There has been another long hiatus in my blogging, I am sorry. Two readers have recently and separately told me how much they have appreciated these blogs and have helped me analyse why I stopped writing.
It is always easy to use the excuse of being too busy, and while there is some truth in that, it is not the reason.
The reason I have not been writing is that my view of my blog was always that it was not meant to be political. Occasionally I would stray into politics and that was OK, but mostly they would be based on the leadership lessons that I had learned or observed in working with teams or individuals.
The political turmoil since June ’16 meant that the only lessons I had in my head on a Monday morning were political. Since my view of the blog was that it was not meant to be political, I would usually skip a week if the only thoughts I had were political. Then weeks turned to months and months to over a year.
Today I would like to explore the experience since June ’16 and maybe it will resonate with a few of you and maybe it will offer some lessons in leadership and life.
Like many, the day after the EU referendum I was devastated and furiously angry, which is not an emotion I am familiar with. I took out my anger on millions of innocent blades of grass while listening to punk. I didn’t know how else to deal with it.
More recently I saw a video of Russell Brand describe the state we collectively are in as a “Spiritual Crisis” and that resonates with me. My whole world view has been shaken by these events and I am still struggling to come to terms with it.
I observe myself wanting outside forces (like Russia) to be behind it, because that means it is not how people really think.
I observe myself turning to sports news to avoid dealing with the realities.
I observe myself turning to satire to be reassured by their skewering the “villains”
And in amongst these displacement and denial activities I try to make sense of it all and I think there are some insights.
1 – New Media – There is an interesting parallel with the Third Reich (I am always careful about invoking that one, so please bear with me). One of the things that enabled the Nazis was their clever use of new media, particularly radio and cinema. Joseph Goebbels the propaganda minister was one of the first to really utilise these technologies powerfully to program a population.
Is it possible that humans can be more vulnerable to messages that come through a new media channel?
Radio and cinema reached huge new audiences in the 1930s, people who had never been avid newspaper readers became radio listeners and cinema news reel watchers. It is likely that newspaper readers had the antibodies to protect them from the propaganda, but those who were consuming news for the first time were vulnerable should someone choose to manipulate them, which is exactly what happened.
Scroll forward to 2016/17 and the new medium is smart phone based social media. People who had previously contented themselves with gossip and sports news, could suddenly be reached by propagandists as they scrolled through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. These news newbies had not built up their propaganda antibodies and were easily manipulated.
It now seems plausible that the Vladimir Putin was one of the first to see this opportunity when he was able to create convenient political turmoil in the Ukraine. He then expanded the process to devastating effect in both the UK and the US. He was not the only one. Aaron Banks and Robert Mercer also seem to have funded substantial propaganda campaigns.
Although it is undoubtedly contentious (and potentially smug), there is some evidence that Brexit and Trump voters were somewhat less well educated than those who voted for the alternatives. This might support the argument that those who were less well read were also more susceptible to the sophisticated propaganda that was reaching them repeatedly for the first time through these new channels.
2 – The First Maturity War
Inter country wars tend to be about conquest, whereas civil wars tend to be about the system of governance. Partly as as result of the above propaganda, but the roots may be traceable back to 9/11 and the causes of that tragedy, we are now in a very different kind of conflict.
The conflict we are in can be interpreted as a conflict between maturity levels.
Slightly more than half of the adult population are at an “Independent” level of maturity. At this level of maturity we tend to see life as competitive and every individual has to fight every other individual for success, recognition or status. These individuals may band together into “tribes” or nations of people “like them” against people not like them. Trust and vulnerability are rare experiences at this level of maturity.
Slightly less than half of the adult population mature from Independent to Interdependent. This occurs through experiences of trust and vulnerability such as a high functioning relationship or team or traumatic experiences such as injury or accident. At this level of maturity trust and vulnerability are commonplace and deep collaboration is possible in relationships, teams and between organisations and countries.
Before the twin electoral shocks of 2016 it was easy to believe that we had reached a point where developed countries were largely run by people at an Interdependent level of maturity. They proved that this was not inevitable.
The tension exposed by these elections, however they may have been rigged, is the conflict between those who believe in a deep and complete way in diversity, collaboration, interdependence and complex systems thinking and those who believe with the same intensity in mono culture, conflict, independence and linear cause and effect.
No one cannot see or understand the levels of maturity they have not yet reached. As a consequence our working assumption is that they are like us. An “Independent” individual would believe that others as are just as competitive as they are regardless of their maturity and, since they disagree, they must be on the opposing side.
For the most part this is not true. We are not on the opposing side to those who want a fulfilling life with a sensible income, with security and safety and a responsible government – we are on the same side. If we have different views about how we get there, we need a dialogue not a conflict.
And this perhaps, is the spiritual crisis. Having spent our lives feeling that we have been working and contributing towards the greater good, a chunk of the world’s population just threw it right back at us and said “NO – we have no interest in collaborating with you, we disagree with you on a fundamental level.”
So – what now?
We remind ourselves that every crisis gets precisely as deep as it needs to get for a critical mass of people to learn the lesson it is teaching us.
We remind ourselves that every country gets the leadership they deserve and that if we don’t like it, it is up to us to do something about it.
If any of my patient readers has access to a forum where I can speak to politicians about leadership, I would be very interested to explore it.
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