Positive psychology during war

This is the best of times and the worst of times

UPDATE:  Almost two years ago, I was close to an extraordinary story of psychology during times of extreme stress and despair.  This is what I wrote then.

The beginning . . once upon a time there was an election in a landlocked country nestled just above South Africa, to the west of Mozambique, and cuddled in the north by Zambia and by Botswana in the east.

You all know the Zimbabwe elections took place a little while ago – 24 days to be precise. I have been following them closely.

The first weekend after the poll, there was feverish excitement as votes were counted and results were announced (and signed off in triplicate) at local level, polling tent-by-polling tent.

And then silence – no official announcements. Excitement curdled to despair.  Moods yo-yo’ed as events unfolded, and as pictures of stomach-turning brutality are smuggled out of the country by brave activists.  People have become palpably depressed.

And then breaking news. . . it all changed.

Somebody blew the whistle on a container ship, the An Yue Jiang, who wanted to offload munitions for Zimbabwe at Durban, in South Africa. The dockers’ union, SATAWU, refused to offload. The Anglican church and activist lawyers sought a High Court order to prevent the weapons crossing South Africa.   A German bank joined in, hoping to seize the arms as part payment for Zimbabwe’s debts.

Before the court orders could be served, the An Yue Jiang weighed anchor and left in a hurry. The saga intensified as she reported herself to Lloyds as a casualty.  People all around the world spent the weekend trying to track the vessel and petitioned both governments. and worker unions to prevent her refueling and unloading her deadly cargo.

Heads of state and political parties have begun to offer support and the citizen action continues, determined not to allow arms of any sort reach Zimbabwe while they might be used against her own people.

Positive psychology

People are understandably upset, nervous, anxious, outraged, sickened, indignant, angry. . . negative emotion abounds. Emotion is highly contagious and I have watched myself abandon the gym, eat too much, remained glued to the internet even when little was likely to happen. I have become mildly depressed and I am well fed, I am warm and dry, I am safe. I can walk out my door into the English spring.

Action restores mood

The citizen campaign to stop the An Yue Jiang unloading her cargo is compleetely spontaneous. People find the site hosting the bulletin board and join in. When I last looked, there are more suggestions, addresses and initiatives that any one person can support.

I haven’t been able to do a formal count. I don’t know what the churn of people is. I also haven’t counted the number of active and depressed posts. There are still the angry people, but they tend to be newcomers.

Sending one email to your MP might not sound like much but this is the spirit of the age. Five minutes here and five minutes there, and it adds up. A petition to Thabo Mbeki when he arrived at the UN Security Council last Wednesday had 150 000 signatures. Opinion is turning.

More importantly the mood is turning. But emotion is contagious. Moods can turn down as well as up. I was listening to SWRadio Africa this evening. A young lady had called in to discuss her views. Amongst other matters, she discussed the perpetrators of the unspeakable brutalities in Zimbabwe. She believed that people were enticed into taking these actions for small amounts of money or food, or other promises, and they went along it because they were desperate – they had no choice.

This is the essence of positive psychology: the perception of choice.

When we feel we have no choice, we take the feeling as fact, and are unable to perceive the small alternatives that are open to us. Conversely, as we cheer up, we find choices, small as they are. And as we act, we remain cheerful, improve our objective situation, see more choices, small as they are, and act again, in a positive spiral of hope.

We move in the direction of the questions we ask

The spiral is reversed awfully quickly, as I have learned sitting safely and snugly out of harm’s way. Our discourse is important. An important principle in appreciative management, a close sibling of positive psychology, is that we move in the direction of the questions we ask. When things are very bad, it is important to ask positive questions. If we don’t, then we stare the predator in the face, and we are, as the saying goes, ‘scared witless’. And for Zimbabweans who like to ‘make a plan’, that is a magnified horror.

I think it is time to spread the viral citizen campaign to reach more people and more Zimbabweans. Let’s convert despair into hope, one click at a time. Can you help?

If you are able to help, we are open to all ideas. As I write:

  • There is an urgent need for IT help to build and sustain an offshore website on which to post petition letters and addresses.
  • There is an urgent need for people to petition governments, unions and businesses who trade with the Zimbabwean government.
  • I believe there is a move to try to provide more secure communication lines into and out of Zimbabwe.

Why use an atom bomb when a spear will do . . .

BlankMap-World6.svg (which is public domain)

We do not get back what we put in

A long time ago when I was as young and frisky as any Gen Yes, I was furious about the unethical and aggressive behavior of a colleague.  I was fortunate to work in an organization where mentorship was generous.

An older colleague (well, he seemed old to me . . .  he was about 38 at the time!) said to me, why use an atom bomb when a spear will do?  I was young, but I was already wise enough to know that focused behavior has a downside – underestimating side-effects – so thought I didn’t feel like backing off, I did.

The idea of using small, well thought out actions is a corollary of  chaos theory – the idea that a butterfly can flap its wings and set off a perturbation that ripples through the world and causes a  hurricane in London.  The central idea of chaos theory is that

effect is not proportional to the effort!

Sometimes a single small action matters.  Use a spear if you can.  Here is an example.

Through the actions of committed Trade Unionists, a people were saved

Yesterday, I went to bed knowing that the “An Yue Jiang” was anchored off Durban with 3 million rounds of ammunition destined for Zimbabwe.  I was sick to my stomach.

Today, we woke to the news that, despite clearance from the South African cabinet to offload these and other munitions and trans-ship them several thousand kilometers across SA soil to Zimbabwe, SATAWU, the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, have refused to handle them.  Well, we must see how this unfolds.  But I could place a healthy bet that this action has cemented relations between the people of Zimbabwe and South Africa.  God be with you!

This is how communities are made.  Later generations may forget, but those of us who are here never will.

Thank you, brothers!  And thank you from all the people in Zimbabwe.

President Mwanawasa, thank you

The Flame Lily, national flower of ZimbabweImage via Wikipedia

 

The eminent social scientist Karl Weick once said that social problems are often defined in ways that prevent us doing anything about them.

I have been watching the Zimbabwean elections closely.  As facts emerge, I have been listing them on a “secondary” blog.

The situation in Zimbabwe is as dire any conflict in history.  Can we move here?  Can we move there?  It seems the ultimate Catch 22.  Whatever we do may create more damage.

I believe however that much of our hopelessness comes from our own representation of what is happening.  Could we not, instead, look at difficult objective conditions that require resolution?

Today, people are starting close in, as the poet David Whyte would say.

Today, we are going to do something positive.  Today we are going to say thank you.  Today we are going to say we are with you.  Today we are going to send emails to the President of Zambia who is the current chairman of SADC.  Today, we are going to take 3 minutes to write a short, brief, courteous email saying,

Dear President Mwanawasa,

I write to thank you and the leaders of  SADC sincerely for convening the extraordinary meeting concerning Zimbabwe and to extend my support and goodwill for a resolution that is satisfactory to all the people of Zimbabwe and her neighbours.

Sincerely,

I am patching in a long excerpt of a post from Sokwanele that gives the email addresses of SADC.   Zimbabwe for a positive future.

TAKE ACTION

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has called an emergency meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to discuss the Zimbabwean presidential poll delay. This is the first move by Zimbabwe’s regional neighbours to intervene since the elections on 29th March 2008. President Mwanawasa is the current Chairman of the 14-nation South African Development Community. This is what he said yesterday:

I wish to take this opportunity to commend the people of Zimbabwe for the calm and peaceful manner in which the elections were conducted.

Similarly, I appeal to them to maintain the same spirit of calmness which they exhibited during the elections as they await the results of the presidential elections.

However, given developments immediately following the elections, I have decided, as Chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to call an extraordinary summit on Saturday 12th April, 2008 to discuss ways and means of assisting the people of Zimbabwe with the current impasse as well as adopt a co-ordinated approach to the situation in that country.

Both President Morgan Tsvangirai and opposition leader Robert Mugabe will be attending the emergency meeting.

Support our democratically elected leader and take action.

What YOU can do

You can voice your feelings and SHOUT OUT for FREEDOM. Communicate with key SADC people attending the meeting.

Tell them that Zimbabweans have the right to live in a democratic, free and peaceful country. Tell them your personal experiences and why you want change. Make them understand what it is like to be in Zimbabwe today. Tell them we voted for change, we got change, and we want change now. Speak the TRUTH.

HOW you can do it

Email, fax or phone using the details provided below. Keep your messages real and honest but also short and to the point. Remember: thousands of us will be doing this so they will have a lot to read. Let’s make sure they can read and hear it all!

Be polite at all times. People don’t pay attention to angry messages (look at us: Mugabe has been angry with the people for many years now and we just ignored him and voted him out anyway). Anger does not work.

1. Call or fax or email the Zambian State House with a message for President Levy Mwanawasa:

  • Tel: +260 1 266147 or 262094
  • Fax: +260 1 266092
  • Send an email to Mr John Musukuma, Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations: johnmu@nkwazi.gov.zm

2. Call or fax a message to President Thabo Mbeki – President of South Africa

  • Tel: +27 (0)12 300 5200 and +27 (0)21 464 2100
  • Fax: +27 (0)12 323 8246 and +27 (0)21 462 2838
  • Send an email to Mr Mukoni Ratshitanga Thabo Mbeki’s Presidential Spokesperson: mukoni@po.gov.za

3. Call or email Lieutenant Colonel Tanki Mothae – Director of Politics, Defence and Security Affairs at SADC

4. Copy all your emails to this general SADC email address:

5. If you want to attach images to your emails, you can download copies of the photographs at the top of this mailing from the Sokwanele flickr account here:

6. Forward this email to everyone you know and ask them to take action too.

7. Be positive, stay strong, and never forget that we have won.

Zimbabwe: a parable of leadership

Yellow paint defaces Zanu-PF posters of Robert...

“Rumour rhymes with ‘ruma’, Shona for bite. Harare has literally been bitten by rumours. Our city is famed for many things but one thing specifically. The ability to turn no news into headlines. The skill of spinning no knowledge into street wisdom. The hustle of selling unconfirmed stories on a hungry parallel market. Our only non-state daily newspaper was bombed so the people’s paper is the people’s stories, nyayas that circulate like a whisper at a bottle store. Mugabe has fled to Malaysia. Morgan has 68% of the presidential vote. Mujuru has lost her seat. Morgan’s win is being broadcast live on TV. A people starved of truth begin to manufacture their own. So truths roam Harare like street kids, tapping your window at every robot. Like an undelivered text message notification ringing on your phone. Constantly.

But just minutes ago some rumours may have become reality. Our hopes may be backed up by facts. When Morgan held his press conference at the Meikles Hotel he told us that after years of struggle we have a new challenge – that of governance. The need to start to restructure and stabilize our country. MDC believe they have clinched victory. Morgan has never appeared so joyous. Once again the rumours begin to bite. MDC is said to be in talks with the armed forces and ZANU about negotiating a hand over of power. Morgan denies the rumours. So, many things are in the air. Hope and rumours. And once again the joy and the certainty of the press conference need to get out into the townships. The people need to taste the joy of a dream becoming reality. They need to be ready to defend their victorious dreams. Otherwise tomorrow will just be another day of spoken headlines and hustled truths.”

For the source.

UPDATE: Comrade Fatso has a new site.

PS Zemantra found the picture on Flickr.  I haven’t asked the photographer’s permission because I can’t find the contact link in Flickr.  I hearby ask your permission and endorsement.  Please let me know if you object.  Many thanks.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Employee priorities under high inflation

Zimbabwe has inflation of 150 000%. Yep, that is right. Prices go up about 2.7% per day. As fast as prices go up in most countries per year.

What are employees’ priorities under these circumstance? Here is a survey from a Zimbabwean HR consultancy firm, OEC.

We asked employees through our website surveys on their views concerning the question below.

(250 people responded)

I not leaving my current employer because I am enjoying

Percentage

Free Fuel

13.33 %

Company Car

10.00 %

Good Basic Salary

6.67 %

The working environment

13.33 %

Relationships with work colleagues

86.67 %

Educational Loan/Assistance

6.67 %

School Fees

6.67 %

Could be because the pecuniary benefits aren’t there. Must ask them!

Employees care!

I would be more productive if I had a different boss?

Response

Percentage

No

15.91 %

Yes

40.91 %

Don’t Know

9.09 %

Sometimes I feel that way

27.27 %

Do not Care

2.27 %

N/A

4.55 %

Interesting data from Zimbabwe. Only 1 out of 50 do not care whether or not they would be more productive with another boss.