Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 6 - On Sharing Knowledge

On Sharing Knowledge

My current assignment at work is to help a group of roughly 200 employees transform from a traditional management-style approach to work, to an agile mindset approach to work.  In all the conversations I've had with many people about an agile transformation, the hallmarks that always stand out are:

1) the team is there to please the customer
2) the team needs to continuously inspect and adapt the way it works

So, when I come across letters from Seneca that convey a similar sentiment, it pleases me.

The overlapping themes are: improvement and mindfulness of that improvement.  Similarly, it is about recognizing the need to be better, and then installing a feedback mechanism (in the form of introspection and a mentor/coach) to ensure the continuity of progress.

Seneca starts off this letter discussing his transformation as well as his ability to recognize his self-transformation.  And then he readily acknowledges that he still has work to do.
I feel, my dear Lucilius, that I am being not only reformed, but transformed. I do not yet, however, assure myself, or indulge the hope, that there are no elements left in me which need to be changed. Of course there are many that should be made more compact, or made thinner, or be brought into greater prominence. And indeed this very fact is proof that my spirit is altered into something better, – that it can see its own faults, of which it was previously ignorant.
He then pivots into a key ingredient in a person's transformation: having someone to improve with or learn from; in a word: a mentor.

Seneca wishes to share not only wisdom with his friend, but also setbacks or troubles.
I am glad to learn in order that I may teach. Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it.
He does note that the only thing better than a mentorship via correspondence, is to actually live with the mentor.  This is how Cleanthes learned from Zeno; and how all the sages arrived at their station in life.
Of course, however, the living voice and the intimacy of a common life will help you more than the written word ... Cleanthes could not have been the express image of Zeno, if he had merely heard his lectures; he shared in his life, saw into his hidden purposes, and watched him to see whether he lived according to his own rules.  Plato, Aristotle, and the whole throng of sages who were destined to go each his different way, derived more benefit from the character than from the words of Socrates. It was not the class-room of Epicurus, but living together under the same roof.
Seneca concludes with a quote about how a person may know if they are making progress: "'I have begun to be a friend to myself.' That was indeed a great benefit; such a person can never be alone. You may be sure that such a man is a friend to all mankind."

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