Settling in.

Maui is a beautiful place, some say magical. I may be one of them. There’s a four hour time difference from Red Deer, Alberta to our place here – which we affectionately call Chip and Max’s Tiki Resort (tikihalekipa.com).

We bought this small flat a couple of years ago are slowly renovating. We’ve paid very careful attention to design and aesthetics, selecting colours and furnishings that invite creativity, relaxation, and fun. Each time I’m here I find space to explore my current identity, to write, to paint, and to get in touch with a broader perspective of life. I return home with a sharpened ability to see things my life and work in a relational context — nearly always feeling calmer and ready to carry on. The weight is a little lighter it seems. It’s a real treat to have space and time to be reflexive.

I’m reading Kenneth Gergen’s text titled An Invitation to Social Construction and thoroughly enjoying it. It’s like I’ve come home to a place where someone understand what I’ve been thinking and saying for years.

Recently, I’ve had many deep and lively discussions with colleagues in civic government that challenge the assumptions that we make about governance, authority, and civic leadership. I remember the very first council meeting I attended four years ago, as a newly elected councillor. We were to pass the organizational bylaw as one of the first matters of a new council. It legally allows us to ‘exist’ as a city. But why? I asked the question “what is the purpose of civic government?” and was so bold as to table the organizational bylaw until we could draft something that included a reason to exist. Strangely it may be a quintessential moment in my career as a participant in politics. I still feels as one of the moments of which I’m most proud.

So many organizations appear to exist for a sake onto itself, and I’ve always been curious what would happen if we were more explicit about exploring organizational purpose. Articulating it in writing, in conversation, in practice, in policy. Revisiting it often, feeding it, watching it grow and change — and being thrilled that it’s never complete and finished.

Organizations are creatures of human desire, and as such we should talk about our purpose for them. Even as our desires and passions change so must our organizations be flexible enough to morph.

From a constructionist perspective, the intervention of a single question altered the entire path of the organization and our community. It created an opening for council to explore together the meaning of our work, both as elected officials but also as participating citizens. It opened a door for the organization to more fully involve citizens in decisions that affect their future and future of their city.

Since then purpose dialogue has become deeply rooted in our organization and continues to provide as a philosophical perspective with which to consider every decision we make. Our new governance framework has aa its foundation the purpose of our city. Red Deer is being looked to for leadership in civic governance.

As I read through Ken’s thoughtful exploration of social construction I find myself feeling many interrelated thoughts. Firstly, I’m more in love with Ken then ever before. The robustness of his thinking and explanations makes me wonder if I have anything new to add to the conversation, or if even adding anything is valuable. I counter my own internal dialogue with, ‘of course you do, you are uniquely you and therefore only you can have your perspective, build from your years of personal experience.’

Now at the end of a day of reading, it’s dark. The sun has dropped into the ocean, I’ve not switched on any lights. It’s time for me to find a cocktail bar, some good food, and chat with perfect strangers. I wonder what will come of the evening.

1 comment to Settling in.

  • Sam Khany

    Dear Paul,

    This was fascinating. I think it is always great for any organization to constantly ask itself ontological questions of “why does this organization exist and what is its purpose?”. This allows for a constant re-evaluation of our assumptions and missions, allowing for greater dynamism and openness to future possibilities. I often find that many organizations become too worried with their past histories and decisions to be forward looking and able to rethink themselves. I wonder to what extent this should also become a bottom up process, where individuals within the organization also get the chance to rethink their role within the larger framework? While intuitively I would say that this should be happening, I could see that organizations by their very nature tend to be less flexible when it comes to their individual parts/members. But perhaps we should explore how individual members can allow for their own roles to also change, as the larger organization seeks to rethink its purpose.

    Look forward fo your next posts.
    Sam

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