I think the biggest problem for human beings is working together in groups, particularly in the face of disagreement. Whether I’m consulting in big companies or talking to friends about their marriage, the problem feels the same to me. How do we work with, learn from, and respect others who we may passionately disagree with? How can we handle our disagreements so that we get closer, become wiser, do better work?
The way we deal with conflict feels to me like the the source of so many other problems, whether large (global warming, discrimination against women) or small (lame customer service, crappy products).
Tonight I’m reflecting on different tribes who I think could learn a lot from each other, partly inspired by this post from Sonia Simone of the awesome Copyblogger.
The tribes I’m thinking of tonight are what I’ll call the Social Justice tribe and the Self-Made Wealth tribe. I am part of both, or aspire to be part of both, and feel like there’s an antagonism at times that spoils what could be an amazing collaboration.
I just spent a week in Brazil with people who help small farming families to live in and care for the Atlantic rainforest. They call themselves Floresta Viva, “the living forest.” This is the second year I have visited this inspiring group and some of the farmers they work with. I am blown away by the wisdom of their approach – combining environmental preservation with greater self-sufficiency for these forest families. Last year one of the farmers talked about his time living in a big city working in a factory. He said he made more money then, but was happier farming in the forest with his family.
In the Social Justice tribe we say that work like this needs to be promoted and supported. It needs attention, funding, and government policies that will help it thrive. And we rail against greed and narrow self-interest, as in the case of a large proposed port and railway hub that would destroy thousands of acres of the nearby forest. In our most over-simplifying moments, we start to think everything to do with business and money is bad.
Note: the only reason I was able to spend time with this project in Brazil is that a large bank hires me to run leadership courses that include a heavy component of social responsibility and environmental sustainability.
In the Self-Made Wealth tribe, we hustle to get out the word about our products and services. I’ve been a facilitator and coach for fifteen years, driven by my passion to help people work together. I’m working on turning my knowledge into products, partly inspired by meeting Floresta Viva last year. I realized that there are tons of little social sector organizations around the world who could benefit from better teamwork, more effective meetings, and other things my business clients use me for. I will never get to them all in person, and they couldn’t pay me anyway (never mind the emissions from all that travel).
So last year I had a vision of putting everything I know online, for free, so that any group in the world could have it and use it if they wanted. And then I met the online marketing gurus, and started to learn about information products. And while I’m still very inspired about changing the world by helping groups work together better, sometimes I get on a little ego-trip of all the attention I’ll get or money I’ll make once I learn how to market and scale up what I do. And sometimes I feel a lot of judgement toward people whose main message seems to be “I’ll help you get rich!” In person, I have found a lot of them have a deep social conscience. But sometimes the externals are just too glitzy and lavish for my tastes, and the notion of helping people seems like a means to sell more product.
In truth I think both tribes need each other. For starters in my field, facilitation and leadership development, we absolutely suck at marketing what we do. If we were more effective, a lot of people would be a lot happier at work, and a lot more lame bosses would have been coached or fired. Women would make equal pay, no one at work would care if you were straight or gay, and bureacracy would wither.
Equally in the Self-Made Wealth world, we need to ask ourselves whether we’re really and truly helping the people who most need help, or just finding the most lucrative market and keeping ourselves insulated from the suffering and destruction that are very real in the world.
Do you feel like part of either of these tribes? What do you think they have to learn from each other?