Aspiring to Greatness (Mar 04)

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A friend from the Philippines, Nicanor Perlas, traveled through Boston about a month ago with a spiel about the need for good people to combine efforts for a “peaceful revolution.” He has a theory that violent revolutions have not and cannot work in the long run and that what we need is a worldwide movement that is based on more life giving precepts — on principles that value life and the planet. He actually believes that we are, across all of our divisions, capable of such common and transformative greatness. Is he crazy? Is he naive?

And then there is Christopher Phillips, the author of Socrates Café, wandering the country talking about the value of asking basic questions and then actually listening to the answers. I heard a segment on NPR where he asked a very simple question — “What is courage?” — of a group of homeless women. There was such strength in those answers that it gave me the sense that if we put those voices and creativity together we might indeed be capable of greatness. But does organized greed and cynicism always trump the more altruistic endeavor? And if it does, why does it — how does it? Is empire at this point so powerful that it completely owns our future orientation?

Meanwhile we’ve got a magazine to get out so I have to tear myself away from the momentous happenings in Haiti and in Spain and address myself to nonprofit organizational realities. There is a connection though, because it is our organizations — nonprofits – that are charged with helping people to access their hope and activate their best intentions. And, as Nicanor says, others around the world are counting on us. We are in a very powerful position.

Carl Sussman’s article, featured in the latest issue  and available at, is about how to organize ourselves so that we are capable not only of adapting well to our surroundings but of adapting our surroundings to us and to the best interests of our constituents. This, of course, requires us to move our spheres of influence well beyond our organizational boundaries and it requires a combination of a much less “expert” but more ethically anchored stance. In some ways, it promises to make our work easier — and certainly there is an embedded promise of greater effectiveness.

But you be the judge. We would love to hear back from you about this article. What resonated with you? What practices do you recognize in your own work and how do you see that playing out in terms of results?