Posted by: chrismaser | November 13, 2010


An agency not only gives form and substance to a mutually-held ideal during its inception, which is projected into the future, but also gives the individual a sense of participation, achievement, and personal and “family” pride in the furtherance of that ideal, something no one can accomplish alone. Another opportunity an agency holds out to its employees and volunteers is the potential for a “team effort,” which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Although many people tend to be cynical about our public agencies, I believe each began with noble ideals, ideals of service worthy of their time and place in history and worthy of the effort people invested in them. Somewhere along the way, however, we lost sight of ourselves and the collective continuance of our ideals, which allowed the “machine” to take over, much like the theme of Ayn Rand’s book, The Fountainhead.

I came to this conclusion after working in the Bureau of Land Management (commonly referred to as “BLM”) for thirteen years, while housed in a U.S. Forest Service research laboratory, and after working for a year in the Environmental Protection Agency. In many ways they were good years and I learned much about myself and about society. I also learned that these agencies have become largely malfunctional monoliths each of which seems to believe it has the only “True” answer.

Before we can see how to change an agency, however, we must understand that there’s nothing sacred about it. An agency is merely a collection of people—as good as the best, as bad as the worst, and as mediocre as the average. Further, our individual motives and conduct—the carry-over from life in our families of origin—give the agency whatever meaning, purpose, integrity, foresight, or credibility ascribed to it. In essence, an agency is an extension of our families of origin in that our reactions to our coworkers and authority figures are often symbolic not only of whatever stage of personal developmental we’re in but also of the dynamics of our relationships with significant members of our own families, especially in relation to unresolved issues.

We who work in an agency, who set the agency’s standard, who determine the agency’s budget, who oversee the agency, and who vote—we are the agency. Because we are the agency, we also share in its destiny, and because it’s within our power to be authentic individuals, it’s also within our power to heal the dysfunction in our agencies.


Series on Resistance to Change:

• Our Institutionalized Resistance To Change

• My Introduction To An Agency

• Stages In The Cycle Of An Agency

• When Dysfunction/Malfunction Creeps In

• Homeostatic Defense

• Coping Mechanisms

• Coping Mechanisms: Anger And Aggression

• Coping Mechanisms: Appraisal

• Coping Mechanisms: Defensiveness

• Coping Mechanisms: Denial

• Coping Mechanisms: Displacement

• Coping Mechanisms: Filters

• Coping Mechanisms: Projection

• Coping Mechanisms: Rationalization

• Coping Mechanisms: Repression

• Coping Mechanisms: Resistance

• Breaking The Dysfunctional Cycle

• From Where I Stand


Text © by Chris Maser 2010. All rights reserved.

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This article is excerpted from my 1994 book, Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics. St. Lucie Press, Boca Raton, FL. 373 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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