Friday, September 26, 2003

Good and evil

Good and evil are relative concepts, no matter how much the morally outraged or religiously sincere may want to believe otherwise.

They are relative to the norms of a particular group, a particular time, a particular place. They evolve, sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly, as society adjusts to new circumstances, or as we seek expedient justifications for our actions. The more things we label as absolute good or absolute evil, the more they start to conflict with each other. Sadly, in the US at least, good and evil are often defined in courtrooms, and good and evil get confused with justice and injustice.

If we step outside of the narrow frames of reference of say Iraqis v. Americans, Palestinians v. Israelis, or Hutus v. Tutsis, and look at this little planet as an ecosystem, nobody can objectively deny the relative evil of homo sapiens v. any other species. Our capacity for deliberate or negligent annihilation of entire species in our quest for lebensraum or a better quality of life is possibly a defining characteristic of our humanity.

Evil is an attitude that can be passive or active. To do evil does not require a desire to do harm with an action, simply a disregard for the consequences that action may have for others.

If a person, a nation, a race, or a religion has enough power, will, and self righteousness, any evil they do can be spun as heroic.

Incidentally, for a great insight into some of these issues, I recommend Robert Kaplan's wonderfully written book "Warrior Politics - why leadership demands a pagan ethos". He draws on historical works from Confucius to Aristotle to Machiavelli and draws parallels with current leaders, nations, and conflict situations. The bottom line appears to be that the world has gotten way too small for one nation's isolated ideologies to be forcibly imposed on another's, and that compromise, tolerance, and co-existence are the only way forward.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

In praise of text

The MTV generation was a society of sound-bite/video-bite junkies, who couldn't focus for more than 15 seconds on anything without needing a distraction. A visual image wouldn't keep our attention unless it moved dramatically, constantly. Contrast the jump-cut editing of music videos or advertising with the style of Igmar Bergman.

Still with me?

Now the Internet generation is a society of text-bite junkies. Text is making a come-back. Instant messaging, SMS, chat-room style communication, ticker-style news highlights on TV. All text. If u hve smthg 2 say, it takes 2 long to create a pic. It takes too long to download an animation.

I see it in e-learning. The "rich media" stuff of a couple of years ago is often simply irritating to learners online. Why wait 5 seconds for 10 seconds of gratification, when an instant burst of well-crafted text lets you move on at Web speed. Give e-learners the option of turning off streaming media and animation, and the majority seems to opt for speed over decor.

People online are intensely conscious of time. Oh, I seem to have lost you already..........

Friday, September 05, 2003

Desert survival and culture

I used to use Desert Survival a lot in the 80's. It was part of an 'organisational culture change' program that we were implementing in the global subsidiaries of a multinational -- I must have run that particular excercise in multiple groups in more than 30 countries. I wish I had taken detailed notes, because the way different nationalities approached Desert Survival was fascinating.

The decision making processes, creativity, deference to seniority, interpretation of priorities, and even acceptance of the 'expert answers' varied dramatically depending on whether the group was Argentinian, Korean, Swedish, French, or Australian. And if you had a lot of people in the group who had actual desert combat experience like in South Africa or Israel, the 'expert answer' was invariably challenged and rejected - which in itself made for a useful excercise.

These pseudo-simulations can be used successfully for purposes other than those intended by the authors. I have used them as opening exercises in sales training to extract examples of effective and ineffective persuasive communication, and to illustrate the need to understand decision-making processes and roles.