Henri Bortoft on human organizations and relationships

Introduction
Henri Bortoft is the author The Wholeness of Nature and Taking Appearance Seriously. I am particularly interested in the ‘dynamic way of seeing’ which is explained at length by Henri Bortoft. Taking the ‘appearance’ seriously is necessary if we want to see ‘life’ in nature and in work.

Henri Bortoft mentions in Taking Appearance Seriously that there was a growing interest in the late 1960s and early 1970s in management education and organizational development.1 Here is a paper by Henri Bortoft from 1971 on counterfeit and authentic wholes.2

Human organizations
Henri Bortoft writes the following about human organizations:3

…we find that behind the current notion of organization, what could be called the ‘managerial view’… This says that an organization consists of a set of personnel (which is a nice way of saying people reduced to the status of things) who can be assigned to a set of roles to operate on a set of resources to perform a set of tasks. … It is just this axiomatic approach which is embalmed in the systems approach to formal organization theory, and which has thoroughly infested management throughout contemporary organizations.

…we can see immediately that the current managerial approach constitutes an attempt to stand outside of the organization, to take an overview of it as an object for observation and manipulation… So the manager’s task comes to be seen as one of applying technique from outside, the effect of which is to stop others from participating authentically in their own situation, so that they have to proceed as if they were outside of their own work.

Human organizations fail because those involved do not understand… Where they do not visibly appear to fail it is because they are held together externally by forces, fears and pressures—in other words, by violence. What is needed is the development of a sensitivity… In this way they can have made known to them the genuine needs of their situation, not the counterfeits which arise…at the top, nor…from outside. But this approach is so different to the axiomatic approach to management that it is at first unthinkable to those concerned with techniques for solving problems.

Human relationships
Henri Bortoft also discusses human relationships:4

It is when we begin to consider human relationships in terms of the wholesome encounter that we realize the tragic limitation of our lives together.

The encounter between two persons is very often only external; each looks upon the other as an object, as a thing among things. Each is outside of the other, separated from the other as an object to be known and manipulated. … We develop counterfeit relationships as an attempt to bring us together by overcoming separation. But…separation is preserved and we ensure that we remain outside of one another.

An authentic relationship with another person begins with the turning around into the whole. … We cease from trying to grasp hold of the other person, to know him as an object, to work him out or to make him do things. We begin to let the other person be, becoming sensitive to him as a presence… If this happens we enter directly into an encounter with the whole person…

Conclusions
Today’s organizations are as infested by the ‘managerial view’ as they were 50 years ago. And authentic encounters — where we meet each other as whole human beings — are as rare now as then. More often than not we are instead immersed in our thoughts about each other.

Notes:
1 Henri Bortoft, Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought (Floris Books, 2012), p. 11.
2 Henri Bortoft, The Whole: Counterfeit and Authentic (Systematics Vol. 9. No. 2, 1971).
3 Ibid., pp. 23–24.
4 Ibid., pp. 23–26.

Published by Jan Höglund

Jan Höglund has over 35 years of experience in different roles as software developer, project manager, line manager, consultant, and researcher. This is his personal blog where he shares his reading, book reviews, and learning.

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