(This digital version was edited by Stan De Loach, Ph.D., in November of 1998, and again in June of 2013.  It represents an expanded, updated version of the original article, published in Spanish in 1997 in Perspectivas de gestión, Número 2, Barcelona, España.  In the same year, it was  published in English, bearing the title "The Paths of Authority: From the unconscious to the transcendental.  Intervention at the Arab University of Jerusalem," in Feelings work in Europe, Guerini Studio, Milano, Italia.)
 


 
 

The paths of authority: From the unconscious to the transcendental.

Work at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem

 

David Gutmann, Ronan Pierre, Jacqueline Ternier-David, Christophe Verrier
 
 

Introduction and context


"We cannot teach others anything.
We can only help them in their discovery."


--Galileo

Since 1978, in France and in other countries, the Forum International de l'Innovation Sociale/International Forum for Social Innovation (FIIS) has organized conferences that continue and develop or extend a tradition of institutional transformation begun in 1947 with the founding of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London, England, and further developed after the establishment of the Leicester (England) Conference in 1957.

In the annual conferences organized by FIIS, which resemble workshops or seminars and which take place in France, both French and English are used and recognized as official languages for the conference work.  A large number of international participants, especially from the business world, attend these conferences.

Subsequent to the founding of the Tavistock Institute and the initiation of the Leicester Conference, what is today referred to as the "school of human relations" began to develop.  Since then, much professional work and writing have referred to Organizational Development (OD) as an approach to the understanding of humankind and the systems that men and women create and to which they belong.  Nonetheless, as consultants at FIIS (as designers and organizers of "learning from experience" conferences) and Praxis International (working as Advisers in Leadership), our activity approaches organizations in terms of what we call Institutional Transformation (IT).

Institutional Transformation differs from OD in the sense that its goal is to take into account, whenever possible, the unconscious and its expression.  As advisers in leadership or consultants in synthesis, our focus is on the exercise of authority and leadership in relation to the dynamics and processes within institutions.  Our work as consultants in synthesis revolves around trying to detect and interpret the unconscious phenomena affecting institutions.  We try to understand and convey awareness of the unconscious processes exerting influence in institutional life.

Our practice is centered on the following principle: the unconscious, when revealed and examined, is a resource that can open and transform blocked situations.  The following article uses the conference that we organized in East Jerusalem to illustrate more concretely the nature of our work and methodology.

The International Forum for Social Innovation (Paris, France), in collaboration with Al-Quds University (the Arab university in East Jerusalem), devised, prepared, and organized the first international Palestinian conference entitled "Leadership, Innovation and Transformation."  This joint effort took place under the direction of David Gutmann.  The conference took place at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, from 14 to 19 July 1996.  English was the language used for conference work.

Although the work undertaken and realized in such conferences is difficult to convey because of its fundamentally experiential character, the authors describe here some essential aspects of the method.  The context for this article is the recent application of this work in the Middle East, a part of the world that, due to the challenges and passionate conflicts alive there, permits us to illustrate the possibilities of a tool developed in the world of business but equally applicable in other fields.

In the complex and shifting context of the Middle East, questions concerning boundaries, identities, and the intergroup and intersystem relationships that encompass them are at the core of daily life for each individual and social group.  Surely, we thought, a conference entitled "Leadership, Innovation, and Transformation" would have a particular and logical resonance with its setting.

The methodology

Keeping in mind the fact that each conference develops a unique and singular experiential reality, we begin by describing the general content of seminars similar to this "Leadership, Innovation, and Transformation" conference.

In the first place, a conference, with its staff, participants, objectives, and goals, is an institution, in the same way that a firm, an association, or a football team are institutions.  The difference is that the conference has clearly defined and fixed time limits.  It is, therefore, a temporary institution.

Secondly, it is an institution designed for learning from experience; this learning method is centered in the conference participants' exploring and interpreting their experience, as it is happening, in the here-and-now.

In the experiential field of the conference, participants encounter, in a brief period though in an intense form, situations similar to those they meet with daily in the organizations in which they must exercise their authority and leadership, as well as demonstrate their capacities for innovation and transformation.

Under such conditions, each participant has an opportunity to work with the unconscious political, psychic, and spiritual themes that constitute the dynamic organizational life active in institutions of every sort.  As a result, whether in an intellectual or at times highly affective way, participants can develop and enrich their rational and emotional understanding of their personal experience of what is at stake in institutional life.

Revealing the unconscious
in order to transform the conscious

During a conference of this type, staff consultants are particularly aware of and attentive to three dimensions of human experience:

1.  The political dimension (what is at stake in terms of the balance of power, rules, procedures, and public behaviors)

2.  The psychic dimension (each person's unconscious mental image of the institution, marked by his or her inner fantasies about others and others' roles in the institution, the management of power, and institutional and organizational life in general).  The psychic dimension includes the unconscious elements of human experience.

3.  The spiritual dimension (individuals' posture vis-à-vis the leadership of the organization and their belief or faith in the institution, as well as their way of relating to the unknown, as epitomized in the mysteries of life and death).  The spiritual dimension constitutes the transcendental element of the temporary institution.

The intent of the design and staff of these conferences is to bring to the light of day or reveal the individual or collective barriers that, in their translation into institutional form, keep social innovation from developing as a preliminary route to institutional transformation.

Conference staff assumes two distinct roles.  On the one hand, it takes up the role of management.  The administration of the conference shares in this management role.  The way in which staff assigns its roles and delegates its duties and responsibilities is explicitly made available to the participants for their examination and scrutiny.

In another role, staff members intervene as consultants during the conference's working sessions.  As consultants, they develop working hypotheses about the events that they witness and in which they also participate.  In the here-and-now, consultants try to develop working hypotheses that illuminate the political, psychic, or spiritual themes that are at work.  The working hypotheses developed present these themes out loud and in public.  Often, such working hypotheses focus on the psychological blocks, resistances, or fears that impede the institution's task or work.

One of the basic assumptions in these conferences is that the collective revelation and expression of organizational resistances is a way of transforming the institution.  Therefore, to discuss and debate these resistances is a way to work them out, to go beyond them, and to transform them.

Recognizing and respecting boundaries
in order to transform them into useful resources

The primary task or fundamental objective of the conference is generally stated as:
 

To learn about leadership, innovation, and transformation, within the conference taken as an institutional system.


As a consequence of this fundamental objective, the schedule is strictly adhered to.  A long-established principle guiding these conferences is the value of respect for the boundaries of time and space.  They provide a container within which learning can take place and be scrutinized.

The conference offers a structure in which boundaries are continuously clarified.  They serve as foundations and context for the interpretation of the experiences lived by participants inside the conference boundaries.  During the conference, several distinct types of working sessions are interspersed (for example, plenary sessions, large study systems, small study systems, review groups).  Their existence is defined by their temporal, spatial, and task boundaries.  These boundaries are defined explicitly and with much precision.

Whether we speak of boundaries proposed and implemented in the conference or whether we are dealing with boundaries that separate individuals from systems, social groups, or territorial entities, the issue is undoubtedly the same.

In essence, social innovation does not consist in shifting from a closed conception of the boundary (as implied in the word barricade) to a more open conception (as the word boundary indicates).  Rather it involves adding the notion that if a boundary marks a discontinuity, it is equally and perhaps more significantly a place of passage and transaction.  Without boundaries, there are no differences, but neither are there transactions.

The words boundaries (deriving from the word to bind, which means to "tie"), borders, barriers, and barricades constitute a progression in meaning that denotes an increase in degree of closure or impermeability.  In terms of institutional transformation, it is necessary that the boundaries not be converted into borders, barriers, or barricades.  Conversely, barricades must be converted into boundaries, if meaningful work is to take place.

The conference in East Jerusalem: July 1996

The conference at Al-Quds University took place in East Jerusalem—the city that stands as a symbol of impassioned conflicts about religious identity in the Middle-East—at a time when there was suddenly increasing tension between Israelis and Palestinians (for example, the Israeli official Rabin's assassination in 1995 and the election in Israel in the spring of 1996 of a pro-Likud government that was more circumspect in regards to putting into practice the Oslo accords).

Of the 36 participants registered for the conference, the maximum permitted, twenty-eight were Palestinians, one of whom was of European origin.  Six were Israelis, of whom three were Jews and three Arabs.  Two of the Arabs were Muslims and one was Christian.  Two participants were Europeans, one French and the other Belgian.

The staff was composed of eight persons of different nationalities, religions, and cultures.  Staff members came from the Palestinian Authority, the United States, France, India, and Israel.  Islam and almost all Judeo-Christian religions were represented.  The director of the conference was a European (French) Jew.

Certain civic activities or tasks, such as creating territories, instituting borders, building a democracy, instituting government, building networks, roads, cities, and moving populations, set loose fears and anxieties and provoke obvious resistances, in the widest sense of the word.  These resistances are completely understandable because such transformations demand an evolution in behaviors, habits, and mentalities.  Since involving and engaging conference participants in active and passive transformational processes is a stated aim for the work, a certain level of resistance is anticipated.

A conference event and the line of thought that it provoked

It is difficult to render in written form the richness of the situations that developed in the conference.  Yet, one of those situations, as well as the main working hypotheses formulated and presented by the consultants, deserves description.

An early situation helped staff to begin to understand what was at stake in the here-and-now of this temporary institution.  In one of the first sessions of the Small Study Group, also called the Small Study System, the group members elected a chairman to moderate the discussion.  The consultant providing consultation to the group noted, with surprise, that the person chosen was the only Jewish Israeli in the group.  Not including the consultant, all the remaining group members were Palestinians.  This observation and its factuality surprised even the person elected.

Was this situation perhaps a sign of difficulty for the Palestinians in imagining themselves in a role other than one dominated, controlled, or governed by Israelis?  This possibility or interpretation of the situation became the core for what we call a working hypothesis, used to explain or interpret the institution's behaviors and to promote attention to resolutions of resistances, which impede progress or transformation.

Recounted here, in written form, this interpretation may seem to be an exaggerated generalization.  But the public presentation of the working hypothesis in the group, in the heat of the situation, in the here-and-now, is a way to give birth to debate or interchange.  The interchanges and exchanges are sometimes animated or violent.  Disagreements and alternate formulations for understanding events are expressed in revealing ways.  The subsequent debate opens the door to encounters.

Presenting the interpretation of events permits the emergence or revelation of habits, prejudices, defensive attitudes, fears, and anxieties.  All these elements can inhibit the individual in his relationship with others and may reflect resistance to the process of social innovation.  An accurate interpretation makes possible the alteration of the factors that serve as resistances to encounter with the Other and social innovation.

The impossible transaction

The conference was meant to help members understand the transformations that do and must accompany recent political evolution in the Middle East.  The main issue for the participants was to understand their place in the process of transition from an Israeli authority to a Palestinian Authority.

Throughout the conference, the staff had great difficulties in persuading the participants to respect the conference's time, space, and task boundaries.

In the participants' awareness, borders external to the conference were acutely present inside the conference, since numerous Palestinians (besides the 36 participants) had been forbidden to enter Jerusalem and could not participate in the conference.  Others were stopped on various occasions at the border, the Green Line, and were therefore not able to meet in Jerusalem.

On various occasions, staff witnessed the participants' difficulty in respecting the space and time boundaries within which the conference developed.  Staff was faced with many cases of absence and tardiness.  Some participants left the conference at the very beginning, never to return.  Others left but came back a few days later.  Other participants attended only a few sessions.  Some went only to certain sessions or came late to events.

The boundaries defining the conference's fundamental objective were also monitored and violated.  For example, one day a woman brought her child to the sessions; it was difficult for the staff to make clear to her and to other members that by her behavior she had forced or violated a boundary.

These situations allowed the staff to propose the following working hypothesis:

The local resistance with respect to limits (boundaries) served as the expression of a more widespread resistance.  This resistance took the form of a generalized resistance to respecting borders in the Middle East.
The consultants used the following line of thought in their work: local political borders, as limits or demarcations, have been contested since the creation of Israel.  They continue to be politically and psychically significant, to such a degree that an agreement on a common border between Israelis and Palestinians seemed (in the here-and-now of the conference) impossible from a political point of view.  The rejection or denial of boundaries as common or shared limits was made perceptible on multiple occasions.

Can this type of hypothesis be accurate or valid?  One may object that the absenteeism or lateness is merely an artifact of the Levantine temperament or cultural background.  However, such working hypotheses are put forward in the here-and-now, as the situations are occurring.  They draw their power from evident and public realities available for observation and examination by all persons present.  The work of synthesis, whether on the part of the staff consultants or on the part of conference participants, consists in attempting to give sense and cohesion to the data presented by experiences often disregarded or overlooked in organizational settings.

On having these data presented publicly and at times visibly, a discussion or debate can begin, bringing up additional related elements for consideration.  Each refinement or advancement leads to structural changes, which in turn inform other interventions by the consultants, and so on progressively.  By means of successive interpretations referring to concrete, evident data in the group's or system's life, consultants work to formulate hypotheses that correspond to the current situation and that, by so doing, can promote progress and transformation.

With successive interpretations, we expect that the "hidden elements"1 of the institution will be revealed.  The overt difficulties in a situation may already be clear or suspected.  In this case, the work of the staff could be analyzed thusly: it was essential to work with the notion of boundaries because territorial borders are precisely the theme of conflicts in the Middle East.

A  striking revelation was the conference participants' difficulty in acknowledging borders as places of transaction, of exchange, of commerce.  One situation revealed this difficulty in a straightforward way: the two Palestinians on staff, who had roles as administrators, were approached by conference participants, who posed questions about their administrative roles.  This questioning was confrontational and forcefully so; members accosted the two Palestenians and asked them why they had agreed to "serve" such a staff, composed of individuals representing "primitive" peoples.

For a better understanding of this incident, one must recall that one of the staff consultants was an Afro-American woman and another consultant was an Indian Hindu.  Also, in all such conferences, as in most institutions (firms or businesses, for example), the administrator's role is perceived as unrewarding.  He or she is often considered to be a servant or handmaid.  Thus, the two Palestinian administrators were seen by participants as "servants" of other staff members, who were largely Westerners.

The participants' collective projection of their fantasies, prejudices, and beliefs onto the staff suggested the following working hypothesis: participants were acting as if staff could be perceived only as an extremely hierarchical group, functioning with highly hierarchical roles (director, consultants, administrators).  Their attitudes suggested that they regarded the idea of engaging in a shared international, intercultural project, as a team and with a variety of necessary and interdependent roles, as unthinkable or perhaps as unconscionable.

In reality, the staff embodied a heterogeneous team, composed of different nationalities, cultures, and religions, that exercised its role as staff in order to produce results that are best understood as the fruit of voluntary collaboration and cooperation.

As consultants and members of FIIS, we believe that for an institution to achieve its fundamental objectives, it is necessary for each person to exercise her or his institutional role.  This belief applies for all institutions.  Ideally, relations between managers and their subordinates have to be structured with regard to the institution's primary task and cannot be reduced to hierarchical links.

In the temporary learning institution of the conference, one of the working hypotheses put forward by the consultants was that the Palestinian members were reluctant to accept or engage in any cooperation other than that among themselves.  It was as if the Palestinians could count only on themselves.  The disproportion in the number of Israelis and Palestinians attending the conference may have provoked such an attitude or may have been another manifestation of the same dynamic or resistance.

With respect to the idea of boundaries, it appeared to the staff that for the Palestinians and perhaps for the Israelis also, differences of nationality or religion stood as uncrossable barriers or barricades.  In reality, a boundary is also a place of contact and transaction and permits the possibly of cooperation (between individuals and countries, for example).  Because a transaction sets two systems in relation to each other, any transaction has an aspect of linking as well as of being a form of communicating by means of an exchange.  These dual characteristics probably increase the resistance to accepting boundaries as places of interaction.

A "Prison in the Mind"

Observation of the role of cultural identity in the interaction of the two societies (Israeli and Palestinian) led to seeing their blocked relationship.  Each saw the other as if in a mirror.  Their actions suggested the image of two societies coming together face-to-face in a mirror-like encounter.  We caught a glimpse of the nature and genesis of the blockage and developed the following working hypothesis:

For both sets of participants, events were happening in a mental state which fueled reciprocal exclusion.  This mental state was characterized by a representation of oneself and of the society one belonged to as closed off.  The image that circumstances suggested to the staff was one of confinement.  Each person, whether Palestinian or Israeli, carried within an attitude of confinement and imposed an image or mood of confinement on relations with the other.  On the Palestinian side, the image seemed to be of a "Prison in the Mind."  On the Israeli side, it was of a "Ghetto in the Mind."
The working hypothesis, here described as a "Prison in the Mind," was formulated during the conference by the staff as they tried to understand the behavior of participants.  Some Palestinian participants had been in Israeli prisons for many years.  These participants lived the current situation as if they were constantly constrained by hostile authorities—embodied by their fantasies and expectations about the staff in general or about other participants.  In reality, they acted as if they carried the prison within them--an "image" in the mind or a "system" in the mind, in other words.

It seemed to us that a "prison in the mind" could be a good metaphor of an unconscious representation of life for the Palestinians.  In general, prison is a closed place.  The temporal prohibitions against free movement in this geography are the curfews, walls, and barbed wire fences that enclose the prisoners.  These confining elements definitely lend a touch of reality to a people's sense of confinement or enclosure.  And indeed they form part of the daily life of the Palestinians.  In prison, existence is organized around a single sex.  In such a case, only part of life is possible or attainable.

Confronted with this representation, the Israelis seemed to bring forth from within themselves another type or system of confinement: a "Ghetto in the Mind."  The images born of the Jewish people's history confronted the Palestinians' images.  The Israelis, on account of their history, can counter the prison image with yet another type of confinement: the ghetto, in which a substantial part of vital functions are permitted.  But the functions possible are generally on the order of survival, and existence often carries either a banal or a catastrophic flavor.  The purpose or goal is to maintain life; the struggle to do so colors all aspects of daily life.

It was as if the images from Jewish history were confronting the images from Palestinian history.  Thus, through these images, each Middle Eastern participant, by embracing different but related conceptions of life as a closed, confined, or limited engagement, felt and acted as if in opposition to the other and indeed even to him/herself.  In order for the conference's collaborative learning task to be achieved, it was critical to work with these strongly internalized representations.

The two types of confinement are not complementary.  Somehow, they reproduce the political and human situation in the Middle East.  And that is a blocked situation.  The Oslo agreements initiated a transformation, a concrete, material one.  But transformations require mental correlates or corresponding "images in the mind" in order to be living realities.  The transformation of the spirit and mentality has been more uncertain, as Rabin's assassination showed.  On the Israeli side as well as on the Palestinian side, there are those firmly opposed to the peace process.

Once these representations were revealed, the question became what to do with them.  How could staff work with them to create a process of transformation?  How does one engage a transformation process?  How does one step out of confinement?

During the conference, the image of a tunnel appeared as a way out of confinement.  Participants contemplated a tunnel, like the one in Jerusalem, on account of which the Jews and Arabs were again in conflict in September 1996, as a possible "way out."  The participants worked on this image, elaborating publicly the projections and feelings that it aroused.  They explored the tunnel as a symbol, in order to answer key questions.  How does one escape from a prison?  How does one move from the ghetto?  A tunnel, like the one in Jerusalem, can also be a cause of fighting between Arabs and Jews (September 1996).  Can a tunnel be the answer?

But a tunnel does not allow two parties to meet.  It is not a forum or a place of discussion or exchange.  It is a "closed exit."  A tunnel leads to the other end and places one on the opposite side, on the adverse side.  The middle ground is often too close for comfort, leaving no room to meet in the middle.  The tunnel can also be regarded as a good metaphor for the inevitability of fate.  The invocation of fate enables us to act without responsibility, without exercising our authority.

The staff's task was to detect these resistances (the "images in the mind") and to reveal them in order to help the participants to take up their own authority.  By taking up their own authority, less blinded by unconscious strictures and assumptions, the participants could become co-authors of a transformation of the temporary institution that they were co-creating and using as a receptacle for their unconscious expectations and projections.

Movement toward a secular society

It was not easy to organize the conference in East Jerusalem.  For financial reasons above all, the preparations were difficult.  A European sponsor, Electricité de France, agreed to provide funding to Al-Quds University.  Without this support, the conference probably would never have taken place.

Moreover, the event took place under tough external conditions.  Substantial obstacles to mounting the conference had to be overcome.  Just after the May 1996 elections in Israel, which brought to power a government hostile to the Oslo agreements, tension suddenly rose in the Palestinian territories as Israelis again closed the borders.  Some Palestinian members, from Bethlehem to Ramalha, from Gaza to Jericho, were forced to give up their plans to attend the conference due to the sealing off of the Palestinian territories.  In spite of that, a full complement of participants was eventually enrolled, allowing us to overcome a most important obstacle.

During the conference, the staff's role was challenged several times with moderately violent responses by a subgrouping of the participants.  This type of explicit scrutiny is common in conferences of this type.

In the first place, such challenge is an expression of the anxiety felt by the members as they face the unknown, represented by the interchange and confrontation with the collective, with the Other.  Anxiety is caused by the prospective of having to deal with the unknown.  In addition, it is a response to the challenges posed by experiential learning about one's own and others' authority.  Staff uses this type of aggressive response as a basis for its understanding and interventions.  Challenges of this sort are used as a medium through which the consultants express their working hypotheses.

On the fourth day, the staff was severely attacked.  Two Palestinians, who had attended only the first session on the first day, came back on the fourth day.  During the final session of the Institutional System Event2, they expressed their violent opposition to the staff and to the way in which the staff directed the conference.  They impugned the general utility of the conference.  In doing so, they took the lead in rallying other participants and stirring an internal political movement characterized by confrontation and challenge of the staff's authority.

Their intervention shook up the members who had attended all the sessions on a daily basis and had worked together to create ties and solidarity.  What surprised the staff was the way in which the spokespersons for the challenge were two Palestinians, employees of the University, who had for practical purposes not participated in conference events.

These two men joined two other male participants.  These four men sat together, as if they were forming a physical front of opposition in the space used for the last session of the Institutional System Event.  The men broke the initial circular disposition of the chairs in the room (Figure 1).  An obvious association, made by the staff, was to suggest that these men represented an "Islamic Front."

Figure  1

Recalling that the two men were chemists, the staff used their observation and the sentiments provoked by the situation to formulate the following working hypothesis: the two men had come back in order to set off a "bomb" in the temporary institution of the conference, in order to sabotage the current course of transformational processes.

This hypothesis was put forward and examined by the participants.  Once again, the clear parallel or resonance between the incidents lived or enacted inside the conference and what was happening outside in the neighboring region (the attacks that preceded the Israeli elections of May 1996) was a discovery that greatly surprised the participants.

Formulating and presenting such working hypotheses in a metaphoric way can raise consciousness about what is really at stake in a given situation.

Women also played an active role in the conference's course and learning.  A single example may suffice to illustrate this point.  The first day a young blonde female student wearing a veil asked an employee of the University to bring her into the room and point out to her where she could sit.  She did not exercise her own authority by taking her place in the plenary opening session.

At the end of the conference, it was with her own full authority that she entered and sat directly in front of the staff.  Moreover, immediately after the conference, she gave the director a set of drawings that she had made.  They depicted her different mental states throughout the six days of the conference.  In several of them, she had portrayed herself without a veil.

Thus, part of the resistances expressed during the conference were worked out and possibly transformed.  After the conference ended, the participants organized a party.  Several articles describing the event, complete with photographs, appeared in the Palestinian press.  Subsequently, officials of FIIS and Al-Quds University (with the exception of its President, who had to go to Gaza for an urgent meeting) met for talks.  These talks led to a statement of intention to continue the conferences as an annual part of an official program of the University's educational efforts, thus assuring sources of funding.

In October of 1996, the authorities at the University reconsidered their decision and decided that it would be impossible to organize the conference in 1997.  We were surprised and concerned.  However, by the end of December 1996, this rejection appeared to be less firm.  Currently, there are initial plans to hold the conference again in the summer of 1999.

Today, the situation seems to be less closed.  This more receptive state of affairs seems to be developing (perhaps not coincidentally) at the same time that new, though still fragile, political contacts are being made between Israeli and Palestinian authorities.   From the political, psychic, and spiritual points of view, this conference seems to continue to echo its environment.

The radicalization of the political environment was an important factor in the decision not to organize the conference in 1997 and 1998.  But what is at stake is deeper and not easy to name.  When we examine all the valid reasons for this refusal or exclusion of the conference, they seem of minor importance.  Are they not secondary?

We began to work with the participants on the current reality of the Palestinian society, its daily experience, with its clan structures that are extremely hierarchical and undoubtedly reinforced by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  We pointed out the difficulties in locating and respecting borders, the difficulties with identities, as well as difficulties in dealing with one's own personal authority.

The conference enabled the participants to explore the possibility of a people's society.  A lay society, meaning a society of the people, has its etymological foundations in the words secular and common, which in turn derive from the Greek word laikós.  A society of persons, men and women in equality, was explored in the course of the conference.  Logically, a lay society contrasts and may even be in opposition to the actual "theocratic" society, which seems to be the dominant reality in Palestinian society.  The influence of a society of clerics seems to be growing in Israel, also.

The West's quest?

This working hypothesis—the emergence of a secular society—was formulated almost six months after the conference, when some French members of the staff (including the director) met together.  It stirs us to think about the meaning of our going to Jerusalem.  It is obvious that the idea of participating in an emerging secular society that gives voice to its people appeals to us.  As Europeans, we have inherited the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment.

What was the staff searching for by going to East Jerusalem?  Our activity is probably an expression of a certain fascination with Jerusalem, the sacred land that we would like to see secular, if by secular we mean a land of pacific and transformed religious passions.

The place, which symbolizes universal conflicts based in individual and collective identities, appeared to us to be a privileged location for the development of such a conference.  It is a symbol of a more universal identity crisis, one which the composition of the European Economic Community may also provoke.  To a degree, then, it may be our own experience that we legitimize through our participation in these conferences.  Perhaps for that reason, even when this experience is evoked today, our excitement or exhilaration is still vivid and easy to understand.

This conference symbolizes a meeting between the West and the East.  Is it just an accident of fate or will it permit us to continue to struggle with its present and future meanings?  We have inherited the thinking of the Age of Enlightenment, as well as methods born of the psychoanalytic movement, which, it is essential to remember, had its origins in the mind and work of a Viennese Jew.  Could we not have wanted, all over again, to re-conquer a sacred land, just as the Crusaders did a few hundred years ago?  Were we demonstrating Western naïveté?

If so, we accept the judgment.  And we want to remark that to these conferences the staff, no less than the participants, brings its own perceptions and preconceptions—its own unconscious, in other words.  The staff's fundamental objective is to help convert the preconception to procreation within the framework of the temporary learning institution that is the conference.

Our line of questioning demonstrates how starting with facts, images, and fantasies, one can make associations—publicly expressed and collectively examined—that in a meaningful and useful way, little by little, provide the hidden logic for certain actions and realities.  This meaning is in no way the sole truth.  The sense or meaning elaborated in the moment or even afterwards can be a temporary prerequisite or "time out" in which to fashion understanding of behaviors that are more critical to the degree that they are hidden or respond to covert phenomena.

This conference enables us to affirm that working to reveal and understand parts of the unconscious is the only way to fight against traditional resistances—"the images and working metaphors of social systems that exist in the mind."  The images' or metaphors' capacity as resistances derives from the fact that they come to be externalized and to reside in and manipulate the institutions that we create and inhabit.

Conferences of this kind invite each participant to explore and invent her or his own identity.  They facilitate an understanding of the weight of dependency structures that exist inside of us.  They develop comprehension of the dependency bonds that color individuals' relations to institutions.  It is critical to gain competence in the management of these mental structures, because they hide or distort external reality and impede innovation.  They short-circuit transformation.  In the process of growing more sophisticated in handling these subtle, hidden, yet powerfully influential social forces, individuals may more rigorously assume and more freely and uncompromisingly exercise their own authority.

When we succeed in revealing part of the unconscious, some walls are removed, but only just shortly before the collective unconscious, as a meta-system, installs itself and again gains the upper hand.  This requires more work on resistances, which will result in another phase of progression and regression.  This new work permits yet another advance, and so on.3

Thus, by acknowledging and using this perpetual course of growth in understanding the rich resources provided by the unconscious, we can assist Institutional Transformation in human systems and organizations.
 


Notes

1  René Girard, in his book Des choses cachées depuis l'origine du monde (lit., About things hidden since the  world's beginning), maintains the belief that the scapegoat phenomenon is constant and universal in human groups.  In our experience, the "hidden elements" are the constant elements of all institutions.  They have an anthropological base and are hidden only to those who choose not to see them.

2  The sessions comprising the Institutional System Event are designed to permit the study the nature of relations and relatedness between conference members and the management of the Institutional System Event, which is constituted by part of the staff.

3   See "Transformation et ses zig-zags," by Gutmann D, Ternier-David J, Verrier C., in Groups and transformation, Ubeviste Processer, Copenhagen, Denmark, February, 1996.

 



Summary of this article (in Deutsch, English, español, français, italiano)
Versión en español de este artículo
Related articles / Otros artículos relacionados (in English / en español)
Relation between Institutional Transformation and Organizational Development
Small Study Systems
Institutional System Event


Seminars similar to the "Leadership, Innovation, and Transformation" conference described herein are held by other international organizations:

In France and other countries: www.ifsi-fiis-conferences.com
In the United States of America: www.akriceinstitute.org

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