In her latest post at http://robinmsf.blogspot.com/2012/02/vision.html, asks for “stories of Quaker leaders and committees/organizations that have functioned well together.”
It was in college that I first heard Max Weber’s idea that bureaucracies grow to eventually see their own maintenance as their prime objective (Wikipedia has a section on Weberian bureaucracy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureaucracy#Weberian_bureaucracy). At the time I assumed we were talking about governments but it didn’t take long in the nonprofit world to see the phenomenon alive there as well. Resources go to the programs that can attract the biggest donor attention. Committee discernment gets short-circuited. Internal benchmarks become the measure even if the are disconnected from actual effect or mission. If a need arises from outside of the boundaries of the internal structures, it is ignores: there’s little incentive to address it.
The only real solution is to keep remembering why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s the practice of self-reflection, it’s the exercise of asking what we might be called to. Perhaps this is a leader’s real job description.
I’ve been thinking again lately of the way the Society of Friends responded to the Tom Fox kidnapping, a story I recounted in “Why Would a Quaker Do a Crazy Thing Like That”(http://www.quakerranter.org/2006/06/why_would_a_quaker_do_a_crazy/). I think the underwhelming response was mostly a failure of imagination. Too many of the organizations in question had settled themselves into narrowly-defined mission silos of their own making. They didn’t know what to make of the situation. I’d like to hope that a Rufus Jones or Howard Brinton would have cut through the slack, and I am encouraged at some recent conversations I’ve had with some emerging leaders, but as a student of history I know these are eternal problems that are always ready to return.
My theory of media and social change is that 90% of the time we’re talking amongst ourselves, inviting people in to the conversation and building an infrastructure of community. It’s one-on-one work, slow, people intensive (but then that’s what makes it enjoyable, right?). The fruits of this labor become visible with unexpected opportunities – those times when we’re called on by a larger public to explain ourselves or describe the world as we see it. If we’ve been doing our background work – planting the seeds that is the people of our community – then we will be ready to step up to the challenge. If we’re not, opportunity slips away.
The history of Friends – maybe the history of the church universal – is one of missed opportunities; the miracle of faith is that sometimes we connect with one another in the love that is God and lay some more bricks and mortar for God’s kingdom on Earth.
What Canst Thou Say?: Vision
Without vision, the people perish. Mostly because they get eaten by tigers they didn’t see coming. Isn’t that a joke from Calvin & Hobbes? I’ve been thinking a lot about vision lately….