the letter of ebbf’s board on the kinds of spaces for open dialogue that we can create to navigate and influence these complex times, Kami Lamakan then joined the board’s invitation to an open conversation with all members. He sent this reflection on the letter and the ensuing dialogue from an unusual … space.
“The letter from the board was very thought provoking and it was wonderful to then gather people in the online conversation that the board offered. During that call I was in the middle of rural England, inside the thick walls of a converted farmhouse where my friend George lives.
The walls of the room are filled with books, family mementos and photos from his days at Eton and Oxford. The knowledge he has acquired and the experiences that dominated his nearly sixty years of life were my companion as I took part in our ebbf call hearing the wisdom of the Italian guy in Spain, the american living in the Ukraine, the Persian in Switzerland, the brit in rural Portugal, the Dutch living in Washington etc. I don’t imagine that the men that originally built that barn imagined the space would have to accommodate Zoom conference calls. I am not sure when George was …
… growing up he imagined he would have dinner parties featuring Thai Green Curry, that his dinner companion would include a Persian Baha’i and that it would involve watching films about inequality.
George’s education worked on the presumption the boys were being prepared to “run the country/Empire”. And many of them did/do. His class mates appear in rich lists, run the world’s’ biggest companies and institutions of state. George can remember in his final year showing around a slightly apprehensive but very polite new boy. The new boy went on to be Prime Minister (David Cameron). But George took a different route. He spends his days running his own micro-charity encouraging people in the most economically deprived areas to take community action on the topics that matter to them. When he started the charity 10 years ago, he thought he was going into those communities to give them help, now he recognizes that all he is doing is helping them to help themselves.
So George, I and some of his friends from school/university watched this film together – Death of a Gentleman http://deathofagentlemanfilm.com/ As the blurb says: Two cricket journalists set off on a journey to the heart of the game they love, only to stumble upon one of the biggest sporting scandals ever. This is a film about passion, greed, power – and standing up for what you care about.
So the “evil” of greed is beautifully demonstrated in this film. It showed how the powerful and the wealthy (which inevitably included personal friends and acquaintances) are able to accentuate inequalities and casually bypass ideas of fairness (which, of course, is what cricket is all about!)
The conversation we enjoyed in that barn, after watching that movie became an exploration of the root causes of why we find ourselves in the situation we are in and a reflection on the human condition. Maybe it was because of the general age average in the room or because of their education but the conversation was not informed by the wisdom of TED talks or YouTube, instead their references where from Plato, Shakespeare and their experiences of daily life. We all compared our Sunday School experiences and our different paths to trying to live a virtuous life. For one evening George had filled the Space with love and encouraged us all to challenge our own assumptions.
And I have to admit that these unexpected experiences aren’t confined to barns in the Cotswolds. I have spent many hours in great discomfort as an active participant in dysfunctional conversations which were mean spirited battles of well-intentioned self-interest and sometimes ego. But more recently even these spaces are ones where the nature of the discussion have changed. Often there is an opportunity for discussion about inner self, the spiritual dimension to life, the drive to be virtuous.
I sense that in most people there is a desire to understand and develop their inner selves, it is just that in many business environments that desire has been repressed or we’ve been convinced that it has no place in the “professional” discourse.
But in my experience it doesn’t take much to release these thoughts. And there seems to be a huge appetite for the rituals which mimic the rituals of all faiths. (For example, we label “seek mindfulness” as if it were a new idea and as though meditation never existed.)
Everyday seems to lead to a chat about virtues and morality, the type I used to mostly have in Sunday School when I was in my youth. Around the boardroom table I often find myself channeling the thoughts of Jan (my sunday school teacher). She was born in England but married a Palestinian pharmacist and lived their early married life pioneering in the Central African Republic of Benin. Then the palm trees of Torquay beckoned them to Devon, which meant I was guided by someone who could remember the impact of post-war rationing and also having the experience of having friends who had nothing materially but were wealthy in love and fellowship.
Of course, none of the conversations about virtues and morality start as conversations about virtues and morality, but seem like a natural junction in all the conversations. It’s interesting how often these days the conversations in these spaces are informed by our experiences as fathers, sons, wives or friends, how we refer to artistic beauty for inspiration (not just informed by surveys from McKinsey or quotes on Linkedin).
Ten years ago, I would have considered these spaces and initiating these conversations as commercial suicide. Today, I am not sure I have much more to offer than to seek these spaces and to try to give to them selflessly and to not presume there is anything in that space other than love.
Maybe we just need to try and convert the spaces in business were we discuss our economic imperatives into ones which also discuss our spiritual needs? Always entering these spaces with love is tough for me, particularly with so many presumptions I hold of others. But I try. And hopefully I will get better. But what I lack in love, I try to make up for by bring Persian rice to these spaces! (Which I am sure has magic powers.)”
Thank you Kami for these very interesting reflections and hope to see you too at ebbf’s annual conference in Geneva this May for more meaningful conversations leading to action: