Thursday, October 14, 2010

Let It Be and Magnificat

It did not take long to find songs that would adequately represent my values. While technically my song is two songs, the message is singular. Let It Be by the Beatles is a contemporary version of Mary’s simple response, i.e., fiat. Or, let it be unto me according to your word. Her “let it be” is the historically retold response to the Archangel Gabriel that announced the birth of Jesus and her role in what Christian’s understand as salvation history. Immediately after the annunciation by the angel, Mary sings or prays her Magnificat, the words of which are derived from St. Luke’s gospel.

When I was first drawn to Let It Be, I cannot say with certainty but I was born in 1966 and I’m sure it was in the air (along with other songs of the Beatles) around me at the time. I do recall that my 8th grade graduation class wanted to select Let It Be as our class song, but the authorities at St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception Grade School heard rumors that the Beatles intention behind the song was the legalization of marijuana and some other song was selected. I cannot remember what the class song was. It might have been equally meaningful but as you see, that is lost on me now.

The Magnificat was first impressed upon my heart from the age of ten and later more significantly around age 16 when I entered the monastery in California. Monks have sung Mary’s song or the Magnificat for centuries, every day, at Vespers or evening prayer. I am partial to the time just before sunset when Vespers is usually sung and the chanting of the Magnificat is the high point of the Vesper service sometimes accompanied with incense and processions. Seven cope Vespers were even more ornate and seven priests in the monastic community would where copes (ornately embroidered floor length capes) for the processions and incensing of the altar. A lavish display was given during the Magnificat in memory of a young woman who referred to herself as a “lowly handmaid.”

Both pieces of music echo in their lyrics a theme of humility and surrender in spite of circumstances that surround us. They both speak of hope, comfort and a gentle way of facing life’s greatest transitions. They both speak of a faith that is certain of a positive outcome in the end.

The values in the song that most resonate for me are humility and perseverance. Monastic life is built on the value of humility and the Rule of St. Benedict addresses how once advances in the degrees of humility. My confirmation name/middle name is Bernard, after St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached and wrote extensively on humility for his monks as well. Although, no longer a monk, having lived under monastic profession for 24 years, I don’t believe that genuine humility can be abandoned which perhaps leads to selecting perseverance or fortitude as values. While the Beatles' Mary speaks wisdom and shines light in personal darkness, Luke’s Mary is overwhelmed by the power of God. A power that in some confessions of Christianity made her the Mother of God. There is a profound relationality in both songs. In Let It Be the relationship is between the individual and Mary and in the Magnificat the relationship is between God and the people of Israel expressed in the individual reflection of a young girl.

In Mary’s song, we hear about the emancipatory aspirations of a people. A deep and critical reflection of everything that Mary knows of life and its blessings and sufferings. This is Mary’s deep education, her paidea (education or instruction in her reflection on the message of the angel). “There will be an answer” implies that it is not yet apparent. Along with generations of monks, I am keeping vigil, watching and waiting for our great transformation foreshadowed by Jesus and many great teachers before and after him, including his mother who first uttered his words in the garden during his passion some 33 years earlier: “Thy will be done.”

So much of what I attribute value to in my life is rooted in this deep appreciation of education, there is an internal pull into the mystery of the light and that wisdom that subverts what we otherwise assume is reality. Is it any wonder that liberation theology grew out of the work of an educator the likes of Paulo Freire?
My experience of misalignment and suffering comes from not being skillful enough in my application of these values. I usually compromise for the pragmatic and the expedient and forego for long periods of time the inner reality from which such lyrics spring. I know on an authentic level (knowledge at the cognitive level of evaluation) that the significance of life is within each of us, far below the operation of daily thought and activity.

Better alignment is possible by recalling that the search for knowledge is an interior quest which may or may not be facilitated by the current environment in which I find myself. The words on the way to the oracle come to mind here, “know thyself.” I really believe that learning happens all the time and that sometimes it is transformational. I keep moving towards enlightenment in the ways I know how. Formal education is one way that always leaves me feeling expanded and open to new outcomes. I think that just learning about learning is creating a catalyst for me to move along this journey onward and upward. “There will be an answer. Let it be.”

Synchronicity and Etymology

The most recent experience I have had with synchronicity involves repeated exposure to the Boston Consulting Group and Harvard Business School involving a little etymology as well. Both synchronicity and etymology make me wonder about our reflective learning capacity and our meaning-making natures.

As part of my degree program in Human Resource Development, we are reading The Essentials of Strategy from the Harvard Business School Press. The introduction to the book starts off in perfect alignment with my personal learning preferences of moving from the simple to the complex, including the definition of terms and some explanation as to their usage. The introduction states that business has long made use of military language in business-talk (that must have been before the growth of sports analogies and the expanded appreciation of teamwork and collaboration). From the command and control perspective, I can see the military language being useful. But my surprise was that the use of the military term, strategy, did not take-off in business until 1971 when Kenneth Andrews wrote the book The Concept of Corporate Strategy. The use of strategy in the business context was further shaped at Harvard by Professor Michael Porter in the 1980s.

Subsequent to the ongoing development of strategy in business language, the Boston Consulting Group's founder, Bill Henderson, linked the notion of competitive advantage. Now it just so happens that my course is entitled Strategic Human Resource Development and the organization where I work recently retained the services of the Boston Consulting Group.

The other day, I got an email from a colleague that contained a link to a Boston Consulting Group report entitled Creating People Advantage 2010 which essentially is an examination of the strategic use of talent, an area of responsibility directly related to Strategic Human Resource Development. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up!

The value of the information exceeds my strange fascination with how the associations were laid down in my neural networks but I thought it was worth the telling. Have you experienced a synchronous learning event like this recently? If so, please comment and share.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Dunning-Krueger Effect

Today, I was having lunch with some friends and was speaking about someone in a conflictual relationship. Well my friends indicated to me that I had just introduced a new word or rather made up the word. The story was rather like the one described here. I didn't give much thought to it, until after my drive home from work. It then occurred to me that it was probable that I was wrong. My friends both attended prominent schools in the Northeast and are excellent writers and editors. At home, I went to Google to search for the word "conflictual" and found it within the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, in addition to the online dictionaries referenced in the story above.

My early education in the liberal arts has always reinforced the notion that schooling is for life, non pro schola sed pro vita. Then, upon some further reflection, as through some mysterious alignment, I discovered the Dunning-Krueger Effect using StumbleUpon. I liked it, needless to say! Today, I was okay with recognizing my own incompetence and therefore avoided presenting an inflated self-assessment.