Wednesday 25 November 2009

Member Care and Transparency—Part 5

Developmental Musings on Breaching Walls

The Berlin Wall was begun in 1961.
It was a transparent and ominous reminder
of the dangerous ideological and relational malaise
that divided large parts of humanity.
We in the mission/aid and member care community
can learn much from the erecting and dismantling
of this monolithic travesty.
Where were you on 9 November 1989? We were in our home in Haarlem, The Netherlands, transfixed to the BBC and Dutch live broadcasts on our television. For those of us born into the era of the East-West debacle, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall that began that night was one of the most explicit signs that the seemingly intransigent barriers of the cold war were crumbling—politically, relationally, and now physically. Simply phenomenal!

A few days ago we watched the 20th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The main celbrations took place, appropriately, in Berlin. Our feelings were mixed and running deep—like two ethereal inner streams mingling both present delight and past sorrow. The celebrations were somber, public, international, and historic reminders of how humans and nations get stuck in perilous mire. They were also encouraging reminders that we can in fact get unstuck although not without courageous perseverance and not without a high cost.

Search on Google and you will quickly find a plentiful array of videos and stories about the Berlin Wall and the recent celebrations in Berlin. Here is a brief video/link that highlights the celebrations. It has excerpts from speeches by Gordon Brown (UK Prime Minister), Hillary Clinton (US Secretary of State), and Angela Merkel (German Chancellor). The major news for us though was not simply the breached and falling wall. Rather the major news was what it took to get the wall to fall and the far broader reality reflected by this dismantled divider.

Applications to Member Care
When stand-offs, debacles, mire, and barriers exist in the core relationships of people with whom we are working, or in our own relationships, what do we do? I think we all wonder at times how we can better dismantle these relational obstructions, especially the more injurious and lethal types. Yet then again, unlike the Berlin Wall, perhaps some of these walls exist for an appropriate, protective purpose. Their healthy presence helps to safeguard vulnerable people from personal and organizational realities that can only be described as dysfunctional and deviant.

It takes courage, perseverance, skill, and lots of support to deal with the reasons behind our relational walls. Using the materials taught in the one-week intensive course, Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills, can be a great place to start ( For more complicated and resistant walls, professional mediation over several days may prove helpful. In cases where dysfunction and deviance are involved, some very special approaches are needed (e.g., see the 10 summary principles listed in Wise Doves and Innocent Serpents;

The above photo was taken today in our office. We are holding a piece of the Berlin Wall given to us years ago by a German friend/psychiatrist. This photo reflects our commitment to relate transparently with others and together seek to understand, breach, and if possible dismantle walls. This piece of the wall is a regular reminder to us of Christ’s exhortations for courageous transparency: "Don't be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don't hesitate to go public now.” (Matthew 10 26-27 The Message)

Transparency—The Book
Consider the above thoughts in light of this next set of quotes from Bennis et al in Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor (2006). To use the “wall” metaphor from this weblog entry, these quotes focus more on the darker side of why walls exist: namely consistent unhealthy personal or organizational practices such as feigned openness, excessive ambition, groupthink, and injustice. As shared in the previous entries, we think it is timely for this book to get into the hands and practice of all of us in the mission/aid and member care community.

“No matter the official line, true transparency is rare. Many organizations pay lip service to values of openness and candor, even writing their commitment into mission statements. Too often they are hollow…and inspire frustration, even cynicism, in followers all too aware of very different organizational reality.” (p. 4)

“Groupthink-driven decisions are the downside of a dynamic every organization seeks to build: group cohesiveness and pride in belonging. The paradox here is that the very cohesiveness that can make such tight-knit groups highly effective can shade over into a clubby sense of entitlement and superiority. This can lead members to believe that the group can do no wrong—that stretching rules to achieve its goals is, for them, permissible.” (p. 40)

“[Aristotle] goes on to say that there are times when anger is called for and appropriate. In fact, if one does not become angry over a grave injustice, he says, one cannot be considered virtuous.” (p. 76)

Reflection and Discussion
1. Think of a couple relational walls in your life right now. Try to give a specific name/title to these walls.

2. If the walls could talk to you about why they exist what would they say? If the walls could give you advice about how to breach them, what would they say?

3. Which of the above quotes by Bennis et al on transparency are the most relevant for you right now?

4. We have regular candid discussions with confidants about the walls that exist in the mission/aid and member care community. The importance of developing our “relational resiliency” is constantly emphasized. Such resiliency is fostered by seeking mutual transparency and accountability with meekness, skill, and resolve. What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below on the weblog.

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