The tragic fate of flight MH-17 this summer threw the Dutch society right in the middle of a messy conflict in the Ukraine. Our ‘organised’ society had to deal with a disaster of overwhelming proportions. The arbitrary fate, the injustice and the despair of this magnitude have been unknown to the Dutch since the WWII.
For a long time it seemed like the world was clearly divided in ‘messy’ and ‘organised’ countries. We even tended to refer to ‘first-’, ‘second-’ and ‘third world countries’. The language may have become out-dated. I see many attempts to protect the boundaries between our ‘organised’ world and the ‘messy’ world. Increased border protection and restrictive policies show little empathy and favour our desire for safety over democratic principles.
It was a plane that brought down the distance between safe and unsafe. It could have also been Ebola, Islamic State, or another oil disaster. To me the world appears more volatile and uncertain than ever before. The question is how we respond to that? That question is relevant at a business and personal level as well: volatility and uncertainty are equally well represented on a personal level: illnesses, high work pressures, and strained relationships are the small scale ‘unsafety’s’ that just add to the global messiness.
In the corporate world the response to messiness is control, blue prints, roadmaps and ‘male language’-plans full of KPI’s, market shares, growth, chargeability rates and service level agreements. Nothing wrong with that, but the inherent uncertainty, messiness, vulnerability and related feelings are often neglected or ignored altogether. I realize I am a part of that corporate world. On occasion I am responding to the pressure of my clients through anxiously overachieving and accepting assignments driven by pride or loyalty. The result is that I am trying to control everything and everyone, to ensure we get to a good result. If this reads as a surprise, that is just an example of how good I have become at hiding it in the business world.
So what is the alternative to keeping control and overachieving? I think reflection helps to be(come) aware of my own vulnerabilities. We all have these demons and if we are aware we can choose our response. Choosing my response means for me that I do not surrender to my anxious responses and trust my abilities and sense of direction more. So that my messiness and capable self can both be part of me.
On a collective level that is much more difficult. How do you create a space where anxieties can be expressed in such a way that people realise that these anxieties are real and that we can still choose not to be led by them in our response?