A HR tribute to Kierkegaard

Today is the 200th birthday of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard – the Danish thinker and philosopher. Kierkegaard is probably best known as the first existentialist philosopher and as a religious writer but he was also a critical writer within psychology, moral and ethics. He wrote of many Freudian concepts long before Freud was even born.

Kierkegaard is of course being celebrated throughout the world today. And rightly so. But I also believe that we within the HR profession should pay a tribute to his work and thinking. Why do I think that?

The easy way to explain this would be to post some fancy quotes which illustrate his thinking and how he can inspire us such as:

  1. “Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts”
  2. “Patience is necessary, and one cannot reap immediately where one has sown”
  3. “One can advise comfortably from a safe port”
  4. “Personality is only ripe when a man has made the truth his own”
  5. “Life must be understood backwards; but… it must be lived forward”
  6. “There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming.”
  7. “Once you label me you negate me.”
  8. “The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.”

The problem with quotes is that they are always taken from a context and I don’t think quotes are that meaningful to understand a person or even what he/she was talking about.

So to explain why HR should pay tribute to Kierkegaard I want to point to his fundamental philosophical thinking and what he was trying to accomplish. Kierkegaard was devoted to the idea of how each of us lives as a “single individual”, giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking, and he highlighted the importance of personal choice and commitment. His concept of “Truth as Subjectivity” and his idea of the limitation of science’s ability to reveal the inner workings of the human spirit is probably fundament cornerstones on which philosophical HR is built on (if there is such as thing as philosophical HR?). I don’t think that modern HR would be the same had Kierkegaard not been alive.

So with that in mind:  happy birth Søren Aabye Kierkegaard.

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