The Year The World Cracked Open

Disclaimer: This won’t be my typical post as such, because it’s hard, if not impossible to write anything “typical” with authenticity right now.  It will, I hope, come back round to end with the things I believe most passionately about in my core – communication, connection, growth, truth and team.

The world has become an interesting place in the last few months.  First, we were taken over by a pervasive virus which closed airports and borders, schools, businesses and cities.  It sent us scuttling into our homes whilst the media helped to spread fear and distrust with its multi-layered suggestions of what we should believe.  We stayed inside because there was something we couldn’t see lurking out there that threatened everything we held dear and normal.

The initial weeks of lockdown turned into more weeks as the number of infections climbed across the world and horrific images of multitudes dying on ventilators and in streets filled out screens.  Depending on which part of the world you may be in, people were cut off from alcohol, cigarettes, any work that allowed them to feed their families; and in which the only safety was masked distance and isolation.  If you’d written a movie about it, people would have laughed.

We celebrated our humanness, we pulled together and supported each other in ways seldom seen outside of crisis.  We felt – more than we’d possibly felt in years of life rushing past.  We paused.  We considered.  We imagined.  Then, when people were at their most vulnerable, most scared, most stretched and most distrustful, a police officer unapologetically took the life of man in Minnesota, USA, releasing a ripple of disbelief, and the pent up anger, hurt and heartache of generations that is fast gathering itself to become a tidal wave of expression. 

As there are times where life will crack an individual open and leave them forever changed, I suspect that 2020 will be one of those years in the history of the human race where we’ll know that the world somehow cracked open, and that we were forever changed.

People rushed to share an opinion, a point of view.  Some of those points of view brought about new thinking and considerations, and some confirmed the old.  A great scythe of energy continues to sweep across the world cutting people off at the knees for comments that were tolerated only a few weeks ago, and today mark instant downfall.  Just ask CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman.

Everybody’s tolerance levels are low.  Our energy is spent.  Now is a dangerous time to have an opinion.  But it’s also the time to speak up. 

On a post siting Greg Glassman’s example, GeniusU Founder, Roger Hamilton wrote:

“In times of Crisis, three other ‘C’s magnify in importance (even more than normal): Character, Culture & Community.

Character is your personal values: “What you’re doing when no one’s watching”

Culture is your team’s values: “What your team is doing when you’re not watching.”

Community is how your culture extends beyond you and your team.

Today, CEOs are not just leading their companies, they are leading their communities. In a world of social media, where communication is magnified and multiplied, a leader’s values need to align with their community’s values. It’s either sync or sink.  If you’re a founder or CEO of a company, your voice matters: What you say and how you say it.”

Considering that I write every week from the heart rather than programming my content in advance, what I say and how I say it has meant sleep has been increasingly evasive the last few Sunday nights.  Not addressing this worldwide journey feels inauthentic, although I’m acutely aware that I don’t have all the answers.  Or even perhaps some of them.

In a world where the value and purpose of our history is currently being torn apart and questioned, I am, myself, an incredibly confused individual when it comes to disharmony between people, particularly along lines of prejudice and race.  I’m a white African, born and bred in Zimbabwe.  The first I heard of George Floyd was a Facebook post made by my earliest childhood friend declaring “I am not safe in this country. I am not safe in Georgia. My husband, my sons, my brother, WE ARE NOT SAFE!!!”  Her anguish is what I searched to find the cause of when I Googled his name.

In recent weeks, statues of history’s greats have been torn down the world over in an outpouring of rage that has deep roots.  These statues have included names such as Lord Baden-Powell who founded the Scouts and cofounded the Girl Guides with his sister, Agnes.  My maternal grandmother, who I was extremely close to founded the first Ranger Company in Waddilove in the early 1950s, having been a Girl Guide since her early teens.  I am extremely proud of my grandparents’ Methodist missionary background and the contribution they made to missionary schooling in this country.  I have also sat drinking tea for hours with a friend whose great grandfather was shot by Baden-Powell in circumstances that would not be considered legitimate in this day and age, and had discussions with people who vehemently believe the church’s claiming of land for schools was used to disenfranchise those the land belonged to.

I have stood in line for what totalled 11 hours to fight for my ID to be corrected to citizen so that I could vote in the last election.  An election where I believed my voice would count.  Whilst in those lines I discovered that the disdain I thought was reserved for me when I reached the front of the line also extended to the girl next to me who, whilst not physically sticking out like I did, spoke Ndebele and not Shona.  Worse still, she did so in a broad Australian accent.  That remains one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life.  I also listened to my young son ask me “Mum, why don’t these ladies leave their children at home whilst they queue?”, and realised we had a long way to go.

The first time I heard the word “hegemony” was during a discussion about privilege with three other women who met to have just such kinds of explorations.  The young lady who brought it up was studying international relations at university, and was explaining that we are all both privileged and disadvantaged in different ways.  We smiled at the irony – that there we sat, four women; one white, three black; at a coffee shop, discussing privilege – and three out of the four of us had been to Arundel School (a private school).

The contrasts are daily for me, and often deeply personal.  Gone are the days when it was acceptable to write an advert in the newspaper seeking an employee with “blue eyes”.  It’s still acceptable to write a new constitution that prohibits you from holding a passport for the country of your birth if your parents “weren’t citizens of a SADC country at the time of your birth” though.

I lost my cool this week with a matter of customer service.  Truth be told, there was a mountain of COVID and world dis-ease, and the gentleman who’d just asked me to buy him mealie-meal, and the last weeks’ worth of broken systems I’d dealt with underneath my last-straw outflowing over a customer service issue.  I did the unthinkable though.  I posted about it on social media.  Apart from those who felt my frustration in us not being able to solve the little things, there were also those who called me privileged and entitled and who emphasised that people had bigger problems than what I was angry about.  All were right.

I am privileged.  I am privileged in ways I am grateful for every day (that I have food and a roof and a healthy child) as well as ways I don’t understand and am still trying to come to terms with.  I’m privileged in ways I don’t even see until someone else points it out to me.  I am also entitled.  I am entitled to my standards, to my self-respect, to feel pride in what I believe is good in my history, to feel driven to aspire to more and better and something greater than myself.  I am not entitled to allow my ego to react in the spaces of others or to speak for me when I should instead choose to speak from my “adult”.  I am not entitled to speak for other people or to believe I know what their thoughts and experiences have been.

The confused state of who I am is quiet when the world presents me with opportunities for harmony, collaboration and growth.  When the world presents me with ever increasing discord, so does my internal questioning.  Lately, it has reduced me to soul-cracking tears I’ve occasionally struggled to stem.  I’m learning that sometimes that’s the only way through to new understandings and perspectives.

Throughout all of this ongoing turmoil, I have gone back to basics to find some stability and truth.  Whilst I don’t feel that I have many answers, there are a few things that still ring true for me or that appear clearer:

1. Perspective, Awareness and Clarity remain three worthy pillars of self-management.

a) Perspective is an incredibly personal thing that we can only expand with the wish to do so and the help of others who have a different perspective.

b) Awareness is worth constantly adding to and is something we must actively seek.

c) Clarity is only reachable if we’ve done thorough work on the first two, and even then, it may only be our own clarity and not someone else’s.

If we want to lead well, we must do this work in constantly renewing and courageous cycles.

2. I have a right to acknowledge what is true for me.  I cannot know what is true for someone else unless I ask them, and then actively listen to their truth, accepting it as true for them.

3. Because I have personal hurt in my story doesn’t make it a counter argument for someone else’s.  When I take things personally, my ego is loud, and nothing good comes from that.  My story is my truth.  Their story is their truth.  One does not counteract or excuse the other.  Both can coexist.  This is what safe space looks like when we talk about team.

4. The strongest teams are diverse teams.  We are strong BECAUSE of our diversity, not despite it.  Mother Teresa said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”  That resonates very loudly with me.

5. I do not want to be blind to the differences between me and my team mates.  I want to be able to celebrate what we all bring to the table, and I also want to be able to see when I need to have the back of someone else.  In the same way that I would want someone to have my back or that of my son, being part of a team that is greater than me means I need to actively have the back of those in that greater team (and their children).

How far does your team extend?  Perhaps you have different teams to consider – teams at work, teams at home, teams of friends?  What is your truth?  Do you know the truth of your team mates?  When was the last time you challenged your perspective with courage by asking someone with a different one to check it for you?  Communication, connection, growth, truth and team.  These are my values.  For me, they still stand.

by Christen Killick

June 22nd, 2020

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