The Body: Of Corporate Personhood

An interesting thing happens when two or more people gather together with purpose or intent – an organization forms, a kind of corporation. Nothing can be done about this – the organization forms whether you like it or not and that organization immediately begins to lose its human character.

While it feels inevitable, this loss of humanity that organizations tend towards, I don’t think it is…but it is hard work to keep it from happening.

One of the strict differences between organizations and typical human relations (families, friendships etc) is the tendency to over enforce roles and structure. While there are roles and structures related to human relations the primary enforcement of such things in institutions is a complex combination of things:

  • to maintain power where power should be maintained (or just power for power’s sake)
  • inflexible roles and hierarchy allow for an efficiency of task delineation but also for a “pass the buck” mentality to grow
  • complexity begets complexity that allows you to get intentionally or unintentionally lost in the system
  • systems become impersonal – quickly

One of the interesting things that both institutions and individuals have in common is an uncanny ability to blind themselves to their own issues.

A person can go their entire life without ever seeing and coming to terms with a particular flaw despite all the damage it produces in and around them. If anything institutions can be worse at this.

At a personal level, over enough time, evidence begins to mount that there is a persistent problem.

I have been in 17 relationships in the past 5 years and they all have ended badly” says one person.

With this in mind a person usually goes one of two ways:

  1. They assume they are simply cursed with terrible luck and that all 17 people they have been with have been at fault and they simply have to keep trying until finally the right person comes along.
  2. They recognize that, statistically speaking, there must be something within themselves that is contributing to an unhealthy pattern within relationships.

Number 1 is where our gravity wants to take us while number 2 requires a great deal of courage and humility; It requires one to turn the lens inward instead of outward.

Institutions often avoid number 2 like the plague. One reason for this is simply the complexity of the institution which leads to no one wanting to take responsibility for the soul searching, and often, no one has the authority to do so either.

New businesses often fall prey to this.

A new business opens in a community and for whatever reason it struggles to succeed. Often the first reflex of the small business is to blame the market/client base.

People are not shopping local; people are shopping during hours I am not open; people should be willing to pay higher prices for what I offer; if people only understood the value of my product they would patronize my business more often, etc, etc.

Of course while all of this may be true it does nothing to convince the client to come into the business. Unless the business changes itself things will not improve. Serious questions must be asked chief of which is “what must I do?

What must I do:

  • to bring in customers
  • to bring back customers
  • to grow my customer base

Answer these questions honestly and with keen insight into your local demographic and you will know what you need to do.

In loving human relations these are the questions that need to be asked as well and the answer to them tells us where to step next on the path ahead. Fear of these questions can lead to one walking blindly – right off a cliff if we’re not careful.

Probably the most important attribute of the human relationship that corporations and institutions (and people too) lose is the capacity to feel the loss of the other. When I say feel I mean REALLY feel it…feel it in a way that goes beyond looking for the person but actually stopping and asking why they left.

A company that sees a high turnover rate and allows it to continue without question is an unhealthy place. A company that assumes there must be a problem with the people leaving has deep flaws.

In a healthy human relationship turnover ideally does not occur except when children flee the nest for the skies so-to-speak. When ill winds blow however as they are wont to do from time to time we all (should) stop and look within to see what our role is in the storm that is brewing. We do this because we might be able to do something…at least about ourselves because ourselves are the only part of the family equation we can change…sometimes it is not enough but it is where we must go.

So to the corporation or institution must wonder in this way otherwise it becomes cold and unattractive; a lonely, echoey place that welcomes only the like-minded.

Ultimately to thrive as a corporation in the human world you must adopt those same principles and structures that people need to adopt to thrive in relation to one-another…otherwise you may fail, or worse still…simply exist.

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