We feel most liberated and most alive in the presence of those who risk letting us be ourselves. In short, love does not manipulate or control but rather seeks the best for the other. . . God commits him(her)self to creation through fidelity in love by allowing creation to be itself.
– Ilia Delio, OSF
Last week I began an online course, with C. Otto Scharmer the creator of Theory U, which develops and explores new territory for pursuing institutional change and practicing transformational leadership. In brief Scharmer teaches that we cannot expect to solve the problems that face the world by simply learning from the past and doing the same things we have always done. Rather Scharmer’s theory teaches us how to lead from the future as it emerges.
This sounds like magical thinking, but Dr. Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at MIT, an institution known for its devotion to empiricism, reason, and logic. Scharmer’s theory is grounded in these external ways of knowing, but what makes it intriguing is that Scharmer combines empirical data with internal ways of knowing. His theory is based not only on what he calls “open mind” but also “open heart” and “open will.”
When we listen with “open minds” we pay attention to facts and data that are new to us. But when we move to “open heart,” we are listening from a place of empathy—now not the facts but the person we are listening to becomes the focus of our attention—we begin to see things through her eyes. Finally, Scharmer calls listening with an “open will” generative listening and he says the words that best describe what happens in this sort of listening may be “communion and grace.” These last two types of listening are relational; generative listening is profoundly relational. It is the essence of Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” relationship, and it moves us into the realm of the holy.
Scharmer demonstrated generative listening by showing a clip of a concert in which Zubin Mehta conducted an orchestra with Placido Domingo as the solo vocalist. The clip needs to be seen to be fully appreciated, but suffice it to say that Mehta—the premier conductor, brought the whole orchestra together in such a way that they all held the space for what Domingo was bringing forth. At just the right moment Zubin Mehta sensed the artistic greatness that was wanting to emerge from Placido Domingo and he held the space so that it could happen .Holding the space means that he got out of the way. For this greatness to emerge, egos must get out of the way and let True Self come forth. What this clip showed was True Self calling forth True Self. Whenever this happens we are in the presence of the Holy. Scharmer says when you hold the place for someone else, at first nothing happens and then something begins to manifest and come into being. Zubin Mehta moved the whole orchestra into this birthing process by transcending his ego and accessing his source or True Self.
Holding the space for the other to bring forth his authentic self is what the Franciscan, Ilia Delio calls the “humility of God.” God bends low to meet us in what Buber calls “the Between,” “a meeting place where two subjectivities can influence and affect one another without danger of one being absorbed into the other.” God holds the space of “the Between” so that we may freely become who we are. God’s power is not coercive and deterministic but faithful and empowering. God “risks letting us be ourselves” for she knows what we are capable of.
When Otto Scharmer invites us into the process of becoming generative listeners, he is on sound theological ground. He is inviting us to become like God in that we can act as midwives for the birth of the authentic self of each other. In this way we fulfill our destiny as co-creators and move creation toward the ultimate good.