Sunday, December 11, 2005

In which I once again reveal too much about my inner workings

I thought I had contained Overzealous Ozzie, limited his ability to be a pain in my ass without pulling out the big guns - but it appears I may have underestimated him. Damn you, Freston, and your evil minion Ozzie! But it's ok. After all, I'm just a temp. A temp CEO, but a temp nonetheless. And though I do get exasperated when somebody repeatedly suggests I'm a complete idiot, I ultimately understand what I'm in service to.

Several years ago, I saw Robert Kennedy Jr. speak - which, as an aside, is the only time I've ever gotten a sense of the electricity, the inspiration that people felt when listening to John Kennedy, or Martin Luther King. But - I digress. Kennedy was talking about his work as an attorney with communities in the Hudson River Valley, and their efforts to hold accountable the corporations who had polluted the river, leaving dead ecosystems and disease-causing toxins in their wake.

Kennedy talked about the fact that we in the US have lost sight of what it means to incorporate. Incorporation, he pointed out, is a structure that we, the people, chose to create within our laws to allow people to associate together for some social benefit that could be better achieved collectively rather than individually. You have to apply for incorporation, and through your articles of incorporation, you describe the social good that you expect to achieve through the power of association. When an incorporation is approved, it creates a social contract wherein we, the people, agree that this arrangement will further the interests of society. The fact that this simple act of incorporation happens so frequently and mechanically does not take away that fact that corporations exist at our pleasure because we, the people, through our laws, have given our permission and our blessing. Whenever we endow corporations with the same rights as individuals, when we let them damage people and communities and the world, we are doing something very dangerous. If those corporations do not live up to their end of the social contract, to create social benefit, we the people have not only the right, but the responsibility to withdraw our permission.

I loved this description, and it combined with another concept that a mentor of mine used to espouse: that there is both overt social change, like protesting or writing politicians or spending your time trying to change the world, and covert social change - where you simply live your life as if it is the way you want it to be. Which sounds silly, until you think about the fact that if every person acted as if the world were that way, it would, de facto, be that way. If you can keep your mind and your intention in that space, every mundane act can become radical, an act of social change.

So when I'm working for an organization, I try to think of the corporation the way RFK Jr. made me see it, as it would be in the world I wish for: a sacred social contract, intended to foster social good as specified when the organization incorporated. I try to think of myself as moving through the organization, for a time, in service not just to the mission, or the board, or the people I work for, or the organization's constitutencies - but to the underlying social contract. In moments of confusion I even visualize a little imaginary committee of citizens who reviewed and approved the original incorporation request, and who are periodically checking in to make sure we're doing what we said we would. I picture them as regular, honest folk, in simple clothing and a rustic little courthouse, reviewing our organization's promise to society, and whether we're living up to it. It may sound a little nutty, but it keeps me grounded.

I explain this to people who work for me, because it has odd side effects, like making me a sticker about annoying legalities. I figure all those labor laws and stuff are part of the social contract, and if I want to behave as if that contract is sacred, I have to respect all of it - or make an effort to change the contract, the laws. I explain to employees I don't expect them to work long hours, or put their job before their personal lives; I just expect them to show up and be authentically in service to the social contract, however they may conceptualize that.

So when Ozzie tries for some baffling reason to be the boss of me, I just try to remember what I'm in service to, rather than give in to the urge to crush him like a bug. However, y'all might want to start my legal defense fund now, in case I'm driven to murder Ozzie while I'm in Texas next week. Texas would be a particularly unfortunate place to be driven to murder, given their love of executin' folks down there. Let's just hope it doesn't come to that, and I'll keep visualizing my rustic little Council of Citizens.

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