New beginning? What new beginning?

2009

Are the recent examples of 'people power', such as reaction to the elections in Iran and the anger in the UK about MP's expenses, just a superficial expression of frustration or are they more deeply rooted in a desire to force meaningful change? My cynicism when it comes to human behaviour leads me to think it is more the former than the latter.

Many commentators would have you believe that we are witnessing the beginning of 'a new way'; a social and cultural expression that change is happening all around us. Well, I'm sorry to disillusion you, but nothing substantial or significant has so far changed, as a result of the turmoil of the past 12 months.

Sure, the United States elected an African-American President for the first time in its history and General Motors went into receivership; but so what ? Unemployment across the World is on the rise and many of the cornerstone companies which for years have underpinned and driven the Global Financial markets are in trouble; well, yes and the point is?

The point is that nothing has happened which is truly seismic enough to really shake the cobwebs of complacency out of the masses. Why? Because we've not really been exposed to enough pain to want to make us do anything significantly different to the day-to-day norm.

And one of the reasons why is because those at the top of the pile, whose influence is truly Global, have yet to feel the pinch at all. After all, a depreciation of their global assets by 20-30% is hardly going to have any significant effect on their view of the World or their lifestyles in general.

And that's because over the past 50 years, the value of money has risen so much that those who have it, are now virtually immune to the day-to-day realities which most of us face.

No, sadly, we have a long way to go before we reach a threshold where people say "enough is enough", before they demand real changes to society, culture and the workplace. Sure, there are examples of popular discontent breaking out all here and there, such as the two examples I cited earlier – in Iran and in the UK.

But I suspect that within the next 12 months, both will have become distant memories, as the next scandal hits the headlines; probably some Big Brother fiasco or some third-rate reality TV nonsense.

Sadly, it seems that it will take a lot more than a major economic blip to really make us sit up, take notice and unite as one to say "this just cannot continue". Not even two World Wars could achieve that, so the superpowers invented MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) instead.

A friend recently reminded me of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and it struck me that until we face some sort of threat to our basic physiological needs - the literal requirements for human survival – most of us are happy just to hunker down and try to make ourselves as comfortable as we possibly can.

So most of us will be content just to survive the storm; ride it out and see whatever the landscape looks like after it's passed. That's level two, or safety, on the Maslow pyramid; which is a long way down from esteem at level four, which is where many people were hovering at or around the credit crunch. That's because most of us prefer to be passengers and not crew; trusting our good fortune and wellbeing to the hands of others, who we believe should know better than we do.

This raises an interesting dilemma for everyone. Is it better to be sitting on the sidelines taking no risks at all and trusting in the good judgement of others to make the right choices for us? Or should we trust ourselves and make the choices we know to be to the right ones?

That's easier said than done, because after a lifetime spent in trusting the judgement of our leaders, any choices that we make will be fraught with risk and uncertainty. So, take another look at Maslow level three; love, belonging and friendship, and trust in your judgement of those closest to you to provide the support and validation of the next choices you make, because this is so often taken for granted that it is often dismissed as being irrelevant.

If there is such a thing as a new beginning, then this would be a great place to start.

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About The Author

Charles Helliwell
Charles Helliwell

For almost 20 years, Charles Helliwell has been enjoying a lifestyle and making a living as a behavioural and relationship mentor specialising in the personal and professional development of individuals and teams in the workplace.

Older Comments

Great points... and if I might add that the work done by Dr. Don Beck on Spiral Dynamics and tieing Maslow's Hierarchy to cultures and stages of economic development adds another explanation to the current changes and trends we are facing. Thank you for your sage words of wisdom, and all the best! Stacy

Stacy Sacco New Mexico