Almost 50 years ago, I arrived in Winona — a school psychologist hired to work in a junior and senior high dropout prevention program.
As I reflect on my work life, my passion has been human potential and its nurturing to benefit our collective lives.
Being partially retired, my life path has taken me away from Winona a portion of each month, and I was recently attending a church service in Naperville, Illinois, celebrating youth mentorship.
A closing line of the message and the morning’s theme was: “How are the children?”
That line got me wondering — how are our people?
More than a quarter century ago, my work shifted from a focus on kids in schools and colleges, to the whole of Winona with the starting of the Winona Council for Quality.
The council formed out of the dreams and sharings from EMD founded by Dan Rukavina and Dave Arnold, which was purchased by Benchmark in the late 1990s.
Some veterans of that electronic manufacturing firm still remember the EMD days and could attest to a living out of the line —how are our people?
Another people-concerning line was the title of Bob Kierlin’s book: “The Power of Fastenal People.”
Both EMD and Fastenal were about trusting and releasing people power and this was the focus of the Quality Council.
I thought this would be a quiet revolution and remember musing in the 1992 Quality Council brochure about how a co-worker after a shift might share about a more satisfying and engaging work environment if I’d run across him or her in the aisles at Midtown Foods.
EMD put much stock in the ideas of the quality guru, W. Edwards Demings. One of Demings’ most important principles was to drive out fear in the workplace.
Ideas around people potential have grown much over the last couple decades. Perhaps a book that captures it well is Frederic Laloux’s “Reinventing Organizations.”
Laloux found very financially successful companies grounded in helping workers find their personal wholeness, trusting in and expecting self management, and working around emerging and deeply felt common purposes. These environments work because senior leaders divested power and learned as Bob Kierlin suggested to suppress one’s ego.
I was dumbfounded in the campaign of 2016, that a person would be elected who ran roughshod over these deeper principles of how to treat people to bring forth their best in contributing to an organization’s or country’s greater good.
The classic Demings idea of driving out fear was reversed: “Drive in fear” seems to be the mantra.
Fear of the invading brown other or the complaining blacks who should be shipped back from whence they came are good examples. When I flip back to my years in K-12 and college work, especially in the 1980s, I recall the articles I was writing naming the challenges to teaching thinking skills.
I wonder in retrospect if a central thinking skill that hasn’t been mastered is understanding how we can be manipulated by fear?
What is the low disregard of our potential when leaders pit us like fighting cocks. We had the humanity to eliminate this fighting with chickens.
What is the devious and self-serving motives that are being met when leaders imagine us so inhumanely? What ego is so malformed to treat others is such low regard? Flipping back to a school life, so much has been done to stop bullying, yet today it truly is a bully pulpit when such demeaning name-calling is done to anyone that crosses our president.
How can we, either the victim or manipulated perpetrator begin to see what is happening when our human fabric is being so ripped apart?
How can the perpetrator begin to understand how his or her fears allow such a vilification of the other? Can their faith lives begin to entertain the idea of what would Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed do? How can the victim respond in love and understanding to those spewing such hate?
As I reflect on this half-century advocacy around human potential, I see such a crass disregard for our true spirit free from manipulation.
Where are the champions of the true power of people? How can we come together whether Republican or Democrat or Independent — and reclaim the power of un-manipulated, sound byte and tweet-proof people who can make America vibrant and healthy.
How are our people?