woensdag 27 maart 2013

Thinking matters

Thinking is not innocent. Sometimes it might seem that way, for example considering the euphoria surrounding the new pope. He lives so frugally. He communicates so well. He laughs. He dares to let himself be called Francis!

And, well, for the rest he is sound in the faith and conservative in his thinking, but that does not seem to matter much. Based on all the other positive features of the new pope, many people hope already for a restoration of the image of the church and a Catholic revival.

But then, why did John Paul previously fail in this regard, although he had no less of these positive characteristics to his disposal? And why did John XXIII apparently not manage, indeed why did actually Francis of Assisi not succeed, by whom the present pope is inspired.

I think for an answer to that question the very church doctrine may be a major clue. Because it can be summarized as an example of dualistic thinking that takes the contrast between the high life of the spirit and the sinful life of the world as a starting point. In the words of Francis in the media: “The church must keep away from worldliness, because worldliness is the devil”. Angelic sexlessness versus defiling lust, generous poverty versus greedy materialism, that is the Gospel in its pure nutshell.

Try that in a modern world in which daily life is largely structured on the basis of broad acceptance of the exercise of property rights, sexual desire and other ambitions. And in which all efforts are aimed at making that happen in acceptable ways. Rejection of those impulses cannot but appear to modern people as bizar, the point is to lead them in the right directions. And in order to achieve that, citizens nowadays dispose of other and better resources than the pope's advices.

In parts of the world with fewer civil liberties than in the West, the simplistic religious message will still find an audience. But as soon as somewhere a self-conscious middle class of some importance develops and civil liberties are cherished, the traditional dualism will feel as obsolete. That may easily result in a masquerade or a Vatican banking scandal or sexual abuse, or all at once. There will then be no way of avoiding the world, you’ll have to go through it.

The first to understand this in the history of the West were the Protestants. Not without reason these – from the early period of the Reformation, especially in the Flemish and Dutch territories – came from the urban bourgeoisie. They were people who for the regulation of their existence were already used to a large extent to rely on their own thinking and organizational skills. The single, prescribed, simplistic ecclesiastical doctrine was widely perceived as too oppressive. Instead, the Protestants were searching for their own formulations of the doctrine which should allow more worldly life. Thus the members of the church councils were henceforward democratically elected and officials in the Protestant church were allowed to be married.

That essentially the old ecclesiastical scheme of objectively ascertainable good versus wrong was not left in Protestantism may appear from the fact that within the newly formed church communities coercion was no less severe than previously in the Una Sancta. But there were now several churches along each other. So there was, in contrast to the time before, something to choose. The Protestant scene may therefore be called more mature and more pluralistic.

My point is that these historical phenomena and developments make a trend visible, from more to less simplicism and from less to more complex and mature thinking. And that this trend, with an eye on the success of a religious community in the West, is a non-negligible factor. It cannot be reversed just like that.

If simultaneously I observe that the Roman Catholic Church finds itself - with a high level of evangelical dualism and simplicity - still at the primitive end of that historical and intellectual spectrum, and that the new pope ranges himself on that side; then those groups of cheering adolescents and nuns may move me, but I also see them stand a little outside history. Overjoyed that the new Elected-by-the-Holy-Spirit is going to  perform theír thinking.

Also see La Trahison des Clercs

dinsdag 19 maart 2013

A bit silly

What is striking in many forms of anti-Semitism today is that it is inspired by abuses in Israel. But in many cases the wording is such that the bias against Jews in general splashes off. If you say that certain situations in Israel show well that “they” are good for nothing, then it is clear that your departure point is that “they” are no good and that Israel supplies just the next piece of evidence for that.

I think such blatant bias in that direction is a bit silly. Just as stupid indeed as that other bias: “Gosh, I didn’t expect this from Jews because they themselves have been through so much”. Against all these biases, I would say: call things by their name. It’s just wrong to destroy olive groves, to build illegal settlements and to humiliate others. And that’s the way also many Israelis think about it.

In the list stupidities I found another such statement. This time from the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai commenting on the Dutch intention to provide products from the occupied territories with a separate label instead of the label Made in Israel. “It is strange that the Netherlands does not take steps to fully compensate Jews who during the Second World War have lost everything, but finds it necessary to mark Jewish products”.

What does he drag in by the head and shoulders, his statement goes in all directions. Again I would say, stick to the subject matter. But then maybe Yishai would have little to say, because the occupied territories according to international law simply don’t belong to Israel.

A bit stupid, that continued unjustified expansion of associations and prejudices, they frustrate any meaningful exchange of arguments. I’m a bit allergic to it.

Also see The Green Line and the Red Line

woensdag 13 maart 2013

Begging for Feed-back

I recently read that in the short term we in the West must not expect revolutionary new technological inventions. Technological innovation will mainly need to build on existing technology and therefore productivity increase on this basis will be modest in size.

If that’s the case indeed, more profits and faster productivity growth are to be expected of social innovation. By which I mean the fixing of the energy leak which in many organizations exists because people do not or too little cooperate. And also I mean the stopping of the waste of money, time and talent which results from dysfunctional beliefs about management.

That energy leak and waste are usually not caused because employees or managers have bad intentions, but because the organization through budgets and powers is sometimes arranged in such way as to set people against each other instead of bringing them together. And that in its turn is caused because we are saddled with obsolete, dysfunctional beliefs about management and organization. These limit, consciously or unconsciously, our space for movement and improvement.

Take the views on management and leadership. In most organizations it are still mainly forms of hierarchical thinking and command structures that determine which concepts are associated with management. These include concepts such as power, competency, the ability to override others. And far fewer – apart from exceptions – a serving and facilitating attitude.

Then this is what you get: managers who get a kick out of their decision-making-power and who in intimate moments don’t keep secret that they are in that position because they cannot stand that others tell them what to do. But who at the same time do not but expect that others are able to do precisely that.

And you get relatively many frightened employees, who have effectively been silenced.

That pinches of course, and those managers may as well feel the pinching. They largely, despite their formal power, fail to achieve what they aim at. And they feel that more is needed, and – above all – something else: they should engage in genuine consultation with “their” people. But at this point also impotence enters the story: they have to listen but because of the way they have organized things and because of their character structure that does not work properly. They beg for feedback, but what follows is a deathly silence. Touching, almost.

This is not managable any longer by hurling in a top-down way some more behavioral science and communication tricks into the organization. Here another way of social interaction is required. Which justifiably may be called: social innovation.

Also see Trust