In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”- C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis uses the phrase, “we castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful,” to describe the conflict inherent within a system that destroys a person’s ability to do something then demands that same thing from them. Lewis’ phase applies to all organizations that enforce conformity through bureaucratic rewards and punishments then wonders where the spark of innovation died.
In most organizations, the people in charge have been raised in a world where almost exclusively, everyone drives people (i.e., uses some coercion to externally compel someone to change). Their experiences, and the experiences of their mentors whose actions they mimic (see Cargo Cult), have blinded them to anything other than driving people. You can’t expect them to do something (e.g., drive change) when they’ve never known of its existence or its power.
So, if you show them driving change, can they change? That’s a question whose answer I’ve been wrestling with a while.
The sad thought the quote invokes is the irreversibility of the castration. A gelding, no matter your efforts, will never be fruitful again.
Is the same true for leaders who’ve only known decades of driving people? I can’t say for sure. There are days when I want to believe that abilities long cast off will return or flourish. There are days when my hope for that is not enough to sustain me.
This quote doesn’t answer so much as question. Sometimes that’s all we can do. What do you think?
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