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The Peril of Solipsism - Articles -

The Peril of Solipsism

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Solipsism is the belief that nothing exists outside of your self. If you, while reading this article, believe that this article and everything around you are figments of your imagination, you are solipsistic.

Sounds strange? No, it is very real.

Engine Charlie Wilson, former CEO of GM, once said, “What is good for GM is good for America!” Engine Charlie was indulging in solipsistic thinking on behalf of GM.

Grades in school may be another example of solipsism. The purpose of school is learning. We create a surrogate indicator of learning: grades. Then we collude with each other to pretend that grades are an accurate indicator that learning has or has not taken place. We no longer even question the legitimacy of grades.

Another example is sweeps week. Twice a year there are weeklong surveys of TV viewership. The ratings during sweeps week are important because they determine what the networks charge for advertising. The solipsism is this: We pretend that the programs during the sweeps week are representative of the network’s regular fare and that the ratings during sweeps are indicative of something real.

Another example: The Discipline of Market Leaders, a book that made The New York Times list of best-selling books. This occurred because those behind the book were able to identify which stores around the country were used by The New York Times as their sample for calculating which books were best sellers. By buying up their book at these stores, they could artificially inflate the figures. The solipsism: pretending that The New York Times list accurately depicts the sales of books (and that the volume of sales of books is an accurate measure of what is worthwhile to read).

Organizations often indulge in solipsistic thinking when they engage in planning. Managers pretend that the only important measures – of customer satisfaction or business success – are the measures they as managers agree on. The history of business is replete with companies that met their goals and targets and still failed. This was because their measures were reflective mainly of their inner world, their solipsism.

Leaders must be sure their measures of success or failure reflect the real world outside themselves and their organization. There is a difference between having a vision and suffering from a hallucination.1

Just like our counterparts in secular business, church leaders must utilize caution when setting goals and choosing which programs to devote resources to.

Questions should be asked:

  • Is what we are doing truly reflective of our real target audience?
  • Are we simply repeating what we think works for us, and being oblivious to the needs of the world we are trying to reach?
  • Does a new slogan really revive or even justify an irrelevant program? 
  • Is this impacting the Kingdom of God, or simply funding the operational cost of a system?
  • Am I leading from the cutting edge, or following behind oblivious to the dark?

Solipsism dominates the thinking in most every church and religious organization. Because of solipsism we develop a culture that we are comfortable with. The peril of solipsism is that in cloistered cultures of thinking people tend to start believing the world does not exist outside of our circle. The gauges we use to measure success become skewed. This creates a gap in our ability to connect to the world around us. Like Engine Charlie Wilson, we get to thinking, “What is good on our platform is good for the world”.

Jesus was never bound by solipsistic thinking. He remained holy while mingling with sinners. He reached beyond the boundaries of His peers and changed the religious thinking of the world.

Believe it or not the world around you does exist. It is dark out there. Be a light unto it. That is what Jesus would do if He attended your church. If what you have been doing has not been working and you are feeling frustrated at the results; consider giving up your devotion to solipsism. You have to get out of the box in order to change the world around you.

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Scholtes, Peter R., 1998. The Leader’s Handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill



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