The Anatomy of Immoral Systems When Organizations Lose Their Consciences

June 1, 2003

In this issue:

Newsbrief: Smart Bytes Offered by John Online
June Editorial: The Anatomy of Immoral Organizations
Newsbrief: John Learns from the “Socrates of Radio”
Next Month: Overcoming Rankism: Creating a Dignitarian Culture

Smart Bytes Offered by John Online

Members of AnthenaOnline’s KnowledgeShare program can view and listen to various experts doing mini-video lectures called “SmartBytes;” John offers ten or so of these short streaming videos to subscribers along with other faculty, which includes Russell Ackoff, Tony Buzan, Chip Bell, John Scherer and others; AthenaOnline is an affiliate of the 27-year-old Institute for Management Studies.



[Note: The advance title for this month’s editorial was “The Anatomy of Dysfunctional Systems;” however, upon final review the author changed it.]

Why is it that a bunch of well-intentioned, good-hearted people can come together and, as a group, generate work that is less moral than any of them would do on their own? Why do people allow themselves to become compromised – selling out their personal values in order to conform to a system of common thought and practice a tradition that they think they are part of? How do we human beings – spiritual beings having a physical experience here on Earth – allow ourselves to act so inconsistently with our spiritual values and commit so many crimes against our own consciences?

Is the culprit some individual like Hitler, Saddam Hussein or Stalin who possesses so much charisma that people go into a trance and say “yes master” like in the old movies featuring actor Bela Lugosi dangling a shiny object and hypnotizing them? We seem to explain aberrant group behavior by pointing to a person who’s identified as “the evil one” who has somehow cast a spell on the rest of the people who’ve fallen under his or her power and have lost our ability to discern right from wrong. This is total bull!

Presently, there is lots of finger-pointing going on as a means of explaining this darkness. The Enron and scandals will result in a relatively few people being identified as “guilty” of misdeeds. But what about the thousands that condoned the activities and added legitimacy to them? And then there is politics, where seemingly good people enter the system only to appear to be totally compromised within a short time.

What about international relations? Seemingly honorable nations appear to act in ways that suggest they have no conscience. Foreign policies are put into place based on convenience rather than ethics, reversed for self-serving reasons, and driven by their politics instead of by what’s right.

In the past couple of years, we have seen unconscionable behavior from the Church, corporations, and government – virtually all institutions created by human beings. Does this mean that these institutions are immoral? Does this mean that there is inherent evil in these institutions? Or does it mean that immoral people have gained control of them and the rest of us are mere innocents who’ve been duped into going along with this immorality?

Our minds may want to explain what’s happening this way but, regardless of what mental tricks we want to play, we have allowed things to get this “out of whack” with our so-called civil, just, free and moral society. We have allowed our institutions to become compromised through our active participation – even if through our silence. Going along with how the system is changing makes us all just as culpable as the Nazi’s who claimed that they were “only following orders” during the genocide atrocities of World War II.

Governments, corporations, churches and other institutions created by humans are all systems – complex intertwining of traditions, beliefs, attitudes, relationships, loyalties, and behaviors that can easily become dark, dysfunctional and immoral. They also possess the ability to reflect the higher values we humans hold.

Synergy is created when the parts come together and are more powerful, more effective, smarter and better than they are separately. This is possible despite the evidence that most organizations manage to achieve the opposite – they are less effective, more impotent and dumber than the people would be separately. This negative synergy is what I call bureaucracy. Bureaucracy requires a submissive spirit, a co-opted conscience, a muted heart in order to thrive. It allows for empire-building and power brokering, convenience over principle. It condones behavior that individuals would never tolerate on their own and fertilizes the shadow so mushrooms of evil are fostered and cultivated. Without intervention, this system devolves toward darker and darker values. Extreme bureaucracy allows evil to become legitimate.

By throwing off the chains of fear and self-imposed impotence and fully acknowledging their spiritual nature, people can withdraw the legitimacy they give the system. They can stop empowering the very system of government, corporation, or institution they claim has power over them. Courage, will, resolve and a more conscious form of leadership are all aspects of this “spiritual revolution.”

The revolution of the human spirit requires a different kind of bravery – to take a stand against lying, deception, greed, and abusive and disrespectful behavior. It requires taking a stand for civility, kindness, peace, true justice (not vengeance), compassion and respectfulness. It requires a new kind of thinking about people who are different, about how we resolve conflict, about what’s sustainable and what are merely consolations for the ego. It requires ending our addictions – individually and collectively – and growing up as human beings.

As Einstein warned us decades ago, we must apply a new kind of thinking to solve our problems. Part of this new thinking is to accept the idea of a global commons, to mature into wiser adults, and to accept ourselves as global citizens, not just citizens of the United States. I was reminded recently of a saying by Thomas Paine, one of the most influential people in the establishing of democracy, who wrote, “My country is the world. My countrymen are mankind.”

This new spiritual courage requires us to think beyond our private self-interest and recognize that a successful revolution requires all of us making drastic lifestyle changes. We Americans will need to stop doing things we have become very accustomed to. We also will need to start doing things that we’ve never considered doing.

The revolution of the human spirit requires charging the machine gun nest of our minds, ruthlessly annihilating our most cherished but outmoded thoughts and belief systems about our American Way of life, surrendering our national chauvinism and arrogance, staring into the horrific death of the old ways, and standing toe to toe with the adversaries put forth by our egos – the products of our thinking. It means getting outside of our comfort zones, particularly when it comes to fully participating in our democracy – speaking up when we feel moved to do so without succumbing to any intimidations whether they come from within or from without. This is ultimate patriotism – being a global patriot, responsible champions for a world that works for everyone – where all men and women are created equal and are entitled to dignity and respect.

Martin Luther King spoke of how difficult it can be for the human spirit to move “against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom.”

Organizations, governments and institutions loose their consciences when people in them start living from their heads instead of their hearts. Organizations become immoral when we let them. There is nothing inherently immoral about organizations. They reflect the consciousness that creates them. They are merely products of our intentions. When we ignore our hearts and invest heavily in our thinking, we get life-draining systems that take us over. We lose the ability to make sane choices and, instead, make decisions that empower the organization – where the loyalty lies. Instead of serving the people who created them, these organizations become the slave masters and no one seems to comprehend why this happens!

Much like Frankenstein’s monster, the organization knows no morality. Its conscience resides in its creators and those who have lost touch with their hearts and souls – being so focused on the work of serving the organizations they’ve created.

Our organizations become havens for fraud, deception, and abuse because we’ve gone to sleep. We need to wake up. Our souls have gone to sleep. It is that simple. The situation isn’t hopeless, despite how powerless people feel about trying to change from their heads.

People created organizations and people can change them. We all allow these organizations to perpetuate their dysfunctions by our indifference, apathy and cynicism. We lend legitimacy and credibility to them through our condoning actions, or lack of objection, ignoring our hearts and souls.

The power lies within us to change things, and create organizations with consciences. After all, if not us, who? If not now, when?

Next Month’s Editorial: Overcoming Rankism: Creating a Dignitarian Culture


John Learns from the “Socrates of Radio”

John recently participated in a residential four-day retreat/workshop offered twice a year by New Dimensions Radio host and founder Michael Toms called “Deep Listening, Deep Questioning: The Art of Authentic Dialogue;” Toms – a master interviewer who’s been on the air for over thirty years – is offering the retreat again October 20-24, in Marin County; John summed up his experience by saying, “It was an absolute privilege to spend all that quality time with such a master as Michael; he’s a wealth of experience and has truly earned the title of ‘the Socrates of radio.’ I highly recommend it for anyone interested in becoming a better listener or interviewer”.


About John Renesch

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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