The Pendulum is Swinging
I have recently become aware of a cultural pendulum swinging in Unitarian Universalist culture.
Ministers like me who have been around at least twenty years were strongly schooled in the notion that we needed to bring order out of chaos. Our highly egalitarian and inclusive cultures growing out of the “anything goes” culture of the 60’s and 70’s had created a situation in which it often felt like we were just chasing our tails and not able to make progress (or even decisions!) Remember all the jokes about herding cats? What was needed, we believed, was an ability to structure our work with appropriate authority and definitiveness.
I still believe we need this in certain circumstances. Our anti-authoritarian nature has undermined our abilities to have impact in myriad ways. And yet in our ardor for order we may be missing important ways in which our culture may now demand a different kind of response.
The challenge now is that our culture changes too rapidly to allow for a stream-lined, technical response. Sometimes we need experts in the form of professionals who may (surprise, surprise) know the answer to our problem. But rarely does that happen with the most profound challenges that are before us.
The skills that are required now are more about asking the right questions, rather than delivering the right answers. Those who know me know how much I’m an avid devotee of Adaptive Leadership (ala Ron Heifetz) which teaches us that leadership is a verb, not a noun. In other words that leadership is an act of exercising power, not a gift that is implanted only in special people. And in order to make progress on our biggest challenges we have to mobilize leadership in a completely different way than the highly decisive, expertise oriented model than what I describe above.
I find myself in a kind of cognitive dissonance about this realization. And I think it is a healthy dissonance that could lead us in some exciting directions. Like any pendulum swing the worst thing we could do is feel that we must immediately leap to the farthest edge of either direction of the polarity. But it is helpful to me to realize that these cycles are natural and necessary. I for one am enjoying the swingtime!