My friend and companion-in-practice, Steve Marshall, has been a thread of support and challenge from the very beginnings of my work as an independent practitioner. Though we are dissimilar in nature and have followed different paths in our practice, we are sometimes attuned in reading what is unfolding and considering how to respond.
I have a sense of this resonance as I read Steve’s recent post about his intention to offer a contribution to wisdom in organisational life.
Wisdom. I’ve long believed this to be a form of insight into what a situation requires regardless of who is ‘thinking’ or ‘acting’. Wise choices and deeds arise, beyond a sense of ‘self’. Called forth by circumstance, they arrive ‘whole’ with coherence and integrity. In wisdom, we access a universal response, separate from ‘me’ and ‘I’.
This description may sound idealistic – a profound wisdom glimpsed only rarely. Yet it inspires me to consider how I might be wiser in pragmatic ways, in service to others. It also helps me clarify what is unwise, what needs to be challenged.
Steve’s writing invites us to see the lack of wisdom in abstract models of management and leadership and calls us towards earthier and more unfathomable realities. For me, in turning away from the comfort of apparent certainties, we encounter the confusion and disturbance inherent in having no idea what happens next.
This is apposite at this time: there is much we don’t know, and the pandemic has surely debunked any delusions about our power to determine the future. Yet I notice efforts to reclaim pre-Covid routines and re-establish ‘how things were’ – the old normal, with masks. This is the very opposite of wisdom: recycling what is known, in the face of the unknown.
However, the alternative involves acknowledging the reality of our predicament and stepping fully into the new terrain. This is properly scary. We have no map, no obvious compass and no real idea about what will happen as we begin to move. The future is not only unknown, it is unknowable.
In truth, it has always been so – we’ve simply ignored this reality. It now confronts us. Yet the pandemic also provided valuable experience of the impact of the unknown. As we lost trusted reference points in lockdown, how did it affect us?
For some, it induced a rush to action, any action. The resulting busyness made it possible to overlook fear and uncertainty for a while. Others experienced paralysis and inaction, also rooted in fear. Yet others toggled between the two. These archetypes (and variations on them) represent instinctive attempts to stay safe in an unsafe world. When this is our focus, wisdom is unlikely to be available to us.
To access wisdom involves settling our mind, body and spirit enough to be able to widen our perception and become open to different influences.
Wisdom, if it arises, takes different forms. Some see an image, others hear a whisper. Yet others sense a visceral shift. Whether visual, audio or energetic, it’s likely to be subtle and slow in being revealed, requiring a mind that is quiet, cells that are unperturbed and an undivided spirit. We rest in the eye of the storm, in centre or flow.
Our capacity to do this is innate – we’ve simply forgotten that it’s an option. And while we can easily remind ourselves of this, to reach the eye during a storm we must invest in ‘disciplined repetitive practice’ and be ready to ‘show up, again and again’ (more of Steve’s words).
This article is part of my personal showing up again and again, because it repeats the theme of ‘What is changing?’: let’s be deliberate (and persistent) in creating a new normal. If we are to do this, we must be honest about our tendencies to revert to what was or to slip into old routines as we return to familiar places or settings.
When we catch ourselves on autopilot, doing what we used to do, as a minimum we might ask:
- is this appropriate now?; and
- what is my motivation here?
And if we’re feeling courageous, we can pause and wait for the mud to settle. Then wisdom may emerge.
- Call to mind someone who you think of as wise – what form does their wisdom take?
- In what form do you access your own deeper wisdom?