For years, my friend Horst Abraham has visited prisoners regularly. He also maintains written correspondence with many of them. Once he discovered that the prisoners he visited were less likely to return to prison than prisoners in formal programs. Why did his prisoners do better? He recently shared a note with me that he received from a prisoner with whom he corresponds. The note helps to explain Abraham’s magic.
I don’t know whether you know, I always look forward to my contact with you. It is a lifeline. I look forward to take pen to paper and write to you, as I know you are listening. Your replies are consistently ‘more questions’, not advice such as we get plenty of from prison guards, counselors and clergy, just curious questions. Our exchange makes me think about life and its greater meaning beyond these walls, thought walls that are even more confining than the cement walls. Thanks for being my pen pal. Your writing provides me with “oxygen.”
This is a golden paragraph, full of meaning. It is worthy of multiple examinations. We are all prisoners confined in our own “thought walls.” Our prison is the set of beliefs or assumptions we have accumulated from experience. We all hold tightly to beliefs that we know to be true. They prevent growth.
When we learn to “think about life and its greater meaning,” we find enlightenment and understanding. We acquire a greater sense of purpose. We open up. We begin to discard old beliefs. In this process of deep change, we begin to grow.
Horst is a “lifeline.” He sees people as human beings. He cares enough to practice authentic inquiry. He is courageous enough to challenge. This mature form of teaching is a mature form of love. It provides the “oxygen” of life to others.
The oxygen of life is mindful engagement and deep learning. When we begin to live with an increased sense of enlightenment and positive intention the soul breathes. When we have the oxygen of life, we come alive. We feel free. We feel empowered and empowering. We find the courage to present our best self to the world. I am grateful to understand how one man provides the “oxygen” of life and other men become free.
Organizations are great mechanisms. They are also prisons. Cultures hold organizations together. They also produce mindlessness. In the prison of organizational life, managers are an extension of the culture. Leaders are free. Leaders provide the oxygen of life and their people become empowered and empowering.
- What is the oxygen of organizational life?
- Would you like to work for Horst, why?
- Are you free and do you provide the oxygen of life?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?