Magazine article Tikkun

Generating Meaning and Connection in Workplace Culture

Magazine article Tikkun

Generating Meaning and Connection in Workplace Culture

Article excerpt

Reform synagogue leader David Saperstein recently suggested to us that TIKKUN should place greater emphasis on helping our readers take action in their workplaces, professions, and personal lives in a way that would reflect the ideals of tikkun olam-that our articles be prescriptive as well as descriptive. One way of doing this is for us to publish actual artifacts representing interventions in the world, interventions demonstrating attempts to shift the culture of particular social settings in a politics of meaning direction, in a direction that seeks to heal, repair, and transform a workplace, a professional organization or setting, a friendship group, or a family. One such example was our publication of the Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Social Responsibility Initiative one year ago in the July/August 1997 issue. That proposed amendment and initiative are examples of legal interventions that would require corporations to demonstrate a record of social responsibility-as measured by an Ethical Impact Report-as part of their effort to obtain government contracts. They are not just discussions of the need for corporations to change their bottom line from simply maximizing wealth and power to one that helps to create a more loving and caring society-they are examples of how to do it. And in fact preliminary efforts have been made to get the proposed Social Responsibility Initiative onto the ballot in San Francisco, Eugene, Oregon, and a few other cities.

What follows is an excerpt from another such effort-an effort to change the culture of New College of California, which has been my workplace for the last twenty-four years. Founded in 1971 in Father Jack Leary's living room, with twelve students and no money or property, New College was one of the thousands of experiments that emerged from the heightened political culture of the 1960s-its origins reflected a time when large numbers of people, especially young people, were willing to reject the seeming imperatives of the mainstream culture and commit themselves to creating an alternative reality, no matter how "unaccredited" this reality was by the dominant society.

Unfortunately, New College is one of the few experiments that survived the collapse of the social movements of that time. Today, it is accredited, has an annual budget of over six million dollars, and a thousand students attending one of its socially progressive programs at the undergraduate or graduate levels. But while New College has survived, it has had to weather the effects of the last twenty-five years, which have included the collapse of the Sixties, the conservatizing pressures of accreditation, twelve years of Reagan and Bush, the craziness of the Left as those dynamics were lived out within New College, the complex impact on the Left of the collapse of the Soviet Union (including the apparent inevitability of the globalization of capitalist values), and most recently the "maturing" of the Sixties generation itself as reflected in the liberal-corporatism of the Clinton years as well as the influx of a generation-X student body many of whose members were born after the spirit of the Sixties had begun to wane.

Add to this the fact that those of us who emerged as leaders of New College have changed also. We have remained radicals in the sense that we have retained our commitment to a fundamental transformation of the existing society in a more egalitarian and communal direction, but we have come to understand that the nature of this transformation involves a strong spiritual component, a "healing" rather than just a change in power relations. Imagine what it's like to have simultaneously internalized the effects of all of the historical forces that I've summarized in the preceding paragraph and have changed your own understanding of how to achieve the very same idealistic goals that you began with more than two decades ago! It's like starting out in one horse race and finding yourself, after so many times around the track that you can't remember when the race started much less when it is supposed to end, having switched horses and running against different horses than when the race began. …

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