In this newsletter:
1. Why is it essential to be conflict-fit?
2. Building Strong Relatinships in a Disrupted Times.
3. The “systemic me” and George Floyd.
We often tell ourselves or others that conflict can be useful. If true, why do so many conflicts end with disastrous results? Irreconcilable differences of values, expectations and needs are one. The other, more likely, is the inability to deal with conflict in a way that allows for creativity. To deal with tension and friction, both at work and home, requires emotional intelligence. In other words, it involves the mastering of intellectual and emotional skills that will allow you to be assertive and cooperative. Assertive refers to clarity about your needs and expectations. Cooperativeness refers to being open-minded to the expectations and needs of others
The next webinar on Building Relationships in Disruptive Times is on 18 June 2020 from 10:00 – 11:30 am on the Zoom-platform.
The death of George Floyd is tragic. It is changing the world. Or is it? The question I am asking myself, is the so-called system, systematic (sic), institutionalised, structural change that is called for enough? James C Scott wrote about “the public transcript” in his book Domination and the Arts of Resistance. Is reform of the public transcript enough? Even possible?
What is the public transcript?
Throughout the centuries, there was a need to organise individuals to limit and control the spread of anger and fear. South Africa tried it with Apartheid.
Capitalism is one system of organisation. Back in the nineteen-forties Karl Polanyi wrote about the division between the social or political and economic spheres. Today, this divide is the core of the public transcript. As the divide grew, the economy became the tool of power and control. It created a system of “we” the insiders, and the marginalised. It supports a network of racism, violence, supremacy, hatred, and abuse. It upholds a system where “we” are dedicated and hard-working and “you” a failure and lazy.
Sometimes this “you” also includes “failing” males. They are a disgrace to male superiority.
Others do not have access to economic power, but they have political power. They can organise an anti-system expressed in protests, marches, rallies. Without at least the backing of economic power, they are powerless and only seldom comes to power. Often that happens because the economic powerful needs them to be in control.
The problem of “systemic.”
Over the past two years, the idea of “systemic” became problematic in my mind. Systemic allows us to blame faceless people for the ills of society. It allows us to shrug our shoulders and walk away without any personal responsibility. Colonialism, Apartheid, white supremacy, power structures remain the culprits while the leaders and agents walk away, leaving the George Floyds dead in the street – struggling for life-giving air.
Can we re-write the transcript without individual responsibility? A key question thus is: what drives individual behaviour?
Individual behaviour and the transcript
One factor is the public transcript. In crowds there is safety. The illusion of security allows us to express ourselves more freely and behave in ways we would not have done otherwise. Think about how people behave in crowds at sports meetings, students in residences and fraternities, the power of sectarian religions, at political meetings etc. The public transcript also endows some institutions and the individuals, who are the agents of those institutions, with power. The power to arrest, to defend the public good. The public transcript defines good. Just think of policeman, public officers, magistrates and judges, managers and executives, and even husbands. These are individuals who received the power to defend the public transcript and act accordingly.
It is good to acknowledge that there is also a corporate transcript that governs the distribution of power and control of behaviour at the workplace. It expects of the employees to act in the interest of the corporate transcript. It allows the agents, that is the managers and those endowed with the power (often called responsibility) to demand and to bully others into submission.
The private transcript
There is also a private transcript (of a “systemic me”) written over years and years. Beginning at a young age and affirmed throughout our lives. It is a script of fear, distrust, and anxiety. I fear being unloved, incapable, not good enough and many others. Distrust is the suspicion that others will again disappoint me. Anxiety is experiencing the unknown and change as a threat. Fear, distrust, and anxiety are ingrained so deeply that we live unaware of the power they hold over us. Our interpretations of our life experiences are not rational but are the product the distrust, anxiety, and fear.
To deal with this, we made what I have come to call an unconscious commitment not to be exposed as weak and afraid. We work hard to be successful, strong, and powerful. Success, strength, and power are defined by your position in society, whether you are part of the “insider group” or of the “marginalised”.
Change becomes sustainable only when we become aware of these messages and lies. This inner journey is a painful experience, a permanent struggle – one where failure indiscretion can be just around the corner. It is a process full of anxiety and anger (and increasingly so amongst whites). Personal awareness of these private dynamics could make it possible for those who currently form the “we” to connect with those who are the “marginalised” without fear and without succumbing to the unconscious commitment to defend, to be better, or to be superior. Personal awareness of these private dynamics could make it possible for those who currently form the “marginalised” to connect with insiders without anger and with compassion. Then a new public transcript becomes possible. Then only will transforming the systemic, institutions and structures be meaningful and sustainable.
Warning or conclusion
We cannot expect whites to stop being racist overnight. It requires a process that needs an environment that provides safety for the inner journey to take place. We cannot expect a Black person just to forgive and move on. I do not believe that the environment for these processes exists. The public transcript and the institutions need to change. But you and I also need to change
If not, we will soon hear about George Floyd II.