What Will You Do?
In Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) the concept of differentiation of self is all about functioning.
One manifestation of the extent to which one is functioning in a self-differentiated manner is how well one can separate feeling from thinking.
Some time ago I consulted with a normally steady and effective staff person who found herself stuck on a particular issue.
In this case she knew the right thing to do, and was able to quote the company guidelines that needed to direct her action, yet, she was second guessing herself.
By the time she called me to think through the issue she’d triangled in two people in different offices in her organization (anxiety spawns triangles), reviewed the company guidelines several times, and called a person in a different company to double check legal regulations.
Despite all that she still felt stuck.
After working through the issue she gained enough insight to see how her emotions kept trumping her cognition (actually, in this instance, it was about how someone else’s anxiety was feeding her own anxiety and emotions).
Despite knowing what she needed to do, she was stuck in not being able to follow through.
These experiences highlight how important it is to hold clearly articulated principles.
A clearly articulated principle can be a stay against confusion in the moment when decisiveness and action is called for.
In the midst of anxiety, when cogitation and cerebration becomes a challenge recalling the principles that guide action can keep one from getting stuck.
Here are examples of principles that can be of help when one needs to make a decision:
- If you have to choose between convenience and doing the right thing, do the right thing.
- If you have to choose between someone’s happiness and doing the ethical thing, do the ethical thing.
- If you have to choose between your values and a relationship, chose your values.
- If you have to choose between what is expedient and what is right, do the right thing.
- If you have to choose between what someone wants and what is best for the system, chose what is best for the system.
What principles guide your actions in times of challenge? What will you choose when you have a choice?
The Center for Lifelong Learning offers many opportunities to learn more about conflict and leadership:
- The Leadership in Ministry Workshops
- Colloquy for Mid-Career Clergy
- Other courses at The Center for Lifelong Learning
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).