‘The people living in darkness have seen a great Light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a Light has dawned.’ (Matthew 4:16, the Bible)
‘Death is a thick black wall, against which every soul is hurled and shattered.’ I don’t now remember who said that, but I do remember my philosophy lecturer quoting it when we studied existentialism. These are very dark words indeed and have, for me, a deeply foreboding and chilling feel to them. I sat down and avidly wrote an essay in response, doing my best to present what, I believed, were convincing rational arguments to counter such a nihilistic and hope-less outlook.
When I got my paper back, the mark was nowhere near as high as I had hoped for or expected. The lecturer had commented simply yet profoundly that an existentialist writer would have absolutely no interest in my reasoning. It’s not about objectivity or logic. It’s about how it is and feels to be in the world; a phenomenological cry of angst in the face of fragile, fathomless, futility. It was as if, in my attempt to offer ‘correct’ thinking, I had totally missed the point. It never was about thinking.
As the years have passed by, I too have known that angst, at a times an almost irresistible magnetic-like pull towards my own death. Sometimes, it has felt like half-clinging on weakly to avoid being pulled over the edge. In the face of unbearable and irreparable heartbreak, suicide can feel like a least-painful solution. Tom Walker’s moving song, Leave a Light On has deep emotional resonance here. Jesus is my life-saving Light. ‘At the end of the day, it’s either God or death.’ (James Wallace).
Whatever Advent means to you, Light shines in darkness. Hold onto hope.
‘I’m overweight because I’m heavier than I should be.’ ‘It’s pitch dark in here because there is no light.’ ‘My laptop isn’t working because it’s broken.’ What’s wrong with these statements? On the face of it, they have a ring of truth about them, a sense of plausibility. However, they’re all illustrations of circular reasoning or, if you like, of stating two things that are essentially descriptions of the same phenomenon - yet asserting a causal relationship between them. In each case, it’s as if one thing is sufficient to explain the other.
There are at least 3 problems with this kind of reasoning. Firstly, it is erroneous thinking, a distortion of truth. Secondly, we can use it as a rationalisation to ourselves and to others for issues we don’t want to face, want to avoid or are unwilling to take responsibility for. ‘I do this…or I can’t do that…because…’ Thirdly, it can trap us in its own logic – or at least in its apparent logic. If there’s a reason why I am doing or not doing X, a feasible explanation for what is causing me to do it or not do it, it can appear to lay beyond my ability to change. It’s as if I have no options or alternatives.
Now apply this insight to organisational life: ‘The reason we have low levels of engagement at the moment is that staff are unmotivated and uncommitted.’ ‘Our profits are higher than usual because we made better net financial gains this time than in previous quarters.’ ‘X is underperforming because he’s not doing his job well.’ Jim Collins talks about facing the brutal facts. As leaders, OD and coaches, we can look out for examples of circles in our own language and that of others. We can hold up a proverbial mirror, raise awareness and be willing to face, challenge and reframe it.
And remember: if you don’t agree with me on this point, it’s because you disagree.
I'm a psychological coach, trainer and OD consultant. Curious to discover how can I help you? Get in touch!
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