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.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Water and Butterfly

Originally posted on the old Servant Leadership Blog on March 13, 2008.

The 50 degrees temperatures in Minnesota today prompted me to exit my bus early and walk home to get some exercise and enjoy the evening. The snow was melting fast, and water was running everywhere, bringing back memories of my childhood splashing in the puddles. As I walked along, I couldn’t help but notice the trash, dog poop, and other pollutants that had accumulated over the winter being carried away by the melting water. I recalled the news earlier this week on an Associated Press investigation that detailed the “vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — (…) found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans (…).” Continuing my walk, I reflected on how to relate the way we treat our water to the state of leadership in our world. Once I got home, I looked to Robert Greenleaf for the answers.

In his essay the “The Search and the Seeker” from the book Seeker and Servant, Robert Greenleaf relates an experience of a friend of his coming across two boys who found a butterfly who had emerged from its chrysalis in a window well that was enclosed with a screen. Two women notice the boys and stopped to help them figure out a way to free the trapped butterfly. For Greenleaf the story was more the then just the “human concern for the hurt of the natural world”.

The butterfly represented “our beautiful loving self (truly a gift of grace). The bars can be the hardened attitudes of the inhuman in us that keep our natural loveliness imprisoned. The boys could represent our creative capacity for awareness (…). The adults may be our rational, responsible, perhaps impersonal, self that thinks of its role as good but would not be aware of the imprisoned beauty except as that awareness is mediated by the boys. (…). But it is a message from the environment that could pass unnoticed. It is part of the vast world of symbolic communication, the riches of wisdom in which we are all constantly immersed but which some of us miss altogether”.

So what was the message that the environment was trying to tell me? Could it be that the sunshine and warmth is a representation of the potential for compassion that we humans have. My memories of playing in the water, as a child might just be a reminder that we need to recoup that ability to play and enjoy life. The dog poop could be a sign that our quest to find companionship in our pets is a waste of an opportunity to find companionship with our friends, families, and neighbors in our communities. And the garbage and pollutants that we dump in our water might be telling us to let go of our focus on consuming the right pill or product, and instead focus on finding real balance and health in our lives.

So those are my thoughts from today’s walk with Greenleaf.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How To Be A Monk

Originally posted on the old Servant Leadership Blog on January 20th, 2008.  
Colin writes a blog from Victoria, Australia called "Conversatio Morum". In a recent blog, he writes on the topic of Servant Leadership from his perspective. This perspective includes being a middle aged man who works as a registered nurse, his practice as an Oblate of St Benedict, his relationship with his partner, and his struggles with cancer and bipolar affective disorder. His Blog discusses the challenges he faces in a new job of working long hours, traveling, and the need to concentrate, but he sees the new job as “a good thing.”

With this background, he questions his leadership style and reflects on Robert Greenleaf’s concept of Servant Leadership. Collin sees his “primary calling as being to serve - I have always felt that my vocation was to the diaconate, being a servant of others. I think the challenge for me at the moment is to see how I can serve and lead.” He acknowledges the challenges of practicing servant leadership that we all face in our non-servant leadership world. “My workplace is loud, busy, focused on results - how can I be who God calls me to be in this place? How can I be a monk there? How can I serve and lead?”

Collin’s questions seem to be a good lead into some concepts covered in Robert Greenleaf’s essay “Spirituality as Leadership” from the book Seeker and Servant – Reflections on Religious Leadership (pages 61-62). Greenleaf points out that “if spirituality as leadership […] is to become a major force in producing a more caring society […], then the process of spiritual formation will need to reach the large numbers who do the work of the world.” The challenge that we all face in the work world today is the distractions of “power, money, and competition” that force us to “lead split lives” where “spirituality must be reconciled with the realities of the world.”

For Greenleaf, the work of a “monk in his cell or the theologian in his study” (or for any of us) is not “spiritual unless the fruit of their efforts is such that it finds its way to nourish the servant motive in those who do the work of the world.” Greenleaf believed this nourishment would become available when:
  1. Large numbers of people that suffer from alienation find themselves at home in the world, as it is, the good and the bad – “by accepting and nurturing their servant natures”.
  2. Current leaders are helped to find the sustaining spirituality that will allow them to become detached from and keep perspective on their burdens through “clarity of vision, compassion, and grace.”
  3. Individuals become willing to receive the gift of spirituality as leadership and then “make a mission of healing alienation and assisting the spiritual formation of established leaders."
As we look for the answers to life's questions, we can become part of the force that will help create a more caring society.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Health Impacts of Climate Change

Excerpts from HUMAN HEALTH AND WELL-BEING IN AN ERA OF ENERGY SCARCITY AND CLIMATE CHANGE.  By Cindy L. Parker, MD, MPH and Brian S. Schwartz, MD, MS.   2010, Post Carbon Institute.
In the past hundred years, we have created lifestyles, communities, food systems, water systems, transportation systems, and health systems that are entirely reliant on cheap and plentiful oil and that assume a favorable and stable climate. Our health and well-being have been shaped by these lifestyles and systems, but they have not necessarily been well served: Climate change and the threat of energy scarcity now pose serious challenges to our “health system,” specifically health care services and public health services.

The consequences of climate change and energy scarcity will be wide ranging and complex, will affect all aspects of our lives, and will touch all people—some more so than others.

We have spent the last sixty years building a physical infrastructure— including highways, office buildings, housing subdivisions, and shopping malls—that was entirely shaped by the availability of cheap and plentiful oil. Homes are far removed from jobs, services (including health services), and even places for recreation and social gathering— all things we need for our well-being. Thus our built environment becomes an important health risk regulator as energy scarcity makes distance more of an obstacle.

Another unexpected determinant of health risk is what might be termed our “provisioning system”—that is, the ways in which we provide our communities with the goods they need. The manufacture and transport of most goods will be impacted in obvious ways by the challenges ahead, but the health risk of the food system is probably the most worrisome. Our food generally comes to us from industrial models of food production, thousands of miles away and completely dependent on fuel, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and plastics made from petroleum and natural gas—a very vulnerable situation in a future of oil prices double or even triple what they are today. In addition, climate change threatens to bring not just more crop-damaging extreme weather (especially droughts/floods) but major shifts in agricultural zones and pest ranges.

Climate change and energy scarcity will create direct challenges for our health system, but they will also create myriad indirect problems for health simply because of how we have built and provisioned our communities and economies up until now.

Recent U.S. national-security reports state that climate change will pose serious threats to national security because it will likely increase poverty, lead to serious environmental degradation, and weaken national governments […].  A growing number of analysts are viewing climate change and energy scarcity through these lenses and the conclusion is unmistakable: Climate change and energy scarcity pose unprecedented challenges to human health and well-being.

Global warming is tracked by following the average global temperature, but averages can be misleading. For example, relatively small average temperature increases mask one of the hallmarks of climate change: more frequent and longer-lasting severe heat waves. In 1995, a heat wave hit Chicago resulting in more than 700 deaths; more than 45,000 people died in heat waves during the summer of 2003 in Western Europe; and the summer of 2006 brought scorching heat to much of the United States and Canada, killing 300 in California alone and sending tens of thousands to emergency rooms and hospitals.

Some people are more vulnerable to heat than others, including babies, children, the elderly, the poor, those who live in inner-city neighborhoods, and the socially isolated (again highlighting the importance of social well-being). More Americans die every year from heat stress than from any other weather-related event, with the exception of Hurricane Katrina. Computer models suggest that if climate change occurs unabated (“climate chaos”), by 2040 heat waves as severe as the 2003 event that killed so many people in Europe could occur every other year.

Heat waves are especially deadly because warmer temperatures worsen air quality. For example, higher temperatures increase concentrations of ground-level ozone (the primary component of smog and an important contributor to global warming), which damages the lungs, blood vessels, and heart. People who have asthma and other breathing disorders are especially vulnerable to the effects of ozone, requiring more medications and leading to more emergency-room visits and hospitalizations.  The combination of high temperatures and high ozone concentrations is especially deadly and plays an important role in the numbers of people who die during heat waves. Other kinds of air pollution are expected to get worse with climate change as well. 

Warmer temperatures, milder winters, precipitation changes, and other effects of climate change can influence the distribution and risk of many infectious diseases.  Debilitating and deadly insect-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Lyme disease are especially sensitive to changes in temperature, humidity, and rainfall patterns and will likely increase their ranges and possibly their transmissibility.  Waterborne infectious diseases will also be influenced by warmer temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and the compromised ability of degrading ecosystems and suboptimal built environments to deal with heavy precipitation events.

Climate change also promises to bring more severe and potentially more frequent extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and heavy rainfall, all of which increase the risk of injury and death and cause social disruption […].

Competition for shrinking environmental resources, especially the necessities of water, food, and housing, could potentially result in greater conflict within and between geopolitical entities. There is ample evidence that the scarcity of environmental resources has played an important role in many areas of conflict, such as the genocides that devastated Rwanda and continue to occur in Darfur, the ongoing clashes between Zapatista rebels and the federal government in Mexico, and the decades-long modern Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  That is, what have been termed “ethnic conflicts” have actually been exacerbated by, if not directly caused by, environmental scarcity. Such conflicts will increase in the era of energy scarcity and climate change. In addition, the number of environmental refugees created by rising sea levels and failure of the local ecosystems to meet basic needs could increase by many hundreds of millions.  These refugees will face a greater risk of attack and conflict if they must cross political or cultural borders and will face the same hardships in many countries as those who flee war zones. As climate change worsens the gap between those with resources and those without, social unrest may worsen and spread into previously stable areas. This is another example of a risk regulator. If left unchecked, environmental degradation and the challenges it creates can ultimately threaten the basis of society itself.

The risks to mental well-being in a future of energy scarcity and climate change are quite significant.
Examples include persons forced from their homes due to extreme weather events; the inability of the environment to provide sufficient food and water; individuals faced with job loss, separation from family and friends, and concern about the future; and persons coping with the various disruptions to life caused by an unstable climate. Such mental health outcomes as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are expected to increase as a result.

The effects of climate change will create new demands on our health care system and for public health services. We must prepare for this reality, while also doing everything we can to reduce our contributions to global warming. All the health system adaptations we can envision and all the ways to enhance community resilience that we can call for—much less implement—will not be enough if the climate is not ultimately stabilized.

All forms of energy, other than passive warming from the sun, have an environmental and a societal cost. Therefore, using less energy or using it more efficiently should be a primary societal goal, regardless of where that energy comes from. To accomplish this goal, housing patterns, transportation options, food and water provisioning, and many other aspects of our lives will all have to be redesigned to require substantially less energy from any source. Energy scarcity will force these decisions upon us, but hasty decisions to replace petroleum with other liquid fuels, such as ethanol, biodiesel, or oil from oil sands, will only forestall the inevitable for a short time and will greatly aggravate other problems, such as climate change and food and water insecurity.

Some options, however, for addressing the dual challenges of climate change and energy scarcity could make our communities better places to live. A stronger sense of community, greater emphasis on family and friends, less time spent in cars and commuting, and localization of economic activity and food production will all benefit health and well-being.

Transforming our health care and public health systems will require significant policy changes. It’s essential that citizens educate their elected officials about the issues and demand prompt, well-informed, forward-looking solutions. This will not be easy, because the necessary changes will likely be seen as politically unpopular and volatile energy prices will encourage actions that do not necessarily serve society well in the long run. But if we make the right choices now, we can maximize the benefits and lessen the risks. The transition to the energy-scarce, climate-constrained future will create significant hardship if tough decisions about how to proceed are not made soon. However, the end result of a more self-sufficient, cohesive, resilient, and healthy society is worth the effort.

Religious Leadership

Originally posted as "Seeker and Servant"on the old Servant Leadership Blog on January 14, 2008.

I started reading Seeker and Servant – Reflections on Religious Leadership, which is a collection of essays from Robert Greenleaf. I have hesitated to read this collection before, I think because of my concern about the reference to religion in the title. I worried that this might be a book that was only applicable to priests, pastors, or other religious folk.

After reading the first couple of essays, Greenleaf’s insights on religion have given me a new faith in a topic I was beginning to give up hope on. In the first essay “Religious Leaders as Seekers and Servant”, Greenleaf writes “my hope is that no persons will exclude themselves from consideration of the issues raised in this paper because of their religious beliefs. My perspective in writing this paper is that of a student of organization – how things get done – not that of a scholar or theologian.” As usual, Greenleaf backs up his hopes, with words that build hope in the reader.

A key part of his essay is to define a number of religious terms, in a manner that gives them a focus and meaning that they often do not have. For Greenleaf, “spirit is the animating force that disposes persons to be servants of others”, religious is related to the “root meaning of re ligio, to rebind”, in the sense that in our stressful world, “people and institutions are fragile. All but the crude and insensitive live under the constant threat of coming unbound, alienated.

The alienated are “those who have little caring for their fellow humans, who are not motivated to serve people as individuals or institutions, and who though able, do not carry any constructive society-supportive role, or who miss realizing their potential by much too wide a margin. Any influence or action that rebinds – that recovers and sustains such alienated persons as caring, serving, constructive people, and guides them as they build and maintain serving institutions, or that protects normal people from the hazards of alienation and gives purpose and meaning to their lives – is religious.”

From these come the meaning of religious leadership, “actions taken to heal, or build immunity from, two serious contemporary maladies: (1) widespread alienation in all sectors of the population, and (2) the inability or unwillingness of far too many of our institutions to serve.

The essays go on to point out Greenleaf’s vision of how we can rebind our society. This collection of writings is Greenleaf at his finest.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Nurturing Responsibility

 Originally posted on the old Servant Leadership Blog 12/12/07. 

Greenleaf continued his essay “The Requirements of Responsibility” with some thoughts on how to become more responsible. Greenleaf believed that to become more responsible required the creation of a new “internal climate” that would allow a “new constructive attitude to grow”. The way to nurture this environment was to ask the right questions.

Listed below are some of the questions Greenleaf found important in his own search for responsibility.

  1. Am I contemporary? Do I have a sense of history? […]. Do I look with open wonder at contemporary politics, philosophy, religion, economics, art, music, literature, science (both natural and social), business development?
  2. Am I connected? Am I on the growing edge of the contemporary phase of history but still connected to the main body of people and events? I might be a prophet, speaking to future generations but not to the present. Prophets are useful and necessary, but they are not necessarily strong people among their contemporaries.
  3. Do I see evil as an aspect of good? […]. Responsibility brings one face to face with the cold facts that progress does not flow from the simple choosing of the good and rejecting the evil. It comes when we accept the we have only good and some aspects of good that we do not understand.
  4. Do I accept that there is no virtue that, carried to the extreme, does not become a vice, no sound idea that, overworked does not become absurd?
  5. Am I sure that in choosing a right aim, I have not become self-righteous?
  6. Am I prepared to accept that I will never have the comfort of being “ideologically” right? […]. Whenever a person says to himself or herself, “Now I fully understand this.” or “This is the final or complete truth,” the chances are that he or she has blocked the possibility for further growth in knowledge or insight in that area.
  7. Am I willing to cultivate the “growing-edge” people among my contemporaries and, by so doing, accept the censure of those who are far from the growing edge and don’t want to look at it?
  8. Am I sensitive to the needs and aspirations of all who may be affected by what I think, say and do? And being sensitive, am I willing to say the words and take the actions that build constructive tension?
  9. Can I accept that the best possible compromise is right?
  10. Do I have a view of myself on which progressively greater strength can be built? […]. I want to see myself at once at the center of the universe – influencing its course with every word, thought, and deed - and at the same time a minute instrument of the cosmos acting in harmony with others.
  11. Am I striving to make a creative act out of conformity? […]. Being creative, bringing something important into existence that wasn’t there before can be done under any circumstance by a strong person.
And so I ask myself, am I willing to nurture my responsibility? How about you?

Requirements of Responsibility

Originally posted on the old Servant Leadership Blog 12/5/07. 
In his essay “The Requirements of Responsibility”, Robert Greenleaf points out some key concepts regarding responsibility.
  • Responsibility, […], requires that a person think, speak, and act as if personally accountable to all who may be affected by his or her thoughts, words, and deeds.
  • In an imperfect world, it is a goal, something to work toward, even if never to accomplish fully.
  • The big question, is the trend right? Am I moving?
  • The requirements of responsibility are internal rather than external.
  • Responsibility is not tested by a formula, a code, or a set of rules.
  • The potentially strong person acquires, early in the mature years, the feeling of total responsibility for the wider community of which he or she is a part.
  • This person doesn’t necessarily act totally responsible – […] – but feels responsible, totally responsible.
  • The things that are good for the society please this person, and the things that harm it cause pain - deep down inside.
  • Most of us develop this attitude of total responsibility toward our family; but it becomes qualitative and attenuated as it radiates to the wider community.
  • [T]he feeling of total responsibility is born, not made.
So what is causing you pain - deep down inside?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Charity: public provision for the relief of the needy; lenient judgment of others. 

Who benefits from our acts of charity?  Is it the needy or ourselves? And who really benefits from our granting leniency to the outcasts from our society?  Is it the outcast, or is it the judge?  Do judges sleep better at night when they offer leniency to the outlaws?  And why do people operate outside our laws?  Could it be that they have to in order to survive, or to stay sane? 

 Do the homeless sleep better, when they sleep outside our homes?  And do the homeless sleep better under bridges or under the stars?  Are homeless shelters, shelters for the homeless, or do they shelter us from the guilt that seeing the homeless causes us.  Or are they simply tax shelters for the profits we have collected from the poor?  And what happens to the homeless after we replace them in the home? 

When we place our change in the coffers of the poor, whose alms are we really giving, and whose are we taking?  What acts of charity do our non-profits perform? Are we simply tapping off some of the profits from our philanthropists to permit our foundations to continue to prey on the poor?   And when we give aid, what are we taking in payment?

And when we pray for the poor, whose prayers are answered, the poor’s or the pray-er's?  Why are we on our knees when we pray?  And when we wash someones feet, is it because the foot-kisser doesn't like the smell?  Do we play Pontius Pilot and try to wash away our guilt; or perhaps provide a public display of our piety?  Who are we recognizing when we act charitable, the foot or the lips; are we walking the walk, or talking the talk?  Whose feet are we really kissing?  Maybe we should kiss the lips, instead of the feet; or is it our fetishes we are trying to feed? 

Should we celebrate what we have done, or mourn what we allow?  Are we following the leader, rather than leading the way?