Rediscovering the Soul of Greece

03/09/2012 08:45 am ET | Updated May 09, 2012

I recently returned from Las Vegas, Nevada, where I had been invited to speak on a panel, "Is Reorganization of the State the Answer to the Greek Crisis?" at an international conference for public administrators. Because of my longstanding work in both the fields of innovation and meaning I decided to focus my remarks on what I consider to be primarily humanistic concerns -- not that structure and function do not matter -- under the banner of "The Deeper Meaning of the Greek Transformation."

Frankly, I don't believe that simply "reorganizing" the state is the answer to the Greek crisis, although it certainly is a part of it. More fundamentally, I wanted in my presentation to identify some issues that relate directly not only to the feasibility of reorganizing the state but also to dealing with Greece's "existential" or identity crisis in its larger context. After all, the word "crisis," which has its roots in the Greek language, represents an important decision point and therefore is also an opportunity.

Speaking metaphorically, it is also important to underscore that I didn't want simply to move chairs around the deck of the sinking Titantic! In order to take full advantage of the opportunity side of the crisis and move towards a positive future for Greece and Greeks, a process that I call "existential digging" (explained in my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts) is required as a prerequisite for facilitating substantive change -- that is, change grounded in the Core of Meaning. This kind of transformative change involves much more than a need to rebrand Greece as some have suggested (even though, again, this is a part of the solution). On a more deeper level, there is a need to rediscover and reinvent Greece and, even more broadly, to rediscover and reinvent the notion of "Greekness" for the 21st century by looking back to the future.

Against what appear to be overwhelming odds, and during a transitional period of "creative destruction," it is time to rediscover the Soul of Greece and leverage the inherent strengths that can be found in the Greek people and nation, as well as across the diaspora (from the Greek word, διασπορά, meaning "dispersion" and hence referring to the migration of people away from an ancestral homeland) and Philhellenes or "friends of Greece." Indeed, I firmly believe that the "Second Golden Age of Greece" is within and within reach; that is, as long as WE -- Greeks, people of Greek heritage and true friends of Greece -- are not prisoners of our thoughts!

In this regard, I'm primarily concerned about advancing a humanistic perspective on the formidable challenges facing Greece and the country's efforts at "reform" rather than focusing on structure, functions, and processes per se. Against this backdrop, it is essential that we distinguish between the Greek nation, the Greek government and the Greek people. Lumping them together, which unfortunately is something that the media tend to do, only creates misconceptions and misunderstandings; it does not provide Ariadne's thread to guide Greece out of the labyrinth or an escape from the abyss.

I learned a very long time ago that you can not have any kind of collective transformation, including organizational, political, and societal transformation, without personal transformation. Moreover, in the absence of personal and collective responsibility, there can be no democracy, no real freedom. In short, good intentions are not enough for any kind of meaningful change to occur. There is a tenet in organizational theory suggesting that "things change in order to stay the same." Hence, we must be careful about proposing reorganization of the State as the so-called "answer" to the Greek crisis. Public trust and confidence in government will not be well-served and certainly will not increase if such reorganization efforts result in more of the same.

A humanistic perspective on reform at any level in Greece rests on both intrapersonal and interpersonal factors -- intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for taking meaningful action at the individual and collective levels. Intrapersonally, I'm referring to the human quest for meaning, something that my mentor, Dr. Viktor Frankl, espoused as being the "primary intrinsic motivation of human beings." In his Politics, the Greek philosopher Aristotle wisely advised that "a state's purpose is not merely to provide a living but to make a life that is good." The "good life" can also be viewed as the "meaningful life" -- it is something that drives and sustains us through both good and not-so-good times.

Interpersonally, I'm referring to the need for collaboration and coordinated action in order to achieve our collective aims. This factor implies that reform, be it organizational or societal, is a contact sport. It requires interacting with others, making compromises, and tapping into the collective wisdom (i.e., "demosophia") of a broadly-based community of stakeholders. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Some years ago, when I was participating as a speaker at a conference in Caux, Switzerland, I recall hearing a Catholic Bishop utter the following words: "You can't enter into a meaningful relationship with Others if you believe that you have a monopoly on truth." How simple, yet how strikingly profound, a statement! Put differently, only by going to a higher ground will we be able to reach a common ground. And only by rediscovering the Soul of Greece (and what I call "inner Greekness") will we be able to find the true answer to the Greek crisis.

Rediscovering the "Soul" of Greece can be viewed as a renaissance of core values -- meaningful values that have been embedded in the Greek DNA for millenia. Indeed, Greece and Greeks, from ancient times to the present day, actually hold the blueprint for overcoming the most formidable challenges people everywhere face in life. In many respects, the current crisis is another manifestation of Greece's continuing leadership role in the evolution of Western Civilization and societal transformation. Much of what Greece has been experiencing in recent years will eventually lead to lessons learned and best practices that will be valuable for other countries and their citizens, many of whom are following in Greece's path. Refocusing on and authentically committing to the meaningful values and goals that have framed traditional Greek culture for generations and reconnecting with the ageless wisdom of Greek philosophy will help to restore Greece's position on the world stage. Like Odysseus, the legendary Greek king of Ithaca and hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey, Greece must forge ahead on its modern-day journey of (self)discovery and transformation. In the process I have no doubt that Greece will find herself and that the deeper meaning of what it is to be "Greek" will rise triumphantly like Heracles (Ηρακλής) from the depths of the Underworld once again. OPA!

Dr. Alex Pattakos is the co-founder of The OPA! Way® paradigm of "Living & Working with Meaning." You can find out more about Dr. Pattakos, author of the international best-selling book "Prisoners of Our Thoughts," in his full bio.

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