Leadership and the Subhuman Morass of Non-engagement

Leadership means…”learning how to reason with one another. When you don’t have reason, you just collapse into a subhuman morass of non-engagement.”  ~N.T. Wright

This week I finished reading Susan Jeffers’ book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. A statement from one of the final chapters continues to play on a loop in my mind: “To become involved is to reduce our fear.”

That idea of “becoming involved” in order to reduce our fear took me back to a blog post I first wrote almost six years ago. N.T. Wright’s image of the subhuman morass of non-engagement caused me to consider how non-engagement could be rooted in fear. The fear of a different view, the fear of conflict, the fear of being wrong, etc. so we remain uninvolved and consequently, nurse that fear.

N.T. Wright would say that we’ve slipped into a subhuman morass of non-engagement because of the collapse of discourse. In discourse, “you use reason to argue from premises [or assumptions] to conclusions so you can see why you disagree with people” says Wright. The last phrase of that sentence is worth repeating…so you can see why you disagree with people. He didn’t say, so that you can prove why you are right and others are wrong. Dr. Wright would say that we are not engaged in discourse but in bits and pieces of a shouting match.

The alternative to these shouting matches is differentiated unity. This is not a new term, but the concept may be new to some of us. The simplest definition is “a community of people who are united in their diversity.” It means we will maintain united even when faced with differences. We will still have boundaries, but we will identify the differences that do make a difference and the differences that don’t make a difference.

Destructive diversity has worked its way into our organizations. Destructive diversity manifests itself in conflict and many times we prefer to avoid conflict and instead we allow destructiveness to fester. We don’t want to “see why we disagree with people.” We want to argue our position and show everyone else why we are right. Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors, said “You can either practice being right or practice being kind.”

Wright’s vivid image of the subhuman morass of non-engagement is one I’d prefer not to emulate.  As leaders, we are challenged to model differentiated unity. Imagine for a moment what it would look like if within your organization you were able to make the simple (yet difficult) shift from debating to prove who’s right, to engaging in reason to see why you disagree with people.

Don’t slip into the subhuman morass of non-engagement; become involved to reduce your fear.

This entry was posted in Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *