Sunday, November 27, 2005

....we mark our lives by their passing

Last night I was following a number of blog posts that were remembering Scott Peck, who died September 25, 2005. Annie Gottlieb commented, “The death of a public figure can be a body blow when it's someone who has directly affected your life.” In as much as the media has become our common experience, it is not surprising that when well known people die, in a real way, we mark our lives by their passing. About Peter Jennings, who died August 7, 2005, Julie Jensen reflected, “It is funny to feel impacted by this event -- someone I never met, but I have been thinking about it all day. I think it is because of the constants of my growing up is gone…. I always knew that when we turned on the news he would be there.”

In contrast, unless we have a loved one or family member who is in Iraq, the reported deaths seem somewhat removed or abstract. Death is abstract until we are faced with it. CNN reported October 26, 2005: “The U.S. military death toll in Iraq reached 2,000 Tuesday with the reports of three new deaths…” Updated: 4:26 p.m. ET Nov. 24, 2005: “At least 2,104 U.S. military personnel have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The AP count is four lower than the Defense Department’s tally, which was last updated at 10 a.m. EST Wednesday.” The worldwide update of reported civilian deaths in the Iraq war and occupation: Reported Minimum 27115, Reported Maximum 30559.

I don’t want to start a trend on this blog by memorializing celebrities and famous people, but among the many who have passed away this year are Johnny Carson (TV host), Ossie Davis (actor/writer/activist), Keith Knudsen (drummer), Arthur Miller (playwright), Sandra Dee (actress), Hunter S. Thompson (writer), John DeLorean (entrepreneur), Andre Norton (writer), Johnnie Cochran (lawyer), Pope John Paul II (Leader of the Roman Catholic Church), Frank Gorshin (mimic/actor), Eddie Albert (actor), Anne Bancroft (actress), Luther Vandross (singer), Peter Jennings (TV news anchor), Bob Denver (Little Buddy), M. Scott Peck (writer/psychiatrist), Don Adams (actor), Nipsey Russell (comedian), Rosa Parks (long-time civil rights activist), and Peter Drucker (writer/management theorist).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

But what really shook me up....

This morning I woke up during a 2.7 magnitude microearthquake. According to the reports the epicenter was 2 miles NW of Santa Rosa and 7 miles from our house in Sebastopol. I wasn’t really sure why I woke up so early until I turned the radio on while making coffee in the kitchen.

But what really shook me up was hearing that Peter Drucker had passed away Friday, November 11, 2005. Drucker is survived by his wife, Doris, and four children. He was 95.

Even though I never sat in one of his classrooms I still consider him as one of my most respected teachers. Over the years I have read many articles and a number of books by Peter Drucker: The New Realities, Post-Capitalist Society, The Effective Executive and Managing for the Future. I admired his brilliance and that he placed the role of empowerment at the center of his work as an academic and leader. “At the heart of everything I have done has been the thought of enabling others, getting the roadblocks out of the way, out of their thinking and their systems, to enable them to become all that they can be.”

My first exposure to Drucker’s prophetic thinking was when I read his book New Realities in 1989. One of the most profound things in this book was the fact that he predicted the fall of the Soviet Union and the eventual coup. Two years after the publishing of this book tensions in the Soviet Union came to a head and in August 1991 a group of right wing military and KGB leaders staged a coup in Moscow. On Christmas Day of 1991, in the aftermath of the failed coup, the Soviet Union officially ended its own existence, marking the end of over 70 years of repression and 45 years of Soviet-American conflict.

Although he is said to have coined the term "knowledge worker" long before the information age was a cliché, Drucker did not consider himself a prophet; he was “just” reading the times. From an article in Inc. Magazine, Newt Gingrich is quoted as saying, “Drucker, like Adam Smith, is essentially a philosopher of reality. He looks at what is really happening in the market in economic, historical, and political terms, and then he makes sense of it all. Drucker's work is about far more than management or the production of wealth. It is about the process by which people lead productive and useful lives and produce greater opportunities and greater resources for themselves and their fellow man. Some of his ideas are timeless and will likely be as useful 200 years from now as Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations is today.”

Some other books that I have read along the same lines are Alvin Toffler’s, Future Shock, Max Dublin’s, Futurehype and a collection of essays edited by Albert Teich, Technology and the Future.

Of course, Peter Drucker has long been called a business-guru, he was widely thought of as a management visionary for his recognition that devoted employees are the secret to the success of any corporation, and that concern for “marketing and innovation” should come before worries about finances.

We often use the terms leadership and management interchangeably, they are distinctly different yet complementary in their approaches to action. In fact it is difficult to have one without the other, although a good manager will probably have more success than a leader without management skills. Without management organizations cannot function long in the chaos of disorganization. In the same respect, because of the changing paradigms in business and society in general, without leaders organizations will fail to grow with the times. “We have learned to innovate because we cannot expect the accumulated competence, skill, knowledge, product, services, and structure of the present will be adequate for long” (Drucker, 339).

In Drucker’s later writings he showed great concern for non-profits. He was not only an innovative thinker; he was also a man of faith. His concerns for society and how organizations should act certainly reflected this. Max De Pree said, "Over the years, Peter has proven to me that his humanity matches his intellect. Peter's concern for me as a person, his leadership, and his guidance have been among my life's greatest blessings." The Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation has been given annually since 1991.

Peter F. Drucker Memorial Service Announced:
In Memory of Peter Drucker, Saturday, December 10, 2005
The Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University cordially invites you to a memorial service honoring the life of Peter Drucker on Saturday, December 10th at 3 p.m. at Little Bridges Auditorium (150 East 4th Street in Claremont). An informal reception will follow at 4 p.m. at which time attendees may capture their memories of Peter Drucker on video as part of the legacy project for the Drucker Institute (formerly the Peter F. Drucker Research Library and Archive).

Saturday, November 19, 2005

all that geometry....

About five years ago, my daughter and I took the Tube to Paris from London. The anticipation of the day was a Total Solar Eclipse, so while we were traveling on the train many of the passengers were looking through special glasses or in our case we had poked a hole through a piece of paper to view the event. It was only later that I learned how unique this experience was; there will only be 18 solar eclipses from 1996-2020 for which the eclipse will be total on some part of the Earth's surface.

“The common perception that eclipses are infrequent is because the observation of a total eclipse from a given point on the surface of the Earth is not a common occurrence. For example, it will be two decades before the next total solar eclipse visible in North America occurs.”

In spite of the excitement, I found myself grateful for the harvest. Looking out the train window we past numerous fields with round hay bales by the hundreds geometrically spaced. All those curves but I just saw rows and right angles. Peaceful proportion and a much-needed equilibrium, all that geometry had a calming effect.

A friend of mine said, “Geometry does comfort, as you suggest, even as a lack of order frightens…. There's an optimal way to harvest, which results in curled up stacks of hay equally dispersed over a large field. All of that wild Life neatly brought to heel. We're under no threat, and consider the wonder of it beautiful.”

A while back I was wading through Albert Einstein’s, Relativity: The Special and General Theory and had found it to be surprisingly readable…

“Geometry sets out from certain conceptions such as ‘plane,’ ‘point,’ and ‘straight line,’ with which we are able to associate more or less definite ideas, and from certain simple propositions (axioms) which, in virtue of these ideas, we are inclined to accept as "true." Then, on the basis of a logical process, the justification of which we feel ourselves compelled to admit, all remaining propositions are shown to follow from those axioms, i.e. they are proven. A proposition is then correct (‘true’) when it has been derived in the recognized manner from the axioms. The question of ‘truth’ of the individual geometrical propositions is thus reduced to one of the "truth" of the axioms.”

“The concept "true" does not tally with the assertions of pure geometry, because by the word "true" we are eventually in the habit of designating always the correspondence with a ‘real’ object; geometry, however, is not concerned with the relation of the ideas involved in it to objects of experience, but only with the logical connection of these ideas among themselves.”

Einstein later illustrates this by description, “I stand at the window of a railway carriage which is traveling uniformly, and drop a stone on the embankment, without throwing it. Then, disregarding the influence of the air resistance, I see the stone descend in a straight line. A pedestrian who observes the misdeed from the footpath notices that the stone falls to earth in a parabolic curve. I now ask: Do the ‘positions’ traversed by the stone lie ‘in reality’ on a straight line or on a parabola?”

Similar to the consideration of the importance of position when viewing a solar eclipse, and like the illustration of the straight line or the parabolic curve, we tend to see what we look for, we reduce truth so it is manageable and our understanding is constrained to those axioms we believe. People often fail to grasp the influence or resistance of speed and motion inherent to living. Most of us don’t like change and we tend to resist “life’s wiggles” for the calming safety of order and predictability.

Einstein’s definition of geometry and his illustration seem to connect with my friend’s reference to Alan Watts. In the book Tao: The Watercourse Way, he says, “Geometrization always reduces natural form to something less than itself, oversimplification and rigidity which screens out the dancing curvaceousness of nature. It seems that rigid people feel some basic disgust with wiggles; they cannot dance without seeing a diagram of steps, and feel that swinging the hips is obscene. They want to ‘get things straight,’ that is, in linear order…”

Wendell Berry says, “For quite a while it has been possible for a free and thoughtful person to see that to treat life as mechanical or predictable or understandable is to reduce it. Now, almost suddenly, it is becoming clear that to reduce life to the scope of our understanding (whatever ‘model’ we use) is inevitably to enslave it, make property of it, and put it up for sale. This is to give up on life, to carry it beyond change and redemption, and to increase the proximity of despair…. One of our problems is that we humans cannot live without acting; we have to act. Moreover, we have to act on the basis of what we know is incomplete. What we have come to know so far is demonstrably incomplete, since we keep on learning more, and there seems little reason to think that our knowledge will become significantly more complete. The mystery surrounding our life probably is not significantly reducible. And so the question of how to act in ignorance is paramount.”

In short Berry says, “To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it.”

Annie Dillard expresses a similar outlook in her observations of creation in the book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. “Our life is a faint tracing of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”

Sunday, November 13, 2005

breaking through....

In a recent essay by Wendell Berry, he describes himself as “an unconfident reader” of the Gospels. He says, “Anybody half awake these days will be aware that there are many Christians who are exceedingly confident in their understanding of the Gospels, and who are exceedingly self-confident in their understanding of themselves in their faith. They appear to know precisely the purposes of God, and they appear to be perfectly assured that they are now doing, and in every circumstance will continue to do, precisely God's will as it applies specifically to themselves.”

In contrast Berry says, “I am by principle and often spontaneously, as if by nature, a man of faith. But my reading of the Gospels, comforting and clarifying and instructive as they frequently are, deeply moving or exhilarating as they frequently are, has caused me to understand them also as a burden, sometimes raising the hardest of personal questions, sometimes bewildering, sometimes contradictory, sometimes apparently outrageous in their demands.”

About a month ago a long time friend and I were doing some catching up on the phone. I was telling him how much I was enjoying the Gospels course that I was taking, when he told me that he had been reading the Gospel of Mark. He said that he was trying to read the text with a new perspective or in a fresh way. His comments about how the evangelist Mark presents Jesus have stuck with me. This Gospel does not present Jesus as being “gentle,” an image that characterizes much of the evangelical thought about Jesus. Rather, Jesus is referred to as the “Son of God“ and “Son of Man” who’s Kingdom breaks through with authority and power.

My professor points out that Mark frames his Gospel with the idea that God’s Kingdom is “breaking through.” She explains that the first time we hear this is at Jesus’ baptism, when John sees the heavens splitting apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight.” The word used for parting the heavens is the same word used at the end of the Passion when in the Temple, the curtain is torn in the Holy of Holies. I have always considered this as a symbol of our access to God, when in fact it is another picture of God’s rule or Kingdom “breaking through.”

During the phone conversation my friend commented about the authority in which Jesus acted. I made a few comments about Jesus’ authority to teach, how he exercised his authority over evil spirits, healing the sick, silencing demons, rebuking the Pharisees and calming the wind and sea. My friend said that was not what he meant. He was talking about how Jesus used his authority and that it cost him his life. In a similar way we have seen people like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa who have used their authority to save others.

N.T. Wright tells a story about a ship disaster in which a tour boat began to sink and the passengers were screaming frantically. “Suddenly one man - not a member of the crew - took charge. In a clear voice he gave orders, telling people what to do. Relief mixed with the panic as people realized someone at least was in charge, and many managed to reach lifeboats they would otherwise have missed in the dark and the rush. The man himself made his way down to the people trapped in the hold. There he formed a human bridge: holding on with one hand to a ladder and with the other to part of the ship that was nearly submerged, he enabled still more to cross to safety. When the nightmare was over, the man himself was found to have drowned. He had literally given his life in using the authority he had assumed – the authority by which many had been saved” (11).

Berry exclaims, “The Gospels, then, stand at the opening of a mystery in which our lives are deeply, dangerously and inescapably involved. This is a mystery that the Gospels can only partially reveal, for it could be fully revealed only by more books than the world could contain. It is a mystery that we are condemned but also are highly privileged to live our way into, trusting properly that to our little knowledge greater knowledge may be revealed. It is this privilege that should make us wary of any attempt to reduce faith to a rigmarole of judgments and explanations, or to any sort of familiar talk about God. Reductive religion is just as objectionable as reductive science, and for the same reason: Reality is large, and our minds are small.”