D – O – N – E,
There are many more steps to get from here to a printed copy. But, after all this time, it’s more than amazing to be able to stand still for a moment, recognize God’s faithfulness in bringing me this far along, and just give Him thanks! Amen? Amen!
I launched into the research for this project 25+ years ago, started the writing 20 years ago, and shifted target audiences and focus of the book 7 times since writing my first book proposal in 1997. (It had the wondrous title, Will Wearing a Nose Ring Make Me Relevant?) The focus changed in 2007 from church planting to addressing spiritual abuse, and the project morphed into a multi-book series on Do Good Plus Do No Harm (see link for overview and details of the entire series). I settled on an initial outline for the series 10 years ago and began the process of condensing several thousand pages of material. There was one final flip 2 years ago, to aim this series for a general audience instead of just a Christian one. So, I had to rewrite almost everything and use accessible language and illustrations that appealed to common ground.
In 2015, I went into final editing mode on the revamped series. It took a long time to get the format down, because I’m applying what I know about information processing. And, that requires presenting the material through words to state the concepts and skills, art illustrations/graphics that capture the emotional essence of the concepts and skills, story-based case studies (movies and novels), and questions for personal reflection and group discussion.
I’ve followed this calling to produce this project for 45% of my entire lifespan, changed the approach and target audiences along the way as I sensed the Spirit leading, and now – finally – the manuscript for the first of four books is DONE – Hallelujah!
So – what are next steps? Today I’ll merge all the files into one mega-Word document, check for any minor mop-up work. Then, compile a PDF. The main thing then is to get the manuscript ready for publishing as a print-on-demand book and eBook. That includes design, final formatting and uploading. Parallel to that is prep on social media promoting, and sales outlets. And, once it’s feasible to do so, I’d like to switch to conventional print runs of eco-friendly books using recycled paper and soy-based inks. Hopefully that will be relatively soon, because I want to be as environmentally-minded as possible. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned during this decade-long process, you have to start where you are, not where you wish you were.
Frankly, I want it all done already, and I’m anxious to get into the second Field Guide, as it deals with a relevant next set of topics: recovery from abuse, support and advocacy for survivors, and social activism. I have a draft of Field Guide #2 that’s about halfway done already! And, once that’s finished, I plan to develop “gamified”/game-based teamwork exercises and case study simulations for a training kit. This will equip organizational teams to customize assessment processes to prevent toxicity and promote health.
But – first things first. Time to slow down, pray up, reflect wide, discern deep. I’ve got a stack of notes on possibilities for the who and how and when of taking care of all those last steps. And, I truly do not know how this will all shake out. But, I do know from experience that this is the point where I need to set aside past assumptions and expectations as best I can to see what new paths might open up. I would greatly appreciate your prayers for this process!
I’m taking the next few days to consider God’s providential timing and focus on any other necessary factors for figuring out a Spirit-led plan. For instance, with all that is happening in our world, the timing on this book seems particularly intriguing. I see this training series as the most important thing I can contribute to help counteract the increasingly polarized society we find ourselves in, because it deals with developing common ground for the common good. Also, I wonder if what I’ve written on systems and systemic abuse can help us deal with sources and not just symptoms in dealing with problems. It is not enough to identify and denounce evil; we need to be able to deconstruct the systems that perpetuate it, and provide constructive alternatives that detoxify it. I believe what I’ve written provides concepts and tools for people of good will to work together in challenging situations and institutions that cause harm. All of this may affect how the book gets presented/promoted.
So, I’ll be factoring that in, along with issues like dealing with my declining health and stamina (I’m getting old!), incorporating friends who’ve offered to help with social media and promoting the book, figuring out financing the final steps to publication, etc.
I’ll post details when plans are firm enough and the book is ready to roll! Meanwhile, if you’re interested in more details on the series, I’ve posted below an overview of the main concepts and skills for what “good” looks like as we seek to Do Good Plus Do No Harm. After that is a bit about what drove me to undertake this gargantuan project and what makes my approach unique.
So, I’m tired – the past 2 years especially, it’s been like doing 2 college essay final exams per day, 4 or 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year. But, I’m thankful to have persevered through this, and I’m grateful for the prayers and encouragement of friends along the way! Thanks for being on this exceedingly long journey with me …
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What Do “Robust/Healthy” Systems Look Like?
Seven Layers of Essential Elements
This book is the first of two Field Guides in Course #1, which focuses on deconstructing how things can go wrong with institutions and start-ups. I intentionally started with toxicity and deconstructing because I’ve found that those eager to get on with their start-up typically don’t want to hear about “the negative” when they’re eager to engage in “the positive.” So, even though getting healthy and staying healthy are the bottom lines of the Course #1, Field Guides #1 and #2 are pretty much all about defining what “unhealthy/toxic” systems are and how to deal with them.
But, there’s a potential problem in starting out a training series with my approach. It’s exactly what my friend Roger noted. He was one of my beta-readers for this book, and he said, “Right off the bat, I have an observation. You start out focusing on the negative and save defining what a healthy system is. I would flip that and get everyone on the same page with regards to what a healthy system really is. It becomes a little clearer then to define who/what is harmful to that.”
Roger is right, and I don’t want the profile of the positive to get lost in all the details of darkness. So, to honor his critique and put the light at the beginning of the journey instead of just at the end of the tunnel, here is my summation of what robust and sustainable systems look like, both for individuals and institutions.
My seven layers of essential elements are interwoven throughout the training series and provide the infrastructure to do good plus do no harm.
ONE. The Golden Rule – “Do unto others what you would have them do to you.” – gives us one common purpose that unifies principles and practices related to collaboration. People in a robust system look for what brings us together – human universals, such as the desire for a better life – and then builds on that common ground for the common good. The person of peace embodies this outlook by respecting the dignity of all, hospitable, and advocating for justice and against tyranny.
TWO. Two is about maintaining paradox: keeping in dynamic both/and tension those items that seem to be separate. People in a robust system consider the connections between the personal and social/organizational sides of actions. They are able to alternate between the big picture of their plans and the how-to details of carrying out goals. Their conceptual approach leads to concrete action, and their practices can be explained by conceptual theory.
THREE. Three is about triads of integrating principles to lead us and free us. The personal side of robust systems is to ensure that only qualified individuals are in roles of influence; and that those who are unqualified (by lack of skills or maturity) or disqualified (by reason of deficient character and harmful behavior patterns) are excluded, in order to protect others in the system as a whole. The social side is to work toward three freedoms that at the core of human rights statements worldwide: self-determination of one’s own direction in life, relational association of those we have friendships or other affinities with, and cultural participation in the economy, society, and state as we see fit and that befits our abilities.
FOUR. There are sets of four threshold indicators for starting or continuing our involvement. On the personal side are must-have character qualities that qualify those for in roles of influence: clear conscience about right and wrong, compassion for those who hurt, coherence in thought and speech, and congruence in following through on commitments. On the organizational side are mandated realms of accountability: personnel, legal, regulatory (IRS rules), and professional (requirements for maintaining membership in particular occupations or organizations). On the transformational side are optimizing our project goals and products according to quadruple bottom line principles, which have been around since the mid-1990s: to benefit people/community, the planet/ecology, profits/economy, and personal and social transformation/spirituality.
FIVE. Educator and author Kathy Koch of Celebrate Kids, Inc., has given us a five-part framework for personal health and growth in her writings on “authentic hope and wholeness.” The five elements are security (Who can I trust?), identity (Who am I?), belonging (Who wants me?), purpose (Why am I here?), and competence (What can I do well?). This set of interconnected concepts and questions is central to personal growth and human flourishing.
SIX. There are six “S” practices for organizational success: safe meeting ground that prevents a hostile work environment, mission that is suitable for the people actually involved as shareholders and stakeholders, scales of operation that match the resources available in the setting, sensitive messaging that takes into account differences in processing due to learning styles and cultures, methods that can survive global paradigm and cultural shifts that are beyond anyone’s control, and sustainable momentum for the organization to last beyond two generations. The elements in this macro-framework are not mere abstract concepts. Each can be used to lay out specific qualitative indicators for how well we’re doing. A system that does good plus does no harm integrates all six at a high level of function.
SEVEN. Seven gives us a three-layer framework for understanding seven-element paradigms and systems, and without those we cannot understand paradigm shifts for transforming open systems. The way I configure a paradigm system, there are seven interconnected elements in three layers: (1) Processing Information – key integrative style for organizing information, concrete values, and conceptual beliefs. (2) Building Organization – abstract strategies/processes and concrete structures/procedures for running operations. (3) Facilitating Participation – group cultures and inter-group collaborations.
The way I configure a system, there are seven interconnected elements: people, principles, practices, processes, products, partnerships, and impacts. A healthy system is open, keeps growing in ways that sustain its energy and momentum, and has ways to prevent toxins from poisoning the system and to remove them if they do come in or develop within.
So – that’s the big picture for indicators of a healthy organization for Course #1 on deconstructing evil. In Course #2, which explores constructive transformation, we’ll build on those basic concept frameworks. We’ll apply them in Course #2 to guide our putting together teams, projects, and larger collaborations. They will shape our activities through meaningful and appropriate goals for personal and social transformation, and give us built-in assessment indicators and tools for evaluating qualitative impact. We’ll also add to our set of answers for the question of “What constitutes a healthy system?” But for now, here we go with Field Guide #1!
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What Drove Me to Develop This?
It is the end of July 2017 as I finish this particular section for this first of four Field Guides. I began the process of laying out the Do Good Plus Do No Harm training series in 2008. During this decade, it underwent drastic changes in content, length, format, and target audiences. The sequencing of about 75 chapters in four books for two courses took over a year to finalize, and it’s taken me two full years then to complete Field Guide #1.
You may well wonder, Whatever drove this guy to take on such a gargantuan project?
The deepest answer is, This has been a calling – something I felt compelled to finished and simply “couldn’t not do.” More specifically, it’s what has made meaning from my complex life, it makes the best use of what I was designed for, and it’s what may make the most difference for others as a legacy of what I’ve experienced. Making a difference is how we were raised. I learned it by osmosis through extended family stories I heard and actions that I saw from my parents, who have a lot of character qualities of “people of peace.”
As I mentioned, I began putting together this training series 10 years ago. But I’ve been thinking about the issues in it for over 40 years. I’ve drawn primarily from my involvement in non-profits and start-ups, which goes back to the early 1970s. It wasn’t exactly usual for a high school student to volunteer with community agencies in those days. I was involved in school leadership activities. I also volunteered with non-profits that made a focused on helping teens find employment and organizing activities for senior citizens. And I covered city council meetings to give input to the local public broadcasting TV station, plus went to school board meetings just to be there and learn about the process.
After a series of childhood goals for eventual vocations (including classical archaeology, paleontology, and biochemistry research), I started out in college in public administration. That’s because I wanted to make a difference, and leave the world a better place for having lived in it. It was the Watergate era, and the challenges to maintaining democracy made this drive even stronger. I added macro-economics and sociology to my course of studies. However, I eventually discovered I had “a fatal allergy to bureaucracy and red tape,” as I termed it, and I felt I couldn’t make the impact I’d hoped for while working within the political systems.
So, I switched to linguistics, which is more about recognizing patterns in data sets than it is just about learning a variety of languages. (Very handy for sifting through bits of data and organizing them into meaningful categories!) I’m also committed to being a lifelong learner. I’ve been a long-time student of information processing and creativity theories, cross-cultural communications, and strategic foresight. My systems studies have included an environmental internship, a few political campaigns, and strategic foresight training (which dealt with trends and transformation). I’ve also worked in the “recovery movement” of the 1980s and ’90s, where I learned a lot about practical psychology for personal growth.
I’ve fused insights from all these fields into my reflections on helpful versus harmful experiences. And I’ve written extensively on paradigms, systems, culture, social movements, and dealing with toxic people and systems. I’ve organized training conferences, co-authored project planning and metric tools (The Transformational Index, with Shannon Hopkins and Andy Schofield), plus produced and facilitated gamified trainings on cultural research and how to use that information to adapt organizations to the local context.
After college, I continued my work with various kinds of non-profit organizations – churches, community development agencies, educational institutions. Since the late 1970s, I’ve been a team member in 10 church plants and social change start-ups, and served on the boards of two non-profits. My main association for the past 15 years has been with Matryoshka Haus – a social transformation incubator organization.
Along the way, I ended up in five terribly toxic situations – most with leaders whom I have to classify as malignant. I cannot see that they were innocent of their wrong-doing. That is because all of them were confronted, multiple times, by various people who were directly harmed by them, and yet they were unphased. They did not change their mind or their actions; they did not apologize or make amends of any kind. They kept on pressuring people to violate their own conscience, manipulating people emotionally and co-opting their friendships, engaging people’s compassion with false pretenses, creating confusion and chaos through their control, and telling lies by failure to follow through on commitments.
These five organizations ended up dominating 17 years out of the last 45 years of working with non-profits that supposedly were there to make a positive difference. And so, all of this has focused my thinking with real-world questions about what constitutes healthy versus sick systems, and framed my efforts to provide practical concepts and skills that lead toward solutions. Put all together, this explains why I’ve had to learn a lot about advocacy and activism. Making sense of chaotic and controlling experiences drove me to figure out how I got manipulated by people who supposedly were “leaders,” and what to do about confronting those individuals and their network of enablers. I also wanted to figure out how to work with prevention, so that what happened to me wouldn’t happen so often to others.
Do Good Plus Do No Harm is the result. This is my best effort to preserve for your benefit what practical wisdom I’ve gained from processing the pain of toxic experiences – as well as the joy of the many positive experiences I’ve had through my participation in making a difference. So, this is not a mega book report where I’m synthesizing what others have written. This training series is based in my own real-world experiences, and the chapter titles are the kinds of questions I’ve had to ask myself because they arose in situations I was actually involved with.
There is a lot of primary/original work in Do Good Plus Do No Harm. Along the way, I’ll share personal anecdotes that help ground what I write about in the realities that I lived through. Secondarily, I’ll use research reading to confirm and clarify the concepts and skills I’ve come to, and case studies to illustrate them. I trust you’ll find a uniquely practical perspective in what I’m presenting, and benefit from our journey together!