Values

Remembering a Dismembering World

 

Politicians and commentators, particularly those in the center, persist in making the mistake that what is happening in the US, Britain and now spreading across Europe and parts of Asia is a matter of political debate, of differences of opinion.

It is not.

The dominance of Trumpism and Brexiters in the US and Britain respectively, the two thirds majority of the ultra-nationalist Fidesz party in Hungary and the election of right wing populist governments in Austria, Italy and Poland do not represent a difference of opinion but of values, of morals, of a world view. They cannot be reconciled by debate in the parliamentary chambers or media.

Views will not be changed by facts, precisely because they are not opinions but values.

It is not a matter of opinion whether the lives of so-called white Americans and, let’s face it, Britons and Europeans, are worth more than those of their compatriots. It is not a matter of fact that creates the divide between those who see Britain as part of a European community and those who see it as a power on its own. It is not a matter of debate whether some see refugees as human beings in desperate need and others as a destruction of “our culture”. Reasoned argument will not change the minds of those people who believe women are not only second class citizens but actually are to blame for the assaults on mind, body and spirit that are inflicted on them.

Neither argument, nor appeals to compassion will bridge those chasms. And it seems the right wing has understood that very clearly. Facts do not matter because facts do not change relationships – and particularly one very special relationship: that which we hold with the world.

What we are seeing are fundamental differences in how we view the world and our place in it.

Essentially, these are differences in how we relate to the world. Is the world a partner we help nurture or is it a rival to be tamed? Can I reasonably manage what it throws at me or do I need to be constantly on the lookout for its trickery? Do I do business with it – or against it? If my experience has taught me that my world is pretty manageable then why would I waste time and effort trying to beat it into submission, when I can parley with it? On the other hand, if I have learned that the world will, mostly, smack me in the chops, then I may try and smack it first.

The trouble is that we started building these assumptions about our relationship with our world from a very early age. We are, literally, experts at them. And no law, no fact, no reasoned argument or yah boo sucks in parliament and twitter will change them. That assumption lurking behind my eyes is the refracting lens with which I see the world.

When it comes to a fight between assumption and reality, assumption will always win hands down.

And people, as both history and today’s world keeps showing us, will defend those assumptions even when it is clear they are working against their own interests. Hitler held significant popularity – and probably majority support – in Germany in mid 1944 when the war was clearly going horribly wrong. Donald Trump’s popularity and trust amongst his supporters has held firm in 2018, despite the fact that not only does he merrily lie on a daily, if not an hourly, basis, but his policies – on trade, environment, health, banking and even the quality of water– are hurting the very people who assume he’s their man. Facts on crime rates amongst migrants in Sweden or Germany will not make a blind bit of difference to your assumptions about whether refugees have a right of safe haven or not.

We can continue to yell at each other from the barricades. We can even take over governments, change laws or appoint judges to our liking. Or, if we find that all too distasteful, we can switch off the news and seek out only those who agree with us.  We can, in other words, continue to go to war against each other. And the first victim of war is loss of humanity: loss of the ability to see the other as human; to see the other as a complex, vulnerable fellow being.

“So what?” you may ask. “That being can be as complex, vulnerable and ‘fellow’ as he likes. If he is threatening my security, way of life or principles, he’s still the enemy and needs to be stopped”.

True. But how do you propose to do that? Facts and persuasion, as history shows us, will not work. Civil war? Now, there’s an irony. We employ the ultimate of threats to remove a threat. And has it ever worked? The American civil war may have removed slavery in name but it did nothing to prevent nearly 5,000 lynchings between 1882 and 1968. What did the civil wars in Spain, Nigeria or Sudan solve? Tom Lowman (“African Argument”, July 2014) cites a direct line between the Biafra/Nigerian Civil war and Boko Haram through the continued underdevelopment of the Muslim north. Open conflict may scare the losers into silence for a while but the grievances and the assumptions remain.

So, what is to be done?

Facts and logical arguments don’t work. Appeals to compassion don’t do much better. Political debate ends up in finger-pointing, unashamed chicanery and spitting rage.

Let’s review what we’ve discovered so far:

  1. Our view of the world is founded on the way we have learned to relate to the world.
  2. Those foundational assumptions are so long-held and so deeply embedded that we may not be fully aware of them
  3. They are so important to us that we will distort facts, forgive lies, ignore logic, numb human compassion and even wage wars as long as our core assumptions are supported.

Therefore, any project to change our current dismemberment of our worlds, would need to include the following propositions:

  1. If the foundational assumption we have learned about our relationship with our world –as enemy or partner, equal or inferior – directly influences the way we behave towards our fellow beings, then changing that foundational assumption should change way we act. If we have learnedthat relationship, we can unlearn or relearn it.
  2. If those powerful assumptions are so deeply embedded that we are not fully aware of them, then the first step could be to uncover them; to know what is controlling us.
  3. If the defence of our assumptions, leads to the numbing of our humanity, then re-awakening it may hopefully help release those defences.

It is a hugely demanding task, in which neither persuasion nor hectoring can be used. In which the urge to punish, to shut down must be entirely resisted. In which the task is not to change minds but to awaken a shared humanity.

And dear God, that is difficult. It is difficult enough for victims to face their assailants in a court of law – the very purpose of which is justice and punishment.

How do we voluntarily enter into a dialogue with those who do not even share our view of the world?

I implied earlier, the answer may be by trying to understand how our views of the world came to be formed. How those foundational assumptions came to refract our lenses onto the world. But how do we even start? How do we honestly tell “our enemies” about both our deepest held views and the assumptions that helped build them? And how do we not react with disgust or rage when the enemy insists that separating infants from their parents at the Mexican border is absolutely right?

By turning the world upside down.

Instead of viewing the world as a fragmented, dismembered, chaos of differences, view it as the great physicists, biologists and philosophers have done: as an integrated, interrelated whole, in which we, as beings, participate and of which we partake(to paraphrase physicist David Bohm). In that way, we start from the perspective that we share; we are part of a whole.

So, our priority is not to try and change minds, persuade or ‘educate’. It is to uncover and understand what we share. It is not the language, definitions or even opinions that we share that are important, but the meanings we attach to them. If my assumption is that “government is bad” then, however you try and discuss with me how to define or rebuild government, I am inevitably going to think the debate is ultimately useless. What’s worse, you’ll be trying to change my mind, when it’s my foundation that’s at stake.

As Bohm put it

“If we don’t share coherent meaning, we do not make much of a society. And at present, the society at large has a very incoherent set of meanings. In fact, this set of ‘shared’ meanings is so incoherent that it is hard to say they have any real meaning at all”.(“On Dialogue” P.32)

So how do we start?

Fortunately, a number of practitioners have drawn on Bohm’s ideas to develop a model for ‘supportive dialogue’, to try and stop our ongoing dismemberment. Otto Scharmer, Peter Senge et al put together a very detailed model called   Theory U, which they have used in corporate and socio-political contexts. William Isaacs too, echoing Bohm, has worked to steer group dialogue participants away from debate and argument, to building a new conversation based on fresh, commonly created thinking.

Elements of Bohm’s Group Dialogue are recognizable in a number of political, social and corporate situations. Both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and, as far as I can assess, the early informal talks between the ANC and Afrikaner leaders were (deliberately or not) held very much in the spirit of sharing meaning. It was not – I suspect – negotiations that cut the Gordian knot of the Macedonian name dispute. Negotiations, compromises, deals had been tried, signed and failed for decades before Greek and Northern Macedonian prime ministers Tsipras and Zaev sealed an agreement in June 2018 that was put into effect within days. A quick look at the terms of that agreement reflects a deep understanding by both sides of the meaning of historical figures and symbols, as well as current mutual needs and values.

I  have used the uncovering of meaning, assumptions and values in fractured corporate teams and boards. It’s astonishing the impact that an admission of a deeply held value or assumption can have on the others in the room – particularly when they recognise something of themselves in that statement.

If it is so effective why has it, apparently, not worked?

Why are we faced with the divisions we have? The answer is, that it has worked where groups have decided they will no longer sub-contract their relationships with their fellow beings to “those who know better”. It has worked where both the status quo and the current solutions are intolerable. Apart from dramatic examples, such as South Africa, Macedonia and, I suspect in many ways, Northern Ireland, it has worked with groups that have bridged huge divides but are either disapproved of or ignored by the authorities. And, of course, it has worked in corporate boardrooms and teams that do not publicly herald their change work. This form of ‘shared-meaning’ (or remembering dialogue, as I call it)  may not be heralded precisely because it does not need combative leaders. In fact, it does not need any leaders at all. What it requires are people, in small groups or large, who are prepared to explore; to explore, not to change but to remember one another.

It is time to remember ourselves

Whether we like it or not, we share with our fellow beings a vast pool of consciousness that we have built together since the beginning of our existence. It is time to remember that. By remembering I do not mean merely reminding ourselves of it. I mean putting ourselves back together again. The opposite of remembering is not forgetting. It is dismembering. We do not obliterate our experiences; we simply cut off those pieces that are too painful, too conflicted to occupy our consciousness. When we do that to our fellow beings, we cut off our own limbs. A very stupid, and ultimately fatal, practice.

I am not advocating group hugs with your enemies.

This is neither forgiveness nor negotiation. This is an unfiltered dialogue between you and your fellow beings, some of whom may have said and done things that make you tremble with anger. Others may simply be fellow board or team members whom you’ve learned to mistrust. And yet others may be people of ethnic, religious or national differences in your neighbourhood who have never spoken to one another – let alone shared their world views.

 

In the spirit of this article,  I would like to suggest a practical way forward – with some thoughts of how to set up these dialogue groups. In doing so, please note I have shamelessly stolen ideas from all those I have quoted here as well as from leaders, military and civilian, with whom I have been fortunate enough to engage in my work.

The Groups

In setting up a group, try to make it is as diverse as possible although I don’t recommend you immediately go and search for your natural ‘enemies’. Start, if you can, with those who have an interest in getting together and are diverse. Even “friendly” clusters can be extremely challenging. You may, for example, assume you know your fellow members so well that you don’t have to probe for meaning. On the other hand, if you are alert, you could discover how little you know of “kindred spirits” at a very deep level.

Try and meet regularly. Particularly at the beginning, once a week for a couple of hours, is ideal. This applies if you’re trying to develop organizational, team, social or political dialogue. Groups can change in membership, break into several clusters or break up entirely. It doesn’t matter as long as they keep trying.

The Rules

These are very few and should be made explicit.

Here are some that may be useful:

  • This is a dialogue of equals. Nobody has moral, hierarchical or even ‘spatial’ superiority. By ‘spatial’ I mean the less articulate, expressive or confident need to be given the time, space and support to contribute.
  • Do not try to persuade or win over by argument. When we persuade we are not necessarily uncovering the others’ meaning system, foundational assumptions or view of the world. They may simply be deciding to agree. Similarly, be careful that the group does not exert unspoken, moral, or other pressure to conform. That too tells us nothing about individual meanings.
  • Do not smother. Anger will happen. As will frustration and sadness. It is an opportunity to listen and – most important – to share. While you may not sympathise with someone expressing rage about how those ”damned Barden’s taking away my job and swimming in my pool”, it is crucial that you hear that emotion; pay attention to it.
  • There is only one goal (at this stage). We are all here to share with one another. To share what makes us what we are. That is all.

The Dialogue

I suggest the following flow  in your dialogue.

Context.  Establish the context by telling your story and encouraging the others to do the same. It’s the story of how you each relate to the world – and how you believe the world relates to you. But don’t focus on trying to extract anything. As people unwrap the story of their lives, their view of the world –and their relationship to it – will inevitably be revealed.

Meaning. Now the group can ask questions of each other. What, how and why? What did this episode that you’ve just told us about, mean to you? What does it mean to you now? How did you react at the time? How did you deal with it? How do you deal with it now? Why do you think you dealt with it in that particular way rather than this? Do we as individuals share your interpretation of meanings let alone the meanings themselves? When I say ‘police’ I may think of a largely benign organization whereas you may think it as a corrupt, racist institution. Remember, this is not an interrogation in order to gather evidence. You’re asking because you want the group (including the individual being engaged)  to understand the meaning systems you each have. How you have learned “to do business” in and with the world.

Impact.The key question here is ”And then?” Follow through the logic of your/ their beliefs and values. What happens when they’re put in place. And then?

Reflect and let go.Reflect, quietly and with no pressure on what has happened over the last few sessions . What do we – first as individuals and then, if ready, as a group – want to let go . It’s uncovering what no longer has a place in our meaning.

Reflect and let come.This too needs quiet, gentle reflection. What are some of the values we as individuals now hold? What meanings do we still need to uncover and make explicit? What do the worlds we inhabit (the planet, the country, the town, the neighbourhood, the family) mean to us? Which of them mean anything to us?

Create anew.What is the new dialogue and meaning system we now wish to create? What new individual, group, institution, society, do we want to build? What do we actually want to shape, to re-member, with our fellow beings with the values and meanings that we have actively shared, as against the fossilised meanings we previously swallowed without chewing?

 

The dialogue itself can continue for as long as it is useful. It may be that that the group with which you “create anew” is entirely different from the one you started out with. It may be that you think your group has failed, because it drifted apart or even splintered in a shouting match. It won’t have failed as long as it unwraps and shares a single meaning.

Start where you can. If you’re a neighbour, start with your neighbourhood. If you’re a policeman, start with your fellow officers. If you’re a CEO, start with your Exco. But start. It’s not the big initiative that changes the world. It’s the one that slips under the net and keeps going.

 

If you’d like some help in setting up or facilitating a group, please feel free to contact me. 

 

Sources and recommended reading:

Barden, S. (2017) Tell me

Barden, S. (2015) Leaders: just do the damn job

(available on www.stephenbarden.org/reflections)

Bohm, D. (1996) On Dialogue.Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

Bohm, D. (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate Order. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

Brookfield, S. (2012) teaching for Critical Thinking.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Isaacs, W. (1999) Dialogue. New York: Doubleday

Lowman, T.(July 18, 2014) Biafra and Boko Haram – different conflict, common themes. African Arguments.http://africanarguments.org/2014/07/18/biafra-and-boko-haram-different-conflicts-common-themes-by-tom-lowman/ accessed July 9, 2018

Senge, P. et al (2007) Presence. London: Nicholas Brealey

Scharmer, C.O. (2007) Theory U.Cambridge, MA: Society for Organizational Learning

 

Read more

Tell me

“When you hear someone – or you – talking about who is right, their primary concern is about power. When they  talk about what is right, then you’re talking about values.”

That’s the phrase that popped into my head when I was thinking about why discourse, the dialogue of ideas, has given way to the slanging match that so often ends in threats, and I include name calling in my definition of a threat.  Have the social media  caused  this ya boo sucks way of talking with our world or is it simply the ideal medium for the way we have been taught to think? After all, even in the heyday of newspapers did we ever have millions of readers clamouring to comment on the pages of the New York Times, the Guardian or Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, where some semblance of thoughtfulness was demanded by editors?  The social media are perfect for “who is right”. Not only because of the (perceived) anonymity of those commenting but because there is no need to think. There is only a need to take sides. Read most, if not all, of the threads on Twitter and you will discover someone who will insert him or herself with a variation of “I’m right and you’re wrong, arsehole.” And that sentence all by itself means nothing more than “I have no need to think about what you said because you are an arsehole and I am not. You may be Pope, prime minister, president or a chief Brexiteer but you have no power over me. I can take you down again and again simply by not thinking about what you’re saying.” And, of course when people with authority and power join in and refuse to accept any evidence apart from their own infallibility then the Rights and Rights line up against each other, identifying the enemy not just as Obama, Trump, Putin, Netanyahu or Khaled Mashal but as Liberals, Democrats, Republicans, Russians, Israelis, Jews, Palestinians, Arabs and Moslems.

We mass allies around us and range them against our massed enemies. And we know as little about either our allies and our enemies. Why? Because we know nothing about their values. Because those values are not what we have been squabbling over. If they were, we would notice very quickly that the Liberals, Republicans, Israelis and Palestinians hold many differing values within their communities; some of them perhaps close to our own.  What we have been doing is jostling for power, positioning ourselves with those blocs that we think – we imagine – can provide us with the greater influence. Why else would Alabama Evangelists back a man accused of  sexually assaulting teenage girls in the 70’s? Why else was the Brexit campaign conducted with so little information and impact evaluation on either side? Because ethics,ideas, justness, what is right – were not important. Power – winning – was. And history shows it can only get worse if we do not discuss what is right. If we do not cross the battle lines to understand both the values that bind us and the foundations of the values that divide us. The “enemy” morphs from, Clinton or Trump to Democrats and Republicans, and then to gender, race, religion and nationality.

So, is there a way out of this? Back to that phrase at the top of the page.

Talking about who is right is about power. Talking about what is right is about values. By “who” I mean individuals insisting that they, their countries, political parties, religions or races -or in fact any branded entity – are right. By “what” I mean ideas, values, morality, sense of justness. The former cuts short discussion. It’s the ideal arena for ya boo sucks. After all, if I tell you that you are wrong and I am right, then you have a limited number of choices. You could walk away;  or you could tell me, and the world, that as I am a buffoon, whatever I believe is invalid; or (inversely) since you have the backing of the British people, Christianity, Islam or the Koch Brothers you have the authority of credibility on your side. All of those are about power – even walking away.

You have one more choice. You could  say, “Tell me…”

You could say, “Tell me something about what is right for us all about your stance. Tell me something about how you formed the ideas behind your belief that you (or your allies) are right. Tell me about your values, what is important to you. And why you think they could be important for me.”

There’s nothing like “Tell me..” to make people think about what they are doing and who they are. There’s nothing like “Tell me…” to make two people realise they are human. And incidentally, “Tell me about why you think your belief is good for us all” is well short of 140 characters.

Read more

Trust the Process of the Heart

All our fear is lodged in trying to control the future. We anticipate a recurrence or absence of an event  in the future. Even when in physical pain, we don’t fear the agony we are going through now. We suffer through it  and try and manage it. But what makes us anxious is that it may go on for ever – or a week. And then our thought is “I won’t be able to cope with that. Not another week of this. Not another moment.” What we forget is that we are coping. We are managing. Even if we are doing so with massive doses of painkillers or therapy, we are managing the present pain. The last thing we need is the additional burden of anxiety or fear that comes with trying to anticipate the future.

Yet we do it all the time. We try and manage the future of our bank accounts, our children, our businesses and even our souls. And by doing so we fail to clearly see the present. And what you don’t clearly see, you cannot manage.

“Trust the Process”

Eric Parsloe – the man who was my first Coaching Mentor – used to say, “Trust the process”. I thought he meant ‘trust the coaching process’. But I now think he meant, ‘trust the process of life.’ We know that life will bring us what life brings: encounters. Those encounters may harm or help us. They may add or subtract. Depending on how they interact with our view of the world, they may bring us joy, grief, pain or comfort. The word process comes from the Latin Procedere, ‘to go on, continue.’ It’s the fact of continuing life interacting with you.  It’s no good trying to jump ahead and anticipate how you will interact with it in the future. That depends on how you interact with it now. It’s like trying to build a house by constantly skipping the block in front of you.

Does that mean we shouldn’t take care at all? We should spend all our money now? Don’t lock the front door? Of course not. I will not spend all my money now because if I do so I am making myself broke now. If I don’t lock my front door, I am putting myself in a position now whereby I am vulnerable now. Never mind tomorrow or later in the evening, my vulnerability starts now. If that’s what I want to do, that’s fine. But my action now has consequences now.

The problem with anticipating and trying to control the future is that you simply fail to fully address the present. By trying to control the future, you create a personal model of that future that will, by definition, differ from reality.

“At least give yourselves a chance”

A company I know would, each year, build its annual forecast by deciding what income it thought it needed to achieve and then set its sales targets accordingly. When I asked the leaders whether they thought they had the products, market demand, distribution capacity and delivery to achieve that income, the reply was “We have no option. That’s what we need to achieve.” And year after year, their distribution system failed them, their production was late and they failed to change their customer research. And year after year I (and others) would plead, “At least give yourselves a chance. If you’re going to set a target, at least make sure that your assets are prepared today (and every day) to hit it.”  The company went into liquidation recently.

Filtering your view of life is dangerous. It’s what made that company go bust; it’s what fuelled the global financial crisis -and every one before that.

The toughest organ we have

But there is one filter I am learning we must have. It’s the Filter of the Heart. Very recently a Reiki therapist, a young woman called Susan Haberlandt, said to me, “Whatever you’re about to do, try putting your heart filter on it first”. So I did. I tried looking at the world through my heart. Sometimes it worked; sometimes I grew impatient and used my head; sometimes I grew impatient and just did it. But sometimes, something happened: I took a tough decision that I had been dreading; I saw just how vulnerable an aggressive man really was; I stopped feeling guilty; I started feeling concerned.

The heart is not a fluffy, pink cushion. It’s the toughest organ we have. It pumps blood to and from every tissue in your body. Symbolically or actually it ‘knows’ every particle in your brain, your gut and your left toe. It has helped fuel your thinking, your instinct, your immunity and your recovery from illness. So when you filter your actions with your heart, you equip that action with everything you have: everything you have been taught consciously, everything you have experienced and absorbed; and everything with which you came into this life. That’s not just powerful; that’s herculean.

We know how to filter our actions and reactions with the head: the logic of connections. “If the client wants me to extend the coaching programme, then I must think about what my code of ethics and my supervisor say about ‘dependency’.” Then there is the filter of instinct: the drive to survival. “Another year of coaching will bring me $x. I really need the money. I’ll do it. And anyway, if he wants more coaching, that means he needs it”.

What would the heart say? What would it tell you about what all that is you  thinks is right, and not just your association’s code of ethics. What would it tell you about what would be best for the client, without your fear for your own future?

The Lens of the Heart

The filter of the heart is not a filter at all. It’s a lens that pulls together all that we are, to deal – in the sharpest focus that we can muster – with the world we inhabit. It may be worth while learning how to use it. If you do try, you may find (as I did) 5 things:

  1. There’s nothing ‘magical’ about it. What you’re doing is mustering all your appropriate resources to focus on a decision
  2. The more you consciously think about it the less it works (you’re using your filter of logical connections)
  3. The more you worry about whether it will work, the less it works (you’re trying to control the future and not managing the present)
  4. The more you try it the more effective it becomes (you access more resources)
  5. The more you try it, the less time and effort you have left to worry about ‘the future’. You’re dealing with it now.
Read more

The Behaviour of Ailing Corporations

I once managed a portfolio company for a private equity firm. Its chairman didn’t teach me many things but he made up for it by by teaching me one big lesson. One day he told me that one of my Exec. Directors had been rude to ‘an outsider’. I apologized and said I would deal with it. “You’re not getting it”, he said. ” What I’m interested in is: what is it about your behaviour that makes him think  he has permission to act in this way”?

I’ve used that story in my coaching for over a decade – ending it with either of these two questions:

” What is it about your behaviour that allows your people to behave in this way?”

or

“What is it about your organization that gives permission to behave  in this way”?

My experience over the years is that creating space for certain kinds of behaviour can  quickly pervade entire institutions. It  may well be started, tolerated or even ignored by the leadership. More  interestingly, it may be the unforeseen result of a particular focus of business. Focus – human or institutional –  affects the way we see the world which, of course, affects the way we behave in the world.

As leaders, it’s important to reflect not just on how our organizations perform but on how they behave. Not just because  of the ethical contradictions but because neglecting to do so may threaten the entire business or service. How an institution behaves with all its stakeholders is a strong indicator of its state of health.  It is our responsibility to check those symptoms, regularly and honestly, ensuring we always widen our circles of enquiry; what a friend of mine recently called ‘increasing the circles of discomfort’. Don’t mistake the behaviour check as something ‘soft’ or driven by political correctness. The behaviour your colleagues display, both the consistencies and inconsistencies, will have a direct impact on your  purpose and business.

What I focus on, in the world impacts how I see the world; impacts how I deal with the world; impacts how the world sees me; impacts how the world deals with me.

An  institution’s strategic focus dictates what it views as important and what as not . This tends to create behaviour which favours the important as against the unimportant. If my strategic focus is  that my prices must be the lowest in the market, then I will favour those who help me achieve that focus: internal cost cutters,  tough bargaining, internal, buyers and (only) those suppliers who can deliver at the prices I require.  The ones I will not favour are my suppliers’ suppliers; my own staff development and welfare; in fact, anything that may affect my margins.

Now, that’s fine as long as I am aware of  the impact of that cycle of  strategic focus  and behaviour. If the institutional focus is on delivering lowest prices to its customers then that means, in  its behaviour, it may not focus on quality or even reliability of delivery. It will certainly mean it will not focus on the quality of life and welfare of its suppliers’ sub contractors. It may even try and minimise the costs of its waste disposal and environmental provision. And, if price is king, then customer service – which may be directly related to (costly) staff training and (costly) staff welfare – will be pauper. 

“Listen, you’re getting it cheap. What do you want? A smile or a damn bargain? Take your pick”.

Result?  You become linked with sweat shop labour; you get attacked for polluting the local environment (where  your customers live); your staff get grumpy and leave – or, worse still – get very grumpy and stay. Your customers dislike coming into your outlets and decide “You know what? I know the store down the road is 10c more expensive but at least it’s clean and I get treated like a human being”.

You may well end with no customers to offer your lowest prices to – or at least not in the volumes where they are viable.

How your company behaves to any one section of its stakeholders offers the world a window into its soul: its values, priorities, limitations, aspirations and ability to reach its outcomes.

As CEO of a technology company I once visited a media corporation to discuss a potential supply contract. I had a genuine interest in securing a contract but I also knew that our group wanted to buy it. So I was very interested to see what their behaviours could tell me. They kept me waiting for over an hour, they didn’t bother to even address my two associates  (clearly considering  them way too beneath them) and they  told me that they would only consider our technology if we agreed to an unsustainable price and terms. They did not – they declared – like my company or the group we belonged to but they would work with us at the ‘right price’.

We were a supplier of key technology that we would be obliged to  maintain to very precise standards  to ensure minimal disruption over at least five years. That required satisfactory terms and a trusting relationship. And yet they treated us as if we were a one off. Either they didn’t understand their own business or the business itself was less important than an exit from it. If exit was their target then my suspicion was that their customer offering would be just enough to get them by. After I left the building I found out that both content and customer service were  spartan. Churn  (customers leaving the service) was worryingly high. Because the focus was on exit,  I guessed attention to staff relationships, let alone staff development and quality of life, would be scant. Hence, their rudeness to my associates. All was confirmed later:   staff  skills, morale and loyalty were abysmal as were organisational and structural development. This was a company that existed for no other reason than to enrich a small group of people through its sale. It was hollow inside. Without doing anything more than observing behaviour in a meeting and making a few discreet enquiries later on, I discovered that this company a) was not worth very much as a going concern and b)  could not afford to hold out ‘for the right price’ for  long before  its losses and hollowness became very public.

Neither the behaviours of the media executives and the grumpy store cashiers, nor the impact they provoked were intentional – or even understood – by the company. But they were a logical (arguably, an inevitable) consequence of  the strategic focus: the organization’s view of the world.

All organizations betray their true focus by their behaviours.

The problem is compounded by the fact  is that these behaviours normally happen over a period of time within a very specific environment: a perfect setting for the boiling frog syndrome. The water is heated up  so gradually and gently that the frog fails to realise he is boiling.

Some institutions do try and check for the problem obliquely; most often by a ‘values’ exercise. A set of corporate values and standards of behaviour are identified or retrieved and staff are reminded (in workshops, pamphlets, posters and so on) of  the aspirations, priorities and acceptable behaviours. They are usually fruitless because the behaviour and values to support the institutional strategy are not those the company espouses.

If the investment bank’s values  speak of behaving with respect and integrity towards each and every client but its strategy focuses on maximising short term return from those clients, then ‘respect’ and ‘integrity’ will make a swift exit.

In legal terms, a corporation is a persona; it behaves, has authority and takes responsibility much like an individual. If  an individual’s behaviour contradicts his espoused values, profession, role or even image, we  may consider that person to be untrustworthy or even ill.

So it is with organizations.

Institutions – in my view – need to embark regularly on a  process that reviews the alignment of their strategic focus with their behaviours.

The TOTAL STRATEGY: the starting point is to develop, understand and clearly model the  strategy in very pragmatic terms; not just financially but the Total Strategy,  in terms of their organisation,offering, resources and stakeholders (what are we offering, with what, to and with whom, to what end?).

MODEL THE IMPACT:  develop and model a range of scenarios of  the possible impact of the Total Strategy on all internal and external stakeholders. ( If my strategic focus is to offer cheapest airfares on the market, what impact could that have on my staff training and therefore my quality of service?)

STRATEGY BALANCE:  Review what is a ‘must have’ in addition to your original strategic focus: I want to be the lowest cost provider with excellent customer service and reliable suppliers. So how ‘low cost’ am I prepared to be?

BENCHMARK AND MANAGE:  the competences,  skills, behaviours, values, structures, processes,  resources and risks that align with that balanced strategy.

CHECK THE SYMPTOMS: check your organizational behaviours regularly with your stakeholders; risking more and more discomfort as you go along. If  you don’t risk discomfort, the chances are you’re playing  it safe with your questions and your target group -and you then risk being very miserable indeed when you start boiling.

If you would like some help in identifying whether your organization’s behaviours threaten your strategy – or if you’d like to discuss the Total Strategy Programme, please contact me at stephen@stephenbarden.org

Read more

colluding with the client

The more I coach the more I realise how fragile the process can be; the more I realise how narrow the border is between, say,  intuitive enabling and dangerous intervention; between holding conflicting confidences and being ‘economical with the truth’; between creating a safe space and colluding.

Coaching may be require us to deal with the flux of change but woe betide us if we ever mistake that fluidity for laxness or sloppy thinking. Every time I have been tempted to think that I ‘don’t have to be entirely transparent on this occasion’ or  if I give myself the credit for a client’s success (even privately) Mistress Coaching delivers a smart kick in the teeth. So in the interests of minimising my dentist’s bills, I’m learning to listen out for  the warning signals.

There is only one reason we coach -and that is for the learning of the client.But “being there entirely for the development of the client” can so easily elide into thinking that we are there entirely to protect our  client.  And that’s where the collusion starts. If you client has agreed to take a particular action as part of her coaching objective – and she persists in not doing it, what do you do? At first, you may use that to examine what may be the underlying causes; the blockages and fears. When her inaction persists you then have a choice: you may tell her you can’t do any more and withdraw or you may tell him that this is a significant block that needs to be cleared before he can take another step towards his outcomes. Either way, he needs to make a decision: either he will commmit himself to working with you to take the next step or he won’t.

But do you report the matter to his sponsor? After all, if you don’t, you are signally failing to deliver on your contract: to enable the client to reach her outcomes. Or is your instinct not to say anything because you know that your client may well be viewed not too favourably by his employers? If you say something, you may be breaching confidence. If you say nothing you may be colluding; colluding with your client towards his not learning.

It is here, in my experience, that those dentist’s bills are in grave danger of rocketing unless I recognise exactly how rigorous coaching is in its transparent and ethical  pursuit of the learning of the client. If you were put that rigour inthe form of a dialogue, this is what it would sound like:

“What am I here for?”

“For the learning of my client”

“In what context?”

“Learning to achieve the outcomes he and his employer have agreed”

” Do you believe you can help him past his current block [in the time frame]?”

Either:

“Yes” (in which case he’s still learning, so back to the coaching)

Or

“No”

(in which case…)

“Have you rigorously examined whether this block is the ideal opportunity to enable him to learn something far more profound (and important to him) about himself?”

“No” (so back to the coaching)

or

“Yes” (in which case….)

“What are your choices?”

“Tell him I can do no more -and withdraw”.

“What happens if you just keep going? After all you may enable his learning in other areas…”

“If I keep going, I am consciously not working towards his agreed outcomes and I am in fact breaching both my psychological and actual contract with both client and sponsor”.

“Unless?”

“Unless I renegotiate the terms with both client and sponsor”.

“How would you do that?”

“By being transparent with both parties”.

“But how would you do that without breaking confidentiality?”

“By  either getting my client’s permssion or, even better, making sure that I have clearly prepared for this eventuality ( and it will come) in my initial contracting”.

“But you could be damaging your client’s career! If his employer discovers that he is not able/prepared to work towards his original outcomes then  he might fire him!”

“And I could be damaging my client’s career and certainly his learning if I insulated  him from the consequences of his actions or inactions. After all, what am I here for?”

“For the learning of your client.”

Read more

Managing fear

Why do we treat this credit crunch as a disaster? Disaster? More like a massacre. A bloodbath with no survivors.

And anyone who even mentions a green shoot is taken away and summarily shot.

The trouble is that disasters are a threat to life. And we’re programmed to react to life threats  with fear: fight, flight or freeze. No thought, of course- because the neo-cortex is too slow to beat a rampaging dinosaur or tsunami.

Is that what we need to get through this Crisis?  A good dose of fear? Mind you, we’ve tried that already haven’t we? The banks and governments first fought off any criticism of those very clever CDO’s. Then, when that didn’t work, they grabbed their money -and refused to do business with anyone. That’s the ticket; that’ll keep our money safe – don’t lend it out at all. And finally, in sheer abject terror, we’ve come up with the brilliant idea of…. running away: cutting  people,jobs and the business: do nothing new.

What’s actually happened here? Why are we in this state? Because things (tools, processes, strategies) that did work, no longer do so.

What do we need to do to get out of this state? Find strategies and tools that do work.

What skill do we need to start looking for those strategies? Thought. Reasonable, innovative, strategic thought.

And what’s the greatest enemy of thought? Fear.

So, we are pumping ourselves full of the one thing that stops us from getting through this crisis.

If this is sounding too simplistic; if you feel that human emotion can not possibly be helping to strangle the world economy, let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • why are the banks not lending any money to businesses that need it?
  • why are the banks not looking at new ways to do business?
  • how many businesses that you know are exploring new products or services?

In fact, who’s being the most innovative in seeking solutions?  Government or the private sector? Now, there’s a really frightening thought.

Human emotion got us into this; human emotion will have to get us out. If wishful thinking – in the form of greed – got us into taking excessive risk, then realistic, clear , values based thinking will be needed to get us out. So the best thing that we can all do is start to understand what is our optimum personal environment  where we can each produce that kind of thinking.

How do you do that? In my experience there are 5 pillars you need to build:

  • Understand and manage what is important in your life: Your Values
    • if you don’t know what’s important in your life, no wonder greed -that great ally of purposelessness – will fill the vacuum
  • Understand and manage what Fear does to you.
    • what fear you manufacture; what stories you tell yourself; how to quieten the brain
  • Understand the strength and resilience that has kept you going so far -and can push you further, if you let it.
    • you’ve persevered under pressure before. How did you do it? How can you do it on a much larger scale?
  • Work with allies: colleagues, friends, family, mentors and guides.
    • share, help, understand, be understood. It ‘s how you grow
  • Do.
    • try it out; experiment; make mistakes; learn; move on


Read more

The space to fly, walk and crawl.

How do we lose ourselves?

How do we lose that which we hold most dear in ourselves – by which we identify ourselves?

Recently I was introduced to an intriguing coaching tool in which you’re asked to identify your ‘core quality’; that attribute by which you most closely identify yourself. I said ‘Integrity’ was mine. While it was true it was also a cop out because if I didn’t have integrity as a coach I may as well pack up and go home. As I started using the tool with colleagues and clients, I noticed how many said exactly the same thing: ‘Integrity’. And without any passion. Or, at least, with the same lack of passion that I had felt.

And then I thought: “When did I last feel really passionately about an attribute of mine”?

And I remembered: when I felt so passionately that I would sacrifice anything for it without a thought. When I couldn’t wait to wake up. And sleep was such a waste of time.

And the object of my passion? Making things. Creativity.In the theatre, in radio, television and film. I acted, directed, wrote, adapted, broadcast, presented, made programmes on poetry, noise, tea, music and anything else I could think of. Incessently. And without a single care about whether I was being judged successful or otherwise. Everything I did felt perfect for me. And that was enough.

And then I abandoned it.

I was living in South Africa at the time- Apartheid South Africa. And I began to suspect that my own creativity wasn’t ‘doing enough to change things’. Writing and directing plays and making programmes may offer relief – or even show people how things could be – but it wasn’t going to feed people or stop them from being imprisoned and killed. So, quite swiftly, I abandoned what I had done best and started reporting for foreign networks -as well as working with the then nascent black trade unions. Good, solid, serious work. Where I felt creativity had no place. Where, ironically, although we were working for ‘what could be’, I felt that only tackling the grinding reality – of what was in front of our noses – had any place at all.

Thoroughness was the byword. Do things carefully. Start at the beginning and get to the end.

And that pattern continued when I arrived in Britain. Yes, I went back to radio and television (not the theatre) but not as a programme maker or writer. As a manager. And, eventually as a turnaround specialist: diagnose, change, move on.

That lasted until, many years later, I decided that wasn’t good enough either . And I went back to school to learn about coaching. Because I was beginning to understand the lesson of joy. Or, rather, the lack of it.

Intutition, creativity and the cross hairs of intelligence

When I was being ‘creative’ I was literally firing on all cylinders. In order to direct a play, I needed to use my intuition to grasp the essence (or perhaps ‘my’ essense) of the story. I also needed to have a view of the overall production as well as to focus on an incredible amount of detail to ensure that those two hours (on stage or on air) ‘fitted together’. I had to make sure I could manage a complex project against tight and very precise deadlines. And I needed to make sure that all involved (cast, crew and management) were kept motivated, sharp and passionate for the performance or recording. (Because even if you’re playing Lazarus before the miracle you still need to do it with conviction, wouldn’t you say?)

So, in order to be creative, I needed to use all my multiple intelligences: mental, physiological, emotional and spiritual/intuitive.

And what do I mean by creativity? In my experience it’s very close to intuition. Intuition comes from the Latin ‘intueor’, meaning to contemplate, to look into. And, the OED tells us intuition is “the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning”. Does that mean it’s guesssing? No, it’s the drawing together of all your intelligences in one sudden insight.It’s the apex of those multiple intelligences – mental, physical and emotional as, literally, an ‘insight’. It’s not a leap into the void but a flight within.

And creativity is a milli-step beyond intuition: it’s that which moves the insight into growth, into a way forward, into something new. Intuition grasps how things are; creativity grasps how they could be; creation makes them real.

Your intuition grasps that this search engine does amazing things; your creativity shows you how you can turn it into a huge business; your creation actually shapes that business.

And where do both intuition and creativity spark? In the cross hairs of your intelligences. And without exercising all those intelligences in a balanced way it’s going to very difficult for that convergence to happen. If your mental (logical) ‘intelligence’ is over ‘flexed’ and your physical (feelings) is neglected, your insight may end up being nothing more than a linear, academic idea with little or no joy or passion to drive you into doing something about it – and staying with it.

If I overuse one of my intelligences (be it emotional, intellectual or physical) I will see the world only in a particular way: as logical detail, as chaos, as pain or as ‘big picture’. And the world is all of those things -at different times. So, we need to remember to look at it in different ways, using our different intelligences.We need to, sometimes, start at the end before we find a beginning. We need sometimes to fly above before crawling into its microscopic detail. Each view gives us a different insight. And in each view we’re exercising a different intelligence.

Insight, Outsight and Passion killers

I abandoned creativity because I confused it with the’arts’. I thought: the theatre = arts = creativity =soft emotions = no place in ‘real life’. Now, there are a lot of flaws in that entire logic but the most important one for this discussion is the last one: that creativity is all messy and soft and “has no place in ‘real life’”.

The result of that was that, instead of bringing with me the balance that had made me successfu, strong and happy before (being detailed one moment, big picture, pragmatic, intuitive or visionary in others, as I had as a director and writer) I focused almost entirely on my mental intelligence: that faculty that sees the world in a linear, logical and – allegedly – objective fashion.

The trouble with walking along the ground in a “linear and logical” way is that your view of the world -and therefore your ideas for the world – stay at ground level as well. And, of course, equally, being up in the air all the time, with a big picture view, tends to make your ideas ‘up in the air’ as well.

As for my intuition – the grasping of what is- was replaced by that killer of all passion: what should be. Understanding the reality of what is, comes from your own insight; from the converged experience of all your intelligences. Seeing reality as what should be is second guessing someone else’s reality: your outsight, if you like.

Check calls

If we accept that creativity is a ‘good thing’ and it’s best chance of emerging is from that coming together of our multiple intelligences, then we clearly need to make sure that we’re exercising those intelligences – and in a balanced way.

And something that may help is periodically making a few check calls into how we’re living your life – at work or at home.

Core quality check:
Which core attribute of yours do you hold most dear?
With which quality do you emotionally identify yourself?
How are you using that attribute to bring value – to renew – your work?
If you’re not, how can you do so? If you don’t want to, where can you do so?
If you’re changing jobs or career, are you taking with you that core quality and self identity which brought you most success and satisfaction?
If not,why not?

Multiple intelligences check:

What (and how) do you think about this job? How do you feel about it,emotionally?
What about physically? Does it give your body strength and energy – or does it drain it ?
And bringing them all together, what does your intuition say?
What do all your intelligences and experiences say?

View check

And if you can’t see clearly or you’re anxious that you can’t do the job.Or -like me so many years ago -you think it’s not enough to change the world. Then try changing your view:
What will this job look like if you’re not here? What will you look like if you’re not here?
What would it look like (and how would you feel) if you were an observer?
How about looking back from a distance of ten years?
In doing the job, are you using all your intelligences?

Oh – and one which is my personal favourite: what do you feel about your work first thing in the morning?

Read more

Identifying Self Value

It’s all very well saying that we should value ourselves. But what is self value? And how do we measure it -and therefore safeguard and increase it?

John Berger recently wrote a wonderful defence of the German Nobel Prize winning writer Gunter Grass (The Guardian: August 21,2006). Grass had been pilloried for not revealng that he had joined the Waffen SS at the age of 17. Berger’s response describes very closely what I believe to be the essence of ‘self value’.

"That he was naive when he was 17 means only that he was 17. Inside a story there are no mistakes, only the living through of mistakes. And he has lived through his, better than most of us would have done".

Grass, says Berger, ‘lived through his mistakes" by devoting himself "to grasping, narrating and explaining, with extensive fellow-feeling, the contradictions, cruelties, abysmal losses, wisdom, ignorance, cowardice and grace of people (person by person) under extreme historical stress. Very few other writers of our time have such a wide knowledge of articulate and inarticulate experience. Grass never shut his eyes. He became a writer of honour".

He lived though his mistake by ensuring that it became part of his life; by working with the grain to transform it into the pearl of his life’s work. He understood that the value of his life lay in living through his mistakes and successes – as experience – with his eyes open.

What would have happened if he had ‘confessed his sins’? Would his eyes have been opened wider? Would he have awakened himself more to the experience of his own life; to the value of his life? Or would he have been forced to devalue his life to the actions of the seventeen year old boy?

The word ‘redemption’ comes from the Latin verb ‘redemptio’. And one of the oldest meanings of ‘redemptio’ is to ‘to farm revenues’ – to cultivate one’s assets. And that is what I believe Self Value entails. The cultivating of the most precious asset we have: our Self.

Redemption does not start with the premise that we are a liability unless we do good; but that we can do good because we are an asset.

And how do we farm our revenues? How do we maximise our asset? How do we ‘make the most of our selves’?

 

By making ourselves as aware as we possibly can be of our selves: by probing how we think, feel, emote and behave in situations; by exploring the impact we have on our fellow beings and our world – and then reflecting on the chain of mutual reactions we create with one another. And by applying our selves in the world and the world in our selves.

By learning.

And how do we learn? By observng, enquiring, reflecting, feeling, applying and integrating.And observing again.

And, as you can see, we can not make the most of ourselves, or increase awareness of our selves, unless we recognise and value our fellow beings. If I think you have no value then we have no impact on one another. But I know that is not true: all beings and I do have some impact on one another. So, I must be closing down my own awareness in order to believe that you have no value.

By reducing my awareness of your value I reduce my awareness of mine.

That is why choice is such a precious gift. When we remove it from others, we remove it from ourselves. When we trespass against others we trespass against ourselves.

So, to summarise:

What is Self Value?

It is the recognition that the Self is the Asset; that it "can do good because it is an asset"; that the Self is the stone from which the scultpure is continuously shaped. Without the stone there is no sculpture.

How is Self Value maintained and maximised?

By taking responsibility for that Self and making ourselves as aware as possible of how we think, feel, emote and behave in our mutual relationship with the world.

How is Self Value diminished?

When we diminish the awareness of both our own selves and that of our fellow beings; when we impose and abuse; when we prevent ourselves or others from discovering our Self Value

So, can Self Value be developed?

Self Value is. We do thing of value because we ‘are value’. The asset is there, whatever we do. It’s our awareness and management of it that impacts our actions. The more aware we are of the asset, the better we are able to use it.

 


Read more

Self Value: doing or being?

That’s the trouble with words: we use them in so many different ways that they lose…value.

We talk about the value of a house; of a painting; of a job – even of a relationship. Just take the ‘value of a house’ as an example. That could be what we can sell it at; what we like about it; what experiences we’ve had in it as a family or how the designers/artists/viewers/critics rate it. Different things all reduced to one word: value.
Every second coach will probably tell you how vital it is to value yourself. But what does self value mean? Are you supposed to value yourself for what you do? Or for how you look? Or, perhaps, for how kind and compassionate you are?

So what happens when you do something ‘badly’? When you deliver a shoddy piece of work?

What about when you ‘lose’ your looks?

As for ‘kind and compassionate’: what happens when you’re not kind? Do you stop valuing your self?

Or are you only supposed to value yourself when you’re doing ‘good’ things; when you’re looking good; or when you’re clever and capable and successful?

The trouble with valuing ourselves for how we present ourselves to the world (in other words, for how we perform or look)is that our presentations can not be totally consistent. The result is that our ‘value’ then goes up and down like a yo-yo. As a publicly quoted company we’d be a disaster.
And if you’re valuing yourself on your performance, you even start undervaluing your successes because you know that next time you may ‘fail’. "I did ok, today, but tomorrow I could mess up. So how much value do I really have?"

You start to value yourself by your failures rather than your successes.
And here’s the clincher, for me: if we value ourselves according to our performance to the world – then we’re not only valuing ourselves according to what we (inconsistently) do but according to how the world judges our performances. We surrender our own value – our sense of self – to others.

Our ‘value’ becomes pleasing the world/audience/lover/church/boss/ market.
But do you know what? It’s not always in the interests of ‘the world’ to give us accurate feedback on ‘how we’re doing’. The boss, for example, may worry that if she tells you how great you are, you might ask for a raise, or look for another job or want hers.
And how do you react? Somewhere in the range of: accept it or not. If you accept it, then you’ll value yourself lowly and strive to meet (what you think are )the boss’s expectations. If you don’t then you’ll try and rationalise it away: "She’s a manipulative tyrant and she has no idea what quality means". Either way, you reduce your value of yourself. In the first instance by accepting someone else’s perception. In the second, by feeling humiliated that the boss’s opinion did not match yours and your hopes.

Value based on how you present youself to the world is a disaster.

So, what value should we place on ourselves?

The Value of Being.

It is the fact that you are that enables you to do.

Not the other way round.
Your starting point, surely,has to be your sense of self in the world; how you see your self in the world.

How can you do something of value unless there is value in you, the doer? And if you only value yourself for what you do, what message are you sending to your colleagues, friends, partners and children? That you’re only as valuable as your last action?

Valuing ourselves and others according to our performance – or ‘presentation to the world’ as I put it earlier – means ignoring a fundamental reality: beings are much more than their actions. Their value is in their ability to be; to project; to conceptualise; to create; to make mistakes; to learn; to walk into a room and listen; to be another to you.

And those of us who value themselves in their doing -their performance for the world – rather than in their being, reduce themselves to the limits and distortions of the judgments of others. Limited because others (never mind how close they may be to us) can not climb inside our skins and view the world as we view it; distorted because they will always judge some part of our actions by the way it affects them.

The more we submit to the judgement of others the more we lose our sense of self; the less value we place on our being-in-the-world, the less we’re able to achieve the integrity of self-valued being and self-valued doing.

If we have a strong sense of self, if we value our sense of being in the world, then it follows that we will do things that have integrity with that value.

TO BE CONTINUED

Read more

is seeing believing, or believing seeing?

We’re taught – so often – that something must be real because ‘we saw it with our own eyes’ . So called empirical evidence beats belief or theory any day. But what influence does what we believe at the time have on what we see – or what we think we see?

For example, today (20th of July) BBC News 24 announced that street crime in Britain had gone up by 8%. And they hauled in a police spokesman to talk about that.Just about that. During the interview the interviewer tolled out another figure of gloom: 23% increase in drug offences. At least, i think it was drug offences. I was too busy trying to find the sackcloth and ashes. 8%?!! 23%?! what is the matter with this country?

Then I remembered. I’d read an article in the Guardian earlier on which said that:

  • Total recorded crime had dropped
  • murder rate for england and wales had shown a sustained drop for the first time since the 60’s
  • sexual offences had stayed static; as had violence against the person.

No mention of all that on the Beeb. In fact, there was even the (usual) question: ‘do you think we should have longer sentences – and pack in even more people into already overcrowded jails?’ God help us. Not only are we being overun by bad people, we’ve got no place to put them either.

So back to my first question? What would I have seen if I had believed the Beeb? A place that is getting more dangerous, perhaps. Certainly a place with no good news on the home front. How would that have influenced the way I felt about/saw/regarded hoodies/ white people/black people/ immigrants/ locals; to say nothing of the Police, the Home Office and the government?

What I believe – or what I allow others to persuade me to believe – affects how I see. And how I see, affects what I see. Which, of course, affects, how I feel and relate to the world. So,in my experience, we each create our own world: it’s as big or small, petty or generous according to what we choose to see.

Read more