Tag Archives: interdependent thinking

Thinking about Nonviolence as a Result of Reading Ahimsa

Being a believer in nonviolence in today’s world is perplexing. So, when I read a book that I think might help people to consider the possibility of thinking broadly about the practical human value of nonviolence, I want to recommend it. Not because this piece of fiction has answers. I recommend it because it might be provocative. I think, we as a human race, have a lot of interdependent thinking to do about how to get along.

The book Ahimsa (a·him·sa /əˈhimˌsä)by Supriya Kelkar gets us thinking about resolving conflict, how we want to be with others and the future.

Kelkar, the author, was born and still lives in the Midwest. She earned her BA at the University of Michigan. AHIMSA, is inspired by her great-grandmother’s role in the Indian freedom movement. This book is marketed as a middle-grade novel. I see it as a book for everyone. If I were a high school or college teacher teaching social studies, history, humanities or civil rights I would consider assigning it. If I were a third (I started my career as a third grade teacher) or fourth grade teacher I would consider reading it aloud.

The story is captivating. Fascinating in that the story is complex, revealing and beckons you to want to know more about the struggles of oppressed people. The issues faced by the characters are fundamental liberty and life. They include: trust across difference, power and privilege, the friendship of a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy, a mother dedicating her self to a cause, India in the 1940’s, the caste system (untouchables), non violence, education in India,authoritarian British rule, Mahatma Gandhi’s deeply held view of ahimsa, well devolved characters authentically navigating the realities of complexity.

According to Wikipedia, Ahimsa is one of the cardinal virtues and an important tenet of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. Ahimsa has also been related to the notion that any violence has karmic consequences. While ancient scholars of Hinduism pioneered and over time perfected the principles of Ahimsa, the concept reached an extraordinary status in the ethical philosophy of Jainism. Most popularly, Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in the principle of ahimsa.

Ahimsa’s precept of ’cause no injury’ includes one’s deeds, words, and thoughts. Classical literature of Hinduism such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as modern scholars debate principles of Ahimsa when one is faced with war and situations requiring self-defence. The historic literature from India and modern discussions have contributed to theories of Just War, and theories of appropriate self-defence. From Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahimsa

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Marching Democracy into the Future

Marching_Democracy_

Those who march, write and engage in other forward looking activity exercise civic leadership. We are part of the energy that will shape the future.  We are involved.  By being involved we can influence and contribute. That is democracy!!!

Here is what we know about civic engagement from the work of Chrislip and O’Malley.

– Leadership is an activity, not a position.

– Anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere.

– Progress starts with you and must include engaging others.

– Your purpose must be clear.

– Make no mistake: leadership is risky, both professionally and personally.

Often, when we think about leadership our thoughts go to individuals who attempt to exercise their power and control.  Yet, as we see with the current levels of civic engagement, we can re-frame our thinking to realize that leadership is: showing up engaged and ready to connect with others to make things better.

The concepts of “better” can seem not specific. So, I suggest that in America in 2018 “better” fits the language of The Constitution of the Iroquois Nation (from researching Wikipedia) under the heading of The Great Binding Law:  “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”  A Chief of the Onondaga Nation writes: “We are looking ahead to make every decision that we make relates to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. … What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?”

Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky explain that leaders who work to address challenges from an adaptive point of view will be, “required to step into unknown space and disturbing the equilibrium, it is an activity that is inherently uncertain, risky for the organization as well as for the individual, and, for these reasons, often disruptive and disorienting.”

We can’t pretend that the changes that need to happen to activate our democracy will not entail some uncertainty and potentially disruptive and disorienting experiences.  And, we must ask ourselves, would we rather hold onto the status quo?  Or, are we ready to build the future together?

You don’t start with all of the answers when you are breathing new life into our democracy. The work of today’s engaged citizen is not linear. “Doing this work requires flexibility and openness – even in defining success. The pathway is not a straight line, and because working through an adaptive challenge will always involve distributing some losses, albeit in the service of an important purpose, the systemic dynamics that ensue, the politics of change, will have many unpredictable elements.”

So, just because this kind of civic engagement isn’t predictable and some of the present preferred system won’t likely become part of the future – why not start working for dramatic improvements?  The future is a terrible thing to waste.  Now is the time to use the present to get to work toward the best for all children.  In fact, for all children seven generations from now.

Wikipedia post. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_generation_sustainability

For the Common Good: Redefining Civic Leadership, by David D. Chrislip and  Ed O’Malley, KLC Press, 2013, pages 159, 164, 165 and 166

Heifetz, Grashow, Linsky from their book: The Practices of Adaptive Leadership (2009) pages 28 & 31 

Leadership in Service to the Common Good

Exemplary leaders are forward-looking.  They imagine that extraordinary feats are possible and that the ordinary could be transformed into something noble.  They are able to develop an ideal and unique image of the future for the common good.

Yet, a vision can’t belong only to the leader.  It’s a shared vision.  Everyone has dreams, aspirations, and a desire that tomorrow will be better than today.  When visions are shared, they attract more people, sustain higher levels of motivation, and withstand more challenges than those that are singular.  You have to make sure that what you can see – is also something others can see, and vice versa.

The key task for leaders is inspiring a shared vision, not selling their own idiosyncratic view of the world.  What this requires is finding common ground among those people who have to implement the vision.

The best leaders are great listeners.  They listen carefully to what other people have to say and how they feel.  They have to ask good (and often tough) questions, be open to ideas other than their own, and even lose arguments in favor of the common good.  Through intense listening, leaders get a sense of what people want, and what they value, and what they dream about.  This sensitivity to others is no trivial skill.  It is a truly precious human ability.

Building trust is a process that begins when someone (either you or the other party) is willing to risk being the first to open up, to show vulnerability, and to let go of control.

Leaders go first.  If you want the high levels of performance that come with trust and collaboration, you’ll have to demonstrate your trust in others before them asking them to trust you.

~ The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations Fifth edition,  by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge: A Wiley Brand, 2012, pages, 104, 116, 118 and 2

Leaders_come_in_every_size

Inquiry Combined With Deep Listening

conversation_002Exploring with others through sincere and effective inquiry combined with deep listening for understanding are great tools to develop for working well with others. Often small or large groups of people are faced with working through what seem like insurmountable challenges.

How we ‘show up’ matters: It is worth considering that reframing the situation into many possibilities and opportunities rather than insurmountable challenges is a potentially more proactive platform to be working from.

I do believe that we are in charge of our own perspectives and that any group of people is in charge of their own perspectives. And that our perspectives influence how we navigate opportunity or, as some may see it – insurmountable challenges.

Further, I believe that the questions we ask can be powerful in setting a ‘frame’ for our thinking and actions. Great questions are valuable for the person who asks them – if that person is ready to listen deeply and consider what is shared. Great questions are valuable to those who take them seriously by pondering and responding to them.

Michael J. Marquardt puts it this way: “Great questions cause the questioner to become more aware of the need for change and to be more open and willing to change. The questions themselves may actually cause the leader to become a change catalyst. The leader who leads with questions will more likely champion new ideas heard and developed in the course of inquiry. New ideas and perspectives enable the leader to make strong arguments for advocating change.” Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask, Revised and Updated, 2014, pages 42-43.

Marquardt also states that: “A questioning culture strengthens individual and organizational learning; it improves decision making, problem solving, and teamwork; promotes adaptability and acceptance of change; and helps empower people by strengthening self-awareness and self-confidence.” page 6

These are the kinds of questions that may have the power to help a leader or participant of a group to deepen and improve the culture and quality of thinking and work:

If you were to overhear an honest conversation about this intuitive 30 months from now – what would your highest hopes be for what you would hear? What do you believe you would actually hear, given the current trajectory of the project?

How would describe the way you want this project to turn out?

What resources might we tap into that we haven’t used before or not using currently?

What crucial or vital behaviors can we target that seem to provide the greatest leverage for dramatically advance our goal?

How can this team become more efficient and productive while also supporting its members in the pursuit?

What inspires us about this work?

What happens if . . .?

Have we ever thought of . . .? (This question and the two directly preceding it – may be good ones to go around the group and have everyone add in their ‘. . .’ and then go around again and possibly again to generate new and potentially provocative thinking)

For any of these or other such questions to have value a culture of open shared thinking must be supported and the questions must be asked with sincerity and listened to with a commitment to strive to understand and appreciate the perspective(s) being shared.

How might we make possible what might have seemed unthinkable?

What will bring us together?
How can we – with others, especially others that look at things very differently – develop a shared preferred future?
What keeps us from working across differences toward the common good?
What happens when we do nothing at all to attempt to impact the status qou, even when we believe that the status quo is not serving the common good?
What stops us from embracing our dissimilarities and our similarities while tackling the challenges that are important to all of us as we move toward a shared preferred future?
How can we hear all voices and listen for and appreciate what is unique about the points of view of others?
How can we build trust and rapport across differences?
How can we get better at seeking to understand others and exploring possibilities where none existed before – rather than to win over others?
Note*
In his book: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants (2013) Malcom Gladwell explains that his major purposes for writing this book are connected what can happen when ordinary people (read you and me) confront giants. He sees two basic ways to frame these encounters with giants we all experience.
“The first is that much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. And second, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.” (page 6)
Might the challenge of facing this ‘lopsided conflict’ the questions that opened this post focus on – be our “giants”? Might we embracing these questions and working through them be about ‘facing overwhelming odds’? And if so, might we ‘produce greatness’?
Might the confronting the shared work around the questions that opened this post uncover that the giants confronted are weaker than we thought? Might moving forward on the engagement and sorting out which will follow from the sincere connection to these questions potentially ‘open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable?’

Conversation_001
*Some of these questions were influenced by Michael J. Marquardt’s work: Leading With Questions: How Leaders Find Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask Revised and Updated (2014)

For Learning to Occur Neither the Organization or Its People can be Stationary

people_and_Organization_boarderIf you want your organization or your group within an organization to grow, change and develop – it is a good idea to help build a culture of learning.  Adaptation requires learning.

The people in the organization need to be willing to learn, grow and develop and, the organization must support their learning.

“Learning” is not a ‘straight line’ activity for individuals or the organization. To move ‘off’ the status quo and into new patterns of behavior and culture is adaptive.  We grow our strengths and develop a new normal.

Actually, this kind of adaptation and forward movement is not only for organizations.  Our families and social groups will also benefit from developing cultures of learning and adaptation.

Yes! To be willing to adapt and learn requires an experimental mindset.  We have to be willing to try things to see if they work and be willing to let go of things that don’t work and further develop things that show progress.  We, in our work and in our families, will benefit from embracing an experimental mindset.

Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky define experimental mind-set as “an attitude that treats any approach to an adaptive issue not as a solution, but as the beginning of an iterative process of testing a hypothesis, observing what happens, learning, making midcourse corrections, and then, if necessary, trying something else.”

“It is not surprising that in organizations with significant adaptive capacity, there is an openness and commitment to learning

Adaptive challenges cannot be solved by taking a course, hiring a consulting firm, or copying other companies’ best practices. Instead, people throughout the organization must open themselves to experimentation, giving up some old truths that have become irrelevant with changes in business, social or political landscape.

What does a continuous-learning mind-set look like in action within an organization?  Here are some signs:

People who make mistakes or experiment with new ways of doing things are not marginalized.

When something bad happens (a client is lost, a bid is rejected), the news is acknowledged and the event is debriefed for its lessons, not treated as a cause for punishment.

Communications and interaction are nurtured across all formal and informal boundaries.

People view the latest strategic plan as today’s best guess rather than a sacred text.”

Today’s challenges require more than a technical response.  We must be willing to adapt, learn and discover our future.  Further, we must be ready to go on this journey with others.

 Tomorrow is an opportunity

Tomorrow belongs to those that can create an adaptive culture

Tomorrow’s promise is complex and welcomes learners striving to thrive

People and organizations that learn will realize tomorrow’s opportunities

Pages 105-107 of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky 2009  and the definition of experimental mind-set from page 304

Learn About Others by Gently Probing

Relationships grow when people learn about and appreciate each other. I believe that many of us can benefit from being very intentional about reaching out and getting to know each other in our work places, communities and even families.

Edgar H. Schein in his new book: Humble Inquiry: the Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (2013) writes, “Why is it so important to learn to ask better questions that help to build positive relationships? Because in an increasingly complex, interdependent, and culturally diverse world, we cannot hope to understand and work with people from different occupational, professional, and national cultures if we do not know how to ask questions and build relationships that are based on mutual respect and the recognition that others know things that we may need to know in order to get a job done.”

Schein states that not all questions are equivalent.  He has come to believe that we need to learn a particular form of questioning that he first called “Humble Inquiry” in Edgar H. Schein’s earlier book, Helping (2009) and Humble Inquiry   he defines as follows:

Humble Inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”

Listening to understand and appreciate.  That makes sense to me.  I don’t think it is an easy thing to get good at and I also think it is worth getting good at!  I believe that we and generations to come will benefit from co-creation of ideas, plans, solutions, and futures.

Schein’s book, Humble Inquiry may help people to gain awareness and dispositions related to gentle and thoughtful probing as we getting to know those around us.

Here are links to other posts I have written related to getting better as listeners and developing communities and thoughtful conversation:

Listening>turn taking

Food for thought related to the potential power of listening

A Community of Thought

Engaging in Conversations where Transformation has the Potential of Occurring