The Great Transition/10 – It is on the peripheries that one learns how to generate and re-generate vocations
by Luigino Bruni
published in pdf Avvenire (70 KB) on 08/03/2015
God created man as the sea created the continents: by withdrawing.
The big processes of change, those capable of regenerating the entire body and give way to a new spring, are never triggered and driven by the elites ruling in the phase of the emergence of the crisis. This dynamic is well-known and generally applied, therefore it is also true for the entities that we have called communities and charismatic movements (because they were born from a charisma, the gift of "looking differently" at the world).
The most difficult but very important job of those who have to manage a living charismatic organisation in decline is to understand - possibly at the right time - that the most important process they should enable is the creation, by their own retiring, of the spaces of freedom and creativity that allow for the emergence of new dynamics and people who are different from those that they have generated. It is similarly important for them to be able to recognise these different people in the youngest son grazing the flock outside the house, in a child from a small town of Judah, in a brother cast away and sold as a slave. But when the ruling classes think, often in good faith, that they have to manage their own change, they almost inevitably end up accentuating the disease they actually want to cure.
The entities that bloom from ideals are of two types: those that arise from the start as organizations, and those that become organisations after being born as a movement. In the first case, the one we have been calling Ideal Driven Organizations (IDO), their flowering and duration depend strongly on their ability to create good structures, works and also robust, agile and efficient organizations. Here, if the founders' project does not become "works", it all ends with the first generation. As for the groups that are born as movements, what happens is just the opposite: the charismatic movement declines if after becoming an organization it cannot be always reborn as a movement, by courageously renewing and dismantling the organizational forms that it has generated, and by resuming its journey towards new lands. Even in these entities there comes a time for becoming an organization, but, if they get stuck at this stage, the prophetic power of the charisma starts fading away, and in some cases it disappears. The prophetic vitality of a charismatic movement is generating a lot of IDO-s, without itself becoming an IDO - because in this case the Organization devours the Ideal's Drive.
Once a movement becomes an organization it can go through a new charismatic spring if in some marginal zone of the "kingdom" some creative minorities begin to rebuild the conditions for reviving the very "miracle" of the first foundation of the charisma: the same enthusiasm, the same joy and the same fruits. The process that leads these minorities become the majority is called reform, and it is the only possible cure for the collective entities that are stuck - still alive but no longer generative. Therefore the really necessary operation for the renewal of a movement that's become an organization and wants to be a movement again is that its managers should understand the need to create the conditions for new freedom and innovation that will lead others, not them, to re-launch a new charismatic phase, to become a movement again. That's why it is understandable that the crucial question is how to manage the process of renewal in those charismatic movement-communities that, notwithstanding the many difficulties, still have the desire and the potential for a future - and, thank God, there are still many of them.
The first general pre-condition is to try not to accentuate the disease while making efforts to cure it. When a charismatic group starts to feel a decline, its leaders naturally begin to think that the cure is to change the structures and work on the organization itself. Thus, to reduce the weight of an organization that has grown too big over time (because of the autoimmune disorders that we discussed on the previous Sundays), one continues to work and focus energies on the organizational aspects.
But if we look at the history and present of the charismatic movements and communities, we realize that the crises depend on a problem of "demand" (no more people attracted by the charisma) that was created years before by the errors of "supply" (too much structure, little creativity). When the movement goes through development, the need for strengthening the structures of the organization distances the most creative people of the peripheries, and they lose contact with the people and with the real dynamics of their own time, because they are more and more concentrated on the inside of the organization. So, faced with the demand for change, the government and the facilities react by continuing to look inward, creating new committees and offices, that is, they keep looking at the structures only. A lot of hard work is done to simplify structures and so free up energy to give some time and breath back to the people, without noticing that these same people - by their great majority - are no longer in a position to really start proclaiming the message again, attracting new vocations, because the charismatic message itself is in crisis and so is the point in announcing and proposing it in a world that seems to no longer need it. There is a decisive process that should be carried out by involving and activating the active places of creativity and joining them to the borders of the empire. Certainly, all this is first and foremost gift (charis), but it is also organizational wisdom and profound, prophetic and transformational spiritual intelligence.
It is as if - to use a metaphor that may be imperfect but perhaps not useless - a manufacturer of automobiles started to concentrate only on the supply side in the crisis of sales: firing people, simplifying the organization, bundling, closing branches. However, if the problem is mainly on the demand side - the models offered today may be the ones that made it grow yesterday, but no longer meet the tastes of consumers - the real challenge is to invest resources in thinking about new models that would plant the company's mission and tradition in the "market". If, however, people are liberated from administrative offices and move into the commercial space without renewing the "models", the first ones to experience frustration and failure will be the sales people, who find themselves offering cars in which they no longer believe. A typical error committed during these phases of transition is, in fact, thinking that the lack of attractiveness of the message affects only the outside of the community, and it isn't widespread and deep inside it yet. It does not seem to be clear that without telling new and old stories that would rekindle the members and their vocations first, you will never be able to attract new people. Many new "evangelisations" happen when, while telling the good news to others, we also manage to hear it again and in a different way inside us. And so a new-old love story is reborn: a new eros, new desires, new generativity, new children. If you think that the "disease" is curable by acting on the structural hypertrophy as a first step and then, later, on the "new models", the first ones to get discouraged will be the "dealers" themselves. During crises, moral energies are scarce, and it is crucial to decide what priorities to invest them in: getting the temporal order and hierarchy of the interventions wrong is fatal. Because if you change the structures before rethinking the mission of the charisma, the real risk is that you get the direction of change wrong.
Charismatic movements and communities do not sell cars, but they also live and make others live well if and as long as they are able to actualize their charisma-message, translating it in the languages and desires of the present, and so attracting the best people today. Here too the "new models" are born from the studies and the talent of the designers and the creative people, but first of all they come from the visits to the new peripheries where there are new needs. In fact, they come from the listening to the wishes of families and young people, from the body-to-body encounter with flesh and blood people. But the new sense of their own charisma and vocation is not found by looking - in a narcissistic way - within themselves, perhaps creating a new organizational structure dedicated to this. In these crises there is generally plenty of technology, know-how or good engineers, but above all the contact with the world that has moved away too much over the years is missing. Therefore, the charisma can only flourish by going out again to meet the people in the streets, forgetting one's own organizations to deal with the wounds and sorrows of men and women of our days, and especially of the poor - distance from the poor is always the first sign of crisis of the charismatic entities. The "models" can and should be renewed, because the charisma is not the car, but the automaker company that, in order to live and grow has to be able to renew, change and interpret its mission creatively in the present time.
After the great flood, the Book of Genesis (ch. 11) tells the story of Babel. Saved by Noah, humanity, instead of listening to God's command and dispersing on earth, got stuck, built a fortress, using a single language, without diversity. After the great crises, the temptation of Babel duly arrives: we are afraid, we protect ourselves, we tend to keep our own identity, we look only inside and lose biodiversity. Salvation lies in the dispersion, in the many languages, in moving promptly towards new lands.
The great transition ends by this tenth part. We opened it with the fate of capitalism, now we close it with that of the charismas. From next Sunday we will resume our readings of the Bible with Job, and we will continue to look for words that are greater than ours, to try to write and tell each other new stories capable of life and a future.