Expanding Paradigms - Spring 1998
This is a testament, not to the stupidity of elephants (they are actually very intelligent creatures), but to the insidious nature of learned helplessness. Intelligence is not always a defense. In fact, it can be argued that the intelligent animal can sometimes be conditioned more quickly.
A study on learned helplessness looked at stress levels in two groups subjected to the same loud and unpleasant noise. One group was given a button that could turn the noise off, while the second group was not. The subjects who were denied control over the noise experienced significant stress, and called the noise "unbearable." The first group called the noise "unpleasant" and not a single one chose to turn off the sound. Just knowing that they could was enough.
Following the sound session, researchers observed that the group that had been subjected to helplessness in the sound booth tended to act helpless in subsequent situations, whereas the group that had been given control in the sound booth looked for and chose to exercise control over subsequent situations. Both helplessness and empowerment are learned conditions. Once learned, they are extended into other areas of life.
This is scary when you consider that most schools spend 12 years teaching kids to be helpless and to defer to authority figures. Anyone who has ever tried to teach a class full of kids will understand the necessity of first teaching them to defer to the adult. Upon graduation these same kids are sent into the world where the conditioning often continues at work.
Helplessness is a desirable quality in a factory worker who must show up to work on time, even when sick, and work the same repetitive task, such as tightening a bolt as it passes down an assembly line. Work has always played a major role in shaping humanity, beginning with our hunter gatherer ancestors, to the early farming civilizations, through the industrial revolution, and now into the information age. Each of these cultures adapted to support the style of work that supported them. Whether you look at art, family, religion, education, or even language, all aspects of a culture change in symbiotic relationship with the economy that sustains it.
The good news is that the same evolutionary forces of competition and cooperation that give rise to ever more complicated organic life forms are also at work in the world of economics. Businesses are faced with the same mandate as life: in times of change you must evolve or die! In 5,000 years our species faced less change than we have seen in the last 100 years, and the pace of change is continuing to accelerate exponentially!
In a rapidly changing environment, the old rigid power structures are not able to respond as quickly as their more fluid and decentralized competitors. The wave of the future is the intelligent, semiautonomous, self-organizing work force that is held together by a shared vision of their company's mission. Such companies earn their worker's loyalty, creativity, and enthusiasm (qualities which cannot be bought).
One such innovative company, SEMCO, posted an advertisement for one position and had 17,000 applications. Such companies are the wave of the future because they attract the best employees, and can adapt to changing environments in real time without having to wait for approval from 15 layers of bureaucracy. As more and more jobs involve self-organizing, self-managing teams, employees will be encouraged to think critically, to communicate, to cooperate, to forge interdependent communities, to take risks, to assume responsibility, and to become pro-active.
A worker who is taught positive skills designed to enable him or her to be part of a team at work will invariably begin to employ those same skills at home and in relating to family, friends, and society at large. It is ironic that the business world, which has for so long promoted a combination of helplessness and competition, may, in its struggle to survive the chaos of the next decade, be forced to embrace the empowering and cooperative model of self-organizing work teams, and consequently emerge as a leader in the psychological and spiritual evolution of our species from dependent infants to inter-dependent adults.
Joseph Campbell used to say, "Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors."J. Krishnamurti spoke of the importance of discovering your "Right Livelihood." Few things in life are as important and play a greater role in shaping us individually, as a culture, and as a species, as how we earn our living. Each of us needs to be a visionary, for without vision we are blind.
I struggled with this for 25 years. Lacking a personal vision of my place in the universe I wandered through school and then through a series of jobs to which I was never committed and from which I always held back a part of myself... the best part.
How can you hope to achieve your heart's desire if you do not know what your heart's desire is. Each of us must discover our vision and then work to bring our job into alignment with this vision, or else find another job. It was only when I discovered and then followed my bliss to become a yoga teacher that I became more than a yoga teacher. It was only when I aligned my actions with my vision that doors began to open where there were no doors.
Follow your bliss and breathe life into your livelihood. Namaste'
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|Leading by Example|
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|The Warrior's Path|
|The Other Person|