zen and the art of administration

I am not a scholar of Buddhism in general or of zen in particular.  I’ve done some reading over the years, dipping in hither and thither, but nothing systematic.  I like Stephen Batchelor‘s interpretation and much of my thinking on zen has also influenced by the connections between zen and martial arts, which isn’t surprising after having studied and practiced aikido for some 20 years.

Legend has it that Ueshiba Morehei O’Sensei, the founder of aikido, had no time for zen.  I will admit that this gives room for the nagging question in the back of my mind, a small quiet but nonetheless persistent question, of whether I’ll be able to do O’Sensei’s aikido without having O’Sensei’s view of the world.

But then the louder, more realistic and somewhat more reasonable, voice comes in and says, you’ll never be able to do O’Sensei’s aikido anyway, given y’all’s different paths through life, and so don’t sweat it; just do the best you can.

And this is a very zen attitude, as I have come rightly or wrongly to understand zen.  It goes back to the old adage, which I read somewhere but for which I didn’t note the source: there’s no point in worrying about the things over which you have no control.  And there’s no point in worrying about the things over which you have some control. As Yoda says, Try not.  Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.

But what does all of this have to do with being an administrator?  One of the basic tenets that I take from Buddhism is that the world is as the world is, whether I pay attention to it or not.  I have the choice of recognizing the world as it is or not, but the world abides and doesn’t care or notice the choice I’ve made.

So part of being an administrator is keeping an eye on and being aware of everything.  This is hard to do and is impossible to do alone, and this realization has played a large part in how I’ve tried to develop and structure my approach to administration.  I have always tried to view myself and to act as one part of a much larger team.  After all, the more eyes we have surveying the horizon, the more of the horizon we can see.

And this brings up another aspect of this line of thought, which is that of contingency.  I’m aware that contingency is a word that has multiple related meanings, but the meaning I’m using here is one thing depending on another.

Large organizations are complex.  One change hither may well cause or require a change thither.  A butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the organization, and sometime later there might arise a small storm elsewhere in the organization.

And so any change, however local, needs to be considered with an eye towards its contingent effects elsewhere.  The conservative view would be, make then no changes, but I don’t see this as a reasonable view to take.  One reason is that the external environment, the rest of the world, is constantly changing and so the contingencies will always reach far far beyonds the bounds of the organization and it’s impossible to ignore these external changes.

But we can’t ignore these external changes or the need for internal changes in response to each other and to the external changes.  And so all we can do is to think through the contingent results of these changes and to shape ourselves as best we can in the face of them.

I’m sure that these ideas have been explored by others, and if you’re reading this and have come across these or similar ideas before, I’d be interested in sources.

~ by Jim Anderson on 28 January 2018.

2 Responses to “zen and the art of administration”

  1. Just back from downhill ski trip, so little spare brain right now (we’re at the massive laundry and housecleaning stage). So I have printed this out to think about — expect comment within a week…

  2. […] I read what things I can get my hands on, from articles at WONKHE and HEPI, to things I acquire via Twitter and colleagues and elsewhere, and I occasionally speculate on my own on various small aspects of this general question, including the hither and the thither and the yon. […]

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