Category Archives: ethics

VUCA: from a system and problem focus to a person and solution orientation

VUCA

VUCA needs a new meaning and focus

By now VUCA is as familiar of an acronym as ADHD, AWOL, and of course COVID.  Acronyms are useful in labeling and giving importance to complex themes. Labeling a problem soothes the mind by identifying something hard to understand. The hope is then to find a solution. What if the solution were in the acronym? What if the problem-focused and system-oriented VUCA acronym became solution-focused and people-oriented? The angst derived by the former would diminish and the optimism derived by the latter would flourish. People solve problems and influence systems. So wouldn’t it be wise to promote solution-orientated attitudes and behaviors?

VUCA people transform VUCA situations

What do adolescents, first-time parents, adults in a mid-life crisis, or anyone facing a life-altering event tell you? Life is VUCA. Digitalization and globalization may be intensifying VUCA, but it isn’t anything new. What if instead of associating VUCA as a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world to dread, it was linked to Virtuousness, Understanding, Compassion, and Adaptability? Instead of being at the whim of a VUCA world, these essential human skills foster life-long learning. What effect would this reframing of VUCA and consequent skill acquisition have on our human development?

Virtuousness contains volatility

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines virtuous as “having good moral qualities and behaviors.” Fears have a tendency to rise in volatile situations. Drastic fluctuations, therefore, influence people to act impulsively with short-term results and immediate gains. A selfish mentality can develop. “Take what you can now before it is too late!” This perturbed mindset can lead to rash and immoral reactions. The accumulation of unethical decision making on a large scale in times of volatility ironically increases and compounds the volatility one wishes to diminish. A strong moral compass helps contain volatility. Virtuous people are stabilizers in times of instability.

Understanding reduces uncertainty

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines understanding as “knowledge about a subject, situation, etc. or about how something works.” How should one deal with uncertainty? Be mindful of what is in your control/what is known. Seek guidance to understand that which is uncertain or not completely known. Educate yourself. Ask questions. Conduct your own research. Simply put, be curious and learn. There is nothing more conducive to festering uncertainty than a fixed mindset, or solely relying on hearsay or one source of information. Fear of the unknown is best dealt with by keeping an open mind and understanding other realities.

Compassion humanizes complexity

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”  With nearly 8 billion people navigating complexity each day no one is exempt and no one goes unscathed. Unchecked complexity can lead to victimization and potential harm. Therefore, we need to show our compassion. Compassion humanizes the negative consequences of unresolved complexity by fostering inclusivity, a helping attitude, and raising social awareness at all levels. The pervasive, inclusive, and multi-leveled effort of the current Black Lives Matter movement is a case in point. Compassion ensures that we acknowledge how complexity impacts us all. And as importantly, it illustrates the vital role we all play in dealing with it.

Adaptability neutralizes ambiguity

The online Oxford Dictionary defines ambiguity as the “quality of being able to change or be changed in order to deal successfully with new situations.” As creatures of habit, we adopt routines to creatively deal with ambiguity. Being too reliant on a fixed routine or way of living, however, can have limitations when an unforeseen significant event occurs. COVID-19 has been disrupting the routines and habits of millions of people. The further our fixed mindsets stray away from an ever-changing world reality the more we are confronted with this widening gap. This is illustrated in the digital paradox. Unfortunately, it takes a global pandemic like COVID-19 to remind us that we are not masters of the universe. Rather, we are a part of it. And as such, we, like all other living organisms, must either adapt to changing circumstances or face unnecessary hardship.

VUCA people need to be nurtured and engaged

It is high time we better deal with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Fortunately, with a change of perspective and focus, the answer may be hidden in the same acronym. With virtuousness, understanding, compassion, and adaptability one is better able to cope with VUCA situations. All humans have the capacity to develop and practice these life-long skills. Doing so feeds a growth mindset and cultivates a collective consciousness focused on posterity. Younger generations see the value and need of being VUCA. We are seeing more VUCA people organizing in greater numbers across continents and for causes affecting all humans everywhere. Progressive companies also reap the benefit of developing human edge cultures. In sum, VUCA people are essential for a VUCA world.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Process Facilitator, Youth Advocate, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals, teams, and organizations wanting to fully integrate their human potential. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

Effective Leadership – A changing of the guards

Effective Leadership

What is effective leadership anyway?

The Online Oxford Dictionary defines leadership as the action of leading a group of people or an organization. Additionally, it defines effective as successful in producing a desired or intended result.” Simply put: Effective leadership is the capacity to successfully guide the intended or desired action(s) of a person or group. According to this amoral definition, any person or group of people versed in rhetoric and/or subversive tactics can display effective leadership. But we know this not to be true. Ethical intention and the means by which outcomes are achieved are paramount. 

Essential components of effective leadership

Organizations seeking effective leadership must look beyond outcome achievement. As the current global reality demonstrates, the ends no longer justify the means. Personal integrity, social competencies, economic equity, conflict transformation, transparency, environmental stewardship, posterity, ethical conduct, and inclusivity (age, gender, race) need to be at the core of effective leadership requirements and competencies. First, companies must clarify the intention of effective leadership. Second, this raison d’être should elicit an authentic response in every individual inspired to heed the call. Lastly, leadership needs to have the capacity to skillfully and creatively orchestrate the collection, the aggregate of these diverse individual entities in order to bring the intention to fruition. How should leadership ethically and equitably influence your organization? What sustainable methods should leadership use to reach objectives? How inclusive should processes be? How should leadership ensure that all stakeholders benefit from the outcome?

Effective leadership ensures economic equity 

According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the world’s richest 1 percent, own 44 percent of the world’s wealth. Adults with less than $10,000 in wealth make up 56.6 percent of the world’s population, but hold less than 2 percent of global wealth. Effective leadership needs to become financially transparent, sustainable, and equitable for posterity’s sake. Universal economic opportunity needs to be at the forefront of all policies. Leadership needs to ensure that all humans have fair and equal access to both natural and artificial resources necessary to sustain a proper standard for living (access mental and physical healthcare included) and provide for a family when desired without jeopardizing career development.

Effective leadership is inclusive

The most translated document in the world is the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To date, it has been translated in 370 languages. Why? In addition to preserving the environment, without which humans could not exist, there is nothing more fundamental than ensuring the basic rights of all human beings. For example, which traits allowed women-led nations to cope well with COVID-19? Likewise, how can improving racial/ethnic balance in leadership better ensure basic human rights? Leadership is appropriately and ethically represented across gender and race when the ratio of those in leading roles are proportionate to those being led.

Bright Spots in closing gender and racial gaps

In 2018, Glassdoor partnered with JUST Capital to look at major corporations committed to equal pay. Remarkably, only 16 out of 920 publicly traded companies, the likes of Microsoft, VMWare, and Salesforce–just to name a few–were ensuring pay equity across gender and racial and ethnic lines. As companies close gender and racial/ethnic gaps and governments ensure human rights for all citizens, effective leadership promotes values that are transparent, ethical, equitable, sustainable, and inclusive.

Effective leadership entails environmental stewardship

The Internet of things (IoT) entails everything connected to the internet. So too are we interconnected with all living things (IoLT). When nature is out of balance so are we. We are an integral part of nature. We cannot survive without a healthy and diverse environment. As such, it is our human responsibility to care for our use of it. Environmental stewardship refers to responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. Aldo Leopold (1887–1949) championed environmental stewardship based on a land ethic “dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.” (source: Wikipedia)

Effective leadership is intergenerational

Leadership roles in traditional organizations are often held by those who are one, two, or even three generations older than those being led. This alone is not a problem. Actually, there is a wealth of potential here. It can become an issue, however, when senior leadership is unable to incorporate the values and intentions of the younger generations of those they lead. Intergenerational learning is paramount in mutually acknowledging and integrating old and new forms of leadership. Companies who can do so will become more resilient and have an easier time ensuring an organization’s vitality. How can organizations with older forms of leadership give space for newer forms of leadership?

Acknowledging a changing of guards

Each generation has a new ideal of what effective leadership entails. Young people feel unheard and are quick to dismiss older mentalities as antiquated. Older people hold on to long-held beliefs are quick to dismiss newer realities as not being time-tested. A lack of mutual acknowledgment and respect prevents a seamless integration or transition of leadership styles. When all generations can honor the wisdom each brings, then there is an opportunity for dialogue, transformation, and growth. Newer companies and start-ups have an easier time implementing newer forms of leadership and organizational management since most employees belong to one or at most two generations. How can newer forms of leadership be given space in older and larger organizations where three or four generations are working together? As with all changing of the guards, the process must be honorable, on-going, and inclusive.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems & Group Dynamics Expert, Conflict Facilitator, Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals and teams wanting to fully integrate their human resource potential at all organizational levels. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

Resilience: Overcoming adversity to further one’s development

resilienceResilience: Raspberry plant growing out of isolation and darkness

Resilience in nature

Recently, I stepped into the backyard and noticed a raspberry seedling had grown through the drainage hole of an overturned pot. Occasionally, some plants manage to sprout outside the bed–seen in the background. This one had bad luck. It escaped alright, but into an enclosed container. No worries. This plant did more than escape. It did what most plants do when faced with inhospitable conditions.

Resilience according to Merriam Webster has two definitions. The latter one being, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” For the sake of this post, this definition will be used as it best fits how humans describe overcoming hardship.

We only need the basics

Similar to the unlucky rogue raspberry shoot, we too had no idea how quickly we would find ourselves trapped in our homes and apartments, alone and isolated. However, like the seedling, COVID-19 showed us that life continues to exist even when reduced to the basics. Nature constantly reminds us of what is needed to live. In spite of darkness and isolation, the plant had enough nourishment to continue on with its purpose. This is precisely what the world should be positively taking away from the pandemic. Namely, like plants, we truly do not need as much as we think to live a fulfilling life. Besides having sufficient food, light, and water, the plant showed three key elements of resilience in overcoming hardship and challenges.

Resilience is accepting the situation for what it is

Aside from humans, no plant or animal takes umbrage to misfortune. When did complaining ever change an undesirable situation? In the book, “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why”, Lawrence Gonzalez writes about the differences between someone dying or surviving in life or death situations. Along with Viktor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, both authors discuss the importance of purpose. Both also learned of another survivor trait.  Well before Gonzalez and Frankl, the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, born almost 2,000 years prior even observed:

“For good or for ill, life and nature are governed by laws that we can’t change. The quicker we accept this, the more tranquil we can be.”

Once the survivors accepted they could succumb in the next hours, an overwhelming feeling of relief came over them. Accepting their mortality released them from their own torment of death. Now, with a clear conscience, they were able to refocus their energy on making sure this outcome did not become their fate. And in most cases, they literally did it one step at a time.

Resilience requires going deep within to find purpose

Darkness can surround us in difficult times. Support systems may not be easily accessible. Like with the coronavirus,  reaching outward in times of need can be hampered by government measures and/or personal limitations. When such conditions exist to whom and where do you turn? You go within. Raspberry roots grow deep underground, seeking water and nutrients to sustain life. The basis of resilience lies also deep within humans too. What is deep within us? Purpose. The will to live. Resilience requires a “why.” What makes you want to dig down deep within yourself in times of hardship? Why should you persist when faced with insurmountable obstacles and overwhelming feelings of adversity? Purpose makes you want to endure. And that you find within you.

Resilience requires looking above to set a goal

Normally, the flower pot is a container that sustains and supports plant development. When inverted, however, it does the opposite. The little amount of sunshine entering through the tiny drainage hole not only provided enough nourishment, but it also provided a goal to reach. For plants the why is clear; it is the “how” that sometimes poses the challenge. In this case, the seedling overcame the hurdle. The hole whose sole purpose is normally to drain excess water now became the goal to reach. Talk about a paradigm shift! We go deep within to find our “why.” Purpose alone, however, is not enough. Purpose requires a goal to show the achievement of the mission. Otherwise, it only remains an unfulfilled dream.

Resilience is short-term survival in order to live again

Until the plant breached the confinement of the overturned pot it was surviving. Once it cleared the hole and grew new leaves outside it went back to living. Humans too can be resilient and survive in the short-term. However, the long-term goal is to live. Remaining in survival mode for too long can be hazardous. Gonzalez wrote a follow-up book, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. Survivors survive with the hope of living again. Unfortunately for some, the trauma that may result from the ordeal of surviving makes it difficult for some to continue on living. They remain in survival mode with deleterious results.

A vaccine is needed but insufficient

Too many humans were surviving and showing resiliency prior to the outbreak. I would like to have history portray the COVID-19 pandemic as having saved more lives than it had taken by having us–like the raspberry plant–see the light. In our case, this means seeing the bigger picture for humanity. We cannot change COVID-19. We can, however, rethink our attitude, alter our behaviors, revise our policies, and update our structures. Like the raspberry plant, we will break through the hole and come out. Humankind must benefit from the multitude of awe-inspiring acts of human resiliency now on display worldwide. Let us not allow this global resiliency to be in vain. Worse than the current impact of the pandemic would be to squander this opportunity to achieve an equitable standard of living for all. This is fully in our control. Now is our chance to strive for that ray of light!

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Facilitator, Coach, Youth Expert, and Speaker. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential. He does so by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. Jean-Pierre is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and authored What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

Siddhartha: a model for leaders

leaders
Image by pixabay.com

Leaders live an examined life

Those who lead for the sake of serving others embrace continuous learning and reflection as fundamentals in improving themselves and their leadership abilities. As Socrates stated, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I prefer the statement, “The examined life is worth living.”

Classic literature on leadership

My wife recently came across a 2015 Business Insider article titled 8 classic novels that will make you a better leader. She then asked me, “Didn’t you use Siddhartha as a model for leadership for a course you took?” I responded, “Yes, but that was long ago.” The Business Insider article by Rachel Sugar highlights literature identified by Scotty McLennan, a lecturer at the Graduate School of Stanford Business, as fictional sources for learning about leadership. According to McLennan, classical literature allows one to see the moral development of protagonists, thus gaining an understanding and appreciation of transformation processes leaders undergo.

Siddhartha on leadership

In 2003, I was in my second year of managing a 25-bed group home for delinquent youth in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Seeking to gain knowledge on leadership I enrolled in a Master’s of Public Administration program at Clark University and eagerly signed up for a class on Organizational Behavior and Leadership. I was ready for enlightenment! We had to present a historical person who in our opinion embodied leadership. The go-to figures like Martin Luther King, Georg Washington, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa were at the top of most people’s list. Having recently read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, I immediately knew who I would pick.

The search for Siddhartha

After seeing Siddhartha second on McLennan’s list, I fervently scurraged through old computer files. To my surprise, I discovered the leadership PowerPoint presentation on Siddhartha Gautama from 2003. After having had reviewed the file I had realized that I had broken every rule there is on PowerPoint presentations! Nonetheless, I was happy to have found it. I present in this article my key takeaways on leadership from Hesse’s classic, Siddhartha.  I encourage anyone in a leadership role or aspiring to someday be in one to read this story more than once.

Part I: The Brahmin’s Son

Leaders must at times choose a path not desired by supporters but still should have their support through the trust they have gained.

With the Samanas

Regardless of their avoidant practices, leaders cannot dodge the self in reality and must appropriately learn to cope with themselves.

Gotama

Leaders radiate distinctive energy and have a presence that can be felt by others.

A leader’s wisdom cannot be learned by others, nor is one’s acquired wisdom better or worse than another’s; it is only different due to one’s individual experiences.

Awakening

Leaders at some point act independently of what they have learned and of what others think; this can be a lonely but necessary process.

Part II: Kamala

Leaders must not only rely on logic; they must learn to use their senses as well.

Leaders do not make decisions hastily; they listen to their inner voice.

Leaders are drawn to their goal; they do not allow anything to enter their mind which opposes their goal.

Amongst the People

Leaders accept all people and treat them all the same.

Leaders can still be successful if they know a little about business as long as they are calm, can listen, and make good impressions on people.

Samsara

Leaders becoming too engrossed and consumed by their material rewards can lose their effectiveness and original purpose.

By the River

Leaders need both knowledge and experience.

Leaders are not defined by titles, clothing, or possessions since these are all transitory; they are defined by their character and beliefs.

Leaders are human and therefore fallible; they learn from their mistakes.

The Ferryman

Leaders do not see nature as a hindrance or something to be conquered; they gain knowledge by learning from nature.

Leaders listen with an open soul, without desire, judgment, or opinions.

Leaders do not quantify their success in relation to time nor are they bound by it; they exist for the moment.

The Son

Leaders need to show compassion towards those they lead.

Om

Leaders have nothing to fear, conquer, or be saddened by since they are aware, understand, respect, and except all that consists of life.

Govinda

Leaders find rather than seek; the former allows you to be free and receptive. 

Leaders do not consider themselves greater or less than anyone else; they find and learn from all experiences in living things and through this process acquire both knowledge and wisdom.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

How to effectively navigate difficult conversations at work

difficult conversation
Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash

What are difficult conversations?

Difficult conversations are those where a real or imagined fear of addressing a serious matter is equal to or supersedes the issue itself. In the workplace, this could be mediating a conflict between colleagues, confronting allegations of misconduct, placing an employee on leave as a result of an investigation, and involuntary termination. Difficult conversations tremendously impact one or more of a person’s basic needs and can result in shame, embarrassment, feelings of incompetence, or anger. Although these immediate outcomes are all possible, they can be alleviated.

Address difficult conversations as soon as possible

Issues at work grow in scope and scale the longer they go unaddressed. They can even take on a life of their own. Coworkers and even customers and clients can feel rising tensions. This was of particular concern in the group home for youth I oversaw where clients were around 24/7. Residents overheard quarrels and took sides, making matters worse. This created a toxic work environment and derailed the program’s purpose. Immediately addressing issues minimizes this risk. It also builds employee trust. A quick and prudent intervention shows that management is both confident and competent in maintaining a harmonious, safe, and ethical workplace. It supports and validates those who live and breath your mission.

Document, document, document

Difficult conversations are usually preceded by one or more notable events worthy of documentation. Hindsight is 20/20. The trick is to have 20/20 foresight. The way to facilitate difficult conversations is to sense potential personnel issues before they reach critical mass. Address and document precursors. Take the warning signs seriously. It is imperative to document supervisions and warnings. Documentation provides evidence to support an impending difficult conversation. All parties should sign all documented conversations. Signatures acknowledge that a conversation took place.

Have a policy on staff conduct

Explicit rules and expectations on employee conduct and how personnel issues are addressed send a clear message that attitude and behavior matter to the organization and are enforced. My management and leadership experience was with unionized staff. Most managers shudder at the mention of a union. HR and the union helped me resolve personnel matters in accordance with a set of rules. Yes, I sometimes could not terminate unfit employees sooner than desired. At the same time, all employees felt safe knowing that there were clear procedures.

Be fair

There is nothing more important than when employees feel that they have been fairly treated. It reached the point where even my union steward felt I was sometimes too lenient. This was to my advantage. I have had the unfortunate task of involuntarily terminating staff and not one resulted in a grievance. On the contrary, most resulted in a parting handshake with no hard feelings. Some even thanked me for the opportunity as they walked out the door. Staff knew that if they were being let go–except in cases of gross misconduct where termination was immediate–that any of the following had previously occurred: supervision, previous warnings, EAP referral, corrective action, and collaboration between the union steward and management. In other words, there were no surprises and therefore little for management to fear.

Bring in a 3rd party

Include a 3rd party or observer when conducting difficult conversations. In my case, it was the union steward and my assistant director. As a manager I was not in the union, however, the union steward protected me as much as the employee. He became a trusted advisor in handling personnel issues. A 3rd party is recommended for several reasons. First, there is a witness in case of future litigation. Second is professionalism. The meeting can be debriefed and reviewed. The third is safety. If one is having difficulty advancing the conversation the other can take the lead role. In the event of a complete communication breakdown, the 3rd party can mediate or stop the meeting. In general, we are more likely to be on good behavior when we know there are witnesses.

It isn’t personal, it’s about the company

Leaders or managers who stand behind a clear purpose or mission have an easier time addressing difficult conversations because it is not personal. It’s about the company’s purpose. Having an overarching focus on something greater than the individual parties involved puts the matter at hand into perspective. It depersonalizes the situation. In my case, the program I led was responsible for the care and welfare of 20 at-risk youth. The program was situated in the middle of a residential area with friendly but wary neighbors. Trust was everything. All staff knew that any safety or security breach or conduct violation warranted a potentially difficult discussion. Employees were dedicated and passionate about helping young people. The program was well respected by the funding source, the company, and competing NGOs. Employees enjoyed working there as was evidenced by a staff retention rate 3 times higher than the national average.

More tips on handling difficult conversations

For additional practical tips on handling difficult conversations check out articles from Psychology Today and Forbes.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

 

The Digital Paradox: How Digitalization Beckons Human Development

Digital Paradox
Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

The Digital Paradox

A group of teens is huddled behind their smartphones instead of engaging with one another. An emotional email rant is sent to a colleague instead of a face-to-face discussion. The more technology ostensibly appears to disconnect us from one other the more it beckons us to confront our own humanity.  This is the digital paradox. I briefly identify digital buzzwords and attribute to each the respective human developmental challenge we face.

Emerging Technology   Respective Human Equivalent
Augmented Reality (AR) = Individual Perception
Mixed Reality (MR) = Diversity of Perceptions
Blockchain = Trust / Transparency
Big Data = Collective Consciousness
Artificial Intelligence (AI) = Emotional Intelligence (Sensing)
Internet of Things (IoT) = The Interconnectedness of All Living Things (IoLT)
Bots and Algorithms = Ethical Intention / Posterity

Human Augmented Reality Makes Us Unique

Augmented Reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. We augment reality daily using our own biological computer–the brain–to enhance sensory-based experiences based upon our programmed perceptions. Are we at risk of losing our sense of self-perception in a predetermined digitally enhanced augmented reality? What impact does sharing the same augmented sensory experience have on our human development? This leads us to the next emerging technology and its human-related counterpart.

Managing Mixed Reality Requires Leadership

Digital mixed reality refers to any real-time combination between reality, virtual reality, and augmented reality.  In human terms, mixed reality is the intricate interplay of “augmented realities” of over 7.5 billion people. Globalization is the unstoppable convergence of human beings. Nevertheless, the rise of nationalism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance shows a struggle to accept this natural process. Why? Managing diversity requires leaders who can hold the space for multiple mixed realities. Managing conformity only requires dictators. Leading diversity is achieved on a more horizontal plane by fostering knowledge sharing to promote common human interests. Dictating uniformity is achieved on a more vertical axis by restricting information sharing to satisfy self-interest based on hierarchy. What does this struggle to integrate mixed realities say about the quality and intention of current global leadership? This leads us to the next emerging technology.

Blockchain is About Trust and Transparency

According to a World Economic Forum report, corruption costs the global economy $3.6 Billion each year.  Blockchain in its basic form is an electronic ledger (chain) of individual data transactions (blocks). In comparison to current financial transaction methods, Blockchain is more secure and unalterable, fostering trust and transparency in a VUCA world. Data is the new oil in the digital era. The importance of trust and transparency will increase as the importance and scope of information expand. The era of “Fake News” is hardly a surprise as financial scandals surface. To remain in power, those who profit from deceit slander and discredit the sources revealing the deception. Blockchain mitigates this issue by allowing one to transparently “follow the money” and brings us to the next tech buzzwords.

Big Data & Artifical Intelligence = Collective Consciousness & Emotional Intelligence

In an emerging digital age tech gurus are advising us to focus more on what humans do best. Computers are best at collecting raw data (Big Data) and using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyze this surplus of data as desired. This relationship between Big Data and AI humanly translates to our collective consciousness and emotional intelligence respectively. Trust and transparency awaken our collective conscious and stimulate our emotional intelligence. Like computers, humans gather exorbitant amounts of data through augmented and mixed human realities. Being in tune with our emotional state and those of others leads us to be more aware and compassionate. This is being human. Collective consciousness and emotional intelligence make us whole and connected with nature. This is what computers cannot do and leads us to the next tech wonder.

The Internet of Things (IoT) Represents the Interconnectedness of Living Things (IoLT)

The Internet of things (IoT) is a system of interconnected computing sensors able to transfer data over an integrated network. As our collective consciousness grows and emotional intelligence develops, we will better understand the interconnectedness of all living things (IoLT). Please click the subtitle to read more about how IoT reflects the intricate food web and symbiotic relationships naturally keeping life on Earth in a delicate balance. Somehow this chain of digital events is starting to sound like the famous British nursery rhyme, This is the House that Jack Built! This children’s story is not about Jack’s house per se. Rather it is about the stories of people and animals in his house. The same is true of digitalization. Technology ultimately comes full circle back to our human development and its impact on the 8.7 million species inhabiting Earth. And so we have to be clear about our intention. Let’s look at the next two tech buzzwords for some insights.

The Use of Bots and Algorithms Show Intention

Technology is created by humans. We determine its use and intention. Bots are programs created to automate repetitive tasks. There are Good Bots and Bad Bots.  Good bots can improve your website’s SEO and bad bots can steal content from your website. An algorithm is a set of steps to accomplish a task. Algorithms, like bots, are not free of corruptive influence and human prejudices. Algorithm bias already exists. Like all technology, bots and algorithms are a means to an end. The collective use of bots and algorithms shows our overall human intention and future direction. Digitalization is a reflection of our human development. Is it to serve the interests of the few or benefit the common good of all? What is needed to ensure that posterity supersedes the lucrative lure of special interest to exploit advancements in digitalization?

The Digital Paradox Can Be Our Saving Grace

The digital paradox is technology enlightening humanity. This is not only the best outcome; it is achievable. The digital paradox casts a bright light onto what is needed for us to further develop as the top species responsible for this planet and all other species inhabiting it. Advancements in deep learning bring algorithms and computers closer to mimicking human thought and behavior. At this stage of our human development is the objective of making machines in the image of humans advisable? We routinely and sadly witness the enduring physical and emotional harm a group of people or even a single human being with malicious intent can have on a community. Imagine what devastation a global network of ill-intentioned algorithms could do? What is needed to minimize this risk?

The Digital Paradox Demands Ethical Dialog

We must proceed with mindful ethical oversight. Ethical dialog about technology and its use and intention require as much attention and resources as that which go into R&D itself. However, careful and serious attention is needed when assembling ethics committees. A recent Guardian article highlighted the risks of having biased and nondiverse members on ethics committees in charge of ensuring that algorithms are not biased and prejudiced. Lo and behold another paradox! Humans stand at the center of all technology. No matter which reality lens you use, the digital paradox becomes clearly evident the more digital processes mirror the likeness of their human creators. Even in a technologically advanced world, all roads still lead to Rome.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, and Youth Specialist. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

Small leader gestures have big follower impact

Leader Gestures – The basics of decency and respect

Within a period of three days, on two of the world’s biggest stages, millions of viewers observed two slights of basic human decency and respect by two of the most influential people towards other prominent world figures. The first faux pas coincidently occurred on Friday, July 13, 2018, at Windsor Palace between Queen Elizabeth II and President Donald Trump. The second occurred on Sunday, July 15, 2018, at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow between Presidents Vladimir Putin, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, and Emmanuel Macron. Fortunately for all of us, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia was modeling desperately needed pro-social leader gestures.

The Queen is somewhere around here

leader gesture
President Trump walking ahead of Queen Elizabeth II during his visit to Windsor Castle. Photos by Richard Pohle

The procedure seems straightforward. Walk side-by-side through a column of honor guards. How difficult can it be? Even with what appeared to be instruction from the Queen, Trump either did not listen and/or did not care about the procedure. Leaving the Queen momentarily in his shadow, he gave the impression that the ceremony was only to honor his presence. During the short promenade, Trump not once looked at the Queen.

Put aside for a moment their titles and all the pomp and circumstance. An older man (72) is walking with an even older woman (92). As fit as Queen Elisabeth II is she is elderly and walking on an uneven surface. Wouldn’t it be proper and kind for the man to walk by her side? That is at a minimum. The extra step would be to offer his arm. The picture below offers a striking contrast to what easily could have been. The facial expressions in each picture say it all.

leader gestures
A young man accompanying an elderly woman on a walk Photo credit: Bcbits.com

Raining? Really, I’m hardly wet.

As French and Croatian players in the World Cup finals were awarded their medals and congratulated by FIFA president Gianni Infantoni, Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron, and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, it began to rain then pour. As weather conditions worsened, the first to receive an umbrella was Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. No, not exactly. The first to receive protection from the elements was the host, Vladimir Putin. As Putin was sheltered by a large umbrella he did not even have to hold, Grabar-Kitarović, Macron, and Infantoni stood in elements jubilantly embracing players and coaches.

leader gestures
Presidents Macron and Grabar-Kitarović congratulate players and coaches in the pouring rain while President Putin takes cover under the first umbrella. Photo by Reuters.

Let us again put aside the titles and the significance of the ceremony. You are hosting three people at your house in your backyard. Suddenly the clouds roll in and it begins to rain then downpour. What do you do? You find an umbrella for yourself. No. This is not an airplane emergency where you are instructed to put your mask on first, then attend to others. You attend to the needs of your guests first.

Trump does not fair better with umbrella courtesy. He also ensured his well-being first under an oversized golf umbrella while Barron and Melanie handled the elements sans parapluie. Maybe the Queen could arrange a lesson in umbrella etiquette for them both.

Leader gestures
Trump making sure he is protected from the elements.
Photo: AP/Andrew Harnik

Leader gestures and their impact on followers

Small gestures say a lot about a leader’s character. A leader is the model of the behavior she wants her followers to emulate. Some followers do in fact imitate what their leader says and does. What messages are Presidents Trump and Putin sending their constituents on how to treat the elderly, family members, countries hosting you, or foreigners visiting your country?

Remember playing Follow-the-leader as a child?  A very empowering feeling for a young person knowing every one must pay attention to her every step and action. These simple leader gestures, however, are not a game and need to be taken seriously.  Followers can become emboldened by a leader’s irresponsible and anti-social gestures or language. Depending on the leader’s influence and intention, he can incite followers to either bring communities together or have them tear apart the social fabric that keeps us treating one another humanely. I explore the dangers of phony leadership in a previous blog.

A responsible leader gesture

On July 1st, when the Round of 16 of the World Cup was underway, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović flew economy class to Russia with other Croatian fans to support their national team. What impact did her small gesture have on her constituents and the team? See for yourself.  The Croatian national team deserves full credit for reaching the World Cup Finals. One begs to ask, however, if such pro-social behaviors becoming of a president also contributed to their team’s national and international success?

Leader gestures
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic flying economy with passengers to Russia. Facebook/Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

A nixed economy – From a defunct mixed economy to a bionic economy

The $700 billion bionic economy

In the 1970s television series, The Six Million Dollar Man, test pilot Colonel Steve Austin was nearly dead from a test flight crash. Deciding that “we have the technology to rebuild this man”, the US government rebuilds Austin, augmenting him with cybernetic parts giving him superhuman strength and speed. Austin becomes a secret operative, fighting injustice where it is found.

Thirty years later in 2008 in the real world, the US economy has crashed from profit testing gone wrong and was on the verge of collapse. Deciding that “we have the means to rebuild this system”, the government decided to rebuild a defunct system and turn it into the $700 billion bionic economy. Augmenting it with taxpayer dollars, top executives of irresponsible financial institutions received $1.6 billion USD worth of super-economic strength and speed, like bonuses, home security systems, private chauffeured cars, club dues, and private financial planners–no irony there– just to name a few. The bionic economy became an overt government operative, rewarding financial injustice where it was found.

Definitions of a nixed economy, a defunct mixed economy, and a bionic economy

nix: to stop, prevent, or refuse to accept something (Source: Online Cambridge Dictionary)

nixed economy: an economic system which has been stopped, prevented, or refused to accept the consequences of its own behaviors

defunct: no longing existing, living, or working correctly (Source: Online Cambridge Dictionary)

mixed economy: an economic system in which some industries are controlled privately and some by the government (Source: Online Cambridge Dictionary)

defunct mixed economy: a mixed economy that no longer exists, lives, or is working correctly, whereby major industries are controlled by the government

bionic: using artificial materials and methods to produce activity or movement in a person or animal (Source: Online Cambridge Dictionary)

bionic economy: an economic system in which major industries are controlled by the government through the use of artificial materials and methods to produce desired activity in an otherwise defunct economy

A nixed economy: The Free World not living in accordance with a mixed economy

Oil surge and Iraq War
From the mid-1980s to 2003 a barrel of oil had remained around $20 to $40 USD. The energy crisis from 2003 to 2008 culminated in a barrel selling at a record high of $147 USD in July 2008. On March 20, 2003, the United States coincidentally began its invasion of Iraq, based on false intelligence–the world’s No. 4 in oil reserves. In May 2007, as the barrel of oil was soaring, the Iraq Oil Law was proposed. The law intended to give major western oil companies long-term contracts and a safe legal framework to manage oil fields in Iraq. Due to internal conflicts this proposed law triggered–further inciting instability in the region–no law was passed.

Oil prices from Jan. '03 to Dec. '08 contributing to a bionic economy
Oil Prices from Jan. 2003 to Dec. 2008. Source: Wikipedia

The Housing Bubble, Subprime Mortgage Crisis and Market Crash
On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The financial services firm had a whopping $600,000,000,000 in assets–the largest bankruptcy filling in US history. In a bid to save an ostensible global collapse of the banking and economic system–since it is unknown how a mixed economy would have handled the situation–the Bank Bailout Bill was submitted to the House of Representatives on September 21, 2008. But many in Congress felt it was forcing taxpayers to reward bad banking decisions. The House voted against it on September 29, 2008. The result: That same day the stock market crashed. The Dow fell over 770 points, the largest point drop in any single day in history and global markets plummeted.

The Senate quickly re-introduced the proposal by attaching it to a bill that was already under consideration. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was approved and signed by President Bush on October 3, 2008. Less than two months later on December 30, 2008, the housing market also met its fate. On this date, the Case-Shiller home price index reported the largest price drop in its history.

The subprime mortgage crisis was in full swing between 2007 to 2010. During this time period over 60 notable financial institutions worldwide–including the likes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and American International Group–the two alone had a combined value of nearly $200 Billion USD–were either acquired or went bankrupt. From 2006 to 2012, half of the United States–this writer was almost a victim as well–would be affected by the credit crisis and bursting of the housing market bubble. In 2008 alone, 3.1 million Americans filed for foreclosure, which at the time was one in every 54 homes, according to RealtyTrac. The repercussions were long-lasting. By 2016, homeownership in the U.S. had dipped below 63% – a 50 year low. (Read more at Investopedia)

Auto industry bailout
It is surprising that from 2008 to 2010 the auto industry would take a turn for the worse, with the “Big Three” approaching Congress in November 2008 to request an over $80 Billion government bailout or face bankruptcy? A major tenet of Capitalism is limited government intervention whereby free markets are free from any government intervention. Unless one views the $80 Billion bailout from January 2009 to December 2013 as “limited government intervention”, then by these definitions neither the rules of capitalism nor mixed economy was followed.

Timeline of Complete Economic Failure in 2008

July ’08 – A barrel of oil sold at $147 USD – Highest price in history

 September ’08 – Lehman Brothers files Chapter 11 – Largest bankruptcy filing in US history.
Emergency Economic Stabilization Act is not passed by the House and the Stock Market crashes – Historic one day 770 point drop

October ’08 – Emergency Economic Stabilization Act – Financial Institutional $700 billion USD bailout signed

November ’08 – $80 Billion auto bailout – Largest auto bailout

December ’08 – Largest home price index drop in Case-Shiller history

The dangers of a bionic economy

The imminent danger of having an artificial economy is that those who interfere with free or even mixed economies ultimately control the parts. When a bone breaks and heals naturally, then the body itself is in control of the healing process. When that part is artificially replaced, as was the case in 2008, then it is no longer a natural healing process. It is an unnatural intervention with predetermined goals serving the interests of those in charge of the replacement.

No one will ever know what the aftermath would have been like had the nixed economy taken its natural course. The “Great Recession of 2008” showed a complete and utter economic collapse. Was it a sign that a new system is needed?

Who benefits from a bionic economy? According to a Federal Reserve Bulletin published in September 2017, as of 2016, the richest 1% of Americans owned 38.6% of the wealth. The bottom 90% owned only 22.8% of the wealth. That is nearly twice as much. The three richest Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 50% of Americans. And the wealth gap is only widening.

A bionic economy devalues money and human life

Check out the article November 2017 Market Watch article titled, Here’s all the money in the world, in one chart. The ratio of hard currency–$36.8 Trillion, compared to non-tangible wealth–$1.2 Quadrillion is mind-blowing! In other words, physical money consists of only 8% of all worth in the world. The non-physical “money” makes up 92% of all wealth.

Here is more sobering news about the bionic economy. Global debt is estimated at $215 Trillion ($250 as of 2019). That means global debt is almost seven times greater than all the hard cash in the world! How would the average person be treated by a financial institution asking for additional funding if, for every dollar he had, he already owed seven?

Ready for another amazing bionic economy feat? $70 Trillion (33%) of that debt was accumulated in the last decade alone. Despite a recent warning of a global debt crisis from the World Bank, the bionic market keeps ongoing. How long and on what foundation can the bionic economy perform as it has been? What value does money really have and who is benefitting from this bionic economy?

Remember the 3.1 million Americans whose dreams of homeownership were used to lure them into a borrowing financial trap? Where was their bionic compensation for being negligently counseled and losing their home? Where was their bionic loan to bring them back to life and save them from foreclosure, bankruptcy, and emotional hardship? Interesting how the mixed economy was good enough for the millions of victims to recover naturally, but not for the perpetrators! A bionic economy not only questions the value of money, but it seems to call into question the value of human life as well.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Expert. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

North Korea Solution – Step back and demilitarize

North Korea

In the shoes of North Korea

In June 2009, I participated in a Negotiation training at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington DC. North Korea had just pulled out of the Six-party Talks two months prior and one of our exercises was to bring North Korea back to the negotiation table. Sound familiar?

One by one participants volunteered to represent the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan. When it came to North Korea the room went silent. At this point in my career, I was managing a group home for youth in conflict with the law and had been in the counseling psychology field for over a decade. I sat for a moment and thought about it. North Korea now had an eager representative.

I do not remember the exact details of the negotiation process, other than it ended quickly and without an agreement. The frustration in the room was palpable. I was in control because there was nothing to negotiate. They wanted something from me (at least a few did), but I didn’t need anything from them. I said what I wanted and no one could do anything about it. My sense of perceived power was immense. The greater their frustration, the more emboldened I became. Sound familiar?

How the US could deal with North Korea – A Case Study

Fast forward several years later. I was still the director of the group home and in came a referral from Boston. “Jerry” was short and stocky in stature and was as tough as they come. He was heavily gang-involved and had recently survived multiple gunshot wounds. His gang allegiance was so strong, that he’d rather return to be with his crew and possibly get killed than stay in the program. He didn’t care. He wanted out and started behaving accordingly.

Jerry immediately began threatening and posturing towards staff. I went to have a look. It did not go well. My presence escalated the situation. Jerry felt more threatened and as a result, he started threatening me. I had to keep my ego in check and depersonalize the situation. Had I taken a similar threatening approach, having over 600 pounds of combined staff weight near me, it would have ended in an ugly and potentially dangerous physical restraint. The risk of injury to either Jerry or my staff was extremely high. No one wanted that.

I could sense Jerry’s rational state was deteriorating and his desperation was increasing. This young man had everything to fight for and nothing to lose. A physical intervention would have only condoned an old pattern of using threats and violence as a method to fulfill needs. Such a response would have been at a physical and psychological cost, as well as a potential financial and legal cost. Furthermore, how as role models could we help Jerry if we behave exactly as he does? Sound familiar?

Jerry needed to feel safe and assured that we were doing our best to de-escalate the situation. So what did I do? I left. As the director, my responsibility was to ensure everyone’s safety and doing so required me to step back and withdraw. My job was to build trust and model the behavior I was asking of Jerry. Before leaving, I told Jerry that we would do our best to work with him and that his cooperation would be appreciated. Jerry left the next day to another program which he ended up completing. Win-win.

Although a different situation, there are some similarities and key takeaways for how the US could choose to deal with North Korea. As this is a multi-party affair, let’s look briefly at the five other countries to better understand their perspective and consider alternative peaceful solutions.

North Korea

What does North Korea really want? Ostensibly to become a nuclear power equal to the US and not be threatened by potential US military action. Why does North Korea feel so threatened by the US? First, the United States and South Korea have had a military alliance since 1953. Second, nearly 30,000 US troops are in South Korea, regularly conducting extensive military drills on North Korea’s doorstep. Third, Japan, which is only 600 miles away, hosts the largest number of US military in a foreign country–nearly 40,000 troops–and hosts the Seventh Fleet, the largest of US navy’s sea forces. Lastly, is the island of Guam, which hosts a US military base of about 4,000 personnel and is about 2,000 miles from Pyongyang.

Whether real or imagined, North Korea most likely interprets this robust military presence–which could easily attempt to invade a small country–as an imminent existential threat. This fear needs to be acknowledged and seen as a trigger for North Korea. Former US President Jimmy Carter said it best, “Until we’re willing to talk to them and treat them with respect as human beings, which they are, then I don’t think we’ll make any progress.”

Japan and South Korea

From the North Korean perspective, Japan and South Korea are most likely viewed as extensions of the US military arm and threat. One can assume that both Japan and South Korea want peace and security in the region. Kudos to Japan for keeping its cool and not responding in a rash way or with retaliatory comments in light of the two recent missile launches over its country. There is something to learn from their outward show of calmness in an otherwise tense situation. Japan and South Korea are wisely looking for a peaceful global response, and not solely relying on American muscle.

Russia and China

From the outside, both Russia and China hardly appear to be encouraging North Korea to stop their nuclear development and testing. According to a Chinese spokeswoman, “The situation on the Korean Peninsula is complicated and sensitive.” Is it really? It only appears complicated for the US, South Korea, and Japan. China and Russia are barely batting an eye, although they both have a better relationship with North Korea and can be most influential in bringing peace to the region. As for North Korea, their nuclear capabilities are only improving.

Both Russia and China are most likely also not pleased with America’s extensive presence in the area. It could be advantageous for Russia and China for North Korea to have nuclear capabilities. For the two superpowers, North Korea is a check and balance on the peninsula and a thorn in the side of the US.

Recommendations to De-escalate tensions with North Korea

De-militarize the area and step back

The United States must lessen its perceived threat to North Korea by stepping back from discussions and reducing its military presence in the area. Lowering fear and anxiety increases the level of safety in a crisis situation and makes the possibility of dialogue more likely. Russia and China would likely approve of such measures as well and the US could no longer be blamed for raising tensions and escalating fears.

China and Russia need to take a more active role with North Korea

US Secretary of State Tillerson aptly responded after a missile launch over Japan in 2017 when he said, “China and Russia must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own.” Russia has been relatively quiet stating that more sanctions are not the answer. China only states that “all parties should exercise restraint”, however, North Korea seems to be exempt from this plea. One begins to wonder what they both truly want as an outcome.

As long as the US, South Korea, and Japan continue responding in kind with threats and displays of military might, China and Russia can continue watching a game that has been playing since 2003 when North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). The second benefit of the US stepping back and demilitarizing the peninsula and area is that China and Russia will be put in a position to act and not just make comments about what others need to do. The international community would then soon see whether both China and Russia want peace and stability in the area or not.

Positively encourage North Korea to denuclearize

There is a third benefit of the United States taking a back seat and de-militarizing the peninsula and area. North Korea would have a difficult time justifying its reason to continue its nuclear weapons program. This increases the chances of them reducing weapons testing and manufacturing. It also increases the chances of them coming back to the discussion table. If North Korea still continues on its current path, then international consensus could put pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

US and Russia need to take action on Pillar 2 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

The United States and Russia need to show the world, not just North Korea, that they are serious about global denuclearization. Why should a country disarm when the ones telling them to do so do not do it themselves? Why should some countries be allowed to have nuclear arms and others not?

The Second Pillar of NPT is Disarmament. It states “all Parties undertake to pursue good-faith negotiations on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race, to nuclear disarmament, and to general and complete disarmament.” The second and third points of this pillar must be the focus for all nine nations in possession of nuclear weapons, especially the United States and Russia who each have a nuclear arsenal of around 7,000 capable weapons. Of these, each has around 1,800 that are operational. Next, come China and France with about 300 nuclear weapons apiece.

The North Korean nuclear weapons crisis can happen anywhere, therefore, the threat of nuclear weapons needs to be broadened beyond North Korea. Let North Korea be a reminder of what is at stake if all nations, especially those with nuclear capabilities, do not take the mandates of NPT seriously. Let North Korea be a reminder of how nuclear armament threatens regional as well as global peace and development.

Progress begins when the US does exactly what it is asking of North Korea–denuclearize. The United States, Russia and China must lead by example and fully comply with the NPT mandates. This is active leadership. This is being a leader in a nuclear world.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Expert. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the youth inspired EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

A warning about the use of labels on people

labeling
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Product labels have their place

Product labels have become increasingly important the more conscious we become about what we consume and purchase. A healthier lifestyle, environmental concerns, and social responsibility are a few reasons we search for and read labels. One ingredient, one raw material, or even a product’s origin is enough for a consumer to disregard an otherwise appealing product. This use of labeling is for both the benefit of the individual and the community. This is, however, where the benefits of labels stop.

Labeling allows us to discern information, however…

In an age of overwhelming access to information, the desire to share knowledge increases, as does skepticism around accuracy and its source. Everyone can’t be right, so who is telling the truth? There is some truth on all sides when we listen without judgment to find common ground and seek understanding.

Humans instinctually discern the goodness and value of the information we gather from our senses. From an evolutionary standpoint, a slip in judgment could have been a matter of life or death. The problem is, too often we make rash one-sided judgments of people and therein lies the danger of labels.

Labeling people leads to dehumanization

labelsOpposing views, as displayed in the political arena, are usually not resolved through inquisitive processes to further understand the other(s). Rather, people with differing viewpoints are labeled in dismissive and demeaning ways. The goal is to diminish their worth and tarnish their reputation. Dialogue under these conditions cannot take place.

Name-calling is unpresidential

Small leadership gestures have a big follower impact. On a larger scale, leadership under an umbrella of fear, threats, and verbal aggression slips into dictatorship. Such a manner of conduct breeds animosity and divisiveness. The contentiousness that results has the propensity to lead to violent behavior and clashes.

Believe it or not, Wikipedia has a “nickname” page for Donald Trump. The list is surprisingly (or not) extensive. This a dangerous political method of dealing with opposition. Labeling systemically condones an “us versus them” mentality, allowing it to become the accepted way of dealing with differences. We are witnessing the damage this divisive behavior brings to our diverse communities.

Labeling places people at risk

Once labeled, a person is reduced to several unflattering stereotypes. Once dehumanized that person is perceived as less than human. Their needs, voice, and value are diminished. Susceptibility to discrimination, mockery, oppression, neglect, and abuse (physical, verbal, and emotional) increases.

In extreme cases, significant harm and even death can result. One needs not to look too far in the distant past to see how hateful and dehumanizing language can lead to an act of genocide. The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 is a stark reminder of how the Tutsi minority for decades prior was verbally degraded and labeled as cockroaches and snakes. What does one do with cockroaches and snakes?

Read product labels, stop labeling people

Continue reading labels on products on shelves and on racks. They hopefully make you a more informed consumer.  A label on a bag of organic apples grown from a local farm helps the consumer determine the value and worthiness of the purchase.

Degrading labels on people are not accurate and only decrease a person’s value. This can become a slippery slope leading to oppression and the likelihood of injustice to arise. Use great caution before consuming a demeaning and dehumanizing label placed on a person. Rather than labeling people seek to understand and find common ground. Take the time to look into what is not on the label.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. He is also the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.