Dhikr & Boxing

I have written an article for the forthcoming Special Issue of the Journal of Management Development. The overarching theme of the Special Issue is the Practical Wisdom for Management from the Islamic Tradition. In a former version of the article, I briefly compared my ethnographic experience in a Sufi Dhikr Circle, a mystical Islamic organization, with Wacquant’s experience as a participant-observer of boxing. This section did not make it into the final article. So here it is:

// Comparing ethnographic experiences

Much of the ethnographic experience resembles what Wacquant (2003) depicts in “Body and Soul”. Wacquant (2003, p. xi) describes the difficulty to depict anthropologically the practice of boxing: “how to account anthropologically for a practice that is so intensely corporeal, a culture that is thoroughly kinetic, a universe in which the most essential is transmitted, acquired, and deployed beneath language and consciousness…”. I feel equally in awe while the voice becomes a sound and rhythm mechanism and less a communication tool between humans. Communication through both read-singing and body movements occurs less between humans and rather between us and God, as well as between us and the environment pursuing what may be termed the “Unity of Existence (Lewin, 2000). The environment is not a religious décor, but actants which themselves perform religious practices like dhikr.

// Transcending the boundaries between physical & spiritual

Wacquant (2003, p. 17) continues to illustrate the difficulties in becoming a boxer: “…to become a boxer is to appropriate through progressive impregnation a set of corporeal mechanisms and mental schemata so intimately imbricated that they erase the distinction between the physical and the spiritual, between what pertains to athletic abilities and what belongs to moral capacities and will.” The activities during dhikr seem to have the same goal, to erase the distinction between the physical and the spiritual, between what the body and what the soul focuses on. The result, according to Wacquant (2003, p. 17), is that “[t]he boxer is a live gearing of the body and the mind that erases the boundary between reason and passion, explodes the opposition between action and representation, and in so doing transcends in actu the antinomy between the individual and the collective that underlies accepted theories of social action.” Equally, dhikr erases boundaries or merges the parts of the human being and merges the human with the Circle community and the environment, whereby the human becomes one with himself and with the social (humans) and non-social (environment) surroundings.

Wacquant, L. (2003), Body and Soul: Ethnographic Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer, Oxford University Press: Oxford.

people, principles, practices

The article “How Will You Measure Your Life?” written by Harvard Professor Christensen is worth reading. It is indeed worth reading twice. Christensen worked for BCG and went to Oxford; I guess, I almost had to pick it. But before we start, this is a good question to ponder on: How do we measure our lives? –.

// What to tell others.

His kind of introductory story is about how he does not tell the chairman of Intel what to think but how to think. I believe, this should actually be a fundamental pillar in our education systems and a focus in any kind of relationship: Enable thinking. And the article is written in such a tone.

// Approach to life.

What tools do we have to think about our life? One way is to employ the models we learn, which we normally apply to what is around us and focus on what is inside us.

Christensen looks at life as a resource allocation process: what is your purpose in life? Allocate your resources accordingly. Or what if we look at management differently? An alternative definition could well be, that management is the art of helping people.

// What drives us?

“One of the theories that gives great insight on the first question—how to be sure we find happiness in our careers—is from Frederick Herzberg, who asserts that the powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements.”

In other words, it is not get, it is give.

// On principles in principle.

“The marginal cost of doing something wrong “just this once” always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t ever look at where that path ultimately is headed and at the full costs that the choice entails. Justification for infidelity and dishonesty in all their manifestations lies in the marginal cost economics of “just this once.””

“The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.”

This is the art of being true to oneself – defining values, living values.

// Starting to focus.

“I apply the tools of econometrics a few times a year, but I apply my knowledge of the purpose of my life every day.”

This entails the question: How much time a day do I spend on the things which are really important to me?

Sadly, “[p]eople who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”

// The art of being humble.

“And if your attitude is that only smarter people have something to teach you, your learning opportunities will be very limited. But if you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited. Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself—and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves, too.”

Briefly: Give and want to give, and you will be given. Be humble and you are strong.

// What for?

“I have a pretty clear idea of how my ideas have generated enormous revenue for companies that have used my research; I know I’ve had a substantial impact. But as I’ve confronted this disease [cancer], it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.”

“Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.”

In a way, be conscious about your life, define how you want it to be judged and act accordingly. Simply put, but hard to put into practice.

siddhartha – hermann hesse

Jedes Mal aufs Neue bin ich begeistert von der indischen Dichtung, die so viel Wahrheit enthält. Ein bisschen Siddhartha steckt in uns allen: der Mensch, der strebt: nach Sinn, nach den Fragen der Tiefe, nach ihren Antworten. Und wie Goethe es treffend ausdrückt: „Es irrt der Mensch so lang er strebt.“

// Irren

So irrt Siddhartha – so irren wir – und Siddhartha stellt die rhetorische Frage an seinem Freund, dass es vielleicht so sei, „daß du vor Suchen nicht zum Finden kommst?“ Genauso kann man natürlich vor lauter Ablenkung, dass Irren vernachlässigen.

Die Suche nach den Fragen der Tiefe ist eine sehr persönliche, auch wenn man sie teils gemeinsam begehen kann. Siddhartha meint: „Weisheit ist nicht mittelbar. Weisheit, welcher ein Weiser mitzuteilen versucht, klingt immer wie Narrheit.“ Und: „Wissen kann man mitteilen, Weisheit aber nicht.“ Man jemand den Weg andeuten, tragen müssen einen die eigenen Füße.

// Streben

Es ist faszinierend, wo und wie Siddhartha lernt. Statt sich über scheinbare Hindernisse zu ärgern und sich damit selbst zu quälen, sieht er sie vielmehr als Teil des Weges und Teil des Ziels. Und vielleicht hätte Siddhartha Mark Twain zugestimmt, als er meinte: „I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.“ Das Leben als Ganzes lehrt.

Wir streben nach dem warum wir leben; ein Streben, das uns so tief innewohnt und das einen erquicken lässt, in dem Moment, in dem man ein Quäntchen oder Tröpfchen Faszination vor sich und in sich wahrnimmt, und für einen kurzen Augenblick es ergriffen hat, bevor es einen aus den Händen rinnt – wohl aber seine Spuren hinterlässt.

// Haltbares

Dieses Streben bei gleichzeitigem Innehalten auf dem Weg führt zu reflektierter in sich geruhter Bewegung. Bedachte Schritte, die sich den Fragen der Tiefe annehmen – ohne von ihnen eingenommen zu werden – bewirken ein Innehalten bei Bewegung, welches eine zögernde, angenehme Weile hervorbringt. Durch diese tun sich faszinierende verborgene Spuren auf und lassen so einiges Haltbares erkennen.

Vielleicht ist dies Dichtung, vielleicht Wahrheit.

networking as a changemaker

I attended a seminar last weekend and spoke together with my wife about „Networking as a Changemaker“. A few thoughts on this in the October blogpost (four hours too early – off to Oxford tomorrow):

// The Micro-side

Networking is a multiplication formula which only works if it is pursued correctly. If you meet someone what do you think? What is your approach for a meeting? Quite a few books are written on this topic but I would like to suggest two points to ponder upon – easily to remember and thereby easily employable.

The first is two have the following three questions in mind: Me? You? We? Or: who am I? Who are you? Who are we? This helps to understand the setting and act accordingly.

And the second set of three questions: What can I do for you or your network? What can you do for my network? And only then lastly: what can you do for me? I believe in this culture of helping others. If this is really about the I – well, it seems that helping others makes me happy. But it also seems to be the right thing.

Btw1: This seems to me to be essentially a very ethical question about our approach to life. How do I treat others? Why do I connect to others? Do I simply focus on my interests or is there more to it than trying to maximize my gains. What am I waking up for? Why do I (inter-)act?

// The Macro-side

Institutionalized networking should encourage and enable networking. It should provide a frame or plattform for the micro-side. According to Podolny and Page (1998), a networked organization is based on trust and reciprocity while a hierarchical organization employs authority. It is “ask” versus “make”.

For Goffee and Jones (1996) a networked culture is based on high sociability and high solidarity. Sociability measures the “sincere friendliness among members of a community”, whereas solidarity measures “a community’s ability to pursue shared objectives quickly and effectively”. If you intend to increase sociability, you should promote the sharing of ideas, interests and emotions by recruiting compatible people, augment social interaction, reduce formality, limit hierarchical differences and act like a friend, setting the example for kindness. If you aim to increase solidarity, you should develop members’ awareness of competitors, establish a sense of urgency, stimulate the will to win and encourage commitment to corporate goals.

Btw2: Again, what an organization does to us and we to it, is a deeply philosophical question about how we approach the institutionalized “us”. Does the macro-side provide the right encouragement and enable the right interaction – done rightly? Organizations may end up measuring and incentivizing the bad? What if the essential is hidden from us? What, how and why do we in our groups, organizations and states encourage and enable certain ways of (inter-)action?

Changemakers are actually bettermakers. They try to do better through change as well as conservation. Bettermakers need the right approach to (inter-)action on the micro-side and an encouraging and enabling macro-side. Let us start yesterday.