Medium 9781576750407

Stirring of Soul in the Workplace

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This deeply lyrical book offers perspective for those struggling to hear the quiet voice of the soul over the din of the contemporary workplace. Alan Briskin shows how the modern organization has gradually increased its demands on us-beginning with our bodies, then our minds, and now our souls. But through the moving personal stories of people fighting to reclaim their souls, he also sends a message that encourages individuals to keep their spiritual integrity and values alive.
In The Stirring of Soul In the Workplace, Briskin weaves together lessons from history, psychology, and management theory, with numerous real-life examples, to tell the story of how the modern workplace has evolved to value technology and productivity over soulfulness and relationship. From the Industrial Revolution's marriage of mechanization and efficiency to the management theories of the early 20th century, Briskin traces the emergence of the quest for efficiency and control in the workplace. He questions the corporate concept of "individual personality" that asks us to check our emotions, fantasies, imaginations, and souls at the door. He describes the history of the soul as a dynamic force that continues to influence our behavior, and shows how excluding it from our work life actually flattens our potential and dampens our creativity.
Rather than solve the conventional question organizations have been asking for years-how can we change people?-Alan Briskin examines how organizations can better reflect personal and human values in the workplace. For organizations that too often have sacrificed the well-being of the individual for the goals of the organization, the author suggests a more active way of taking up our work roles that can bring more of our experience and imagination into play. He points out that meaning cannot come from corporate mission statements or reengineering programs. Instead, it needs to be nurtured through dialogue and reflection, the courage to ask troubling questions, and a willingness to face the consequences of our collective and individual actions. When we learn to honor the contradictions, uncertainties, and interconnections inherent in the workplace, the energies of the soul will begin to stir with revitalizing results.

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10 Chapters

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1 The Wilderness Within Ancient Views of the Soul

ePub

The journey is difficult, immense, at times impossible, yet that will not deter some of us from attempting it.… I can at best report only from my own wilderness. The important thing is that each man possess such a wilderness and that he consider what marvels are to be observed there.

Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

Andy is in his mid-thirties. He graduated with an M.B.A. from a prestigious university and sees himself as particularly skilled in transition management. He describes himself as comfortable with ambiguity and positive in his outlook on managing change—confident that he can help others with the difficult task of organizational transition.

When a reengineering was announced in his organization, he welcomed the opportunity for himself and his organization, which he saw as too insular and too reluctant to change. Told that an entire layer of senior administrators would be removed, he remained optimistic even though he was in one of the positions likely to be terminated. “Everyone was walking around with their heads down and filled with gloom,” he said of his peers, “but I’m feeling upbeat about the changes. Sure, there’ll be pain, but I’m not a victim. If I stay with the organization, that’ll be fine, and if I don’t, that’s OK too.”

 

2 Shadows of the Soul Acknowledging the Dark Side of Our Best Intentions

ePub

… [W]hoever looks into the mirror of the water will see first of all his own face. Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation with himself. The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor. But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face.

Carl Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

How can anyone see straight when he does not even see himself and that darkness which he himself carries unconsciously into all his dealings?

Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion

We are aware that we have a shadow or dark side, parts of ourselves that we are uncomfortable with, indications that something is askew, a chaos within ourselves and our world. The daily papers and news inundate us with evidence that the dark side exists. The portrayal of nations waging war, massacring their own people or those of a different tribe or nation, are visual reminders of the savagery and darkness that lie as a potential of the human soul. Heroes and celebrities, personalities we have become familiar with and feel that we know are routinely shown to be something different from our expectations. Woody Allen, Michael Jackson, and O. J. Simpson are but a few in the cavalcade of stars that have fallen back to earth. Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky are examples from the business world of a dark side to enterprise. Closer to home, we often know personally a family member, neighbor, or friend struggling with the darker elements of mind and body: depression, rage, illness, and death.34

 

3 The Domination of Souls How Organizations Become Our Keepers

ePub

Under the absolute government of a single man, despotism, to reach the soul, clumsily struck at the body, and the soul, escaping from such blows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic republics that is not at all how tyranny behaves; it leaves the body alone and goes straight for the soul. The master no longer says: “Think like me or you die.” He does say: “You are free not to think as I do… but from this day you are a stranger among us.… You will remain among men, but you will lose your rights to count as one.…

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

No one can mature in a culture or organization without internalizing aspects of it. We are by nature dependent on family, community, social institutions, and our workplaces for our survival and to a large measure our sense of identity. To become aware of what it is that culture blurs—namely, the distinction between our utter uniqueness and the demands to fit in—is an essential task of soul seeking. We must continually confront the questions of meaning: “Who am I?” “What have I become?” “Where am I headed?” To answer these questions, we must confront our own history and socialization. We must also confront the power of ideas to shape both us and the organizations we are part of. The question of how we become more fully what we are takes on meaning and texture when we look inward and outward.

 

4 When Machines Won the Day Streamlining the Soul to Fit the Industrial Age

ePub

The village blacksmith shop was abandoned, the roadside shoe shop was deserted, the tailor left his bench, and all together these mechanics [workers] turned away from their country homes and wended their way to the cities wherein the large factories had been erected. The gates were unlocked in the morning to allow them to enter, and after their daily task was done the gates were closed after them in the evening. Silently and thoughtfully, these men went to their homes. They no longer carried the keys of the workshop, for workshop, tools and key belonged not to them, but to their master.

Terrance Powderly, Grand Master Workman,

United States, Knights of Labor, l889

(Bowles and Gintis, l976, pp. 56–57)

The themes of Part One—soul that is stirred to life by recognition of multiplicity, the struggle to be aware of shadow dynamics, and the consequences of suppressing what is unruly in the individual and the group—take on new shadings when we apply them to the workplace. The seductive power of the ideas beneath the work of a Bentham or a Pinel is that we can have control, streamline the jagged edges of our humanity so that reason rules, subordinate instinct to the collective good, and make work a requirement of society, irrespective of the wilderness within. We can appreciate this dream of order, but we must also face the distortions and pathologies that arise from the shadow of these ideas.92

 

5 Enlightenment Born of Fear Frederick Taylor and the Gospel of Efficiency

ePub

He protects himself with the shield of science and the armour of reason. His enlightenment is born of fear; in the daytime he believes in an ordered cosmos, and he tries to maintain this faith against the fear of chaos that besets him by night.

Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul

Frederick Taylor, whose name is forever linked with efficiency, is a controversial figure in American history. For some he is a villain and the architect of the dehumanized workplace, whose legacy we are learning to counteract. For others, he was a misunderstood missionary whose basic principles are still instructive today. Both sides view the other with reserved scorn. He is known as the father of scientific management, and his theories are believed by many to be the foundation of modern industrial practices. Some historians believe his contribution to present practices has been exaggerated, and others point out that his theories were never fully understood and therefore never fully implemented in the first place. There is no question, however, that Taylor and his theories had a profound impact on the American imagination in the early twentieth century. Within one year from the time his ideas first gained national attention in 1910, 2l9 articles on scientific management had been written. Harper and Brothers published a collection of his major articles on the subject of efficiency, and the work was translated into nine languages. Taylor societies were formed, and efficiency expositions were held. President Theodore Roosevelt praised Taylor’s work, and for years after Taylor’s death businessmen made pilgrimages to his home in Philadelphia.110

 

6 Separating Action from Meaning The Legacy of Efficiency

ePub

Then he was told:

Remember what you have seen,
because everything forgotten
returns to the circling winds
.
Lines from a Navajo chant (Cousineau, 1993)

Frederick Taylor’s legacy is with us in all areas of organizational and corporate life. Each time we determine an appropriate degree of centralization and standardization, we make choices about how individuals will be allowed to think on their own. Each new technological breakthrough has implications for how work will be performed and whether human labor will still be needed. Each new attempt at work redesign holds within it assumptions about how people derive meaning from work and how individuals will relate to a larger system. We cannot distance ourselves from the social forces behind efficiency—the history of the power struggle, the rationale for work redesign, the methods for control over employees—because we are still subject to their influence.

Each time we struggle with the question of why employees still do not “think” or seem too preoccupied with their job descriptions or cannot work well with others, we face Taylor’s legacy of efficiency in the workplace. Taylor was fond of telling workers, “You’re not supposed to think; there are other people paid for thinking around here.” He said this to be provocative and often followed his comment by engaging in a heated conversation with workers over this principle. His point was that work had become so complex and the knowledge of how it was best performed so precise that both laborer and manager benefited from allowing a third party, the efficiency engineer, to be the arbitrator of best practices. He could not foresee how seriously his injunction not to think would become woven into the unwritten rules of the workplace. Why should employees think when their tools were taken from them, when their physical behavior at work was determined by someone else, when their time was no longer their own?138

 

7 The Management of Emotion Elton Mayo and the False Enchantment of Human Relations

ePub

And now about the caldron sing,

Like elves and fairies in a ring,
Enchanting all that you put in.
William Shakespeare,
Macbeth, act IV, scene 1

Imagine this: a group of three human resource employees sitting around a table in a corporate office suite. They are sharing the gossip of group behavior within their organization: a senior executive heard expressing his frustration with all the corporate whining; a manager leaving after breaking down in tears and frustration; a less-than-admired co-worker being promoted, to the dismay of his subordinates. They are unhappy with how the corporate restructuring is going. They were skeptical but hopeful. Now, they are skeptical and putting together their resumes to see what else might be available.

“We wanted to believe in the values promoted by leadership,” says one. “We will be a value-driven company,” says a second, mimicking a marionette on strings. “Were we naïve?” says the third. “I still believe in the values; those values still matter.” The first one to talk grows serious: “I believe in those values, too, but something is going on here that is more than simply good values and bad execution. What is happening here is happening all over. I don’t think values are enough, and maybe they even get in the way.” “Get in the way of what?” asks the second person, puzzled. “In the way of reality, the reality that we’re a business, that we really don’t give a shit about people, that we tell people change is good, when it’s a mixed blessing. I don’t know, the reality of being caught between intention and what really happens.”162

 

8 Taking Up Our Organizational Roles How We Can Affirm Our Experience at Work

ePub

I recall one of my first consultations with a group of psychotherapists who were part of a not-for-profit community-counseling agency. They found themselves in conflict over every conceivable aspect of their work together. They could not agree on referral arrangements, on management of common office space, or on ways to maintain their shared kitchen. They could not even agree on the consultant that they wanted to work with. After a lengthy process and multiple interviews, they settled on me. I was told they had chosen me because of my background and experience in working with issues of authority, but they actually couldn’t really agree on that either.

Before our first meeting together, I called the director of the agency. We agreed that he would begin the meeting with a question that would allow the members to introduce themselves to me: “What do you believe is the purpose of this organization?” I felt that, beyond introducing the members, the question would evoke some common themes that we could build on over the course of the consultation.

 

9 Viewing the Whole A Way to Grapple with Contradictions

ePub

Jack Welch, the chief executive officer of GE, sent a stir through the corporate world when he said leaders who think they know what’s going on just don’t understand. The paradox implicit to his comment suggests that thinking you know is evidence that you don’t, and that acting from a false assumption of knowing can be a dangerous obstacle in moving forward. The validity of his own comment came back to haunt Welch when one of GE’s business units, Kidder Peabody, was shown to be reporting phantom profits. Welch’s reputation as one of the most admired of CEOs was sullied when it was learned that Kidder Peabody’s problems were part of a larger corporate culture that chased after the bottom line so avidly that executives typically did not know what was going on. But we must assume that they thought they did.

This is the dilemma that all of us face in an increasingly complex world fraught with ethical and moral contradictions. If we think we know, we don’t, and if we think we don’t know, we still have to act as if we do. This produces the leadership schizophrenia that so troubles us and creates conditions under which even the best-intentioned leaders may look away and hope that their rationale for how they want things will not be too sorely tested. Can we help but wonder why “positive thinking” is so seductive to those faced with complexity beyond comprehension?222

 

10 A Path with Soul Joining Our Inner and Outer Worlds

ePub

The seat of the soul is there where the inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap.

Novalis (Cousineau, 1994)

This final chapter returns us to the theme of soul as a quality stirred into being through reflection on experience and action in the world. To care for the soul within us and outside in the world, we need to recognize that soul is not our possession, but rather the points of overlap where interior experience and the outer world are joined. In the stories that have been woven through this book, there has been an underlying premise that neither self-reflection nor external analysis alone can gain access to the deeper regions of soul. We are continuously challenged by the overlapping nature of both inner and outer worlds. Psychologist James Hillman has written that we need a depth psychology of extraversion, a way of reestablishing the heartfelt connection to the world. He means to awaken us to the idea that reflection, fantasy, and analysis need not be exclusively self-oriented but rather can be joined with the analysis, fantasies, and reflections of the world around us. The greater part of the soul, he reminds us, is outside the body.

 

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