(Part of an ongoing Newsletter series authored by WetheP colleagues.)
I recently moved to Ecuador to help a liberal arts university develop their online learning program.
Dr. Nathan Digby, Dean of Students joined me reading Charles Schwenk´s Managing Mindfully: Buddhism and Business. Nathan did his religious studies dissertation on Thich Nhat Hanh. We´re both interested in how Buddhist practice can be brought into everyday settings, such as schools and business. These interests are among the reasons I got involved with WetheP, back in 2012.
From the start, WetheP was interested in how emotions can impact everyday settings and outcomes. We observed that they can serve diametrically opposing ends that can either prohibit or propel culture change.
Even the earliest WetheP meetings were different from most, as we experimented with elements we sought to develop into new, novel ways to convert unproductive energies into positives. We believed this was key to channeling passions into unconventional strategies for social change.
Buddhism offers ideas for how this can be done. Schwenk describes the cause and effect relationship at its heart. At the center of our unhappy situation, he explains, is ignorance---of who we are, of others, and of the truth of our situation. We try to fill this void by craving after things we assume will make us feel better, and then to grasp them (tightly). All of this ends in death.
What does this have to do with WetheP? I see people who, out of ignorance of who they are and the reality of their situation, crave power, advantage, status, and recognition. These people tend to resist change with all their being. We see this in nearly all organizations today: businesses, political organizations, even religious and academic institutions. This is one of the reasons WetheP came into being. We recognized this dynamic and wanted to find a way out of it.
Now, here´s the bad news for us change agents. Where others are guilty of ignorance and insensitivity as they crave power, fame and money, we are guilty, too. We crave being known as experts, good guys and miracle workers. We cling to this identity, and all the harder when we encounter resistance.
The result is that we draw our staff, stakeholders and clients into a never-ending dance of ignorance, craving, clinging, death; ignorance, craving, clinging, death -- at our peril.
But, all is not lost. Buddhism offers a way out.
First, we must all recognize that we are dancing together. Everyone is in motion: ignorant, craving, and grasping. No one is sitting this one out, even if we think we know the right way or are standing by distanced and detached.
Schwenk quotes Harvard's Ellen Langer’s four steps of “mindfulness” for a better ‘dance:’
1) View all situations from several perspectives 2) See all information as novel (some call this “beginner´s mind”) 3) Attend to the context of situations, perspectives and information. 4) Create new identities for ourselves, organizations and individuals with whom we work
Second, we need to understand that all of what we crave and desire will be gone one day. We must ask ourselves, “What´s all this for?”
Third, we need to step back from our cravings and grasping, to see that, we may really be ignorant of those we work and live with. We need to fill this void with humility, understanding, strength and compassion.
These are the steps to a very different dance: of life. I’m looking forward to watching from my vantage point in South America, as WetheP expands this dance with an enlightened approach and new ‘dance’ steps all to actively engage change.
- Paul Hardt WetheP colleague, writing from Quito, Ecuador