Humanity is now in adolescent crisis and, just because of that,
stands on the brink of maturity – in a position to achieve
true humanity in the full meaning of that word.
– Elisabet Sahtouris
It is at a very essential, one-on-one level,
that we live the primary laws of love and life.
– Stephen R. Covey
Last weekend, I took some time to delve into my collection of books by Stephen R. Covey, management consultant and author of the international bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989. Reading The 7 Habits in that year transformed my life. In fact, if I were to name the single most helpful book I have ever read, it would have to be that one.
Lately, I have felt the need for more of the same kind of help in directing and managing my life as I earlier found in reading The Seven Habits. Reminded of the The 8th Habit again in a leadership workshop I was facilitating, I afterward made a deliberate trip to the bookstore during the week, and picked it up. Then, on Saturday, I decided to spend a few free hours with the trilogy, compiling an overall view of Covey’s vision and recommended practices.
I was not disappointed; in fact I was more impressed with Covey than ever as I began to synthesize his points from the three books. I also found myself wondering, as I delved into The 8th Habit, if the designation of “management consultant” is enough to capture Covey’s broad yet fully integrated vision. For me, the term “prophet” came to mind, and seemed almost more appropriate.
Then later in the week, as I sat pondering the notion of Covey as prophet, and started thinking about how I might share my impressions of Covey on this blog, I had a rather stunning insight. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I could compare Covey’s writings with those of Thomas Berry, the inspiration for the New Universe Story that provides the central vision of this blog.
I also consider Berry to be a contemporary prophet, but in that flash of insight, I realized they have more in common than that. In this blog, then, want to begin to share the fruits of that insight. I realize, though, it will take more than one posting to completely cover all that I have found of benefit in Covey’s work.
To begin, as prophets both Stephen Covey and Thomas Berry, it seems to me, are calling the human species back to its rightful place in the garden of our birth – Earth’s community of life. Berry, who died just over a year ago, reminded us in his writings that we humans are of the planet, not just on it; that we emerged from and are embedded in the physical and psychic Life process that created our Earth, along with all the other planets, stars, galaxies and forms of life in the cosmos.
In his early writings, Berry also identified three basic laws or principles operating within our Universe. They are differentiation, subjectivity, and communion. These principles have led to the creation of a wide variety of unique objects and individuals who are also parts of the greater whole.
The principle of differentiation is behind the creation of the sequence of particles, elements, galactic systems, planets, and all life on Earth, including humans. At the same time, the processes that led to this vast differentiated array of forms, also led to increased subjectivity. As Berry writes in The Dream of the Earth, “From the shaping of the hydrogen atom to the formation of the human brain, interior psychic unity has consistently increased….” (p. 45). This increased subjectivity in the human brain has led to an “interiority” that in humans, and perhaps some other mammals, includes the capacity for self-reflection.
The third principle apparent now through the scientific story of our Universe is, as Berry writes, “the communion of each reality …with every other reality” in our Universe.
In his final book, The Great Work, Berry declares that we must transform our attitude toward the planet that sustains us, and through that changed awareness develop the will to change all our social systems: economics, politics, education, law, etc.
After spending several hours in one sitting skimming through Stephen Covey’s works, I realized with a new delight that while Thomas Berry in his works gives us the big picture, allowing us to view the principles operative in our reality in cosmic proportions, Covey actually brings that vision down to street level, offering us daily habits through which we can realign our own behaviors with the life-sustaining dynamics of our Universe.
Covey gives us the picture of how Berry’s three overarching principles of differentiation, subjectivity and communion appear in our lives as further principles that guide and sustain us personally and professionally. Covey names some of these principles as: fairness, kindness, respect, honesty, integrity, service, contribution. He suggests that his seven habits help us to consistently live these principles.
The first three of Covey’s seven habits help us fully achieve our own differentiation by coming to know fully well our own subjectivity. In other words, they help us each to come to know and claim our own identity and purpose in life. “You will come to know yourself in a deeper, more meaningful way – your nature, your deepest values and your unique contribution capacity” (1989, p. 61).
As Covey suggests, the first three habits help us to move on the “Maturity Continuum” from dependence (a submersion in the whole) to independence. This is a necessary step in achieving at the human level the third principle identified by Thomas Berry: communion. In fact, Covey remarks that only a person who comes to experience independence can successfully choose interdependence. In other words, we cannot hope to achieve healthy communion on the human level, without first becoming self aware and self confident about our own purpose and mission in life. I believe this is true not only for individuals but for groups, even societies, and perhaps even, as Elisabet Sahtouris suggests, for our human species as well. It is high time we learn how, as a human species, to live our interdependence in Earth’s community of life. Perhaps Covey’s habits can help us collectively do that. Once prepared by working the first three of Covey’s habits, we are ready to move to the next three.
Covey’s next three habits, numbers four through six, offer us practical steps for being in communion with others. They focus on helping us heal and restore relationships that have somehow become broken, and also provide a means for creating new relationships that are healthy and strong.
The final, seventh habit, is an ongoing one of self renewal that supports all of the rest.
In next week’s post, I will share some of the ways in which I have found Covey’s habits to be of enormous help to me in living a balanced and productive life, allowing me to make my own personal, creative contribution to the Whole of Life.
Berry, T. (1988) The dream of the earth. San Francisco: Sierra Club.
Berry, T. (1999) The great work. New York, NY: Bell Tower
Covey, S.R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Free Press
Covey, S.R. (1991). Principle-centered leadership. New York, NY: Fireside
Covey, S.R. (2004) The eighth habit. New York, NY: Free Press