This chapter is drawn from Greenleaf’s convocation address to the University of Redlands in 1966 and addresses his 5 methods of cultivating responsibility within bureaucracies.

“Responsibility is a hard thing to talk about”

I would also add that it is a harder thing to teach and ultimately expect. It almost seems that within this day and age a downplaying of being and acting responsibly has given way to slander, scandal, and miniwars fought with 140 characters.

I have to keep reminding myself that most of this book is constructed from articles and speeches Greenleaf made during the middle to late 1960’s – nearly six decades ago! Yet the similarities between then and now are remarkable on one hand and yet not surprising on the other.

Greenleaf focuses on the practicality of the graduates engaging with the bureaucracies around them. There are quite a few questions that Greenleaf poses to the graduating class and they all centre on the topic of living and working in a bureaucratic environment.

Greenleaf defines a bureaucracy as;

A system that has become narrow, rigid, formal, depends on precedent and lacks initiative and resourcefulness.

Doesn’t sound too different than what they look like today does it? I believe that the whole idea of ‘disruptive nature’ is a kickback against the levels of bureaucracy we see and experience every day.

One question that Greenleaf asks early in the speech is; How can one live responsibly in a bureaucratic society?

Greenleaf offers 5 Methods of Cultivating Responsibility;

  1. Beauty
  2. Momentaneity
  3. Openness
  4. Humor
  5. Tolerance

Let me highlight some things Greenleaf has to say about each.

Beauty – not a physical beauty rather a beauty found in mathematics, physics, music, the arts, and looking towards the future.

Perhaps those who would be moved by beauty must constantly strive to cultivate the uncertain ground by reaching for a response to that which is not yet generally appreciated – or understood.

Momentaneity – being able to move beyond what may have happened yesterday and removing oneself from the captivity of what may happen in the future. While being able to enjoy every moment as they arrive.

So many able people I have known have nullified their effectiveness by living in a past that will never return or in a visionary future that may never materialize, and the opportunity to be grasped here and now slips by them.

Openness – the willingness of people, especially those who are given to leading others, to actually listen more than they speak. The willingness to give others the time to articulate their own thoughts, ideas, and even solutions with the expectation of having a captive audience.

In commenting on an experience Greenleaf had with a group of managers he said,

It was an interesting session. It confirmed that very bright people can make pretty stupid mistakes.

Humor – being able to not take yourself too seriously. We will make mistakes – the important thing to remember is not that we made them but rather what will we do with them? Despite them?

Tolerance – Greenleaf self-admits to use a more antiquated meaning for this word. One that is contrary to today’s world of instant gratification and an instant expectation of success. He describes tolerance as the ability to bear suffering with serenity.

What an amazing thought and in my framework, a welcomed embrace. Too often we baulk at the idea of remaining serendipitous during suffering. If you don’t know what serendipitous means…google it. Then ask yourself, if I really want to be responsible for people and my work how much am I willing to suffer quietly about it?

To acknowledge that we do not want for pain to keep us awake, but to make a virtue of it – learn from it – and to see the darkest of it still ahead (as it is for most of us) and cut away the gloom.

Quotes regarding the 5 Methods of Cultivating Responsibility

Rather, I think of responsibility as beginning with a concern for self, to receive that inward growth that gives serenity to the spirit without which someone cannot truly say, I am free. – p. 306

Happy to the youth who believes that [their] duty is to make the world and bring it more in accord with virtue and justice…Woe to whoever commences his life without lunacy – p. 307

Too many of my generation have settled for the status quo and have lost their awareness of the condition. – p.309

My chief disappointment with my generation is that so few seem capable or disposed to exert a leavening influence on bureaucracy. – p.309

The responsible persons are the ones who, while recognizing the pervasive bureaucratic nature of the world in which they live and do their work, cultivate, as a conscious discipline, a lifestyle that favours their optimal performance as an anti-bureaucratic influence, over a lifespan of mature living. – p. 317

Questions to Ponder regarding the 5 Methods of Cultivating Responsibility

What are you going to do with the world as you find it?

How can one live responsibly in a bureaucratic society?

Why does bureaucracy seem the fate of all institutions that grow old, large, or respectable?

Points to Consider regarding the 5 Methods of Cultivating Responsibility

Make the choice knowing that you may be wrong and suffer for it, and bear the risk bravely.

A lifestyle adequate to cope with bureaucracy does not automatically follow from good motives, ability, and opportunity. It flows from a disciplined approach over many years of trial and learning.


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