Tolerating Christmas

It’s a special time of the year especially if you’re a child or a grown-up with lovely memories of Christmas. Might be a really big stack of presents around the tree if you had a big family. Might be stories from older siblings about “hearing” noises in the night. New things. Special meal. Visiting Dad’s boss as a ritual. Everyone in a good mood it seemed!

For some, the Christmas lunch with disconnected relatives is a chore to survive. The only time the trust bank gets a chance to be exercised. That’s not everyone’s experience. Some families are filled with trust, companionship and mutual respect built on doing things – making an effort. And tolerating.

Shortly I’m off to sing carols at St Matthew-in-the-City. St Matthew’s who asked us to reflect on Mary’s discovery that she was pregnant. I only go there once a year. I love the carols and I like the tolerance. Seems to me if there is one thing that I can take from a church it’s tolerance. I’ve previously blogged about having no tolerance for intolerance.

When we sit down for Christmas Lunch that might be something worth reflecting on. Practicing tolerance to those less equipped for the rigours of an annual catch-up. While you’re at it try a little presence and make this one of the good old days!

Share your Christmas’ of the past and have a very happy Christmas day!

Stephen

Happy to be what you are

Mahmud Omid Djalili is a Muslim living in London with his wife and family in the movie The Reluctant Infidel. He discovers much to horror, that he was born to Jewish parents and adopted by a Muslim Pakastani family when he was two weeks old. The anguish of how to deal with this including how to tell ones loved ones. Especially when his son’s future father-in-law is a radical cleric from Egypt and needs to give approval for the wedding.

We all gain at least part of our sense of who we are from our ethnicity, our parents and our culture and possibly the religion of our parents and community. But what if there was a missing link on the way through like there was for Mahmud?  Would your whole sense of being be brought into disarray? Does it matter?

As it turns out (and we know this), Mahmud discovers it’s the same god, that actually Muslims and Jews have much in common and in the end he’s still the same father, businessman, husband and friend he was before he knew about his birth parents. Only he’s nicer. Aware of the absurdity of forced demarcation we get from religion, he brings the two together with new understanding and tolerance.

It’s a comedy, or more particularly a farce, but it’s got a great lesson in leadership about finding commonality by seeing through artificial contrivances and having the ability to laugh at ourselves.

It’s worth seeing!

Stephen

Get the low down on 2051

Right and wrong are not necessarily at different ends of the spectrum. Or so says the Rev. Charlie Jackson when introducing Felix Bush in the movie Get Low. Forty years after a bad thing happened Bush came out of his self-imposed exile to ask his community for forgiveness.

In those 40 years he gave up the propsect of relationships, family, a career and everything else he might have done with the bigger part of his adult life. It was a timely movie after the reflections of my last blog, focusing on revenge.

When you look back 40 years it’s 1971. I was 8 for most of the year. Standard Two with Mrs Hindmarsh at Linwood Avenue School. Norm Kirk, the school’s most famous pupil, was yet to be Prime Minister. Starting music tuition like the rest of the family, walking to and from school and, if my memory serves me correctly my one year of Rugby Union at Fergie McCormick’s club Linwood with my friends Nigel Hughes and Victor Harris. Victor died a few years later in a fall near Hanmer. That was sad. So although it’s 40 years ago, much of it is accessible.

HQ Holden from the early 1970s - this one in San Remo Gold just like ours

Looking forward 40 years is quite a different matter for me. It’s so far out there and I can’t perceive that anything that might happen this year in 2011 will be of import in 2051 (if I’m here!).  So, if I’m lucky enough to still be here, the good things will be present and active in my life – my children, who knows their children, and my important relationships. One thing is for sure, I won’t be dwelling on the guy that took my carpark, or the colleague who had unpleasant things to say, or every more serious matters that haven’t gone my way. That’s life afterall, not a bank for later.

It’s a funny movie, with a powerful message. It’s surprising how long people hold onto all sorts of old stuff. Felix Bush took away the better part of his life over something he did when he was a young man. In the end it didn’t matter who’s fault it all was. Most people, however old they are couldn’t imagine that anything that’s happening now would still be bothering them in 2051. But you need constant vigilance and I’ve written in the past about getting rid of your old baggage.

I’m not rushing for 2051 to be here. But I’m damn sure that when it arrives for me I’ll be at peace. Will you?

Have a great week!

Stephen

Honour what’s right, not what someone else made up

I had finished an appointment in town and instead of a stressful drive on the Southern Motorway to my office in Manukau, decided to cruise down Sandringham Road to Highway 20, which always seems more relaxing (I wonder: has the Queen ever been driven to the intersection of St Lukes and Sandringham Roads where the sign directs you left to Balmoral and straight-ahead to Sandringham?!). At the Wesley Community centre I came across a colourful and bustling market, prompting me to stop, grab the camera and have a look around.

A terrible tragedy has struck in the heart of Moscow. A suicide bomber declaring “I will kill you all”, detonated a large bomb, killing, well not all but 35 and maiming scores. In the weekend, a woman’s body was found burning on the side of the road near Huntly, after what appears to have been a so-called “honour-killing”. It may or may not be the case here, but whatever the circumstances are, such a terrible thing, does exist. Last week a couple in their sixties were subject to a cruel and cowardly attack in small-town New Zealand, because of their sexual preference. Like something from the small-church USA who picket gay funerals.

In our leadership work much of the growth in leaders comes form understanding, challenging and seeking to change leaders’ mental models. Compared to a suicide bomber or “honour” killer, the subject matter can seem pretty insignificant. But what happens during our life’s experiences will shape us and cause us to interpret things in a certain, blinkered way. It’s our way of making sense of the world. And we put up with some of it because “that’s the way they are” or “you need to be careful that you approach her this way” or whatever.

As I walked to the market a polynesian church service was underway inside the community hall. A chinese man, struggling to do his sales pitch to a couple who’s mother-tongue was something else too, was selling tools, gas cookers and an assortment of bathroom fittings. So reasonably priced, I soon found myself the proud owner of a trademan’s filler gun. Just had to have it. Fruit for Africa –  in fact some of the locals may have originally been from Africa – second-hand clothes and cheap DVD players. It was a colourful and vibrant scene. And the sense was of tolerance of culture and perhaps belief.

We can delude ourselves with tolerance though. Some things are just not right and we should never forget it and how that they came to be. Our species has only been around for 100,000 years. If the existence of planet earth was a 24-hour clock then our time on it is only a few seconds. So what? I reckon this can put into perspective a claim of “culture”, “ancient belief” that justifies behaviours, some that are tragic. That is, some other guys (mainly) and girls came up with these ideas in quite recent history. Like everything to do with man. Recent, really.

I hope that you are as offended as I am by the examples of behaviours that are driven from some part of human culture. If we want to make it to 200,000 years we need to keep demanding of ourselves that any behaviour that causes harm to another because of some belief held as true, be stomped out. And this might include less dramatic behaviours than murder of course.

Otherwise, are we any better than those sick men in my culture that murdered the women as witches in the not too distant past?

Be tolerant, but not of deluded beliefs that fuel tragedy. Ever.

Stephen

Polish the headstone

On Christmas morning I’ll visit the grave of my maternal grandparents at Waikumete Cemetery. They won’t know I’ve been and actually, I hardly knew my grandfather who died when I was 5 years old. I have one only memory of him  – going up the escalators at Farmers – I think!. Christmas day as a boy felt like a very special day, in fact it felt so special that when we went out in the car to visit (usually Dad’s boss Huia Gilpin who lived in the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch), I would look at other people in their cars with some sort of reverence, almost amazement, that here we had arrived on this most special of days. Surely today we were a united community with clean cars, best clothes and only good things to say and do. And new stuff from under the tree. The whole world must be amazing today.

I re-live that feeling in part by listening to ridiculously cliche-ridden carols and cleaning the car (I only just realised that! ah the power of blogging). And by visiting Mum’s parents’ grave at Waikumete. Grandma was a pretty no-nonsense sort of person. I remember after a holiday in Auckland in January, all piling in the car to leave with her on the steps of her three-bedroom unit in Haverstock Road, Sandringham.  “Lovely to see you arrive, lovely to see you go” she declared. I was crushed. How could she say such a thing? How could the nine of us squeezed into her flat in Sandringham for three weeks with a week or so in the middle at Stanmore Bay, have been anything other than a joyous experience?

Later, when I boarded with her as a 21 year-old, she reprimanded me for inappropriate sarcasm to some door-to-door religious salesmen in white shirts and black name tags. No nonsense, but tolerant at the same time.

For some reason, time is the excuse, I haven’t put up a Christmas Tree this year. I might tonight. I might not. Somehow, it doesn’t seem important. The mind feels clear and at peace after a big year both professionally and personally and the tree seems not necessary for the experience of Christmas peace.

The man who lived 2000 years ago and was executed by the government of the day in a pretty routine method at that time, spoke, or at least had recorded about him, of tolerance. If he were around today, he’d be pretty shocked at the lack of tolerance by many of the establishments built up in his name. He’d be impressed by some, sure.

I feel very grateful that in my world there’s a lot of tolerance about race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, ability, wants. But unlike the visit to the Botanic Gardens in the 70s I realise that much or even most of the world is not so fortunate. Some people can’t choose what they wear, or eat, or days they work, because of intolerance based supposedly on the words of men who spoke primarily of such a thing. Strange.

None of this is going to change anytime soon, but every step of Authenticity and Tolerance as leaders we make to our teams and communities, it’s a step that will, with many other steps, ripple eventually across the oceans to maybe some poor kid in Africa infected by AIDS at birth from her mother.

So when I polish up the headstone, I’ll remember Grandma’s tolerance, at least on that one day that I got told off. But I’ll continue to be intolerant of one thing though: Intolerance. Make a stand for it. You won’t just lead a great team. Take how we lead at work as authentic leaders into all of the world and don’t put up with intolerance. We could save more lives that way than ever before.

That’s a Christmas worth having. Same one as a boy I thought the world was having.