MA Orientation Remarks | Social-Organizational Psychology | Organization and LeadershipSkip to content Skip to main navigation
MA Orientation Remarks
Program in Context – September 5, 2017 Sarah Brazaitis, MA Program Director
I have been thinking about you quite a bit in preparing for this day and for this academic year. I have been thinking about our collective work. And about our shared world.
And, I wanted to offer a few things you might think about as we start our work of learning, studying, writing, teaching and growing, all of us – together – under the somewhat big tent that is Organizational Psychology.
So I made a list of what’s been on my mind lately, some things going on in the world, and I want to share a few thoughts with you about how those things relate to what we do and what we can do in Organizational Psychology.
Here’s what’s been on my mind lately:
The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey
The racism and violence in Charlottesville, VA
The banning of transgender individuals from the military
The polarized reaction to the pardoning of Joe Arpaio
The pros and cons of Twitter
The potential for global destruction by nuclear war
The potential for global destruction by environmental catastrophe
Amazon buying Whole Foods
The imminent release of the iPhone 8
The rise and fall of Taylor Swift
The rise and fall of the Fidget Spinner
And how I wish I had traveled to a site of totality for the solar eclipse
I left off many things, I know. Your list would have additional topics, most certainly. But, each of these, in its own way, is related to our work in Organizational Psychology.
How can we, as organizational psychologists, learn to manage difference more effectively, constructively, justly and sustainably? How can we be sensitive to our constituencies while also opening up painful discourse? How can we collaborate on common goals across the most seemingly intractable and fractious divides? The increasing interdependence, mobility, contact and consequences of modern society intensify these issues immeasurably. Technology, big data, artificial intelligence and social media are revolutionizing everything about work, relationships, social norms, the political processes, healthcare, the exponential growth of knowledge, our perception of truth and facts, what we eat (and how much we share it on Instagram), how we access and consume music, visual entertainment (including those videos of other people playing video games that my sons are weirdly addicted to) how we drive or are driven and on and on.
You, our students, are professionals from around the world in a variety of industries and organizations including for-profit, not-for-profit, government, NGOs, educational institutions and officers in the United States Military. Together we are millennials, members of generation X, the silent generation and baby boomers. We work directly with change leaders across all these contexts and populations and in doing so we, faculty, always hold a systems perspective. That is, we always consider multiple levels of analyses including the individual, the group, the organization, and the environment in understanding and tackling any problem. You, too, will learn to see organizations through this lens throughout your time in the program.
And a systems perspective has never been more relevant. Indeed, what is happening in the world is also, of course, happening with you, our students, in our classes and in all the organizations we touch. We are challenged to hold multiple viewpoints and to respond to continuous dramatic change. We are committed to freedom of speech but we vehemently reject racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, homophobia and all forms of discrimination and oppression. That includes rejecting discrimination against those who hold differing political perspectives, differing worldviews, and opinions that may vary from the majority in the classroom or in the College.
If, as the poet John Dunne wrote, “no man is an island,” I think the same is true of humanity as a whole. We are interconnected in ways we’ve never been before, via trade, technology and travel, with our fates inextricably bound together. The great problems of our day—climate change, loose nuclear weapons, the democracy-endangering gap between the world’s wealthiest and poorest peoples—can only be tackled collectively. There is no path to progress but forward, and our work in this program guides us daily as educators, learners, scholars and practitioners with multiple constituencies to seek understanding and ways to bridge always complex, often fraught and seemingly incessant divides among us.
How can we as organizational psychologists learn to navigate all of this effectively and ethically?
As a program in Social-Organizational Psychology we are a community that studies these issues and we are extremely well positioned to work on them. We have knowledge, skills, frameworks and methods that enable us specifically to address these incredibly complex but critical issues of today’s world.
- We are scientist-practitioners. Right here, right now we are studying leadership, stereotype threat, sexual harassment and ageism in the workplace, intractable conflict, covert processes in organizations, the effectiveness of diversity training, learning agility, social networks, how to manage constant change, and more.
- We are consulting to organizations both corporate and not for profit, across industries, around the world, using evidence-based practice, grounded in our and others’ research.
- We are systems thinkers. We never limit our understanding to what we know about the individual, but always look to the group or team, to the organization, and to the systemic issues to give us critical information to do a rigorous analysis and craft relevant and workable solutions.
- And we are committed to social justice. So, as a program, we strive to engage in work that will affect positive change and contribute to the greater good.
- The inextricable link between science and practice; the consistent use of a systems framework; and a broad and deep commitment to working for a just world – these are our values, these are foundational to our work.
Folks who gathered to watch the recent solar eclipse along the path of totality in the United States – the 70 miles wide swath that stretched from Oregon to South Carolina – described a festive, party atmosphere among friends and strangers. They created an ad hoc community of eclipse viewers and shared together in the gorgeousness of the moon crossing in front of the sun, plunging everything into twilight in the middle of the day, light and color and shadows decorating everyone and everything in a sort of surprise sunset that all were expecting, but that none had experienced for a very long time if ever. People in the path of totality talked about feeling simultaneously miniscule in the grandness of our universe and also deeply connected to our shared planet and to each other. I think the eclipse created, in its anticipation, its occurrence, and its aftermath, a system for a few hours, where folks had a lived experience of interdependence. For that special time, they were all systems thinkers. I wish I had been there.
David Remnick writing in The New Yorker states that we need “to devise a future, to debate, to hear one another, to organize, preserve and revive precious things.” We believe our program’s work is a precious thing and that we engage in it to illuminate the path forward to a more sustainable, just and informed world.
Wonderfully, you are now a part of us, and you are very precious to us. We invite you to take up your work here with enthusiasm and energy, with wisdom and integrity, and definitely with some humor now and again. And, we ask you – I ask you – to try to bring your best self here.
Remember that we are the program in Social-Organizational Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. All of us. We are a community, part of a long prestigious legacy of Psychology at TC – learning, teaching, growing and working together. We are living in a world that is extraordinarily complex, that can be relentless, that is, at times, horrifying, often exciting, sometimes rewarding, always compelling.
And, remember that we are living in a world that is in need of us – all of us – working on its issues, affecting positive change, contributing.
So my piece of advice to you – Try to bring your best self every day to our collective work.
Challenge and stretch yourself again and again even when it makes you feel uncomfortable. If you are an introvert, push yourself at times to speak up more often. If you are an extrovert, remember to listen more often than you speak. Work to be open to new views, perhaps especially when you are pretty sure those views are wrong. Catch yourself making quick judgments and instead, consider that what others are trying to express might be valid. Tolerate not knowing the answer. Risk learning something new in public, even while your classmates are watching. Model that for each other. Take responsibility for your choices and look to your own role in a situation before blaming others. Assume good intentions in your peers, your colleagues, your professors, and the institution of TC. We are good people here and we are all trying to do the right thing even when it looks otherwise. When you are frustrated start with compassion – for yourself and for those around you and see if that doesn’t get you to a more productive place. Share yourself, have fun, let joy in, work hard, think deeply, hold on to each other. I will try to do the same. We will try to do the same.
If we make, and keep, this commitment to each other—to our community here—we can do meaningful work.
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