Reflections 17th March

Photo by Anna Saveleva on Unsplash

On my mind

Incoherence

Anger is such an interesting emotion. At its worst, shallow, incoherent and inarticulate, manifesting in mindless, destructive violence. At its best, harvested from the flow of feeling, like hydroelectricity from a river, collected and directed energy to bring about change. Coherent anger with purpose.

I’ve noticed my own anger this week, as we’ve witnessed the treatment of lying to Parliament (for sake of clarity, that’s us) as some sort of a jolly jape, the requisitioning of Rwanda as a latter day colony to which we can dispatch the inconvenient, and the treatment of Ukraine as a great drop in photo opportunity. The idea that it’s ok for the families of those who govern to have non-dom tax status, as though they are the political equivalent of transient premier league football managers, and the apparent acceptance without substantive challenge that the actions of P&O were somehow an anomaly rather than a commentary on the acceptable ethics of business in the U.K. Let’s not even mention climate change, or food banks, or energy prices. I have to explain to people that matter to me that this is not who we are. Yes, I’m angry.

It strikes me as easy to waste anger by directing it at the incorrigible and inept who are not going to change just because we’re angry, and shelter behind being two years away from an election. It’s easy and temporarily satisfying , but incoherent and ineffective.

It’s equally easy to harness a specific symptom, like “Insulate Britain” which, no matter how valid, is easily neutralised by an administraton whose response to real human problems is a “the cheque’s in the post” detached response. Money, rather than morality, as a dominant value.

This anger is far too good to waste.


Abstraction

past-participle stem of Latin abstrahere “to drag away, detach, pull away, divert;

Our love of reductive analysis in pursuit of efficiency has inevitably found its way from processes to training. Leadership used to be easily recognisable, not so much by behaviours but by the acceptance of responsibility rather than tick box behaviours.

Now, we seem to have institutionalised a corrupted form of what used to be a useful management device – the RACI matrix – defining who is Responsible, who is Accountable, who needs to be Consulted and who merely needs to be Informed with regard to the progress of a project. We have become masters at identifying the accountable, consulting interested parties more than the public, minimising information and obscuring those responsible. From P&O to parties to policies, finding the responsible is like a Kafkaesque version of “Cluedo

I’ve been reflecting on what has to happen in order to harness the the anger I sense in me and those around me in order to make it coherent and purposeful, rather than incoherent and frittered away.

I believe we can start by directing that anger inwards and examining it quietly, rather than pointing it outwards in a stream of complaint, because, in the end we are feeding the system that is angering us.

  • Within society and business, we are trained and encouraged to compete more than collaborate. That wastes so much of our human genius. Why do we accept it?
  • We are encouraged to assess each other as a function of what we consume rather than what we create. We can stop doing that if we choose.
  • Mental health issues are at critical levels, particularly amongst the young and I think we all sense that official figures are the tip of an iceberg, and yet we commercialise “wellness” as a virtue, a sort of “wellwashing” rather than dealing with the root causes (see consume)
  • We treat our society as some sort of “platform capability” for the benefit of businesses willing to base themselves here whilst paying tax, if at all, elsewhere and accept the effect on our society with platitudes about “levelling up”.

I think we need to move from the abstract to the concrete, to find a path to coherence that works for us. Something that will focus the good anger to do something generative.


Coherence

act or state of sticking or cleaving of one thing to another,” from French cohérence (16c.)

I find there is something elegant about the idea of coherence. From thought experiments on gambling to Alan Watkin’s work on the biology of leadership, the pursuit of alignment is attractive.

So how can we think about moving from a world of business that depends on, thrives on, social incoherence to something more aligned?

I suspect that there is a direct and inverse correlation between scale and coherence. From the sheer geometrical progression of networks, Dunbar’s work on the number of friends we can have and Geoffrey West’s excellent book, to Gregg Satell on Cascades and Gal Beckerman on the Quiet Before all the indications are that the governance structures we have in business and politics are obsolescent, if not obsolete. The edges are too far away from the centre for the centre to either know what’s really going on, or exert control, or lead credibly.

If we want coherence, and the centre cannot provide it, we have to look closer to home, and to move from being subjects, and mere consumers, to Citizens. Much more involved, connected and mutually responsible.

All of this is good, but what, I have been thinking, might we do now, where we are, with what we’ve got? I suggest, by taking responsibility in whatever small way we can, and stop behaving like passive subjects, or pigeons in some bizarre “Skinner Box” consumer experiment.

We can each choose some small, important thing that matters and find a way to make a difference. Personally I won’t go to a meeting that can be done on Zoom, have cut my car mileage by two thirds, and do not plan to go anywhere I cannot reach by train. My shopping has moved from supermarket to local, and to products I know the provenance of. Big brands do not feature. These are all pathetically small actions in the face of the need we have, but the more we do it, and the more we tell each other about it, the more difference we can make and start a flywheel moving as we harness energy for bigger changes.

The lubricant for coherence is conversation. Do things that matter, talk about them to those around you, listen to what they’re doing, repeat. If you don’t have someone to talk to, talk to the people in Originize. They will listen.

Energise the anger productively. Give it a name. It makes us feel better, it is infectious, and it’s a start.


Inspiration

Thin Places

This extract from Kerri ní Dochartaigh just emphasised for me that Ireland is a place and culture where poets and writers happen through some sort of alchemy. I love it.

The Wisdom of Intuition

Iain McGilchrist at his best. When we don’t have data, and uncertainty reigns, Intuition matters. (Thanks to Mark Easdown for this)

In the Presence of Beauty (Podcast- 33voices)

“Beauty is a core moral value. It’s an essential piece of how we stay resilient and find joy, even with all the difficulties of life.”  In this episode snippet, On Being’s Krista Tippett shares how her conversation partners, from poets to physicists, unveil beauty’s vitality.

Career Change. A wonderful 12 min video from Psyche Magazine on the dilemma of career change. It puts our own in perpsective. Wonderful.


A Closing Thought

Nora Bateson has a line that mirrors my thoughts eloquently.

 “Those of us who have been trying to make change have been sucker-punched 1000 times into thinking if we could just get high enough up the food chain, then we could make the change. It appears to be a good thing to climb the ladder, to get to the top of the mountain from which you may be heard — but the real change is in the valley, with the people just trying to get to next week. And to do this, is to turn one’s back on the promise of clout in the existing system. The real change is person to person. Radical, systemic upheaval is not about hyper scaled information. That kind of information fries like dust in flames. The deeper shift is in another rhythm, one in which the existing system has no hold on you. In short, you have to risk everything, change the communication, and be an outsider.

So where is the communication needed? And what kind of communication is needed to make change? This is the question. My hunch is that the communication shift that shifts our lives needs to be between us- just moms and dads, brothers and sisters, grandmas and grandpas — with no tether to the tech world, or governments, or the owners of the media, or the publishers of textbooks, or the corporate machine.”

The problem is the immune system of institutional dinosaurs, more than any communication, one reason why there’s no connection between intent and action. Within or without, it will be the valley folk who change ONLY if they take charge of their own destinies.

Brought to my attention by Sunil Malhotra.

Have a great week. If you’re lucky enough to be on a break, revel in it.


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