Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Season of overoptimism

The winter air toughens as the vesper bells chime,
The bugle stirs a hornet’s ruse in disguise,
The minaret forecloses corpses in the clime
A subcontinent yelping as if justice is about to rise.
The sinners and the losers united in defeat,
Chose not this season of retreat,
But the rants and the chants of militant gangs chill,
The hope of any tiger on any hill.
A mute spectator bends head under her scarf as she quivers,
Of no winter as this she recalls,
In digital finesse, her masters promise the union of rivers
Alas, only tears upon her sullen cheeks would fall.
The masculine will of a fantasy unborn,
Meets dismay despite the force of his horn;
Critics still give the mood its many names,
Arrogance, contempt, overbearing a fleeting fame.
The winter air condenses a scent with harnesses
To count a flock that must fear the game,
Neither the scholar, artiste or author buttresses
The spark that the potent air will enflame.
The summer must melt the overoptimism
That this season was quick to mature
The thoughtless addiction sits in the chasm
That many suns and moons have endured.
The priest and the guru of peaceful sojourn
Detour to a place of no return
Where love harbors refugees from religious strictures
That no race, no tongue nor blood or gender can yet picture.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Cellphone corollaries - Evolution through formless circumstances in India

On an early morning sky, an elderly adult of 65 was pacing his available place on a cool morning near his ancestral home. He was holidaying among known relatives, taking a break from the Big Apple where his permanent residence is. Looking toward the two steady lights of the sky between clouds of rain and mist, he exclaimed that the two stars had been his companion of the mornings he was on tour. When I mentioned the redness of a planet that looked silvery through the atmosphere, he was all ears. Recognising that they were the planets Venus and Mars or Jupiter, he seemed dwarfed in time and space to acknowledge the need for a telescopic confirmation. In about the early 1980s, when he migrated, it was not an easy decision to meet with an alien culture, where his daughter now teaches math for a living, and his son is on the brink of a doctoral publication in neuroscience. Saged through experiences, he had the discernment to appreciate that it was a tad late to buy his first smartphone, as he expanded his source of information and was more knowledgeable on matters since his first purchase.

It was in 1989 or so, that I had read in a French publication – (le nouvel observatuer or the L’Express Internationale – I do not remember which) of a caption that featured India’s crossroads in time. It was a colour picture of a bovine on an Indian road. “une vache sacrée a la rue” tried to capture India’s contradictions at a time, when the liberalisation of the automobile sector was on the anvil. Today, two and a half decades later, the smartphone indeed has ruled and the automobile has displaced the bullock cart in most places. Why go far? The home care-taker of the resort I was at in Allepey, whose business is younger than the liberalisation of the Indian economy, says that none row their boats with effort now along the Manimala or the Pamba rivers, leave alone the Vembanad lake. All prefer the Japanese motor-powered boat. His attendant adds quickly, none know hunger here anymore.

This week, the Newsweek’s issue carries the burden of the Indian zeitgeist in similar language as the French press. “The French” our attendant proffered, “prefer blander food preparations, even if it is meat; than the British and the American tourists”. The experience of being on the ground was shining forth in just a decade and a half of such flourishing house-boat and holiday home business in Kerala. The holiday-home owner was more forthright in his assessment though. He wondered why the fuss when even the lower castes with whom local politicians were playing coy; would return to sanity after their tempting differentiation in identity. He was certain that they would be side-lined by the higher castes in communal politics. At the crossroads at which India is today, caste is still a potent killer within India, than cow slaughter is. Social psychology still knows no better wisdom of in-group and out-group phenomena, in that the French observed of India in 1989, as clearly and as early as did the Newsweek did of India’s social contradictions in 2015.

Evolutionary biology, history and even philosophy are enriched in interdisciplinary contributions than are religion and politics of everyday living in the age of the hand-held mobile smartphone. Learning at a societal scale is not only mediated through technology and access to information, it is also restricted by inept social learning; like, falling on naked eyes to ‘know’ the planet from the star; when more contemporary lens are available. Bias and overlearning part, activity – and almost any variety - is considered a strategy for life. So popularity is weighed against social media rankings, and political achievements through material manifestations – even at the cost of the earth and the air on its surface. Activity inhibition is considered as sloth, and not as a possibility for inner reflection and contemplative meaningfulness. So hours are lost as minutes are kept; and the fear of not doing anything has the whirr of the modern boat scare away fish and tear away livelihoods impacted by nature’s plunderers. Seldom has the radical nature of groups been so incendiary in grabbing our attention. 

In populous India, the smartphone presents both opportunity and challenge. Rabble-rousers speeden the reach of their dogma faster than the citizens’ capacity to develop their innate intelligence and express themselves in independent critique based on emerging truths that science methodically uncovers for us. Else, may the farce be with you, and the mercy of a timeless zone rescue us from ourselves. Until then, am hoping to embrace the effervescence of formless circumstances!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

What CLO prototype do you engage with?

Recently, a good friend played a song from his pocket device. It was Crossroads by Don Mclean. And while the context was from a different calling, the river of thought runs deep with what I share here. I have been student of many a professional tendencies. One among them has to do with types of orientations in employee development that organisations foster or acquire. For a while now, I have been wondering whether the role of the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) is at a crossroad.  This is because, hard choices lie ahead, that without reflection will weaken the sinew of human essence and project onto social institutions the refuse of our ethical, moral and social worlds. Else, the mutation of this species is not only at hand, it is one that if left unmanaged, will affect the destiny of our generic species – homo sapiens itself. So what are the tendencies I have come across in CLOs that make for this crossroads.

1.       The Certainty Dispenser : Such has been the stranglehold of performance monitored materialistic reward of salary and raises, that the distinction between output and outcomes are hardly an issue for this CLO. She must have an action every minute, and each action must realise a benefit that measures up on a desired dashboard. So, every bit (well almost) of a workshop schedule, a development plan and such need to have specific predicates on paper. If you are not sure of meeting this CLO’s  high need for certainty, tread carefully into this client context.

2.       The Panacea Lab : I could well have recalled old comedian Johnnie Walker act that composition rendered by Rafi on this theme. Having the panacea for all maladies is what some CLOs posture with inscrutable fallibility and unassailable flourish. Like the half-knowledge of the freshly formulated medical representative, this CLO vends from the same generic drug with labels appropriate to the learners or their sponsors. The learner taught against his will, will be of the same opinion still, is it not? Yet the silver bullet fantasy pervades our gullible minds.

3.       The Attention Seeker : No  matter what the cause, every occasion to sieve learning content or process is an opportunity to project one’s persona. Cutting the ribbons, lighting the lamp, or even introducing the guest speaker of the day are paths to the lights on his stage. It does not matter how much or how little he identifies with the pains of the learner, the needs of the self are in unadulterated glory in one’s own image.  In fallacious extension of the adage that the medium is the message, this CLO garnishes social media presence, as if learners appetites are puny sized or restricted to a hundred odd digital characters.

4.       The Spineless Survivor :  Don’t take me for a vertebrate yet. But, when survival precedes service, the CLO billows like the unwavering vapour above a fleeting flash of light. This CLO is the escort to the fad of the day. Unable to reach into one’s own internal core, in unanchored sway this CLO is a projection of insecurity despite the mistaken belief of being avant garde – with push-button learning package content, oversimplified caricatures of phenomena and a clueless followership of virtual connect. Alter-egos of opportunist business leaders match the motives of the willing CLO’s chameleon characteristics.

5.       The Authentic Humanist : This CLO is an embodiment of human potential - empathetic, generous, dutifully forthright and willing through gracious vulnerability to laugh at one’s own fallacious self. Irrespective of efficacy on technology platforms, she nourishes the deeper needs of developing adults, in rapt listening and pretenceless giving of one’s time to others. This is the core of developmental stuff, hard and essential in process, and soft and caressing in character. With immense human capital following, this CLO may at times be even taken for granted, but is willing to learn through tempest and an ever enlarging statesmanship.   

It is but a corollary, that we do not want to lose the authentic humanist in us. Only if we could absorb it in the physical presence of such a CLO! Not that the other prototypes are without benefit; but, it is the behavior and experience we are affected by and even involuntarily recall. The scarcer this sub-species, the dearer the crossroads on which this profession stands. Which CLO’s impact do you recall more fondly? What can you do more of or better to nourish the CLO you need? Do let me know if we can meet at this crossing! 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Self-Esteem as Focus of Action

In the late, 1990s, and I do not recall which specific summer it was –the heat of the road was scorching dry near the Kshipra river, as I braved the industrial fumes of a factory in whose precincts we were attempting to foray an Organization Development intervention. I was interviewing a workman on the shop-floor of a soya mill in Indore’s industrial hills. In trying to understand how the workman made emotional reserve for the workplace environment, I was curious as to how the respondent would perceive the health benefits facilitated by the employer. Given the wage limits determining coverage under the Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), I was keen on knowing how their services were accessed and consumed.

From the more direct and forthright portrayal of his employer’s orientation to health benefits, he was now coming to the zone of interface between the firm and its environment. He was beginning to get comfortable in responding, but looked distraught enough to warrant my curiosity. I asked point-blank in youthful bravado, if it was to do with harassment for bribes at the ESIC. Even more relieved, he was coming to the poignant zenith of disclosure.  In chaste Hindi he quipped “Saab, ab yeh mat puchiye hamein, ki machli kitna paani me – ya paani kitna, machli mein”. (“Don’t ask me how much of the fish is in the water – or how much of water is in the fish”).  The rustic diplomacy that descended from the man stumped me, and had me in a long pause of the interaction there.
He was at once acknowledging the phenomenon of corruption, and also pushing back on the enquirer in me to hold my reserve enough to hold up the workman’s dignity. Such conversational brilliance seldom befalls me from the dust and grime of India these days. The respondent now strikes me as having self-esteem expressed with a poise that is unlikely to have been achieved without reflective oscillations between tempest and salvation in the struggle to stay employable in an economically unforgiving social context.

In the recent months gone by, I have come to a certain insight during the curation of data. My clients who take up assessments before they determine their development goals, come from managerial cadres, and find the transitioning to leadership a platform on which a lifetime’s effort is met with a decisive crossroads. Here are some trends below. Indeed, they are to do with self-esteem, but its correlates are not also linear or entirely generalizable. Nonetheless, they may represent a sliver from which we may infer many possibilities.

Let me begin first by acknowledging the root inspiration for this piece of writing. I have had several people talk about self-esteem as being a unidirectional trait – that it is either low or high, but have also classified it as a human psychological need that requires fulfillment. On the other hand, Nathaniel Branden who first extolled the virtues of self-esteem has also made allowance for it to be treated as an accomplishment or an act of achievement.  Some treat it as an inner dynamic of the person, while others are open to the influence of the person’s external environment in playing a role in the nurture or development of self-esteem. So let me quote Nathaniel Branden himself here :
Self-Esteem is
1. Confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life and
2. Confidence in our right to be successful and happy, the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants, achieve our values, and enjoy the fruits of our efforts.
For purposes of reflection, here are a few of my insights, or let’s say formative hypotheses from immersive engagements with professionals in Indian work contexts, that have sprung up from self-esteem confines.
1.       Gender has a role, but it is a social bias more than a personal bias to begin with  – and it’s effect at the workplace is likely to be in a continued state of flux. I have in the recent past seen two kinds of effects with regard to self-esteem among women coachees. The first one is the more difficult to address via coaching in the workplace. Due to social gender stereotyping, as in a barrage of media through rite, ritual and unquestioned convention, women tend to develop low self-acceptance. In fallacious extension of physical might of the male, they surrender even psychologically to the will of the male. They try to overcompensate with a striving to self-correct as if, their concept of self will be decided on norms set by the male. This leads to approval seeking at the workplace too decades after receiving gender discriminating signals, when in fact, mastery over an instrumental skill may be more important. Self-esteem eludes them for not being able to accept one’s imperfections without hating oneself. The other ‘syndrome’ at work is about women with self-esteem developing an uncritical socialisation style of the more dominant male gender. This includes an unassailable forthrightness to the point of being curt and at times appearing exploitative for lack of empathy with others.  Even after women become aware of the roots of their behavior, coping with their realities has often been a struggle to stay the distance, due to long years of operant conditioning.

     For women who have self-esteem, that is a dynamic balance between self-acceptance and self-improvement, exerting their interpersonal power in emotionally congruent ways has been easier, especially when organizations structure opportunities suited to their career pursuits. It has been more of an unspoken nightmare otherwise, despite their social facility in implementing task demands in less benign opportunity structures.
2.        Social Intelligence has a role – and it’s role in learning about human preferences and effectiveness is enlightening us due to insights from neurosciences and social psychology both. For example, Baron-Cohen has a theory of extreme male and extreme female brains, that speak to laser logic for the male and adroit empathy for the female prototype. In a biological frame, it is known that boys are ten times more likely to develop Asperger’s syndrome and four times more likely to develop autism symptoms than girls. While this may lead to some needless stereotyping, the language of making the journey from shallow feminine to deep feminine and further to shallow masculine and deep masculine is also known (Richard Rohr’s work for example).  
The sad news is that we do not design organisations yet on this principle of wholeness, as the norm is to yet pass around numbers that speak to gender ratios, barely scratching at the surface of deep tensions society presents. It has already embedded within it through its social mores, rites of passage and rituals of dysfunctional control.
Goleman accedes thus in his book on Social IntelligenceNeuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn to an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us affect the brain – and so the body – of everyone we interact with, just as they do us.
In the multiple interactions we have in social milieu we’re part of, the effervescence of connecting with other people, transpire deep connect, even subliminally. At the same time, we’re bombarded with information highways that causes us to disconnect with others, despite symbols of connectivity that surreptitiously compound social, emotional and possibly economic costs as well. I often surmise for fellow professionals, that one of the most silent epidemics among cadres I coach is that of maladapted masculinity – of being unable to get to the point of vulnerability or authentic change potential, in growth hungry corporate settings – where appearing to be weak is seen as taboo. Humility is a underrated strength.
3.       Empathy is a divisible compound – Several years ago, when I was being trained to be a developmental coach, I was introduced to a competency known as Accurate Empathy. In experiential learning of the theme, we were impressed upon to listen in for data in conversations that were of intent, feeling and content nature. While that may still be useful in listening deeply, empathy itself runs through neural circuits that signify the following forms from top-down to the bottom-up brain circuits
a.        Cognitive Empathy the ability to focus on what other people experience without losing touch with one’s own emotions
b.       Emotional Empathy the spontaneous attunement to others’ feelings in bodily resonance
c.        Compassion/Concern Empathy the proximal action oriented care and concern for others
So what’s that do with self-esteem you may ask? In my experience in dealing with professionals across sectors, it is astounding to note that one can be mind blind – that is impervious to empathetic concerns even as one’s self-esteem is intact! This is a trigger for sparking off structured opportunities in interactive variety. On the other hand, it is also possible to have the female brain of Baron-Cohen extremes in the male, with low assertiveness of personal power or poor self-acceptance in frank, planful, and organized males. This makes for challenging coaching conversations and indeed creative exploration of possibilities in empowering the present for meaningful futures.

4.       Systems Thinking draws more from inner intuition and is yet more data-intensive : - I go back to the shop-floor worker who summoned to my attention his immersive experience in his social context. With faculties available to him, and without a handheld device to support his data processing, he curated that moment between us in a communicative finesse that makes for the roots of effective decision making, strategic engagement and forthright diplomacy. He analysed his data, reviewed its shortcomings, risked an opinion in the face of social class divides, and made no compromise with the truth. In creative embedding through metaphor, he swelled his chest at the zenith of disclosing his dilemma from the zone of human values, with no sign of dogma or inane open-endedness. He vulnerably embraced an opportunity for his own development with an unabashed pride, making his self-esteem a product of apparently irreconcilable self-improvement and self-acceptance. His leaders were grappling with larger system cognition assuming that internal systems of human resource management were sufficiently dealt with. He had his theory of everything he experienced with laws of general nature implicit in the norms of his phenomenal world; including of course the permeability between social systems. Today’s challenges that afflict modern managers are not only about resiliently navigating ambiguity – but also in specifying the data slices from which to prune insights as a curator of ever burgeoning big-data, even to do with disease outbreak lead signals.

As I round off this piece, am reminded of a few talismans in intervention practice. One is that of working on the system, rather than on units within it per se. So, when organisational malaise is detected at a systemic level, one may believe that individuals at the level of units, or professional systems at the level of groups may self-govern in autopoetic abundance. When dealing with individuals as in some examples from which this piece is inspired, one sees organisations and systems of the past creeping in on the present in unkempt and unresolved tensions, so much so that system levels of the present may perpetuate if not precipitate similar individual malaise if left festering in the present. Do we have much choice but to deal at both ends of the whole together? In closing, perhaps, just as it is self-acceptance and self-improvement for self-esteem, organisation sponsors may have to consider the individual and the larger system, and not merely a specific symptomatic part. What’s been your experience on this frontier?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Compensation in ‘respectability’ – the Doctoral Pursuit

Corporations are competitive places to survive in. They house employees who are perceived to align with corporate objectives. They have been to reward the more aligned, based on what is now bandied about as ‘performance’. There are also those nooks and corners in corporations, where performance is incidental to the employee’s presence. Some of these employees are seen as ‘solid citizens’ and are some of the most procedurally compliant lot. They acquire onerous goodwill due to their dependable character and predictable nature. You don’t mess with these people if you know that they have a place in your heart.

But, they are not as satiated as their top managements may like them to be. So, the guy was given this office near the men’s room corner, and a pay grade lower than the executive cadres - with a title that could at best win the respect of a campus recruit. Denied the status and the merit based promotion cycle he is left wondering what aspect of loyalty failed him the next title and pay-grade.

Compensation in ‘self-worth’ – the ‘elixir’ of philosophy

So he rationalises it to be his pedigree – not the ivy league college degree, or the mother-tongue accented English conversation, or for that matter neglected acts of fine dining when hosting clients or government officials. So he decides to earn a title beyond the workplace. This time its going beyond the evening MBA. It’s a full doctoral program, course-work, and mini-thesis all rolled into an ongoing corporate problem that needs a fresh insight.

Numerous nouveau-riche institutions, make the beeline for retired executives and retiring ones with a noble exterior of respectability. Education plays the great leveller, after all, with knowledge having no favourites among learners. And learning is a virtue, that corporations can live with. Consumptive knowledge brings one closer to monetary value. But learning for learning sake does not necessarily guarantee more money instantly. Yet, it can salvage lost pride, as such is the inherent virtue of the transformations of learning.

Old habits die-hard

And when I saw an online appeal for ‘executive MBA’ students to help in the literature surveys, it was quick to get my attention. The learner in me awakened. To my horror, the posting was on behalf of Research scholars, who wished to outsource their literature survey, design of questionnaire for interviews, and interactions with industry leaders! Wow, some scholars these – even the methods of enquiry are finalised before the literature survey has ended. Rich students paying lesser students in the guise of learning! I can well imagine, how lost both outsourcer and the outsourced would be. To make matters crisp, let me lay out the following.

1.       Outsourcing a research project assumes that the researchers are trained and competent to design the research process, collect data, analyse information and makes inferences that are consistent with the method of science.
2.       Expecting untrained literature surveyors to execute research is like a surgeon expecting a barber to perform surgery for want of resources, including that of time.
3.        A PhD is about the method of science, and not the execution of procedural tasks bereft of the scientific mind-set.
4.       Internalizing the method of science within the researcher is a major differentiator in the research process. Why otherwise would a research scholar attempt trial-and-error research efforts with novices?
5.       A quest for a title cannot be unanchored in principle, purpose or ethics of the discipline. Can an aspiring guitarist ask free hands to tune strings without one’s will to strum it?

Parting Questions : 
1. How is the method of science different from other forms of knowing, for which you truly aspire to be a research scholar?
2. What's even more important to you than your self-worth, and the pleasure of learning for which you are taking up a research question in a scientific process?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Your mirage is not your father's horizon

Recently, someone on my professional network got in touch for some advice. It is as you may imagine in the litany of woes, that first comes as a statement of need, but hides the deeper need within. Seldom does the first expressions of requests for professional help, get to the real issue. The presenting issue and the latent issue at the core are different. This time though, I am writing about the content because it is hugely disconcerting to know that fellow professionals reach out for help and struggle to articulate their situation for what it is. To commence with,  brief narrations of the days gone by.
Caselet 1 : She was aspiring to learn under some industry greats, with a veteran in influential governance of the firm itself, and a heard name in the industry reporting to him as functional head. Both were PhDs and that mattered to the aspiring professional. But all the new joinee got in an apparently ‘global’ exposure role was a transactional overdose with a bully attitude in the  functional head. With not much to ‘learn’ as it were, she wanted a way out of the rather stifling situation, including opting out of thecity itself. Relocation was stated to be small price for overcoming this disillusionment. The tipping point as it were came, when the aspirant was accused of being from a lesser than A grade institutional pedigree.
 Issue : How can she face up to a bully at work, without giving up on her professional aims?
Caselet 2 : In another instance, a bundle of enthusiasm is struggling to re-enter a vocation after a rather unlucky attempt at the civil services. In this case, the person not only rose up the ranks, but also got through to a premier institution for a management education. After being selected from B-School to a prosperous industrial house for an ambitious project, the venture ran out of steam, and the lad was summarily re-assigned to a role he was not trained for. Then he joined another set of companies and did the grind only to find the thrill was gone. Assuming civil services to be the route to salvation, he has resigned to the advent of time after failing to clear the entrance exams. On presenting his credentials, no employer he has approached has been favouring his zest for life, let alone brisk learning in volatility. He is earning his bread teaching young students to fare well in their competitive exams.
Issue: How can he orient himself to a society that does not appreciate downturns in business and careers as passing phases or crucibles that can be leveraged for success?
So what is it that bothers me? What can similarly challenged professionals do to cope?
  1. In India, irrespective of gender, it is not perceived as honorable or normal to voice displeasure, discomfort or sheer victimization. SPEAK FROM YOUR HEART, ALRIGHT; BUT APPEAL TO YOUR SENSES, NEVER MIND THE UNCERTAINTY.
  2. When in this vortex like grip of an emotional downturn, clarity is not only the casualty – it is also the mirage. OTHERS KNOW FROM A FEW OBSERVATIONS WHAT YOU WILL NOT IN YOUR MILLION SIGHTS. THE EYES CANNOT SEE THEMSELVES.
  3. A zillion words from a few hundred people cannot assuage your feelings as the voice that comes from within you. ENERGISE YOUR PURPOSE in LIFE, BECAUSE ENERGY FEEDS ON ENERGY – YOUR ENERGY.
  4. If you feel you are not the one to sign your father’s tax returns’ will it prevent you from speaking your wealth of truth to him fearing that you may upset him? NO MATTER WHAT, BULLIES DRAW THEIR POWER FROM YOUR SUBMISSION TO THEIR NEED FOR PITY. DISEMPOWER THE BULLY WITH A CALM VOICE, UNHURRIED FREEDOM AND YOUR DISARMING SMILE. This may need practice, but what is your current option anyway?
  5. Even though they may not know it, the ‘idiots’ you have to work with may be your best teachers, with lessons coming at you faster than your preparedness to fail. While the process is mutual, this point is reserved for the traditionally rigid and orthodox boss. YOU DON’T HAVE TO PUB YOUR WAY TO YOUR TEAM MEMBERS’ HEARTS. SHOW THEM THEIR HEARTS MATTER WITH YOUR ACTIONS THAT IMPACT THEIR EMPLOYABILITY. AVOID screaming AT THEM.
It is as you may well agree, not a singular view that describes our composite reality. What is your experienced reality in such respects? Do our generations need to meet each other? Do they want to understand each other after all?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Community as a Safe Place

Movement through groups and between people will be unique, from moment to moment; even amongst the same persons.

There are unique identities in individuals. Formal workplaces too have their own identities. When these social entities begin to adopt structure over process, there is a reduction in the experience of individuals in the group. Then conversation by conversation, the group itself becomes less than a community – less friendly, and less safe.

To be vital, vivacious and energizing, a crisis can become an opportunity even among strangers, if the cause unites them to community. Expecting community by accident is not everyone’s option, however. Here are some ideas for how we may initiate our designs for community. But before we go there - a snippet that places the safety dimension upfront.

A science journalist was given an appointment with the famous Dr. Einstein. In the fall of day, the journalist said, “I have only one question. We’re asking every scientist we can find the same key question. The question is : What is the most important question that a scientist can ask?” Acknowledging the might of the question, Dr. Einstein was sure it deserved a serious response. After quiet stretching on his rocking chair, in pensive reflection, Dr. Einstein stunned the reporter. “Young man, the most important question that any person can ask is whether or not our universe is a friendly place”. 

Significance of Questions? We get answers that mean something to us

On pondering over its significance, Einstein elaborated “It is the answer to that question that determines what we do with our lives. If the universe is a friendly place, we will spend our time building bridges. Otherwise, people use all their time to build walls. We decide! I learnt of this story from Marilyn Atkinson, my Master coach, from the Erikson Institute. Along with this story, I got in touch with the power of many aspects of our social brain, some of which I will attempt to narrate
. Of course, it is YOU who will decide on how you will use this sharing from me.            

1.        Friendly disposition could be pseudo-community, and yet, lonely forays are the greater risk!
Being friendly and nice, seem important and necessary. However, vigil is called for when you see instant agreement, experience extreme pleasantness and witness quick conformance. The making of community requires time, and the experience of sacrifice. Do we quickly sell ourselves to people who withhold their own feelings and truths about themselves? Being included implies that time is invested mutually in each other. If this phase of getting to know people seems difficult, then try joining the pack!

2.        It’s because of….CHAOS! –

 Individual differences take time to surface, to express and to understand. The tense attempt to ‘convert’ others to their point of view is often an untested plan going berserk! “No, it’s because of this..” is the common refrain for lack of community. In an age of abundant diversity unlocked by age, gender, language, creed and faith, non-constructive and non-creative struggle is the epicenter of chaos. And you thought YOU were normal! Normalsing others is the under-reported radicalism of our age. Vitality is heard in the voice of struggle, and is a shade better than pseudo-community. Chaos is the outward activity that precedes inner awareness. It is so for individual members, and therefore for the group as a whole.

3.        Emptiness as a bridge between Chaos and Community –

Communication barriers can stifle the transition from individuality to community.  Preconceptions, prejudices, ideology and activity addiction are some of the ways in which noise permeates our relationships. Silence is the freedom from these noises, an emptiness in which the need to control others is overcome. The surrender into vulnerability is a multi-faceted dance between visions of clarity and the sharing of brokenness, defeats, inadequacies and shortcomings. Blocking out expressions of pain, suffering and forbearance are resistances composed of pretenseful shields against irrational or illusory fears. Death of pseudo-community is also the ability of members to recognize their capacity to die for each other, when the calling is through such mutual understanding of crisis and opportunity. Emptiness can precede truly powerful community. When authentic expressions are made, our social intelligence picks up threads of opportunity of the larger collective good. Humility perseveres despite myriad odds. Mindless group unconsciousness is no threat to the humble, who sense the emptiness to follow as vital to community.

4.         Community -  

Comme une –in the French language literally suggests – as one. Quiet ensues hard emptiness with soft eyes and deep listening, when community emerges from the emptiness of overcoming prejudice, invalid preconceptions and obsessions with ‘normalizing’ others. One-size fits all rules assumptions in large corporations today. In community, even a paradoxical decision may be taken as to whether it should maintain itself in the first place. In more presenceful or aware groups,  the discretionary wisdom to sense suppression from repression is a living reality. The world out there is fearful of not earning a living, when genuine wealth comes from giving of oneself to others. This oneness from human love is a deep joy, that dares community to greater glory of responsible power respectful of mutual needs. 

In community, inclusion yields consensus, commitment breeds realism, humility begets contemplation and the notion of safety is through an assured laboratory of personal disarmament. Yes, graceful conflict occurs when people realize their collective - as a group of leaders - unafraid to express and willing to listen, in a spirit’ of peace. 

Sounds or reads idealistic? 
This note is adapted from the works of Martin Scott Peck – particularly, his book – The Different Drum. It is written as an invitation to youthful leaders –to- be , so that they can be realistically open to the possibility of community, as they transition to focus on workplaces