Zeitgeist: A Documentary 

Culture, HR, L&D, Leadership, Management, mental health, Politics, Uncategorized, values

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that Martin Luther King Jr

This is real life, my friends. You all know what this blog is about. Do not worry, this will not be a long lamentation describing disbelief, fear, dread and other synonyms appropriate for a dystopic dirge.

This is a prediction or perhaps a proposal for a documentary or study into the current Western Zeitgeist. What do I mean? Brexit and Trump. Both are not the cause of these feelings of unrest, divide, fear (although, let’s be serious, they’ve not helped), no, they are the product. The Leave campaigners and Trump have tapped into something that is already there, and enhanced it, angered it, stirred it up.

More and more I hear people bemoan, “what is the world coming to?”. There is fear over terrorism and “the Middle East” which has become interchangeable with a whole host of negative connotations, recession and the aftermath, distrust in the financial industry, our leaders and politicians, the “establishment” – whatever that means. We all know from history (or hopefully we do) that economic hardship plus feelings of frustration, helplessness at a situation are the catalysts for infamous leaders to take charge. I’m sure you know the types of leaders I’m referring to.

I’m scared too. Not of terrorism per se or of foreigners taking my job but of these feelings of unrest and resentment I’m witnessing. I’m scared for women, people of colour, the LGBTQ community and disabled people. History has shown us that it is always these people that suffer, that take the brunt that are further marginalised and segregated and I’m terrified. Now is the time, more than ever, for love, compassion, equality and hope.

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George Takei said it beautifully this morning on Facebook:

I am addressing this to all who voted to defeat Donald Trump and what he represents. We may not have prevailed, but we must not despair.

Many of you are, like me, in a state of shock. This does not feel like the America you love and honor. We are in unchartered waters. In times like these we must reaffirm the values we cherish and have fought for: equality, justice, the care of our planet. We must stand up defiantly to any dark or divisive acts, and look out for the most vulnerable among us. It is more important than ever. 

Within our hearts we know the society we wish to live in. No one can take that vision from us. We are each of us keepers of that promise. This country has seen wars and grave injustices, slavery and even civil war in its past. Yet we found our way through.

Hold your loved ones close. Tell them that it is in times of sadness and in the toughest of days where we often find our true mettle.

I agree, surely when there are people like me (and hopefully like you), of sound mind (well ish), with compassion in our hearts and a determination to, in some small or large way, improve the world around us – hope can prevail? I wish that was a full-stop rather than a question mark.

We need to act. To look at ourselves and make sure we’re acting with positive intent. Be self-reflexive and honest, what can you do to help? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Experiencing “Other”

Africa, Business, Charity, HR, L&D, Race, Uncategorized, values, Volunteer

The really important thing is to see connections. It is only when we see real connections that we can meaningfully talk about differences, similarities, and identities.                                                          

– Borders & Bridges, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

Recently on a trip to Uganda (volunteering with homeless children and using HR skills to help local staff in case you haven’t heard 100 times already) I had my first experience of feeling “Other”. I won’t discuss the critical theory and postcolonial theory surrounding Othering, but if you’re interested in learning more see the works of Michel Foucault and Edward Said as good starting places.  A disclaimer – this blog is not intended to illicit sympathy (poor white girl got stared at), but simply to share a moment of new experience creating a different and enhanced perspective.

One evening walking to buy water with my Brit friend in Kampala we drew a lot of attention. I am VERY white, with orange hair, and I’m pretty tall too at around 5 ft 10 and the average height of Ugandan women (according to google) is about 5 ft 2. I felt very different. Being a typical Brit I also did not speak any of the local languages. I didn’t feel in danger I hasten to add, but I felt like a spectacle, something to be stared at – why was I there? During this I had a moment of empathy for my boyfriend; we live in a very white town in North Yorkshire and he is mixed race (Afro-Caribbean & White British) and he feels different and unwanted (especially as our town voted to leave in Brexit). I’ve always been sympathetic to his situation but I had a moment of clarity and empathy whilst in Kampala. We live in the same house, in the same town and yet we’re both living a completely different experience as I’ve always found the town friendly and welcoming.

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Another instance of feeling a spectacle was when the group of us white Brits (and one Ozzy) walked through the slums. Although we were in Kampala to help it was hard not to feel like a voyeur walking through the slums, knowing that we could leave any time we chose and could go back to our nice hotel. Everybody in the slums, especially the children were lovely, friendly and welcoming and I felt like Princess Diana and that was surprisingly uncomfortable. We must have seemed like royalty, those living there assuming that we were rich and could potentially help them out of their poverty should we be in the mood to help. I don’t wish to belittle or in anyway diminish the great work we did out there (for Retrak charity) but I think it is important to critically think about perception, culture and Othering.

In a twist to the original theory of Othering, I experienced being Other from a perceived position of power. It is hard to express in words how that felt. Ultimately I experienced “White Guilt” – as Jean-Marc Ferry observed, “[w]e have to remember, in a critical way, the violence and humiliation we have inflicted on whole peoples in every continent in order to impose our own vision of humanity and civilization.”. This is something, having studied postcolonialsim, I’m acutely aware of.

I want to end this blog post on a positive note, I wholeheartedly agree with the quote I started on of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o – that we need to see real connections, and as Maya Angelou said –

We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.