Pride Goeth

Posted by Joan Ulmer on August 14th, 2014 in Thoughts & Commentary

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I do believe that at birth we are all tabula rasa, and it is nurture that takes over and shapes our ways of thinking, doing, responding, etc.  When people say, it is “human nature to do …,” I cringe.   I know nothing that is human nature.   (Instinct and human nature are not one, as the former is something that we all do, as definitions say, without “knowing” or thinking; we just do).

As the world threatens to crumbles around us, I am struck by how poorly generation after generation, across the globe, has learned from the past and how inadequately older generations have taught the hazards of creating “different” that leads to placing people, things, countries, etc. into those categories and causing hostilities where none should be.

I am just now reading Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants, published in September 2010 and the first in this triology.  While I have read extensively about World War II, I have done practically no reading about World War I beyond what I was forced to read in high school and college history classes.  So, I am learning a lot (always checking to make sure I am differentiating the historic part from the fiction).  And I am struck, once again, by the absurdity of war when that war is fought to protect pride fueled by arbitrariness.  Pride that reveres winning above all else, regardless of the costs.  Pride that doesn’t allow negotiation or compromise or the recognition that difference is simply that—different—and should never be used as a value judgment.

As the changing maps of Europe and Africa over the last 100 years show, a country’s boundary is nothing more than a line a cartographer draws after some arbitrary decision; making these lines more than that makes for senseless war-which we have seen, again and again.  I’ve never been sure whether my paternal great grandfather came from Russia or Poland, as if it really matters; it was just a moveable line.   But I do know for sure that he was a Rabbi, and that line, elevated to a judgment, sadly, is the one that matters-still today, if not even more so today.

Lines of all sorts-separating this from that, and you from me-continue to be used to make the lives of everyone today more difficult and miserable than they should.  And the nonprofit sector, despite what we are supposed to represent, contributes (very often passively) to keeping lines entrenched, rather than breaking them down.

What got me started on this, beyond reading Follett’s book, was an email invitation I got to register for an “advanced degree open house” for “professionals.”   I immediately forwarded it to the people in charge of marketing and recruiting for our Masters in Nonprofit Leadership, only to be told that the event, sponsored by the local business journal was only for MBA and EMBA (executive MBA) programs.  What?  There are no professionals out there with advanced degrees other than MBAs?  I certainly think of myself as a professional.  I don’t have an MBA, but I do have a Masters degree-and, oh, yes, I have a one-up degree:  a Ph.D!  That should count for something, no?  Just not a degree that “professionals” welcome.

Yet, again, the business world is separating itself-drawing that line between business and nonprofit; us and them.   And nonprofits, in turn, draw their own lines and embrace some of the very benchmarks that its dividers value.  Bigger nonprofits are better than smaller ones; higher paid executive directors (oh, excuse me, the title for indicating serious leadership-president and CEO) are better (could they be more “professional”?) than lesser paid executive directors; determining value by the address and quality of the offices rather than the contributions of the work done in an office.

And when lines are drawn, judgment seems to follow:  we are better, smarter, do it “right,” suggesting that the others are worse, less bright, don’t do it as well.  And then when things come along that could really help us do our work better, bring greater benefit to our clients, such as a merger or a partnership, those lines becomes thicker and darker, and pride rips forth and starts demanding things, such as our name comes first in the announcement or our executive director must be the top dog or our board president must be the president of the merged board.  And these all become nonnegotiable.   And, so, the negotiations go on for more months, if not years, longer than is really necessary, while clients suffer.  All because, like the world in which we live, we first divide, then we hate and then pride gets the better of us.

We do have too many nonprofits in the U.S.  At 1.6 million, there is duplication of services right and left; there is growing competition for a money pie that isn’t keeping pace with that growth in competition.  There seems to be a growing number of good members disgruntled by their bad board experiences who have, thusly, given up on board service.  And, of course, there is the question of who will lead all these organizations into the future.  I cite but a few examples of the challenges facing the sector.  We, too, must erase the lines, stamp out pride and remember the common call:  to improve the quality of life for all in our communities.

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