Home Concepts Managing Stress & Challenges Finding Sanctuary in a World of Complexity, Unpredictability and Turbulence

Finding Sanctuary in a World of Complexity, Unpredictability and Turbulence

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Johnston’s third sanctuary is health or more specifically our obsession with exercise and diet. While many formal sanctuaries, such as health spas and recreational centers, do a wonderful job of providing sanctuary from tense daily living, there can be an overconcern that leads not only to alienation from some of life’s richest treats but also isolation from other, diverse aspects of life. Finally, according to Johnston, new forms of religion serve as sources of sanctuary. The “new age” religions, according to Johnston, sometime provide temporary solace in part because they demand only temporary and superficial commitment.

We might add several other candidates to Johnston’s list, especially when examining sanctuaries within organizational settings. One excellent candidate is power and status within the organization. If we can just get the corner office or the new company car, then all will be well in our own personal world. If we can just gain control over the budget or expand the number of people reporting to us, then we know that we have arrived and will finally find some happiness. Another candidate is wealth. For many of us, the accumulation of wealth not only becomes a sign of self-worth, but also a “storm home.” If only we can set aside X number of dollars, we can weather any storm and, even more importantly, we can find some enduring sense of meaning and fulfillment in life.

This is the case, especially when we consider yet another candidate for sanctuary, namely, purchase and consumption of material goods. In 1955, Erich Fromm foresaw the role to be played by consumption in our postmodern world when he spoke of the “marketing orientation” of men and women in our Western world, and proposed that this orientation is a psychological defense against the terror of death and meaningless life. A somewhat more contemporary observer of American society, Sam Kean (Kean, 1991, pp. 110-111) suggested, similarly, that: “at worst, postmodern man is the concupiscent consumer. His tastes, life-style, and convictions are formed by fashion. Like the god, Proteus, and unlike the substantial self-made men of the last century, he changes shapes at will . . .You could call him disillusioned except that he has never dared care about anything passionately enough to have developed hope or illusion.”


How do we ensure (or at least encourage) a more productive use of sanctuary? We would suggest that constructive organizational sanctuaries are created when space and time are found for: (1) reflection on past experiences in life (a passage into a deeper sense of self) and (2) experimentation in thought or action regarding future ways in which we wish to lead our lives. I recently asked a group of managers enrolled in a Masters level organizational behavior program to identify and study sanctuaries in their own organizations to see how these two factors play out.

My students identified many types of organizational sanctuaries, ranging from special rooms or outdoor spaces in the organization where employees call “cool out,” to elaborate programs that focus on relaxation responses, meditation and other forms of stress reduction. Other managers commented on those special moments in the ongoing operations of their organization or work group when sanctuary is created. Yet others spoke more personally of how work in and of itself provides sanctuary for them from other more stressful aspects of their lives (a marriage in trouble, loneliness as a single parent and so forth). Most often, however, our managers concluded that their own organization rarely if ever provided sanctuary for them. As a result, they look outside their organization for sanctuaries.

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