President Granger is obviously trying to set a tone for the country with his repeated call for more cooperation and less confrontation.
Recently, an associate who works in the public sector was seeking my advice on ways to address, what I perceived to be an abusive situation in a public sector agency. My advice was to confront the situation, my associate then said ‘but the President don’t want government agencies fighting with other government agencies’.
I indicated to the person that for some situations a confrontation is necessary, in an effort to find a solution or resolution. I further stated that even the peace builders would advise that some conflicts should be encouraged.
Additionally, I indicated to my associate that it was after World War II which lasted from 1 September, 1939 – 2 September, 1945 that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was developed. At that time East-West tensions were increasing when in February 1947, Eleanor Roosevelt became the first Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Commission. However, when confronting situations, my caution is, to remember Kenny Rogers’ advice in the song ‘The Gambler’, “you got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run”.
Nonetheless, I spent the past few days pondering on whether the opportunity is right for President Granger to go beyond merely setting the tone to transform the Guyanese society into a less confrontational one, and what needs to be done to translate that non-confrontational call, into reality.
In the process, I went beyond the obvious and added a bit of science, I looked at three theories: the Large and Small-Power-Distance theory; the Worlds of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers theory; and the cultural context – high and low context theory
Albert Einstein said that if he only had one hour to solve a problem he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and the remaining 5 minutes, solving it. Let’s spend the 55 minutes trying to understand possible reasons why our society is so confrontational, and then we will look at what can be done to make it more co-operative, to use President Granger’s words.
I would rather say, what could be done to build strong, social capital and intangible capital; greater cooperation is essentially an aspect of both.
One of the first things that has to be done in our society, is to reduce the power-distance. Power-distance refers to the distance between the leadership and the followership or the people, or the distance between managers and subordinates.
In Large-Power-Distance societies, power is more centralized, in Small-Power-Distance societies, power is more decentralized. The power-distance dynamic in Guyana is interesting, the leadership tends to be more Large-Power-Distance-inclined, while the followership or people want power to be decentralized; closer to a Small-Power-Distance inclination.
One of the things creating the shift among the followership within the Guyanese population, includes easy access to information and exposure to other styles and kinds of leadership, how institutions function and operate, and how issues are resolved in other places. The internet has become a key driver of change.
The second theory, ‘Worlds of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers’ comes from Chris Rose’s book on ‘What Makes People Tick’. The book focuses on motivational values and influencing others to change, and explains that people are essentially in three categories or values worlds – Settlers, Prospectors and pioneers. The book states that a ‘big driver of social change are the forces within the values worlds and the tensions that lead to confrontations where the values clash’.
Some of the characteristics of persons in the three values worlds are: Settlers are driven by security; they like conformity, tradition, comfort and they tend to be more fearful and risks averse; Prospectors, tend to be outer directed and like achievement, stimulation, importance, position, success, etc.; while Pioneers are inner directed, like openness, justice, nature, individuality and they are risks takers.
In my view, part of the reason for the society being so confrontational is that with more knowledge and exposure to information, there is a shift occurring among the citizenry where more persons are becoming Prospectors and Pioneers while perhaps 20 – 30 years ago, there were more Settlers than Prospectors and Pioneers. Many of the leaders and older citizens are more Settlers than Prospectors and Pioneers; hence there is a clash of values worlds of the Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers.
Another possible reason for the society being so confrontational is that there is another shift occurring. This is to some extent an inter-generational shift, where the older generation was more high context and the younger is more low context. High context people tend to be more timid and less outspoken while low context people tend to be more forthright and frank in their expressions.
Therefore, transitioning into a less confrontational society would require an understanding of how the society is evolving; in the inter-generational context, culturally, changes within and across ethnic groups, leader-follower dynamics, among others. For example, is it that one of the reasons for some Amerindians desiring to form their own political party being stimulated by wanting to reduce the power-distance between leadership and them and have more decentralized power?
Nevertheless, there are measures which could be taken that will have short, medium and long term benefits. These are: reduction of ambiguities in decision making and institutions (family, public and private). It means therefore that decisions from the President, Cabinet, Parliament, the Judiciary, family, etc. must be as unambiguous as possible.
Additionally, systems and structures for redress must be improved and established; in this context the Commissions and Judiciary are extremely important to the society for reducing confrontations, because they provide opportunities for citizens to seek redress. Another important aspect is to establish or re-establish systems for redress and complaints within government, private and the family institutions.
Moreover, to translate the President’s call for co-operation not confrontation into reality requires an understanding of the science of social change and persuasion. Robert Cialdini developed six principles of persuasion which could be used in our quest to develop stronger social capital and greater intangible capital – such as commitment, trust and voluntary co-operation.
Finally, there is also need to develop a more inclusive society, greater equality, more evidence-based, less opinionated, more functioning institutions, greater respect for the Rule of Law and fellow citizens, by leaders and the man-in–the-street.
All of this being said, we do not have much time to reorganize ourselves; social change is critical in reorienting, refocusing and repositioning the leadership, people and the country, for the new wave of change that will come with oil; that has come with oil.
Recommended further reading:
• ‘What Makes People Tick’ by Chris Rose
• ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman
• ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl
• ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie
• ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ by Robert Cialdini
• ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Steven Covey
• ‘Cultures and Organisations’ by Geert Hofstede and Gert Jan Hofstede
• ‘The Political Mind’ by George Lakoff
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