We seem to be wired for stories. What calms a fussy child? What engages both mind and heart? What fills our media? What sells a product?
Most of all, how do we know who we are? The facts of our past matter much less than the story we tell ourselves about them. Was that disaster a horrible, soul-sucking abyss - or a time that let us learn how strong we are - or the source of hilarious tales? Is a physical disability something that squelches our freedom or something that tests our ingenuity?
Our big stories are often about outside forces or events that challenged us. Like the heroic epics that have been with the human race for thousands of years, those tend to be the stories in which we define ourselves.
Organizations - such human inventions! - do this, too. And like each of us, some organizations recognize their stories, and some let them swirl below the level of consciousness.
After the April 18 mandate from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I certainly made up stories that interpreted the situation! My stories had a lot to do with power and privilege versus active, generous love.
In contrast, LCWR said very little about its version of the story.
As our Solidarity with Sisters group formed itself in order to stand with them, I found LCWR's quiet... well... confusing. It felt strange to have data but no story.
What LCWR offered instead was process. Under stress, instead of a knee-jerk story, they made the deliberate choice of contemplation, community, dialog, and sustained focus on their mission.
Their capacity for attentive non-action is part of what makes LCWR such a powerful model of leadership. Right action is better than quick action.
And how do they find "right action"? I suggest that they do this by NOT focusing primarily on their own story.
They have a history here. Over time, what tools has LCWR offered its members to help them discern "the signs of the times" and their response? One example: the Systems Thinking Handbook on their website.
Systems thinking is about looking at ourselves AND outside ourselves - looking as deep and wide and far as we can - and recognizing the dynamic interplay of many players and forces. Business schools teach systems thinking as a core concept and essential tool.
Fundamentally, systems thinking says: my story is part of a much, much bigger story.
Organizations typically view systems thinking as a tool for organizational success. That's where LCWR seems radical, prophetic, perhaps unique.
LCWR could be like everyone else, particularly under current stresses. They could use systems-thinking tools to understand their internal systems and the larger systems of which they are a part, in order to preserve themselves and find ways to flourish.
Instead, here's what I read and hear in LCWR's public statements, in Sister Pat Farrell's Assembly address, in Sister Mary Hughes' speech at the National Press Club, in Sister Sandra Schneiders' writings on prophetic life and her Assembly address on leadership, in Sister Constance Fitzgerald's article on prophetic hope:
LCWR places itself firmly in context of the biggest story of all. What is God's story for the world? In God's story, what gifts can they offer? How should they offer them? What does this mean about how to proceed at this moment?
Asking those questions requires great courage and opens the possibility of wisdom.
Could LCWR's model influence US education of future leaders?
Let's use recent economic events to guess what business schools tend to teach future leaders about The Big Story for their future enterprises. Maybe self-preservation? Or market domination?
Of course our great public universities are not intended to teach their students to ask how their future enterprises can advance God's story. But what is the secular Biggest Story? Maybe: the common good? The global community?
LCWR teaches leadership. Leaders help people to know their true stories. We learn our own story in contemplation, community, dialog, and mission (a story) much, much bigger than our own.
I'd like LCWR's model to influence leadership and leadership training throughout society. I'd like LCWR to be contagious.