Work and Love

31 min read

There are numbers of historic examples of changes in Systemic Imperatives, including:

– Rosa Parks’ refusal to sit at the back of the bus challenged the prevailing  Systemic Imperative of blacks as second class citizens, thus igniting the civil  rights movement and culminating in the US Voting Rights Act.

– The American Declaration of Independence challenged the Systemic Imperative  of the Divine Right of Kings, which led to the birth a new country.

– Nelson Mandela challenged the white-dominated apartheid system of South Africa, leading the country in a commitment to post-racial governance.

– Mahatma Gandhi challenged the British colonial policy of “divide and conquer” by  risking his life through fasting to stop Hindus and Muslims from killing each other,  eventually leading India to independence.

– Labor unions challenged the right of corporate management to be the sole arbiter  of wages and work rules, leading to a shift in the balance of power and the  acceptance of negotiation.

– The Women’s Liberation Movement challenged the subordinate role of women in  society, broadening the opportunities available to them and altering the  landscape of the workplace.

The resistance to love and work as harmonics of each other is just as deep as any speaking for it.  In fact, leaders often survive and even thrive by keeping the two separate.

Changing a Systemic Imperative is daunting and most of us shy away from it.  Zen masters are famously known for saying that, “You have to want transformation as much as you want your next breath.”  But what does this mean in practical terms when it comes to a transformation that has work and love go hand-in-hand?  Throughout our combined 73 years of helping leaders reinvent themselves and their companies, success has nearly always depended on our ability to help them change the Systemic Imperative.

What we know from these examples is that Systemic Imperatives can change and that committed people can make the change.  How this happens and when it happens isn’t easily amenable to explanation — the process isn’t predictable and is full of twists and turns.  Some of it seems the luck of the draw and often a matter of timing and courage.  We don’t know exactly how it happens.  Systemic Imperatives are a complex phenomenon with many interrelated sources.

In John Mauldin’s How Change Happens, he credits Friedrich Nietzsche with pointing to why changing a Systemic Imperative is so daunting:

 “To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying and gives moreover a feeling of power.  Danger, disquiet and anxiety attend the unknown — the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states and the first principle is that any explanation is better than none.., what drives this addiction and excitement is the feeling of fear…”

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