Writers on organizations have successfully ‘written out’ emotions, to the extent that it is often impossible to detect their existence.
Stephen Fineman, 1993
Nowadays, the phrase ‘to objectify’ seems to be reserved for describing how men and women treat each other as things. However, if we think about it, in this ever increasing commercial world, we are stripped of our humanity and treated and valued only as consumers or economic instruments or role-objectified employees. Ironically, at work, were we spend most of our time, we are thingyfied as workforce, manpower, human resources, human assets or human capital.
“Whenever we stand apart and objectify anything we stop knowing it”. Richard Rohr, 2017.
I’m so excited to learn a quirky but profound word recently – “adumbrate”. I came across this in Barone and Eisner’s book ‘Arts based Research’, 2012. According to the authors in the arts, symbols adumbrate, they do not denote. When aesthetic, visceral, emotional, art forms [including those that are non-verbal] adumbrate, something happens… people take note. What people notice often becomes a source of conversation that co-creates new knowledge and generates new ways of going on.
However, in Western education (not least my area of interests, i.e., leadership, organising and management) positivist, logical rationalism continues to be privileged as the (only) way to gain knowledge and to progress. In organisations, truth is only accepted when propositional claims can be verified through some form of accepted scientific methodology. Little or no room is given to ambiguity. This is probably the reason why organisations continue to use various forms of IQ tests in their leadership selection processes. In this setting, leadership abilities are attributed to those who are good at thinking and speaking in propositional terms. When this is imbedded in their talent management programmes, organisations inadvertently set up a process that replicates the identification and development of transactional, rather than transformational leaders.
In my view, as the world becomes more complex and ambiguous, we not only need people who are good at linear, causative and propositional thinking but more importantly those who can adumbrate!
Barone and Eisner suggests that the play by Arthur Miller, ‘Death of a Salesman’ is an artform form that adumbrates. It is “not about any particular salesman; it is about middle- aged men who lose their jobs and strain their relationships with their wives and children. Through the playwright’s skill, qualities of life are revealed and the reader learns to notice aspects of the world”.
The more I think about it, the more I’m concerned that the hysteria around ‘fake news’ is pushing us further into the rather limited view that truths are only truths when they can be absolutely verified in propositional discourse. On the one hand, we know that our world is replete with uncertainty and complexity, interpreted by diverse people seeing things uniquely and thus differently. On the other, we believe that unambiguous and uncontested versions of news is possible.
NB: I’m not referring to intentional spin or the deliberate dissemination of misinformation.
From Chris Blantern:
Yes – I think there’s something in what you say Patrick. There’s a huge difference between accounts that are intended to mislead and what we might call contextual, political and literal variation. We have always lived with accounts that might be said to be ‘true’ but that privilege different aspects, noticings, interests, values, potential benefits, gains & losses – depending on the reporters stake in the process. It is, after all, why those interested in social justice and a relational or Pragmatic orientation go to some lengths to elicit those accounts of events that get marginalised, suppressed, elided or forgotten. So, yes, those already turbulent waters have been muddied by the the furore around Trump and the binary assertion that there can only be one version of ‘truth’ and any account which is deemed different must be false. ‘Fake news’ in this contemporary chapter has come to mean ‘anything I don’t agree with’! Having said that there are [at least] 2 linguistic conditions which might help us to mark off ‘fake’ from ‘different’.
1st) – there is the notion of ‘inter-objectivity’ – that is a culturally shared expectation of what the use of certain linguistic phrases [non-human actants] brings about. When I’m internet shopping for a mobile phone case and I click ‘2’ in the quantity box – action is predicated on a shared assumption of what will happen (i.e. what ‘2’ means).
2nd) – there is a reading to be made of what the ‘other’ is trying to achieve with his or her different account and whether aspects of that account are mutually exclusive (not just different) with those culturally shared elements as in 1). That is, the implicative force of my account is not to supplement yours – but to render it non-legitimate. For me ‘fake’ needs to obtain both conditions.
You may know that I’m enrolled on a Prof Doc in Systemic Practice at the University of Bedfordshire. This week I attended the last cohort meeting held at our campus. I can’t believe how quickly three years have flown by. As this is a five year programme, I now have a year to collect my ‘data’, and a further year to write up my thesis!
I thought I’d share an exercise we did during this last meeting. We were invited to step into the future with a view to imagining, in 500 words, what our abstracts might look like when we finally hand in our theses. We were then asked to read each other’s abstract aloud to see what it sounded like, and what we might see and learn, if our words were spoken/owned by someone else. Here’s my abstract as voiced by the lovely Leah:
Obviously the final version will be different in that it will include a discourse analysis of the narrative ‘data’ but feel free to comment on this imaginary version in the comment section below.
I’d like to mark this occasion by sending love to Gail, Sarah, Leah, Steve, Robert and Tanya. It will be sometime before I come to terms with the fact that this is the last time Cohort 4 will meet in this way. In the last three years, I have come to love you all. If you are reading this, I’d like to say thank you all for being such a supportive, challenging, encouraging and fun group. Like an oasis, our gatherings have always been refreshing and life giving – the source of countless epiphanies, sparking new ways of looking at and being in our world. I will never cease to appreciate the special sense of with-ness we have created. I will also never again have six therapists looking after my mental wellbeing every time we meet.
May God keep watch between [thee-me] when we are away from each other.
This week, my new boss kindly put me on to Richard Rohr’s blog entitled ‘Streams of Consciousness’, in which the latter observes that most of us live our lives with a “steady stream of consciousness” and that this governs how we think and what we do. He opines that we don’t have ideas or feelings but rather ideas and feelings often have us. For Rohr, emancipation is possible. He says:
“With every idea or image that comes into our head, we have the opportunity to say, “No, I’m not that; I don’t need that; that’s not me.” This frees you to intentionally choose your divine identity instead… But you must not attack, hate, or condemn any idea or thought; that would merely be your perfectionistic ego trying to “win.” This is basic training in nonviolence. You must not hate your soul. The point is to recognize thoughts and feelings and to say, “That’s not necessary; I don’t need that.” But do it very amiably. If we learn to handle our own souls tenderly and lovingly, then we’ll be able to carry this same loving wisdom into our other relationships. A thousand seeming “distractions” are now a thousand opportunities to choose God instead.”
I love this. Life changing stuff and great antidote to what’s been going on the world lately. I particularly like the idea that we can cultivate the ability to say no to pre-conditioned thoughts and ideas through prayer and meditation. In my view, we could add ‘taken for granted assumptions’ to Rohr’s list (i.e., ideas or feelings). In my experience, the ability to transcend our day-to-day lived experiences to see what kind of social world/s we are making through our taken-for-granted assumptions normally happens through reflexive conversations. I’m interested, intrigued and want to learn more about how reflexivity about the consequential effects of our streams of consciousness on self and others can be cultivated spiritually.
I am really excited that an article I submitted to the Voluntary Sector Review has just been accepted. Getting published in a peer review journal has been a long old slog but I had to attempt this a part of the requirements of my prof doc programme.
In my many moments of self doubt I have often lamented… I’m not an academic! On one occasion, I blurted this out to my cohort. In response, my very lovely, encouraging and supportive colleagues assured me that I had unique insights gained as a practitioner that are worth sharing academically.
One of them said, rather profoundly I thought, “we are all in the process of becoming. Whatever you become as a consequence of being on this programme, its great to get to know Patrick Goh before Patrick Goh has become Patrick Goh”.