Reflections 6th February

Winter Walk, Little Eaton.

On my Mind

The idea of belonging has accompanied me most of this past week. We all have the need to belong, whether to a tribe, a location, an idea, or a movement – anything that defines us in a period of local and global turbulence, and somewhere we can seek refuge amongst those of like mind.

There are so many places we can choose to belong – the political right and left, conspiracy theories, geopolitical groupings, elites, victims, occupations, and numerous others that are becoming increasingly blended and combined such that we seem to develop energy without coherence of definition. I think it used to be simpler – less than a handful of generations ago the line I am descended from were, on one side, those who worked on the land within fifty miles of where I live, and on the other immigrant jewellers from the Netherlands who found a home in the jewellery quarter of Birmingham. Identities formed from tangible elements, people who lived amongst those like them and who shared mostly similar experiences and aspirations. Now, it seems very different. Much of the change is for the good – despite the rhetoric, I think life is healthier, fairer, with better education and offers more opportunity – but is does seem less defined and more fragmented and leaves us looking for where, and to what, we belong.

It strikes me that belonging doesn’t scale well. Historically, cohesive groups tended to be small – fewer than a hundred and fifty, and geographically close to each other. Larger groupings comprised these smaller groups cohering around an identity they could associate with – from regions to countries. The larger the grouping, the more varied the components and the more effort was needed to lead them. History shows us that threats to these shared identities have been the most effective, with the threats being sometimes genuine, but more often with large elements of political confection, as displayed most recently with BREXIT is the UK, and “stolen elections” in the USA.

I wonder though whether that might be changing. The last two years has transformed, through necessity, our use of virtual technologies. We have moved from using it as supplemental to in person meetings and office-based leadership to mainstream.  I have learned from personal experience just how powerful, inspirational, and effective it can be and wonder whether we are seeing the beginning of the end of the geographic component of belonging in favour of virtual diaspora.

That idea offers potential for a variety of possibilities, from the magnificent to the distinctly malign, with the difference between the two our perception of truth. I find the idea of being able to associate directly with others, without self-appointed intermediaries, to focus on things that matter, motivating. Being able to validate effort and impact via blockchain technologies, from contracts to currency, exciting. It does of course have its shadow side, with those whose skills and intent focus on capturing the attention of the frightened, and the vulnerable – whose numbers seem to be increasing.

Belonging connects us to inheritance and legacy – recognising what we owe to those who got us here, and our obligations to those who follow us well beyond our own brief residence. Something altogether more responsible and satisfying than the selfish pursuit of a fallacy of growth through ever increasing consumption.

It casts a major spotlight on the nature of leadership. Centralised, “celebrity” leadership, supported by “communications strategies” designed by technically skilled but detached professionals is a dangerous liability (as demonstrated so clearly as populists, in politics and business gain traction that cannot withstand event faint scrutiny.)

Distributed leadership, from those who connect meaningfully and purposefully with people they know to inspire rather than control , who create networks of meaning and purpose, will be vital to developing the healthier relationships we need. It requires us to rethink our models of leadership and how we train and support those we need to take us to whatever is next.

As we continue to face multiple, complex challenges we will all have to choose where we belong and what we stand for. Something with substance, between the aggression of easy blaming and “othering,” and the retreat into the avoidance of the metaphysical. Something more akin to Ghandi’s Satyagraha, Mandela’s “Truth and Reconciliation”, or the dignity of the Suffragettes. Something that generates our own personal momentum and links to others doing the same. Whether we run businesses, or work within them, we all have skin in the game and the responsibilities that go with it. What we need will not come about if we choose compliance and passive observation or take refuge in noisy victimhood. We have the possibility to belong to something that matters beyond the proxies of identity, that recognises the existential challenges we face and the potential to exercise our humanity to support and benefit all we are part of, and I think we are going to have to choose, because it will not wait.

The exciting thing is that we can.

Inspiring me this week.

One of the joys of choosing who to associate with is what we can learn from them, and their insights. Geoff Dooley posted this on Originize this week, and it resonated so strongly with what is on my mind I have copied it here – it needs no explanation.

“It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot.

My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.

There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything.

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

— Mary Oliver
Source: “Of Power and Time,” which is included in Upstream: Selected Essays.

with thanks to Geoff Dooley

Time to rethink economics, or why it took 5000 years to put wheels on suitcases

A wonderful article from Aeon Magazine, that seems approporiate right now.

The answer is rarely a straight line.

John Kay on Obliquity. His book of the same name is excellent.

Owen Eastwood on Belonging.

I love the part where, when establishing has Maori ancestry, he got a note just stating ‘You belong”

A Quote for the week.

Modern notions of selfhood amplify our individual responsibilities and opportunities in this regard. In former times, when prevalent mental frameworks sealed the individual within an envelope of community, mapping the world was more of a shared effort. Today, imagining ourselves to be autonomous, we shoulder the burden of psychic self-construction in relative isolation. It must have been far less taxing to assume one’s place in the choir than it is to improvise these solos.

Excerpt from: “Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman” by Peter Korn.

Have a great week.


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