Thursday, May 20, 2010

When How Is Not Concordant with What

I’ve been working as an administrator for the Fellowship for Intentional Community over two decades. Like all nonprofits, FIC is always looking for fresh energy, and we regularly invite newcomers to attend our organizational meetings (which occur semi-annually—the next one starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday, hosted by Daybreak, a newly constructed cohousing community on Portland’s north side) as a way to cast the net.
While we’re regularly discussing organizational openings with candidates who might fill them, there is a particular kind of challenge that is harder to handle than any other. It is when the candidates clearly possess appropriate ardor and skill, yet have a style that is aggressive and demonstrably devoid of a collaborative attitude. Such well-meaning eager beavers come across as more interested in air time than in avoiding error time. While hard working and bright, they are overly enamored of their own thinking and less interested in how that might be further enhanced by the contributions of others.
Over the years, we’ve learned to pay close attention to such mismatches, and to back away from such associations, where their actions, as FIC ambassadors, would broadcast a very different message than the cooperative values our organization is dedicated to espousing. In short, we’ve learned that how we conduct business is every bit as important as what business we’re conducting (to paraphrase communications guru Marshall McLuhan, "The medium is at least half the message"). In recognition of this, we've learned to evaluate both when assessing someone for taking on responsibility in the Fellowship’s name.
In situations where this discordance emerges, I have a personal commitment to offering reflections about it, to see how candidates respond. Are they interested in the feedback (and able to step back and look for what might be true and useful in the observation)? Or are they dismissive and immediately launch into why my perceptions are off-base (warning: here be dragons!)?
We figure that all those who argue that the end justifies the means are not the kind of people we want to be attempting to effect social change under FIC’s banner. We figure the presence of such an attitude means it's time to end our association. In consequence, we occasionally pass up hare-brained opportunities for brilliancy, preferring a more tortoise-paced approach with a more integrated message and a surer foundation. It's a long road, and important to build it well.

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