August 16, 2011
Reading the London #riotcleanup Twitter stream last week was fascinating. Taken in isolation and looked at one-dimensionally, one might consider a community that mobilises itself to clean up after riots to be a positive phenomenon. The range of views on the Twitter feed does not bear this out however. Some views extend to calling these folks vigilantes, another even suggests the riotcleanup is the closest thing the UK has seen to popular fascism for decades.
Similarly, opinion was spread as the riots were in full swing. Even the use of the word “riot” is loaded. I noted some people calling them protests, West Indian writer Darcus Howe called them an insurrection. So who is right? Are citizens defending their streets community-minded activists or are they vigilantes? Are the people on the streets of London, Birmingham, Manchester and other English cities rioters or protesters?
Might I be bold enough to suggest that all these people were all these things? What we have ourselves stuck in is an old-fashioned, out-dated mode of thinking. The issues which set off the disturbances are as complex and numerous as there were people and life experiences who have been caught up in them; similarly, the responses required are complex and multifarious. We, the human race, will not progress while we hold on to an anachronistic way of viewing our highly complex and interconnected lives. The time has well and truly come to stretch ourselves and to view our lives, our relationships, our workplaces, our communities, the world through a new lens: the cosmos as an interconnected system and not as a machine. Not only to view them as systems, but to treat them as systems, to become more conscious that what we do impacts on other element of the system. Cause and effect no longer suffices.
Take Gross Domestic Product. We have so successfully parceled off our world into individual little bundles to the extent that growth in GDP is still held up as a good thing and a rise in the FTSE or Dow Jones is delivered as positive news. Hence, through this mechanistic lens, the Exxon Valdez disaster and the recent earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand were ‘good’ things because of the GDP growth that they engender. As a recent article in the Guardian attests, “Gross Domestic Product is a poor measure of economic performance and the pursuit of GDP is the prime cause of climate change and environmental destruction”. We cannot solve complex 21st Century problems with mechanistic, 19th Century small thinking.
I suppose another comment from the Twitter feed gets closer to what I’m talking about: “It is possible to condemn the riots and simultaneously try to understand why they happened in the first place.” See? Thinking a bit bigger.
What is happening on the streets of my homeland is not unconnected to the global financial crisis and turbulence on the financial markets, to the disturbances on the streets of Santiago, Chile, to the talent ‘brain drain’ from New Zealand to Australia, to environmental degradation, to the mendacity of the press, politicians and police recently uncovered in the News International scandal, to famine in the Horn of Africa, to oppression in Syria, to growing disparities between rich and poor. To me, all of these point to failed leadership, mechanistic thinking, un-consciousness and egocentricity.
- Washington DC has recently been the stage for the farce that was debt negotiations between the Democrats and Republicans and we are now witnessing the epilogue, with each side blaming the other for the subsequent downgrade from S&P and financial turbulence. Ego and point scoring above creative problem-solving: small thinking.
- UK politicians are caught up in trying to apportion blame for the recent disturbances and meting out punishment, rather than exploring the breakdown of the social contract that they point to. Double standards and abuse of power: small thinking.
- A long time investor in the stock markets comments, “I’ve survived 4 recessions and have not changed my investment strategy, it’s always worked for me, so this decline in the world economy isn’t worrying me. It’ll be back to business-as-usual in no time.” Hiding your head in the sand: small thinking.
What we require are leaders who transcend party politics, who transcend traditional schools of economics, who transcend national pride. We require leaders who transcend the old-style “I’m right, you’re wrong” paradigm of thinking. In our workplaces, we require leaders who transcend management theories and personality clashes. It is time to put our efforts into sociatry (healing of the socius); this implies inclusiveness and greater consciousness of self and others, in other words, bigger thinking—systems thinking. Trying the same-old, same-old when it is clearly no longer working is NOT leadership for the 21st century.
The astonishing thing is that humanity already has the tools available to generate this paradigm shift. Two of the human technologies I use in my work with Quantum Shift, sociometry and sociodrama, for example, have the potential to catalyse the changes I’m talking about. These radical tools, which are inherently strengths-based and creative, assist people to grow greater spontaneity in their lives, thereby opening windows and doors of opportunity, hope and possibility. There are, of course, other transformational tools at our disposal, but it requires the courage to let go of the devil we know and to venture into the unknown.
We don’t yet know what the new paradigm will look like, all we know is that it won’t look like it does now or like it used to. We therefore require people with the courage to make those steps into the unknown. We require leaders who do not know all the answers, and are willing to be authentic with us…who are willing to say, “I don’t know where we are headed, but let’s work it out together.”
Business-as-usual is gone. Forever.