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9 Practices for Being Effective in Role

Cheryl Peppers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

153

AMOTHER GOES IN to wake up her son. “Johnny, get up, it’s time to go to school.” Johnny moans, “But I don’t want to go to school. The kids hate me, I don’t get along with the teachers, and the food is bad. Give me one good reason why I should go to school.” Johnny’s mother says, “I’ll give you two. First, you’re forty years old. Second, you’re the principal.”

The humor of the punch line points to how difficult role can be. While stepping into role is a challenge in its own right, being effective in role on an ongoing basis presents a different set of issues. Showing up with our full range of selves, for instance, is a practice that takes discipline. We chuckle at Johnny’s wanting to hide under the sheets, because we recognize that longing, to just be “free of all these responsibilities.” Other practices essential for being effective in role, the focus of this chapter, include retrieving the pieces of ourselves that get lost along the way, resisting the forces that would pull us away from our role, learning to work with ambiguity, and stepping back to discern what’s going on.154

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THREE: Inhabiting a Different Worldview

Alan Briskin Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

In the early 1970s, one of our colleagues, Robert Kenny, helped develop and lead educational and mental health programs for youth in New York City. Inspired by the work of the visionary educator Erling Thunberg, Kenny began to put into practice the values of community, personal authenticity, and collaborative leadership advocated by Thunberg. He noticed that even casual visitors to these youth programs commented on the “palpable atmosphere, or field, that they sensed—the therapeutic milieu, as we used to call it.”1 Many of the students’ public school teachers expressed amazement that these students, engaged and focused, were the same kids they knew to be violent and destructive.

Kenny became fascinated with what Thunberg referred to as “group consciousness.” He wondered if indeed his transformative experience in New York, which was healing and creative for so many, might be a portal to a different way of understanding life that involved work as a spiritual practice, collective consciousness, and group wisdom. Like Thunberg and so many other pioneers in social experimentation of that time, he was challenged to think differently about the meaning of the explosive changes going on in technology, communications, culture, and human values.

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4 Shadows of the Soul

Cheryl Peppers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

55

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.1

—CARL JUNG

HISTORICALLY, ARTISTS of all types have tended to use movement from darkness to light as symbolic of growth, associating light with the divine. Light represents heaven, knowledge, good, that which is to be sought. The Great Canon, composed by St. Andrew of Crete around 700 C.E., celebrates the coming of Christ in the world as symbolized in the appearance of light in the morning and is still sung in monasteries at the break of day. Eighteenth-century artist William Blake chose light and dark figures to represent the struggle between good and evil, with lost innocence portrayed, in one painting, as a child figure reaching toward the sun. An exception to the association of growth with light may have been the Middle Ages, when the events of those times forced people to acknowledge that life is mysterious, that there is much that is unknown, unexplainable. Thus the darkness was valued as an aspect of greatness in the divine—that God was mysterious. But for the most part, light has historically symbolized the ideal.56

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TWO: Preparing for Collective Wisdom to Arise

Alan Briskin Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Our colleague Kate Regan uses a simple exercise to prepare individuals in groups to notice their internal thoughts and calibrate their group behaviors. In this exercise, typically done in workshops of approximately twenty people who are seated in a circle, she asks the participants to look down at the floor and close their eyes. She tells them that without opening their eyes, they must count to thirty in sequence without two people speaking at the same time. If two people do speak simultaneously, they must begin again. As you might expect, rarely do groups accomplish this the first time. As they report later, many individuals develop strategies to get the task done quickly without any sense of knowing what others are doing. For example, one person may decide to call out a number immediately once the exercise begins, or another may decide to call out his number at the split second after another person finishes. They learn that these individual strategies collide with each other, and two or three people inevitably call out at the same time.

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FIVE: The Tragedy of Polarized Groups

Alan Briskin Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Ignaz Semmelweis (pronounced “Eeg-natz Shemmel-vise”) is a well-known figure in medical history. Some twenty years before the work of Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, and others substantiated a germ theory of disease, and Lister recommended an antiseptic practice of surgery, Semmelweis discovered how simple hand-washing techniques could dramatically reduce the fatal incidence of childbed fever in new mothers.1

CHILDBED FEVER WAS RAMPANT in Europe in 1844 when Semmelweis graduated from the Vienna Medical School. Although many births still occurred at home, increasing numbers of mothers were going to hospitals to deliver their babies. Hospitals routinely reported deaths due to childbed fever of as many as 25 percent of all women giving birth, and sometimes up to 100 percent. No one understood why. There were a number of competing theories. One was that childbed fever was like smallpox, a specifi c disease with a unique cause, and that it came and went in epidemics. Another theory was that it was caused by a miasma, a poisonous mist or cloud that the Greeks and others had invoked to explain otherwise-inexplicable diseases. Many in the medical profession at the time believed that the cholera epidemic was caused by a miasma.

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