A Reality Check on #MeToo

This article has been put together after studying the issue in some depth; a series of informal interviews were conducted, information was gathered from a documentary shown on the BBC and some general internet based research was carried out. Finally the article was submitted to a focus group of females before its final publication for reasons that will be explained later.

In late February 2020 film producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and other related charges. The process that led to this started in 2017 when allegations began to surface that he had abused his position of power and influence to sexually abuse and rape many fledgling actresses and others within the movie industry. Almost all felt like they had no other choice, but to give in to him and remain silent. First one actress spoke out and then another and then another and before we knew it huge numbers of affected women were rising up and saying #MeToo.

The #MeToo movement had started over a decade earlier in 2006, but it was the Weinstein allegations that really brought it under the spotlight. It was a catalyst and it created a similar chain reaction to that seen in the UK when the Jimmy Saville scandal shone a light on the endemic culture of the BBC during the 1970s and 1980s.

Suddenly it seemed that Twitter in particular, but not only, was full of women from all walks of life who were also saying #MeToo.  My initial reaction was cynical as it seemed to me that many women were simply jumping on the bandwagon and this had some potential negative impacts. I was worried that such a deluge of complainants would cheapen the genuine testimonies of real victims and consequently securing convictions would become harder. It seemed to me that #MeToo was simply trending and that was all it was. It’s all too easy to align with a fashionable hashtag nowadays with no real integrity.

However, I know that cynicism can often be the enemy of truth so I carried out some informal research and was shocked by the results. A single question was asked:

Have you in your life, ever had somebody behave towards you in a way that is sexually inappropriate that has made you in the very least feel uncomfortable?

When asking I set strict limits on the question. I only asked ladies who were aged at least 18 as while sexual predation affects younger people too it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to approach such young girls with the question.  I asked respondents just to answer with a simple yes or no, without details. It wasn’t the purpose of the question to be intrusive and make the respondents feel uncomfortable.

Out of a sample group of more than 50 women all but one answered yes and in the most clear cut example one particular lady in her 20s looked me straight in the eyes, raised her hands, and simply said ‘me too.’ The lady who answered no went on to explain her view which I will comment on later.  This means that based on my small sample  an overwhelming 98% of respondents identified with ‘me too’.

My conclusion was simple and shocking. #MeToo is real and it affects almost every woman.

This is a profound indictment of at least a portion of the men in our society and it indeed challenges the behaviours of all men.

A lot has been made in recent years about how women should change their behaviours around men and the obvious response is – why should she?

I came across an early example of this when I was in secondary school in the 1980s. Back in those days boys were absolutely forbidden from wearing any kind of earrings in school, but girls were allowed to wear stud earrings, but no ‘dangly’ ones. This was possibly unfair to the boys too (but they were different times – even though that is never actually an excuse), but the primary reason why girls weren’t allowed to wear dangly earrings was for health and safety purposes – just in case they got hurt because boys thought it might be fun to pull on them or even yank them out.

This was the earliest example I know of girls having to change their behaviours to be safer around boys.  More recent examples have included encouraging girls never to go anywhere alone, especially at night, to carry keys between their fingers so they can slash out at any would be attacker and even telling girls to moderate what to do on a night out and even what they wear.

Again I ask the question – why should she?

It really should be as simple as ‘Hey guys just leave (wo)me(n) alone!’

A lot has been made about men needing to learn to control themselves, and while I am sure it only applies to a minority of men, I wholeheartedly agree. However, further research has shown that it is not necessarily so black and white and while it is always wrong to blame the girl there has to be wisdom and common sense rather than naivety.

I am definitely not defending any man who even slightly crosses the line, but society needs to take a serious hard look at how it projects women and the consequences of this image projection.

All too often opinions are influenced by the media. A particularly stark example of this is both the video and lyrical content of many pop videos.  I am no prude but when lyrics are reduced to sexualised and objectified language about a woman’s anatomy and what it’s for (!) and the video content exaggerates this, it projects an image.  It is bad enough when a male artiste is saying such a thing, but even worse when women allow themselves to be treated in such a way or even sing about themselves in accordance to this fashion.

Secondly some women have made a point of wearing the most provocative and revealing clothes they can find and wear legally to send a message that could be summarised as ‘I can wear what I want – it’s not an invitation – deal with it!’

I absolutely agree. Whatever she is wearing, it is never open permission for a guy to ‘help himself’.  The truth is that guys who have a problem with women wearing anything revealing are the ones who have the problem because the problem is their own thoughts and not what the women are wearing.  However, just as equally such women cannot then get offended when they find themselves being stared at.  You can’t have it both ways.

I was at a rock concert in the late 1990s and I was really pleasantly surprised by the good behaviour of the crowd.  I found myself in the mosh pit with an old school friend when he suddenly signalled that his shoelace had come undone.  Under the circumstances this was potentially catastrophic.  I indicated to those immediately around us and 8 to 10 people formed a protective circle so he could go down and tie his shoelace.

I was eagerly awaiting a review of the concert and in those days the internet was still in its infancy so I needed to wait for a magazine to come out.  I read the review and then the fan letters that were on the following page.

One girl had written that she was appalled that when she went crowd surfing she was groped and touched inappropriately by several men.  She had deliberately and consciously climbed on top of the crowd knowing that there would be huge numbers of men, many of whom had drunk large quantities of alcohol. Of course this shouldn’t have happened nor does it excuse the men’s behaviour. In an ideal world all would have been fine, but I found her outlook naïve.  When you climb on top of a crowd and let them carry you wherever they want (usually to the front as it is a tried and tested method of getting out of the crowd if it becomes too much) you are literally putting yourself in the hands of strangers.

When in a crowd like that the first thing anybody knows about a crowd surfer is an elbow or heel in the back of the head and instinctively the crowd just passes the person over without any real awareness of where they make contact. It is just possible that I was one of the guys who touched her ‘inappropriately’ as I tried to remove her foot from my ear.  Having said that, I have heard that girls can usually tell the difference between an accidental touch and a more lingering, intentional one.  Being a guy there is no way I can comment on this.

Which brings me to another point concerning responsibility.  Responsibility and blame are not synonyms and shouldn’t be interpreted as such and especially with what follows below.

A 2019 documentary A High School Rape goes Viral tells the story of a young girl who went to a party and according to at least one eye witness was very flirtatious and all around the boys earlier on until she got so drunk that she was barely conscious.  She was then driven to a second party by two boys after refusing the intervention of some of her classmates who urged her not to go because she didn’t know them. She was so drunk that at one point in the evening she was photographed being carried by a couple of people, one had hold of her arms and another, her legs. At some time after leaving the first party two boys had sex with her in front of witnesses and she woke up the next morning knowing something had happened, but not remembering a thing.

There is no doubt about this.  It was rape.

Consent is active and must always remain so. Passivity or failure to give permission is just that. Any answer other than an uncoerced YES is always NO; end of discussion.

However the story went viral with comments even being left using the word rape and other comments suggested she was so far gone that they thought she was dead.  This makes it even worse because witnesses failed to intervene, which in my mind makes them as guilty as those who raped her.

What challenged me was what was said on the radio, played in full on the documentary.  I wanted to disagree with him, but found myself unable to. To paraphrase:

When people go to a party things happen.  She was flirting and playing around with the boys and they took an interest and they probably did rape her, or maybe she consented and regretted it later.  It all comes down to ‘he said she said’ ultimately… just saying…

I think it is obvious why I find this objectionable, but it raises a valid point.  In the heat of the moment things happen – often regrettable and terrible things – and while the blame clearly lies with the boys (who were convicted later) the responsibility lies at the hands of all who were present, those who raped her, those who failed to intervene and the girl herself.

I know this may offend some, but responsibility means taking good care and behaving in such a way not to make oneself vulnerable and trusting in relative strangers is naivety at best.

Let me illustrate with a less inflammatory example. Many years ago a guy who I knew got so drunk he barely knew where he was and even walking was an effort.  I wasn’t there at any point in the evening, neither when he was drinking nor later when he was staggering home, but I was there to deal with the aftermath when he turned up at my home the next morning asking for help.

It was late and dark and to get home after his night out he had two choices. He could either take the shorter route through an unlit park by a river (which was more of a storm drain than a true river). The area around the park was a known haunt of gangs of drunken youths who had a reputation for yobbish and violent behaviour. Alternatively he could take a more circular route that was well lit, but would take probably 10-15 minutes longer. In his drunken state he chose to go through the park and he was confronted by five yobs who mugged him and stole his phone. He attempted to fight back and they threw him in the river. A few minutes later one of his attackers pulled him out. This was almost certainly not out of any compassion, but probably because he had enough wits about him to realise the serious legal implications if their hapless victim drowned or was really seriously hurt.

The first thing I knew about the incident was when he turned up at my door the next morning with a battered and bruised face and I went with him to the police and did the best I could to help him.

The point I am making is this.  There was no way that it was this guy’s fault and there is no excuse for violence and the mugging he was subjected to.  However his state had impaired his ability to make decisions and there were serious consequences that could have been so much worse.  He wasn’t lucky and he wasn’t to blame, but he needs to take some responsibility because his decisions had left him vulnerable. In an ideal world he would have gone home and woken up with a hangover and nothing worse.

In principle is this any different to the girl at the party? She had even turned down an easy opportunity not to go with the two guys to the second party where tragically she was raped.  I reiterate, like the mugging victim, it wasn’t her fault, but her state had left her vulnerable.

Finally I would like to come back to the one girl who didn’t say #MeToo as she had an interesting qualification to her point.  To summarise she said that at times people are too sensitive and there is too much political correctness nowadays and just maybe a comment that is meant to be lighthearted should be interpreted that way however vulgar it might be. Additionally a certain amount of messing about is just that and people shouldn’t make such a big deal of things.

I am quite sure that most will disagree with her, but her point raises an interesting point about interpretation. Words and gestures are interpreted by those they are aimed at.

Maybe it is an English thing but when I get together with two of my best friends from school, including the one who was at the rock concert, we do nothing but insult each other mercilessly. We don’t get offended as it is probably some kind of indirect affection and just the way we are.

So maybe some girls do feel like the one who has never categorised herself in the #MeToo camp and think we take things too seriously.  The point is this; if you don’t know a girl leave her alone or in the right social circumstances approach her with respect. If she is a stranger don’t say anything vulgar or do anything to make her feel threatened or uncomfortable and particularly sexually. Work on this assumption and you will never go wrong.  Good relationships grow and boundaries develop and change as they do so.

Appropriate behaviours are defined by respectful relationships; it really is as simple as that!

© Richard Horton Omega Support Services 2019

Feedback from the Focus Group

Before publishing I shared this article with a small group of women whose input I valued. I did this for one primary reason. Discussing such a difficult issue as #MeToo is undoubtedly hard enough for women and in another way it is hard for guys to have a real conversation about it as sensitivity seems to run contrary to candour. So it was my wish that I could express a real opinion without offense.

Some modifications were made to the original text thanks to the feedback and it is unnecessary to go into the details. However the views of some of those who asked are worth sharing. Their names have remained anonymous and their comments have been streamlined, but not posted without their express approval.

Some people may find it offensive. But it’s quite a sore subject

I agree with what you said. It was rape though. But everyone was in the wrong like you said

She shouldn't have got herself in such a state as that and then rely on random men to take care of her

I have been in a situation like that before... too drunk to make a decision. But i never went on about it. Mistakes happen.

K.

This means that the respondent is clearly also saying #MeToo while acknowledging her own responsibility. Please remember that I make a strong distinction between blame and responsibility. As with the girl in the documentary there is absolutely no blame attached.

Another person wrote:

I didn't find [the article] offensive – it’s subjective, but based on facts and discussions you had.

Well, it's interesting to see that guys have similar opinion […]

[I know it was written by a man but] if I hadn't known […] I would have said that it had been written by a woman  🙂

M.

A third commentator wrote:

I am so pleased that you asked me to read your piece of writing as it's something I do have an opinion on. You have not offended me in any way- in fact you have hit the nail right on the head! Like the girl that said 'no' to your question I feel people are too sensitive and that comments can be taken the wrong way & political correctness [has] gone mad.

When I think back to when we were school, boys would often be flirtatious but I wouldn't think anything of it & would laugh it off. Yes if the guy pushed & pushed & had no respect then that's a different issue. Working with engineers in my previous job, I enjoyed the banter & there were many things that could have been taken the wrong way but it was harmless banter & they knew their limits.

As for the subject of girls wearing provocative clothes, I agree it certainly doesn't give a man a right to help himself. However, women know by dressing this way they will get a reaction – it's one a way that a male is attracted to a female.

As for the drinking- everyone knows that you lose the ability to make sensible decisions. Back in our day people would [often] get off with someone after a few drinks & then regret it but that was the end of it. […] If drink is involved, both parties need to be careful with their actions. It does seem to sometimes get all blown out of proportion & men wrongly accused. I'm not saying there aren't some genuine cases as I know there are & these men have to punished. Your summary at the end is spot on'

K.

And finally,

The only paragraph I had a ‘problem’ with as such [was the paragraph that starts] “All too often” [when discussing pop culture]. The part I wasn’t sure about was “when women allow themselves to be treated in such a way”. Not quite sure how you could put it. I suppose I’m thinking along the lines of women buying into today’s sexualised culture because they feel they have no choice. It is what is expected of them because physical attractiveness and being sexy is positively valued. I think some may view the points raised as controversial. Some would argue that women shouldn’t have to moderate their behaviour at all. I think the points you make are valid that men should be taught “don’t rape” rather than teaching women to “avoid getting raped”. At the same time as a woman, and mother of daughters, this is balanced by common sense and not making oneself vulnerable, which we shouldn’t have to do but this is the world we live in sadly.

S.

Rather than adjusting the original text I decided a better approach was to leave it alone and include the opinion as I believe that S addressed the issues far better than I could have.

Finally I would just like to thank all of those who expressed their views in helping me shape this article.

Extinct Rebellion

In the Monty Python film The Life of Brian, Brian is a simple man who just happened to be born approximately 2000 years ago in an obscure Middle-Eastern town called Bethlehem.  As he grew he was mistaken for the Messiah and against his wishes was proclaimed as such and venerated by followers he never sought or wanted.  In one particularly funny scene his followers gathered at his home and demanded that he came out to greet them.  His mother appeared at the window and just before closing the shutters she shouted ‘He is not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!’

Fiction has become reality and now we too have our own false Messiah.  She is a reluctant hero for many and as with Brian she doesn’t see herself as many do.  Her name is Greta Thunberg and she is a False Messiah for the start of this Millennium.

Don’t get me wrong.  Please read on and don’t fall into one of the two polarised camps and judge me.  I am not going to condemn her outright nor am I going to raise my hands in worship as many Extinction Rebellion devotees appear to be doing.   A lot of memes deride her for her age, inexperience and lack of education, but this unfairly denies her a voice and smacks of elitism.  Some adults are more educated than others. Does this mean that those less educated have no right to a voice?  Some have even lowered themselves to making personal remarks about her, which are both unfounded and unhelpful.  Even at the Golden Globes Awards in January 2020 comedian Ricky Gervais took a sideswipe at her while criticising many of his peers by accusing them of spending less time in school than she has.

I get her passion and understand her desire for change to save the planet.  I even get the way she sees the world in black and white absolutes.  Is she a figurehead merely being used by others around her?  She denies this but ask yourself how much control does she really have over a worldwide movement that has millions of followers?  She has been proclaimed – just as Brian was – to be more than she is.

Incidentally, I have read her book (paperback) which in itself raises ecological issues.  Her book is short and full of repetition but it is fair to say it is a de facto manifesto.  In it she calls for an absolute halt to greenhouse emission producing activities and she is not only focused on carbon.  From time to time she goes back to her ticking time bomb that has been winding down since climate experts declared we have 12 years to do something before climate change spins out of control and goes beyond the tipping point.  The book is essentially the passionate rantings of a teenager.

Greta:  How many trees were destroyed during the print run?  Were they sustainable?  And what about the ink?  Just asking…

She advocates strikes by school children, having initiated this herself.  This is where I understand her desire for change, but it is counterproductive.  To harm children’s education only harms them and has little or no effect on others.  At best it galvanised more followers and she may consider that to be a price worth paying.

I was in KFC recently (for my sins) and my attention was drawn to a young girl who was probably no more than 12.  She was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan ‘My Generation will Save the World’.

‘What arrogance.’ I commented to my wife.

The young girl tucked into her unsustainable chicken while sitting there dressed in her fast fashion (of which the t-shirt was a major part).  At best she was a hypocrite and at worst she was doing something just because it is trending and covered in hashtags.  I might be being a bit judgemental as she may well be oblivious to everything and I am unfairly maligning her.  However, the point remains that the whole Extinction Rebellion thing is rife with hypocrisy, unless of course its members are scraping a subsistence living which is completely off the grid.

Extinction Rebellion is arrogant and a borderline terrorist organisation.  It is impossible to do the wrong thing for the right reasons with integrity.  In late 2019 Sky News did a special feature called Inside the Rebellion and through the lens of a handful of members it showed how they function and how they train new joiners.  Let us consider their modus operandi.

Members are generally organised into cells that come together to form mass protests, such as those seen in London in recent months and they believe in non-violent protests and training is provided on how to do this.

Activist Roman Paluch Machnik compares himself to both Gandhi and Martin Luther King and states categorically that a key strategy of Extinction Rebellion is to clog up the legal system and drain police and other legal resources.  When he converted (his words not mine!) to Extinction Rebellion he had to agree that he was willing to be arrested.  Disposable phones are used to help make members untraceable and according to Extinction Rebellion artist Miles Glyn they ‘are non-violent and aiming to create a new society.’

Another activist, Dr Bing Jones, claims that as a representative of a literate scientific group he wants to use Extinction Rebellion ‘to make a splash’.  He says, ‘The idea is that people can do what they like so long as it is within the principles of Extinction Rebellion and self-organising systems and self-organising groups are a key part to the whole thing.  The downside is it can be a bit chaotic.  It is very much a mixed bag and it’s rather marvellous.’

After gluing himself to the front door of the Department for Business and Energy he was eventually unglued and led away by the police.  As they took him away, he declared that ‘today was a real achievement – good work today!’

Another protester, 19 year old Daisy Wyatt, helps provide ‘protest training’.  During an interview her mother commented that Daisy has got more tattoos and a nose ring since joining Extinction Rebellion although she does concede that Daisy seems to have found her identity.   Of course Daisy can do what she wants, but the nose ring and tattoos seem to be more indicative of a 19 year old rebelling and looking for identity more than anything else as further demonstrated by her at the protest site in Trafalgar Square.   Daisy shows the cameras her tent and says brazenly with the police in the background, ‘Of course I won’t show you what’s in it because of present company.’

I may be wrong, but it has to be a reference to something illegal and bearing in mind Extinction Rebellion believe in lawful protests it not too much of an assumption to think she is talking about illegal substances.

Protest sites spring up as tent cities, as precedented by Occupy Wall Street and alongside the campers other tents appear that are dedicated to well-being and meditation.  These sites are examples of what Extinction Rebellion call regenerative culture.  Again there is no problem with this, but is Extinction Rebellion a climate protest group or a quasi-religion – an idea further reinforced by the group’s own ‘eco-prayer’.

Furthermore how far has this drifted away from Greta’s vision and how much control does she really have?

Angie Selter, described as a middle class and middle aged member stated, ‘I have been arrested and to prison many times.  […] In this country it’s fine, we don’t get tortured and we get some food.  We get an hour’s exercise in the fresh air so compared to what most people in the world have to suffer – absolutely nothing – I don’t know why people are so scared of it.’

Her idealism is at least in part fuelled by the fact that she can protest whereas the greatest global sinners in the world are autocratic states like China and Russia or emerging economic powerhouses such as Brazil and India.

The fact is that she is targeting the wrong nations.  Britain is among many nations that are moving in the right direction – even if not fast enough for some.  Maybe she should stand before the Kremlin or in Tiananmen Square and protest?  According to recent figures more than half of Britain’s energy now comes from renewables and the proportions are growing all the time.  One of the London group’s aims is to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2025, 25 years ahead of government targets at the time of the news report.  Since then, as a vote winner, all of the major parties (with the exception of the Green Party who already had a short time frame) revised this figure downwards.

Extinction Rebellion believes in people power but that can mean chaos and inconvenience for those not involved and consequently aviation and airports are primary targets.  London City Airport has been a primary target.  One protester, actually managed to climb on top of an aeroplane, just imagine the public outcry if he had been a Muslim, not that it matters.  He endangered an aircraft and therefore it has to be understood as an act of terrorism.  Another protester who looked more like an anarchist than a really passionate climate change protester, climbed on the building and declared, ‘We’re taking this airport’

airport taken

Picture: ‘We’re taking this airport.’

How dare he?  And how dare they?  A fact of modern living is travelling.  How would they feel if a bunch of protestors ruined their holiday that they had been looking forward to all year?  What makes them better and have the right to destroy others’ plans?  Travel in general does have a heavy environmental cost but persuasion rather than coercion is going to me more effective.

This brings me neatly to the next absurdity that is Extinction Rebellion.

For some inexplicable reason one of the targets of the recent London protests was the London Transport Network.  Protesters climbed on top of a London Underground train and unfurled a banner.  Why are they targeting public mass transport systems?  These are far more environmentally friendly than individuals using their cars.

Activisim demands real action and not just words and anarchy.  It is almost inconceivable that I consider well-known petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson as a paradigm of this.  In a recent interview (The Jonathan Ross Show broadcast on ITV on 7th December 2019) he slammed Greta Thunberg as dangerous, although he admits that after a recent visit to Cambodia when he witnessed the dramatic effects of climate change for himself he too now has come to understand the devastation we are causing.  He commented with a smirk that it would be far better to plant 7000 trees and be carbon neutral than to sail across the Atlantic to New York on a yacht that was essentially plastic with a diesel engine as a reserve.

Extinction Rebellion is essentially hypocritical and until they withdraw to their caves it will always be so.  Predominantly teenaged groupies, clad in fast fashion and adorned with cheap plastic accessories, are Extinction Rebellion’s army.  Zealous millennials ready to fight for their planet – on this point I concede respect for them – but so wrapped up in the trappings of modernity they cannot see the lie their lifestyles make of their beliefs    Smartphones and laptops powered by toxic batteries, that even endanger the exploited factory workers often in the Far East, drive the rebellion that is reliant on sharing information and rapid communication.

During the making of their documentary, Sky News filmed an Extinction Rebellion planning meeting taking place.  And there it was for the whole world to see.  In prominent view was a single use plastic bottle – the archenemy of the environment.  If the purchaser’s principles are so strong, why didn’t he order a drink in a glass or cup or go to a more ethical café or even better bring a flask from home?

Extinction Rebellion with Plastic bottle

Extinction Rebellion complete with a plastic bottle.

According to Sky News a certain fringe of Extinction Rebellion members believe that breaking the law is ‘considered a necessary sacrifice’.  In one example a protester jumped in front of a taxi.  The driver said if he had hit her he would have lost his licence and his livelihood through no fault of his own and this brings me to my final point.

Extinction Rebellion are misdirecting their protests and not only by targeting the London Underground.  The truth is that with the exception of the few, most of us cannot make any meaningful change to the climate as an individual (we cannot all plant 7000 trees like Jeremy Clarkson did),

Yes collective actions can make a difference, but my household recycling won’t make a drop of difference on its own.  Only total community engagement can do this.

So rather than targeting the masses, Extinction Rebellion would be better off targeting large corporations such as supermarkets that individually wrap cucumbers in single use plastic and package meat in oversized plastic containers.  The same can be said for toy manufacturers who are just as guilty for overusing packaging; and these are just two simple examples that quickly jump to mind.

Targeting the producers and educating the end users is a far better idea than denying that family who have save up all year and not had a holiday in 5 years.

Greta started by thinking she was taking a stand and for this I respect her, but the whole thing has got out of control and there is no way a teenager has overall control of everything that Extinction Rebellion does.  Extinction Rebellion is full of hypocrisy and is frequently downright dangerous and often misdirects its protests.  Most are idealists, but some are anarchists.  The whole organisation is flawed as is their Messiah’s thinking.

Brian wasn’t the Messiah, nor is Greta and the whole Rebellion should go extinct!

Much of the information for this article has been taken from Greta Thunberg’s own book and a Sky News documentary ‘Inside the Rebellion.’

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services. 2020

Watch out there is an Eco-Menace about!

Nowadays we are constantly being bombarded by environmental concerns.  Our oceans are full of plastic and global warming is running out of control.  Some would argue that unless we make significant changes to arrest these rising temperatures, the world will reach an unrecoverable tipping point in the next decade or so.

On the positive side things are changing, even if slowly.  Renewables are becoming more and more available all the time and cheaper to produce.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that one third of Britain’s energy now comes from renewables (BBC Look North, East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, broadcast on 15th August 2019) and indeed recent years have seen a massive increase in the numbers of electricity producing wind turbines, both on land and out at sea.  Image of Lincs Windfarm near Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast.

However in the midst of all this good news a new menace is lurking.

Yet it was hailed as the future of urban transport.  It is electric, which is generally understood to mean clean and efficient, although this depends on how the electricity that powers it was originally produced.  It will replace the car as the item of choice for commuting around the city, even if it won’t replace it completely on shopping trips or journeys that cover greater distances.  In the city streets it is faster than a conventional bicycle and they are becoming more readily available all the time.

So what is this amazing new means of getting around?

It is of course the electric scooter!

Forget the hype and forget the glowing endorsement in the paragraph above.  These are a menace, a danger and a threat to life itself.  It is like a great white shark swimming offshore.  It doesn’t mean it will attack you, but if you get into the environment with it then there is a good chance that you are likely to be bitten!

I know I may be coming across as a bit of a dinosaur, doomed to extinction, because I seem unable to change.  Just give me a chance to explain my reasoning.

  1. No training or certification is required before using one so riders are often inexperienced or lack understanding of how to control them properly.
  2. With small wheels and a high centre of gravity they are inherently unstable and are capable of speeds of up to 30 mph (almost 50 kph), although most are limited to 10-18 mph (16-29 kph). They are unstable at low speeds but also high speeds amplify this instability.
  3. They are quite rightly banned in Britain, other than on private roads, but this legislation is largely unknown or ignored. ‘Scooterists’ therefore ride in cycle lanes on the roads or even on pavements.  Prominent UK YouTuber, Emily Hartridge was killed in July 2019 in a collision when she was on a scooter and while I am sympathetic and feel for her family’s loss and am not attaching any blame to her (I am unaware of the exact circumstances and it would be judgmental anyway) if they simply were banned this tragedy would never have occurred.
  4. In Poland the law is confused and downright dangerous.  Scooters are legally banned from cycle lanes and roads, but no such law bans them from the pavements. Consequently they fly by at high speed and pedestrians have to take their lives into their own hands.  There has even been a case in Warsaw when a pedestrian was fined after a collision with a ‘scooterist’ as the pedestrian was deemed as being at fault for moving in the way while unaware of the scooter which was approaching from behind (see for example Polsat News Report [in Polish]).  It isn’t normal or expected to be charged down by a scooter on a pavement and I wouldn’t have been looking out for it either.
  5. It would seem logical that such scooters belong in the cycle lanes or on the cycle paths, but their instability too makes this a dangerous proposition. There is no existing scooter infra-structure.

So there you go, the electric scooter needs a complete rethink, or alternatively to be banned altogether.

Let’s consider another example.  In early August 2019 French inventor Franky Zapata made a powered flight across the English Channel on a jet powered platform; so he proved it possible.  So maybe we should all go out and buy one.  Can you imagine the chaos?  Just because something can be done it doesn’t mean it should be made available to the masses.

As a final thought, why not invest in electric bicycles?  They are more stable and safer (who thought anyone would ever write that about a bicycle!) and there is already infra-structure – which is getting better all the time – in place.

It is time to ban the electric scooter before more tragedies follow.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2019

A Warning on Acceptance

From time to time it is important to challenge our own worldviews and question the validity of our opinions.  I recently found myself in such a position when I faced the paradox of when acceptance interacts with personal rights.

I remember learning when I was studying that businesses have the right to refuse to serve anybody on the basis of their own choices.  The argument went along the following lines.

Imagine you own a small shop and you buy products wholesale and then sell them with a mark up to make a living.  Effectively these products belong to you until you sell them.  So in the same way as you have personal property at home you have the right to simply sell them as you wish to who you wish and there is nothing that can be said or done about it.  It is your inalienable right.

Everything was simple and clear… or so I thought.

Recent events and discussions have caused me to pause and reassess my understanding of the issue and more than anything the point of this post is that at all times we must be prepared to revisit our views from time to time and if necessary change.  This is not an argument for the erosion of absolutes, rather it is an argument against arrogance.

In October 2018 a Christian couple won a battle in the legal courts that supported their right to refuse to ‘make’ a wedding cake for a gay couple in what became known as the gay cake case.   For many it was seen as a test case as it made out that the bakers were homophobic.  The bakers argued contrary to this that it was not in fact a homophobic position that they had taken, rather they had refused on the basis that they don’t agree with the message that had been requested.  The court agreed with them (summary based on an article in The Independent.ie).

Whatever the legal rights and wrongs of the issue, it seems apparent that the refusal was based on a principled stance on not supporting gay marriage.  It can therefore be defined as homophobic even if it wasn’t hateful.  Individuals are entitled to have whatever views they want, even if others find them disagreeable.  Personally if I am in a position where somebody refuses to serve me (or more likely they provide unsatisfactory service) I would just simply not give them my business and go to a competitor.  A student of mine said on this very issue that ‘it is the fastest way to destroy your own business’.

In Poland recently another issue arose when a member of IKEA staff used a Bible quotation to support a homophobic comment on the company’s intranet.  The company fired him on the basis that his views did not align with the inclusive values of the company.

This further complicates the issue because in the first case the company – albeit a small one – refused to provide the wedding cake with the requested message on the basis of the owners’ values, but in the second the employee was fired on the basis on the owners’ values not matching his.  What about the right to individual views – even if we find them unpalatable?  Could he have been moved sideways or to another area rather than lose his job?

The answer is a resounding no!!!  For IKEA to keep this employee on would have been to validate his view.

For the bakers it is more complicated.  They argued that they disagreed with the message not making the cake – surely they go hand in hand, forgive the bad pun, especially on a wedding cake!  If the message had been something racist or chauvinistic they would have been applauded for taking a stance, rather they found themselves being sued.

The cake is definitely more complicated, but if I had been wanting a cake and they refused to decorate it with the message I wanted I would have simply gone elsewhere.  I certainly wouldn’t have taken them to court.

However, even if ‘gay cake’ still remains complicated, one thing has become clear to me.   Service cannot be refused on the basis of a demographic.  The refusal of service concept that I learnt was on the basis of abusive / difficult customers, or even the simple economic arguments along the lines of productivity – or put simply a profit to efficiency ratio.

If we start allowing companies to refuse service on the basis of a demographic we are on a slippery slope.  We are in danger of recreating an apartheid system.  We will serve anybody so long as they are not _____ (insert whichever demographic word you like here).  Taken to an extreme, it is not that long ago that people were labelled, excluded and ultimately murdered on the basis of a demographic.  The yellow Star of David worn by European Jews during the Second World War should serve as a warning to us and along with the swastika it has become one of the world’s most potent symbols of hate.

On this point, it may be a concern that members of the LGBT+ community are also being labelled.  The difference between the rainbow and the Star of David is that it is a self-labelling.  It does worry me that the rainbow may lead to separation or discrimination, but that is a discussion for another article.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2019.

Brexit – When the Remainers Shot Themselves in the Foot!

In my last article about Brexit I made a strong case for a second referendum based on the fact that if the entire electorate were to be taken into consideration little over 37% voted to leave the EU.  Admittedly by the same token approximately 34% voted to remain. There was a turnout of 72% and the rest of the electorate either didn’t vote or had their votes spoilt in some way.  The basis of my argument was that a vote to leave needed to be an active vote and a threshold of 50% would have been required.  A non-vote would therefore not count for a Brexit vote.  To justify this seeming bias I explained that passivity and lack of interest could and probably should be interpreted as I don’t care.  Change requires activism and it was necessary for the Brexit supporters to ensure their campaign led to the requisite number of votes based on the entire electorate.  I have reproduced the results below.

The May 2019 European elections would have been a perfect opportunity for Remainers to send a strong statement of intent.  The results when they were announced showed the decimation of the main parties.  The Conservatives under Theresa May have lost popular support due to what many see as her mishandling of the whole situation and Labour under Jeremy Corbyn failed at least in part due to his failure to make clear what his stance is and how his party stand on Brexit.  Corbyn’s dithering makes Theresa May’s ‘Brexit means Brexit’ in comparison clear, rather than the empty rhetoric it truly represents.

A further consequence of this was that Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party (a mere 6 weeks old) won at the polls taking just under a third of the total vote.  Combined with other leave groups (UKIP being the obvious one) they commanded approximately 34% of the popular vote.  However the overall vote showed that Pro-Remain parties (in particular the Liberal Democrats and the Greens) secured a greater number of votes, but it was a divided vote.  Compared to the referendum, the turnout was low and the figures are probably more an indicator of a return to apathy and a weariness of our politicians’ ability to deliver anything.  Unlike the referendum though this really is a first past the post election with a simple majority being enough to secure election.

The result, summarised above by the BBC, sends a mixed message on where Britain stands concerning Europe and the Remainers only have themselves to blame.  Realistically only three parties have a chance of acquiring real power (no disrespect to the Greens – who at best will be seen as a fringe by a majority until the world faces a cataclysmic ecological disaster*), and for a long time there seemed to be only two.

* I know some will already say the world is teetering on the edge – see for example Extinction Rebellion.  Most will not believe that we face imminent danger until rising sea waters are lapping at our feet or something else just as visible.

The Liberal Democrats have undergone a remarkable resurrection after getting into bed with David Cameron and sacrificing their principles (think Nick Clegg and Student Tuition Fees).  They were completely crushed in the last general election and the unheard of happened when a sitting party leader even lost his seat.  Since the referendum though they have developed a clear and effective remain policy that has been communicated across all channels.  Unlike the Conservatives and Labour we know where they stand.  We may not agree with all of their policies, for example increased funding for the NHS means higher taxes or we might be uncomfortable with their age old adherence to Proportional Representation (which suits them politically more than the Conservatives or Labour), but if it is a one issue vote everybody who is in favour of remain should have got behind them.

It may mean tactical voting, but if that 40% had largely been made up of Liberal Democrats the country would have to sit up and pay attention.  The waters would have been muddied and there would have been no clear mandate to either remain or leave.  This would have forced a new referendum – which should be conducted on the principles outlined previously.

Instead Remainers splintered their vote and Nigel Farage’s Brexit party became the largest single block.  This could have been avoided.

Halloween beckons and with it a no deal future.  Remainers if you want to stop it step up and stop shooting yourselves in the foot!

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services.

Poland, Independence and the National Psyche

This article is based on generalisations and observations and therefore doesn’t apply across the board, however the author maintains that it largely represents a truthful perspective.  Although not the focus of this article Polish people have a lot of positive qualities too.

As the rest of the world commemorated the centenary of the end of World War I on 11th November 2018 another significant centenary was celebrated in a quiet corner of Europe.  The 11th November 2018 also marked 100 years since the re-emergence of Poland as a central European country 123 years since its disappearance.  This was also recognised elsewhere through the projection of the Polish flag on international landmarks (see images – courtesy of Facebook).

Polish Independence Day has become a controversial and frequently confrontational event in recent years.  Polish nationalists, egged on by populist politicians have hijacked celebrations and slogans like ‘Poland for Polish People’ and fighting has become a hallmark of the day, particularly in Warsaw.

However, before trying to understand how this has happened, it is important to provide some essential background that will also offer some keys to understanding Polish thinking.

Let’s start with this.

Polish people are often considered to be stubborn and proud and find it difficult to trust.  It is not uncommon to come across an attitude of ‘I will trust once it has been earned’.

This is contrary to how most people usually behave, as on the whole people trust until it is betrayed.  This trust is not a naïve blind faith, but can be considered in a similar way to a financial transaction.  I would happily lend an acquaintance £10-00, but think twice if I wasn’t paid back, but I would hesitate to lend the same person £100-00 until they established a track record.  All relationships start with a bit of trust, that grows incrementally as the relationship develops.  Can you imagine starting a romantic relationship with an attitude of ‘I will trust my partner once it is earned!’

Poles are fighters who will unite against a common enemy, but in the absence of such an adversary they will often turn on each other.  Although disappearing to some extent now, Polish people were often suspicious of others and success was considered only to be the result of corruption, criminality or some kind of unfair favour; the right connections or money.

Somebody once said to me, ‘Polish people are okay, once you accept they are basically rude’.  This may seem unfair but it is often borne out in real life.  At the risk of being unintentionally offensive, to generalise (and remember this is not in all cases – nor is it a purely Polish thing) Polish people seem to have a lack of awareness of others and a blinkered view that is focussed only on what they want.  Being walked into, or pushed aside by a supermarket trolley is not an uncommon occurrence nor is the incredulity that accompanies any challenge to any behaviours that demonstrate this lack of a wider awareness.

While this seems to be very biased and painting an unfair view of Polish people it is true enough to require greater understanding.  To do this we must understand something of how modern Poland came about.

Poland was reborn out of national trauma.  The 1795 partition of Poland had resulted in it disappearing completely from the map.  Consequently when World War I broke out in 1914 Polish soldiers found themselves fighting on both sides – some with Russia and others with Germany and Austria.  The interwar period saw Poland struggle to establish its national identity, and in doing so it bloodied Russia’s nose with an outstanding defeat and a moment of deliverance which is widely known as the Miracle on the Vistula.  Then just as the fledgling nation began to find its feet, its father, the hero Marshall Pilsudski, died.

In 1939 Poland was overrun initially by the German invasion and then finished off by the Russian attack on the east that destroyed any last hope of Polish survival.  In terms of percentages no country suffered more than Poland during World War II and in particular Warsaw suffered the consequences of two failed uprisings and the ensuing reprisals that left the city essentially destroyed and depopulated.

Poland then was ‘liberated’ by the Red Army and a Communist regime, tightly controlled by Moscow, was installed.  This regime remained in place until the winds of change swept through Eastern Europe in 1989 and the Communist Bloc collapsed like a house of cards.

So now let’s re-examine the Polish national and individual psyche in the light of this understanding.

Is it possible that Polish people have a problem with trust because historically they have been trapped in a vice by their neighbours?  Neither Russia nor Germany showed any regard to Poland or Polish self-determination.  Hitler actively sought to destroy Versailles which among other things re-established Poland and Russia was still smarting from its bloody nose in 1920.  Russia more or less reinvaded territories it lost during the 1920 campaign and never returned them – even to this day!  Even the partition of 1795 saw Prussia, Russia and the Hapsburg Empire cut up Poland with as much consideration as you would give to sharing a cake.

The Communist era would only have added to this breakdown of trust.  In non-totalitarian circumstances neighbours build (or don’t build) relationships with each other based on individual circumstances and there is freedom to build friendships or have disputes however it may be.

The Communist regime attacked the fabric of Polish society in two ways.  Firstly people were encouraged to watch their neighbours and the Milicja (the Polish Secret Police answerable to Moscow) were ever present.  How much informing went on, the author cannot comment on, but the risk of informing made people suspicious and unable to form normalised relationships.  Secondly the very nature of Communism that in reality meant some people were more equal than others meant that any success had to have come about as a result of ‘being in bed with the Communists’ or being part of the underground criminal fraternity– hence connections with success and corruption.

One of the great ironies of World War II is that Britain declared war on Germany in order to save Poland, but in the end Poland contributed greatly to saving Britain!  The truth is that nobody helped Poland in 1939 or provided any meaningful help in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.  No wonder Poland (and Polish people) have trust issues!  Yet Poland contributed significantly to the RAF, most notably in the Battle of Britain and their troops bravery is still a matter of national pride with the outstanding victory at Monte Cassino.

And what about this lack of awareness of others?  Maybe this is not so much a lack of awareness, rather it is a very focussed self-awareness.  In other words ‘I will concentrate on what I need and that is my only concern.’  The older generation are at times the strongest example of such behaviours.  Imagine living in Poland – and particularly in Warsaw – during 1939-1945.  This was probably almost the worst place to live in the world during this time and if you were a teenager or a young mother at the time and went out to get bread jostling and fighting was the only way to ensure getting food to put on the table.  We would all agree that our immediate families come above others.

It is hard to change ingrained habits once established and when the war finished and the fight for necessities came to an end (bear in mind Communist era shortages too) the need to be combative didn’t.

Logically, Poland would seem to be the last place in the world for fascist views to emerge (remember Poland’s suffering).  However, there is little wonder that the far right in Poland use it as an opportunity to assert Polish self-dependence and national pride because they feel like they are standing up for Poland because no one else will.  Independence Day in particular provides such a platform.  While the author fundamentally disagrees with this nationalist stance it has come about as a result of the cauldron of national and personal experience that has defined Poland over the last 100 years. Stoked by politicians who are using nationalism for their own political gains (again sadly there is nothing unusual in this in the present day – consider both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin) many of these people are unwitting pawns in a bigger game.

So to understand Poland and its people it is the author’s view that the individual psyche of many has been marked by the trauma of the nation.  We are all the product of our experience and this is reflected both on an individual level and national level.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2018

Populism- the New Truth

Over the last several decades there has been a move away from what could be called facts (although these weren’t always right in the past either – and I can think of some horrific examples) to this kind of ‘if it feels right it is right’ and while I agree perception is as powerful as reality we should always look for truth in our dealings with each other and the world around us.  Another way this manifests itself is that if the majority believe it then it must be true.

The majority opinion is not always the right opinion.  Most Germans supported Hitler until the last year or two of the war and he was clearly wrong!  Most people will just blindly accept this fact, but if you were prudent you would check it out yourselves and not just accept it at face value.  Go ahead… I dare you.

Fake news surrounds us and the discerning person needs to look behind the headlines.

A personal favourite of mine – because it is so bad – is the so called European refugee ship that was accepted by North Africa during the World War II.  I have reproduced it on the right.

It may seem logical that many Europeans attempted to escape Europe during the horrors of World War II and the message of our common humanity and reciprocation is indeed a moral one and thus rests easily on our consciences – so we accept it as true.

However closer examination reveals the truth.  It may not be obvious but the picture has been de-coloured which makes it look older.  The people are so small that they become featureless but if you were too zoom in it would be obvious they are not dressed in the style of the 1940s.  However, the biggest clues are the name of the ship and its home port.  It is the Vlora, registered in Durres.  Both of these are Albanian ports cities and what we are actually looking at is an attempted mass exodus from Albania after the fall of communism.  The ship crossed the Adriatic and ended up in the Italian port of Bari.

This meme became very popular and was viewed by millions though their social media accounts, but shouldn’t a moral message be rooted in the truth?

Wikipedia has become the most popular encyclopedia in the world and is often the first point of reference for many.  The intentions of the creators was honourable and while there is undoubtedly a lot of accuracy in their articles and they have taken steps to ensure authenticity it is inevitably flawed because of the populist rather than academic nature of its authorship.  I recall coming across degree level study materials that in one chapter stated that Wikipedia should never be used in serious academic research, but then a few chapters later quoted a Wikipedia article to support a claim the author was making.

However neither of these are the real target of my article today.  Rating sites are very useful, but also deeply flawed.  Typically they provide a forum for clients to express their views on the service they received from any given company.  Probably the most famous of these is Trip Adviser who can make or break a business.

In the past hotels used to display their star rating, but now it is also all too frequently accompanied by its Trip Adviser rating, such has the influence of the website become.

It is important that I point out at this point that to my knowledge there is no ill intent on the part of Trip Adviser the issue is the populist approach to the reviews.  I am sure most opinions are valid and a real reflection on the consumer’s experience of a hotel, hostel or restaurant.  However, some are not.

I know first-hand of a restaurant that was effectively destroyed by the views expressed on Trip Adviser.  I can state with absolute confidence that the views expressed were completely wrong as I was there myself for the New Year’s celebration on the evening in question and while the service wasn’t perfect it was nowhere near as bad as the reviewers claimed it to have been on Trip Adviser.

Of course people are entitled to their own views; however the issue is that these views were expressed with no accountability and this is dangerous.  If a view is expressed on a public forum it is only fair that the reviewer should be held accountable on the same public domain.  Sadly this is where most ratings sites are.  What is more it is easy to create a false email account and use this as your reviewing medium and thus hide your real identity.

Social media gave rise to trolling and writing unsubstantiated opinions with no accountability is fundamentally the same thing.  Please understand I am not saying we should never write bad reviews.  If a place genuinely deserves a bad review then it is fair, so long as accountability is built in.

After all it is a person’s livelihood that we are playing with and the consequences are life changing.  How would you like it if you were put under the spotlight and reviewed unfairly in your line of work.

It’s not nice – so play nice!

© 2018 by Richard Horton (Omega Support Services)

 

Dealing with Dissenting Voices

A recent post on Facebook drew my attention to this issue and I thought it worthy of some further exploration.

However before dealing directly with the matter at hand I want us to remind ourselves of what Omega have written before concerning criticism as it may help inform the debate.  While the value of constructive criticism has long been accepted as a positive force we also believe that criticism can always be helpful in driving improvement and creating positive change.

Loosely speaking criticism falls into three categories and they should elicit certain responses, although responses to the second and third type are similar.

  • The criticism is right, I did something wrong, I behaved badly, it was my fault – or simply I messed up. The response is obvious, put it right, change your behaviour, upskill or go for extra training.  If you still can’t do what is required reconsider whether or not you are even in the right place and if not change where you work.
  • The criticism is right, but it wasn’t me! This is harsh and unfair, but there has to be a reason that the blame has been levelled at you.  Is it a personality issue? Does the person not like you?  Have they misunderstood something?  The truth is something went wrong and it needs fixing, so take a positive stance and look for solutions rather than finger pointing or even blame evasion.  Take responsibility and own the issue and at the same time do your best to be perfect in attitude and deed.  Deal with facts that can be empirically demonstrated.  The truth always outs in the end.
  • The criticism is totally wrong. The one who is criticising has the wrong end of the stick, they have been misinformed, have made a bad judgment call or simply are malicious.  As with the second case it is not fair, it is not right and it is unacceptable.  As with the second type of criticism described above the response is to deal with empirical facts and use the truth to create the correct perception.  Ask yourself why this person is playing the blame game.  Interestingly current research suggested that good people often leave their job because of the way they are treated by the person immediately above them in their vertical, in other words it is more likely to be the supervisor or team leader than the department head or CEO.

The second and third type of criticism has to be managed by shaping and improving the perception of those around you.  A few years ago I knew somebody who was the expert in his particular field in the company he worked for.  He delivered high quality solutions on time every time without fail.  In other words he was an extremely good worker who the company would be foolish to let go.  However, he had charged relationships with those around him and especially his team leader who was incredibly frustrated with him.   His work simply wasn’t enough for her.

So I found myself in a coaching situation with him and without any information from his team leader I immediately worked out what the issue was.  During our coaching sessions he would slouch in his chair and frequently sit with his arms folded.  Furthermore he would give minimal answers and look around the room.  Yes he would always answer my questions but his input was minimal and his behaviour suggested a lack of interest and engagement.  It was also clear that his behaviour towards me wasn’t personal – we got on really well and had a good rapport – it was just the way he was, very phlegmatic and laid back.  So at the start of a coaching session I told him to sit up straight, maintain eye contact and expand his answers beyond simple headlines.  The result was a revelation.  He became a different person, more engaged, more enthusiastic and more dynamic.  He reported back to me that he increased his level of engagement with his team leader and it revolutionised their working relationship.  His excellent quality, work rate and reliability did not change, only the way he presented himself and shaped the perceptions of those around him.  We all have the power to do this.

A final note on criticism is that ideally it should always be delivered positively and politely (pleases and thank yous as well as other polite respectful phrases cost nothing).  However even if it is badly delivered it is wise to hear the message behind the words used.

So now to the matter at hand – how do we deal with dissenting voices?

Before we start though we must remember that a little bit of disagreement is healthy for an organisation.  The ability to voice our own view is vital even if it is in disagreement with the leader.  A leader surrounded by ‘Yes Men’ is a formula for disaster.  The leader may steer the ship towards the metaphorical iceberg and the ‘Yes Men’ will hold the wheel on course!

Dissenting voices are often the consequence of dissatisfaction and the key to dealing with them is to understand the root course of this dissatisfaction.  It should always start with self-examination.

Is my vision and leadership style correct and appropriate, does the dissenting voice have some validity.  Should I tweak my vision and/or the way I communicate it?  Should I increase engagement and inclusiveness?  How much should I share and how much should I expect others to give?  Am I setting the right tone and providing an example of the values and working practices that I demand of my people?

Leaders should never be untouchable in their ivory towers.  A young man who I know, who has recently found himself in a leadership position has come under a lot of criticism, but having spent time with him he has the two key qualities that matter; he is teachable and humble and while he is still very much learning the ropes, these two qualities stand him in good stead.

Next we should examine the dissenter.  Why is (s)he dissenting?  Key to this is understanding the underlying motive.  Is the person a builder or destroyer?  Are they seeking to usurp power?  Do they just want to bring you down?  The answers to these questions defines our approach to how we deal with things:

The Arguer:  This person just disagrees because they know they can.  Although it is not in the capacity of leadership I have a friend who disagrees strongly on one of my views and he likes to engage me in this just to provoke debate.  It is pointless and a waste of time, I will never convince him to my view nor me to his.  Don’t use valuable time on meaningless activities like this and focus on leading.  Hot air is empty and the chances are if the leader doesn’t take him seriously then nobody will.  Don’t indulge him and he will give up.

The Influencer: This person has the respect of many and his voice carries a great deal of weight.  He is dangerous and can use misinformation and charisma to challenge the leader and direct others away.  People can often be easily influenced, just look at the constant bombardment of fake news that we encounter on a daily basis.  People will ultimately make up their own minds, but the way forward is to communicate the truth with clarity and no ambiguity.  A sound voice that gives clear direction will minimise the disruptive power of the influencer.

The Insurrectionist:  This person is gunning for the leader.  We know the type, they do nothing but tear down, they think they can do a better job, they gather a band of followers and poison them against the leadership.  He is a thorn in the leader’s side, a threat and a challenge.  This is the most dangerous dissenter especially if equipped with charisma and popularity.  You could present an opportunity to the Insurrectionist in that you give them something to do.  Create a sink or swim situation, while secretly hoping they sink.  But what if they succeed, even for a short period of time?  They become validated.  This is an unwise move because even if they do succeed their behaviour sets a template of behaviour for others to follow and it won’t be long until another Insurrectionist threatens them.  The culture of the organisation becomes destabilised and can potentially lose everything.  The insurrectionist cannot have a future in an organisation.  If they know better encourage them to strike out on their own and they can sink or swim and understand the consequences of their own actions.

Finally I would like to finish with a relatively well known story that brings things together.  I have paraphrased it slightly and glossed over and simplified some of the details, but the point remains.

There was once a king who had come from very humble origins and who by all accounts was a very good king.  However, after he had been ruling his kingdom for a while he became complacent and forgot about how he had risen to such a position.  One day he was walking on the rooftop of his palace and surveying all that he had and he saw a beautiful naked woman relaxing.  In his mind he immediately decided he must have her.  He was the king after all, so why shouldn’t he?

He soon realised that she was married and he contrived a situation where he was able to seduce her and furthermore to protect his secret he put her husband on the front line of the next great battle he faced.  Of course the husband was killed and the king had removed the threat.

Meanwhile because the king was distracted his son had positioned himself at the palace gate and was telling the people not to disturb the king as he was no longer interested.  It would be better if they shared their problems and injustices with him.  In time the son became a confidant to many and they trusted him with their secrets.  Eventually the son decided that he would make a better king than his father and led a rebellion that very nearly succeeded.

The king wised up just in time and moved against his son and quashed the rebellion.  The king lost his son and his kingdom was irreparably damaged.  His glory and the glory of his kingdom was never the same again and his reign became a shadow of what it had been.  Later when one of his surviving sons inherited the kingdom he was able to bring it to its greatest glory, but it was a short-lived golden age and by the time of the next generation it was faded and divided.  The remaining part of the original kingdom had some periods that were better than others, but it eventually disappeared into the mists of history.

Concerning our discussion there are three key things to observe.

  • The king was in the wrong. He had become distracted and lost his way.  He had become more concerned with fulfilling his desires than leading his people.  An early mentor of mine once said ‘it is a dangerous thing to spend time walking on the rooftop instead of engaging with your people’.  Leaders need to stay focused and engaged and not lose sight of their vision and responsibility.
  • The son was in the wrong, he set himself up in opposition and for a time offered an alternative. He was no leader he was an usurper who took advantage when the king was distracted.  To use a modern phrase, when the cat is away the mice will play comes to mind.
  • The people were confused. Lack of clear leadership meant that many of the people chose the alternative as it seemed to be accessible and presented what appeared to be the better option.

Ultimately it was the king’s fault.  His failure of leadership resulted in dissention and conflict.  If he had remained focused and consistent and even gone down to the palace gate instead of spending time on his rooftop disaster could have been averted.   So do not allow dissenters to destroy what you are building, but also keep an eye on your own leadership style and approach to others.  To make sure the message gets through I repeat do not spend your time walking on the rooftop.

Story Telling

Storytelling has been around since the dawn of mankind and was a great way of memorising traditions and history .  Oral tradition was the only means of keeping records before the invention of writing.  Writing which was developed in the Middle East (probably by the Sumerians in modern day Iran or Iraq) provided an alternative way to record the histories of people and it was a natural process for histories to become simply stories.  The Epic of Gilgamesh that dates from earlier than 1000 BC is widely considered to be the first written story and prior to being recorded it had been kept alive by oral tradition.  Later what we recognise now as the Old Testament was recorded that traced the formation and travails of Israel before moving into the New Testament.

Pilgrim’s Progress written in 1678

Stories don’t only entertain, but can be used to inform and educate.

While not unique among the ancients, for story telling, Jesus is widely recognised as an outstanding example through his use of parable and allegory.  John Bunyan used The Pilgrim’s Progress to convey the Christian journey and a similar trend has continued into modernity.  In the 20th century the Christian apologist C S Lewis picked up this theme again with the Narnia books and in particular The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe which is a transparent allegory of the Christian message and even references Old Testament principles in the light of New Testament interpretations.  Some elements were obvious like the sacrifice and resurrection of Aslan; while others were less so – such as the deep magic which represented the law that condemned and the deeper magic which stood for the grace of God

Away from Christianity a personal favourite, that I was introduced to as a teenager, was Pawn of Prophecy (Part 1 of the Belgariad series) by David Eddings, a  coming of age novel set in a fantasy world.  A key character is Belgarath the Sorcerer who is initially introduced as the Storyteller who provides the back story for the boy Garion as he starts his epic quest..  Eddings drew on real world oral traditions as his methodology for bringing the world to life with its vibrant history of the Wars of Gods and Men in their fight for supremacy as good sought to overcome evil.

Before I get too distracted I want to underline the point that story telling is an essential communicative tool and it has a role in the workplace too.

The best and most effective communicators have always used stories to help make their point.

So what do good story tellers do?

  1. Real life stories make the speaker more real and can help hold the interest of the listener when well delivered.
  2. Stories illustrate better than abstract principles and ideas.  A good story can be used as an anchor to make a salient point or simplify an idea.
  3. Stories can entertain and amuse and enable greater rapport with the audience.
  4. A good story should engage the emotions, build anticipation and stimulate the imagination.

Some Does and Don’ts for Story Tellers.

  1.  If you decide to tell a story or anecdote it must be short and make a point or illustrate something
  2. Don’t make the story too long because the story then becomes the dominant element rather than the point that is being made.
  3. Don’t allow the story to sidetrack you into a memory trawl.  Stay on point.
  4. Use stories sparingly as there needs to be real content behind the message
  5. Employ your full soft skills tool set to communicate and engage the audience as much as possible.  Do so as naturally as you can while avoiding repeated fillers and unnecessary sounds like ‘erh’ and ‘erm’.

Can you think of any more?  Please use the form below to let us know about any ideas you have.

Omega will soon be launching some training on how to develop and use Story Telling as a communicative tool in a business environment, so keep in touch.

Let he without sin…

On Saturday 10th March 2018 Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-1 in what has historically been considered to be the number one match in the Premier League.  Liverpool dominated English football in the 1970s and 1980s and Manchester United did so in the next two decades.  Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, now a Sky Sports Pundit, was filmed spitting at fans who drove by while tormenting him about Liverpool’s loss.

What he did:

The obvious thing is that he should have ignored them.

Defending the Undefendable.

Jamie Carragher was wrong.  To spit at anybody under any circumstances is a social taboo and out of order.  It is black and white and his offense even more obscene because he is a role model and public figure.  In the mind of many what makes it even worse was there was a 14 year old girl in the other car who was not even involved in what some have termed banter.

So why am I ready to defend him?

The following day he appeared in a prolonged interview (reproduced below) in which he apologised totally unconditionally.  He described his actions as 5 seconds of madness and continually apologised.  When asked about the 14 year old girl he again said sorry with the glint of a tear in his eye.  He is not an actor and I do not recall him being interviewed particularly often post match.  The interviewer – quite rightly gave him a hard time and pushed him as hard as she could by invoking the example he had set to his own family, and the fans as well as those who he directly spat at.  When asked if he should keep his job he simply said that he couldnt comment on it one way or the other because anything he said could be perceived as an excuse or attempt to reason his unacceptable behaviour.  This was something he refused to do.  His five seconds of madness were replaced by immediate regret and remorse and a preparedness to face the music.

What he said afterwards

I am not particularly a Liverpool fan nor was I a fan of Jamie Carragher as a player, but the way he has held his hands up speaks volumes about his integrity.  Integrity is not about being perfect, but it is about taking responsibility and being willing to face the consequences.

Personally I really hope he keeps his job because ironically his example stands as a shining light to politicians and business leaders who have no shame.

Finally, we are all flawed so let he without sin cast the first stone.