A Hopeful Way to Flourish

I’ve been reading John Ehrenfeld’s “The Right Way to Flourish: Reconnecting to the Real World” (2020). John is a participant in the Channel McGilchrist forum which I joined alongside my reading Iain McGilchrist’s latest “The Matter With Things” (2021). John’s book was largely written before he had read Iain’s previous “The Master and His Emissary” (2012) and he openly admits fitting many references to to Iain’s 2012 work into his own work-in-progress without radically changing the intended structure and messages.

That in itself says something about Iain’s work. That his hypothesis about distinct left and right brain views of the world supports and reinforces natural and intuitive thinking many of us already have in trying to address the sense that we humans have somehow lost our way in the world. Lost our “connection to the real world”. Iain’s is clearly a powerful statement of reality.

In some sense I’m not really John’s target audience. I have already “bought” Iain’s hypothesis and I share many of John’s learning experiences in process engineering and in management generally, in quality management and in management education. If you are a practitioner in that space and you share the sense that our typical processes and procedures are somehow restricting our ability to flourish as individuals and as organisations, and that as a society we are failing to get to grips with the big issues of our time, then this is a book for you. A recommended read with practical recommendations – though as you will discover recommendations cannot be as prescriptive as some might hope.

This is not John’s first work on “flourishing” and for anyone who cares about life’s meaning and purpose, flourishing is the right word, biologically and psychologically, individually and collectively. Connecting this idea to that of sustainability – a totemic objective of so much 21stC effort – causes John some problem in that “sustain” implies some things being maintained or conserved. I might suggest the right formulation is “sustainable flourishing” – it’s the processes of continuous flourishing we are trying to maintain?

Interestingly, John connects flourishing quite early on to the authenticity of Maslow’s “self-actualisation” motives of the individual and the collective and links this to the rehabilitation of “positive psychology” generally.

There are a few quibbles. Recommendations against “management” of flourishing which I suspect would be better framed as warnings against the wrong kind of management – enabling and curating as opposed to direction and control say? His suggestion that we need more critical thinking, when in fact a damaging feature of too much critical thinking is an emphasis on analytical and objective reductionism. But maybe again this is a distinction between good and bad critical thinking?

The idea of the good is however recognised as qualitative, even without any treatment of virtues and qualities more generally. It’s a pragmatic book without too much intellectual philosophy and therefore a much less challenging read than either of Iain’s works.

A “hopeful” book too. Making the distinction between the more subjective (right-brain) hope and the more objective (left-brain) optimism.


[Post Note:

I actually made a lot more notes on my read, but one that came up today in another conversation is resisting the increasingly fashionable emphasis on “STEM” in education and recruitment. Obviously, who would deny the place of science and technology in human progress, he and I are both engineers after all, but the relentless emphasis deepens the old two-cultures divide in ways that are unhealthy to genuine flourishing.

I’ve said it before, and John says it too.]

3 thoughts on “A Hopeful Way to Flourish”

  1. Splendid review, and wonderful to see how McGilchrist’s work is having ripple-effects into new areas of knowledge and fields. Thus possibly starting a mutually enriching process, and looking at more practical applications. Hopeful indeed!

  2. I hope Ehrenfeld’ makes good use of etymology, as McGilchrist would surely do. The metaphor is one of “flowering,” referring to the growth and development of flora: gardens, perhaps, or woods, or jungles. It is indeed possible for a jungle, or even a taiga, to flourish unmanaged; but a garden must be tended.

    This certainly means attending to detail. But it also requires an understanding of context, and of “betweenness.” One may try to garden by laying out a set of rules and following them strictly, the rules being rationally derived and quite detailed. But if one is not sensitive to the health of the plants, the nature of the climate, the condition of the soil, one may yet fail. All of these additional concerns require attention to detail, but it is not rote detail, of the sort one can simply write down and follow blindly. Understanding the significance of the details is required, and this is a matter of context.

    Talking to the plants may also be required, for all we know. There have been some scientific investigations about this, or about playing different types of music. But if nothing else, the attitude of “betweenness,” or perhaps simply concern, involved in talking to plants is surely beneficial for appreciating the context of their growth.

    All of this is to assume one wants a garden. A jungle or a taiga can flourish without being tended, but the pattern of flourishing may not suit us.

  3. H AJ,
    He certainly notes the obvious root, but doesn’t labour it here, as I say it’s a topic he’s written about before.

    Our focus here is “human flourishing” so not all the jungle metaphors really work, but even the gardening metaphor is about tending and curating, not necessarily directing and controlling. As I said he is against “management” in the arrogant sense of taming nature.

    There is of course the “tend one’s own garden” metaphor too?

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