The joy of freedom
By Andy Howie
I had a 10 minute chat with Rob the other morning and we began by talking about the practicalities of preparing for upcoming programmes, but we soon moved on to how we are feeling about work. It wasn’t planned and we didn’t have an agenda but, for me, it was an invaluable conversation.
It prompted me to think about joy. A client once told me that there was a lack of joy in his workplace and I wondered what joy in a workplace looks like when it is present.
Joy is certainly present in my own life and work but I can’t truthfully say it is present all of the time. It sometimes does feel fleeting. I have always had a fascination with relationships, in work and in families. My working life is a clear testimony to this. Being around 3 young grandchildren, visiting my mum in a care home regularly, working on new programmes are all stretching me and encouraging a deeper examination of myself and my relationships.
Part of this examination has provoked me to take an interest in family system theory and work, learning again that experiences in childhood can cause us to adopt anxiety and stress management systems, adapted behaviours, which can serve us well to limit pain and deal with the pressures of life and relationships. These adaptations can be considered to be layers covering up our true or basic self. I am realising that this does have an impact on joy.
A reminder of my childhood came when watching Willy Russell, the writer being interviewed, he said: “I always would go into books for peace. Go to a different world where everything was alright.” I can identify with that; I sometimes needed to do that myself in order to find joy.
When I try to identify some of the joyous moments in my childhood I often think of being outdoors, playing football with friends and forgetting everything – just being out there. I remember collecting wood with friends and building a bonfire, ready for 5th November, every year. They were moments of complete freedom, and it was the freedom that gave me joy. Looking back with more mature eyes I can see that I wanted autonomy, but this was limited by the adults in my life. At school I tried not to get things wrong so I could please teachers, something which I became adept at during primary school but less so at secondary. I knew I was never able to do some things in the way adults did them. At times my freedom was limited and consequently so was my joy.
Examining my life in this way helps me to understand myself and consider what I bring to my work. I hope it will lead to more joy. I guess organisations are made up of many people who have relatively unexamined lives, but the businesses they are in still run, so does it really matter? Perhaps it does if we want to discover more joy in our work.
I am coming towards the end of my working life and yet I am still asking myself about who I am and what I bring. I am still open to change and grow. It makes me laugh that I’m still doing it after all these years, but perhaps it will never go away and maybe it never should. If I didn’t examine my life and question myself would I be giving-in to the anxiety and stress management systems I learnt as a child? Could it be that if I want to find joy, I must find and protect freedom not just in what I do but what I think about too?
In the coming month Rob and I are going on a short retreat together at the Trigonos centre in Snowdonia. I am looking forward to the opportunity it will give me for deeper freedom of thought, which I hope will lead on to more moments of joy. This has also led me to revisit an article I read many years ago in which two biologists write about love, intelligence and work place. I have selected a short extract from it below. See if it makes sense to you. What are you experiencing in your workplace?
The Biology of Business: Love Expands Intelligence
Humberto Maturana & Pille Bunnell, Reflections, Volume 1 Number 2 – Society for Organisational Learning
“Emotions characterize actions. Emotions change the possible expanse of intelligent behaviour. Fear restricts intelligence to a very narrow view: it concentrates attention in a particular way and constrains the relationship to a particular orientation.
If you look at any story of corporate transformation where everything begins to go well, innovations appear, and people are happy to be there, you will see that it is a story of love.
Most problems in companies are not solved through competition, not through fighting, not through authority. They are solved through the only emotion that expands intelligent behaviour. They are solved through the only emotion that expands creativity, as in this emotion there is freedom for creativity.
This emotion is love. Love expands intelligence and enables creativity. Love returns autonomy and, as it returns autonomy, it returns responsibility and the experience of freedom.”