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A Call to Maladjustment…

On 1/18/2010, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Bethel College in Kansas played for the first time a recording of a speech Dr. King made on its campus.  It is the only known recording of this speech and they were lucky enough to track down an alumnus who brought his own reel-to-reel recording equipment to the auditorium that day 50 years ago.  How cool is that?!  Anyway, Dr. King was fond of calling us to become maladjusted – and he did so quite a bit in his speech that day at Bethel.  Ordinarily, and particularly to conformists, this term connotes a negative: “lacking harmony with one’s environment from failure to adjust one’s desires to the conditions of one’s life” (Merriam Webster).  But in the context of humanity needing a slap upside its head, that’s exactly what Dr. King argued we needed more of.  There were, after all, “some things within our social order to which [he was] proud to be maladjusted and to which [he] called upon [us] to be maladjusted. [He] never intended to adjust [his]self to segregation and discrimination. [He] never intended to adjust [his]self to mob rule. [He] never intended to adjust [his]self to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism…” (from The Power of Non-Violence, June 4, 1957).

At the risk of trivializing Dr. King’s teachings (which I can assure you is not my intent), I think there’s a lot about this maladjusted thing we need to take to heart in HR.  Have we fallen prey to conformists?  Do we sometimes feel more at ease when blending into the background?  Do we try too hard to acquiesce to the personalities and workplace idiosyncracies thrown at us?  Are we often too quick to adjust our direction to what “the business” tells us it should be – do we wait around for our marching orders?  Are there times when we really wish we would have spoken up, but didn’t for fear of ____?  Are we known for rocking the boat? Are we known for affecting change or just responding to it? Are we guilty of applying the letter of the law without room for interpretation or flexibility?  Do we stimulate debate…do we even take part in it?  Do we cower when confronted, or altogether hide?  Do we face, do we oppose, do we dissent?  Does conflict give us pause? Have you ever said, “we’ve always done it that way?”  Are we completely risk averse? 

What success HR might advance – even catapult –  if it maladjusted to our workplace order! 

Photo Credit: Mennonite Library and Archives/Bethel College

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  1. January 20, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I agree Charlie. There are many aspects of our lives where a little maladjustment would go a long way.

    In HR we tackle many problems from a “this is the way its supposed to be done” perspective, versus a “whats the best way to solve this challenge” POV.
    Finding it within ourselves to think sideways at a problem, particularly if you’ve seen the problem more than once (because that means you didn’t solve it the first time) is the key to moving our companies forward.

    Great thougths – love the MLK connection.

  2. Christa
    January 24, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Hi Charlie,
    I love this post. It inspired my post today over on my blog. I’m making a pact to stay maladjusted! http://christainnewyork.com/2010/01/24/step-24-stay-maladjusted/

  3. January 24, 2010 at 10:27 am

    @Tammy, i love this notion of thinking sideways…will use that.

    @Christa, glad it inspired something in you – have appreciated your presence and am enjoying your blog…

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