An excerpt from Parker Palmer’s book, Hidden Wholeness, chronicles the ways in which blizzards – like life – can be overwhelming and disorienting. It’s a reflective piece about how swirling events and social forces can pull us farther and farther away from authenticity, integrity, and the things that nourish our souls.
Consider these six unrelenting (and interrelated) messages that modern day culture amplifies:

Keep moving – don’t stop!
Move quickly – faster!
Do more – produce!
Go big – or go home!
Get it right – focus on perfection!
Be available – respond 24/7!

When I allow myself to be swept up into the maelstrom of these mantras, I experience my own version of Parker’s “blizzard”. I prefer to project a relaxed and balanced persona, but the truth is these toxic messages are constantly working on me and asking me, “What have you produced lately?” I’d like to blame it on the internet and handheld devices but, if I’m honest, I bought into these pressures well before technology amplified them. Indeed, I even buy into this “blizzard” when sitting in the warm sand on a laid-back beach in Mexico.

Internalizing these messages can cause profound harm to our health and wellbeing, our families, and our organizations. We believe multi-tasking and being frenzied, hyper-vigilant, self-sacrificing, and perpetually busy are “just the way it is” or “the price of being committed, purpose-driven leaders.” But there are consequences when we collude with this kind of violence against ourselves and others. Yes, “violence.” Writer and theologian Thomas Merton captured it best in this passage from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

In my own quest to live, lead, and work differently I’ve been experimenting with six countervailing declarations.

Pause – be still before you speak or act!
Move patiently – pick a pace that is gentle!
Choose ease – accept, relax, focus!
Go for positive contribution – focus on impact!
Know when to stop – “done” is often more valuable than “perfect”!
Set healthy boundaries – reclaim my choices!

I’m not aware of any evidence to suggest that leading and working by these countercultural “rules” results in any less productivity or quality over the long-term. And – let’s be clear – productivity and quality are not the only metrics that matter. When we lead by and model these new norms, we in fact catalyze new levels of energy, fulfillment, and – dare I say – authentic joy, calm, creativity, and connection.

What would it mean to bring these six new declarations to your team and ask “how might we weave these commitments into a new way of working together? What norms, policies, and reward systems would have to change?” And, finally: What will it look and feel like around here if these countercultural ideas become “just the way it is”?

Photo Credit: Luke Richardson on Unsplash

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