Identity Beacon

Illuminating Possibilities

Identity Beacon - Illuminating Possibilities

For the sake of humanity, join the Ubuntu party!

Politics has gotten in the way of our humanity and it’s time to change that. To borrow a phrase from the 1976 movie, Network, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

So, here’s my proposal: Let’s launch a new party — a decidedly unpolitical party — dedicated to celebrating the stuff that makes us who we are at our core, and that we can all get behind. Further, I propose we name that party the Ubuntu Party.

Ubuntu is a term meaning “humanity,” whose origins trace back to Southern Africa. According to Wikipedia, Ubuntu is often translated as “humanity towards others,” but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.”

One of the key markers of Ubuntuism is what is termed “extroverted communities” — the idea that there is sincere warmth with which people treat both strangers as well as members of an existing community. (Translated for today’s rabid climate, this refers to the people who don’t agree with me and the people who do).

There is an Ubuntu deficit in America today and we’re all suffering for it. There’s just too little appreciation of the fact that we are one, human community, our differences notwithstanding. This is not a political statement. I do not care which side of the political spectrum you lean into or who you voted for. I do care about how we treat one another, how we speak to and listen to one another, how we build communities that will be productive and self-sustaining.

According to a recent CBS News poll, 7 in 10 people — regardless of party affiliation — say the country is losing its identity. The article opens with these words: “We can’t even agree what it means to be an American.” That may be the case. But can’t we at least agree what it means to be human? I’d like to think so.

We’d do well to bring a little more Ubuntuism into our lives.

 

But, what about the bird?

It’s almost spring and here come the birds, back from their southern migrations.

Ever wonder how birds get around, how they are able to fly? They use their strong breast muscles to flap their wings to give them the thrust they need to move through the air. Further, birds use a swimming-forward motion to get the lift needed to fly. 

Naturally, both wings need to move in unison to achieve lift-off and sustain flight. It doesn’t take much to imagine the flight path of a bird whose wings are working against each other, pulling (or pushing) in different directions, or flapping at different speeds. The chance of actually breaking a wing (or two) becomes a distinct possibility. 

Welcome to America.

Today, we have a Right Wing that is stretching as far to the right as possible. This Wing is advocating attitudes and preaching policies that are fueled by fear, my-way-or-the-highway injunctions and exclusionary imperatives.

We also have a Left Wing that is stretching as far to the left as possible. This wing is advocating attitudes and preaching policies that are delusional in their idealism, economically impossible and polyannaish to a fault. 

In the midst of this turmoil, I keep asking myself: But, what about the bird? What about America, the nation? The institution? Is it really all about the wings?

America “the bird” is in the throes of a full-blown identity crisis. Its’ wings are broken and its’ flight path is indeterminable and dangerously out of control. The notion that America is, in fact, in the midst of an identity crisis has been widely acknowledged for years. (Just Google America identity crisis and see what comes up.)

Politics, in my view, is a desperate game. I find it ironic that politics is killing the very body that it purports to represent. If you know of a candidate, a party, that is more interested in protecting the bird than its wings, let me know. He or she will get my vote. And my prayers.

It’s a VUCA world – or is it?

The term, VUCA has slipped stealthily into our lexicon over the past few years. It started out as military lingo, was then adopted by organizations to frame leadership development efforts, and now has become part of all of our lives. What does VUCA mean? Volatility. Uncertainty. Complexity. Ambiguity. Does that sound like a recipe for a headache? Well, it is.

In an article in The New York Times recently, Michael Beschloss talked about Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri in one eye-opening sentence. Doing so, dramatizes the fact that VUCA is with us, in spades.

The question is, how do we navigate life in a VUCA world? Which brings me to “COSS.”Let me explain.

The way I see it, the antidote to volatility is steadiness. The remedy for uncertainty is order. The treatment for complexity is simplicity. The cure for ambiguity is clarity. Allowing for a bit of editorial license in how these words are arranged, we have COSS.

If VUCA causes headaches, then COSS is the aspirin you need to counteract its effects. Good news! This particular brand of aspirin can be found already inside us, in the fabric of our identities that make us the unique individuals, leaders, and organizations we are.  Clarity, order, simplicity and steadiness are the natural result of aligning how you live with who you are.

I’m not saying it’s easy getting to that “aspirin.” But it’s worth it. You’ll sleep better. I promise.

 

Rouhani’s identity imperative

“We must also pay attention to the issue of identity as a key driver of tension in, and beyond, the Middle East. At their core, the vicious battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are over the nature of those countries’ identities and their consequent roles in our region and the world.

 “The centrality of identity extends to the case of our peaceful nuclear energy program.” To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world. Without comprehending the role of identity, many issues we all face will remain unresolved.”

I read these remarks by President Rouhani of Iran and was blown away. Finally, a world figure who seemingly “gets” the power and influence of identity; who understands the need to address the question of identity head-on, and not just refer to it as some existential notion lacking in practical implications.

Will we tackle the identity question, directly? I don’t know. I’m not sure we know how to go about it. But there are ways to do it. I know that. If you know my work, so do you.

 

The crisis crisis

Reading about Rutgers University’s ongoing athletic department scandal, leads me to conclude that we’re into a protracted crisis season, a time when crises are showing up all over the place. The list is long. Here (along with Rutgers) are a few of my recent favorites.

The Catholic Church and its propensity for hiding sex crimes under its robes

BP and its failure to deal with the Deep Horizon explosion before the fact (and after it, for a time)

Penn State and its protection of its football program over the protection of young children

The BBC for the sexual misconduct of 81 staff — half of which still work for the broadcaster (so much for the “integrity of the source”)

The US for the Great Recession, which put us all at grave risk, leading to the destruction of wealth as well as human dignity, due to the loss of millions of jobs

You can tell a crisis from a run-of-the-mill problem, or even scandal, because, figuratively speaking, a crisis cuts into the flesh and bone of a company or person. Invariably, it makes us look into the abyss – into ourselves – to see whether we still are who we thought we were.

From where I sit, the greatest danger lurking inside a crisis is not recognizing it for what it is, which leads to a kind of crisis inside the crisis, or simply, the crisis crisis.

The crisis crisis happens when you claw your way through it by hook or by crook. You survive it, but you don’t change. And then, what? You’re doomed to repeat it. A crisis ignored, skirted, or denied is cancerous. It may recede for a time but it will be back, stronger, and more virulent than ever. That is the inevitable result of a crisis crisis.

Don’t let this happen to you. What I mean by “this” isn’t necessarily having a crisis. Sometimes, it’s inevitable, especially for people. What I am referring to is not allowing a crisis crisis to occur, whether it is in relation to your company or yourself. If a crisis hits, see it for the seminal event it is. Make the most of it, even as you work to overcome it. See it as an opportunity to learn, to change, to grow.