I’m starting to think of this blog as INSEAD professor Gianpiero Petriglieri has taught me to think of Twitter: as “a public notebook” — a place to collect, reflect and share. I’ve kept notebooks for years, but they’ve always been closely-kept, private affairs. Those notebooks can be scattered and go off in all sorts of directions, but I realize that the public aspect of this notebook carries some obligation to put the pieces together every once in a while, or at least to reflect on where things appear to be heading.
This morning’s post about Sister Mary Lou Wirtz and non-coercive leadership brought some new clarity and gave me a chance to gather my thoughts.
As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I’ve been looking at models of non-coercive power, dialogue as an alternative to coercive power, asking as an alternative to command-obedience. It’s a big topic, which I try to describe with the rubric The Power of Asking, and it branches out in many different directions.
I’ve written about the use and abuse of the word “ask” and the practice of asking, as well as some literary and historical examples that illustrate the subject. On a related front, I’ve looked at human rights frameworks, including the Ruggie Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights and the concept of “free, prior and informed consent” enshrined in the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and tried to appreciate how questions of autonomy, respect and consensus-building figure into them. In posts on the role of business in society and on issues in corporate governance, I’ve explored some alternatives to organizational models of command and control (which institutionalize coercive power or command-obedience, usually in the name of “efficiency” and often to the detriment of creativity, learning and innovation); and I’ve tried to outline some of the rules of “engagement” that could inform a framework for shareholder dialogues to make companies more responsive and responsible.
There are other models to consider as well — call them conceptual models. My reading list would have to include Illich on conviviality, Arendt’s discussion of “initiative” in The Human Condition (no, the whole book, from start to finish, but especially the section on Action) as well as, I suppose, Habermas’s reflections on non-coercive dialogue, and some of the work on ethics that came out of Bernard Williams’s seminal paper on “Internal and External Reasons.” And then there are anthropological texts like Clastres Society Against the State, Richard White’s The Middle Ground and James C. Scott’s book on Zomia, which ground some of these philosophical considerations in social realities. These are touchstones for me, readings that have shaped and continue to shape my thinking about non-coercive power and help me ask questions about language, power and the possibility of dialogue. They’ve also helped me to think about what happens to all these questions when one attempts to move from theory to practice; more often than not, as I’ve tried to make clear, things fall apart, good intentions go bad, and people resort to coercion, displays of power, issuing commands, demanding obedience and asserting authority.
With this framework in mind, I am currently developing two projects. The first is a writing project that I’m calling The Power of Asking, which will develop the theme of non-coercive power and try to articulate something like a model of non-coercive leadership. The second is a documentary film tentatively titled Prosperity, which is set against the backdrop of the mining boom around Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; there, issues of free, prior and informed consent as well as critical issues of corporate responsibility and environmental ethics are at stake (along with the future of Lake Superior itself).
As I continue to write on the theme of asking and develop and raise funds for my new documentary project, I will probably break out each of these projects into subpages. (And by the way, if you know anyone who is super-talented when it comes to WordPress and can help me make this whole effort a little less pedestrian-looking, please send me a message — @lvgaldieri — on Twitter). In the meantime, rest assured there is method in my madness here, even if I myself often don’t realize it.
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