* This is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision
Dylan Thomas wrote a famous poem in 1934 called “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” I don’t quite understand this poem, but the metaphor of a force behind the green fuse that nourishes a flower is a compelling one.
I want to carry this metaphor into the realms of leadership, teamwork, empathy and the drive for excellence. In a slight departure from this metaphor, I will focus on the green fuse and leave aside the “force”. I’ll just say that the force could be what the Buddhists call “True Nature”, the Christians call “agape” or “grace” and the non-theistic humanitarian, transpersonal theorist or existentialist philosopher might call “Being”, the natural state of calm beingness that makes it easier to express one’s authentic self.
If the flower of this revised metaphor is a healthy and productive community of whatever scale, then the green fuse that drives that flower is the intentional attitude of maintaining an atmosphere characterized by humility (openness to new learning), respect for others (the ability to “look again” instead of reducing people or their ideas to stale objects), and the willingness to “stay in the conversation”, whether that conversation involves negotiating personal/professional boundaries and relationships or sticking with a complex problem, which is temporarily holding things up. This is far removed from the usual oppressive, hierarchical and egocentric approach to getting things done, and is ultimately more effective.
This is because, in the absence of an oppressive, frustrating or even traumatizing environment, people are free to be themselves as they are. They are free to simply “be” without the need to exhaust their energies in reaction to perceived threats or to build hardened defensive shells to shut out negativity, the experience of being shut out or silenced or other dehumanizing external factors. This kind of atmosphere is an ideal circumstance because it enables discovery, creativity, collaboration and self-expression.
Of course, this scenario does require some direction and guidance. A laissez-faire, totally-hands-off approach could easily squander the opportunities, so there has to be some leadership, direction or guidance.
A group project, institution or business has the best chance of succeeding if the chief stewards are wise and mature enough to build a culture of architects, a culture in which the potential of others is sought and accessed, or at the very least not stifled. I would even say that the chief stewards may not need to be wise and mature per se, but brave enough to encourage this kind of culture. Why brave? Because it’s brave to let others’ brilliance shine. It’s brave to allow others to be right. It’s brave to be called out for something you’re not doing so great. It’s brave to relinquish control.
It’s brave because it involves some pain. It’s painful to give up control, to be open to critique, or to not have the answers. Who doesn’t want to be the most brilliant or to be the one most beyond reproach? Who doesn’t want things to go her own way without the need to time-consumingly consult others? Being open to this kind of pain is not an easy task, but it’s necessary, because in my view, it’s more reality based. We are not always right, and, by default as human beings, we only have a partial, limited or sometimes even distorted perspective. Whether due to our conditioning, our personality type, our worldview, or unresolved trauma, we need other people’s perspectives and expertise if we hope to grow as people and to be effective in the work we have set out to do.
The green fuse that drives the flowering of any enterprise is ultimately built on ensuring excellence by respecting and caring about people. It is both efficient and evolutionary.