It is not a concept to be taught.
It is a talent to be coached.
There are good reasons for being critical about specific American policies. But some Americans denigrate all things American. If you are one of these, you hate yourself, whether you know it or not. If you hate yourself, you cannot build anything worthwhile and lasting. ”Love your neighbor as yourself” then means destroying him just as you are destroying yourself.
This drumbeat of hatred for all things American emanating from American universities has produced an ugly spawn in government bureaucracies and even our elementary schools. In an attempt to get rid of racism and other ills in society, American universities have long taught the evils of the WASPs (white anglo-saxon protestants). They have largely succeeded in brainwashing us and destroying their target: anglo-saxon protestants. The last Protestant is retiring from the Supreme Court. Soon, for the first time in our nation’s history, there will be no Protestants on the Supreme Court. The anglo-saxon (both German tribes by the way) culture which largely invented the sciences, engineering, the university itself, and created the industrial revolution is barely represented in American Universities. Finding an anglo-saxon in engineering or the basic sciences is virtually impossible at the elite universities.
Just one more indication of the destruction of the culture which made America great. This culture and the anglo-saxon protestants who represent it are the enemy of academe. But those perpetuating this idea are perpetuating the underlying problem. When blame for the world’s problems is placed on one ethnic group, we have not solved the problem, we have just displaced it. As long as being anti-racist means being anti-Anglo, we are lost. We are teaching self-hatred. This insidious virus is destroying the anglo-saxon protestant culture which built this country. But the infection will not stop there. Because at its core, it is self-hatred, lack of hope, lack of trust in any tradition.
A few have long recognized this problem. Some have proposed ways to move beyond this morass our society finds itself in. One route out, sketched many years ago, is servant leadership. This route is appealing because it stresses training a new generation of leaders who listen to the wisdom of the people. Who believe the spirit (not knowledge) is power. Who trust in experience, not in academic abstraction.
Robert Greenleaf made an early contribution to melding organizing, facilitation and leadership development in the work summarized in his book, Servant Leadership. He began writing the book out of a concern for the lack off hope he saw in young people in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Hope, he said “is absolutely essential to both sanity and wholeness of life.” Hope is the essential before any successful facilitation or organizing can take place.
Below are a few passages from the book. Above are some relevant links.
“The idea of The Servant as Leader came out of reading Herman Hesse’s Journey to the East. In this story we see a band of men on a mythical journey . . .The central figure of the story is Leo who accompanies the party as the servant who does their menial chores, but who also sustains them with his spirit and his song. He is a person of extraordinary presence. All goes well until Leo disappears. Then the group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned. They cannot make it without the servant Leo. The narrator, one of the party, after some years of wandering finds Leo and is taken into the Order that had sponsored the journey. There he discovers that Leo, whom he had known first as servant, was in fact the titular head of the Order, its guiding spirit, a great and noble leader.” p. 7
“[J]ust as there may be a real contradiction in the servant as leader, so my perceptual world is full of contradictions. Some examples: I believe in order, and I want creation out of chaos. . . Reason and intuition, each in its own way, both comfort and dismay me.”
“The best test [of a good servant leader], and most difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”
“One of our very able leaders recently was made the head of a large, important, and difficult-to-administer public institution. After a short time he realized that he was not happy with the ways things were going. . . For three months he stopped reading newspapers and listening to news broadcasts; and for this period he relied wholly upon those he met in the course of his work to tell him what was going on. In three months his administrative problems were resolved. No miracles were wrought; but out of a sustained intentness of listening that was produced by this unusual decision, this able man learned and received the insights needed to set the right course. And he strengthened his team by so doing.
“Why is there so little listening? What makes this example so exceptional?” “This suggests a non-servant who wants to be a servant might become a natural servant through a long arduous discipline of learning to listen, a discipline sufficiently sustained that the automatic response to any problem is to listen first.”
Know the unknowable–beyond conscious rationality
Intuition is a feel for patterns, the ability to generalize based on what has happened previously. Wise leaders know when to bet on these intuitive leads, but they always know that they are betting on percentages. Their hunches are not seen as eternal truths.
William Blake has said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything will appear to man as it is, infinite”. Most of us move about with very narrow perceptions–sight, sound, smell, tactile–and we miss most of the grandeur that is in the minutest thing, the smallest experience. We also miss leadership opportunities.
“The Danish peasantry at the beginning of the nineteenth century was an underclass. . . A new form of education was designed by Grundtvig” where “The spirit (not knowledge) is power.’
The spirit is revealed in the living word of one’s mother tongue. ”Real life is the final test,” as contrasted with the German and Danish tendency to theorize.
Grundtvig believed that an understanding of the real and deepest truths that constitute enlightenment never comes from studying classroom texts, but can only be taught by life itself. This idea presents a paradox for teachers: it is the deepest task of our lives to acquire enlightenment for life, but it is something that no schoolroom lesson will ever teach us.
Grundtvig was convinced that each people, each tribe, each nation on earth had a valuable role to play in the unfolding of world history. He had a high degree of respect for the other cultural traditions of the world, and did not view Denmark as superior. Grundtvig believed that all humans are born into a particular cultural and historical context, through which their own personal drama of enlightenment must be played out. He believed that there is a collective as well as an individual aspect to the experience of enlightenment, and that it must be a goal of society to create the conditions that will lead to enlightenment.
Community–The Lost Knowledge of These Times
Thomas Jefferson would not allow the University of Virginia to give degrees as long as he was rector. He believed that degrees were pretentious and he wanted only students for whom learning was a sufficient motivation.
Reflection on the simple fundamental facts of our exprience brings immediate recognition of constant change. To the unsophisticated mind, the characteristic thing about phenomena is their dynamism. It is only abstract thinking that takes them out of their dynamic continuity and isolates them as static units.
If enough of us embrace Grundtvig’s concept of education/enlightenment and Greenleaf’s servant leadership, we might even be able to change American Universities’ destructive mantras. If not, new institutions are required.
“An institution is but the lengthened shadow of a man.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Servant leadership skills of integration, discrimination, and “seeing things whole”
- Folk Universities and Grundtvig
- “No one in the past 30 years has had a more profound impact on thinking about leadership than Robert Greenleaf.” Peter M. Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline.