From Inspiration to Development

August 21, 2015 Leave a comment
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Photo by Chris Dag

The following is a slighted edited version of a post that first appeared on this site about three years ago. IMHO, its core question remains essential to work for social change.

“Are you a sophist?” This remains a very live question for me, ever since Carol Sanford offered it to me. Carol points out how many in the “helping professions” fall into the habit of trying to provide well-intended inspiration and advice to others at the expense of diminishing their capability. She likes to tell the story of Socrates’ awakening. Socrates observed what often happened to those in Athens who listened to the Sophists preach. Members of the audience would often leave full of wisdom and inspiration, and they kept coming back for more. At a certain point, however, many of these “followers,” after seeing no further progress in their lives, became demoralized and convinced that they would never be able to reach the heights that were suggested in the speeches they heard. Watching this, Socrates took a different tack. He sought to help others grow by asking questions that helped them to move and take control of their own development and destiny.

Sophistry often appears to be an embedded expectation in the consulting and capacity building field, as people seek “experts” to provide answers, certainly not more questions. The problem, however, is that when we move beyond the realm of simple and complicated problems, technical expertise alone is not as useful, and sermons from the mount without a pathway to development fall flat in helping people deal with complexity.

So the challenge to those of us who may feel the pull to be appreciated for our inspirational words is to ask, “What good are they, really?” If our intent is to help bring about real change, how might we shift from being the sage on a stage to a re-source who helps return people to themselves, to their own deep yearnings, motivations, and willingness to evolve and do what they know must be done?

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