Like 9/11 and 7/7, last week may become a memorable point of inflexion in many of our lives, and in the life of our nation. Notwithstanding the obvious human emotion invoked by the horrible events in Manchester, our time will be defined, as many of us are defined in our own lives, not by what happened, but by the reaction to what happened.
As dark forces seek to render division amongst communities, my own belief strengthens that, as with challenges in the workplace, the solution doesn’t lie in blame, recrimination and further conflict, but in finding common humanity as a means to establishing a collaborative way forward. As someone with no religious beliefs and a deep love for Southern Africa, I have always been fascinated by the theology of Ubuntu – defined by some by the phrase “I am because we are”.
Whether in dealing with the demonisation of a religion because of the actions of a tiny few, or in dealing with the more mundane practicalities of serving customers in our own work, I believe we achieve more by working together, understanding difference and exploring commonalities.
Stephen Covey first introduced me to the tenet “Seek first to understand” – the concept of listening to others, trying to comprehend their background, their beliefs and the reasons for their decisions. Whether between colleagues, between teams, between parties in a trade relationship or between communities and countries, I believe we have much to gain by first trying to understand each other.
To do that, we must have conversations, not just with those in our group, with those who believe what we believe or think what we think, but with those who will challenge us, question us and perhaps provoke us. Failing to do so means we judge them based on our assumptions, our prejudices and our fears, and something tells me that is not going to produce the best results.
It is possible for opposing views to coexist in a system, provide all parties show respect, and know their responsibilities to each other. Our media, and some of our business experience, may suggest that respectful, responsible, tolerant behaviour is increasingly rare. I beg to differ. I just think it is increasingly drowned out by the noise of the other approach.
Allowing that to happen, or resisting it, is a choice, and I hope, prompted by the unity shown in Manchester and elsewhere, that as a community enough people will stand up and say “we stand together, whatever our colour, creed or orientation”. I believe that is how we win this struggle.