Two words made into one. The first part is a hallowed state of harmony and the latter, denotes a sustained frame of a continuous cycle, an era.
Both shattered with an aggressive invasion of a sovereign independent state in the second month of 2022. After 2 years of a terrible pandemic killing millions of people indiscriminately across the world.
And before anyone wants to jump all on this post and label it as a vacuous and insincere marketing plea at a time of tragedy, please believe that this post is a sense-making download.
At a time when words are actually pretty hard to form. When emotions are surging through my privileged and safe existence with an acute sense of helplessness, overwhelmed with information and a distracting and heavy sense of uncertainty about life in general. I needed some way to express myself so this is it.
This is not virtue signalling, disaster opportunism or attention-seeking click-bait. This is trying to write my way into understanding. Be helpful if other people are experiencing similar sensations and don’t know how to process this.
I was born (1967) into a supposed peacetime era. Yet paradoxically, into a world that was at war in some shape or form. Not so long after the Korean War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Into the middle of the Vietnam War. And as I aged, the Arab-Israeli War. And of course, there were also wars of a race or cultural basis — apartheid and racial segregation. Not to mention that enormous spectre of delicate peacetime. Or perhaps simply two sides on the thin ice of a peacetime standoff — NATO-v-The Warsaw Pact (the Iron Curtain) and a continued Cold War.
And wars have occurred since in those following years of my adolescence into adulthood. And then Glasnost and the Berlin Wall came down and a new form of liberated democracy appeared to sweep over the world.
Perhaps this was the real peacetime ushering in?
Of course, we know that the violence and wars were in a continuous state, albeit seemingly contained to specific regions like in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sudan, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Myanmar. Al-Quaeda, ISIS, the Taliban.
Terrorist attacks in the USA, UK, Spain, Germany, France, New Zealand, Norway. Less nation-based attacks and more political and religious ideology attacks.
And now the heartbreaking, horrific war in Ukraine.
Have we really ever had peacetime? Or just war and terror with punctuated months, weeks or even just days without war and terror?
This brings into play the purpose of this post — Freedom.
Freedom at work — specifically — and freedom in life more generally.
The noun-based meaning of war is thus:
- a state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country.
- a state of competition or hostility between different people or groups.
- a sustained campaign against an undesirable situation or activity.
In Ukraine, we are seeing the former. In Yemen and Syria, the middle of these 3 and in the world of work perhaps, the latter.
None of these 3 descriptions makes any sense if you are a peace-loving, open-minded, humanity-pro individual or group of people.
Oppressive acts of behaviour take the form and shape of dominance, of the removal of the liberties of free choice and action, of the suppression, marginalisation and attack of other people often different to you, or even against someone like you, who you believe is occupying something you desire.
Greed, envy, jealousy. Resentment, hatred and fear. All emotional responses we know. We have experienced. We may justify them however we like but often at the heart of them is the positioning of power and acts of aggression over others.
So back to Freedom.
In 2015 and 2016 in my freedom to choose how I spend my time, who with and about what, I converged with a hundred others in Miami, Florida to learn about, talk about and strengthen the understanding and application of working in freedom, not fear.
Traci Fenton, some 25 years ago, was gripped by this sensation that there was something wrong in the world of work linked to the lack of democracy involved in the system of work, and that fear was a factor in many people’s lives in work causing democracy, inclusivity and choice to be suppressed.
Now again, we’re not talking about ballistics, persecution, death and destruction here. But we are talking about the grip of power and utilisation of fear as a tactic. Of some people over others. For the disproportionate gains and control that people could acquire and have over other people.
My working-class background and general socio-demographic conditions and factors have meant that, in the main, I’ve not felt the hand of oppression, fear or hatred that much, if at all. Microaggressions, class snobbery and political polarity are the worst I’ve experienced.
I was in London the day of the 7/7 bombings. Locked in a hotel whilst emergency services rallied to the needs of those who were attacked. I was safe, but it brought home just how fragile freedom can be.
So in Miami, we rallied to the cause of Freedom at Work. And tales of people who moved out the fear. People who did not see business as a war-like shattering of any competitors. Who built loving and kind places to work that also happened to be viable in the capitalist economic system of the world that ensured longer-term viability.
I had hope. Again. I had a gravitational pull towards Freedom at Work. I could see how the practices, principles and researched experiences lovingly crafted by people and curated and codified by Traci Fenton, could work.
And this was my journey continuing from some forms of enlightenment I can pin map-points to. Reading Ricardo Semler’s “Maverick” book on a self-managed engineering company in Brazil. To Gary Hamel’s keynote from his book “The Future of Management” in 2007. To reading Frederic Laloux’s “Reinventing Organizations” book in 2014. To the finding of others who believed as I did — that there was an evolution underway and that to bring it to full and widespread existence. And that we needed others to strengthen the messaging, share experiences, adapt their lives and working approaches.
It became my ideology. My mission. My purpose. My activism. My freedom fight.
Which all seems rather pathetic in the face of a dictator’s army and the real freedom fight underway by the people of Ukraine.
Where soldiers are joined by procurement consultants, software engineers, teachers, road sweepers, mechanics, nurses, truck drivers, librarians and warehouse operatives.
People like us.
So maybe my activism isn’t that pathetic after all. It’s the context of it that’s different.
Our activism of any sort is where we find what matters.
We find our moment.
And be human in that moment.
Bruce McTague— thankfully — is a generous man when it comes to sharing knowledge and wisdom. He tagged me into President Zelenskyy’s recent post about his current living conditions.
In it, this incredible human (who also happens to be President of Ukraine) said
“My life today is wonderful, I believe that I am needed… That’s the most important sense of life, that you are needed, that you are not just an emptiness that breathes and walks and eats something.”
That’s the most important sense of life. That you are needed.
As Bruce said to me in a tweet response
“he is a human meeting a moment, not a politician doing a job. we should learn something from that.”
And we SHOULD learn something from that. We are never doing a job — though that’s the label we put on it. We are humans meeting a moment.
OK, maybe not every day when you’re filling in some awful form inflicted on you by company bureaucrats or lifting another load off the shelf into the delivery van, or having another customer shout at you because their appointment needs can’t be fulfilled as they desire.
Traci Fenton’s entire premise for Freedom at Work; Ricardo Semler’s in self-managed enterprises; Jos de Blok’s self-organised nurses; Amy Edmonson’s psychologically safe organisations and Professor Hamel’s urges to rid the world of work of management oppression and bureaucracy are all in pursuit of more freedom.
OK at work, but that’s where we spend a lot of time and form our views and a lot of our friendships.
That’s what I’ve dedicated my life to for the last 10+ years. And then rightly it all pales into seeming insignificance when war rises again like the molten lava of an erupting volcano.
Ok, nothing’s changed in the world through this post. So what’s the point in this writing?
- I owe it to myself to make sense of things. The minor inconvenience I’m experiencing in hurt, distraction, empathy overload, and yes, fear is pathetic compared to death and injury, loss and isolation, fleeing and separating families; as the people of Ukraine fight against a dictatorial aggressor hell-bent on destruction. Yet I need to get on top of the mental swirl in my head and the surging emotions in my soul.
- I felt an urge to remind people of how precious and delicate freedom is and that it is what matters the most. There’s no Olympic Podium of freedom in certain circumstances. It’s either freedom or some form of fear. Compromised freedom is perhaps behind the rise of the dominant dictator now unsettling the world. Many of the people of his nation live in fear. Except those who have acquired Oligarchic power and are seemingly untouchable in their crafted world. They may seem to be free and the hope is that the economically-crafted power they have is now under a sense of fear and destabilises that power in the name of true — not compromised — freedom for all. We hope there is an uprising in the name of freedom, justice and peace.
- Work matters but humans matter most. Freedom to choose — where to live, who to love, where to work and on what — comes starkly into focus. So maybe now is a good time to drop that petty dispute with someone in the other team at work. Or reach out and help that neighbour that you know is lonely. Or stop thinking about a “war for talent” and just be a good company where people will become humans meeting their moments.
This is as near to an existential crisis as I’ve known in my life after 2 pandemic-afflicted years of a previously-thought existential, human, society-shaping crisis.
AND we have a planet in such a state of harm, we are in the precise moment that there is just enough time to try and reverse such violent and damaging climate and ecological systems disasters and then this clusterfuck occurs. One man. One unhinged man. Who appears to detest freedom so much, he’ll destroy it for all others.
You may feel hopeless, helpless, despair, doom and dejection.
These are the instruments of fear. Do not let them rest in your mind and soul for long. They will consume you.
You should instead feel the freedom you have and that you wish for others.
And use it. Wisely. With heart and soul and mind and hands engaged. And align with others. And yes, have those existential conversations. Get over those petty differences and revel in the freedom you have so that others may do so too.
And create a viral surge in the appreciation of freedom and, yes, the fight to protect, preserve and proliferate freedom.
I’ll paraphrase the great Dr Martin Luther King Jr here as he frames it best
I have decided to stick with freedom.
Fear is too great a burden to bear.
I stand with Ukraine. I stand in freedom, for freedom. For all.