And who sat next to me?
Many years ago, I was flying from Harare to Johannesburg and I sat, by providence, next to Dr Shahidul Alam, who I was to discover is a very well known photographer and activist from Bangladesh. In those days, email newsletters were quite the rage, and overtime of course, we have updated to blogs and RSS feeds.
I use Pageflakes as my feedreeder and I have a page for the feeds I check first thing in the morning, a page for UK blogs linked to my profession, another page for non-UK links in my profession, a page for venture capital, etc. And I have a page for Evening where I feed blogs like Shahidul’s from Drik Gallery in Dhaka. Whether you like to be informed about events around the world, or whether you just like good photography, I recommend it.
Today, I stumbled upon an article about the 1971 generation, Bangladeshi men and women who were disappointed by the outcomes of Bangladesh’s Independence. Dashed hopes are sadly quite common when we have worked long and hard for change.
Is your liberation, also mine?
Today’s post began with a quotation from an Aboriginal activist group from Australia.
If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
It is attributed variously to Lila Watson and the Aboriginal Activist’s Group Queensland 1970’s
This is a sentiment I learned growing up in southern Africa with all its inherited problems.
When we are sufficiently well off, we often approach a conflict as if we have nothing to gain from its resolution. Our patronising attitude is very irritating to the other side. We may be surprised to find that what we think is good will on our part is generating considerable contempt. We may be shocked to hear that we are regarded less positively than people who are downright aggressive.
The alternative takes a lot of courage. Can we approach conflict resolution and negotiation without any preconditions, and in particular without commitment to being a senior partner?
It is amazing how often we refuse to engage if we are not guaranteed a superior position in advance. It is also amazing how often we project this stance onto others when they are just calling us on our unwillingness to negotiate in good faith.
So many of the world’s intractable conflicts would be resolved in an instance if we could only get down from our high horse. And this is true too, in business.
Examples in business
For example, think of the typical networking event when people introduce themselves. There is little discussion of common goals. I say what I do (hoping it sounds important). Others listen, not for something they could do for me, but for something I can do for them, pretending all the while that they want to help me! Such social contortions!
Imagine if the atmosphere were different and we could say openly, in the next year I want to achieve X? How many of us would dare? How many of us listen with and offer “I can help you from there to there” without trying to be important? I have seen it done but it is so rare that it stands out!
Think too of the typical job advertisment looking for people who are ‘the best’. And think of the tension that implies. I want the best but I am recruiting from the open market. I do not employ the best? Nor I am able to train them? Ow! I am really very dependent on the applicants for their skills but I cannot contenance admitting that!
Imagine again phrasing a job advertisment honestly. This is what we want to achieve this year. Who believes they can help us? Please reply stating how we can help you in return.
So why do we get involved with this posturing?
The simple answer is that predicating everything on a pecking order is the central characteristic of masculine cultures. Britain and most English-speaking countries are very masculine. And when every one else is attending to the pecking order, to neglect it is dangerous.
Other cultures though, and to some extent the culture we have bred in our midst, Gen Y, are less attached to the pecking order culture. They are often amazed at our shenanigans and they find our collegial skills somewhat lacking.
Towards an unexpectedly prosperous 2009?
Are we able to abandon the premise that some people are more important than others? Are we able to abandon the act, that I am safe and OK, and this negotiation affects only your position and not mine? Do we have the courage to define our future collectively?
It may be important during 2009.