It is three pm, the 9th of October 2008. The air sifts in the room in a quiet breeze from the window. I look out into the garden, out there the trees and leaves are waving in the wind. The garden is dressed in autumn colors, and it is a little chilly here by the open window. I am at Vallekilde University, and the journey to the school here has been long.
I am out of Trier family and Grundtvigian tradition is strong in my family. When I was a little kid, I was brought up with Plato’s cave allegory and Nordic folktales. Sometimes I feel like the last Grundtvigian. For me, folkenlightentment is not something outdated, it is my belief.
I have lived a life in the hotspots of development. Yes this book begins as a confrontation with my own time.
I started my business career in 1998, and then everybody talked about dotcom. It was a strange time, which is now almost forgotten. Everything was about multimedia, internet and new economy. It was a time of opportunity. But when it ended, not only dreams fell apart, also people fell apart. Many were sacked, yes I was sacked, and it hurt. There was something wrong. The signs were clear, and after some discussion back and forth, the business community concluded that it was the moral that was corrupted. So we got ethical accounting, coaching and much more. I thought the answers that were found were good, but I wanted a deeper understanding. I found the answer in philosophy. Not in the convoluted complexity of philosophy, but in practical philosophy. The process towards understanding was long. I read a lot, taught philosophy at Frøbelseminariet and my ideas evolved slowly. It was a trip back in history, philosophy, I was looking for the roots of our culture. I wanted to find the beginning.
Understanding of morality begins with the philosopher Socrates. Socrates was a part of a team of philosophers around the square Lykeon in Athens for approx. 2500 years ago. He is hard to understand because he did not write anything himself. All his thoughts are mediated by other philosophers, notably Plato. But even Plato’s thoughts can not be understood unless you understand Plato himself, and the time he lived in. As I read the classic historians Herodotus and Thycudides I began to understand.
It struck me that their time had parallels to our time, a time of change, a time when the bad aspects of democracy peeped out; corruption and bad morals. I really felt with Plato when he talked about the absurdities of democracy, no respect for the law, the old admiration of the young, teachers’ poor conditions, lack of distinction between citizens and non citizens, chaos and fear of tyranny. I can see it for myself: Plato, the philosopher, with a straight back, style and intelligence in the middle of a time when stupidity and mediocrity ruled.
Plato and Socrates has been interpreted many times since their death, most times the interpreted have not fully understood them. Typically they have interpreted chunks of their writings without seeing the whole. This has led to major disasters; Rousseau lacks essential elements of his philosophy, which democracy is suffering from today. The Catholic Church government is built around the book The State, without understanding what Plato really wanted, which Catholicism has always suffered from.
They did not understand that Socrates and Plato’s fundamental project was to build bridges between freedom on the one hand and morality on the other hand. For only in a balance between morality and freedom, a state can function.
We are out of balance right now. We have too much freedom and too little morals. We must strengthen morale, and that is what this book is about.
But how do we strengthen morale, without sacrificing freedom? Socrates basic point is that morality and freedom meet in conversation. If for example I want to sack an employee, I can only do it if I have conversations with my colleagues, and with the person that looses his job. For it could be that I was wrong? Socrates says in a poetic way: I am the smartest man in the world because I know I do not know anything. Knowledge of freedom and morality is a prerequisite for being able to act properly.
Reality is changing. What is right in one situation is wrong in another situation. Protagoras puts it this way: Human beings are the end of all things. The dialogue has the advantage that it calibrates the volatility of the situation.
With this grip the Socrates creates a solid base under democracy. So I thought: Let’s try to see if the methods still work.
I suggested the idea to the publisher and they were in. But it had to be done properly. I read and read, and at one stage I found out that Plato identified three essential values of a leader: courage, wisdom and justice. Not only does he point to the values, he also philosophised about how the virtues work in practice. So I thought that here we had a solid theoretical base to build on.
I wrote out to potential interlocutors, and five answered back: Herbert Pundik, Christian Nissen, Christian Stadil, Karin Verland and Ove Ullerup. Each had their purpose in participating in the book. But common to all of us is that we have a great respect for seeking the truth in conversation.
Everything was ready, and I was thrilled with the project. Then something changed my life dramatically. Something that changed the lives dramatically for most Danes. A bearded cartoonist with red pants drew a picture of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. Just to write it here, makes little goosebumps on my arm. Like many others I had to relate myself to the Mohammed crisis, but I was in the somewhat unique situation that I as a philosopher have a knowledge which gives responsibility. The central topic of discussion, freedom of expression is my responsibility. I was in doubt, what should I do? I wondered what other philosophers had done before me. I knew that the philosopher K.E. Løgstrup had been part of the resistance movement during the occupation. So I decided to follow Løgstrups example and go out among the people. It appeared that there was a great need among ordinary people to articulate philosophy. Without being prepared for it, I was drawn into the heart of the conflict between the Danes, immigrants, media, politicians, EU – indeed the entire world.
It is probably a little hard to imagine what happens out there where people are struggling and fighting for their ideas. Most are accustomed to seeing it on television and read about it in mystery novels, but I lived then in a year’s time. It is a strange world filled with fear, secrets, physical battle, agents, idealism, corruption and much more.
Like Løgstrup I made some practical experience in the world that came to serve as background for the conversations. When I struggle with Christian Nissen about justice, it’s not just artificial rhetoric, it is reality. I know what it means to live with locks in the doors in fear of losing my live every day.
In this way the interviews contain an element of raw reality that are not directly reflected in the interviews, but are there behind the ideas. Overall, you sit with a book in your hand, which is created in the middle of a struggle.
And what I am fighting for?
I fight for poetic life enlightentment.
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Often people suffer the most unfairly when they loose their job, they are overlooked and nobody comes to their aid. It’s their own fault, they say, because they could not get their act together, because they do not fit into the business short-term plans, because they are not valuable for the bottom line of the budget, or they are not just doing something that can be used – they are excluded and undesirable – it is no reason to commiserate with.
Have you experienced that? I have tried it several times, in the wake of New Economy and the constraints of political correctness, in the self-interest of self-development – and for me it is not working. So I have written this book – because I believe that there is another way – the way of philosophy, striving for the good of the people, organization and product. Belief in the good.
But then comes the objection; human values are very good, but it’s about making money, and in this context there is no room for beautiful ideals and wild ideas – nay, the bottom line of the budget is clear, and to this real, tangible truth we must aspire. Yes, but if we look around a little, this is not always the case. Take for example, Arthur Andersen, founder of the audit firm to so ignominious went down with the flag. Arthur Andersen founded his company on the mantra; think straight – speak straight. And with this philosophy, he built a global enterprise, and it worked for the company until the values were betrayed. Or Lego, now returned from the brink of the elephants’ graveyard, because good Lego People fought with their back against the wall, sacrificed time and family to get Lego to survive. They did it not fight for the bottom line, but because Lego is a fantastic company, based on solidarity with the local community, and involvement in children’s play – not just to earn money, but because they believe that good toys to inspire and develop our kids.
Yes, to be a good organization, can be a sensible thing. But where do these ideas about what is good from? And can we be sure that they can be used in practice?
This book is written in the light of Greek and Roman philosophy – an ideology which found the European civilization, and has inspired philosophers, kings, democrats, scientists and business people – since Socrates asked his tough questioning on the square in Athens. We have rediscovered the philosophical ideas many times – and each time they have moved us forward. Philosophy is not just a passing fashion ideology but a set of positive, dynamic and good principles that work.
Follow me back to philosophy’s roots, meet Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Hume, Kant, Kirkegaard, Niels Bohr and Løgstrup. Do it because philosophy is:
- Simple, efficient, positive, forward-looking and easy to understand.
- Mold a solid theoretical foundation in the discussion of concepts, discipline, justice, freedom with responsibility, solidarity, ethical leadership and common sense.
- Is fully tested and has already inspired the development of paradigmatic dimensions
And because – only through a deeper understanding of the world, the most difficult of all arts succeed – to lead other people.
I myself have been on the bridge many times and knows how hard it is. I have worn out my first shoes in the project and managerial positions within IT, marketing, trade unions, library professionals and associations.
In addition, I taught organizational theory at the Business School and Frøbel Seminary.
From the start, I am interested in value-based management, and this book is the essence of my experiences.
The book can be read from one end to another, or with excerpts – it is up to you. The book points out a course, and does not give the final answer, fortunately. But it may be the entrance to the magical world of philosophy.
I have therefore tried to let the philosophers speak for themselves, and tried to give a feeling for their character and ideals – in addition I have added an extensive bibliography – if you would like to read on. The book is structured with a specific development methodology as leitmotif. The method is divided into 3 phases: 1 Understanding 2nd Planning 3rd Execution.
The book is primarily written for the business community, business schools, managers, employees and communications people in business – but I would think that it also can inspire the public administration and the arts, as we all are grounded in Socrates thoughts.
Yes, from your personal standpoint you might find new inspiration to go in-depth with the values that are important to you, your colleagues, your employees or your business.
In a concrete work for the good.
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