Worldview Assignment

So I’ve decided to post some of my grad school online forum posts here as well since for the next 8 weeks I won’t really have time to post much new stuff in both places and I don’t get graded on my blog (I think).  Below is my first assignment for this new class in response to some questions on worldviews and how they influence our private and professional life.  Since this is a more public forum than my online classroom I will not be posting my Watchmen PDF here for the sake of respecting their copyright.  I don’t have a problem with the online equivalent of show and tell with some classmates but I think blogging copyrighted stuff is crosses the line into reproduction without permission.  The issue number and page references are in the post, I highly recommend you get yourself a copy.  I also highly recommend the other text I reference, Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science. One of the most readable and fascinating studies of organizational leadership I have read.  I welcome comments but won’t necessarily have time to reply like I might normally.

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How would you describe your ” worldview” – your philosophy of life and reason for living? How does that impact your personal and professional life? Who/what is at the center of your worldview?

My worldview is based on the notion that each human life is of inestimable inherent value.  Over the years as I have taught classes and worked with kids to help them understand their own value I have come to codify my worldview into my Three Rules (these are adapted from a less formal set of rules a couple of old co-workers of mine used all the time that stuck with me as I developed my own use for them).  I don’t pretend that I’ve got these down pat, but I strive to live the following every day:

1.  Go big or stay home. Because we are incredibly valuable, we have an obligation to our nature to aim for the utmost in whatever we do.  This means striving to be our best, even if that isn’t as good as someone else’s best.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t simply do things for fun but that when we do we should not rob ourselves of that fun by being overly competitive.  If you have to win to have fun then you probably need that win to prove to yourself that you have value.  When you already understand your value you can truly appreciate the successes of others and encourage them to greater heights knowing that nothing they do can detract from who you are.  In my worldview to attempt nothing is far worse than failure.

In my personal life this meant, after many years of looking for a wife to show that I was worthwhile, finally letting go and waiting until the right partner came along, even though at first I thought she was “out of my league”.  By setting my standards high I not only have found a great wife and friend but I can also relate to her without needing her to support my self-esteem.  I don’t need her constant approval to still know that I’m OK which means that in moments of conflict I can lay aside my need to be right and work with her to solve the problem.

Professionally this means finding a career that involves things you enjoy and for which you have talent.  It is at this crossroads of joy and skill that I believe our most excellent achievements are possible.  (That last sentence may also be read in your best Bill and Ted voice, I won’t be offended.)  With excellence, the financial rewards or additional responsibility we seek will come from something we had pleasure in doing.  Too many people, in my view, work too hard to afford things they never have time to enjoy.

I realize that sometimes circumstances put us in a position where we have to take whatever work comes our way.  Even so, if we know ourselves and the kinds of things at which we excel we can emphasize the positives of our situation until another comes along.  Valuing ourselves does not mean that some jobs are too menial for us – I’ve cleaned toilets in a South African township for free – it means that those jobs do not make us who we are.  So we can invest ourselves wherever we are fully to gain the most from each experience rather than waiting for someone to give us the opportunity we think we deserve.  There is an old theatre adage, “There are no small roles, only small actors.”  If you can be your best in the small things, when big opportunities come along you’ll be ready.

2. Always a pleasure, never a chore. I picked up this phrase from the assistant manager of a pub I used to frequent in Plymouth, England.  Every night he would shout that while standing on the bar as part of his “we’re closed, get out” spiel.  It struck me the first time I heard it and I’ve been using it ever since because it so perfectly illustrates the attitude I want to have about caring for and serving others.

I believe that the Golden Rule is not so much a command as a statement of principle: one loves ones neighbor as one loves oneself.  I have found that the deeper I accept my own value, the easier it becomes to see the value in others.  As I seek to perfect that view of others (because of rule 1), it becomes ever easier for me to give to those around me without seeking anything in return.

The best example I have for what happens when this rule is followed and broken involves going out to lunch with a group of close friends back in DC.  We’ve known each other since high school and over the years all of us have had our ups and downs financially, sometimes just from month to month.  Because our friendship meant more to us than the price of a Big Mac and fries if one of us couldn’t go because of money we’d tell them not to worry about it, one of us would cover it.  Most of the time, that person was covering at least one of us the next time so over the long haul everything evened out.  The result of all this was a deep, deep set of friendships based on mutual respect, trust and fast food.

After a while, though, a couple of my friends started doing better at work and gained some financial success the rest of us had (or have) yet to reach.  Because they never found themselves on the short end of the stick they began counting the times they’d pitched in and became very regimented about who they helped and how much.  It didn’t help matters that their tastes had also grown more expensive and so they wanted to eat at places fewer of us could easily afford.  As a result, our friendships slowly began to deteriorate.  I still remember the day that one friend told me that they weren’t comfortable fronting me the cash for Wendy’s until I’d paid them the two fast food lunches I owed them.  I realized in that moment that somewhere along the line I had ceased to be a friend and had become a line item in his ledger.  We don’t talk any more.  In fact, I don’t think any of the people in that group talk to him any more.

Being aware of our own value and the value of others frees us to be generous and in giving we most accurately express our true nature.  In my professional life this means that I can give a hand to anyone without regard to whether or not it will boost my position.  Karen’s example of her boss taking credit for her work is a perfect example.  She knows that the right work was done well and she has been true to herself and her own worth by not stooping to petty attention-grabbing.  Sometimes the best thing we can give is our support to the right course of action.

The other application of this principle, for me, is a deep passion for mentoring others.  I think that mentoring may be the single greatest task a leader can undertake.  By sharing my time and experience generously I make it easier for newer members of the organization to achieve more than those of us who’ve gone before while passing on the values that have made us successful and define our mission and our methods.

3. Don’t be poopy, don’t be poopy, don’t be poopy. Not much more to say, really.  Being mean, spiteful, cynical and cruel is a waste of everything we are.  Most of these actions are fueled by a jealous desire to take from others something that wish we had or wish we were.  Nothing we take can make us more than we already are nor can it make our victims less than what they are.  Our worth is set forever at “immeasurable” and cannot be changed any more than a gold ingot can be made less valuable by covering it in mud or more valuable by washing it off.

This series considers two “diametrically” opposed worldviews. What are your initial impressions of the secular, or “scientific,” worldview? The ” spiritual” worldview? Explain how these impression contribute to or mediate your worldview?

My impression of the secular worldview is that of an outsider.  I was raised in a very religious home and held fervently to a more classically spiritual worldview for the first 30 years or so of my life.  I was taught that the worldview of the atheist or secularist is that because there is no God, nothing has meaning.  We are all cosmic accidents and therefore nothing we do really matters.  Since we are descended from a process of survival of the fittest, to follow our base passions is only natural, since that is how we’ve come so far.  The fundamental premise of the secular worldview as I was taught it is that everything can be known or explained without requiring the existence of God to do so.  There is no plan for the universe, no destiny, no fetters.  We are as free as our minds can take us, we can potentially do anything.

The view I was raised with is that God created man for His own pleasure, man sinned and broke a perfect relationship with his Creator and only due to faith in the redeeming sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, can that relationship be restored.  The fundamental truths of this worldview are God’s perfection, man’s imperfection in sin and God’s willingness to do anything to overcome the consequences of man’s sin.  God has a plan for all of creation and is ultimately able to make it come about.  We either cooperate with His plan or we resist.  While we have free will, we are not free to do anything at all and remain confident that we are still “in His will”.  Our potential is realized in relinquishing our selves to let God act through us.  (Granted, this is a very specific type of spiritual worldview, but it’s the one that formed my impression of them all.)

Both worldviews, to me, have some major flaws.  If one takes the secular worldview, on what basis are morals and a sense of meaning founded?  A completely amoral society has never survived, so using the theory of natural selection it makes sense that moral behavior is necessary for the continuation of our species.  The fact that so many people end their lives or the lives of others because they feel that life has no meaning indicates that we need a sense of meaning in order to be mentally healthy.  Where are these less-than-concrete necessities to come from?  What shall be the basis of our morality?  What gives meaning to our lives?  Science alone offers few answers, if any, to these questions.

On the other hand, where I see the spiritual worldview lacking is in the problems of evil and God’s means of communication with Man.  Whether God created evil or merely the potential for evil is moot.  If God created all things, and evil exists, then God is ultimately responsible for the existence of evil.  If He is the uncaused cause from which everything issues then evil must have issued from Him at some point.  This makes it hard to stomach the notion that we are so responsible for it that we deserve eternal damnation as a result.  Certainly an all powerful God can do as He sees fit, but justifying that is like trying to justify a tobacco company setting up a firing squad for smokers.

How does the Almighty communicate with His creation?  Ask a thousand people of a thousand faiths and you will get a million answers.  Even people within the same faith disagree vehemently and the question of what God has said has sparked more conflict and ended more lives than perhaps any other in the history of our race.  Why can’t God just talk to us, all at once?  I have faith in my friends, I believe in them and I have relationships with them, none of which require them to be invisible.  If God is real the way the spiritual worldview say He is, why does He need to remain so secretive?

I have spent most of my life trying to find answers to the questions the spiritual worldview raised for me.  Some time ago I decided that perhaps the answers I was looking for just weren’t there so I began checking out what a secular worldview looks like from the inside.  Part of this is because I discovered that most of the spiritual experiences I have had are very similar to those described by people who have been brainwashed into cults and later rescued.  Some of it is based on my own study into the history of the Bible and the various writings that are not part of the Christian canon and why.  My studies in these areas have caused me to re-think some of the basic assumptions of the worldview of my upbringing.

Yet I also find that I cannot simply let go of the notion that there is still something beyond matter that connects the universe.  If we all did start as a Big Bang, than at one point everything that exists, us included, was mashed together into this incomprehensible Unity of Being.  No matter how far through time and space our particles have flown, we bear the mark of that connectedness down to the quark.  Science bears this out in our study of the behavior of subatomic particles (Wheatley, pp.41 & 42).  There is still room for the miraculous in a worldview that is not centered around a specific God.

In summary, I have attached a few panels from a graphic novel called Watchmen (Knowles, Smith, Moore, & Gibbons, Vol. 9, pp.26 – 28) that very eloquently state this view of the universe and why I believe in the value of people the way that I do.  Both the secular world and the spiritual world offer me a great many unknowns.  What I do know is that I am here and you are here and that together we’re pretty spectacular.  I plan to do my best to make the most of myself and take care of those around me and let the unknowns take care of themselves.

Sources:

Wheatley, M. J. (2006). Leadership and the new science. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Knowles, E., Smith, M., Moore, A., & Gibbons, D. (1986, 1987). Watchmen. New York: DC Comics.

Business Ethics in the ’10’s

The following two comments are from a blog on an optimistic view of the future of business. I’m kind of proud of the first one and cringe at one of my sentences in the second:

Thank you, Gill, for another thought-provoking essay. I have enjoyed reading your blog over the past few months, in particular the way that you continually remind that we cannot separate business from human-ness.

Your blog has stirred up something I have been thinking about for the past couple of days that I will try to sum up briefly. I read an article by George Will recently that he wrote in April, condemning the American Public for their love of jeans. At one point in the article he states with displeasure that “Jeans come prewashed and acid-treated to make them look like what they are not — authentic work clothes for horny-handed sons of toil and the soil.”

That statement got me thinking. I used to work construction and in that world there are two very distinct classes of people: those that wear jeans and those that don’t. I realize that “the working man” is an oft-glamourized archetype and that there is nothing romantic about a group generally given to drawing dirty pictures in Sharpie on a Port-o-let wall. However, I do know that when I was laboring every day and earning my money by the sweat of my brow, I didn’t have time to think about how I could leverage the pension fund. The guys that were good at their jobs and had proven by experience that they were experts in their field made the most money. If we were lackadaisical in our work, people could be seriously injured as a result, so we were careful and accountable for the effect our labor had on others. If we didn’t perform to customer’s expectations, we didn’t get paid until we had fixed it at our own expense.

I now work a desk job in the quotations department of a manufacturer. We have a very relaxed company culture and so jeans and t-shirts are the norm from the CEO on down. I’m glad that I still wear my jeans and work boots and pocket knife because they remind me that I am at work. I try to remind myself that just because the physical part of my job is much, much easier, I owe it to my employer and to my customers to work hard at what I do. My jeans remind me that promotions are best earned by achieving excellence and know-how not by politicking. My sweatshirt, full of holes from wearing it while welding, reminds me that if I have to stay late to fix a mistake, that is part of the job and I need to do it to earn my pay.

It is easy in the business world of suits and khakis to forget that work is not meant to be easy and that rewards (and bonuses) are meant to be earned, not expected. I think that the only way to re-establish credibility is for business leaders to actively go against the culture of greed and privilege that has gotten us to this miserable state. They need to hold other leaders accountable, publicly, to higher standards of ethics and to decry ridiculous and exploitative practices like handing millions of dollars to CEO’s who drive their businesses into the ground at the expense of others. They need to remind themselves and their management staff that get-rich-quick schemes are just as much a sham for big business as they are for any consumer. Lastly, they need to emphasize proven excellence and character in their promotion and hiring practices, rewarding those employees that display those attributes ahead of “shooting stars” who talk a good game but don’t really know what they are doing.

Put simply, in whatever industry or position we hold we need to “put our jeans on” and remember that diligence and hard work are virtues to be embraced not troublesome efforts to be avoided as often as possible and that a dollar quickly made is often twice as quickly lost.

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@SKEPTIC – In defense of Pollyanna, she certainly was a happy girl, wasn’t she? To paraphrase C. S. Lewis in The Silver Chair, “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things…Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of your is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one…That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world…we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for [the play world]. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

There is no guarantee that believing in and striving towards a brighter future will make it so. However, waiting for something better to arrive before believing in its existence guarantees a long wait. I would rather speak of the world as it could be in hope that it will become what I envision than to allow cynicism or despair to keep me silent.

@FRANCIS DE CRUZ – While I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments, I am afraid that most stakeholders (specifically shareholders) would say that the thing they want most from a CEO is a high return on their investment. Part of what has set the stage for the recent economic crisis is the heavy participation in the real estate market and the stock market by laymen investors trying to make a quick buck. While banks and investing houses are certainly culpable for their part in underwriting bad loans and other shady dealings, we cannot completely hold ourselves guilt-free. If John and Jane Smith had not decided they were ready to be real estate moguls with no capital to invest and no training, they would not have no loan on which to default.

On Wall Street, the “consumerization” of the stock market via online trading services did wonders for stock values as more and more people became participants in the system. Unfortunately, many of these new investors are people who play the market like a slot machine with money they cannot afford to lose. The result is two-fold: an increase in market fluctuations (as more people participate for the sake of short-term gain) and an increase in emotional response to market fluctuations (since more people have more to lose when prices go down).

I believe that both of these trends are responses to effective marketing campaigns in the form of commercials, TV shows and infomercials that take advantage of our get-rich-without-hard-work culture. Investing gurus tell us that we can make thousands of extra dollars from the comfort of our own homes with no money down, wow! Rather than fault The Media, I say that those of us who believe that honest hard work will result in greater dividends in the long run need to be more vocal and more visible in order to change the culture. I wish I had great ideas as to how this can be done, but I believe that we need to use The Media to create a counter-cultural movement towards the future that we wish to see.

Executive Greed

From a Forbes.com article on Executive Optimism: (Credit to Gregg Easterbrook, among others, who introduced this idea to me)

Equally perilous will be Executive greed. One very simple way that CEO’s could manage expectations, keep their jobs and make a positive impact to their company’s bottom line is to make their salaries and bonuses directly proportional to the least-paid staff member in their organization. In this way they will benefit only when everyone in the organization feels the effects of positive change in the economy. When CEO’s who fail miserably are rewarded with multiple millions of dollars in bonuses and retention fees it should be no surprise that shareholders and workers are going to expect to see some tangible reward as well.

Forthright Leadership

This next post was in response to the question of whether or not Americans would be able to handle the bare truth of what’s needed to fix our federal debt.

Provide for the common defense. Promote the general welfare. Preserve the blessings of liberty.

Notice that “placate the constituencies” is not on that list. From a leadership standpoint, the role of public servants is to take action and make decisions in the best interest of the common good regardless of the cost in reduced approval rating numbers. When public servants begin to make legislative decisions based on their popularity they corrupt their role by placing the emphasis upon themselves rather than those whose trust they ought to guard.

Being responsible with public money, spending only what we have and making the necessary sacrifices to do so (many of which might adversely affect the services rendered to Congress more so than those rendered to the public anyway) is the only policy that makes sense in the long run. To wring our hands in fear of the response of the masses makes us no less cowardly than the parent who endangers their family’s future by charging up a storm every Christmas in order to make sure the kids don’t have a temper tantrum.

Anyone unwilling to do the right thing for the sake of pandering in order to maintain their position of power is no leader, regardless of their job title.

The Temptation to Quit

“All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance.” – Edward Gibbon (from my iGoogle Quotes of the Day gadget)

It is often said that life is a journey.  This analogy can be extended in a variety of ways depending on your personal philosophy or spiritual world view.  For some the journey is about holding firm to a path of moral rectitude.  For others it is a journey of self discovery where twists and turns are welcome.  There are those for whom there is no path at all, only the placing of one foot before the other.  While the application of the analogy may differ widely, the vast majority of people agree that the purpose of the journey is not to reach a destination, but to move from one place to another, to travel.

In my younger days, I believed that I had a specific destiny, that I had been created for one purpose.  Finding that purpose was a requirement, then, of achieving my potential.  Progress could be measured by my level of certainty that the path I trod was leading in the right direction.  When I reached a crossroads it was up to me to pick the one that would take me closer to my destination and if I chose poorly I would end up having to make up for lost time eventually.  During this period of my life temptation could be defined as those things which distracted me from my goal or that moved me off the path intended for me.  Temptations were forbidden or unexplored avenues that dazzled the eye but led to destruction.

Over the past few years I have come to believe that destiny, if I have one, is something that will find me.  I have a wife and a daughter who need and deserve far more attention than my search for a more ethereal sense of purpose.  I make choices to pursue things that I think will challenge me, like graduate school for instance, but they do not define who I am.  I’ve also found that my choice of traveling companions means much more to me than where I end up going.  Walking a lonely path covered in the rose-colored petals of Destiny was appealing once but I discovered that loneliness is a poor companion and flowers make terrible conversation.  So when I reach a crossroad now I try to look ahead to ensure that those with whom I travel will be able to follow.

These days, the nature of temptation has changed as well.  The danger is not is following a wrong trail but in ceasing to travel, to give up on maturing.  Some days I think the greatest relief I can imagine would be to stop trying.  To just yell at people who irritated me, or to simply impose my will where I see fit.  Mumbling and grumbling to myself about the problems in the world around me instead of speaking up and trying to be part of an active solution.  Perhaps even more insidious is the temptation to zone out, to live for nothing other than the gratification of the immediate moment.

The difference between facing temptation earlier in my life and dealing with it now is a matter of focus.  In the past I would rely on the strength of my conviction that where I was going was right and true and ultimately better for me than the delectable diversions at the end of the various rabbit trails of temptation.  Some times that would work great but other times the goal just seemed too far off, too ethereal and the hunger for something now too great.

Today my focus is much narrower – the feet in front of me and the people near to me.  To shrug off temptation means taking a single step, making a single motion towards a loved one or replacing a “treadmill” activity with a “road race” activity.  Interestingly, as I focus on continuing to move forward I am finding that as a matter of course I am also pursuing a narrower path than before as well.