated music in antiquity is now heard as elevator music. But I digress. If a vocal leader with her heart “set right” were transferred to a dominator culture then conflict would inevitably ensue. But as I mentioned Lisa, the comparison between Partnership and Messianism is moot because the Messianic movement is a fait accompli. Partnership does not have to answer to Plato or Paul or Shakespeare. Their worlds have passed away and a new world full of new challenges stretches before us. Partnership has its work cut out for itself, does it not?

Bye for now,


On Parallels between Paul and Eisler, and Group Mind

Carman, It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts. Thank you for highlighting the parallels between Eisler on Partnership and Paul. I hadn’t fully appreciated this aspect of Paul.  The opposition of “flesh” and “spirit” is a key theme in many theologies, so I read him more literally.  I do hear and appreciate that you interpret Paul’s words differently, with an interesting result.   

[12/8/09:  Carman, I’ve been continuing to mull your interpretation of Paul, and see some strong parallels with my own [process] train of thought. If we use the idea of “small self'” in place of “flesh,” I agree that these ideas do begin to describe a holistic, Partnership approach. I think the original metaphor is problematic in that it is too limited and freezes an occassionally conflicting relationship between different aspects (or intelligences) of ourselves into permanent opposition.  I think this core antagonism is paradigmatic, in a sense, of the ethic of opposition, domination and control towards others in a dominator system. If instead, we recognize difference rather than antagonism, we retain the possibility of a higher, creatively intelligent resolution which surpasses what we can  imagine as individuals.]

Another area of concern for me, with regard to Paul, is his statement in Corinthians 14:34-35 which seems to promote the subordination of women to men, which would be contrary to an ethic of Partnership:  “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”  That said, I’ve also read that this is often or usually interpreted to refer to a specific situation rather than as a generalization  

I know that you have some expertise on this subject.  What are your thoughts?  

I am interested to explore the key question that you have posed: “If a Partnership group were being infiltrated by dominator tendencies, how would you address the issue, especially if dissolution were imminent?”

I am drawn to the idea that a higher wisdom can emerge in groups where there is shared intention, trust, active listening, mutual encouragement and appreciation. I’ve found that in really healthy, collaborative groups there can be a kind of ” magic” — a very satisfying experience of co-creativity in which the result is clearly better than members might achieve alone.

Two quotes from Napolean Hill seem to speak to that notion:

“When two or more people coordinate in a spirit of harmony and work toward a definite objective or purpose, they place themselves in position, through the alliance, to absorb power directly from the great storehouse of the creative mechanism of each contributing mind.”

And:  “No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind.”

For me, these quotes bring together the very compatible principles of Partnership and holism.

Would you like to consider a particular concrete situation and reason together?


P.S.  I think we have your rain today!  The skys just opened up.

Thralldom vs. Self-Actualization (On Our Relationship to the Whole)

Good morning, Carman. Welcome back 🙂 We are hoping for some rain today, as well — just 40% chance of thundershowers – would be great writing weather!

Your post seems to describe several dimensions of thralldom, with freedom from one form of thralldom found at the cost of subjection to another, presumably better form of thralldom. For example, there is freedom from slavery to become the servant of God and the larger vision of community, and freedom from flesh to become the servant of Spirit.  As you describe, it’s  framed as a matter of which master one serves. (I disagree with Paul’s dichotomization of flesh and spirit, but that view is very consistent with philosophical atomism). 

And, insightfully, you make the connection to leadership (great distinction of leadership as pull and management as push) while both for the sake of something larger.

So much to respond to in this!

It’s been said that meaning is derived from the larger context. So if we are at the 1 mile mark in a race, the meaning of that accomplishment is relative to whether we are in a 1 mile race or a five mile race, and whether an act is moral or immoral depends on the nature of the universe.  (As Whitehead writes, any assertion of fact drags along with it a whole universe of understanding in which the fact is true). It is my personal experience that serving a greater good is the greatest form of satisfaction. But is this thralldom or self-actualization? And what is the difference?

My initial thoughts relate to paradigm. I do share the increasingly repeated view that we are in a time of paradigm change.  Considering the modern paradigm: When we think of ourselves as separate atoms, and the world as a collection of separate objects (the modern paradigm), then we think/find it necessary to control or dominate others to meet our needs. Hence, the dynamics of domination and thralldom.

In this paradigm, that which is larger than ourselves is a separate, dominating, all powerful, entity, which psychologist Jean Baker Miller correlates with the classic patriarchal father. Miller describes how subordination to the father was explicitly desribed in the childrearing texts of pre-war Germany as preparing children to assume their proper relationshp to the State and ultimately to God. In this model, there is virtue in subordination to the all powerful other. Implicit in this model is the power of the other to reward the subordinate and punish the non-compliant.

Further, in relationships of domination and abuse, there is a well-recognized psychological syndrome in which the injured party inflicts a similar injury on others, and in doing so, identifies with the dominating person or entity, and thereby obtains a temporary feeling of power and relief from his or her pain. (Hence the cycle of abuse).

Your quote from 1984, “But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal-Nineteen Eighty-Four,” seems to describe freedom from the pain of the experience of thralldom through identification with the all powerful other.

These are the dynamics of domination, and a review of history shows us that these cultural dynamics have certainly shaped our approach to leadership and organization.

That said, if we look at the same issue from the perspective (or pardigm) of holism and process, then I think we reframe the question. If we are not isolated atoms — if our sense of separation is an optical illusion of consciousness, as Einstein proposed — then we are different kinds of beings than we have imagined. 

If we are, indeed, not separate from the rest of the world, then we are paradoxical beings in that we have both our unique experience from a particular perspective and are also internally related to the rest of the world. We are part of the world and the world is part of us. In this paradigm, we can never be independent and separate from rest of the world. (This notion of a self that is purely independent has been described as the “soul slowly twisting in the void”). The fact that most of us would find this notion terrifying tells us something about our psychological nature, at minimum.

From a holistic perspective, our freedom is inherently always in relation to others, to the world of our experience.

(If we were to address the theological dimensions of these ideas, we might notice that although some theologies describe both a transcendent God who is separate from a holistic creatioin, theologically, holism is usually associated with immanence, the view that we are both internally related with each other and to the Sacred ( by whatever name we choose to call it — for example, God, Goddess, Cosmic Intelligence, etc.) According to the perspective of immanence, the Sacred might be experienced as the deepest, wisest part of ourselves).

The holistic paradigm offers the possibility that the small self may be informed by the wisdom of a larger intelligence within, and so expresses its unique nature towards the betterment of the whole. From this perspective, self-actualization and service are of the same cloth.

Obviously this is my personal view. For me, the experience of this paradigm and relationship to the world (to the extent that I have grasped it so far) is not one of thralldom, but rather one of empowerment and, to the extent that I feel really “in-tune”,  joy. This feels very different to me than the drugs of status or “power over” in which one experiences the other side of coin of domination, or the satisfactions of certainty. (In my view, the conviction that one must be “right” and that others must therefore by “wrong” privileges only our own perspective and experience and is, therefore, egocentric and in opposition the world).

There are other perspectives that value Partnership, which see the world differently. Personally, I find a holistic and organismic approach (which sees the cosmos as a intelligent and creative), to be very coherent and workable.  Also, of course, one can apply a holistic perspective to leadership and organization with interesting implications — another topic! 

Thank you for raising such a provocative question!

Enjoy your day,


Adding Gender to the Analysis of Thralldom (Dominator Dynmaics)

I love your term, “messays.” It’s certainly appropriate to a blog — especially this one, which is, to borrow the title of one of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s books, an “adventure in ideas.”

Freire’s analysis substantially overlaps the a feminist and womanist analysis, which isn’t surprising, given our cultural history in which women were considered to be inferior human beings (relative to men) and therefore accorded the status of property.

Ecofeminist philosopher Charlene Spretnak observes that a hierarchal, utiliatrian (even adversarial) stance towards the natural world had profound implications for women, who as birth-givers, have historically been habitually (though not inevitably) associated with nature: cultural attitudes towards nature tend to coincide with attitudes towards women (Ortner 1974; Sanday 1981).

This was certainly true in classic Greek thought: men were understood to participate in divine rationality, whereas women were understood to either lack the rational soul principle or to be deficient in this regard, and therefore part of the natural matrix that men sought to transcend in their quest for the divine. Thus, divine-world and mind-body dichotomies mirrored the “natural” dichotomy of male and female: the left-hand term was understood to be masculine and superior, and the right-hand term was feminine and inferior (Code What Can She Know 29).

The heart of the male-female dichotomy is captured by the classical Greek understanding of conception: according to Aristotle, man provides the active principle and rational (human) soul; woman, who lacks the soul principle, contributes the body (Aristotle “On the Generation of Animals” 278, S737a; Shepherd 4). If the soul-principle in the male seed is able to overcome the pull of (female) matter, a male child results; otherwise the result is a female child – who is, essentially, a defective male (Aristotle, The Politics of Aristotle 13: S1254b and 327: S1335b; Shepherd 4).

Thus, in this train of thought, it is the male who is considered fully human. (This speaks also to our culturally inherited view of animals as automatons. As a “parent” to two very smart dogs, I can say that this is not true in my experience!)

The relationship between knowledge and power is self-sustaining, as we can see in Aristotle’s rendering of gendered reality:

“[M]ale rules over the female, or the man over the child; although the parts of the soul are present in all of them, they are present in different degrees. For the slave has no deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature” (“Politics” 1260b; Code 9 n. 5).

(Tellingly, in light of the power dynamics, even the male slave is thought to have “no deliberative faculty at all.” Also, the term “woman” here seems to refer to a female person who is not a slave.)

Consequently, women and slaves attended to the material and bodily necessities of life – what de Beauvoir called “immanence,” while elite men concerned themselves with “transcendent” cultural projects, such as writing philosophy. Further the life experience shaped by such stark sex role separation might be seen to re-enforce for privileged males the sense of living in a “glass box” on top of nature; and for women a concern with the concrete facts of existence.  

One analysis is that women (and all oppressed groups in general) share an experience of being “other” to economically and educationally privileged white males (Hurtado 833), and being the recipients of projections of men’s own embodiment and immanence (Anderson 32).  Similarly, J.B. Miller (1976) describes a sweeping commonality in the projections that dominants apply to subordinate groups. Given the power of the perceptions of dominant groups to shape reality, these commonalities may give rise to some similarities of experience amongst diverse “others” who may learn to conform to the expectations of dominants as a matter of survival.

With regard to race and gender, womanist philosopher Patricia Hill Collins observes that despite differences in social experience, there are substantial similarities between womanist and feminist perspectives:

“The search for the distinguishing features of an alternative epistemology used by African-American women reveals that values and ideas Africanist scholars identify as characteristically “Black” often bear remarkable resemblance to similar ideas claimed by feminist scholars as characteristically ‘female.’  This similarity suggests that the material conditions of race, class, and gender oppression can vary dramatically and yet generate some uniformity in the epistemologies of subordinate groups” (207).

 In considering how perspective — especially the perspectives of the powerful — shape social structures that reinforce beliefs, it is further reasonable to assume that women and slaves, whose rational facilities were assumed to naturally “lack authority,” would be denied the educational and leisure opportunities that would enable them to effectively counter these assertions – if indeed those in power would listen, given the assumption that these groups  “naturally lack authority.”

Of course, thankfully, the whole system (from philosophy, to psychology, to families, orgaizations, politics, etc.) has shifted so that a greater diversity of perspectives can be heard. Yet, it’s fair to say that many of our organizations and social structures are still shaped by dominator dynamics in our cultural inheritence.

I am writing this of course to suggest that integrating the consideration of gender opens up key psychological and social dynamics of dominator systems. It’s not simply a matter of including women as an historically oppressed class (certainly, economic class, race, and other factors come into play as well), but of noticing how ideas and values surrounding gender have shaped our psyches, language, values and institutions.   

Thank you for mentioning Patterson’s analysis of the three facets of slavery: social, psychological, and cultural. I think it is very helpful to look at whole systems. Anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday also brings up the dimension of ecology/environment as a factor in the power relationships between women and men. I’ll save that for another time!

Best wishes,

P.S. We may have rain today — good writing weather!


Anderson, Pamela Sue. A Feminist Philosophy of Religion: The Rationality and Myths of Religious Belief. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998.

Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle. The Revised Oxford Translation. Ed. Jonathan Baines. Princeton, N.J.:Princeton University Press, 1984 (1912-52).

—. “On the Generation of Animals.” The Works of Aristotle. Trans. Arthur Platt from vol 2 of The Great Books of the Western World. Chicago: William Benton, 1952.

—. The Politics of Aristotle. Trans.E. Barker. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946.

—. Politics. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Basic Works of Artistotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 1941.

Code, Lorraine. What Can She Know?: Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge. Ithica, New York: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Perspectives on Gender, Vol. 2. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Hurtado, Aida. “Relating to Privilege: Seduction and Rejection in the Subordination of White Women and Women of Color.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 14 (Summer 1989).

Miller, Jean Baker. Toward a New Psychology of Women. 2nd ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987.

Ortner, Sherry B. “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?” Women, Culture, and Society. Ed. M.Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere. Stanford, CT: Stanford University Press: 67-88.

Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality. Cambridge, N.J.: Cambridge University Press, 1981

Shepherd, Linda Jean. Lifting the Veil: The Feminine Face of Science. Portland, OR: FireWord Publishing, Inc., 1993.

Spretnak, Charlene. Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature and Place in a Hypermodern World. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Silence and speaking in organizations

Hi Carman,
I apologize that it has been taking me so long to respond to your thoughtful and insightful posts. I appreciate your ongoing contributions to this endeavor!

Thank you (first) for your discussion of cultures of silence. The quote you chose from Charles Davis was a very apt illustration of how we internalize the power structures in which we participate:

“Exterior un-freedom causes interior un-freedom. A child first learns to talk or think aloud, then afterwards to think without voicing its thought.”

Deconstructive postmodernists (with whom I share both agreement and disagreement) have observed that assertions of truth are acts of power. This is very evident in a court of law, where attorneys put forth a view of reality which serves them and their clients. This is also true in dominator organizations, where authority and power are often perceived to arise (in part) from being “right” and where, in a circular way, might makes right. Certain views and positions become “legitimate” and others, which question or challenge these perspectives may be viewed as heritical or a power play. (1)

In the same way that in a dominator family, a child is shusshed for “talking back” or challenging parental authority, in dominator organizations, members may be admonished for raising perspectives and positions that challenge organizational orthodoxy. (This seems to come back to your post on orgaizations as theocracies…). And what is true of families and organizations is also true with respect to our larger institutions and culture.

So, in dominator organizations, organizational members learn to silence themselves, effectively internalizing the outer controls, so as to avoid “punishment.” This self-silencing can become so automatic, that we are barely consciously aware of it.

Further, it is also taboo to discuss the silencing itself. Because it pulls back the covers on power relationships, challenges the legitimacy and absoluteness of existing truth claims, and because there is the sensibility that “that war” was already fought and won,” raising the existance of the taboo tends to both threaten and irritate people. A very successful control structure maintains both the silence and suppression of awareness or discussion of the silence itself.

Conversely, speaking in our own voice is a form of self-assertion, of “power-from-within.” And, when we share our truths an perspectives as part of a mutually-respectful dialogue or larger conversation, this sharing can become the co-creative “power-with” in which the flow of energy and ideas in the group gives rise to broader insights and more powerful ideas than would be the case of a person acting singly. Master coach Karen Capello calls this the power of authenticity:

It is the empowering, creative energy that organizations want and need. The challenge, as I see it, is that to be truly creative, many organizations need to rethink their assumptions about power and knowledge, and the role of leadership.

(1) This is not always true, of course. Alternative ideas may be considered within certain bounds, depending on both the idea and the speaker. (This speaks to the concept of rhetorical communities).

Holism, Power, and the Intersubjective Nature of Joy

Hi Carman, I am glad to hear that you are feeling restored to health! It’s a pleasure to read your posts again.

Yes, I agree — Alfred North Whitehead once said that whatever constitutes a world view can be understood to constitute a religion. And, process theologian, David Ray Griffin, who interpreted and extended Whitehead’s work, observed that two key world views dominate the modern West: fundamentalist Christian theology (in which God created the world but is separate from it) and materialism — the latter deriving from the former. Ecofeminist philosopher, Charlene Spretnak, observes that these two worldviews share in common the assumption that notion that we are all separate. 

However, this notion of separation is not fundamental to either science or spirituality. My hypothesis is that the perspective that we are all separate is born of pain and fear, and engenders the same.  And when we are separate and afraid, we seek power *over* our situation and others. Because money is a form of power that gives us some measure of control, it’s unsurprising that we would turn wealth itself into a god.

New science, on the other hand, points to a more holistic, intelligent Cosmos. In my personal understanding, it points to a world in which we are all deeply interconnected and in which there are multiple levels of intelligence — from cells, to organisms, to ecosystems — including the intelligence of the larger whole, in which we all participate. 

However, because our worldviews are self-reinforcing, our culture reinforces ways of perceiving and interpreting the world that emphasize separation, which one prominent physicist called a kind of optical illusion of consciousness. However, different aspects of human experience can and do, point to a more holistic and interconnected world, and that leads us into the life world that you describe so well.

Your question on how the two employers defended the life world sounds well worth exploring. I notice that Fezziwig takes joy in the happiness of others. We are social animals, and it seems that meaning and happiness ulitmately has this relational context. Conversely, I also notice that Scrooge is not a happy person. He may take pleasure in comforts, but in serving the god of wealth, he oppresses himself as well as others. 

To this point, I recently read a quote by Booker T. Washington, which read, “You can’t hold a man [or woman] down without staying down with him [her].”  This is true at many levels, from the psychological, to the sociological, to a more holistic understanding of what some call “the inter-subjective space.” (Robert Kenny has done some fascinating, ground-breaking work on how this space applies to creative teams (  Transformational leadership thus has the potential to liberate and free the creative potentials of both the leader and the organization.

The role of the Spirits could be metaphorical or it could relate to the larger spirit or intelligence of the whole, for which people have used a variety of terms, depending on their spiritual or secular orientation.  (I think you previously raised the question of the relationship between spiritual transformation and tranformative leadership…)    

Speaking of valuing the subjective dimension of life, several colleagues and clients that I am working with in my coaching and training practice, hold the intention that their work should also be fulfilling and fun.  It’s an enriching practice to work with, as I’m sure you know! 

Have a great weekend!


The Lifeworld & Healthy Organizational Systems

Carman, As always it is a real pleasure to read and share your posts.  I look forward to having a chance to respond in the near future.  Best wishes to you! Lisa

Habermas and Happy Cows

Hi Lisa,

Thank you for the intellectual oasis you’ve created here! Like a jeweler examining a precious stone, I’ve spent the week reading and re-reading your comments. Every facet enriched my “lifeworld” (the source of human activity, connectedness and meaningfulness according to Habermas). I was especially enamored by your comment, “in a healthy organic system, groups exist to serve their members, and members serve the group so that it continues to sustain them.”

Adult educator Michael Welton agrees with you: “the bedrock of the lifeworld is the provision of safety, security and sustenance for all of us.” Welton also says that harmful, anxiety-producing and unstable conditions distort the socialization process, giving rise to various pathologies…” With your forbearance I would like to apply Habermas’ concepts of Instrumental, Communicative and Emancipatory learning to cows.


Studies in Britain have shown that an average dairy-sized farm could see production increase by an extra 6,800 gallons a year based on the following:

• Naming and treating cows as individuals cuts stress levels and boosts yields
• Giving cows one-to-one attention so makes cows feel happier and more relaxed
• Naming cows makes them more docile and less likely to kick during milking
• Treating cows like “one of the family” is believed to cut levels of cortisol—a stress hormone known to inhibit milk production
• Placing importance on the individual cow improves their welfare and their “perception of humans and increases milk production

Instrumental learning and action might approach the cow as an object to be controlled or manipulated. Many farmers, on the other hand, enjoy Lifeworld concepts wherein the cow is more than a milking machine—she is “one of the family!” They can now challenge the distorted meaning perspectives of those systems (driven by money and power) which invade their Lifeworld and undermine the dignity of the cow.

I am reminded of Senge’s Systems Law: “Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants.” Living ‘systems’ like the cow have integrity. Senge says that violating the boundaries results in a “mess”—we recall the BSE scandal—which evidently started by feeding cows diseased sheep brains.

I love your comment, “in as much as we are encouraged to subordinate the quality of our experience to economic and other outcomes, there is an inclination to shut down other feelings, including empathy, which is considered to be “soft” and “feminine” and therefore, less appropriate for an organizational environment.” For me, the cow symbolizes the subjective under siege from the system: the host hostage to the parasite.

To illustrate, workers in one Canadian organization ;) tethered to a telephone all day long are treated to “soft” skills training. Ironic given that most are female and most have exemplified “soft” skills for decades. In this scenario, the workers’ Lifeworld did not legitimate the system; the systems media (which eschews face-to-face interaction) are “colonizing” their Lifeworld—despite respectful protestations from the workers.

Your insightful references to “holism” and “the revalorization of the quality of our subjective and inter-subjective experience” are key to the reclamation of the beleaguered Lifeworld. Lisa, I am wondering how Montuori would achieve the “healthy organic system”? Does he see any antagonism between the Lifeworld and the systems world?

Bye for now!


p.s. I’ve talked about cows—how about a duck? From Reader’s Digest—the only joke I know. This duck walks into a store, and asks the storekeeper, “Do you have any grapes”?  The storekeeper says, “Sorry, No.” The duck leaves. The next day the duck walks back into the store and asks the storekeeper, “Do you have any grapes”?  The storekeeper says, “No.” So the duck leaves”  The next day the duck walks into the store and asks the storekeeper, “Do you have any grapes”? The storekeeper says, “No, and if you ask me one more time I’m going to staple your feet to the floor!” The duck leaves. The following day, the duck walks back into the store and asks the shopkeeper, “Do you have any staples?” The shopkeeper says, “No.” The duck replies, “Do you have any grapes?”

From More on humanizing systems (and the brain), 2009/02/27 at 6:16 AM

More on humanizing systems (and the brain)

Hi Carman, As always, your posts are both intellectually enriching and poetic.

Years ago, Alfonso Montuori and I wrote an essay on how our philosophical paradigm and guiding metaphors have shaped organizations and leadership, and created the blind spots that now limit organizations. A very perceptive reviewer suggested the article would be all the more impactful if it was written from the voice that naturally emerges from the perspective we descibe. You write in that voice.

You make an excellent point about humanizing systems, and I appreciate your references to Weber and Havel. It raises the question: Are we meant to serve our systems, or are they meant to serve us?  There is so much more to be said here about human and social psychology in a “mechanistic system” or a “theocracy.”  But, for the moment, I, too, am drawn to explore more creative and fulfilling possibilities. ..

Towards that end, I would like to offer an additional perspective. In our essay, Alfonso Montuori observes that we tend to emphasize and value either the individual or the group — one in opposition to the other. For example, capitalism vs. communism; the lone hero fighting the oppressive organization.

However, Montuori also observes that sense of opposition itself reflects a worldview of separation (which I would loosely associate with our ideas of left brain cognition).  Rather, from a systems point of view, he suggests, it’s a matter of “both/and. ” The organization and individual are part of a single continuum. In a sense, each is in and shapes the other.  In a healthy organic system, groups exist to serve their members, and members serve the group so that it continues to sustain them. We could also add that a healthy organic system also recognizes that its own sustainability requires a healthy environment…    

A key distinction between a healthy organic system and bureaucratic systems is that, as rational systems, bureaucratic systems tend to make objects of their members. Using the machine analogy, the “subject” is the operator of the machine, and the experience of organizational members is not considered as important as the economic and other outcomes of the organizational machine. Often it could be said of these organizations that the experience of organizational members only makes a difference in so much as as it affects the bottom line.

This machine also exists inside many of its members — who learn not to value our own subjective experience.  For example, there have been times in my organizational career, where I had so much to do (produce) that I literally felt machine-like and disconnected from my feelings.

My perspective is that in a hierarchal, bureacratic system (which emphasizes external power relations), we are enculturated to feel primarily those emotions associated with our dynamic place in the pecking order: anxiety, anger, depression and for the lack of a better word, “glory.” But, in as much as we are encouraged to subordinate the quality of our experience to economic and other outcomes, there is an inclination to shut down other feelings, including empathy, which is considered to be “soft” and “feminine” and therefore, less appropriate to an organizational environment.

Being a biological organism myself 🙂 I believe that when one of my bodily subsystems is in distress (or very healthy), I feel it — either unconsciously or consciously.  Conversely, when I am happy or in distress, every system in my body is impacted by that.  In other words, I think that the quality of holism arises, at least in part, from mutual feeling (of parts and the whole).  [I’m very influenced in this train of thought by Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy.]

So, I think the restoration of feeling and the revalorization of the quality of our subjective and inter-subjective experience is key to a more cognitively balanced (Partnership) approach to organizations…  To come full circle, this is a quality I hear in your writing.

thank you so much for this inspiring conversation!

Reply to Organization as Theocracy

Carman, What a creative essay! It sounds like you have a background in religious studies or theology. May I ask if that is true? 

The organization as theocracy metaphor is a potentially useful one in that it’s been multiply observed ( I hope my readers will forgive me for not looking up the references) that our understanding of the Divine (or Sacred) order shapes our understanding of the ideal social order.  As you mention, although Western culture has its deep roots in a more organic worldview, it has been strongly shaped by Protestant ideas and ethics. 

For example, conservative theologians interpret the maleness of Jesus to affirm God as male, and therefore, as an endorsement of male dominance (patriarchy) in the human social sphere.  Alice Miller, author of For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence, observed that in pre-World War II Germany, children were raised to be reflexively obedient to the father. This was understood to socialize them to be obedient members of the larger societal hierarchy, and therefore, in correct relationship to God. 

Throughout history, political leaders have often claimed divine endorsement.  In secular culture, God may not be imagined to be at the top of the social pyramid, but those at the top may still be seen as God-like.  I have heard the religious metaphor used within organizations. For example, in one institution, it was said that the president and founder reported to the board, and the president’s spouse, who was also involved in the business, directly reported to God. In another, a colleague would remark dryly, “I’m on a mission from Ray…” (the CEO). 

There’s a sense in which our understanding of power per se is derived from our understanding of divine power. (It follows that a shift in worldview can also shift our understanding of the nature of power…).

What I’m hearing you say in your essay, is that, in a sense, that absolute social hierarchies, create or reinforce the objectification of others.  An absolute social hierarchy would be one in which one person is understood to be superior (rather than differently gifted, knowledgeable or skilled) than another. A theocracy is an absolute social hierarchy, with some members considered closer to God (or an absolute standard of Godliness as interpreted/embodied by the human at the head of the divine hiearchy).  We also know that  absolute hierarchies have historically led to the exploitation and abuse of those considered “less than fully human.” I would include lots of examples here, but they are all grim, and I am aiming for a lighter tone! 

In my experience — at least in the high technology industry –knowledge-based organizations often can’t be described as theory x organizations. At the same time, I don’t see many knowledge-based organizations as fully expressing a theory y orientation. I think this is because traditional bureaucratic organizatons were substantially shaped by a theory x worldview.  This stymies the highest aspirations of many leaders who are effectively driving with the parking brake on…

Your post also ties in the strategies of rational control. The left brain gives rise to and is analogous to the structures of the control in the bureaucratic organization. It is also that part of us which seems to make objects of “things” so as to manipulate them. The right brain takes the world in as a gestalt, without sealing the self off from it.  It is holistic and inclusive.

As humans, we have both capacities for experiencing our selves as separate and as continous with the world. However, Western culture emphasizes the former and subordinates the latter. If we were to use our brains in a more balanced way, we might expect to be more creative and innovative, individually and collectively.  I’m wondering, what does it look like to take a more hemispherically balanced approach to organizations?