Today I was in a group discussion where we talked, among other things, about what ‘holy’ means. Wikipedia says that “The English word holy dates back to at least the 11th Century with the Old English word hālig, an adjective derived from hāl meaning whole and used to mean ‘uninjured, sound, healthy, entire, complete’.”
A question was asked: when in our lives do we make things that are not usually holy, holy?
I mentioned how the other day there was some computer work I didn’t want to do; instead, I wanted to be outside enjoying the sun and nature, people-watching, talking with friends, going for a hike… And then I thought that I could get these things by doing the computer work. I went to one of my favorite cafes with big windows full of sunlight and trees. I sat on a comfy sofa. I ordered chamomile tea. Soon there was an art show in the cafe, and people mingled, eating cheese and crackers and fruit, moving around, looking at the paintings, and talking. I liked being around people and sun and nature while I worked. And then a friend who lives above the cafe came downstairs and we talked — I had emailed him asking if he’d like to cowork. If I wasn’t doing computer work, I wouldn’t have been there (it wouldn’t have been as fun for me to sit there without the computer work). I made the work creative by bringing the things I wanted into play. Afterwards, I walked home, looking at the houses and trees. I wouldn’t have walked that beautiful street if I hadn’t gone to that cafe.
Obviously this would not be creative for most people. Each of us have our own work, and our own things we want to create in our lives. For me, this was a way to create my desires around my work. Other people have their own ways. We each have our own constraints; we “do what we can with what we have.” If I couldn’t work anywhere I wanted, maybe I would be constrained to an office. I could have creatively brought nature to work in the form of photos or plants or bird calls played over some internet bird call radio station. I could have called a friend and worked with him over the phone, each of us working on our own thing. There are almost always different ways to make or get close to the things we want.
Today a question was also asked about groups: “What if one person cares about group unity, and the other person cares about reading the same word over and over?”
I think any question about real desires, taken out of context, such as this question, might sound silly. The context here is what if there is a meditation group, or a discussion group, where people are having a discussion or a reading, and one person wants to read the same word in a text over and over and over, and another person cares about group unity, and a third person thinks it would be a “compromise” to have both people get what they want?
My favorite way to handle this is to get out of our heads and to be real. Any problem here would only arise because people were caught up in their heads with hypothetical problems. If we listen to what people want: group unity & to read the same word over and over & for each person to make/get/have what they want, then the only problem is with the hypothetical: the third person hasn’t said what they want for themselves; they are caught up in thinking about other people and not about what they want, and so they have become the only obstacle to what they want. If the third person can say what they want for themselves — usually asking, “How would you summarize that, in one or two words?” will do it — they might say, “For each person to not compromise, in one or two words, that will be…” and then they might say, “peace” or “simple” or “uncompromising”. If they say a word that isn’t a positive word, such as “uncompromising,” then that’s saying what they don’t want. Flip it around. Ask: “And in one or two words, what’s the opposite of compromising?” or “In one or two words, what’s another way of saying that?” or “What’s an even shorter way of saying that?” And they might say, “self-gratification” or “action” or “talking” or who knows what until they think of it themselves, for themselves.
If “talking” is their word, you might ask them to clarify: “Any kind of talking aloud with words?” If they say “any kind of talking” then I might check with them: “So we could all talk the same word aloud together?” If by “talking” they clarify: “A conversation where we say whatever we want to say,” then I might clarify, “Can we be creative and experiment with a conversation where we all say the same word, in different ways, with whatever meaning expressed by that word that we want to say?”
This is why I call it creativity — we do what we can with what we have, and that makes us creative. It makes what we are used to something that we are attentive to; it makes us present with what we are used to, resourcing it in a new way.
So now we have our group of three people, each wanting something: group unity & reading only one word & talking. As facilitator, you or I, or one of them, in a facilitator role, goes around and says back the core value of each person, looking at them when we say their word: “group unity” and “reading only one word” and “talking.” This makes us remember what to remember to do.
We might ask, “Anything else, or is this good?” (We also might preface asking for what people want by requesting, “What’s a theme of a great experience you’ve had with other people?” “And in one or two words, how would you summarize that?”) Anything else people want to add, should also meet these criteria of a great group experience (or a holy experience, or however you define the request).
Now you’re ready for suggestions or even for action. A word can be read aloud, with the group unified by that word, and anyone who wants to, having a discussion by talking that word aloud in their way. It will be a discussion unlike any I’ve ever heard, and I would like to be there to hear it.
Sometimes it seems to me that a few people here and there want to disagree. Or they want to be uncreative. In one or two words, my word for “uncreative” would be “destructive”, but I could certainly see “bored”, or “business-as-usual”, or many other words also. Or they say they don’t want to spend any time doing anything except what they want to do. They don’t want to “take the time” — “make two minutes to go around the circle?” I ask — or, for some reason, the same people will, when the circle is being gone around, they will interrupt or ask a question or object to someone else, off-topic, out of agreement with this quick go-around-and-agree. And as facilitator, I often say, “Thanks for asking, and we can talk about that later — let’s keep going around the circle and make this fast.” In my experience, it’s almost always the same person who first doesn’t want to make time to go around and hear what everyone wants and share what they want, and then it is that same person who tries to divert and drag out the circle into some distorted time-consuming shape of their own making. Usually other team members see this and will interrupt the person with, “Can we talk about this later?”
If a person doesn’t want to make the time to do this, they can work on their own team.
If there are hypothetically, in discussing this kind of group creativity, “a million people in the circle,” then I say that’s too many people for a circle, so they need to get into smaller circles. How many people are in our circle? I ask. 3? 10?
What if they’re fighting a war? I was asked today. You can’t fight a war without being in the same space, I said, although this isn’t quite true: distance increases deaths… (I forget which book on war it was where I read this) many more people died by bow and arrow than by sword, and many more by nuclear bomb, and now there are drones and unmanned fighter vehicles… But again, we need to be specific, or real, or whatever word you use. Say, a million people at a company?
We have many groups of 3 or 10 people, I might say, and they are part of the million people for some reason… they are in the same space or related spaces because…? They work for the same company. Okay. Not the best vision, but okay.
Each group of 3 or 10 people needs to coordinate with other groups of 3 to 10 people. Maybe there’s a department, and what do they do? There are some bakeries in Portland. Okay. So each store has 3 shifts of 20 people each. What do the 20 people do? (What are the roles? What is each person responsible for? Where physically do they work in the store?) In the kitchen, on the shipping dock, and front-of-house in the store. Okay. Three teams for each shift of 20 people, 3 shifts. It might be fun for all 3 teams on each shift to have one person from each team coordinate… so the shift has 3 representatives. And it might be useful for all 3 kitchen teams, all 3 shipping teams, all 3 front-of-house teams to coordinate… so kitchen has 3 representatives, shipping has 3, front-of-house has 3. And each rep team meets… once a week. And each rep has a backup. And each rep has term limits, so they don’t need to be a rep for more than a year, maybe two. And every once in a while, maybe every six months, the whole store has a general meeting, and every three months the whole store has a party. So people whose work affects each other are represented, and are in the same space, for work, discussion about work, and play (“happy hour” might go over better as a term for this though).
And there are stores in a geographic region, so each store (our store has 60 people in a total of 9 teams) might choose a representative and a backup representative. These managers are not paid too much extra, because they are representatives. Maybe they get their transportation paid for, and a stipend of $500/yr. It should be just enough to compensate them for their time, and they should have just enough resources given to them to get things done, with enough responsibility to make it a “well, I could do this, but I don’t really want to do this, but I will for the good of my teammates” setup. (I’m paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson here.)
And so every month, these store reps meet, at a different store each time, to talk about issues affecting all or most of their stores, and to coordinate, and share updates from their teams, and report back to their teams.
Maybe there are 20 stores in the region, so that’s 1,200 people represented there.
And each region might elect 2 delegates to the state meeting, and the state has 30 regions, so there are 60 people at that meeting. The state meeting might have subcommittees to research specific things. 36,000 people are represented.
At each level up, there is less and less responsibility and power and hands-on work… the stores do the most hands-on work, and each level above that is coordinating the things that the stores, or regions, or states, can’t do on their own. The region handles regional marketing, placing ads in the city papers.
The national representatives might coordinate nationwide discounts, so the same promotional offer from one bakery is valid at another bakery in another state, and the same company logo is provided to all the bakeries. Or you could have different logos, with some bakeries or regions having a worker who’s great at and really likes designing logos, and the other bakeries choosing to follow her lead.
Nationwide, there might be a council that’s elected each year in a popular election, and term limits, and everything else we’re talking about at each level, and the council leads a gathering of all representatives who can attend. So for this company, 1,000,000 people might be represented by the council.
I can see how this might raise some objections, such as: What’s wrong with the franchise model? What business do workers have voting for representatives? Why do workers need representatives? How will you keep the managers? This isn’t a business if you do it like this; the job of a business is to make money not satisfy employees.
And to those objections, I say, okay. It’s about redefining the definition of a business, and we can do that.
Other objections might be, It takes too long that way to decide.
And to that, I say, bullshit. Add up the water cooler hours, the hours complaining about bosses and managers, and replace that with some democratic meetings and complaining about yourself (if you want to complain). Assign responsibilities to jobs, the way there are now: the baker does baking, the marketer does marketing, and in meetings, hear what’s happening — what do we like, what don’t we like, what do we want to do about it? — and do it.
Maybe instead of 3 teams of 10 people each, you want 1 team of 30 people. Good. Do that. Maybe instead of daily or monthly meetings, you want weekly meetings. Do that.
The groups where I’m happiest with their representative democratic process have been religious groups. Congregational and fellowship-led churches, reform synagogues…
I also like the idea of flipping franchises upside down. The most common objection I hear is then: What about paying the owner?
There’s something called Class B stock. If you let me invest in Subway Sandwiches, I might. If you let me invest in Subway Sandwiches and I knew that each person who worked there had a say in the overall direction of the company, I would be much more likely to invest.
If the stock I own will not let me choose who runs the company, I think that is morally right. The stock is a speculation, a guess by me, that the company will do better and be more popular tomorrow and the day and the year after that. My speculation is that the people doing the hands-on work, making the sandwiches, doing the marketing, seeing the sales, will have a better sense of what needs to happen, than I do as an investor.
The objection to that is, that they don’t. The guy who makes sandwiches doesn’t know anything about the financials of the company. Okay. Agreed. People who don’t know things won’t make good decisions. So have some education. Open the books. It’s called open-book management, so workers can see the financial effect of what they do and don’t do.
I went to NYU. When I was a student, I chose the president and vice-president of the Tisch Undergraduate Student Council. After I graduated, I didn’t want to choose the president of the student council anymore… I wasn’t a student. The students who are there know best what they want to happen, and as an alumni, I want the best reputation for my school, and so I want the students there to choose the president. If I invested in NYU, it would be the same thing (unless I had a connection with a president candidate who could get me some freebies and special interests. And I think that’s morally wrong). And in the U.S., making decisions and acting with even less-than-perfect knowledge makes people better at what they do day-to-day. Workers choosing their representatives in an educated process, means better work. And that means more money for investors.
To “own” something means (for the word to be meaningful) to be responsible for it. To be “creative” means to create something.