The diasporic way

The diaspora in Deuteronomy referred to the scattering of the Jews amongst all people, although it was also used in the New Testament to refer to the dispersion of the Christians amongst foreigners. With reference to the European Jews, it came to describe a way of living amongst others while retaining their own religious and/or cultural identity. Now it is a subject of research into Diasporas applying more generally to the effects of migration as a manifestation of the effects of globalization. The connection between migrants and the people who have stayed at home have had profound effects on country of origin, country of destination and the diaspora itself. To these effects are being added the impact of technologies of social networking, adding a new dimension to the formation and sustaining of networked diasporas, enabling greater interaction between groups within and outside the country of origin through the formation of transnational networks, for example in the case of the Iranian experience.

An examination of the roles taken up by the Jewish Diasporas through the Middle Ages within European host countries finds them in the professional roles of doctor, banker and lawyer as well as in entrepreneurial roles based on networks that crossed many borders within and beyond Europe. These professional and entrepreneurial roles made effective use of the inherently networked nature of these diasporas rooted in their shared affiliation to common origins, combined with creating direct value to those amongst whom they were living.

The diasporic way refers to this way of life in which a double challenge has to be met by the individual: maintaining a shared affiliation to a common identity while at the same time creating valued responses to the demands of patients, customers and clients arising within the communities amongst which they live. Readers of this blog will see in this the challenge to leadership and the characteristics of asymmetric leadership.

We can recognize the modern inheritors of this diasporic way in the role of the professional, for example working within a corporation under a dual reporting structure. The professional must create value within his or her host environment while also maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of his or her professional body. The danger in this is that it can lead to a Faustian pact, in which neither the professional’s nor the corporation’s axis of interest fully understands the other. Thus a Faustian pact risks preventing the larger system from learning what it needs to understand in order to manage change. Such a pact arises because the double challenge is not being met, ultimately jeopardizing the survival of both the diaspora and its host environment. For example, much anger is currently directed at doctors in the UK because they are seen as opting out of the challenges of managing healthcare, thus obstructing the development of collaborative approaches.

Meeting the challenges of the diasporic way presents the individual with the ethical challenge of the case, in which working with asymmetries involves including what is not known, not understood and not familiar – working with the ‘Otherness’ of the other, the unheimlich.[1]

Working with the asymmetries in this way involves facing three dilemmas of ignorance. These spell out the characteristics of three limits that are also thresholds of understanding, the crossing of all of which is necessary to meeting the ethical challenge of the case, whether as an individual or as an enterprise:

  • top-down vs bottom-up: a first limit is met when what is true in a situation is not immediately obvious, truth not being able to be based purely on either prior assumptions or empirical evidence.
  • espoused theory vs theory-in-use: a second limit is met when, whatever form a truth appears to take, it can never be stated wholly in words, there always also being some part of it that is being revealed in people’s behavior.
  • affiliation vs alliance: a third limit is met when those asserting truths in a situation find that their own approach to the situation limits the way they are able to understand it, other forms of truth only emerging through joining with others having different understandings but a common concern with the problematic nature of the situation itself.

It is thus around this common concern with the problematic nature of a situation that the work takes place – not easy when appearances suggest that you have already arrived!

[1] This Otherness of the other is a reference to the ultimate unknowability of the other (see The Neighbor for a useful elaboration of this perspective on the other.)

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