This is not the End
With a new year, we make new resolutions. What are yours? And why is it not easy to change? Let's contribute to necessary organizational change, personal change, and climate change. Inspired by the book This is Not the End - A Good Life in the 21st Century, by the philosopher Jan Drost.
Stefan Zweig wrote about the run-up to World War I: "Slowly, far too slowly - far too cautiously as we now know! - counterforces began to emerge.” The same is true of our time. The Green Revolution, that is, the ending of the fossil and carnivorous age and the transition to a sustainable, caring lifestyle is not moving fast enough. But perhaps it is not quite too late. Those are the hopeful words of Dutch philosopher Jan Drost in his book This Is Not the End - A Good Life in the 21st Century.
The threat facing us now is different from all previous ones. The calamities of the past were often local and transitory. But climate change concerns the entire earth and the foundations of life. Drost argues (as does Joanna Macy with her method Active Hope) that fear, anxiety, and anger about this situation are justified. Drost recognizes the five stages of grief that people go through: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Denial, despondency, resistance
People who continue doing as they always did may be in denial. And if they are in denial, they might be grieving.
Others have given up hope and are making the best of things while the fossil party lasts.
Many do not like change; the unknown is uncertain and scary. Moreover, change causes all kinds of discomfort. You lose habits you were attached to, and you have to struggle to find a new story with new habits.
Our collective response to (climate) change, as people, society, or organization, resembles the reactions to organizational change and working with organizational culture. It often evokes fear, concern, annoyance, and resistance. Does all this have to happen? We are already so busy! Yes, it has to. All organizations eventually have to respond to climate change, and so do we humans. Whether we like it or not.
As I wrote earlier, anticipating climate-related developments is part of an organization's strategy - executives must be engaged in it. The organizational culture must be ready to respond to change. That means being more aware of the long term (what might be coming our way in the future?) and breaking out of habits. Because it is precisely habits that are embedded in culture - because of that, we do as we have always done.
Ask open questions
Drost makes a plea for questioning and conscious wonder as a counterforce to habits. Thinking more, asking more questions, and being open to new ideas. A positive culture (see my book Positive Culture Do You Together) is always open to learning and (more) open questioning.
Thinking begins with questions, questions that almost always begin with: why? Why is everything the way it is? Could it be different? Why isn't it different?
Asking questions can be uncomfortable, as Amy Edmondson's research shows (in her book The Fearless Organization). Asking and saying nothing has the immediate advantage of not standing out. Asking questions or saying something can advance the whole group, but it can be uncomfortable for you if you bring it up.
Drost quotes Kierkegaard: "There is a bird called the rain prophet and so I am. Whenever a thunderstorm threatens over a generation, individuals like me appear like rain prophets."
He also takes comfort from Socrates, the critical questioner.
Ask yourself, "What would Socrates do?"
Drost paraphrases Socrates when he says: A good workplace cannot exist without hornets.
Rain prophets or hornets perform a signaling function in a culture; they see things that others don't see until later. Or: they see things differently.
If the culture is open to this, the group will reflect and continue to learn and change based on new information.
- In your culture, can you question habits or tough topics?
- How could you make that more habitual, how can asking sincere questions become a healthy habit?
- How can you ask a critical question in an open, non-attacking way? Practice it with a colleague.
Tough love, but: love! Don't shoot!
But that does not always work. Drost writes: It is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the fight against climate change: that it sometimes goes against our friends, against our family, against those we love and want to continue to love. Or against our colleagues...
If you are in favor of change - acting on it, speaking about it, asking questions about it, people will not always like you. There is an art to accepting that.
Most people want to be liked and be nice to others. But aren't you also nice to others as a rain prophet? Especially in the long run. If you stop some habits now, you will be better off later.
We change makers may be practicing something like "tough love". If you make sure to emphasize love and understanding, not condemnation. Most people do their best, just like the change agent or messenger. No one is perfect.
- What might tough love entail at work? What would you like to discuss that is uncomfortable in the short term but good or better for everyone in the long term?
To the "status quo" people, Drost says: Don't shoot the messenger. They often do, because climate touches on existential fears. It is a trigger against which people want to protect themselves. Then the messenger is called into question or the message is evaded through distraction tactics.
People point to the messenger; surely he is not perfect! That's right. What matters is the message and it does not become less important or less true because of the behavior of the messenger. If a climate activist gets on a plane once in a while that doesn't make sense, but it doesn't mean that the climate crisis therefore doesn't exist or isn't as serious.
But it does do something to your authority and credibility. Of course, it is better if you embody your values: walk your talk. But it's also important to recognize that perfect is the enemy of "good enough".
- Does it have to be perfect in your organizational culture?
- How can you practice being "good enough"? What are the advantages? How do you overcome the disadvantages?
Finally, what can you do about habitual loyalty, our general resistance to change?
Jan Drost offers this list:
- wonder and ask why,
- have a sharp eye for bad habits,
- unmask false oppositions and their stakeholders,
- become aware of the systems surrounding us,
- become aware of the story and culture in which you are raised,
- ask dangerous questions (to yourself and others),
- have the courage to be "unreasonable" and different,
- have the courage to be and remain steadfast,
- be mindful of personal attacks,
- remember the slogan: But still! And do it anyway, courageously...
Keep asking good questions. Keep improving, so that we respond timely and effectively to all changes, including climate change.
Mantra against powerlessness:
I may not be able to do much, but what I can do I must do. What I can stop I must stop. That is my duty.
Jan Drost, philosopher
> What are your resolutions? What will you do?
© Marcella Bremer, 2024
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