This month we hold up the mirror to check out our character as it relates to our motivations, relationships, and practices in member care and mission/aid. How accurate is what we see--and want to see? Recall that character along with competence and compassion are three core qualities needed for member care workers. Part One focuses on our personal character, emphasizing our capacity for self-deception plus what to do about it (five resources). Part Two focuses on leadership and organizational character and the importance for honesty, courage, and support in confronting hard issues (five resources).
We conclude the Update with three current resources from the humanitarian sector that illustrate how critical and diverse feedback--sharing concerns and suggestions in an open atmosphere--is helping to improve the sector's effectiveness. The freedom to give feedback is one of the greatest indications of an organization's and sector's health. Together, all the resources in this Update are meant to encourage us to further develop a crucial reflection of our character--our integrity-- by "telling ourselves and others the truth"
Warm greetings from Geneva,
Kelly and Michèle O’Donnell
We are exactly the people and organizations
that we have become.
Watch this three-minute historical example
of researching, resisting, and applying truth (facts about germs)
in order to save the lives of women in childbirth (The Arbinger Institute):
Telling Ourselves the Truth
The Toolbox of Self-Deception (Tufts Magazine, Spring 2009) by Sam Sommers. This very readable article looks at how and why we kid ourselves. "When you stop to think about it...we enlist an impressive array of cognitive tactics and behavioral gambits in the daily effort to feel good about ourselves." (p. 33). Some of the main "tools" we use include rationalization, the better than average effect, illusions of control, reflected glory, downward comparisons, and self-handicapping. This more benign approach to self-deception (with many university and life applications) is a good way to ease into this important albeit difficult reality. Read this lively article here: http://www.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/spring2009/features/toolbox.html
Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped Me Survive the Church (2001) by Phillip Yancey “Yancey interweaves his own journey [his honest and troubled search for authentic faith] with fascinating stories of those who modeled for him a life-enhancing rather than a life-constricting faith: Dr. Paul Brand, G. K. Chesterton, Annie Dillard, Frederick Buechner, C. Everett Koop, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Henri Nouwen, John Donne, Mahatma Gandi, Shusaku Endo, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Coles…. Soul Survivor offers illuminating and critically important insights into true Christianity, which will enrich the lives of veteran believers and cautious seekers alike.” Click here for more information and to listen to an audio excerpt:
Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts (2007) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson “At some point we all make a bad decision, do something that harms another person, or cling to an outdated belief. When we do, we strive to reduce the cognitive dissonance that results from feeling that we, who are smart, moral, and right, just did something that was dumb, immoral, or wrong. Whether the consequences are trivial or tragic, it is difficult, and for some people impossible, to say, “I made a terrible mistake.” The higher the stakes—emotional, financial, moral—the greater that difficulty. Self-justification, the hardwired mechanism that blinds us to the possibility that we were wrong, has benefits: It lets us sleep at night and keeps us from torturing ourselves with regrets. But it can also block our ability to see our faults and errors. It legitimizes prejudice and corruption, distorts memory, and generates anger and rifts….Most of all, this book explains how all of us can learn to own up and let go of the need to be right, and learn from the times we are wrong—so that we don't keep making the same mistakes over and over again.” Click here for more information on the book, cognitive dissonance, and to listen to a National Public Radio (USA) interview with Elliot Aronson: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12125926
Millie and the Mud Hole (1992) by Valerie Reddix. This is one of our favorite books on dysfunction--a humorous children's, illustrated book that is definitely for adults too. The setting is a farm where a self-enamored pig is having trouble believing that she is seriously sinking in a mud hole....Click here for more information (note: this book is becoming increasingly difficult to get!): http://www.amazon.com/Millie-Mud-Hole-Valerie-Reddix/dp/0688102123
Rationalizations for Poor Practice (Global Member Care (volume one): The Pearls and Perils of Good Practice, 2011) by Kelly O'Donnell. Do we rationalize our ethical and practice mistakes in member care? Of course! Here are several examples below—convenient sub-standards to excuse ourselves and quiet our consciences. Dealing with these rationalized sub-standards."is part of a larger process and commitment for both sending groups and [member care workers] to regularly look in the mirror of our hearts. We do this individually and with others in order to scrutinize both our motives and the ethical quality of our member care work. Our own capacity for self-deception and self-justifying revisions of our personal and work-related history give cause for much concern...So we have to trust ourselves surely, yet we also must have a healthy respect for the possibility of our own distortions. (p. 178) Click here for more information on the book: https://sites.google.com/site/globalmca/home/summary-parts-1-3
- It is ethical as long as you don’t know a Bible verse, law, or ethical principle that prohibits it.
- It is ethical as long as your colleagues or service receivers do not complain about it; or as long as no one else knows or wants to know; or as long as you can convince others that it is OK.
- It is ethical as long as you or your telecommunications technology were having a “bad day”, thus affecting your usual quality of work; or as long as the circ umstances and decision were difficult; or as long as you are busy, rushed, or multi-tasking.
- It is ethical as long as you follow the majority of your ethical guidelines; or as long as you only intend to do it one time.
- It is ethical as long as there is no intent to do harm, you are being sincere, “your heart is in the right place”, and you are trying to do the best that you can.
- It is ethical as long as you are a moral person; or a nice, competent, or respected person; or as long as you provide free services.
- It is ethical as long as you “take responsibility” for your decision/behavior; or as long as you were acting with “integrity”; or as long as it does not seem to negatively impact your behavior/emotions.
- It is ethical as long as the matter is not completely black and white; or as long as someone else is also “wrong or more wrong” than you are; or as long as others do it; or as long as someone in authority over you reassures you or pressures you and asks you to do it.
- It is ethical as long as you believe/feel it is not unethical or as long as you think God is on your side.
- It is ethical as long as you are an important person or the most powerful person.
Telling Ourselves the Truth
Leadership and Organization Applications
Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor (2008), by Warren Bennis et al. This concise book looks at what “conspires against "a culture of candor" in organizations to create disastrous results, and suggest ways that leaders can achieve healthy and honest openness. They explore the lightning-rod concept of "transparency"–which has fast become the buzzword not only in business and corporate settings but in government and the social sector as well. Together Bennis, Goleman, and O'Toole explore why the containment of truth is the dearest held value of far too many organizations and suggest practical ways that organizations, their leaders, their members, and their boards can achieve openness. After years of dedicating themselves to research and theory, at first separately, and now jointly, these three leadership giants reveal the multifaceted importance of candor and show what promotes transparency and what hinders it. They describe how leaders often stymie the flow of information and the structural impediments that keep information from getting where it needs to go. This vital resource is written for any organization–business, government, and nonprofit–that must achieve a culture of candor, truth, and transparency.” (from Amazon website) Click here to read the opening chapter (not to be missed!): http://www.warrenbennis.com/images-books/Transparency_CH1.pdf
Click here to order the book: http://www.amazon.com/Transparency-Leaders-Create-Culture-Candor/dp/0470278765
Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box (2010). by The Arbinger Institute. “Through a story...about a man facing challenges on the job and in his family [USA setting], the authors expose the fascinating ways that we can blind ourselves to our true motivations and unwittingly sabotage the effectiveness of our own efforts to achieve success and increase happiness.” (back cover). “For too long, the issue of self-deception has been the realm of deep-thinking philosophers, academics, and scholars working on the central questions of the human sciences. The public remains generally unaware of the issue. That would be fine except that self-deception is so pervasive it touches every aspect of life. “Touches” is perhaps too gentle a word to describe its influence. Self-deception actually determines one’s experience in every aspect of life. The extent to which it does that, and in particular the extent to which it is the central issue in leadership, is the subject of this book.” (from The Arbinger website) Click here for more information: http://arbinger.com/product/leadership-and-self-deception/
The Story of Ruby Bridges (1995) by Robert Coles. “The year is 1960, and six-year-old Ruby Bridges and her family have recently moved from Mississippi to New Orleans in search of a better life. When a judge orders Ruby to attend first grade at William Frantz Elementary, an all-white school, Ruby must face angry mobs of parents who refuse to send their children to school with her. Told with Robert Coles' powerful narrative and dramatically illustrated by George Ford, Ruby's story of courage, faith, and hope is now available in this special 50th anniversary edition with an updated afterword!” (from Amazon website) Click here to hear some brief reflections by Ruby Bridges as an adult: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecBORXfap9A Click here to order the book; http://www.amazon.com/The-Story-Ruby-Bridges-Anniversary/dp/0439472261
Character Counts (1999) edited by Os Guinness. This book "contains brief biographical and reflective chapters about four remarkable world figures who not only withstood the extreme adversities of their offices and circumstances but flourished and grew under pressure to become people who made a difference in their times." (back cover--the four leaders are Washington, Wilberforce, Lincoln, and Solzhenissyn). Click here for more information:
Ten Symptoms/Processes of GroupThink (a summary of the classic work by Irving Janis with some additions by Kelly and Michele O'Donnell). "Groupthink is a "mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. (Janis)….Janis prescribed three antecedent conditions to groupthink: 1) High group cohesiveness; 2) Structural faults (insulation of the group, lack of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodological procedures, homogeneity of members' social backgrounds and ideology); 3) Situational context (highly stressful external threats, recent failures, excessive difficulties on the decision-making task, moral dilemmas)…. According to Janis, decision making groups are not necessarily destined to groupthink. He devised seven ways of preventing groupthink” For more information see the rest of this wiki entry at :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink as well as the book, Decision Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice, and Commitment (Janis and Leon, 1979):
A. Overestimation of the group’s power and morality
--1. Illusion of Invulnerability: Members ignore obvious danger, take extreme risk, and are overly optimistic.
--2. Collective Rationalization: Members discredit/explain away warning contrary to group thinking.
--3. Illusion of Morality: Members believe their decisions are morally correct, ignoring the ethical consequences of their decisions.
--4. Excessive Stereotyping: The group constructs negative stereotypes of rivals outside the group.
C. Pressures towards uniformity
--5. Pressure for Conformity: Members pressure any in the group who express arguments against the group’s stereotypes, illusions, or commitments, viewing such opposition as disloyalty.
--6. Lack of Self-Censorship: Members withhold their dissenting views and counter-arguments.
--7. Illusion of Unanimity: Members perceive falsely that everyone agrees with the group’s decision; silence is seen as consent.
--8. Mindguards: Some members appoint themselves to the role of protecting the group from adverse information that might threaten group complacency.
Note: We have added two more symptoms/processes that can occur in “religious” settings:
D. Exaggerated belief in Divine specialness
--9. Special divine guidance. Pervasive wish/distorting belief that God is especially with us/our group/our leaders and guiding us and protecting us. What we do is really special—extra special. Human accountability is not really needed.
--10. Special divine favor. Pervasive wish/distorting belief that we are God’s special agents/recipients of God’s special favor. We are really special—extra special. Human accountability is not really needed.
Challenges or concerns about these beliefs or actions (9-10) are often seen as being “unspiritual”, “disloyal,” and/or “rebellious.” People who question them can be discredited, disciplined, and dismissed. Or even worse.
What can help counter groupthink? Acting with integrity by using your critically-thinking brain and your morally-competent brain. Getting competent, unbiased, outside support for perspective and sanity. Be aware of these 10 dynamics above (symptoms/processes) and our capacity to rationalize .Discuss them as a group! Be aware of statements by yourself and others such as: "Leaders are informed. I trust our leaders unquestionably. The group knows best. I am part of a group/organization that acts ethically. We are right and see things clearly or the most clearly. Others are mistaken. Because we are right/special we do not need outside help/accountability. We always think critically and act morally." Finally, review the materials in this Update!
Honest Feedback--Crucial Lessons from the Humanitarian Sector
A Personal Word from Kelly and Michèle
This Update has been one of the most challenging ones to do during the past five+ years. The reason is that the topic of character development, especially developing greater honesty and integrity, is daunting and at times unsettling. Denial and rationalization are tough tendencies to counter and sadly the mission/aid and member care communities record in doing so is mixed. The humanitarian sector has probably fared no better. However the three examples below--current learning opportunities also for the mission/aid and member care communities--give hope that providing a public platform and fomenting a recognized ethos for exchanging critical, diverse feedback can truly help make a difference. They can help to keep people, organizations, and sectors on an effective and ethical course for assisting millions of vulnerable people in our troubled world.
Where Is Everyone? Responding to Emergencies in the Most Difficult Places (June 2014) by Doctors Without Borders. “This report is the result of an extensive literature review and 136 interviews with humanitarians from the UN, NGO and academic world over the past two years…The report makes uncomfortable reading for those of us involved in the aid system. It has highlighted areas in our own emergency response which need improving, findings supported by several internal evaluations undertaken of our own work...It also highlights shortcomings with the response on the side of the humanitarian system as a whole. Yet we feel it is important to be honest within the sector about the reality of work on the ground in areas and with populations who are difficult to reach but who are in great need. We intend [for] this paper to start a real discussion with our colleagues in the aid community – within MSF, with other NGOs, with the UN and with donors, to make us all improve how we respond.” (from the website)
One important application for the mission/aid and member care communities is the ongoing need to openly evaluate the extent to which the most vulnerable and "unreached" are being prioritized, as reflected in our resources and not just our rhetoric. Read and learn more here (starting with the Executive Summary): http://www.msf.org.uk/msf-report-where-everyone-responding-emergencies-most-difficult-places
Seven Minute Expert Talks in Humanitarian Affairs (July 2014) by The Sphere Project. “What are the main trends in the humanitarian sector today? The principal challenges and opportunities? How will the sector look in 10 years' time? A group of experts share their views in seven-minute talks.” (from the website) We have especially appreciated listening to the talks by Mary Anderson (author of Do No Harm), Eddie Girardet (humanitarian journalist), and Dan Kelly (vice president of Humanitarian Affairs, World Vision International). All are worth watching though, if you have the time, although just watching three to five will give you a good sense of the issues.
What would it be like to do similar brief video talks by “experts” on member care around the world—looking at trends challenges/opportunities, and the future? Could this be a tool for open discussion and improving member care? Watch and learn more here:
The Core Humanitarian Standard (current), by Humanitarian Accountability Partnership, People In Aid, and The Sphere Project, This is the second draft version which is organized around eight commitments and based on the underlying value that "People are at the heart of humanitarian action, which is guided by principles of humanity, impartiality and independence." Commitments 7 and 8 are especially relevant for member care as they deal with "staff capacity and support" and "good use of management and resources." There is also an opportunity to give online, consultative input through 12 September 2014
“In humanitarian disaster or conflict situations it is critical that aid workers deliver their best quality work. Yet in a sector characterised by high turnover, rapid deployments, steep learning curves, and the need to collaborate with multiple humanitarian actors, it is often difficult for responders to know when and how to apply the standards that enable them to deliver their best work, and to be accountable to the communities they serve. The Core Humanitarian Standard has been devised to clarify the responsibilities of aid workers, and to make the implementation of the standard simpler and easier.” (from the website) . Read and learn more here:
More MCA Resources
Global Portal for Good Practice (website)
Reflections, Research, and Resources for Good Practice (weblog)
Global Mental Health: A Global Map for a Global Movement (website)
Global Integration: Ideas for Connecting and Contributing (overview materials)
Global Member Care: (volume one): The Pearls and Perils of Good Practice (2011)
Recent! Global Member Care (volume two): Crossing Sectors for Serving Humanity (2013)
E-book version available on Amazon