Blowing an Uncertain Trumpet
Hold tight, hold tight, we must insist that the world is what we have always taken it to be.
The Family Reunion – T S Eliot (1939)
Every society has its own 'cultural givens' - familiar assumptions, routines, values, customs, beliefs and rituals. As circumstances change and economic, environmental, employment and social conditions face upheaval, many people tend to cling more and more tightly to those cultural givens.
But, while most people hold on tighter in troubled times (such as ours), a few let go willingly, stepping into the storm, welcoming their status as refugees in a world where the old order is collapsing.
This is what Kurt Vonnegut meant when he said in Timequake, "We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down."
These few who step off willingly (Carl Rogers called them ‘Persons of Tomorrow’) have what it takes to help organizations and society at large to navigate in ‘powerful times’.
In Dancing at the Edge, Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester report on their experience of shadowing some of our foremost social, organisational and political leaders - people they identified as 'Persons of Tomorrow'. Among the new range of competencies they identified in this group is that of 'Blowing an uncertain trumpet' - which indicates a respectful humility.
The uncertain trumpet has a good pedigree:
St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?"
General Maxwell Davenport Taylor campaigned publicly against the Eisenhower Administration's 'New Look' defence policy, eventually publishing in January 1960 a highly critical book called The Uncertain Trumpet.
Father Theodore Hesburgh (Father Ted), President of Notre Dame University, said that leadership demands certainty – “you cannot blow an uncertain trumpet”.
But Leicester and O’Hara insist that too much certain trumpeting is precisely what got us into the mess that our planet, our economies, our education and governmental systems are all in.
Instead, they say we must all learn to play the uncertain trumpet… and play it with relish.
T S Eliot - The Family Reunion
Graham Leicester & Maureen O'Hara - Dancing at the Edge: Competence, Culture and Organization in the 21st Century
Carl Rogers - The World of Tomorrow and the Person of Tomorrow
St Paul - Epistle to the Corinthians
Maxwell Taylor - The Uncertain Trumpet
Kurt Vonnegut - Timequake