Archive for Science

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.

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,


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.

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

Defining the space of managerial freedom to avoid noxicants

More from Carman de voer:

Great questions Lisa, Perhaps I could begin to address them through a practical illustration:

I recently heard about a professional bureaucracy that is experiencing high turnover of its trainees—which, in such an organization, is surprising given the time, money and personnel allocated to training.  Furthermore, neophytes exhibit enormous enthusiasm and commitment.

In terms of the brain metaphor (cybernetics) the organization could pursue the following:

Ask questions:

1) What is it about our culture that contributes to high turnover? What do trainees tell us (via exit interviews)? How might the workload exceed the limitations of trainees? What kind of treatment do trainees receive once on the job? Is it civil or uncivil? In other words, surface noxiants.

Avoid noxiants: (set limits on undesirable behavior):

2)  Don’t browbeat. Don’t overload (with information). Don’t exceed the capabilities of trainees. Don’t impose unreasonable deadlines. Don’t proscribe social [professional] interaction with co-workers.

Morgan says: “Cybernetics shows us that effective management depends as much on the selection of the limits that are to be placed on behaviour as on the active pursuit of desired goals” (p.99)

I would like to further delve into your questions tomorrow Lisa (I’m off to work now).

Bye for now!

Organization as Brain: Avoiding Noxiants

Another interesting and educational post from Carman!

Lisa writes: “I wonder what it would do for us to consider organizations as creative, intelligent energy? I wonder if it would lead us to open up to these qualities, to the creative intelligent energy of others?”

Two excellent questions Lisa. Employers may not understand the Brain metaphor’s enormous potential to impact their “bottom line.”

To illustrate: Cybernetic system behaviour, says Morgan, is guided by the avoidance of undesirable system states [noxious outcomes]. A themostat achieves its goal by avoiding such “noxious outcomes” (not too hot or cold).

The same principle applies to complex social states where great codes of behaviour are framed in terms of “Thou shalt NOT.” Morgan describes “avoiding noxiants” as  “defining a space of acceptable behaviour within which individuals can act, innovate, or self-organize as they please.” pp.98-99

Examples: “Don’t overload others with information.” “Don’t respond to provocation.” “Don’t speak to and treat others in inappropriate ways.” “Don’t expect people to work beyond their capacities and limitations.”

By taking the Brain metaphor seriously and [for example] avoiding noxious states, many organizations could well see a reduction in stress and sick leaves which have become pandemic.

Your thoughts?

Organization as brain, intelligent creative energy

Carman, regarding: your post: I completely agree.

This is a good example of how our metaphors can limit our thinking. The mind-body dichotomy, in which mind is usually seen as separate from and superior to the body, has been a fundamental cultural metaphor. Related metaphors include: God-World, spirit-flesh, and the misogynist male-female dichotomy in which men were considered rational and transcendent, and women more “bodily” and immanent. According to this pattern (or guiding metaphors), the World, the organization, the body … are all viewed as machines, controlled by an intelligent external force. These ideas were also applied to social organization.

Although the machine analogy has some uses, the metaphor is based on the faulty assumption that the world (including our bodies) are machine like. To the degree that we operate with this assumption, we behave in ways that actually suppress organizational intelligence and creativity. (For an example of how perception can create reality, see Jane Elliott’s social experiment

In addition to the one you mentioned, a great source on the intelligent body is Dr. Candace Pert’s, Your Body is Your Subconscious Mind. It also supports somatic approaches to psychology.

I like your proposal to consider the entire organization as “brain”; it is more realistic and as a guiding assumption would tend to lead us towards behaving in ways that cultivate organizational intelligence and creativity.  Or a related analogy might be “body-mind.” 

I wonder what it would do for us to consider organizations as creative, intelligent energy?  Might it lead us to open up to these qualities, to the creative intelligent energy of others? (Thinking about it, this is a process view of organizations …)

Some related posts:

Metaphors of Organization: Organization as Brain …

Carman writes: Perhaps we could begin with “Brain.” While many are inclined to see the brain as somehow separate from and higher than the rest of the body, Morgan proposes that “intelligence” is, in fact, distributed throughout the entire body—such as the legs hands, feet.

In short, there is no master, centralized intelligence. The brain, says Morgan, “is linked to quasi-independent processes linked to a minimal set of key rules making the whole system appear to have an integrated, purposeful, well-coordinated intelligence.”

This makes sense to me. The intelligence of a symphony orchestra for example, is not confined to the conductor but is rather “distributed” throughout the system. I suggest that society has overstated the role of the brain and understated the integrated functioning of the rest of the body. The separation of “brain” (manager) and “hand” (worker) is a popular practice in organizations. Viewing the entire organization as “brain” however, might be more productive (and realistic).

Your thoughts?


Creativity, Dreaming, and Shaping the Future

“Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively. I hear them all at once. What a delight this is! All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing, lively, dream.” –Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Good morning, readers! It’s been a very intense time for me on the career coaching side of my practice, and I’ve been longing to spend more time with you here.  Mozart’s quote is a great reminder for us to recall the source and nature of our creativity. It’s not sequential analytical thought (though that has its own place in our lives and organizations); rather, our creativity seems to emerge from our wholistic right brains.

Is creativity important in your life and work?  Do you have problems to solve, or opportunities to meet? Would you like a better quality of experience?  If so, where and when do you take the time to nuture your playful, visionary, creative nature?