Watching the final debate between the leaders of the political parties in Sweden, my reflection was a very different one from the one that was dominant in the media.
I started to imagine what it would be like for someone in a country like Guatemala, to follow the Swedish election campaign.
For those of you who are not updated: Sweden held its national elections two weeks ago. The mayor, governing party since World War II has been the Social Democratic party. And in later decades interchangeably, centre-right coalitions. What was new this year was the increased support for the anti-immigration party, the Swedish Democrats. The only sensational thing happening in responsible, but oh so dull Swedish politics for decades.
I have lived in Guatemala, but it is just an example of a country that is officially a democracy. But where power and wealth are in the hands of a minor elite, while larger parts of the population live in poverty. Corruption and impunity is rife. Most people on this planet live in malfunctioning countries like that; or in countries where you are not even able to vote.
A Guatemalteco would probably have been astonished….
….to see politicians following the rules.
During the campaign, a few reports on violent incidences or attempts of fraud occurred. They would not have reached the headlines in Guatemala. None of the political leaders in Sweden are accused of corruption or any dodgy behavior.
In Sweden, people take pride in following the rules. Jumping a queue is a cardinal sin. A local politician who tried to sell votes to another party through his mosque, was quickly and firmly excluded from his party.
….that the political leaders talked about the future.
During the final debate, there were some attempts at blaming the present prime minister for his government’s deficiencies, but the focus was by and large on the future. Not just the next election period. “What should we do about future energy supply”. “Strategies for improving integration in the long-run.” Be it more conditional benefits; or easier access to employment.
None of the participants talked about “glory days” or trying to turn back time. Maintaining the status quo, for the sake of stability, due to internal or external threats, was not on anybody´s agenda. Sweden is exceptionally forward looking and has made that part of their identity. Progress is what matters, not sentimentality.
….that they all agree on the basics and support the welfare state.
The political leaders, first and foremost represent their parties. But they also want to serve the whole nation. They are not on an egotripping, me-me voyage. Hence, there is a strong consensus around the welfare state. Besides, no sane politician, with the hope of gaining any votes, would suggest any alterations related to universal health care, pensions, free education or social benefits.
Their differences consist more on how to frame and finance the system, now and in the future. Be it the labour market or social benefits. Is it better to receive migrants in Sweden? Or should we instead concentrate more on helping people in their home regions? And so on.
Furthermore, Sweden is mainly a secular country, and religion plays an imperceptible role in society. Not even the relatively small Christian Democratic party mentioned anything related to the Bible during their campaign. No “God bless you”. That would have been suicide. No mention of abortion or gay rights during the debate.
What could politicians in a country like Guatemala learn from this?
If they were willing to? That all it takes is to climb a step or two up the ladder of emotional maturity.
To be a little more concerned about following the rules though your opponents may not.
Start to be a little less concerned about your own bank accounts. Be a bit more concerned about the welfare of your people. You will be amazed to find that your own well-being will improve as a result. Doing things for others, in this case your own people, is what makes you happy. Accumulating illicit wealth at the direct or indirect expense of the poor, does not.
And do remember, history does not fare well with those who cheat. Guatemala’s last president was ousted due to corruption: the current president is a suspect of fraud.
Start talking about solutions, not just here and now, but for the future.
Instead of spending time and energy on blaming others for the sad state of your country, permeated by violence and drug traffic. How would you like Guatemala to look like 20 years from now? What concrete steps will you take to get there? And articulate that vision to your voters.
And Juan, Maria and all the others need to stand up and demand that from their politicians. Do not accept that “you know what politicians are like”. If you do, you will get more of what you already have. The less you accept the more they have to improve. Even in a country with restrained freedom of speech, people are not voiceless.
Guatemaltecos, and especially the indigenous population, of whom more than two thirds live in poverty, have taken to the streets, protesting against corruption and the president.
Protests have gained momentum since the president’s attempt to disband the respected and popular International Commission Against Impunity of the United Nations in Guatemala.
Demonstrations are a good start, but it takes a well-organised movement with perseverance to achieve lasting change. As was the case in Sweden. What does not work is to sit around and wait for great leaders with integrity to turn up. You have to make it happen.
For those of you not familiar with the term Political Correctness:
Here is a definition from the Cambridge Dictionary:
“Someone who is politically correct believe that language and actionsthat could be offensive to others, especially those relating to sex and race, should be avoided.”
Political correctness (PC) is about silencing what does not pleases us. That does not mean it will go away. Racism does not go away because you start to call people apples instead of oranges. Sexual harassment does not go away, because you decide on a new policy or a Code of Conduct.
The concept is very much a Western creation, but according to my experience you can find it any culture, just in different forms and under a different name.
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS HAMPERS PROGRESS
If children in poorer countries have a low IQ, we should call it that. And ask what to do about it. There are many girls and boys who, potentially, could have become a great scientist or a doctor. Since they are not able to develop their potential IQ, they never will, even if they had the money. Mainly due to malnutrition. Instead we keep on calling it “learning incapacity”, or some other nicety. Niceties that are so vague that the issue does not get the attention it deserves. Hence, the tragedy can go on.
Political correctness implies that a group or an individual put an unpredictable censorship on themselves. As a result, political correctness leads to bad solutions, because the group has been fixated on this “right” = PC solution, while there may have been others that are far better. And you miss out on important information, data and research because it is not PC.
“WHY TOLERANCE IS PATRONIZING”
Breaking the chains of political correctness in a work-place or an industry is not easy. It is still worth trying. I have been silenced and ridiculed more times than I can remember. I do not regret one of them.
Let this video with the famous Slovenian Philosopher Slavoj Žižek be an inspiration. (He is not snorting, it is one of his nervous tics, which he probably wouldn’t mind you making jokes about)
He talks about not taking yourself so seriously, and stop being offended on other’s behalf. Especially, if you have not even asked their opinion.
You may or may not agree with him, but he is always entertaining.
I regularly amuse myself, especially in other countries, with making observations about people’s behaviour.
Everybody makes these observations. And are often eager to share them with compatriots or other expats: “Can you believe what I saw them do!!??!!”.
But have you ever been thinking that such observations may be useful to your work?
That they may be just as good a guideline as any country report?
Such observations can be even more useful when you compare countries. Making you understand why what worked in one country may not in another.
Observed Differences Between two “C” Countries: Colombia and Cambodia
In Colombia, most street vendors and taxi drivers have change. In Cambodia never.
Walking the streets in the city centre of Phnom Penh meant you constantly had to look down, wading in garbage, dog’s pooh, and other “unnameable” that had been lying there for a long time. Colombians litter too, but many more do actually use the litter boxes.
In Colombia they have recycling, in Cambodia not.
Cambodia, like other Southeast Asian countries, is tremendously noisy. Music or TV in homes, shops or restaurants is always extremely loud. Not to mention the local karaoke bar. In Colombia, despite its inhabitants’ love of music, I never experienced that kind of noise. I even read an article in a local newspaper warning about the negative health effects of constant noise.
Specific Observations versus General Mentalities
These observations say a lot about general mentalities, that may have a bearing on any sector you work in.
Having change or not says a lot about the ability to plan ahead, and being prepared.
Setting aside a small amount of money for change generates more income.
Generally, littering can be a parameter for how well the population understand or care about the consequences of their actions for themselves or others. The same regards high level of noise.
More specifically, littering increases the risk of catching a disease, or ground water pollution. High levels of noise may lead to high blood pressure, and will have a damaging effect on your hearing, especially in young children.
Considering Cambodians’ inability to handle their waste, it is no surprise they do not have any systems for recycling. Hence, a recycling campaign that may work in Colombia, is less likely to succeed in Cambodia.
Furthermore, a country wading in garbage, have little awareness on environmental issues. At all levels. Talking about taking care of the environment is not easy when people are less capable of taking care of themselves.
This does not mean that everything on Colombia is rosy and that all Cambodians are self-centred polluters. Or that they do not have the potential to improve.
Plan According to Where People Are
But this observed behaviours could give you guidance on how to frame a project and what to expect in terms of results. You need to plan according to where people are, not where they should be, mentally. Or where they will be in the future.
That can be very costly, and end up in the graveyard: “here rests another unsuccessful project.” Let it not be one of yours.
The examples above were just an extract from a long list. I have previously written an article about traffic behaviour as a parameter for development.
What could you add to the list? Sharing food from the same plate? Always being late ? Others?
People should be evalutated on whether or not they positively influence others
My last article was about the consequences of hiring jerks. This article is about a few simple steps to avoid them.
Often some form of so-called soft skills are included among the requirments in a job advertisement. (Why are they called soft, when they are essential?) Still, most recruitment processes tend to focus on skills and experience.
The argument against hiring for character traits or attitude is that it is too complicated, too expensive or too something else.
So what can you do about it? If you are working with HR, part of any interview panel or otherwise engaged in recruitment.
Or perhaps you simply want to have a say, because you have experienced too many failed recruitments, too many promotions for the wrong reasons. And worked with too many managers, “bosses” or “heads” that are jerks or close to.
I have worked for “experienced” heads of offices of international organisations, who would have been fired if they had worked for a remote municipality in Lapland.
There are 3 simple things you can do or suggest no matter your position in an organization. And you can implement or suggest them with without needing much experience in recruiting. [Read more…]
This is not another article about sexual harassment. But about its wider consequences for the aid sector. It is about the fact that a person cannot exploit and harass certain individuals, while at the same time exercise integrity and leadership.
Because as Gandhi said:
One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in another department. Life is one indivisible whole
I would not trust a person widely known to harass women, or men, if he speaks about the importance of “establishing trust with local communities.”
Harassment is just part of a rather dirty package. It affects the performance of the whole organisation; and what has now become obvious, as part of the latest harassment revelations: the whole aid industry. [Read more…]
Cambodia and My Bad Excuses
Reading about the coming national elections in Cambodia, and the crackdown on the media and the opposition; I was thinking about the last election in 2013. At the time I was in Cambodia. Still, I regret that I did not do anything to show my support for those who stood up against Prime Minister Hun Sen and his party. They have been ruling Cambodia for more than thirty years. And Cambodia is ranked as number 161 out of 180 in terms of corruption.
There is no guarantee that the opposition party would have fared any better regarding human rights or corruption. But the protests were just as much about people’s right to protest.
Still, I did nothing, and that was the case, as far as I know, with most expatriates. I was thinking: ”I am only a guest here”, “they can send me out”, “my support would not make a difference anyway”, among the bad excuses I came up with.
I was just sitting indoors during Sunday demonstrations, sniffing the tear gas; or listening to the organized street rallies by the ruling party. Rallies with, probably, paid “supporters” on scooters and open trucks. [Read more…]
Inequality is high on the international agenda. For instance, at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos.
Much attention is given to inequality between countries, “the north and the south”, or within countries such as the U.S. or Britain. What seems to be more neglected is the immense inequality within lesser developed countries.
South-Africa is topping the list; and countries such as Belize and Zambia among the top ten.
One reason why this immense inequality persists, is because the poor and the rich never meet. If they do, then most often in a power-relation, as employer and employee.
International aid programmes in non-western countries mostly focus on the poor, not how to engage the wealthy. [Read more…]
Trust is essential in order to reduce poverty and violence.
That is Celina de Sola’s message in the video below.
I believe that the absence of trust and cooperation is the main reason behind the deficiencies in international aid.
No one can achieve great results on their own.
El Salvador is a country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Poverty and inequality is rife. Different gangs hold power in many communities. You often have a choice between joining a gang, being killed or making an arduous escape to the U.S.A. [Read more…]