'This culture around radical self-management and radical self-
ownership that is trending at the moment, sometimes just feels
like crippling perfectionism dressed up in more sophisticated
clothing. Or a band-aid measure that temporarily shores up the
symptoms of a much deeper cultural and spiritual disorder.'
...reflections on being in a body on the planet today...
For a long time i have held an idealism about bringing consciousness expanding work into the corporate sector and to people inside institutions.
If i can just turn one person on.
Open one heart.
Then one life is more awake and the system they are a part of can transform from the inside.
Because our systems are made up of people, after all, aren’t they?
Recently this construct has been changing inside me.
Last Friday, i watched the children protest here in Brighton against government inaction on climate change and it broke me open. From the cafe where i sat, making ‘solidarity’ signs to the passing kids, i found tears streaming spontaneously down my face. Some devastating combination of hope, hopelessness, despair, innocence, passion, fury and futility.
And then I read articles like this about what a waste of resources it is for the kids to take a day off school and feel a deep cognitive dissonance inside. Between what i am reading and what i was feeling in my heart and seeing on the streets.
And a few weeks ago i read an article (i can't find now) about how stress management workshops were being taken into schools to help students self manage more effectively against the pressure to achieve…
Students are having to deal with unprecedented levels of results driven pressure, at younger and younger ages, it was saying… having to manage increasingly target focussed and product oriented structures…
At a place of learning!
At a place where mistakes should be encouraged!
School systems are becoming so risk averse and success oriented, that its inhabitants are taking time off for stress induced illness - and our solution is to offer stress management classes to the under 10’s ?!!!!
FOR FUCKS SAKE!!!
This is a system that is not working for us.
Because if the system itself is self seeking (targets trumping values for example), or corrupt, or dysfunctional, or psychopathic, sociopathic, or if it is simply old, set in its ways and disinterested in thinking differently, how can any work we are doing with individuals inside it, have any meaningful impact?
Or if an organisation is led by someone who is a massive narcissist, or who has a volatile ego, or a violent temper, or tries it on sexually with all the young women/men in the organisation, or has a will to dominate everything, or is a pedophile, or demonstrates some other harmful psycho-pathology, that the power structure - whilst not willing to take responsibility for it (coughthecatholicchurchcough) - is covertly supporting... (soooo many examples from culture at the moment)... what ultimately is the point?
Coming from the arts and therapeutic professional environments, taking my work into more conservative organisations or institutions, i believed a narrative that i was working ‘in the real world’ with ‘real people’. I guess ‘real’ as opposed to what i previously would have judged as being the softer more interpretive worlds that culture tells us are less important… or ancillary to the ‘real work’… or something similar. Creativity. Pleasure. Play. Restoration. Sensuality. Exploration. Imagination. Dream. Intimacy. In between states. Not knowing.
So bringing the tools of creativity, state change and healing, the tools of expression and communication; bringing the languages of the artist & therapist into the experience of people who i judged as needing it most, but most likely not exposed to it, seemed a valuable enterprise.
But now I notice increasingly I want to work for humans, not the systems they work for.
Being better self managed. Better self regulated. Centring. Mindfulness. Meditation. Eating well. All these things are great. All very well and good. Important! And I - of course - am a huge fan. But i am beginning to question what we are doing these practices in service of? Helping ourselves to manage impossible work loads? Helping us to better manage an unsustainable lifestyle? Better serving an organisation or individual who’s core values or practices, compromise something deep with in us?
This culture around radical self management and radical self ownership that is trending at the moment, sometimes just feels like crippling perfectionism dressed up in more sophisticated clothing. Or a band-aid measure that temporarily shores up the symptoms of a much deeper cultural and spiritual disorder.
It also crucially, isolates us and cuts us off from a meaningful experience of community and interconnectedness. We are relational beings. Our vulnerabilities are what make us unique and human. We need each other.
Because self management is all very well if it means we are improving our connections with each other, enjoying our time more, improving our relationships with the planet, other life forms, improving our health, bringing us home to our bodies… but this is not what i see or experience.
Self regulation is great, but it is only part of the picture and it isn’t enough. How we are being is not sustainable. If we are simply functioning less badly in an environment who’s values are slowly killing us, then we are losing. If we are simply managing better in an industry or institution that promotes an abusive leadership or a broken system, we are losing.
Similarly if we are using our self regulation to ’over manage’ our wild creativity; our dreaming; our ability to rest in the tantalisingly uncertain; to rest in the discomfort of not having a fucking clue. Our willingness to risk looking like an idiot. To risk everything, fuck it all up spectacularly and admit we fucked it up with open palms, open hearts and humility; to work out how to start again with no idea how…quietly, humbly, and from scratch, is something of profound value.
So I wonder, when i go in to these places and deliver a workshop on - say emotional intelligence or stress management - to managers who are being paid extremely well - so they can get better at managing themselves to better serve the interests of their global corporate structure and maybe also, be a bit more responsive and less reactive to their husbands…. for example. I wonder these days, if i am simply helping self-interested organisations better train their staff’s capacity to self-manage around increasingly unrealistic work loads and increasingly inhumane targets. Generating a work force who have better buy-in, better emotional intelligence, better leadership tools, and phenomenal self management skills, but who’s increased skill base really only better serves the organisations’ singular self interest. Profit. Power. Market domination.
And so the psychopathological entity triumphs over the spirit of the people that give it life.
And the ones that get the real light bulb moments, the ones who get satori from encountering, say, Dan Pink’s beautiful purpose and mastery work for the first time - for example - cannot stay in the game any more and must make a hasty exit. For they can no longer live with integrity in a system that does not support their core values.
And all this is not to say we shouldn't also be doing this work inside corporations. (I am writing this tonight from a hotel room about to contribute to just such a session with some managers of a large insurance company tomorrow morning. It helps me pay my rent.). Just that maybe we are kidding ourselves that it is likely to have any significant impact until the systems we are working inside are remade.
I love the thinking of philosopher and author Charles Eisenstein on this subject. In this short clip, he calls it supporting the old ‘problem solving’ system.
Maybe now is not the time to patiently wait for change to happen inside our systems, one person at a time. I wonder if, like the kids have demonstrated, stepping outside of the old systems and feeling our creative agency outside of them, is the way forward. Not waiting for governments, and institutions to represent us, but representing ourselves, with brave hearts.
I like what Eisenstein says here about how following the final collapse of a way that no longer works, there is a pause. And how in that pause, we will have a chance to rest in the uncertainty of not knowing what is going to come next. And how in that space, right there, is a hopeful moment, because it is a place where we don’t know how.
And in that space, that is where healing can happen.
Of ourselves, of the planet, of culture.
We need new systems.
Maybe now is the time for the ‘soft’ tools of play, gratitude, imagination, enjoyment and healing; of risking feeling ridiculous because we are unsure and do not know - to become an integral part of what ever system we choose to create next.
Image from Unsplash