Ritual & Learning - A Parable LO13216

Richard Seel (richard@richard-seel.demon.co.uk)
Mon, 14 Apr 1997 10:46:14 +0100


I've been lurking for a while and would now like to introduce myself.
After many years working at the BBC, both as film maker and manager, I am
now working independently as consultant and facilitator, both at
individual and strategic levels. A particular interest of mine is the role
of ritual and symbolism, both in expressing and enshrining organisational
values and also in helping facilitate major change.

Last night in church I listened, again, to the story of the disciples on
the Emmaus road and their encounter with Jesus. I was struck that this can
also be read as a parable of learning and change:

Two of Jesus' followers are walking home from Jerusalem after his death.
They are confused, shocked, disillusioned. They meet a man on the way who
walks with them. It is Jesus, but they cannot recognise him because that
would require a major paradigm shift - they know that he is dead and
buried and therefore cannot be walking with them now.

The man starts to teach them, from scripture (received wisdom & common
knowledge) a new interpretation which leads to the conclusion that the
Messiah would rise from the dead. We know from the Gospels that Jesus was,
if nothing else, an innovative and successful teacher and the story tells
us that the two on the road were stirred by what they heard. But even
though they now have a new intellectual framework which would enable them
to accept the resurrection they still do not recognise Jesus.

It was only when they sat down together and Jesus took bread, gave thanks
over it, broke it, and gave it to them that they suddenly knew who he was.
This simple act, an everyday part of a Jewish meal, had previously been
invested with extra meaning by Jesus both publicly in acts such as the
'feeding of the five thousand' and more importantly in what he did at the
last supper. Its reiteration here operated on the disciples at a
non-rational level and released the new paradigm which had been prepared
during the discussions on the road.

The moral seems to me to be that even when the learning has been adequate
at the rational level it may not be enough to effect major change.
Something extra may be needed to enable a paradigm shift, and that extra
may need to work on the non-rational or spiritual level. Without rational
learning, appropriate change will not be possible but without the
non-rational learning it may not happen.

Or to use metaphors from complexity theory, rational learning is required
to allow us to adequately survey the fitness landscape, but non-rational
learning may be needed to get us off our current fitness peak or out of
our current basin of attraction.

Richard Seel.

Richard Seel
Management Consultancy & Development

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>