Around the world, one can find proverbs and idioms that effectively speak the same message:
- “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
- “The first bird that leaves the nest gets shot.”
- “Don’t go against the grain”
- “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”
The primary message: Don’t stand out or push against the status quo. Accept your place, don’t challenge the authorities, and mind your own business. …and if someone does stand out and faces the consequences, then take advantage of their “foolishness”.
Living in Hong Kong, the first thing I noticed was the top down hierarchy of power here. In the workplace, one doesn’t simply approach the head boss. You have to go through the proper channels and eventually – maybe – you’ll get your audience with the king. Even when problems are blatantly apparent, no one is willing to stand out and say, “This needs to be improved.” And if you do, you become the center of gossip while also becoming Public Enemy #1. As such…nothing ever really changes unless there is direct order from the top. And even then…
Throughout An Everyone Culture, Kegan and Lahey chronicle a group of Deliberatively Developmental Organizations (DDOs) and their unique culture of building people up. In these DDOs, there is a culture of growth. The typical stagnation of remaining in the same position and keeping your head down is thrown out completely in favor of creating a holistic environment that embraces vulnerability, creativity, and the privilege of failure.
We’re often afraid to make a change because we’re afraid of failure. We’re afraid to fail because failure makes us vulnerable. Vulnerability entails discomfort, so we refuse to challenge that which makes us comfortable. However, we can’t grow unless we fail. But we also can’t fail unless we try. Yet we don’t try because that would mean sticking our neck out – not just for ourselves, but for others as well.
One of the key questions Kegan and Lahey raise is, “What if we created an environment where it was okay to fail and make mistakes?” I echo the question as I reflect on how this would change not just the way we approach ministry, but how we approach our relationship with God.
Creating an “everyone culture” isn’t just about creating an inclusive environment that allows an organization to flourish, but it is about creating the space for grace to live abundantly in our midst. In John Lynch, Bruce McNicol and Bill Thrall’s book The Cure, they pose a similar question. They use the analogy of living in the “Room of Grace” where the masks we keep on for the sake of ourselves is allowed to come off for the first time. It is a place where we can look at one another say, “You may have messed up, but I love you regardless.” It is a place where genuine healing and growth can happen as we walk alongside the One who brings Life.
It is a place where there is no barrier – a place where “that giant mound of rotted cat food and mayonnaise” no longer stands between us and God, between us and those around us. It is a place of freedom, a Kingdom turned upside down.
What if this was our lived reality and not a compartmentalized life that shuts and locks the ugly away? What if creating an “everyone culture” extended beyond organizations and into our relationships?
What if we took off the mask? What if we embraced our vulnerability? What if we learned to truly fail? …and rise stronger than before.