The inspiration for this conversation class came to me in a less conventional way, while I was selecting materials for a course tailored toward business that had, it seemed, nothing to do with the “How to Live” topic.
Generally, there seems to be a natural progression from life models and their theories (in ELT terms, general, non-technical English vocabulary) to business models and their theories (to business or technical English vocabulary). Having said that, I was surprised to notice the applicability of a particular business model to a topic that I could sum up as the Guidelines of “How to Live”. This business model presented in the Cambridge Coursebook Business Advantage Upper-intermediate, in the chapter on organisational cultures. It comes from Professor Charles Handy’s book, Understanding Organisations. My attention was immediately drawn by one of the two types of organisational cultures presented there: the so-called role culture (p.48).
Role Culture can be pictured as a Greek temple. Role culture places its strengths in its columns. These columns represent the different departments, e.g. the finance department and the purchasing department. The work of the columns and the interactions between the columns is controlled by procedures which describe in detail what each department does and what each person does in their job by means of a job description. This structure is suited to stable environments or environments where the organization has a lot of market power, such as monopolies. The columns are connected at the top by a narrow band of senior management. An organization with a role culture is generally believed to be very stable, but poor at implementing change and adapting to a fast-changing macro-environment.
From here to the path of metaphor was only a very small step that carried me and two different groups of students of mine from Kliny English Courses (a higher-level group and another lower-level group) on an interesting imaginative adventure.
You can try this metaphorical path yourselves by reading the fragment on role cultures, paying attention to the underlined concepts and being ready to look for their equivalents that make up your own view of life, while bearing in mind this question:
If your intrinsic system of values that you guide your life by were to be associated with a Greek temple, what would your columns or pillars be, how would they interconnect (by what kind of procedures, ways, strategies), and what would be the innermost guiding principle you live by, the roof supported by those columns or pillars?
My students came up with some amazing answers to these and questions or suggestions like (I took the liberty to paraphrase them):
– “My main pillars are: my physical condition and my family. I realised a while ago that I need to be fit in order to function well at home and at work on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the time I spend exercising takes me away from my family, but I am trying to balance this and everything else in my life as best I can.“
– “I am afraid that I am my own pillar most of the times. It happens to me to look around for some help only to realize that I can only count on myself. It makes me think of how strong and, at times, how fragile I am.”
– “My pillars are: my ancestors or my roots, where I come from, then, second, my family, my own generation, which is my present, and third, the future of the next generations of my children’s children and also the future and preservation of our planet. Some families have famous people among their ancestry, Nobel prize winners and the like. Mine doesn’t. The most important value in my family has always been hard work. Another value that is extremely significant for me is passing on our knowledge to future generations. Sharing what I know with the younger generation is something I take great pride and pleasure in doing.”
I would like to thank my students for sharing their thoughts at our classes and for trusting me to take the path of metaphor as often as I suggest it. I would also like to thank Martin Lisboa, one of the authors of the Business Advantage Upper-intermediate coursebook whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the workshop he led in Krakow in May this past spring (Case studies on real companies – Why bother with fakes?) for his excellent contribution to the content of the coursebook and for his supportive attitude and kind appreciation of my ideas and my literary writings in English during our talk on the same occasion.
I encourage you to think up your own answers and life view versions taking a similar metaphor path. You may wish to keep these views private or share them with people you know well or not at all. Either way, get ready to be surprised. Last but not least, enjoy!