Last night I listened to a talk by Elif Shafak on the revolutionary power of diverse thought. She is a Turkish writer, a Sufi, a feminist and a most beautiful weaver of stories. She is reviled by the conservative right in Turkey and to some extent dismissed by the left, but for me she speaks a truth that resonates with many of my own thoughts. She talked about a world increasingly polarised, fractured, tribal, nationalist and fearful. She discussed the prevalence of simplistic duality of discussion, the ‘with us or against us’ mentality, the loss of ambiguity, complexity and nuance. The dislike of plurality and multiplicity. The attempts to close down creativity.
And yet, within that thoroughly depressing world view she talked about a levelling – that populations that had felt immune from conflict, certain that their brand of democracy was going to somehow protect them from the turmoil on the world stage, were now becoming aware of what it is to live with uncertainty, insecurity. For us in the UK the prospect of life post Brexit is unsettling and challenging – every day there are new revelations of how this decision will impact on everything from commerce to wildlife, justice to education, employment to travel.
The question is how we respond to these challenges as individuals, businesses and communities. Shafak quoted the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran, "I learned silence from the talkative and tolerance from the intolerant and kindness from the unkind."
The last of these really resonated with me – ‘kindness from the unkind.’ What we witness every day is the unkindness of raw capitalism, the vested interests of politicians and the erosion of security. In contrast what we believe in is kind business and supportive community - thoughtful and careful management of our plants, generosity towards our staff and an appreciation that the best business comes from allowing every person who interacts with us to feel valued and cared for. This is not difficult if the culture is respectful. If you encourage people to give of their best, they do. If you trust them, they repay you with their trust, if you credit them for their ideas they think of more. Kindness begets kindness.
The other fascinating development for me is that the uncertainty we currently see politically seems to spark creativity. Far from crushing it, it seems to act as a driver. We see communities coming together creatively solving or at least ameliorating problems that affect them. We see protest art flourishing. What is exciting is that we begin to see structures developing that act outside of the normal ways of doing business – people demanding a different way – a less self serving approach, a kinder, gentler, more respectful way.
For those of us who believe that every aspect of our work should not only do no harm, but actively do good, it is heartening to feel that there is a growing movement demanding change. More and more women and men are turning away from the big mainstream corporate monoliths and towards small independent makers.
This in turn fuels creativity, allows for exciting collaborations between small makers, ensures our survival amongst the monoliths. We can become the instruments of change when we all work together and more than that, it can be done joyfully. The Persian poet, Hafiz, used to say, "You carry in your soul every ingredient necessary to turn your existence into joy. All you have to do is to mix those ingredients." I think in the face of adversity that’s exactly what we need to do.
Elif Shafak TED talk: