Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jayber Crow on Community

“What I saw now was the community imperfect and irresolute but held together by the frayed and always fraying, incomplete and yet ever-holding bonds of the various sorts of affection.  There had maybe never been anybody who had not been loved by somebody, […].  It was a community always disappointed in itself, disappointed in its members, always trying to contain it divisions and gentle its meanness, always failing and yet always preserving a sort of will toward goodwill.  I knew that, in the midst of all the ignorance and error, this was a membership; it was the membership of Port William and of no other place on earth.” 

Jayber Crow was an orphan, a man who came of age in the Great Depression, and lived through the ups and downs, the wars, and the technological “advances” that came with the Twentieth Century.  In his life, he experienced the love of a family and the loss of that family – multiple times.  He came to appreciate the importance of place and how ultimately the place shapes the person.  He experienced dysfunctional institutions, in the form of the orphanage where he was force to spend much of his childhood, and later the seminary where he studied the bible and tried to follow his calling to learn that he was not called to be a preacher in the typical sense, but rather a man of the people – or at least a man called to cut the peoples hair. 

And while he cut their hair, he learned to love them, and to hate them, but whether he hated them or loved them – he respected them.  In his life and through the people who came in and out of his life, he learned what was important was to simply interact with the other life on which he inter-depended on.  For that is what community is really about – a place where we learn to be who we are called to be, a place that pushes us and pulls us, a place of happiness and sadness, and a place of gifts given and gifts retrieved.  Community is what drew Jayber to Port William, the fictional town on the banks of a river in Kentucky, and the lack of it is what drove him away from it.  The twists and turns of community bring heaven and hell to life on earth and remind us that it is not God who creates this heaven or hell, but ourselves. 

Through it all, we either accept our place in the larger community of life – the ecosystem that we depend on – or we struggle on with the foolish belief that our technology, our religion, our economy, or our power to control will allow us to go beyond the realities of what it means to be human.  Through acceptance we either become part of that community, or we reject it and destroy it – and ourselves.      

Friday, October 18, 2013


With fall in full swing, the cool air, brilliant colors of the leaves, and gathering of the birds for their great migrations, I feel compelled to get outside and spend some time in the great outdoors.  Last weekend I had an opportunity to spend some time in the woods, and came away feeling a need to get out more often to spend more time in my place of worship – the place that renews my faith.  So what is this faith that is renewed in me?

In his essay “An Opportunity for a Powerful New Religious Influence”, Robert Greenleaf references Dean Inge’s definition of faith – “the choice of the nobler hypothesis” and goes on to explain:

It is the choice to act upon those assumptions about the nature of people and the world that will release an optimal contemporary force to lead people to be religious in the root sense of the word, that is “bound to the cosmos,” at one with the great creative force. A religious person in this sense stands above and beyond dogmas and creeds and one’s limited capacity to conceptualize and articulate. It is religion at the level of awe and wonder as one contemplates the great mystery of all creation and of one’s own significant being. Despite other differences, faith at this level will give a small group of able, dedicated, responsible, truly conservative people the common ground from which to proceed with assurance.

So it is this faith that goes beyond history, beyond story, and beyond religion as it is typically defined, that is what we need to tap into. We can find this faith by experiencing life, not hiding behind the distractions or numbing ourselves with our addictions. It takes times of quiet, times when we seek communion to bond with the cosmos. And it is by finding these connections that we can become inspired to go out and form new connections to preach this new theology that is really just the old theology that we forgot about somewhere down the road to civilization.

Go for a walk in the woods and hug a tree, walk out in the night look up at the stars or perhaps the full moon reflecting back at us. Spend some time wondering and experience that awe that has always been there – that is the theology we need to heal us.  And perhaps when we come to embrace this theology, we will find the way to end our wars, political and economic failures, poverty, crime, and ecosystem collapse that dominate the news of our world.   We need to reclaim our ability to act with this kind of faith.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Do The Right Thing Anyway.

Originally posted on the Old Servant Leadership Blog - September 29, 2009.

Working for a government agency, it gives me hope when I find something inspiring in one of the many emails that pass through my computer, when many are not worth the time it takes to delete them. Fortunately I didn’t delete the one that included a link to a recent article by Ken Miller in Governing. If you get a minute, the article “Frustrated by an Unchangeable Agency? Change Anyway.” is worth taking a look at.

Miller references another link that is worth taking a look at, Dr. Kent M. Keith’s Paradoxical Commandments. The commandments are a series of inspirational guidelines he drafted for inclusion in a booklet for student leaders. His Paradoxical Commandments follow:

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.  Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.  Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.  Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.  Help people anyway.

Monday, July 15, 2013


“Human society can be envisioned as interacting with the environment in two ways: as a source for natural resources, and a sink for emissions and wastes.  The environmental problems […] are all related to overuse at both sources and sinks.  Overuse at sources shows up as depletion and the reduced quantity and quality of resources.  Overuse at sinks shows up as unbalancing the harmony of previously natural resources.”  From Timothy G. Gutowski’s introduction to the chapter “Design and Manufacturing for the Environment”, in the HANDBOOK OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING.

This simple summation explains much about how America became civilized and the resulting problems this un-civilizing process have caused.  In this view of the world, human society is seen as separate from this infinite thing we call environment, and human needs always come first when we decide how to interact with this outside entity.  The environment is valued simply for the services it can provide us.   In this model, our problems with the environment are seen as the result of our limited capacity to tap the resources and or the environments ability to absorb our wastes.   We try to solve any environmental problems that crop up by looking elsewhere in our infinite supply store for new or replacement sources of our feedstock or rely on new inventions to increase our ability to obtain or utilize the resources.  And if waste disposal causes us troubles we focus on increasing the capacity of the sink to be able to drain the wastes faster or we re-plumb the sink to transfer the waste from one medium where capacity is being reached, to another medium with more capacity.  And that has been the history of the settling of America. 

America also has a history of practicing the fine art of denial when it comes to facing the problems this view creates.  Denial allows us to continue consuming resources and disposing of wastes as if the environment has an infinite capacity to supply our wants.   Eventually at the local level the reality of limits can no longer be denied as resources disappear and wastes begin to cause serious problems.  But with the infinite environment view, as problems get bigger, denial gives way to the action plan of simply looking elsewhere to meet our needs or dump our wastes.  And the process starts over again.   A good example of this model in action can be seen in the “settlement” of North America by emigrating Europeans.  As the original inhabitants of Europe consumed their own resources as a result of increased population demands, along with their desire for new resources and products, they set out for new lands in which to inhabit and satisfy their wanderlust.   Coming to the shores of North America, they believed they had found a new land of once more unlimited resources there for the taking. 

What they failed to acknowledge was first of all that the land was already inhabited by a society of people who had a very different view of the world.  For probably thousands of years these native folk had a view of the world where they saw themselves as part of their surroundings that sustained them and not separate from it or above it.  Instead of learning from these original settlers the newcomers continued what they knew best, and followed their model and took the land and the resources from the natives.  They also failed to acknowledge that the country had a west coast, and after what may have seemed like an eternity to them, they eventually consumed many of the resources between the two coasts and began to drastically change the look of the land. 

A big driver or excuse for the settlement was the concept of “manifest destiny”.  This was the general belief that conquering the continent was following a Devine plan where Europeans were called to civilize the uncivilized America’s.  It was as if God was willing this settlement for the betterment of all.  And the bible told them it was so, for God Himself had told the people to “go forth and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it”.  He told them “you are the masters of the fish and birds and all the animals.  And look! I have given you the seed-bearing plants throughout the earth, and all the fruit trees for your food.”  And then God looked over everything he made and proclaimed “it is excellent in every way”.   And the newcomers to the Americas who followed their black robed missionary prophets agreed – it was excellent indeed. 

Empowered with their beliefs Americans found new technologies that made it easier to subdue the wilderness, settle the land, and turn its resources into excellent products.  Inventions like the plow and cotton gin enabled gentleman plantation owners to increase their production efficiency and put their slave laborers to work planting their fields and picking their cotton.  New inventions like the steam engine could take the slaves place when they were set free.  These same engines could power the locomotives that provided access to the countries interior and eventually enabled coast to coast travel across America, along with the near extermination of the American Bison.   And as the immigrants multiplied, the burgeoning population demanded a corresponding increase in resource consumption, and hence a need for more land.   The resulting increase in conflicts between the environment and society, and between competing societies, heralded in a new inspiration – and the new science of economics was born. 

The new science was designed to smooth over the conflicts and define who had rights and who did not when it came to resource allocation.  As governments and industries become more sophisticated new methods to manage resources, production, and resulting profits were needed.   Economics was inserted between society and the environment as a way to optimize their overlaps, and tap into the profits their interactions could create.    The economy and its’ profit generating potential became the new king of the hill.  Society was downgraded to a distant second seat, and the environment as always came in last.  And to ensure that we didn’t forget whence this inspiration came, the phrase “In God We Trust” was forged into our coins.

The role of this empowered middle man was to take the natural resources from the environment, combined with the labor providing human resources from society, to create products and services that in turn met the wants of society.   The profits generated in the process satisfied the owners of the capitol who kept the economy cranking.   And cranking they did – electrical generators, transformers, and transmission lines began to power Cities and illuminate homes and businesses. Darkness would no longer slow the wheels of progress, and soot caused by the burning of oil for lamps would no longer fill the workers noses.  With Henry Ford’s assembly line innovations combined with the internal combustion engines, cars began to fill the streets and replace the horses and their ever present manure.  Oil and its many derivatives became the new clean fuel of choice replacing dirty wood and coal.  So the latest godsend of economics and his soul mate technology ushered America into a new century of seemingly limitless possibility powered by economic growth. 

As the economy cranked and the century turned from the Nineteenth to the Twentieth, American society began to attempt to deal with the consequences of denial.  Domestic resources became depleted and measures were taken to try to protect them from complete loss.  National parks and forests where carved out, and conservation agencies like the Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation were formed to oversee the resources.  Attempts were also made to try and procure new resources via excursions into neighboring territories resulting in corresponding military conflicts.  Europe battled over the remaining resources of those lands and America joined in.  The war machine that was needed to produce the armament for battle helped to fine tune industrial manufacturing processes.  Propaganda used to build support for wars was transformed into advertising campaigns to encourage consumers to buy more of the latest mass manufactured marvels. 

The optimization and maximization of the manufacturing process resulted in more and more wastes to dispose of and environmental issues began to rear their numerous ugly faces.  Use of rivers as dumping grounds for waste resulted in incidents like the Cuyahoga River fires that occurred on a regular basis on this industrialized river in Ohio from the late 1800’s to the 1960’s. In the 1930’s, poor farming practices combined with an extended drought created what became known as the Dust Bowl that devastated millions of acres of farmland and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes.   Air pollution from zinc smelting and steel mills in Donora Pennsylvania killed 20 people and left over 7000 severely ill in 1948.   Dumping of chemical and other wastes into an open canal in the first half of the 1900’s created what was to become known as the Love Canal Disaster in Niagara Falls, New York where the pollutants contributed to miscarriages, nervous disorders, cancers, and birth defects in residents who lived nearby in the second half of the century. 

These latest batch of problems brought out the prophets to warn the creators of their folly.  Conservationist Aldo  Leopold who worked his way up the ranks of the Forest Service advised a need for adopting a land ethic if there was any hope for the future.  In a 1938 lecture he gave at the University of Wisconsin College of Engineering, he reminded the engineers in attendance that “[…]: our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do.  They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides.  But they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history:  to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”  Biologist Rachel Carson’s 1962 book SILENT SPRING proclaimed that insecticides used to protect our crops were killing more than just the insects.   She began the chapter “Earth’s Green Mantle” with the reminder that “water, soil, and the earth’s green mantle of plants make up the world that supports the animal life of the earth.  Although modern man seldom remembers the fact, he could not exist without the plants that harness the sun’s energy and manufacture the basic foodstuffs he depends upon for life.”  These reminders slipped through the cracks of the simple economic model the drove the economy.  But the Country kept the faith that the mythical powers of the “invisible hand” would make sure the economy did the right thing. 

And changes were finally made in an attempt to fine tune our environmental/societal model when a series of sweeping environmental regulations were enacted in the 1970’s and 80’s.  These regulations included the likes of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Acts.   These acts and the resulting rules designed to implement them operated on the idea that there was a need to control the wastes that we put into the environment.  This need was identified by the feedback we were getting from the environment that uncontrolled pollution could be quite harmful to our health and some of the other non-human life that existed out in the environment.   Legal permits and more new technology would be our savior. 

And so the economy went to work developing new treatment and control technologies and then measuring their effectiveness.  Screens and wastewater treatment processes were required to be installed on the ends of pipes coming from major sources of wastewater pollution.  Similarly treatment processes were also required to be installed on the ends of smokestacks to reduce air pollutants.  In both the air and wastewater control methodology, efforts were also made to account for the assimilation capacity of the environment to attenuate the wastes.  These practices included building taller smokestacks to take advantage of higher wind speeds to better disperse pollutants.  Wastewater treatment plants would install diffusers on the end of pipes or relocate outfalls to stream reaches with higher stream flows to also take advantage of the old adage “dilution is the solution to pollution”.   Wastes were now required to be placed in designed and lined landfills to protect the environment from the pollutants that ended up buried in them.  And hazardous wastes had to be properly disposed of.  Harmful chemicals like DDT were banned. The management tools of permits and licenses were also developed and put in place to makes sure that the sources of pollutants that needed to be controlled could be controlled and we began to monitor the effects.

The days of simply dumping our wastes in the environment seemed to be over.  New fields, like environmental: engineering, science, and even psychology began to crop up to design technologies to control and treat the pollution and understand why we polluted the way we did.  New government agencies were staffed and given orders to protect the environment and control pollution through new policies and permits.  Similar control techniques and agencies were developed and implemented on the resource management side of the economy-environment tap.  And an interesting side effect of these new methodologies where they had a positive impact on the economy – by creating new jobs and products to manage and treat our wastes.  EPA reported that cutting air pollution and building the economy could go hand and hand as the environmental technologies industries responsible for protecting and cleaning up the environment was generating $282 billion in revenue in 2007.

And progress was noted.  Besides the boom to the economy, the cleanup efforts had shrunk the hole in the ozone layer.  The American bald eagle was removed from the endangered list.  The clean air act was also reportedly responsible for saving 205,000 premature deaths, 18 million child respiratory illnesses, and 843,000 asthma attacks.  And the Clean Water Act was credited as the reason why rivers no longer burned.   Life under this revised economic model seemed good and could only get better, or so we thought.    

As controls were installed and the institutions that kept them operating came up to speed, new feedback messages picked up from environmental monitoring began to signal that we still had problems.  Our rivers weren’t on fire, and people could breathe the air without dying, but problems still existed.   We were finding that pollutants in most of our rivers and lakes made it unsafe to swim in them or to eat the fish from them.  There were stills days were people were advised to stay in doors to avoid breathing air pollutants.  New pollutants that we weren’t aware of and that our controls were not designed to remove were being detected in the environment and in us.   And warnings of global warming hit the news. 

In the 1990’s and 2000’s, bypasses around our control system were occurring.  These bypasses were coming from things we hadn’t anticipated in the first round of controls.  They included sewage bypasses from combined stormwater and wastewater sewage systems that couldn’t handle high storm surge flowrates.  Nutrients and other chemicals that conventional wastewater treatment plants could not remove were continuing to cause problems like obnoxious algae blooms in rivers and lakes.  Smaller sources of air pollution known as area sources were not required to install any controls and get a permit to regulate them.  Non-point sources of water pollution like stormwater or agricultural runoff were ignored and not regulated.  Monitoring using new techniques was allowing us to detect pollutants at lower levels than we had in the past.  The limits of our technology and our regulations to remove and control the more and more complex pollutants our economy spewed out was continuing to allow environmental problems to occur and grow. 

So we expanded our rules and regulations, we amended the Clean Air Act – several times.  More money in the forms of grants and loans was provided to communities to help them build more treatment capacity and to use new technology.  We came up with new and more complex technologies to treat our wastes.  We wrote more complicated permits and we imposed higher fines against those who dared to violate their permits – we used the stick.  And we tried new control strategies to encourage the generators of pollution to follow our lead by offering them the stick turned over with a carrot attached.  These new concepts included the likes of pollution prevention or P2 as it is often known.  We tried to sell the concept that by implementing pollution prevention practices we could avoid controls and compliance, and save money too! 

This genre of pollution control techniques encourages pollution generators to use economic incentives to encourage the use of: increased resource efficiencies, resource substitution, becoming lean, green chemistry, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.  We encourage society to do their part by finding ways to recycle some of our wastes, to use more energy efficient appliances themselves, and to always dispose of wastes responsibly.  Corporations become socially responsible and design new logos to promote their new found marketing strategy of being green, and governments and environmental organizations jump on the band wagon by coming up with green star awards and certificates to reward them with.  Sustainability is the latest buzz word we use to make us feel like we are back in control.  And most of us have bought into these new green marketing ploys. 

But like their predecessors, these new generation of pollution controls will not be able to keep up with the beast that is at the heart our problems – our ever expanding economy that is based on a model that separates what is important to us into the entities of economy first, people second, and the infinite environment that is out there last.  So as we ride into the second decade of the New Millennium, many of the problems we faced in the past don’t seem so serious anymore.  It is not because we have solved them, but more likely that we have become numb to the consequences.   Our pursuit of the fermenting “low hanging fruit” has kept us from seeing that trees are dying.  Bigger problems than we ever imagined knock on our doors daily, but most of us stick our heads in the sand, afraid to confront the monster that fuels them.  So instead of rivers that burn and air that sucks the life from our lungs, the innocuous carbon dioxide that we pour into our atmosphere is causing record breaking temperatures to heat the planet and change our climate.  Droughts, wild fires, and increasingly more intense storms become the new normal.   We read articles proclaiming that humans are currently causing the “sixth great extinction” of species that the planet has faced.   We see large rafts of garbage filling our oceans, and turn our heads as we create ever expanding landfills to try and contain the garbage that our ever expanding economy produces.   And we find dead zones in our oceans caused by the runoff from our current industrial farming practices.       

There is a saying that goes “hind sight is 20/20” meaning it is easy to see clearly the mistakes of our past, but in our world today we can’t see past the bottom of overflowing landfills, and the invisible smog from ever increasing burning of fossil fuels blinds us from having the foresight to change our course.  So like the Titanic cruising towards a collision with the iceberg, we ignore any warnings of what lies ahead, and throttle full-speed ahead toward our pending doom, reassuring ourselves of the progress we have made. Our only path out seems the foolish hope that burning what is left of our limited fossil fuels will heat the planet enough to melt  the ice burg before we strike it. 

Our denial may help us to continue to play our role in keeping our ever expanding monster of an economy in place, but it will not ease our guilty conscious.  And our excuses that there are no other alternatives, or that we need to pursue the simple things first, will not change the course we are on.  Until we admit what our problem is and until we begin to see our place on the planet we will continue to soil ourselves with our wastes, and sit in the warm mess expecting the next technical care taker to clean us up, or invent a better green colored diaper to capture our wastes, before we collide. 

The 12 Step Recovery program defines the insanity created by addiction as doing the same thing over and over again, but hoping for a different outcome.  This definition fits our own repeated patterns of dealing with our environmental problems the same way over and over again and hoping for different results.  Maybe we could take a lesson from the 12 Steppers and take the first step, and admit that our crazy view of separating ourselves from the rest of the planet is making our lives unmanageable.  By admitting our insanity, we might just realize that our Divine calling is not to subdue and separate ourselves from the rest of the world, but to realize that we are just plain co-inhabitants of this finite planet – and that it is time to start living accordingly.     

We need to come up with a real world model where we step back and see that we live on a finite planet.  We need to acknowledge that the human beings that make up our societies are simply one community of many life forms that share the planet.  We need to understand that environment is not something out there separated from us, but that we are part of the ecosystem that does sustain us.  What we do to the ecosystem we do to us – what we put in the ecosystem we put in us.   And we need to put our economy in its rightful place – namely simply as one tool that we use to meet our needs.   Until we stop our economy from controlling us and defining our wants, any attempts we make at controlling pollution will blow up in our faces the same way our previous attempts have.   

Thursday, July 11, 2013


I had an interesting conversation the other day with a gentleman who manages a business that as most do, impacts the environment.  We discussed the environmental regulations that impact his business, and I shared with him some of my thoughts on the limited effectiveness of those rules on preserving and protecting the environment and how compliance with the regulations can actually distract businesses from doing things to reduce their environmental impacts as they get bogged down by paper work and abstract calculations that the rules seem to mostly focus on. 
He shared with me some thoughts he had on how the focus on growth of profits, and population where likely the main cause of our environmental dilemma’s and would result in the same collapse phenomenon that occurs when any biological population goes through the boom and bust population growth cycle.  He also mentioned an issue he has with the common misinterpretation of the Biblical concept of God issuing orders for mankind to go out and subdue the earth, which didn't mean to go out and plunder the planet.
The conversation got me thinking about what needs to change in our world, and it lead me to a post that I originally posted on the old Servant Leadership Blog on November 12, 2009 that seems related to these concepts.  I am re-posting that here as a source of some possible answers and questions. 
In my last post, I asked the question -- what kind of sustainable world do you want to live in? I got a couple of comments in regards to that post that I thought I would expand on. The first comment was in regards to what does it mean to be sustainable. The second commenter suggested that the Bible has guidelines on how to live sustainably. Both responders raised some good questions and suggestions.

Regarding the Definition of a sustainable community, I like an explanation that can be found at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website. Some highlights from it follow:

A sustainable community can persist over generations, enjoying a healthy environment, prosperous economy and vibrant civic life. It does not undermine its social or physical systems of support. Rather, it develops in harmony with the ecological patterns it thrives in.
A sustainable community is one that:
  • Acknowledges that economic, environmental and social issues are interrelated and that these issues should be addressed "holistically."
  • Recognizes the sensitive interface between the natural and built environments.
  • Understands and begins to shift away from polluting and wasteful practices.
  • Considers the full environmental, economic and social impacts/costs of development and community operations.
  • Understands its natural, cultural, historical and human assets and resources and acts to protect and enhance them.
  • Fosters multi-stakeholder collaboration and citizen participation.
  • Promotes resource conservation and pollution prevention.
  • Focuses on improving community health and quality of life.
  • Acts to create value-added products and services in the local economy.

And regarding use of the Bible as an answer to what is sustainable, I would advise extreme caution. Many acts that are not at all in line with the concept of sustainability described above have been and are committed based on Biblical teachings.

One obvious example as quoted from the King James version of the Bible:

Genesis 1:27-28. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 

Thomas Berry has written much about the negative impact biblical teachings have had on the earth in his books. A few excerpts follow.

While none of our Christian beliefs individually is adequate as an explanation of the alienation we experience in our natural setting, they do in their totality provide a basis for understanding how so much planetary destruction has been possible in our Western Tradition. We are radically oriented away from the natural world. It has not rights; it exists for human utility, even if for spiritual utility. Because our sense of the divine is so extensively derived from verbal sources, mostly through the biblical scriptures, we seldom notice how extensively we have lost contact with the revelation of the divine in nature. (THE DREAM OF THE EARTH, Page 81.).

To alter this primordial sense of continuity throughout the universe seems to have been the basic purpose of biblical revelation. Within the biblical context, the continuity of divine presence with the natural world was altered by establishing the divine as a transcendent personality creating a world entirely distinct from itself. […] These discontinuities became exaggerated over the centuries, especially through emphasis on the personal redemptive experience communicated to the human , not a redemption out of our autistic status into a more abundant life of intimacy with the Earthly community, but redemption of an elect people into a trans-Earthly divine kingdom. Our true home, our true community, was not in this world. (EVENING THOUGHTS, Page 51)

So, based on the above, and assuming our future does involve spending time in this world, what would your sustainable future look like, particularly in regards to how we treat the rest of the world?

Friday, June 28, 2013


Excerpts from Joseph Zammit-Lucia’s article – The art of sustainability: imagination, not spreadsheets will create change.

"Our failure to address environmental issues is not a failure of information but a failure of imagination."

Our culture is taken up with an all-pervasive pretence at rational, data-driven decision-making. Within many businesses, this culture of the rational is pushed to the extreme. Any form of emotional engagement is frowned upon. When it comes to sustainability, this is largely ineffective. First of all, data is by definition about the past.

Secondly, imagination and commitment are both affective not cognitive processes. They require emotional engagement to work. The rational, data-driven approach tends to keep us stuck in the past and the present, reducing sustainability to mere extrapolation. We reduce the amount of packaging around a product and call it sustainable. We make something out of recycled material and we call it sustainable. We jig our supply chain around and call it sustainable. Yet none of this will be sufficient to deliver a sustainable future. It will simply prolong very slightly the time it takes to hit the wall.

The businesses that will lead the way in sustainability will move away from rationally pursuing sustainability as an extension, with minor tweaks, of our unsustainable culture and lifestyle. They will start reimagining a future that is unknown, currently unimaginable and truly sustainable.

The achievement of a truly sustainability lifestyle will not pop out of a spreadsheet. It will not be achieved through technological fixes, efficiency improvements or marginally reduced use of natural resources. It requires a reimagining of the way we live, produce and do business.

The excitement lies in the fact that we still have very little idea of what that might look like. We can let our imaginations let rip. Those businesses that can build the capabilities to imagine more and imagine better will get there first.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Guidelines for Transition

Excerpts from Joanna Macy’s essay HEARING THE CALL.  For more, read the entire essay here:

1.     Come from gratitude.   We have received an inestimable gift: to be alive in this wondrous, self-organising universe with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it.   And how amazing it is to be accorded a human life with self-reflective consciousness that allows us to make choices, letting us opt to take part in the healing of our world.

2.     Don’t be afraid of the dark.  This is a dark time filled with suffering, as old systems and previous certainties come apart. Like living cells in a larger body, we feel the trauma of our world. It is natural and even healthy that we do, for it shows we are still vitally linked in the web of life. So don’t be afraid of the grief you may feel, or of the anger or fear: these responses arise, not from some private pathology, but from the depths of our mutual belonging.

3.     Dare to vision.  We will never bring forth what we haven’t dared to dream or learnt to imagine. For those of us dwelling in a high-tech consumer society, replete with ever proliferating electronic distractions, the imagination is the most underdeveloped, even atrophied, of our mental capacities. Yet never has its juicy, enlivening power been more desperately needed than now.

4.     Link arms with others.  Whatever it is that you’re drawn to do in the Great Turning, don’t even think of doing it alone. The individualism of our competitive  industrialised culture has isolated people from each other, breeding conformity, obedience and an epidemic of loneliness. The good news of the Great Turning is that it is a team undertaking. It evolves out of countless spontaneous and synergistic interactions as people discover their common goal and their different gifts.

5.     Act your age.  Now is the time to clothe ourselves in our true authority.  Every particle in every atom of every cell in our body goes back to the primal flaring forth of space and time.  In that sense you are as old as the universe, with an age of about 14 billion years.  This current body of yours has been being prepared for this moment by Earth for some 4 billion years, so you have an absolute right to step forward and act on Earth’s behalf.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sleeplessness & Dreams

Ever have this happen ---

“it’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
What did you do when the earth was unraveling?”

A possible solution ---

“Remember that there’s tremendous power in having a dream. Dream of a new place—a place where the pursuit of happiness is sought not in more getting and spending but in the growth of human solidarity, real democracy, and devotion to the public good; where the average person is empowered to achieve his or her human potential; where the benefits of economic activity are widely and equitably shared; where the environment is sustained for current and future generations; and where the virtues of simple living, community self-reliance, good fellowship, and respect for nature predominate. We can build this future if we join together and fight for it.”

From James Gustave Speth’s May 31, 2013 Commencement Address To the University of Massachusetts at Boston available here.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Un-prevalent Servant-Leader

James Heskett, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, recently wrote a short piece titled “Why Isn’t ‘ServantLeadership’ More Prevalent?”.  It was published on May 1, 2013 in the Harvard Business School’s newsletter, WORKING KNOWLEDGE.  

Heskett’s idea of servant leadership “is an age-old concept, a term loosely used to suggest that a leader's primary role is to serve others, especially employees.  He shares an example of what he sees as servant leadership from when he observed Service Master CEO William Pollard ask a colleague to go get him some cleaning supplies so that he could then use them to clean up a cup of coffee he had spilled.  Heskett also believes that at times it requires “near-theological values” like those espoused by Herman Miller former CEO Max De Pree, or the Catholic Church’s pope who washes and kisses feet once a year. 

Based on this summation of the servant leader, Heskett’s question seems to make sense.  For if all it takes to be labeled a “servant leader” is to take responsibility for cleaning up your spilled coffee, or to write some books about how practicing it can make your company a profit making office furniture in the name of God and at the same time let you feel good about how your treat your employees, or if all you need to do is get down on your knees once a year to kiss a few feet and you get to carry the title; then why indeed isn’t servant leadership more prevalent? 

To really understand why it is not more prevalent in our corporate capitalistic world requires a bit more in depth understanding of Robert Greenleaf’s concept of the servant-leader than that which is provided in Heskett’s excerpt.  His excerpt from Greenleaf’s best test of servant leadership from the essay “The Servant as Leader” states:  The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons … (and become) more likely themselves to become servants?

Greenleaf’s whole best test, reads as follows:
Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?”

Greenleaf also amended the best test with an addition in the 1980 essay he wrote titled “Servant: Retrospect and Prospect”, which can be found on page 43 of the book THE POWER OF SERVANT LEADERSHIP.  The amended test includes the closing line “No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly.” 

When you include looking into if those served will become “healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous”, and “what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived”, and you stipulate that in a servant leader institution that “no one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly”, then the answer to why servant leadership isn’t more prevalent becomes much more apparent.  

Namely in our capitalistic corporate controlled world the true test for all decisions is doing whatever it takes to be profitable, and assuming that is what is best for everyone - even the least fortunate on whom our profiteers prey.  And if couching ideas behind the curtain of terms like “servant leadership” helps achieve that goal than it will be adopted, especially if makes the whole pill easier to swallow.  But if you can achieve profit without the nice labels, then there is no need for the label. 

For more on Greenleaf’s ideas on the true servant-leader see his essay here.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Day of the Earth

Originally posted on the old Servant Leadership Blog, April 22, 2009. 

For an Earth Day post, I thought it would be good to revisit my first post on the Servant-Leadership BLOG.   In it I referred to Aldo Leopold’s essay “The Land Ethic” and his reminder that “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. 

I have often thought that Leopold’s test should be melded with Robert Greenleaf’s servant-leader best test to come up with something like :

 “Do those being served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will she or he benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?  And what is the effect on the integrity, stability, and beauty of the ecosystem? 

Don Frick, Robert Greenleaf’s biographer, touched on this idea in a comment he wrote in regard to his post on this Blog [the old Servant Leadership Blog that no longer exists] titled “Global Warming, Servant Leadership, and Foresight” where he wrote:

I find Greenleaf's "best test for a servant-leader" the omega of all thinking about aspects of his servant writings. I sometimes wonder, however, if he left something out of the equation.

Greenleaf began penning the first draft of "The Servant As Leader" in December, 1968, the end of a terrible year. (I know; I graduated from college that year.)
Vietnam was raging, assassinations were fresh in our minds and the environmental movement was just reaching wider consciousness. I sometimes wish Bob would have included in his test a question like "Is the planet protected?" On the other hand, the test focuses on the effects on people, so with what we now know, we can certainly conclude that issues like global warming and toxic waste that have the potential to inflict massive damage on people still fall within the purview of the best test.

I have never seen evidence that Greenleaf considered such a statement, but find it fun to speculate whether he might if he were rewriting the test today.

What is intriguing to me is that Robert Greenleaf did propose a rewrite to the best test in his essay “Servant: Retrospect And Prospect” from the book THE POWER OF SERVANT LEADERSHIP that he wrote ten years or so after his original.  In the essay he proposed a rewrite with the following addition “No one will knowingly be hurt by the action, directly or indirectly” (page 43).  

Merging of Greenleaf’s servant-leadership with Leopold’s land ethic is what we will need to have the foresight to deal with much of the problems we face in the coming years. 

In his essay “An Opportunity for a Powerful New Religious Influence” from the book SEEKER AND SERVANT (page 106) Greenleaf did write:

It is the choice to act upon those assumptions about the nature of people and the world that will release an optimal contemporary force to lead people to be religious in the root sense of the word, that is “bound to the cosmos,” at one with the great creative force.

It is our relationship with the cosmos, one in which we are simply a part of it, and not the pinnacle of it, that I believe is the key to not knowingly hurting any of earth’s inhabitants and as a result working towards healing the harms we have inflicted.