Monday, October 24, 2016

An Other World - Block, Brueggemann & McKnight

An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture (Block, Brueggemann & McKnight, 2016) proposes that the competitive economic and resource-scarce world that is reflected in much of life’s experience is being replaced by a covenantal world characterized by neighborly beliefs.

The free market consumer ideology that the authors believe is dying assumes scarcity of resources, that certainty and perfection are achievable, that acquisitiveness and privatization are essential, and that institutions are required to maintain this ordered culture. The emerging covenantal world is based on the neighborly beliefs of abundance, mystery, fallibility, and the common good. The consumer and globalized culture which dominated much of the 19th and 20th centuries violated neighborly values and perpetuated privilege, competition, self-interest, entitlement, and surplus (unused) resources. By contrast, a new covenantal culture would result in more even distribution of resources and would reduce the obsession to acquire more than we need. The covenantal community requires that individual well-being be reunderstood by paying greater attention to the well-being of the whole community.

The authors view urbanization as one of the primary causes for the loss of community, partly due to the complex systems and empire that has to be maintained as a support to consumerism. This urbanized world lacks a sense of community, of knowing each other, and it ignores the potential of a connection to God. They trace the class system that has emerged and the organizations that support it to a “myth of individual development.” The empire that perpetuates our disconnection from each other is supported by everything from schools to aloof elites who are blind to the social and economic conditions that impact other’s lives. Additional factors that sustain our disconnected life experience include mobility and isolation, unproductive wealth, and the violence that accompanies them.

The alternative the authors propose is to accept an “invitation to covenantal justice, a call to create a more just or equitable world based on covenant.” This covenant is what many would see as a commitment to the common good. And this common good can be achieved by recognizing the abundance of our community gifts and sharing the resources we need. The signposts of such a covenantal community are sharing time, food, and silence. Rather than observing time as a quantity to be managed, covenantal time involves measuring the depth of time – what did we do with time to make meaning and create common good? Rather than seeing food as something to hoard, food should be viewed as coming from nature and therefore freely shared. Rather than viewing silence as a void or absence, it should be seen as a companion to mystery – a place allowing for reflection, discernment and deeper understanding.

In the postscript, the authors express their intent in writing this book, “to shrink the market as the primary means of cultural identity, schools as the sole source of learning, systems as the source of care, price as the measure of value, productivity as the basis of being.” All in all, such propositions sound attractive but the few examples the authors provide offer little certitude of dramatic change, especially in a near term view. An Other Kingdom was more a primer for reflection on the state of our civilization and world’s future than a roadmap to how to make it happen.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Relating music, leadership and cultural intelligence - Part Five of Five sequential posts

As many of us discover in our maturing days, there are repeating and often deepening themes throughout life’s experiences. Musicleadership, and cultural intelligence have been areas of constant discovery in my life. They will continue to be fascinations for me as I seek to learn more. Through my journey thus far, I have gained insights from the confluence of discoveries in each area which include:
  • Find areas in your life that fascinate you, remain open to learning about them, and transfer ideas discovered in one area to others.
  • Brain function research guides us in realizing where we are in our learning, especially related to the discomfort we have in learning new things and the growing freedom we have when acquired learning is incorporated into who we are.
  • When learning something new, pick the pieces apart, analyzing different issues for patterns that can illuminate how the pieces fit together and how approaches in one area can be adapted to another.
  • Once we achieve some degree of authenticity (comfort) in who we are, keep both an explicit awareness of what you are doing running at the same time you act out of your natural core.
  • Find the place that allows you to be “at home” with new knowledge and to express your true self in using it.
  • Remember that you are not the center but simply an instrument of conveyance for something that goes beyond and is bigger than you.
Music, leadership and culture can each be seen as special areas of expertise and therefore things that we should only engage if we have high expertise. What’s wrong with that view? Seeing them as matters of expertise and performance takes away the opportunity for all of us to enjoy being involved, living fully, and offering all that we have. Seeing music, leadership and cultural interaction as part of who we are but not about us can be freeing. The bottom line is that music used to be something shared in private salons and living rooms and now it is celebrated more on the concert stage. Leadership used to be a shared responsibility in communities seeking mutuality in order to survive and now it is viewed all too often as the purview of select elites. Cultural interaction used to be about how to connect with someone of another tribe and now it is viewed more as an obstacle to overcome in business or political negotiations. What I am advocating is that music, leadership, and cultural interaction, as well as many other areas, can and should become topics/experiences of mutual exploration rather than audience observation and evaluation.

Some final points that I’ve realized through these successive posts, expressed in musical terms but generalizable to leadership and culture as well, may be helpful:
  • Starting from scratch can be terrifying – fear of the unknown is intimidating.
  • The hard parts require greater discipline to learn but they often become our best passages.
  • Hidden and subtle themes are often the most interesting.
  • Concentrate on where the arc of the long phrase goes rather than just the short interludes.
  • Masterful performance is a combination of restraint (careful control) and reckless abandon.
  • Focus on the art and not the audience.
In some ways, these understandings have likely been part of my worldview for some time. However, the explicit recognition of them helps me to hold certain assumptions about what I am doing that keep me on track. The last point, “It is the art that should be the focus and not the audience,” has been a struggle for me. Even now, I can write these words but I know that in relation to playing piano I still pay too much attention to the audience. I am coming back to this challenge and will have an opportunity in November 2016 to test this assumption at the International Association of Leadership conference in Atlanta. I’ve been invited to play background music as conference attendees take their seats at two of the keynote programs. Practicing a number of Rachmaninoff pieces for the last several years, the program I intend to play traces his compositions from the first when he was only 18 years old (middle movement of the Piano Concerto #1) up to one of his final masterpieces (18th variation of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini). As I practice, I am often transported to a place that is outside of myself and concentrates only on my giving voice to this great music. My goal is to go to this place regardless of who is in the room in Atlanta.