Tuesday, May 06, 2008

April Afternoon Lessons from Angeles Arrien

Angeles Arrien, Ph.D., is known internationally as a cultural anthropologist, author, educator and consultant. Her book, The Four-Fold Way (1993, Harper San Francisco) has been described as "a treasure of practical wisdom for anyone on a path to wholeness."

Francis Vaughn issued that description of this best selling work, and I note that she said it is "for anyone." Does anyone include you and me? I think so.

Because words have power, there is power this description, particularly when reflecting. What do you treasure? Of what importance is that which is practical? What is the value of wisdom and from where do we seek it? What does it mean to be on a path? On what path are you walking today? What is wholeness - individual, familial, communal, organizational, national, cultural and global?

My first encounter with name Angeles Arrien was through the University of San Francisco's School of Business and Management. There, Dr. Kathy Kane teaches leadership within the various MBA programs. Seen mostly as a left-brain undertaking, the MBA pursuit attract candidates looking to catapult themselves into management positions promising higher incomes, more prestigious jobs and titles, and a chance to advance in corporate, non-profit and NGO environments. MBA program required courses regularly include macroeconomics analyses, financial accounting, managerial accounting, marketing management, management communication, systems in organizations... mixed with an occasional elective offerings in leadership. But at USF, leadership is a required core class.

Upon entering a Dr. Kane's class students quickly find themselves faced with and caught up in profound and vulnerable questions, not the least of which are:
· Who are you? (not talking about your name)
· What makes you tick? (not talking about your accomplishments)
· What are your values... based upon your habitual actions and the feedback life and your environment is giving you in quiet moments?
· How do highly effective teams come into being in reality, i.e. the nuances that exist beyond theories found in management books?
· What can we learn and use from ancient and tribal cultures?
· How are you demonstrating your capacity to create highly effective individuals and teams?
· What constructive capacities for the development of the human spirit transcend borders, ages, nationalities, societies, races, religions and genders... and are you attuned to these capacities? What evidence do you have for this?
· And most importantly, are you a person who will grow in these capacities for the rest of your life and encourage others to grow as well, even if their opinions, backgrounds and beliefs differ from yours?

I recall the first semester I taught the core leadership course as an adjunct at USF, a student asked me upon receiving his initial ten-page writing assignment, "What do you want me to say in my paper?" I looked at him with a blank stare and replied, "What do you mean?" He responded, "You know... what do you want referenced in my paper; how should I write it and how do you want it to read. What do you want to hear so I can get an A?" I paused and said, "How about writing about what's on your mind - honesty." Then I added, "and make sure it's well written and hangs together. But, don't expect an A. I can't guarantee that."

Students (some already with management experience) taking these classes were (and still are) faced with the practicality of how to understand, influence and develop human beings - beginning and continuing with the self. An often-referenced name in a USF MBA leadership class was and is Angeles Arrien.

A few weeks ago Richard Strozzi-Hecker offered to a group I happen to be part of, the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Angeles Arrien. As a friend and colleague of Richard's she was scheduled to deliver a presentation at Strozzi Institute (SI) . On April 18th we, those from the group I'm part of and the many former SI students who were at the institute for an ongoing SI program, found ourselves in the company of this profound teacher, storyteller and student of life. For three and a half hours she captivated and held our attention. Of the many things she spoke about here are a few to contemplate.

· Elegant solutions are more important than cynical debates. The world is always looking for elegant solutions. What elegant solutions are you looking for? What elegant solutions are you listening to? What elegant solutions do you have to offer? Are you actively offering your elegant solutions?

· Every individual wants to be seen as a good person as well as a person who makes a contribution. Where and how is this so for you? What is good about you? What do you have to contribute? Are you making that contribution today? What practices do you engage in to seek the good in others and bring it out in them?

· Ancient and tribal cultures show us that we human beings live most often in and from our daydreams. The daydreams are always going on... just below the surface of conscious thought. Some of these are positive (constructive) daydreams, while others are negative (destructive). Our daydreams set up the matrixes for self-fulfilling prophecies - individually and collectively. Ancient and tribal cultures suggested we attend closely to ourselves to be able to hear and notice the daydreams while they are happening; and that as we become aware of them that we punctuate our daydreams with "seal phrases" - to either perpetuate or end the prophesies they create. Daydreams that are constructive might best be sealed with, "and that's a healing story." Daydreams that are destructive might best be sealed with, "and that's a story that doesn't need to happen." The ancients and tribes also offer that we would do well to teach our children about punctuating our daydreams with "seal phrases", and in so doing help create a better future for their children. What are your habitual daydreams? Which ones are "healing stories" that you would like to continue? Which are "stories that don't need to happen?" What are you doing and what will you do about this?

· Considering the times in which we currently live, the first few years of the 21st Century, we see our world, our country, our institutions, our communities, our structures, businesses, our schools, our natural resources faced with enormous challenge and change. These challenges and changes can either foster a renaissance or an apocalypse. Which perspective have you been taking and acting upon? What generative story will you perpetuate and/or enhance by taking on that perspective and then taking action?

· The opposite of trust is control. Where, when and under what circumstances do you find you have the tendency or need to control? Where, when and under what circumstances do you allow yourself to relax and trust? Can you train yourself to relax under increasing amounts of pressure for the sake of being more able to act with effectiveness and flexibility?

· Nature's rhythm is medium to slow. Nothing in nature moves at a fast pace unless it is in danger. We cannot deepen or integrate any new experience (change & challenge) by trying to speed it up or rush through it. We can only deepen and integrate a new experience by slowing down. Unless we take the time for reflection, we will not integrate nor deepen the lessons we need to learn from challenge and change. An atmosphere that lacks patience fosters control and will make an enemy of change. An atmosphere that encourages patience and flexibility will make a friend of change. How can you/I/we befriend the changes - small and large - that we face?

Dr. Arrien covered a lot more than these topics in her three and a half hours on April 18th. She spoke of fear and embodied responses and working through misunderstandings and ways of the heart and becoming more proactive and less reactive and addressed the distinctions between creativity and innovation. But the above few points are enough to write about, ponder and act on for a while.

Thanks Kathy. Thanks Richard. Thanks Angeles.

Angeles Arrien's books are available at www.Amazon.com. Recommended for individuals dedicated to long-term effectiveness as people of influence (leaders) are: "The Four Fold Way" and "The Second Half of Life". For information about her work please visit www.angelesarrien.com.

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