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Learned helplessness

Learned helplessness

The Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase, Diocese of Georgia writes about “learned helplessness” in Duke Divinity School’s Call and Response:

Ron Ashkenas, whose latest book, Simply Effective, says that many organizations over time develop what he calls “learned helplessness.” This occurs when leaders in the organization slowly create a list of excuses and explanations for why the organization can’t change or improve as it seeks to accomplish its mission. Ashkenas says that rather than finding ways to make things better or generating ideas for how things might be different, leaders instead gradually accept the status quo and blame external forces to explain and then to excuse the “stuckness” of the organization.

Learned helplessness can become viral in any organization and the church is no exception.

Ashkenas offers two ways to get beyond learned helplessness that are applicable to the challenges Christians face. He says that organizations should first name clearly what is going on. He suggests making a list of initiatives people say they want, but have not done. Then put together a list of the ten most common excuses for why there has been inaction. Creating dialogue helps everyone become aware of their complicity in learned helplessness.

So, in the church, we hear things like: “We don’t have enough people. We don’t have enough resources. We don’t have enough time. We tried something new before and it didn’t work.” These are all the words of people infected with learned helplessness.

If your congregation has become stuck with the virus of learned helplessness, then call it what is and then find one first thing you can do together for God’s mission. Take that first small step to become unstuck and then celebrate your way to the next.

No more passive resignation, please.

Read more here.


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