Do the boundaries we create in our organizations and our personal lives, leave our spirits malnourished? I reflect on this question when the Dictionary Word of the Day landing in my email box is hidebound.
I subscribe to the Dictionary Word of the Day because new language compels me to new ways of thinking and opens up fresh perspectives. Even with a Master’s degree in Linguistics and having some experience navigating seven languages, I find the limits of my own vocabulary restricting the way I shape my world-and-life view. The word hidebound is unfamiliar to me and is a case in point.
The Merriam-Webster Definition of hidebound is “not willing to accept new or different ideas.” The word came into the English language in the 1500’s. I learn from dictionary.com that “the original reference is to emaciated cattle with skin sticking closely to backbones and ribs.” It has come to mean one rigid in their thinking.
What is it that nourishes the human spirit? Like emaciated cattle, do we grow malnourished by our unwillingness to accept new or different ideas? In our organizational and personal life, are we able to step outside the skin that shapes our appearance in the world?
A beloved colleague of mine in a food cooperative wholesale business was accustomed to saying that nonprofit organizations too often leave people as empty shells. Kathy Moore was reflecting on the process of burnout in social good organizations that did not nurture life-giving human resource management practices.
Is the life-giving force gone from our organizations? Have we become empty shells performing roles in the world, but not nourishing our collective and individual spirits?
I wonder at the myriad ways in which we deprive ourselves by the limitations of our own language conventions. Our language sets up boundaries. It is our skin or our hide. It is also what keeps the other out. It is our brand. It is how we name and define ourselves.
Stepping outside the established boundaries of our own language, world-view, and brand opens up transformational possibilities. In a circle of extraordinary men at the Taos Institute Jamboree this month, we ask this question together: “What does it mean to live into a peace that can transform the world?” In answer to that question, I find myself reverting to my language that is familiar to me for speaking about peace. “In the din and clatter of a thousand human voices, listen for the quiet voice that whispers peace.” A wise man sitting next to me in this circle states: “Peace is often loud and rowdy.” I am compelled to step outside the skin of the language that is familiar and comfortable to me. My world-view is about to be challenged!
In the company of Associates in The Taos Institute I find a culture incredibly able to step outside the boundaries of convention. This is a community that I find nurturing of new and life-giving paradigms. I cherish the unbounded exploration with practitioners and scholars passionate about co-creating a better world.
Still, I wonder, what is the hide or skin that defines us as Taos Associates? Does our own language—liberating in so many ways–still confine us and exclude others? Do we set a language threshold that others must reach to be part of our company? Are we defining us vs. them in the language we use?
The words social construction have compelling meaning for us. It is a stream in which we can swim deeply. These are words that are freeing for us, creating of a new paradigm, a new ontology and a new epistemology. But, do we exclude, in subtle ways, from our community of scholars and practitioners, those for whom the language of social constructionist ideas is an awkward and unfamiliar construct? Is our language a stumbling block to others or is truly inviting of participation and co-construction?
I turn to reflecting on my own personal brand. On my Twitter account I proclaim that I am about “inspiring hope and awakening possibility.” It is strengths-based language that both I and others have found descriptive of the work that I do in the world and the presence I bring. It has taken me some decades to come to this self-descriptive language and I like it. It is the skin I feel comfortable in. Still, I must wonder if my brand sets me apart–and perhaps above others. Are there ways in which it is exclusionary? While being an inspirer of hope, am I able to journey with those who live lives of quiet despair? How has my life been privileged in ways that have allowed me to be seen as an expert in certain arenas?
How can we together sustain organizational and community cultures that nourish the human spirit? What can we do to ensure that we do not become empty shells, performing functions in the world but not thriving? Do our personal brands illuminate a life-giving presence in the world? Or are we ourselves branded as herded and emaciated cattle by a culture that has a propensity to starve the human spirit?
I invite you to share your reflections: What nourishes you? Are there communities and practices that give you life? Is your organization one that privileges new language, new ways of thinking and new ideas? Or is it bound by traditions and doctrines, unwilling to explore alternative worldviews?
Are we afraid of losing ourselves by stepping outside the skin of our own conventions and practices? Are we hidebound?
Dr. Samuel Mahaffy is a Founding Partner of CNPS, LLC and an Associate of The Taos Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/samuelmahaffy. He invites your response to this post.