How do we view people?

Here I am looking out of my window. In my office it’s nice and warm but outside winter is approaching a little too quickly for my liking. Our garden is full of leaves from the trees and you can feel how things are going into dormant mode.

So I ponder observing this garden, about how I use everything as a resource. Even the dead leaves are a resource for us. I rake them up and put them on our compost heap that produces so much heat, I can heat the chicken coop. Innovation in my garden right there.

The land is a resource. It produces vegetables all through spring, summer and fall. The trees produce fruit and even what is left over produces both heat and compost. I love the view of our garden and I love thinking that we can all be a resource.

Before moving to Romania, me and my family shared house with my grandmother. She was an old lady and we were living upstairs in our apartment and she was living downstairs in hers. I would go in every day to say hello, have a short conversation, and move on with my day. That conversation for me was a resource. She normally would recount some history from the old days, or a bible verse she had read that day. Even in old age she was a resource.

How do we view people? This has been on my mind the last couple of weeks. How do you and I see people with less formal education, or people with disabilities, people that are different in some way? I often think that I am tolerant and inclusive but, as a leader, I need to evaluate that all the time. Am I really?

Society often talks about higher and lower education, meaning a good and amazing carpenter will have lower education and a lawyer will have higher education. Where does this come from? Both of them have the same value, are needed, and hopefully love their professions. One has longer formal education and one has longer practical education but there is not lower and higher, no hierarchy of values.

Also we could talk about illiterate and under-educated people as probably stupid. It’s not the case. Don’t misunderstand me, I am a strong believer in education and would love to see all young people able to go to school. At the same time, though, I have met some illiterate people that have an amazing knowledge in area that I am blank. We should not underestimate people just because of their situation.

At the same time, I live in Eastern Europe (or in my organisation we call it Central Europe). A while back my organisation started a ‘partnership’ between nations in the west and those central Europe. I often met leaders at this time who wanted to partner with us. They came to me and said ‘We can teach in your schools. Here is my contact information. See you around!’ Then they left.. Well, partnership means a two-way interaction or having something in common. I don’t know many leaders from central Europe, myself included, that were invited to speak in schools in western Europe. Though our teaching can be as good as the western teaching, the stigmatisation of people groups, nationalities and so on is high and it influences more then we like to think.

Could that be why presidents today, 25 years after the walls of apartheid and communism came down, can once again speak about building up walls between nations. The tough guy’s insecurities and fear of differences is leading leadership in our time.
How do we view people? As inferior and threatening, or as peers and equal human beings?

Women are being suppressed in many nations and cultures, even within some of the areas I work. I see this as a major problem. Not long ago, I attended a meeting for pioneers in their field of interest. My wife and the wife of a friend were the only two women in the whole meeting. The rest were men. I asked my wife, ‘How do they hope to pioneer when they leave out the girls and women?’. I was not shocked because I understand the cultural dimension of this, but I was sad to see that some leadership hasn’t come further.
How do we view people? This is a question for everyone to ask themselves. Do we have expectations of certain nations for money, considering others poor, some with good workers and others being lazy? I think we all have thoughts like this at certain points, and I don’t say there’s never truth in it, but as leaders we need to rie above it and look for amazing things in every person and culture.

In my own organisation we have a long way to go in being able to treat different areas and its leaders with respect and recognition. We long for partnership, but first we need to deal with is our own pride and superior attitude. Then we need leaders who know that things happen from the inside out, not the outside in. In my area I hear people talking about recruiting from the west, but what we need is to mobilize from within the area or nation. It depends on valuing the experience of the local expression and leadership.

In the end, we often think that we have it all, like bringing democracy to Africa when Africa had more democracy before the white man came. I’ll let Tomm Kristiansen say it in his way, in his TED talk. He talks about Africa, but let’s look at ourselves and ask ‘How do I view people from all levels of society, all nations and areas? How do we value them?’

Until next time, pair up with someone unlike your self.

Rune Saether

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