The Power of One
The book was Deep Change.
Each discusses the necessity of reinvention, of altering our “fundamental assumptions, rules, or paradigms” and develop new theories about ourselves and our surrounding environment. According to the author of Deep Change, “old maps drive us into a state of great pain and frustration.” Educators are finding themselves in a quest for a new map, one that involves realignment to what is going on in the world. Failure to realign leads to what Robert E. Quinn characterizes as “slow death.” We face slow death because the “dominant coalitions in an organization” are seldom interested in making deep change.
Slow death is present everywhere. It involves a violation of trust as people leap from one job to another, to escape the environment. It means that we thirst for a vision, that we need change but no one is willing to engage it. Burn-out–and its resulting loss of energy–comes from those who choose slow death. There are three strategies that people to use to deal with slow death. Based on personal observation, I recognize the symptoms of slow death in our field.
Strategy #1: Peace and Pay
My dad would remind me when I had a particularly unpleasant day at work years ago, “You’re still getting that little piece of paper with numbers on it at the end of the month right?” It was a fundamental reminder that if I put my time in, I would get paid. This strategy is basically focused on treading water. One of my supervisors once identified some other members of the organization as “survivors.” He used it like an epithet, and I understood exactly what he meant.
By employing this strategy, people become the victims of an oppressor.This is a role that leads people to not rock the boat, maintain the status quo at all costs. They are putting in their time until they have to go home, collecting their pay-check. They reject the work of the organization, noting that it is “dying” and “wrongly assuming they are not.”
I’m reminded that for Gandhi, this could as been as easy for him as anyone else to sit aside. Instead of recognizing a fundamental injustice in South Africa, he could have gone back to his job as a lawyer in England and made a difference there. But, once confronted with a problem, Gandhi did not seem to hesitate (hey, I watched the movie…I’m sure there must have been some agonizing on his part!). For P.K. (protagonist in the Power of One), he could have chosen to NOT rock the boat when the boys in his Afrikaner school urinated all over me for being English at a time when the English were seen as the oppressors. Instead, they opted for another strategy that will be discussed further below.
Bonhoeffer could have also chosen to say nothing. In fact, he came close to doing just so when he decided not to officiate at a wedding that involved a Jew in the 10 years leading up to World War 2. Although he regretted his decision, he did spend the rest of his life working to set right what had happened.
Strategy #2: Active Exit
A dear friend practices this strategy in his position. He maintains a rigorous physical regimen, staying in shape and healthy. He always keeps his options open, stays in tune with what’s going on around him, but he’s not committed to the job. For him, it’s almost always time to leave and go somewhere that is perceived as more hospitable to his ideas. Unfortunately, this point of view is also unethical for leaders. It’s unethical because it involves abandoning your team to survive in the environment. Although it’s a better alternative to Peace and Pay, it is dereliction of duty and fails to push the organization. I think this strategy works great for younger managers, but not for the middle-aged or older. After all, it’s easier to do the Peace and Pay until retirement, but Active Exit and Deep Change seem like a “young person’s gig.” In truth, the only option that is life-saving is strategy #3, Deep Change.
Strategy #3: Deep Change
For Gandhi, it involved walking India to discover the true India, the needs of the people and more. In Bonhoeffer, it was recognition that although he could draw encouragement and nourishment from visiting America and other congregations–I didn’t know he’d visited African American churches and borrowed their gospel music for his seminary–he had to be a part of Germany…even at a time when Hitler was coming into his strength and persecuting those who were against him.
For P.K. (The Power of One), it was giving up going to Oxford University with a paid scholarship, instead choosing to travel the country-side to teach South Africans how to read and write in defiance of the Afrikaner laws, also known as “apartheid.” He gave himself over to change.
As I was reading Deep Change, I was also watching Bonhoeffer. I was surprised at the connections that were possible. Consider that this process involves reinventing oneself, embracing a death of sorts. In the Bonhoeffer movie, this quote is attributed to Bonhoeffer:
Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death.
–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dicipleship
Quinn, author of Deep Change, refers to this as “realigning ourselves to the environment requires that we exercise the discipline to make an unusual perspective.” Notice that he says MAKE an unusual perspective. When dealing with slow death, deep change requires us to go “naked into the land of uncertainty, knowing how to get lost with confidence.” This journey into uncertainty results in the creation of a new paradigm, “one in which we must separate from the status quo and courageously face and tackle uncertainty.”
APPLICATION TO EDUCATION
Making the connection between our current political and education system isn’t difficult. I would bet that many educators are caught up in slow death, employing either “Peace or Pay” or “Active Exit.” I would venture to say that most who blog are on the brink of engaging, or engaging, in Active Exit, and some in, deep change. It is for this reason that several have “left education” as we know it, instead seeking out consultant jobs. In Isaiah, Bonhoeffer found that which forced him back to Germany and death. He drew strength from the statement, “He who believes does not flee.” For slow death participants, Active Exit appears to be the only acceptable response. But, is this what we are ultimately called to do? After all, Bonhoeffer–although it resulted in his death eventually–asked, “What is the will of God?” This was critical to Bonhoeffer and he believed that ethics is grounded in the will of God, not a set of pre-determined principles. What was exciting for me about this concept was that Bonhoeffer saw his ethics as dynamic, ever-changing to match the situation. The only guideline was to forever re-examine what the will of God was.
Gandhi is said to have said, “When one discovers what is right and begins to pursue it, the necessary people and resources turn up.” I have invariably found this to be true in my own life. As a veteran practitioner of active exit–and occasionally deep change, although less assiduously I must admit–the question that bothers me is, What does one do next?
Which strategy are you using?
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