Thoughts on Stewardship
Around the time I began shooting scenes with Tom, the lead actor for Eric Left Riverton, I began working with TJ on finalizing the mix for the soundtrack. After completing that work, we went on to track TJ on the drums for “Marcel” and the lead vocal for “Don’t Be Afraid.” When the work was completed in early February, I traveled across country to shoot super 8 film in desert landscapes for Marcel’s Opus, and returned to the East Coast in the early Spring. After some encouragement from a friend in Brooklyn, I returned to Boston to begin work on the album that was to become Eleventh Hour Shine.
At first, we thought it would just be an EP. The original title was going to be Genie, Bottle, Cat & Bag, a reference to the artistic constipation I had experienced over the years and the relief that these recordings would provide. By the middle of Spring, 2013, realizing the scope and tenor of the music, it seemed obvious that it was bigger than what we had originally planned. On a warm Sunday morning, I came up with the title Eleventh Hour Shine.
The songs on the album covered universal, somewhat heavy themes including death, existential dread, jealousy, claiming the self, and an urgent plea for compassion in a world of extraordinary need. Taken together, it was like humanity was in its eleventh hour, and it was time to slough off the darkness and let ourselves shine. It could also be that subconsciously, I had buried my artistic inspirations for so long, that in the eleventh hour of my own non-senior-citizen life, it was perhaps my own time to shine.
Looking back at what we’ve created and how it came about, I can see with clarity that everyone who contributed to this album shined in very specific ways. I have already summarized the character, gifts and contributions of those who built the vision. But, I want to emphasize that the most powerful determinant in maximizing the highest potential of a creative community is the thoughtful stewardship of the culture of that community. That responsibility lies chiefly with those who have formal authority within that community.
In this case, that person was me.
Stewardship across Domains
After years of working in public school “communities” led by laissez-faire and transactional management styles, I wanted to create a big project and build a real community -a culture of architects with a very clear mission and a safe space for open communication and creative freedom. That is, I wanted to practice the principle of stewardship with the understanding that stewardship involves the commitment to the creative, professional and personal development of the people themselves.
Responsible stewardship of a culture has an enormous impact on a group or organization’s mission. This is why stewardship has become so popular in recent years in the fields of organizational learning and in academic circles. In fact stewardship has become a trend across multiple domains, including religious ones. Although the framework is markedly different, the principles of stewardship appear to be very much the same in all of them.
Christian theology, for example, has embraced the principles of stewardship over the past few decades and goes by a number of names, including Christian Stewardship, Biblical Stewardship, and Co-management with God. In the essay, “Four Principles of Biblical Stewardship”, Christian writer Hugh Whelchel presents a framework elucidating the four principles of ownership, responsibility, accountability and reward, all of which form the foundation for stewardship in the Christian faith. The fourth principle is explicitly Biblical in the sense that the reward for carefully and thoughtfully attending to what is needed in our sphere of influence is rewarded in the Afterlife. The overall message of Whelchel’s conception of stewardship is the expansiveness of this worldview, the sense that we have responsibility for the world we’ve inherited.
But, this expansive take on stewardship can be seen in Mahayana Buddhism as well. In that tradition, the Bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be) forestalls complete enlightenment until all other sentient beings are saved (or are liberated from the wheel of rebirth). From the standpoint of a cosmology which includes billions of lifetimes for each seed of consciousness, the Ultimate Steward is one who vows to return to the world of suffering to offer healing and compassion to those who continue to traverse the lower rungs of karmic life (animals, insects, and human beings born to misfortune or “lower births”).
A number of Mahayana traditions forgo the entire cosmology and define the Bodhisattva’s commitment to include putting other’s first and doing all that one can to take care of the world . As the Tibetan Buddhist Lama Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche put it, “instead of holding our own individual territory and defending it tooth and nail, we become open to the world that we are living in. It means we are willing to take on greater responsibility, immense responsibility.”
Of course, religions and spiritual movements have not cornered the market on stewardship. For example, we have the secular strand from the Progressive movement in the form of Environmental Stewardship. This movement stands on the premise that we are called upon to take care of our world -literally, as the world in this instance means “the Earth.”
Regardless of the particular domain in which stewardship is sought to be employed, the overarching philosophy and practice is very much the same. But, there is one domain in which stewardship takes on a deeper dimension, and it’s impact cannot be overestimated.
The Interpersonal Domain
I would like to have a little fun here and propose a theory borrowed from taxation law. Let’s call it the Aggregate Theory of Interpersonal Stewardship. We could say that each individual born into this world is a co-partipant in the stewardship of the world. As in the aggregate theory of partnership taxation, every individual is bound with all others in the shared experience of gains and losses. This is true for all individuals in organizations and group endeavors, small and large.
So, stewardship can be practiced between and among people. This is not far from the idea proposed by then-Senator Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic Convention. In that famous speech, Obama placed stewardship in the interpersonal domain, calling for citizens to step forward when necessary to be our “brother’s keeper.” What does taking care of my brother/sister have to do with the satisfaction in the workplace or project? What does this have to do with the successful attainment of goals?
When we show up to the site of a project, workplace or larger institution we have our role to play. We know we are there to serve a specific purpose related to the organization’s goals. But, we are not widgets. As human beings with complicated lives outside the context of “why we are here”, we are each subject to a million variables that impact our emotional landscape. The quality and tenor of that landscape directly impacts our work and our work relationships. Thus, the variables influencing the inner lives and well-being of the individuals have a direct impact on the mission and goals. Some of these variables might be related to present and past traumas, life-and-death issues, or psychological difficulties. Others are ongoing and include learning styles, preferences and tastes, intellectual abilities and personality structures.
Given this reality, the quality of interpersonal relationships in a community is of paramount importance in sustaining the health of the community. If we want satisfaction, excellence, health and success, we need to take responsible stewardship of our interpersonal relationships. From this understanding, the person with formal authority in a community can build the kind of culture in which this is the norm.
The making of the rock album Eleventh Hour Shine provided me with many opportunities to observe and practice interpersonal stewardship. Stepping back and allowing others to shine in unexpected ways was a key component to my “leadership”, and it was relatively easy to do because of the respect I had for the character and craftsmanship of the people I assembled for the project.
But, as we will see, I was not the only purveyor of the remarkable attitude of stewardship. I was its chief beneficiary.
In the fall of 2013, tragedy struck, and Eleventh Hour Shine turned the darkest corner imaginable. It was at this point, that others in our temporary community stepped into leadership roles and stewarded the vision towards completion.