Thursday, October 17, 2013

Another Look at Human Nature


As usual, when one of my alum magazines comes to my house, I find something inside that challenges me to think in some new or different ways.  I was not disappointed last evening when I opened the latest arrival in my mailbox.  The title of the article did not captivate me.  It said, “From Human Nature to Human Resources.”

It is the story of Paul Lawrence, a professor of organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School.  He says that he was turned off of some contemporary leadership models because some of them paid too little attention to the whole range of people involved in a process.  Sometimes leaders paid too much attention to the boss who hired them.  Too often, employees were under-appreciated or even ignored.  So Lawrence set about re-thinking a leadership model.  Since I have written some on the leadership theme, I was hooked.

The article says that he read widely, but seemingly to no avail.  I liked his line when he said, “there’s more to human beings than just making money.”  And then he hit upon the key, as he saw it.  Of all things, he landed on Charles Darwin’s famous work, The Descent of Man.  “Wow,” I thought, “evolution enters the picture.”  But I also felt convicted.  As famous as Darwin is, I have not read him sufficiently nor thoughtfully enough.  People in religion too often simply dismiss him because “he taught evolution.”  But do we know what we are talking about?  Sometimes I am not sure I do!

Lawrence has now come up with a new twist on a theory of human behavior.  The crux of that theory says that “all human beings are motivated by four independent, innate drives.”  I realized I was entering some very interesting, but deep, waters.  Everyone would agree that human beings behave in a variety of ways.  But can very many of us explain why we or anyone else behave the way we do?  Interesting question!

I was intrigued.  What are these independent, innate drives in you and me?  According to Lawrence, the first drive is “the drive to acquire (the instinctive push to obtain things to ensure continuity and reproductive success).”  That made sense to me.  I think I do have this drive and, probably, most people I know.  The second drive made equal sense to me.  According to Lawrence, it is “the drive to defend (the desire to ensure that what is acquired is not lost.”

So what is the third drive?  Lawrence tells us it is “the drive to comprehend (humans’ need to understand the world around them).  As a college professor, I really like this one!  I think it makes sense.  Most people do want to comprehend---to understand---their world.  The last drive is my favorite.  It is “the desire to bond (the push to connect and relate to our fellow human beings).
It would be easy to write a book about all this, but Lawrence already has.  Because he is a business professor, Lawrence is interested in applying this material to the various business contexts.  I can appreciate that.  At least he is thinking in humanistic terms.  But I see a huge application in the world of spirituality.  Let’s take one desire as an example.

As indicated, the last of the four desires is my favorite---the desire to bond.  Based on my life experience, this is true.  Certainly mothers do that with their babies.  And I am sure that many mothers would say that is a very spiritual experience.  As a father I would agree that my experience with my kids was spiritual.

Even more than one’s kids, the drive to bond seems to me to be at the heart of the importance of community in the world of spirituality.  In fact, I would suggest that a key component of the spiritual search and spiritual journey is the quest for community.  Spirituality is about more than just believing in God.  In no way would I say that if you believe in God, you are spiritual and if you don’t, you’re not.

Spirituality is as much about the search for community as it is a search for the Creator.  Indeed, I would go so far as to say some of us might primarily experience God through community and not off by ourselves.  That would be true for me. Deprive me of community and you have severely lessened my opportunities to experience the Holy One.

Community is the place and the grace of being bonded with others (and with the Divine Other).  Sometimes community is literally a place---the church on the corner, the temple in the square, etc.  But often, community is not literally a place; it is when two or more people gather.  Community is when the group congregates, celebrates, loves, etc.  Sometimes I am the giver; always I am the receiver.

Communities bond, build, and blossom.  Communities are the fruit of the desire to bond.  That’s just human nature…and may be the Divine Nature as well.

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