The Vision Thing

Mission! Impossible? Or mission possible?

A while back the business world latched onto the idea of mission, and the results have not always been pretty. Mission statements of businesses are prone to either state the obvious, or state nothing at all.
  • “Aspire to excellence.”
  • “Client-focused providers.”
  • “Aiming to exceed expectations.”
These are too banal to provide any help. Alternatively, mission statements fall prey to incomprehensibility. One cartoon shows two business people looking at a draft proposal for their mission statement – and some of the language evokes religious themes, but its so convoluted. The statement says:
“Manifest excellence beyond a paradigm of betterment with magnitude of probity and cohesion with coalescence and diversity of purpose steadfast, bounded only by our prescience and predestination as we gloriously emanate eminence for the divine unified triumph toward quintessential destiny.”
The one person is saying to the other:
“I’m not satisfied with the new mission statement. I can still understand parts of it.”
And then there are the sorts that are loaded with generically meaningless buzzwords. Dilbert creator Scott Adams parodies these with the "Dilbert Mission Statement Generator" which churns out such samples as:
"We have committed to synergistically fashion high-quality products so that we may collaboratively provide access to inexpensive leadership skills in order to solve business problems"
"It is our job to continually foster world-class infrastructures as well as to quickly create principle-centered sources to meet our customer's needs"
"Our challenge is to assertively network economically sound methods of empowerment so that we may continually negotiate performance based infrastructures"
Those are parodies. This one is real:
"The New Ventures Mission is to scout profitable growth opportunities in relationships, both internally and externally, in emerging, mission inclusive markets, and explore new paradigms and then filter and communicate and evangelize the findings."
Businesses are not congregations, and congregations are not businesses. We aren’t even a nonprofit business. Yet we have in common that we are complex organizations that have a lot of different things going on, and it's hard to sum up all those things in any way that provides meaningful guidance. So what often results is either banal or incomprehensible.

Community Unitarian Church is in the midst of a process for articulating our mission. Since we are not a business, we are a faith institution, a spiritual community, perhaps we can draw on spiritual wisdom to help us avoid the mission pitfalls into which many businesses fall.

For instance, our theme of the month for September is vision. "Vision" sounds like it’s about having a plan and goals: a “vision of the future” -- and sometimes it is. That sense of vision is not what I'd think of as a particularly spiritual resource. In a spiritual context, vision is about seeing who you are, what is your place, what is yours to do. The Biblical book of Proverbs (29:18) famously says,
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
The very next words, though, give it a spin you might not have expected:
“but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (KJV)
Other translations render it as:
“Where there is no prophecy the people cast off restraint, but happy are those that keep the law.” (NRSV)
"When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful." (NLT)
"Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction." (NIV)
Proverbs is saying that vision -- a.k.a. prophecy, divine guidance, revelation -- is about perceiving that which shows us the way toward a fulfilling life. It’s seeing the context within which our lives make sense – seeing what we’re here for – and flowing with it.

It’s not that the picture of the future toward which you are working is entirely irrelevant . . . yet, from a spiritual standpoint, actually, yes, the picture of the future toward which you are working is entirely irrelevant.

Take a simple, quotidian task like washing the dishes. Thich Nhat Hanh says,
“We do not wash the dishes in order to get them clean. We wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.”
This vision here is not a picture in my head of a tidy kitchen with all the dishes sparkling and neatly stacked in the cabinets. Rather, I would be bringing vision to my dishwashing insofar a I perceived that at that moment washing dishes was the best possible thing for me to be doing, and, indeed, the total fulfillment of the whole universe’s 14 billion years. That sudsy warm water. That slippery plate. My own wet hands. That’s what everything was for. That’s the meaning of it all, right there.

That’s vision. That kind of vision is indeed spiritual wisdom to draw on. If we could bring that kind of vision to everything we do, to every moment, then we'd be harmonizing ourselves to what the world presents to us. We'd be doing what Proverbs calls “keeping the law.” We'd be awake.

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This part 1 of 5 of "Mission: Possible"
Next: Part 2: "Atone = At One"

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. Looking forward to watching CUC's mission unfold.

    It's so crazy how convoluted some mission statements are. One simple example I like is that of Starbucks: "to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time." There's something cozy about that (probably the warm coffee image that comes to mind with the words "one cup"). It's then followed up with the company's core values, which support that overall mission.

    I love your idea of bringing vision to everyday moments. Conscious living -- my newest goal, thanks to inspiring words like this!