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The Threefold Social Organism and Collaborative Leadership

Threefold Social Organism in Organizations: The Responsibilities of Collaborative Leadership

Jessica Heffernan Ziegler

2017 AWSNA Conference

June 27, 2017

What I would like to do this morning is offer a framework for understanding and working collaboratively within our organizations. I will not be proposing any specific leadership model or structure per se

– each school has its own particular set of circumstances, and more importantly, its group of people that bring their talents, interests and skill sets to the school. Taken together, these create the context within which each school will be able to address their own questions around the theme of collaboration and leadership. I hope that the framework I will be introducing here, along with some leading thoughts and principles on the subject, will help in this endeavor.

The questions that are raised as the core theme of this conference – how do we share responsibility for guiding and leading our schools in a collaborative and effective manner, which I think have at their core the theme of finding the balance between power and trust, are ones that keep not only the schools but also other anthroposophical organizations up at night, a lot. They are questions that I have been working with for over 20 years in the different roles I have held in the Waldorf movement, as a cofounder and administrator of a Waldorf school in Germany, traveling and working with other schools and organizations in Germany and the US, and in my role at Sunbridge Institute.

I use an archetypal structure that my colleagues and I have been working with for many years as a blueprint when working with these questions, which has proven very useful in both understanding and navigating our organizations – our schools – and as a tool for diagnosing and correcting the imbalances that can lead to unsustainable situations or crises.

This archetypal structure, a set of three of realities as we call them, is what our organizations are based on.

It is a picture of the Threefold Social Organism, originally developed by Bernhard Lievegoed, specifically in relation to organizations, and is made up of three main realms.

The three overarching realities are: the ideal reality, the social reality, and the material reality. We use the term realities here because that is what they are – they prevail in every organization, whether a family, a school or a multi-million $ international. The archetype lives behind each and every one. They are just as real as the make-up of a human being – spirit, soul and body. The health of an organization, as with the health of a child, depends on the recognition of these realities, as well as on their balance with each other. Too much of one, or too little of another, causes discordance and can eventually lead to a breakdown of the organization.

The ideal reality is made up of our vision and mission, our principles and values, and our strategies and goals. This is where we determine our direction. As an individual, we choose to connect with the spiritual world (or not) –when we do this work.

This realm is where each of us as individuals enjoy our purest form of freedom. The freedom of thought – our ideals – the freedom to create our own value system, our own principles that we choose to live by, and to set our own goals. This is where individualism reigns – no one can determine for us what to think – or what intentions to formulate – here, we are free.

This is where I am I.

Now I will go to its polarity - The material reality – or the economic reality – which is where our vision, mission, values and goals are put into action. We connect with the material world when we work in this realm. It is about our commitment to bring our ideals into the material world.

This is where the rubber hits the road – where our goals meet form, our values meet process, and vision meets resources. In this realm, individual freedoms take a subordinate role to the collective will, to the purpose of fulfilling the mission of the school.

This is where you and I become We.

The social reality – in the middle – is the realm of relationships – is where individuals meet – the open space where individuals recognize each other, or You - where an I and an I agree to come together to form a We. Where we discover our common visions, our common values and our common goals – in the ideal realm - and align with each other in the social realm, to create form and process in the material realm – in order to bring the ideal into reality. We connect with each other in the social world when we do this work.

This is where You and I meet.

We do this all the time. Years ago, in Germany, a woman I had recently met through the biography work network and I became inspired while lamenting how little biography work was being offered in the city we lived in. We began to share what was important to each of us about the work, and our own visions on how we could be the ones to bring it. As we got to know each other better, and each other’s pictures of why, how and what we wanted to do, it became clear that we were closely enough aligned, that with some compromises on each side – I wanted to hold courses that ran once per week for a couple of hours, and she wanted to run weekend courses (we settled on the weekend version) - that we wanted to commit to giving our little initiative a shot. We only ran 2 of them in the end, but it was an incredibly fulfilling experience of meeting another individual, collaborating on an idea, and forming it enough that we together could bring it into a reality.

Now, leadership is responsible for assuring that these three areas are attended to in a school. Leadership is tasked with assuring that we have shared direction in the ideal realm, alignment in the social realm and commitment in the material realm.

In order to do this, leadership must do two things: Bring awareness, and provide guidance. Creating healthy processes in order to fulfill our mission is at the core of this work. Processes based on, imbued by and reflective of the principles our school community has articulated.

Bringing awareness around the current state of the school, broken down by the archetypal structure - how strong are we in our ideal reality, our social reality and our material reality? Where do we do well? Where are we experiencing challenges? – asking these questions is crucial for understanding what areas are in a healthy state and what areas need further development and attention.

For instance, if we feel rudderless in our allocation of resources – if we can’t agree on how many hours the second foreign language teacher should be teaching, or, if we can’t agree on whether or not we should expand, and found a high school, we would need to go back to the ideal reality that we have committed to.

Is the direction of our programming clear? Have we determined that a focus on two foreign languages throughout the grades is part of what makes us unique? Is it a core aspect of our identity? And if we have, are we able to fulfill that promise – the one we made to each other when we made these commitments? Or are there new circumstances that require us to review and perhaps revise our vision and mission? Has there been a major shift in our focus, in our purpose? Are our vision and our mission still relevant? Guiding us back, and asking these questions, is a leadership task.

Using the model of the three realities of an organization gives us a tool we can use to navigate our way through the complexities of figuring out which area our questions lie in, which in turn helps guide us in how best to approach them.

We saw in the example of the foreign language teaching hours that the question behind it was one of identity – of our ideal reality. We can then return to what it was we originally committed to, and evaluate if that is still relevant. By doing this – by returning to the agreements we made -we shift the discussion and take pressure off the immediate situation, and importantly, off the players in that situation. We bring objectivity to whatever decision will need to be made. It is not me, the teacher, hoping to be able to truly bring the language and culture in a meaningful way to the children, or the college chair or administrator, or whoever is responsible for teaching hours and tasked with sticking to the budget. Rather, the decision must be based on the direction we gave ourselves when we determined our vision and mission, when we determined our principles, and when we determined our strategies and goals. This is the realm that gives direction to all we do.

Therefore, it is imperative that when we make these promises, we have sought wide counsel and wide agreement within the community on our ideals, as they are what inform our practices.

In the foreign language example, it would be in the leadership’s hands, if others have not seen it themselves, to shine the light on where we are in this situation, what questions to ask, and what action will help us move forward. To guide us back to our original vision and mission, back to the identity realm, to check in and be sure we are still on course. Now, we may not always find a clear answer – a definitive decision – when we go up the ladder, so to speak, for direction. But the work we did in that realm should inform us as to where to focus our resources going forward.

We all have examples of where we failed to get critical input to inform a major decision, and the resulting inability to implement it.

The other major role of leadership is to be sure we recognize where we are – what the current situation is – that we take the steps necessary to do the work of picture building. In any given situation where a problem solving or decision-making process is called for, the first and crucial step is to be sure we agree on what is.

This does not mean we have to agree on the reasons on how we got here, nor how we each feel, or what it means for the future – we do not need to agree on anything at this point other than the fact that we have arrived at this place in time – that we agree that this is the current state, that we recognize and acknowledge the facts and the feelings involved. Once we agree, once we are all on the same page as to what is, then we can move on to determine the urgency of the matter, and further steps. We can have a situation where some think we are in a crisis, and others don’t. This is where we have to listen to each other. Arriving at this place is harder than it sounds, as most of us know. It takes resolve and courage and time and good will to listen to each other – to accept there are differing versions of the past and of what brought us to where we are. To accept that some of us are perhaps hurt, even though no offense was intended and others are perhaps impervious.

It is all part of our shared history, and belongs in the picture. We don’t need to hash it out – we don’t need to get mired in debate. We need to recognize that it is. If conflicts or other disputes emerge, then managing them must be the very first thing we tend to. Resolving conflicts comes first – always. No sustainable progress can otherwise be made.

The ability to competently build pictures as a group is an essential part of collaborative leadership – to recognize our current state of being; to face it. Without this step, any further actions or decisions will surely falter, as they will be based on only partial realities.

This is work we did at Sunbridge when I came on almost 9 years ago. Our resources were depleted, and we had to make very tough decisions. Our vision and mission no longer represented the reality of the college. The most painful decisions had already been made, and it was up to those of us remaining, or newly coming on as I was, to determine the future direction of Sunbridge. We had to, we chose to, go back and revisit our ideal reality – our vision, mission, principles, strategies and goals - we held meetings all summer long with as many of our constituents as were interested in our future, to determine what that future would look like. We spent time aligning each of our pictures of what Sunbridge was to be – what our promise, a newly formed group of colleagues, to each other, and to the world, would be. That promise was our commitment to devote ourselves and our resources to strengthening our core programming – that is, Waldorf Teacher Education. Running bookstores and dorms was not what we did well, but teacher education was, we felt.

That commitment has guided us these past 8 years, and given us direction at the different junctures in our path. This work in the ideal realm has also provided a bond in the social realm that helps carry us when we are faced with more difficult decisions in the material realm.

As I said earlier, the core of leadership’s responsibility is to assure that healthy processes are created and followed in order to provide direction, alignment and commitment. Schools that have the ability to scrutinize themselves, create healthy processes, and work together out of an attitude of compassion, build confidence and trust in their communities, which of course form the basis for collaborative leadership.

I would like now to give some more depth on the three realities of an organization, and their underpinnings.

Direction is what the work in the ideal reality, or realm, gives us – our vision, mission, principles and values and strategies and goals are what give our work direction, meaning and purpose. These are promises that we make. This is what we connect with when we join, or help form an organization. And it is our main reason for staying -- because we personally identify with these areas – they represent to a certain degree our own vision, values and goals. If we don’t feel connected here, money or status will not move us to remain, or to do our utmost to be our best selves.

And this is the area that all other areas should flow from and be connected to. A strong understanding of who we are – of what inspires our work, what our values are and what it is we want to achieve, directs our will. This strong sense of identity also and just as importantly allows us to communicate to the world who we are and what we stand for – what our purpose and goals are. We are thus able to interact with the world in an honest and authentic manner – we show ourselves – we can be seen and known for who we are.

Commitment –the polarity - refers to the realm where we fulfill those promises we made in the ideal realm – the material or economic reality – where our action, our performance, counts. This is the realm that we are judged by – we are not judged by what we think, or what we proclaim we will do, we are judged by what we actually do, and how well we do it. This realm is made up of structures and roles, processes and policies, and resources.

Our structures and roles are there to serve our goals and strategies – our processes and policies must be reflective of our principles, and our material resources should be allocated in fulfillment of our vision and mission.

I want to talk now for a minute about policies and processes, and their use. Unfortunately, I think, they often receive a bad rap in our communities. There is fear that structures, policies and processes hollow out, stifle and ignore the ideal and social realities of our communities. I would like to argue that they are in support of, and balance out the other two realms.

Processes and policies that are imbued by, enlivened by and reflective of our ideal realm create predictability, congruence and reliability in managing our work together. We are free in the creation of these, our individual creativity and pursuit of higher ideals should be activated and employed when we come together to determine what processes and policies we create to systematically manage our work. Once these have been agreed upon, they provide the framework within which we maneuver. The principle here being that we remove any sense of arbitrary behavior, or personal or individually-motivated actions that are unfairly or unjustly carried out.

Let’s use a simple example of a teacher who, despite multiple conversations and pleas, has made a habit of coming to class late every day. Hopefully we have a policy in our faculty handbook that we can turn to which states that all teachers must be in class on time. And if we don’t, then this might prompt us to create one.

We don’t have to worry that bringing this policy to their attention will be taken as a personal slight; that the person who brings it to their attention is doing so for any negative, personal reasons.

Rather, presumably it is clear that this policy has been agreed to by the appropriate bodies, and there is nothing personal about calling for accountability. For upholding the agreements that we have made with each other. This is a non-negotiable – we all have agreed that in order to fulfill our mission, based on our mutual values, we must all show up to class on time. Now, I know that the real work is in defining what “on time” is – my “on time” and your “on time” could very well be different things.

And this is where the work of the larger, consulting body comes in. This is where those who are tasked with ensuring these policies are created, and adhered to, must first be sure the group that is being asked to carry them out – namely the teachers - is in agreement on the definition of “on time”.

Like laws, we don’t need policies and processes, until we do. We need them to govern the areas of our working together that lie outside of the realm of ideals, to fall back on. The need to create a policy usually arises when an everyday matter that affects a part of or the whole the school is handled in such an arbitrary manner that the lack of reliability and predictability in carrying it out causes concern or impedes the work of others. Of course, there must be room for discernment and compassion, when circumstances justify an exception.

Processes are the manner   in which we come to decisions   or conclusions. They are made up of interdependent and linked tasks, set in a sequence, that lead to an end. The ability to create processes that are reflective of our values, and further adhere to what most organizations agree solid processes are namely – effective; efficient; obvious – not hard to decipher or understand; and transparent. Transparency of process of course does not mean transparency of content.

Being able to create healthy processes, both for standing needs such as hiring, budgeting, or curriculum development, and for ad hoc purposes as situations arise that need problem solving, or decisions that fall out of the ordinary day-to-day affairs, engenders trust, and creates confidence. Leadership that can nimbly, reliably and ethically guide organizations by creating healthy processes towards finding solutions - and not towards foregone conclusions – time and again is one of the critical elements of a healthy and sustainable organization.

If we know how we are going to approach a problem, if we know how the hiring process is designed and carried out, if we know that the tenets that that last decision was based on are the same that guide all our processes, we can have faith and trust, and feel confidence in the integrity of the process and in those carrying it out. Leadership can build trust and confidence by employing, time and again, such healthy structures for creating processes. This is where predictability in the material realm plays a key role.

Think of the needs of the parents here – how often are we confronted with the complaint that they don’t know who to turn to, or what the process is for addressing their concerns (let’s just work with the legitimate complaints here). And it’s not just the parents we owe it to to create reliable and predictable processes. We owe it our colleagues as well.

I would be remiss if I didn’t emphasize here the importance clarity of roles play. In my work with schools and other organizations, most of the conflicts that arise do so out of a lack of clarity around roles. Job descriptions are vague, decision-making processes are unclear or unreliable, people are not given the time or support to grow into their roles, or there is a culture of feeling that by defining roles, we are somehow stultifying creativity or individual freedoms. A lack of clarity as to who actually has the authority to act and to call for accountability arises out of role confusion.

The crises that this lack of clarity and agreement around roles engender are ones that we are all-too familiar with.

So, we have our direction-giving identity – our “I” - in the ideal realm, and our commitment, and the actions we take – where we come together as “we” – in the economic realm.

The piece missing here is the social realm – where “I” meet “you”, and together we go into the beautiful, messy business of aligning ourselves. This is the area where we attempt to connect the inherent tensions between our vision and our resources. It is in the social realm that we bring alignment between what it is we say we want to do, and what we are actually able bring to earth – what is possible.

And this is real, hard work – aligning our ideal reality with our material reality. We do this through negotiation and dialogue - we come to the agreements on the vision we aspire to – on which set of values and principles we will adopt as a community to guide us - and on the goals and strategies we set in order to carry out our mission. We define our Rights relationship with one another in a collaborative process in this realm. And when I talk about negotiation, I don’t mean a battle of the wills – sitting across the table from each other, or bullying as we are now seeing played out on the national stage. I mean a meeting of interests, partnering, sitting side by side. This is where we create the criteria upon which our decisions are made. Everything that we do must go through this realm, at some point. Like a lemniscate, weaving in and out. We awaken to each other here. And this is where our potential lies – in collaborating in the open middle – dialogue.

Dialogue is the tool we use to reflect upon ourselves – the key to being a learning organization – by which I mean one that is able to, through following processes that incorporate reflection and review, see itself. The ability to reflect in order to see what is.

The people we entrust with guiding the activities of our schools have the responsibilities I just described, mostly in assuring that these activities occur in a healthy, collaborative manner.

They are not necessarily entrusted with making all the decisions themselves, although certainly there will be specific decision-making authority delegated to them. They are entrusted with assuring that the decisions that need to be made are made. That processes are developed and adhered to that embody the values and fulfill the mission of the school. And that the school strives to be a learning organization – that it self reflects, has the courage to acknowledge where it is, and the resolve to commit to activities that bring it forward.

Dialogue assumes we know how to listen to each other, but it also assumes we know how to contribute. It is not just talking, or debating. It needs honest, non-violent engagement, appreciation and respect for differences, the ability to reflect, and commitment to each other an d to fulfilling the purpose and goals of the school.

Leadership leads and guides organizations –not people. We are responsible for leading ourselves.

One expression of this is what Steiner referred to in “Awakening to Community”, which is a series of lectures given in Stuttgart and Dornach in 1923 after the burning of the first Goetheanum, and a crisis of identity ensued, where he talks about what is needed to rebuild the work of the anthroposophical society.

“We must make anthroposophy real by learning to be aware in anthroposophical community life that where people in anthroposophical tasks are together, there they experience their first awakening in the encounter with the soul-spiritual element in their fellows. Human beings wake up in their mutual encounter with other human beings. As each one has new experiences between his encounters … and has grown a little …these awakenings take place in an ever new way as people go on meeting.”

He is speaking here about meetings that engage in spiritual study in the anthroposophical society.

He then goes on to say that “When you have discovered the possibility that human souls wake up in the encounter with other human souls, and human spirits wake up in the encounter with other human spirits, and go to anthroposophical groups with a living awareness that only now have you come awake and only now can you begin to grow together…, then the true spirit of community descends upon the place where you are working…”.

He goes on, in the fourth lecture, to speak of the ‘in-turned will’ – which, when applied, “becomes a striving to make one’s ethical-moral and religious being a full inner reality.”.

This becomes the basis for the soul attitude we must adopt when we come together to join in human endeavors. We all know the work involved in shedding our antipathies and sympathies in order to build and strengthen our ethical-moral, higher selves. Compassion, or objective compassion, is at the center of this soul attitude. It is what helps us see the other, accept the other, and extend trust, with the faith that they too are striving to make their ethical-moral and religious being a full, inner reality. Love is of course, what we are talking about here.

For me, an integral part of this soul-attitude, which we strive to adopt when encountering each other, is forgiveness, charity. There is a tragedy that Steiner talks about when a soul is caught between the “…longing for full humanness and soul’s feeling of alienation from the conditions existing in the world today…”, and the pain and suffering that entails. He talks about taking refuge from life’s disappointments in the world of thought – “…thoughts that fly easily to every part of the world and are thus very satisfying. They make up for one’s external life, which is always causing one such justifiable dissatisfaction.”

Yet it is true that “…real human strength can only be developed by

rising above suffering- by making it a real living force – the source of one’s power to overcome.”. The power to overcome one’s suffering, the power to overcome our deep disappointments with our own and each other’s inadequacies and failings, fortifies our ability to come together in the social realm to, as Steiner says, “…apply our intelligence and genius to stiffen and strengthen our will forces.”, in order to create commitment in the material world.

So, it’s all about balance in the three realms – a budget-driven process has no inspiration – holding on too tightly to your principles leads to intolerance – these imbalances lead to unhealthy and unsustainable organizational life.

What do our principles and values mean for our lives – how are they actually manifested?

They are there to guide us, to give meaning to our actions. Alone they serve no purpose. All the elements in the ideal realm must be in

support of our mission. If there are principles that stand in the way of fulfilling our mission – that is, of providing an excellent school experience, then they are no longer serving us. They are hindering us.

We devote ourselves to greater and deeper understanding of the wisdom given to us by Rudolf Steiner and others, let us devote as much of ourselves towards not only creating governance structures that we agree on, but more importantly to living into them – empowering those we mandate with responsibilities with the authority to act.

The verse that contains the line: “Matter is never without spirit and spirit is never without matter” is often cited as an argument that Steiner meant for us to see that all three realms are essential elements to our social order, and one is not inherently more important or essential than the other. In fact, they are only to be seen as an interdependent trio - they are a package deal.

I was asked specifically to talk about administrators and their role in relationship to the principle of collaborative leadership, which I am happy to do.

The questions of leadership, governance structures and the rights relationships between the realms has been the topic and theme for many books and conferences in Waldorf schools around the world for decades. As our world has become more complex, so has the organizational life of our schools. We have had to contend with more and more external pressure as well as changing attitudes of new generations of teachers and parents. These complexities created a great challenge to the health and sustainability of our schools.

Over the last 20-30 years, in response, our schools have recognized that we need to strengthen our ability to manage the material realm, and bring balance to the ideal and social realms, which precipitated the advent of administrators as having a major role in the makeup of the school’s structure. At that time, it seemed they were brought in to be “fixers” – they were turned to just as things were blowing up – the family was on their way out the door or the colleague was failing miserably – with no chance of rectifying the situation. This has changed over the years, as the role they fulfill and its centrality to the healthy functioning of school life has become more accepted. Nevertheless, I would say the role of the administrator is still seen as suspicious – as something to fear…as though they are out to steal the family jewels. We understand that this suspicion and fear has a whole host of roots, and not all of them rising out of misinterpretations of Steiner’s writings on the matter.

We are talking here, of course, about a lack of trust, that somehow the administrators are exercising too much power – even making a grab for it. Or that they are just a proxy of a frustrated board. I would though like to say here that when I have encountered an imbalance or misuse of power, it has usually not been the administrator who has been the culprit. Honestly, more likely than not, they are cowed by a forceful group of faculty members, and thus so cautious in their dealings that in the end they are not able to be effective.

That being said, I have also met some very effective, brave and compassionate administrators who have been integral members of school leadership teams.

I will add here that I feel we owe thanks to that first generation of administrators and the groundbreaking work they did – we know the life of an administrator is short, and by all accounts, that is due to the stress of being held responsible for the performance of the school’s employees – from faculty to administration to grounds and maintenance - yet without being given the requisite authority to actually have an impact.

It’s not a job most of us would want. So, again, thank you very much to those who have braved the waters and jumped in. You have paved the way and brought attention and focus to the imbalances that can afflict our schools.

A vertical definition of the three main pillars of the life of a Waldorf school, namely faculty, administration, and parents / board, has been a picture that most schools have lived with and tried to parse out meaning for in their own schools for many years now. Every type of organization has their own version of these areas of responsibilities.

This picture shows faculty as being responsible for the ideal or cultural life of the school, - the Thinking - , and administration for the social or rights life of the school, - the Feeling -, and parents / board as being responsible for the material or economic life of the school, - the Willing. (I am referring to this model here because it is widely referred to throughout the country – I think there may be other ways to depict the structure of our schools, including the where parents fit in and what the core corresponding task areas are.)

There has been much discussion and many attempts to apply this structure to the decision-making responsibilities of each area. While I see how this definition has helped to bring overall clarity to the structure, especially in a time when administration and administrators were still a fairly new phenomenon, I think we can add to that picture now in order to illustrate the dynamics of what I mean by collaborative leadership and decision-making responsibilities, and how it applies to all areas equally and simultaneously.

Let’s assume that we agree that the three areas of responsibility of leadership are to assure and guide Direction in the ideal reality, Alignment in the social reality, and Commitment in the material reality, within the school.

Let’s then layer these areas of responsibility horizontally across the diagram of the vertical pillars.

This second layer illustrates the interconnectivity and interdependence of those vertical pillars, of the three main sections of the school.

It illustrates the collaboration and partnering necessary in the leading of the school. Each section of the school must come together with the other sections to collaboratively assure that there is Direction, Alignment and Commitment. We all have roles in all three realms, this is what self-administration is all about.

I would like to come to an end with the quote from Socrates “Man, know thyself”, and implore us all to do our work in the identity realm – to understand who we are individually, and understand who we are as a community.

We need to know this so we can be good partners to each other – so that we can truly and honestly collaborate - so a yes can be a yes and a no can be a no.

I need to be able to rely on your commitment, and you must be able to rely on mine. And I can’t truly make that commitment without knowing myself. We must take each other seriously in what we say we will do – and that we will do what we say – fulfill our promise. I think that’s called accountability.

Each of us must be able, out of themselves; to align with what it is we are promising to the world. From the I to the You to the We.

We know that organizations cannot evolve beyond the developmental level of their leaders. So, let’s make sure the people that step up to the plate – the ones that have shown the courage and resolve to help guide our schools – receive our full support, which includes helping them attain and practice the skills and tools necessary to do their jobs, and give ourselves opportunities to practice this work.

Know what is most important to your school body – what core criteria are “must haves” when choosing your leadership, and understand which areas are not their strengths – and provide them either with more training and / or key partners whose skills and talents are complementary.

Look carefully. Choose carefully. Then give them your full support; invest in them, and allow them to do their jobs.

Our communities depend on us to not undermine ourselves.

This is of course the work of the Consciousness Soul in our times. This is why it is so hard and yet so important – and so full of potential for us all!

Below are two diagrams.

The first depicts the archetype of an organization based on Bernhard Lievegoed’s work, as described in the above talk. We call this model the Seven Levels of an Organization, or the Jacob’s Ladder.

The second is a sketch of the two overlapping layers – the three pillars of a school: faculty, administration and board, overlapped by the three realities of an organization: ideal, social and material. We all work together across all three realms.

Between Our Demons and Our Gods: Human Encounter in tthe Light of Anthroposophy – Elan Leibner

Between Our Demons and Our Gods Human Encounter in the Light of Anthroposophy Elan Leibner

AWSNA Summer Conference

June 26, 2017

When Melanie Reiser asked me if I would speak at the opening of this conference, she read me AWSNA’s Shared Principle #7. It begins with the words “Waldorf schools are self-administered. This work is strengthened by cultivating a shared anthroposophical understanding of social interactions.” She said, “Talk about what that means.”

My mind quickly turned to my earliest days as a Waldorf teacher. There were two teachers in the school I joined, and every week during the faculty meeting a strange ritual would unfold: some topic or other would be up for discussion; sooner or later, one of the two would take a stand, usually in strong, confident words. With the predictability of a Swiss watch, the other would take the opposite point of view. It didn’t matter whether we were talking about a child, a festival, or where teachers should park their cars in the morning. Sometimes it even seemed that one of them would try to take the point of view that the other was usually espousing, as if to make nice. No matter: the other would contradict his usual approach just for the occasion, as if saying, “I usually stand for X, and you stand for Y, but today, since you suggest X, I must advocate for Y.” It became clear to me that the topics   were not really what mattered; rather, it was the encounter between these two that had its own special signature gesture. Two consequences of these weekly events were that the meetings often felt both predictable and exhausting. I can even say predictably exhausting. I would like to leave this little image, surely not one that is entirely unfamiliar to many of you, as an example of one kind of encounter.

The other example I want to present is from a College of Teachers meeting several years later. The context is a review of the work of the College during the previous school year. A colleague said something deeply significant: “Two things really strike me about our meetings: the first is that they always surprise me. We find new ideas and solutions that no one seemed to have when the meeting began, and I personally often leave feeling that I have more energy than I had when I came in.” So that’s a different kind of encounter, with radically different results. I would like to posit that surprise, in the good sense, and renewed energy are two hallmarks of the encounters we should foster.

Back to Melanie and the shared principle: I pondered the wording, particularly wanting to focus on the “anthroposophical understanding of social interactions.” In the end, it struck me that anthroposophy has one essential contribution to make to the study of social interactions. It is strikingly simple to articulate: spiritual beings interpose themselves between us as we meet. Whatever techniques, practices, policies, and structures we can find helpful from the world outside of Waldorf education, this essential insight will always form a dimension that must be taken into account. Spiritual beings interpose themselves between us as we meet.

Mainstream psychology and sociology books that have looked into the area of social interactions have not been able to explore this possibility, for three reasons: first, because the requisite conceptual framework that would allow for this contribution is missing. Second, therefore the language that would allow for an articulation of insights is missing or ignored. And third, the capacities that would need to develop in order for meaningful research to unfold are nowhere to be found, since no one recognizes that they are needed in the first place.

When we undertake the task of leading an organization as a team, clarity about, and a conscious cultivation of the relationship with spiritual beings is an ever-urgent pair of challenges. We will first look at the historical development of our relationship with certain spiritual beings and then consider   a few suggestions   for cultivating healthy human encounters in light of the presence of those beings.

Soul Encounters as a Particular Challenge

The image of the human being in anthroposophy is of a threefold being: body, soul, and spirit.

Physical encounters are not usually overly challenging in the context of a Waldorf school. Our body odors or sloppy attire don’t commonly rise to existential levels of crisis. Spiritual aspects can sometimes create crises, for example around differing interpretations of pedagogy, but it is not very common. In this article I will focus on the third aspect of the human constitution, namely the soul.

Because they are often shrouded in the miasma of emotions, difficult soul encounters challenge us in ways that can feel overwhelming and insurmountable. They lack the clarity of spiritual principles, so they remain nebulous, but they carry a powerful surge of emotional intensity.

Rudolf Steiner describes two phases in the relationship of the “I”, the Self, to the lower members of the human constitution. The first phase entails an unconscious, the second a conscious set of transformations. The first phase produces an elaboration of the lower members (developed for us by spiritual beings) into three soul layers. The second phase produces three layers of spirit. I would like briefly to describe the stages of the first phase, and to characterize the resulting soul layers. In anthroposophical nomenclature, all of these layers have particular names. My language here, as possible, will avoid these names in favor of signature gestures. This is not to deny the validity of the usual terminology, but in order to encourage both you and me to avoid familiar  words that we, too easily, assume we understand, perhaps more than we actually do.

Historical Context

At the outset of the transformational process just mentioned, the human constitution included three facets that Rudolf Steiner called physical, etheric, and astral “bodies,” as problematic as that English translation can be for the second and third of them, since they lack obvious physical characteristics. (The German “Leib” is not as problematic; it is used as the word “body” is used in expressions such as “body of knowledge”.) The first was a physical body. We can think of it as the material level that we share with all mineral, living, and sentient beings. The second was the life “body,” which we can think of as the level we share with living organisms that grow and reproduce, namely plants and animals. The third Steiner called the astral or soul “body.” It is the level we share with all sentient beings, namely animals. Its signature gestures are movement, both inner (as in a response to stimuli and circumstances) and outer (in autonomous movement such as plants cannot achieve); another way of saying it is that beings endowed with an astral body exhibit some degree of consciousness.

When the human Self, or “I,” was introduced into evolution, it began interacting with the existing “bodies.” These interactions were completely unconscious initially. And although they have produced increasingly conscious results, as we shall see, they only recently began, themselves, growing more wakeful within us.

The Desiring Soul; The Spirit of Fun and Freedom; Illness, Suffering, and Pain

At first, during a period that Rudolf Steiner calls Lemuria, the Self began interacting with what we have termed the astral body. The mere instinctual, animal-like responses to stimuli grew more individualized. People could begin to like and dislike aspects of their environment in ways that differed from their peers. Rudimentary personality began emerging. At this point, an important spiritual intervention took place. Up until then, only benevolent spiritual beings were involved in earth evolution. But now, spiritual beings of an adversarial level equivalent to what Western traditions call angels developed a different relationship with humanity. Collectively, we can refer to these sprits in the singular as The Spirit of Fun and Freedom. Genesis depicts it as the serpent; elsewhere it is called the Devil, or also Lucifer. It introduced the possibility of error into human conduct. The result was, on the one side, a greater level of separation from the divine origins of humanity, and therefore freedom for the human being, and on the other the development of desires, cravings, and lust for sensations. It was the first elaboration of the human soul, and we can call it the Desiring Soul. Think of the moment when you meet a person and feel either an irresistible desire or an equally strong repulsion towards that person. On a more trivial level, you open a catalog that just arrived in the mail, or surf the website of a merchant, and suddenly you cannot live another moment without owning an item that five minutes earlier you did not even know existed. Or you see something that someone else has and you really, REALLY want it.

An important characteristic of the Desiring Soul is that it is inherently insatiable. No amount of goods, food, or pleasure is ever enough for more than a brief interval of time.

In order to mitigate the results of what The Spirit of Fun and Freedom wrought, the benevolent spiritual forces had to introduce illness, suffering, and pain into the life of humanity so that we would not utterly succumb to the temptations of the senses. This may sound cruel to the modern mind, but we can also think of it as being given the opportunity to learn to live with consequences. Other terms for that are growing up, or maturing. Like a young person coming into adulthood, one has to learn there is a price for bingeing on anything, and sometimes even for trying just a little taste. A hangover after a night of drinking is one small example of how our desire for sensations can result in adverse consequences.   Addictions of all kinds are further examples.

The Explaining/Planning Soul; The Spirit of The Machine; Karma The next step in evolution involved the Self-penetrating and unconsciously transforming the life body. This took place in the period that Steiner terms Atlantis. Living organisms grow in lawful ways, which shows us that there is an intelligible pattern governing their life cycles. This pattern is coded, so to speak, into the life body. When the Self-finished “working through” the life body, the result was a second layer of the soul, one that we can designate The Explaining, or Planning Soul. To get a feeling for it, we can imagine that the Desiring Soul wishes for some item or experience. It is the role of the Planning Soul to figure out how to satisfy the wish of the Desiring Soul. For example, we can plan on buying it, stealing it, or killing our neighbor in order to get it. All three would achieve the desired result, and for the planning soul there isn’t yet a particular preference for one over the other, except expediency. In the realm of knowledge acquisition, the Explaining Soul does just that: it explains things, which means replacing mysterious phenomena (e.g., nature’s) with models that are easier to comprehend. The entire edifice of natural science is the glorious, and problematic, triumph of the Explaining Soul, essentially replacing the mysteries of nature with mathematical formulations. It is immensely satisfying to feel that we know what something “really is,” even if, for example, we are not much closer to understanding the nature of pleasure when we say that pleasure “really is nothing but” the body secreting certain hormones (e.g., serotonin, oxytocin, or dopamine). We have just turned our gaze to where the street lamp is lighting a section of the sidewalk, though it isn’t where we lost the keys, or at least not most of them. But we are left with the satisfying illusion of knowing. In effect, we made the world into math, and now a blind person understands color as well as a seeing person because “color is nothing but an angle of refraction, or a wavelength, that can be expressed mathematically.” The same goes for all other senses and even for consciousness itself. We think that we have explained them, but we have really only explained them away. The world disappears, and all that’s left is math.

When the Explaining/Planning Soul came into being, there was a second intervention of spiritual beings, this time of the adversarial level equivalent to that of the archangels. We can name them, in the singular, “The Spirit of the Machine.” The Persians, and anthroposophists,   name it “Ahriman.” Others call it Satan. Initially, this spirit’s influence led to the possibility of what we call sin. Sin differs from error in being deliberate. Human beings could now know in advance that they were violating the intended order of the universe. A second consequence of the presence of the Spirit of the Machine was that knowledge of the spiritual origins of existence was gradually lost, and people could not see beyond the senses. We can see, therefore, how materialism could develop.

To mitigate the influence of the Spirit of the Machine, the benevolent forces introduced death and the law of karma. We shall return to death a little later. But karma is really a wonderful thing! We usually think of it as the source of all manner of difficulties, but we should be eternally grateful that it exists, for it allows for the balancing of sins. Imagine if your sins were written into your being in such a way that it would be impossible to make matters right. Next time you find yourself in a karmic knot, be glad and thankful for it. You may not be able to untie it yet, but at least you have the opportunity to try.

The Understanding/Empathetic Soul; The Spirits of Darkness;

AHAVA

The third chapter in the Self’s unconscious transforming of the lower members was its penetration of the physical body. It is still ongoing, and has been bringing a third soul facet into existence. This facet we can designate “The Understanding or Empathetic Soul.” Its chief attribute is that it can serve as a moral compass. In the example I gave earlier, the Planning Soul can find different ways of satisfying the cravings and wishes of the Desiring Soul. How would one choose which of these ways is best? For the materialistic-thinking Planning   Soul, expediency is the only arbiter. But what of ethics? If the former can say “true or false; fast or slow,” the Understanding Soul can tell, and FEEL, good from evil. It is the soul facet that can understand, rather than merely explain, and that can empathize with another human being. After the increasing distance from the phenomena that the Desiring Soul and Explaining Soul produced, the Empathetic Soul can re-connect with phenomena, this time without disappearing completely into a dreamy or sleepy state of consciousness. “I” can understand “you,” rather than merely feeling attraction or repulsion, as with the Desiring Soul, or explaining you (using extrinsic measures) to myself as with the Explaining Soul.

There is also a third intervention of adversarial spiritual beings that is beginning, and this one has a particular twist. These beings are       the adversarial equivalents to the spiritual hierarchy designated        in Christian esotericism as the “Archai.” The benevolent Archai are the ones that bestowed the Self on humanity, while these adversarial counterparts work in precisely the opposite direction. They encourage human beings to use the understanding capacities that the Self has been developing in order to manipulate others in purely egotistical ways. Sociopathy and psychopathy are examples of this type of action, and orgiastic behaviors, for example, point towards a future in which some people will arrange their entire lives to gear towards incessant sensual pleasure. The sociopath has a keen understanding of others, but does not care about their wellbeing. The psychopath is similarly insightful, but goes even further by actually enjoying the pain he can inflict. The twist in the narrative here is that, according to Rudolf Steiner, the benevolent spiritual powers cannot help us find redemption for acts committed under the influence of these new adversarial forces, which he names (using an old term for the Archai) the Asuras; every time we choose the path of pure egotism, a sliver of our divine Self is lost to darkness. This is a new reality in human evolution, and means that we are now increasingly capable of self-annihilation. It is darkness, the likes of which humanity has never encountered before.

But where great darkness appears, a great light must also be present. This light I would like to designate AHAVA, as the acronym for the “Archetype of Human Amity, Verity, and Altruism.” Conveniently, AHAVA means, “love” in Hebrew, and we can think of “the archetype of the human capacity for love” as another name or designation for AHAVA. I will use “the Love Impulse” to describe what AHAVA is trying to help us develop. Rudolf Steiner referred to it, in a term that was less problematic for his milieu than it is for our time, as the Christ Impulse. According to Steiner, there was a moment in history when AHAVA joined the earthly, human stream of being for a brief period. It penetrated the lower sheaths, or bodies, of a human being and, as a human being, shed blood into the earth as it died. This love- infused blood turned into life forces (ether), and the earth itself began, for the first time, to radiate light into the cosmos. AHAVA moved its sphere of action into the sheaths surrounding the earth, and the light associated with Love began radiating as the earth’s own emanation. This light was not yet physical, but if human beings take this Love Impulse into themselves, it will increasingly condense into physical light until the earth itself will become a new sun!

The Etherization of Blood and the Love Impulse

As if the idea of helping to make the earth into a new sun is not inspiring enough, Rudolf Steiner also says that every human heart turns a portion of the blood that passes through it into a fine stream of life (or etheric) forces that flows upwards into the head. When human beings take up the Love Impulse into themselves, the individual stream of etherized blood joins the etherized stream of the Love Impulse, and completely new capacities can arise in the soul. Those capacities are key elements of any potential progress for humanity, and, I suggest, for the potential survival and success of Waldorf schools. They entail, among other things, direct perception of spiritual realities and an ability to act out of the highest moral ideals.

.Human Encounter on the three levels; Proposed Practices

Thus far we have surveyed an evolutionary process and followed the appearance and influence of various spiritual beings, both benevolent and adversarial. It is time to “get down to brass tacks,” as it were: what can we do in  a school context in order to facilitate healthy human encounters, knowing that our demons and our gods, as the title suggests, are both eager for our cooperation?

I would like to take each of the three soul facets, or members, characterize its typical appearance in human relationships, and propose a salutogenic approach.

The Desiring Soul

The two archetypal gestures of the Desiring Soul are attraction and repulsion. A new colleague or parent comes into view, and one feels a strong attraction towards this person, or perhaps a strong revulsion. In our culture, it is not acceptable to express these sentiments. I don’t think that school communities would benefit by encouraging verbal expression of the animal-level desires and revulsions that we feel towards one another. The point here is not to externalize that which is ordinarily expressed only in anonymous online chat rooms. There are not only humane grounds for the idea of restraint but legal ones as well.

But I also think that suppressing the lower impulses of the Desiring Soul is not a good practice if it remains the only thing we

  1. Suppression leads to repression, and repression leads to illness. You can sit in a faculty meeting and find yourself wondering why on earth tensions run so high when the topic is seemingly so benign. The same two or three individuals seem intent on clashing with one another regardless of the topic, as in the example with which I started. The opposite can also happen: people agree with one another based on sympathy, or even attraction, and yet the root of their agreement is not the topic at hand or the wellbeing of the school. And when people manage to sublimate their attraction and repulsion completely, that, as noted above, can lead to physical and/or emotional illness. We don’t overcome a lower aspect of ourselves by pretending it does not exist.

So the two extremes of repression and expression are not healthy for us or for the school. What I would like to suggest is that ther is a way of processing the impulses of the Desiring Soul that can be healthy: engagement with the arts, specifically in what I would call chamber arts: eurythmy, chorus, speech chorus, drama, music making, and so on. There is a whole field of artistic endeavor, some extent and some waiting to be developed that would allow teams to work through the impulses of the Desiring Soul so that beauty can emerge out of the process. Since The Spirit of Fun and Freedom is also a key inspiration for artistic creativity, we would be using his gifts to neutralize his malevolent influence!

Another essential benefit of chamber arts is that they provide a strong impetus for recognizing the spiritual in our fellow human being. Artistic processes, when done well, move people through obstacles and long-established patterns, and allow them to grow. When we witness someone growing we know that we are in the presence of a “human becoming” entity. This experience should always leave us hopeful: what is problematic today may change in time. As long as we are hopeful, progress is possible. The main problem with our patterns of desire and revulsion is that, especially with the latter, we assume permanence. But when our “enemy” has overcome an artistic blockage or, better yet, helped us overcome one of our own, a layer of enmity is shed. Over time, enough of those layers can be shed so the two of us can see the better aspects of each other that were hidden from our view before. Real conversations, verbally or through correspondence, are another way of overcoming these impulses. They are seeds of the future social art of conversation. A striking and very moving example is the late-life correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. So I would like to throw down something of a gauntlet here to my art-teaching colleagues: there is a whole field of exercises that you can develop to help teams process the lower impulses of the soul healthfully. I want to be clear that individual artistic work can also be helpful. I have written a lot of poetry to process my life’s events. But individual work helps an individual. Chamber work helps those who are in the chamber, which in our sense is the relevant group within the school. It helps, in part, by inviting the spiritual beings that support harmony and collaboration to be active for the time people strive together artistically.

The Planning/Explaining Soul

The signature gestures of the Explaining Soul have in common that they are past-oriented and replace genuine encounter with analyses and prescriptions of all kinds. Since the birth of the Explaining Soul was accompanied by the possibility of sin, policies, and procedures are introduced in order to prevent sinfulness. This leads to a safer environment, but also to a stilted and warmth-less one. Every bureaucrat says, “That’s the policy; I did not make it, I just administer it.” The policy was no doubt created because someone did something that had the “flavor” of sin, so there was some justification for it. I do not suggest that policies and procedures have no place in a school. But they do present a new kind of challenge in that they eliminate the human being as a complex and individual reality in favor of a species-wide, one-size-fits-all approach.

A second common gesture of the Explaining Soul is the dissection of another person in psychoanalytic language. This language is invariably past-oriented. Parents or food or some trauma are held responsible for something that a person did or is doing. Again, there is some justification for this approach, but it comes with the danger that we distance ourselves from the other, and most importantly that we feel superior. Since we think we know why she behaves in this particular way, we could respond with empathy, but all too often we remain with the self-congratulatory mood of seeing the other “from above.”

I would like to suggest three practices that can help us work with the gifts of the Explaining Soul in order to neutralize its deleterious aspects:

  1. The first is enlivened study of inspired texts. The hallmarks of enlivened study are that it is experiential, context-rich, and deed- oriented. When we merely read a text in a faculty meeting, the effect is minimal and sometimes even negative. Study is best begun by bringing an experience, just as we know from the classroom that beginning with the will and proceeding through feeling to thinking is the best way to go, so also in the faculty study.

Secondly, healthy study is context-rich. It arises out of and in turn creates context and relationships. Anything, even anthroposophical concepts, studied in isolation is a lie. For example, the cultural, political, and location-specific circumstances of Steiner’s lectures are important; we can also follow up a reading with a discussion of how the themes he develops might need to be articulated in our own circumstances. It is inconceivable to me that Steiner would be saying the same things in the same language a hundred years later. He was the consummate innovator and revitalizer of culture; how would he develop his themes in light of what has transpired since he first brought them forth?

Thirdly,   the study should be deed-oriented. We should ask ourselves what is indicated by this study for our work. How do we translate the inspiration of the text into action?

  1. The second “cure” for the Explaining Soul is a study of nature as a text. In the works of our contemporaries Craig Holdrege and Denis Klocek, for example, we have instances of research into the meaning of natural phenomena. When we seek for meaning, as opposed to explanation, we learn to read nature as a text. A text implies a creative force, an author, and this sense helps us overcome an ailment that the Spirit of the Machine has infected us with: the estrangement from our divine origins.

 

  1. The third “cure” is the study of projective geometry. The Explaining Soul typically traffics in mathematical explanations that replace the phenomena with numbers. Projective geometry is a mathematical field that requires imaginative capacities to unfold. It is, if you will, the redemption of our relationships with mathematics.

The Empathetic Soul:

Encounters that originate with the Empathetic Soul are most easily characterized as the experience that someone else sees us. Beyond gender, race, age, appearance, status, and all the other veils that hide us from one another, we are, each one, a human being, a species onto ourselves. When another person can see us, we are neither simply attractive or repulsive, nor are we explained through some pre-existing model (not even the anthroposophical one). While these interpretations will, no doubt, play into what another sees, he or she can see something else. It is an exhilarating moment. It is also interesting that it is also exhilarating when we manage to see another human being, really see. On the few occasions in my life when that’s happened, I felt like Adam in the Garden of Eden. There is such simplicity and purity in an encounter that leaves your heart open and receptive, sans the veils that customarily come between people.

The question then becomes: what happens now?

When one person sees another, there are usually only two basic choices to be made: to love, or to hurt. I don’t mean sensual love; I mean that you have seen another human being, including his or her golden qualities and less-than-golden needs. To the needs you can respond with whatever it is you have to offer. To the other’s golden qualities you respond by calling them forth. Or you can put a hook into the need and begin to manipulate. You can also ignore, remain indifferent, but that is just another way of hurting. And you can try to undermine the golden qualities.

We have all met people of both kinds of resolve. In the presence of someone who has seen another and chosen love, we feel peace.

With those who lust for power and who utilize their insights for control and manipulation, we can feel helpless. They are far too clever and skilled to meet head-on. We can sense that ultimately only love can counter their power. It cannot redeem it, but it can serve as a countermeasure within individuals and communities. The opportunity for love to build momentum in our situation may take time. In the meantime, they can do a lot of damage.

As I mentioned before, there is no direct remediation of the dark impulses we are talking about. But if love is ultimately the antidote, there are a couple of practices that we can take up in order to strengthen our relationship with the Love Impulse. There are others, too, but we are focusing now on collegial relationships.

  1. The first is biography work. This is a fairly well developed field of study in our circles, with people who are skilled at facilitating excellent processes. Entering attentively into the images of another’s life and then taking those into our sleep life for several days can go a long way towards building a real feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood.
  2. The second is meditation. The path towards the Love Impulse needs to be taken up within each one of us. As Steiner develops this work, an essential aspect of it is that we first build up a picture, and then we allow what we have achieved to disappear, to die, as it were. Only the force we had built up in the process of forming the image remains. Apart from the value of meditative work as a spiritual path of knowledge, the practice of letting something die within us is a profound step towards Love.

When death is approached without fear, anger, or resentment, it can be the most amazingly graceful moment in the whole of life. We can “gift” our dying to those around us as their opportunity to care. In the realm of ideas, death means renouncing our ownership and attachment to what originally came to us, allowing it to be owned and revised by the group. And when we see another person, with their physical, emotional, karmic, or any other illness, we can ask ourselves: “Were she on death’s bed, would I love her?” If the answer is yes, and few of us would choose to attack or ignore a person on death’s bed, the next question is: “Why should I wait until she is on death’s bed to love her?”

We find, approaching our fellow human being with the mindset that “Love shouldn’t wait” that the twin experiences of surprise and invigoration meet us all the time. Just like a good College meeting!

 

References:

The Deed of Christ and the Opposing Spiritual Forces (GA 107)

The Etherization of the Blood (GA 130)

From Jesus to Christ (GA 131)

The Gospel of St. John and it Relation to the Other Gospels (GA

112)