Different People

pencilsAs a HR professional and coach I spend a lot of time encouraging diversity.  Diversity in terms of race, creed, nationality for sure – but most importantly diversity of thought.

It is patently obvious that none of us knows as much as all of us. Having a pool of knowledge, ideas and interests that is as a broad as possible can surely only be a good thing.

Yet there are increasing calls to protect our historic culture and values by keeping ‘different’ people out.  This goes much deeper than mere (ill informed) protectionism around jobs and wealth.

Most people judge their worth by comparing themselves to others.  If others are judged to have achieved less  (on whatever criterion is most damning) they are clearly inferior.  They must be lazy, stupid, untrustworthy etc.  We see this in in society at large – increasingly the poor are seen as undeserving.  If my riches are down to my effort your poverty must be due to you being feckless.  It has to be your fault as it cannot possibly be mere luck or family ties (or old school ties) that made me successful.  Penniless immigrants washed up on the shores of Europe are not only poor but foreign and must be kept out at all costs. Never mind that they have the resourcefulness,courage and strength to undertake a massive, highly dangerous journey.

This then creates a real problem when we find someone has achieved more – that surely makes us lazy, stupid, feckless… Of course that can’t be right.  They are obviously undeserving of their success – they stole it, got lucky, had rich parents…  But above all else they are different and must be made to conform or be driven out of the tribe.  After all someone ‘better’ than me is a constant reminder of my shortcomings.

We are social animals.  In our evolutionary past remaining part of the tribe was a matter of life and death.  We have evolved to be conformists, to fit in and follow the strong leaders rather than risk being exposed as ‘different’ and face expulsion.

Many (in)famous experiments have shown how we conform even when we ‘know’ our actions are questionable.  Otherwise bright students gave obviously wrong answers to very simple questions when following the lead of the planted stooges.  Subjects gave what they believed to be potentially lethal electric shocks to others when instructed to do so by ‘authority’ figures.

And so those who feel they have achieved less than they desire attack those who threaten their cosy mediocrity by having the talent, skill, persistence and creativity to achieve success.  They also deride those who have achieved less, those who choose not to or can’t afford to wear the ‘right’ brands and those who are poor as they are an unwelcome reminder of what might have been. Others in the tribe soon join in – maybe too weak to start the the pogrom they are still eager to conform and join the mob.  Some may feel uneasy but make sure that they are seen to throwing their support behind the attacks for fear of being next.

In this connected world of social media these attacks and exclusions are no longer physical, hiding behind a smartphone they are easier to commit by the weak but are no less wounding for the victims.

It takes real strength to dare to stand out by being different.  It takes strength to champion high achievers and see them as aspirational role models rather than threats.  To discover what can be learnt from them instead of silencing them for fear of having your own accomplishments diminished shows a real desire to be the best you can be – not simply the top dog in a weak pack.

It takes equal strength and compassion to stand up for those who have less than us, to support and nurture them.  Help them to be the best they can be. It takes real humanity.

Despite the fact that our differences make us collectively stronger it takes real courage to stand up to the mob and declare support for difference.  When we understand that the mob attacks from a position of fear and weakness they become much less intimidating.

Ask yourself if you have gone along with the status quo and stood silently on the sidelines, supported the mob or even joined in the attack.  How good do you feel about that?

Baby when you hold me
I can feel so wrong
You’re trying to console me
Your chance has long gone
So baby won’t you take my hand?
So we can do what the others can
We are alive tonight, we are alive tonight

I am going home forever and ever more
No I was never born and there’s no such thing as home
We used to stand so strong
That’s why the others have gone

Different person, different argument
In my shadow, no more compliments
One more person breaking the rules again
I’m still waiting for someone else to join in

Stand where the others stand
We’re alive tonight
Land where the others land
We’re alive tonight

Biffy Clyro – Different People

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Smile like you mean it

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We’ve just returned from holiday and yes thanks, since you ask it was very nice.  We stayed in a large hotel complex and round the pool all shapes and sizes of humanity were on display in varying levels of undress.

It struck us how many of the young women who had enviable figures seemed unattractive.  One such girl with ridiculously long legs kept her boyfriend running round after her like a lap dog.  Others seemed to maintain a perpetual air of bored indifference, many refused to smile.   I christened these types ‘butter face’ (nice legs, but her face!).

Then there were others less obviously perfect specimens who seemed to be open and friendly, who clearly cared about and enjoyed being with their friends and family.  These were much more attractive.

Ah ah I thought, there is a blog post in there.  Maybe you can think yourself pretty.  Maybe if you just adopt the appropriate behaviours and smile like you mean it then you become attractive.  Of course if you are too skinny or are overweight, have a genuine physical imperfection these won’t go away, but maybe most of us can and do look beyond such superficial things when really evaluating someone as a friend or partner.

Whilst we were being tourists, sunning ourselves in Greece my eldest daughter was travelling in the Himalayas. Trekking and working on a couple of community projects.  She returned the day after we did.  With tears in her eyes and a passion I have rarely seen she talked about the two sisters who had given her a henna tattoo in Leh.  The girls were about the same age as she is but there the similarities end.

As my daughter put it:

“While we were stressing about what outfit to wear that night, whether our A-level choices were perfect and precisely which new laptop to acquire these girls left school so they could support their families.  Day after day they sit on the hot dusty kerb.  They might not want to be in this situation but they somehow accept it, they still have ambitions but they accept that for now this is how it is.”

“We get jealous because someone has some ‘stuff’ that we don’t even need and these girls have nothing, they have the one set of old clothes they wear everyday. Their faces are worn from lack of care and sun. They were so happy and smiled so readily and they found genuine pleasure in talking to us about our lives. ”

“They wouldn’t accept a small tip, even knowing how little is is to us and how much it is to them.”

“They said that we are beautiful, but they are the beautiful ones.”

Yes.  That’s what I was going to say.

Save some face, you know you’ve only got one
Change your ways while you’re young
Boy, one day you’ll be a man
Oh girl, he’ll help you understand

Smile like you mean it
Smile like you mean it

Looking back at sunsets on the east side
We lost track of the time
Dreams aren’t what they used to be
Some things sat by so carelessly

The Killers – Smile Like You Mean It

All The Small Things

This morning I took the dog for our usual circuit.  He’s just been prescribed some new anti-inflammatory drugs for his arthritis and I was watching him closely to see if he was walking any easier.  He was very excitable and the reason soon became clear.  The remnants of someone’s takeaway were strewn around.  A few drinks cans, milkshake cartons, polystyrene boxes, chip papers and, for the dog, discarded chips and kebabs.

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http://litterheroes.co.uk/index.htm

I’d heard some cars racing around late last night and it looks like someone had used the quiet lane as a late night picnic spot, thrown the rubbish out of the car and then raced around the field.  All depressingly familiar.  Looking more closely it was clear that this was not a one off.  The area was covered in plastic bottles, cans, paper and plastic.  I particularly appreciated the way a number of drivers had emptied their ashtrays on the road.

Walking back towards home I met someone who also spotted the rubbish.  Their considered wisdom was that someone ought to do something about it.  It made them angry. The parents should bring their kids up better, they should be ashamed.  The authorities ought to stop it and clean it up.  Someone should report it.

All sentiments I could easily agree with.

I finished the walk, put the dog in the house (his rickety legs wouldn’t cope with a further walk), grabbed a pair of gardening gloves and a black sack, walked back to the spot and started collecting litter.  At first I felt vaguely embarrassed.  This soon passed.  It felt good. Certainly better than raging, anger is a useless emotion.  After 10 minutes I had filled my sack and made a big improvement both to the area and my mood.

The small things do make a difference.  And small acts of compassion make us stronger.

All the small things
True care, truth brings
I’ll take one lift
Your ride best trip

Blink-182

One hand in my pocket

On the one hand it has been a depressing week:

Firstly I have been waiting to hear from a potential client regarding a pitch for a large project.  The pitching process took months of effort. I’ve been on tenterhooks and can’t settle, checking my email constantly.  I can’t understand why they are delaying the result and am starting to be convinced we haven’t got it.

Secondly I heard that a number of friends have lost their jobs. This made me very angry at the people that did this and I spent a whole afternoon in a bad mood.

The incessant wind and rain and ever rising flood levels (I live by the River Thames) has been a real worry. I am increasingly frustrated by the politicians who seem to offer nothing but platitudes.

Finally I have an injury and after 6 weeks of rest I am still only able to run 3 – 4 miles a day very cautiously.

On the other hand it’s been a good week:

Firstly I have been waiting to hear from a potential client regarding a pitch for a large project.  We did great to get through to the final round and learned loads in the process.  I had weaned myself off constantly checking email and being on tenterhooks has lead me back into bad habits, it’s noticeable how it distracts you and prevents you from fully attending to the here and now which I hadn’t really appreciated before.

Secondly I heard that a number of friends have lost their jobs, I was quite angry for a while.  Of course once I calmly looked at it I realised that raging is pointless.  Having compassion and finding ways to help would be more useful.  So I contacted them and offered to help.  By reaching out they know I care.

The incessant wind and rain and ever rising flood levels (I live by the River Thames) is a concern.  Yet there is nothing I can do about the weather.  Accepting the issue and getting on with what needs to be done in the short term is more productive.  And maybe if we keep the pressure on this will help the climate change naysayers see the truth.

I have an injury and after 6 weeks of rest I am now able to run 3 – 4 miles a day albeit cautiously.  If I do some cross training and keep healing I’ll still make a spring race or two.  And today a gentle 4 miler in a rare burst of sunny, calm weather felt just great.

I know which week I chose to have.  What will you choose?

I’m broke but I’m happy
I’m poor but I’m kind
I’m short but I’m healthy, yeah
I’m high but I’m grounded
I’m sane but I’m overwhelmed
I’m lost but I’m hopeful baby
What it all comes down to
Is that everything’s gonna be fine fine fine
’cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is giving a high five

Alanis Morrisette

Golden Brown

Lion

I was just marvelling at the retina display on my new mac (thank you Santa).  I have the background set to cycle through all the pre-loaded pictures and this close up of a lion’s head came up.

I could see each individual hair and I noticed how varied the colours were.  If asked I would have said that a lion was ‘brown’ (or ‘dun’ if trying to impress).  Yet the hairs ranged from red, through oranges, shades of brown and beige to a near white.  Together they appear brown (or dun).

It struck me that we tend to see the world in these generalised terms.  Lion’s hair is brown, foreign migrants are benefits cheats, politicians are untrustworthy…. and yet all groups of people are made up of many different ‘coloured hairs’.

Likewise we find a handy label and apply it to individuals and assume it is true in all aspects of their life.  ‘Rock star’ conjures up a very different image to ‘father’.  Yet many Rock stars are fathers and good ones too (and most migrants are hard working and the occasional politician isn’t a complete fraud). Individuals are also made of many strands to create the aggregate, but we do tend to project a stereotype around a single facet of their being onto them.  

Worse still it seems that negative stereotypes hold more power.

If someone deceives you they are a cheat and a liar, they almost certainly have many other redeeming features too.  You should not condone the bad behaviour but equally don’t write off the person.

Generalisations help us make sense of a complex world and as such are very handy.  Maybe it’s time to see them for what they are and look beyond the label at the individual strands of colour.