Naud van der Ven


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Good intentions and illusions

What happens when one person thinks for another?

The intention of this workshop (primarily for managers) is to trace illusions which may play us tricks. Illusions are cunning things, certainly when they are inspired by good intentions and are being supported by hierarchical power. The French philosopher Levinas thinks it’s impossible in these matters to be your own critical instance, that’s to say, for the greater part not. According to him an external force is required to call to a halt the raging rationality, be it only for a short moment. For Levinas another person can act as such. When we pour out our well-intended, rationally accounted for ideas and schemes on others, suddenly the grief may show itself of such another person who is supposed to walk in our schemes. When this confrontation makes us question ‘What am I doing?’ or ‘Am I right to think such or so?’ we may be close to discovering an illusion.

  1. Check for yourself: where have you been in the position you had to think (also) for other people, to plan for them, to formulate policy? (e.g. as a manager, as a consultant, as a coach)

  2. Have you been confronted, in that situation, with – possibly unarticulated – resistance or grief or distress of others (e.g. co-workers, customers) who were supposed to follow your plans?

  3.  Did you ask yourself, be it for a split second: ‘what am I doing?’ or ‘why should it be done this way?’ or ‘am I going too far?’.

  4. Did that feel as shame for your own ideas, however thought through and well-intended they were?

  5. Did that confrontation enable you to put some of your ideas to discussion and to allow new ideas?

  6. Try to put into words the feeling of shame, which is the key to the illusion.

  7. Exchange in conversation about the situation, the shame, the possible illusion. Can you determine whether it truly is an illusion?

Time: one-and-a-half to three hours

Number of participants: three to seven

Costs:  € 150,- per person

Literature (forthcoming): Naud van der Ven, The Shame of Reason in Organizational Change - A Levinasian Perspective. Dordrecht: Springer, 2010.