Cogito, ergo sum

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 4th, 2008 in Thoughts & Commentary


Myth of Sisyphus

One of the positive things about writing a blog is that it gives the author time to stop what she is doing, sit back and, OMG, think and reflect. For those who read blogs and respond, (and the response is the critical part here), the same thing is true: you sit back, contemplate an issue, form a response, and share it with the world. Giving oneself permission to stop work (that is, doing your share to deliver on the mission of the organization) to cogitate is something too. Too many people in the nonprofit sector see as a luxury when, in reality, it is truly a necessity.

As a college professor, I have always harangued (at least I’m sure that is how the students hear it) my students to think. I have promised them from the first day of class of every semester that I am not going to teach them what to think but how to think. And while there are plenty of professors around who see it as their jobs to teach students what to think, the majority seem believe that their real job is to equip students with the tools for being independent thinkers. But, increasingly, I find myself asking why? If upon graduation and joining the workforce people start to see pondering and musing as something that impedes their ability to get their jobs done, then why bother?

I was recently reminded of the Myth of Sisyphus, and Sisyphus’ task of rolling the boulder up the hill each day, only to have it roll down the hill each night. Although Jackson Browne’s song The Pretender is about so much more than the Myth of Sisyphus, I have always associated the line, “Get up and do it again, Amen” with Sisyphus. But never with the nonprofit sector. Those of us working in that sector are not supposed to feel drudgery in going into work, but rather joy. But I’m hearing the drudgery creep in to more and more people’s voices. And I think I know why.

Yes, it has to do with the fact that nonprofit employees are, by and large, overworked and underpaid. But that has always been the case. So, what is new now? My answer? We have sent the message, mostly obliquely, that thinking on the job about the job is not allowed; only doing the job is. We have robbed employees of the time to deliberate, ruminate, meditate, etc., on the key questions of their work: how could it be done better? Should we be doing it this way? Or at all? And the list goes on. Organizations have relegated strategic thinking to a periodic possibility, something that comes out only in the course of doing strategic planning. The reality is that strategic thinking by staff (and board) needs to be a pervasive, constant and cherished component of every nonprofit.

I think, therefore I am.

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.