INSIGHTS FROM A RECENT TRIP TO BERLIN, MINSK, ODESSA, BELGRADE, AND DENMARK
The more “successful” I become, the more opportunities become available to me, but the quality of my life becomes worse: shorter and shorter stays in more and more cities, with more and more sleepless nights to endure.
This last trip comprised of three days in Berlin for consulting; a one-day visit to Minsk, the capital of Belorussia, to deliver a lecture to businessmen; three days of consulting in Odessa, Ukraine; a day in Bled, Slovenia, to receive an honorary doctorate; three days to lecture and to receive my fifth honorary doctorate in Belgrade Serbia; and finally, a one day visit to an ashram in Denmark to meditate.
Heavy, huh? Still, meeting many different people gives me ideas and insights that I know would never occur to me if I went to the same office by the same route, day after day. Creativity and stimulation happen when one crosses boundaries. Surfing the TV channels in Belorussia in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, I am learning to understand America better.
I have lectured and consulted in Germany before. This time, I was able to confirm that my earlier impression represented a pattern: jokes, which I use to illustrate a principle or to clarify a phenomenon that I’ve noticed in my clients’ culture, do not elicit any laughter in Germany.
There are several possible explanations: one is that Germans lack a sense of humor. I know that is not true; I see them joking and laughing during the breaks.
Another explanation is that I am the professor, and because Germans have tremendous respect for authority, they simply do not know how to react to a joke-telling professor.
But it’s also occurred to me that maybe it is because most of my jokes are Jewish jokes, and Germans might feel uncomfortable laughing at anything Jewish, fearing that their laughter could be interpreted as laughing at Jews. Germany, after all, has created museums and memorials to the Jews whom the Nazis murdered in World War II, and honors its obligation to remember the Nazis’ atrocities.
That made me wonder about other countries that have perpetrated crimes against humanity. Do other nations admit their wrong-doings and memorialize them? Is there a memorial in Russia to the millions of Ukrainian “kulaks” murdered by the Bolsheviks? Is there a memorial in Turkey to the Armenians slaughtered in 1915; or in Japan, to the Chinese killed by the Japanese army during World War II; or in Serbia, to the atrocities committed in Bosnia?
We memorialize our pain, we prefer to memorialize what was done to us, but what about the pain we inflict on others?
Continuing this thought, during the meditation retreat in Denmark it occurred to me:
There will be no peace in the Middle East (nor in my marriage, for that matter) till each of us can feel the other’s pain.
And why are the Germans the only one to memorialize the atrocities of their own people? Any idea?
Another experience in Germany perplexed me: My hotel in Berlin had a very unusual shower system. All over the world, you turn the shower handle to the right to make the water cooler, and to the left to make it warmer. Well, the plumber at this hotel was apparently dyslexic. He had it reversed.
I lecture in four languages, but I must have cursed in at least twelve while showering in this hotel, as I went from scalding myself to freezing every time I turned the shower handle the “wrong” way.
And what did I learn from it? When you have a change that is a major, disruptive departure from what you are accustomed to, cursing does not help. Nor does blaming the idiots who created your problem. In other words, all “internal marketing” has to stop or you will just continue to suffer, and nothing will change.
Stop; reconsider; and be one hundred percent conscious of what is going on. Do not waste any energy trying to understand or analyze the change. Forget want and should perceptions. Focus one hundred percent on what is. Accept reality. Then, by freeing the energy you were using to oppose the change, you can dedicate all of your attention to learning how to manage the change, how to navigate the new territory, where cold is now hot and hot is cold. Only then can you make it work for you.
This has implications for business, where the rules of success do change. For a young company, more is better: more market share, more strategic alliances, more, more, more… But the time will come when the company’s growth overtakes and then overwhelms its structure or systems. When that happens, more is not better. More is worse. One item more, and all hell breaks loose.
And that is when founders of companies often start fighting reality and blaming everyone else for their difficulties. What they need to do instead is recognize that they are in a new world, which must be managed differently. Now, “better is more” rather than “more is better.” They need to accept the change and change their behavior accordingly.
George Soros in one of his books said that the secret of his success was that he identified his mistakes early and corrected them early. Most of us, when we make a mistake, will deny it until it cannot be denied anymore – and then we take more time than necessary to correct it.
I wonder: Did Soros ever take a shower in my hotel in Berlin?
Coming to Minsk brought back memories from my childhood after the Second World War: memories of suffering from the cold, the gusty wind, the freezing snow.
In such weather, I had no desire to get out and visit anything; so at night I watched lots of television, and an insight came to me.
Before I left home for this trip, American newspapers were criticizing Ms. Karen Hughes, who was President Bush’s director for public diplomacy, claiming that she had failed to project a positive image of the United States. Furthermore, the papers said, no one has ever really succeeded in this job, and the United States has done a terrible job in promoting its image.
Why does America have such a negative image? Is it that the people assigned to promote a good image are incompetent, or something else is involved? Granted, we are engaged in an unpopular war – but could there be more to it? How was this terrible image created?
As I was surfing the television channels in Minsk, I noticed something I have noticed all over the world: at least sixty percent of what is being broadcast abroad are American movies for television, either dubbed or with subtitles filled with lots of promiscuous sex, , infidelity and insensitive violence. They also project a strong anti-authority, anti-establishment as well as anti-parent, attitude. This creates a cultural clash.
In Eastern Europe, authority is respected. They also broadcast sing-alongs in which they extol the virtues of their country. They are proud of their heritage, their flag, their national costume. In America, in contrast, we allow people to burn the flag. Our TV series “Married with Children,” which I have seen on TV in at least a dozen countries, is not always understood as a parody. Abroad, it looks like the real thing. And what about “Desperate Housewives” and “Sex and the City”? Think about the values that they broadcast as normal and acceptable.
And the image we project goes beyond TV. Look at our movies. We present our elected leaders as corrupt and/or incompetent, and constantly portray corruption inside the CIA, the FBI, and the White House. We are sending the world a specific image of America, from Hollywood – the best machine for projecting images in the world, an image that does not endear us and must scare other cultures. Imagine how people in other countries especially those where the male is a dominant figure, how they feel watching “Sex and the city” for instance. This it gave me another insight. I watch Israeli television that is broadcasts across borders and I can only imagine how a Moslem must feel: he sees homosexuals and lesbians starring in lots of shows, women dominating and screaming at their husbands, and children rejecting the authority of their parents. In a Moslem’s eyes, Israel is not only a country that displaced the Palestinians; it is not only perceived as a base of American military imperialism. It is a cultural threat to the values of the region. How can they welcome it with open hands?
One more point: When I watch the credits of these TV shows, I see many Jewish names. When will the backlash happen? When will latent anti-Semitic forces come out into the open and say, “The Jews are ruining our children, our way of life.”
Sometimes, something positive does squeeze through. In my travels, people have told me how impressed they were that Nixon was forced to resign because he lied and violated the Constitution that he’d sworn to defend. That happens only in America, they told me. And when Al Gore conceded to Bush in the 2000 Presidential election – an election that raised questions about whether the votes had been counted accurately – the people I talked to around the world were moved by how conscientiously and automatically we abide by the decision of the Superior Court. In other countries, there would have been riots or even a civil war.
I watched from my hotel in Berlin the YouTube debate among the Republican presidential candidates. I could not imagine such a civilized debate taking place anywhere else in the world. In America, however, after the debate, the men who attacked each others actually shook hands. You could not have seen this in Israel or Mexico or Greece or Italy, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Americans know how to disagree without being disagreeable. Why don’t we promote our positive culture, our democratic system: not just how it works mechanistically but as a cultural phenomenon?
The cultural war is on, and the TV programs and movies, in my opinion, are causing a lot of damage.
I am in Belorussia watching the CNN program on “Czar Putin,” which is arguing that Putin is destroying the Russian budding democracy. If I had watched the program from my bed in Santa Barbara, I believe I would have accepted that criticism of Putin, but watching it from Minsk, Belorussia, I had a different experience.
Why are people surprised at what Putin is doing?
Change is not linear. It is always two steps forward, one step back. Even in dieting that is true. There is always a relapse. No change advances forward in a linear, straight line. That is true especially for Russia, which has never, ever, had experience with democracy. The country has always moved from one dictatorship to another.
In this century they tried something totally different and Russia has gone through remarkable changes. Don’t people realize what it means to transform to a market economy from central planning?
When we try to decentralize a company, much less a country, there are enormous reactions to and problems with cultural change. Here we are talking about a country – one of the largest on earth – which moved from government-owned to privately-owned industry, from Communism to capitalism. This is not just a change of ownership. It is a change of an entire values system. It could not make those changes without some relapses. That is normal.
Also, Russia has traditionally not only accepted authority, it has glorified authority. That is how Stalin survived in power for so long. Those who went against this culture, like Yeltzin, were and are despised. Yeltzin drank in public and danced like a circus clown. He broke apart the Soviet Union and is considered to be the leader who destroyed Russia’s former glory. Putin, on the other hand, is perceived by many as the person who is bringing pride and self-respect back to Russia. The accusation that Russia cannot have democracy without a robust opposition party is not relevant in Russia’s present culture. An opposition party that criticizes Russian policies would be perceived as trying to weaken Russia and they feel they have been weakened enough. They feel they need to feel stronger now.
We are expecting Russia to have an adversary democracy, when in their current stage of cultural evolution, with their long history of glorifying authority, adversary relations naturally feels inauthentic to them. Here is a phenomenon I learned about in Israel .The Russian Jews who immigrated to Israel between the 1970s and the 1990s experienced what sociologists called “freedom shock.” They could not believe that people could criticize, make fun of, and put down Israel’s elected leaders. To them, it seemed like spitting at your own mother.
We must realize that political systems do not just comprise only voting regulations. They have a cultural component, and what is culturally acceptable to us can be totally alien to another country.
Another point: American newspapers criticize Putin for giving us a hard time about Iran and Kosovo. How strange! What did we do in 1962 when the Russians were going to put missiles in Cuba? We were ready to go to war. Now, Bush is putting missiles on the immediate borders of Russia, and yet we expect Putin to accept that lying down. How arrogant that is.
I am not defending Putin’s actions here. Not at all. But what he is doing was to be expected. If it were not Putin, it would have been someone else taking the same actions. Putin is enacting a scenario that the country needs to play out; he is responding to Russian society’s need to regain its footing because the change it experienced was enormously disruptive.
The changes in Russia are immense, and Russia needs to stabilize before further democratization can occur. And when it does, this democratization will have to be internally driven and not promoted by the United States – because otherwise the change will be perceived as being driven by foreign interests. First, Russia must regain the pride it lost with the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Then, it must learn to control the vulgar capitalism that has become a run-away train. You see this in Moscow: people are begging on the street, while an exhibition or convention is being held exclusively for millionaires, endorsing the worst kind of conspicuous consumption. People have not forgotten some of the aspirations of socialism and they suffer, so far, the income disparities, quietly, but I believe they wont do it for too long.
As in therapy, the corrective actions to the relapses have to come from the inside. They cannot be driven by someone else; that would only retard the evolution that will occur anyway, in time.
As expected, I could not sleep. I was hungry. I opened the mini-bar: oops, there were condoms on the shelf.
I do not remember ever seeing condoms in American mini-bars. Is that because there is no casual sex in American hotels, or is it because religion plays such a restrictive role here? Open the drawer of any American hotel night table and you will find a Bible. But condoms? God forbid.
My insight was that America is increasingly becoming a religious state, and the claim that all religions are equally welcome does not ring true. Some are more equal than others. Would Lieberman have dared to campaign as a Jewish candidate, the way Huckabee campaigns as a Christian candidate? And it looks possible that Romney, a Mormon, may lose votes because some voters believe the Church of Latter Day Saints is not a Christian religion.
Where is this taking us? When will I feel unwelcome in this country, or feel like a second-class citizen because I am not Christian? Are we really all equal? What is only our rhetoric, and what is our reality?
This brings me to the meditation retreat in Denmark. I cannot elaborate very much on the experience. It is like sex: if you try to describe and explain it, it looks crude – even gory. But when experienced, it is something else. As a result, although meditation should be experienced rather than described and explained, I would like to share with you one of the many insights I had while meditating.
In my lectures and writings, I often speak of one of the principles of success: energy is fixed, and any part of that energy that is wasted on internal destructive conflicts is not available to compete in the market place.
Energy is fixed.
Energy is fixed?
Here is a different view.
Imagine that energy is infinite. Not fixed. Infinite. It can all be available to us as long as we do not have filters and barriers to reduce its availability.
What are those barriers and filters? They are the internal “noises” between our ears, which distract us from our connection to the universe and this endless energy.
As we reduce our chatter in our heads, as we accept the Lord and stop usurping His powers trying to manage our life independently of Him, the denominator of the success formula gets smaller, and the equation grows larger. We will have endless energy when the denominator is zero. That is when we and God are united. When we are one.
It might not happen in one lifetime. However, this process of reducing the denominator – the chatter in one’s head – is the spiritual journey seekers take, and I have joined it.
With all my respects to wherever you are and to whatever you believe in.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes