There’s an excellent GTY conversation taking place over at HarvardBusiness.org.
What follows is a question left by Julie Engel Manga and my response to it. What do you think?
“I am very happy to see this discussion. One note: The GTY project is discussed as an “action” or project. I suggest that while clearly this kind of commitment must show up in action that it is, as importantly, an orientation toward others and the world. It implies a certain kind of relationship with others and the world.
Given this, I suggest that it’s useful to consider that the folks who take on the GTY project are in a developmentally different place than those who don’t. (Here I reference the work of adult developmental psychologists like Robert Kegan and Howard Gardner, for example). If this is the case, then an central question is: How can individuals be encouraged into this kind of orientation? What kinds of environment, structures, relationships can support someone in moving into this kind of orientation. While it’s not simply (or even mostly, perhaps), a function of age, I think it’s valid to think of the GTY orientation as a manifestation or indicator of more developed maturity.
I get concerned when conversations skew only toward action, as I think it limits how we make sense of the issue and therefore how we consider working with it.”
And I responded:
“Excellent questions, and, yes, GTY orientation = maturity, combined with a deep sense of self and an unwavering belief that relationship is not a zero-sum game. And we all know that those things don’t automatically come with age, nor are they necessarily related to it. I’ve met many incredibly smart, socially conscious, help-minded people who are barely old enough to vote, as well as more “senior” folks who would just as soon bust your kneecaps as give you a lift home.
All of us, though–no matter our age–need to work on culturing those positive qualities in ourselves, so we have an ever greater capacity to give to others. (The first tenet of GTY is a practice I call Expand Yourself, along with Give Yourself, and Replicate Yourself).
As for how we can encourage people into this kind of orientation, I’m not sure there’s a formulaic answer or approach to that. I don’t think, though, that it’s a simple got-it-or-not phenomenon. It can, in other words, be encouraged in people who don’t practice GTY by default (few of us do, really). For some, it’s simply a matter of presenting them with the challenge, and giving the evidence that it’s the right thing to do–and in many cases all we’re really doing is giving them permission to act on an impulse they already have, but pay no attention to.
If we can encourage people to try it, to get just a taste of the exhilarating experience of lifting another to a higher level then themselves, I think it would take hold as a personal practice. That’s how I came to the strategy of asking my readers to start with just one person as a GTY Project. It’s less intimidating and more manageable, and, therefore, more likely to happen. Once it does, it’d be hard to stop.
Others will never get it, no matter what.