DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

E Pluribus Unum?

Written by: on January 12, 2017

With stellar creativity and evidence of extensive research David Brooks brings us significant understanding of human beings as creatures of society in his book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. Through the medium of story-telling, interlaced with citings from many scholastic books, he demonstrates that even though we may think and function as individuals we can never escape the reality that we process life as trained by cultural mind-sets. “If the outer mind highlights the power of the individual, the inner mind highlights the power of relationships and the invisible bonds between people.” [Brooks ix] This statement is wrapped in the Postscript when he says, “The research described in this book attests to a simple point: Our experience of ourselves is misleading.” [1]

A few highlights from the book:

First, Brooks makes his case regarding humans being social creatures as he tells the story of “Erica,” a four-culture young woman of Mexican and Chinese heritage, who grew up in the dangerous streets of America, being influenced in her thinking by individualistic American schools. One can see the inner conflict as this composite youth navigates life-choices, while hearing at least four cultural voices in her head. It is impossible for her to make her choices in isolation.

He states “We become fully ourselves only through the ever-richening interplay of our networks. We seek, more than anything else, to establish deeper and more complete connections.” [2] In America today bigger houses, on-line shopping, mail-in voter ballots; all contribute to decreased connections and increased isolation. If Brooks is right the trends in our culture work contrary to our design as social creatures.

Second, portions of The Social Animal parallel the writing of Manfred Kets de Vries and Edwin Friedman. They spoke of how much the life and decisions of executives can be affected by emotional health and differentiation. [3] In a similar way Brooks discusses the large percentage of our decision making process that is affected by our emotions placing value. He says, “…emotions measure the value of something, and help unconsciously guide us as we navigate through life – away from things that are likely to lead to pain and toward things that are likely to lead to fulfillment.” [4]

He illustrates this point highlighting the life of a man named Elliot, who suffered damage to the frontal lobes of his brain because of a tumor and lost his ability to feel emotion. [5] Following this time Elliot became “incapable of assigning value to different options,” and became virtually incapable of making choices. [6] Brooks states that this background operation of emotional valuations means we cannot assign primary credit to our rational thinking in our decision making processes.

Third, I must disagree with Brooks at one point. He says, “The United States is a collective society that thinks it is an individualistic one…if you actually watch how Americans behave, you see they trust one another instinctively and form groups with alacrity.” [7]

Even if Americans do instinctively trust one another, which I doubt, all of the behaviors of trust will still always serve individual interest, and given the need for a difficult choice, Americans will still choose what is best for the individual. Christian McCaffrey abandoned his Stanford football team in the Sun Bowl in December in order not to risk injury before signing a pro football contract. He and his teammates trusted one another on the field. But in the end, he did what was best for himself as an individual.

Furthermore, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement has more impact in American culture than it would in Chinese culture. The idea that our individual identity and thought processes are significantly influenced by society would not be news to someone truly enculturated into a collectivist society. Their self-identity and decisions are directly connected to the identity and interest of the community, not the individual. But what Brooks has written is an excellent and necessary word for Americans.

A reflective thought: Brooks dances back and forth between the mental process of the individual and what he calls “the shared scaffolding of the human mind.” [8] Is his understanding of human nature and our inter-relatedness as social animals an expression of humans being created in the image of God? We know that theologians have pondered and debated the nature of the Trinity since the days of Jesus on earth. One God as Three Persons: how does that work? Part of the mystery of the Trinity is that God is simultaneously One Being and also Three Persons as a Society.

If Brooks is to be believed, it is nearly impossible for humans to grasp the nature of their minds in isolation. He points to the difference between a brain, contained in the skull of an individual, and the mind, which is somehow the collective thinking of countless other humans in a vast network of societies and cultures. [9] It almost seems impossible to conceive of what it means to be human apart from society and culture.

To live and be a leader in a globalized world, we must deal with this phenomenon: we cannot escape being a part of some collective mind. This is not advocating being assimilated into the “hive” mind of the Borg, for we never lose our individuality and the capacity to think on our own. But particularly for individualistic Western cultures, we must give more attention to the possibility that, truly, no person is an island, as much as we might wish to be fully independent. Being a leader in a globalized world means recognizing the degree to which our self-understanding and thinking is the result of being social animals.

[1] David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (New York, NY: Random House, 2011), 377.
[2] Ibid., xiv.
[3] Manfred Kets De Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise (Harlow, England: Prentice Hall, 2006).
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, (New York, NY: Seabury Books, 2007).
[4] Brooks, 19.
[5] Ibid., 17.
[6] Ibid,. 18.
[7] Ibid,. 156.
[8] Ibid,. 150.
[9] Ibid,. 43.

About the Author

mm

Marc Andresen

I have a B. A. in Music from San Diego State University and received an M. Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1977. July 1 2015 I retired after 38 years in pastoral ministry. The passion and calling that developed in the last 20 years is leadership training in cross-cultural contexts, as my wife and I have had many opportunities to teach in Eastern Europe and Africa. I have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and a beautiful granddaughter. My hobbies are photography and British sports cars.

12 responses to “E Pluribus Unum?”

  1. Happy New Year Marc! Wow, what a great blog. You obviously spent a lot of time with Brooks and “get it.” Thank you for this. I like how you tied in previous reading as well. I wanted to too, but lacked the write words. You sure didn’t lack them. Nice!
    Your blog has got me imagining our triune God as a social animal now. Your post is full of great summary and reflection, but I am most intrigued with your assertion about the trinity. Love it. Thanks for that. “Let us create humanity in OUR image.” hmmmm…Social humans reflect our social God. You’ve given me something to ponder today.

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Aaron, thank for comments.

      One of the best books I’ve read on the Trinity is called “Delighting in the Trinity” by Michael Reeves. I am a musician by upbringing and training, so the best insight for me was Reeves talking about God being an eternal harmony.

      Here’s my epiphany about the Trinity. God eternally exists as a 3-note chord (a triad). How does God exist as three and one at the same time?

      A triad/chord is composed of three notes. Each note has the same character/essence because it is made up of sound waves, vibrating at a certain frequency (An “A” just above or below middle “C” on a piano is 440 cycles per second.) So the “nature” of each note is the same.

      But each note vibrates at its own unique frequence, so every note is unique unto itself.

      When we listen to a chord we hear two things simultaneously: We hear the unique sound of the chord itself, and we can hear (if we listen) each individual note within the chord.

      BUT – GOD IS THE CHORD! God the Trinity exists, eternally, as “chord.” A chord is its own “person” it its own right. So, even when we talk about, or study or “hear” any one person of the Trinity, we are still hearing (perhaps in the background) the whole chord.

      It’s really hard to make this make sense with words. I really need to have a piano to show/play what I mean.

      Anyway – all of this is behind and underneath my thoughts about God being ONE being, and simultaneously existing as a society of three persons. I guess we can say that the chord is the society.

  2. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Marc,
    You took your blog the extra mile and gave it a different perspective, which support this statement. A human being has the greatest hidden potential of succeeding in life regardless of the condition of the external condition surrounding him or her.

    You took Brook’s book, Social Animal and showed a different potential from your reading of the book and writing a blog that expanded upon on it showing as…. mystery of the Trinity. Thanks for sharing with us from that perspective.
    May you be blessed with a great semester. Thanks Rose Maria

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Rose – thank you.

      What an incredible gift and mystery; that we should be created in the image of the Triune-One-Being-God.

      If you’re interested, glance above at what I wrote to Aaron P about the Trinity.

      Blessings as you read and write this semester.

  3. Claire Appiah says:

    Marc,
    In this blog you do some stellar writing of your own connecting previous readings and exhibiting creative ingenuity in your analysis and reflection. There are two themes that especially resonate with me.

    You present a brilliant elucidation and metaphor of the Trinity of God existing as a 3-note chord or triad. You state, “Each note has the same character/essence because it is made up of sound waves, vibrating at a certain frequency. The nature of each note is the same. But each note vibrates at its own unique frequency, so every note is unique unto itself. God the Trinity exists, eternally, as ‘chord.’ So, even when we talk about, or study or hear any one person of the Trinity, we are still hearing the whole chord.”

    The second point is your understanding of the role or the processes of the collective mind in terms of global leadership and the inability to develop an introspective mentality apart from our status as social animals. You stated, “To live and be a leader in a globalized world . . . we cannot escape being a part of some collective mind [although] we never lose our individuality and the capacity to think on our own.” “Being a leader in a globalized world means recognizing the degree to which our self-understanding and thinking is the result of being social animals.”
    Thanks for this line of reasoning.

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Claire,

      Thank you for your reflections on my reflections.

      I am finding it increasingly valuable to synthesize our increasing repertoire of books and reading. The other day I remembered reading Adler and “How to Read a Book,” and the stage of reading where we begin to synthesize thoughts from different sources. Can’t you see the wisdom in this training we are receiving as we gear up to synthesize great quantities of information in our dissertations?

  4. Kevin Norwood says:

    Marc,

    Thanks for the insight. I agree with you that some of the assumptions within this book are not necessarily true. Your Stanford illustration is a real time example. How do you in your international student world start to understand their perspective of the world. Since they have been raised in a community mindset, how does that affect how you minister to them. Do your illustrations for teaching change to come at life from their perspective. Fascinating to thing how “American” this book was that we read. It is full of assumed assumptions that America is the perspective instead of the melting pot of backgrounds that are integrated here. Great writing.

    Kevin

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Kevin,

      Recently I preached at the Chinese Church in Corvallis and decided to experiment a little. I love teaching Luke 15 and the Prodigal Son (having preached on this story countless times). Because Chinese culture is a Shame/Honor culture I decided to focus on the Father restoring honor to the son by having the best robe put on the son. About a week later I was talking to one of the grad students from the church and asked him if that focus made sense to them. He said that in their culture there would not be thought or concern about the father restoring honor to the son, but that the son is now responsible to restore honor to the father.

      That was a cultural learning moment for me. I was partly right and partly wrong in my message.

      So, I am learning how to work with students from different cultures by working with students from different cultures. Added to this is the value and need of building relationships first, before “business.” So I am seeking opportunities each week to talk with students at our weekly free lunch, just to talk and be together. Family is important, so I try always to ask students about their families. I remember the story from Livermore’s cultural intelligence book about the American company did not get a contract with a South American country because they didn’t take the time to do relationship “work” before business.

  5. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Marc:

    Sounds like you enjoyed Brooks also! His ability to bring a narrative to light with such “below the surface reasoning” was absolutely brilliant.

    You quoted: “the shared scaffolding of the human mind.” How do you equate this to being effective in ministry today? In your years of ministry, how do you see reaching the Harold’s and Erica’s of our day? How do we penetrate this barrier that he weaves throughout their lives?

    Phil

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Phil,

      I think there’s a whole dissertation waiting to be written to answer your question. It is deep, complex and significant.

      Part of what I think I see is that this societally influenced scaffolding is changing because culture is changing. This means that the societal affect on my mind (post World War II) is different from the scaffolding of the mind of a twenty year old today. In the last years of my active ministry, talking with our 30 year old youth pastor I realized how much I don’t know about contemporary culture – or at least the culture of the youngest generation.

      Part of my answer to this challenge was to listen closely to our youth pastor, and I actually used his vision for the ministry of our church and lead the way for that to become the vision for the church, rather than my vision.

      When we think of “Good to Great” and who should be on the bus I think it’s strategic to have staff members, or advisors from every generation, so that we can be informed about this scaffolding.

  6. Pablo Morales says:

    Marc,
    Great summary and reflection. This past semester my academic research focused on managing multicultural teams. It was revealing to understand how our approach to teamwork is affected by our cultural perceptions. You pointed out in your blog, “Being a leader in a globalized world means recognizing the degree to which our self-understanding and thinking is the result of being social animals.” I agree with you. We are, after all, the product of our upbringing shaped by external and internal forces. Gaining that sense of leadership humility is perhaps one of the most beneficial outcomes of this doctoral degree. I’m glad we are taking this journey together.
    Pablo

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Pablo,

      Thanks for comments.

      Your life is filled with handling teams in multicultural contexts: living in Mexico, navigating the U. S. as a student, your third-culture family, and now your church. You have been prepared through real-life laboratory experiences. You have the advantage of having lived through many cultural settings, so that you know there are many ways to approach leadership.

      Your friendship in the program enriches my experience.

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