Tuesday, 28 October 2014

What is freedom?

There was an old film I would like to write about. I would recommend businessmen to see if ever you found the time, and in how it defines real freedom. It is a film from '99 called ‘Instinct’ based on a story from a writer named Daniel Quinn where clearly much of the credit is deserved. The film stars Anthony Hopkins, as Ethan. I will not deny is one of my favourite actors of all time.

Ethan, an ecologist and anthropologist learns to live with animals and in this case Apes. He learns their sense of community, of protecting or guarding one another including their sense of compassion for each other. Man comes along and shoots several apes in their natural habitat. Ethan is stunned and blinded by his own rage, defends them by instinctively killing two of the park rangers with a club. He is caught, brought home and put in a criminal mental institution awaiting trial.

Meanwhile an aspiring psychiatrist (acted by Cuba Gooding Jr) named Theo is interested in taking his case. Yet he is only interested in the case for his own self-interest. Career breakthrough, personal ambition, recognition, challenge, money or vanity (selling a book) we could go on with man’s list of inner weakness and his selfish desires. He is not interested where he could help him or really understand him. He thinks he is, yet it is purely an ‘illusion’. We see this in many ways as Theo was told to look after some of the other patients in the facility which he takes unkindly to as he is soley focused in ‘helping’ this one guy.  Ethan refers to these people as the ‘takers’ in our world, and senses this in the psychiatrist almost by looking at him and through his acts, which tends to spark off his anger. In doing so he puts Theo to the test by exposing the psychiatrist’s lack of qualities, in an excessive yet challenging way.

Under Ethan’s challenge of hard knocks, the psychiatrist in the end learns to change and to see the world differently. No longer interested, in his self-interests, Theo realises his own stupidity, at the same time treats Ethan differently, more intelligently and more humanely. Theo is forever grateful to his new way of being. He says to him whilst weeping. ‘You taught me how to live outside of the game, you taught me to live’ In other words his true self came back, his own self-respect, his humility, his dignity and sense of compassion. He becomes more professional in his work, stronger, more authentic and more real. Ethan in turn learns to unlock his own final barriers and finds his peace of mind from his anger so that he too can continue his life with hope. (He also manages to escape)

We may of course interpret this film in hundreds of different ways. I for one, used to be a taker, in a world of takers some worse than others. It was more who was the best at this game? You deal with people of the same kind. It is a very stressful business to think this way. It can be unpleasant particularly if someone takes from you as we deal with it by harming ourselves or others in another form or become accomplices. The barometer of trust and integrity, well, it drops and it drops into storm clouds like a rock in a hard place. Good people also accomplices in many cases, that can lack courage, suffer whether they feel exploited or humiliated; they too, can feel stressed, unhappy or lost. Infact everyone loses.

I would shamefully admit whilst I look back in those days as I had reached the top in this game, that I had, or lost, half a brain, yet how could I define the best qualities in others when I myself was missing half my own qualities? It takes a lesson of hard knocks, and shocks for the ‘taker’ to find his way out, to be open, searching, to have a sense of curiosity so as to live a life more fulfilling, more enriching, with a peace of mind and with hope. And yet this all depends on the choices you make and the journey you choose, and even according to the talents and virtues that your life is given to you along your path. Or shall I say given back to you once you wake up.

The world is full of takers, and as so often the case, it is in our sub conscience, and even if we still think we mean well, we could still be living a life so far away from the truth in ourselves. More worryingly we have them in our leadership and at the top impacting and influencing our society who lack the quality, vision and sense of humanity to bring us forward. Take for example these employees at Goldman’s Sachs who are accountable for millions if not billions in our economy and define how to become a man as follows. Quite frankly there are parts of our culture that are shameful and perhaps it must learn how to weep?

As I always say, outside every external loss is an internal gain, in whatever profession or sector you choose to work in, albeit the financial sector and parts of the business sector, the media, the political world where a lot of the power and influence is, yet are deemed the least trustful and least respected. Does this mean we need to change jobs in this game? Not at all, it just means we do things differently, that’s the game changer. As the film quotes in its lesson of hard knocks, ‘You have lost nothing but your illusions and a little bit of skill’

That skill of course can be gained back differently as we continue our journey to become real men along our path to true freedom. By this way we can gain back a new era where we inspire success based on long term ideas, true talent and leadership, merit and of creativity for the common good of humanity and for the safeguard of our environment, our society and our children.

Jean-Jacque Rousseau said 'Man is born free and is everywhere in chains.' And yet it can only be that..

True freedom is the unleashing of the inner chains
 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Why is it so difficult?

Some months ago I had written a piece containing an element of fantasy.  How we could import solar energy from the sub-Sahara into Europe in exchange for water from Northern Europe. It seems that this fantasy could become a reality as there was a recent article that a potential project was underway to build a solar power energy plant in the Tunisian desert and that we could have cheap and sustainable energy passing through Europe by 2018 powering our homes. The only catch was that investors were seeking subsidy from the UK government.

What a great project this could be yet how is it that the tax payer always has to fork out money to pay? There is no secret that our differing governments are debt ridden and broke, chasing after everyone’s income, selling off assets of national interest to foreign buyers just to keep themselves, their promises and the system afloat. It appears that the governments are frankly no longer the institution where the money and even where the power lies.

Instead the influence is elsewhere staring right at us. It is with the banks which have so much liquidity including all that printed money from QE and just do not know what to do with it. Profit yes that’s the easy bit, but sadly they lack the imagination, creativity and remain stuck in a rut with no tangible purpose and no vision for the future. European banks are now unable to invest on overnight deposits due to negative interest rates. It was nice whilst it lasted! They are practically being ordered by the ECB to lend to small businesses and help the real economy which they refuse to rightly or wrongly, as the gulf of mistrust between the consumer and its lender are far too wide. They could work with each other yet this we already know ends up serving each other’s interests benefiting no one. They are left with the bond market eg the fixed income business where Goldman’s and JP Morgan have by and large made their profits and buying up the stock market, two areas that are proven to be unsustainable and deceptive in the long term and adds very little benefit to anyone.

So what are the alternatives? Well our business culture in the 21st Century could become the new battle of ideas as our economic war in Europe is starting to wear us down. The battle of idealism between those on one side who are purely focused on the bottom line and those on the other  who believe in becoming a force for good. A kind of battle between the sciences, the MBA’s, monetarists and economists, who often might call themselves 'the doers’ vs the philosophers, psychologists and social anthropologists we could call the ‘thinkers’ that can provide meaning in what we do.

Here is an idea where we should be able to blend the two schools of thought together to provide cheap sustainable energy into Europe although only backed by a handful of investors. Where are our European banks? HSBC on its mission statement follow where the growth is and the word sustainability often comes up on their website. The Tunisian government has already passed legislation to allow energy to be exported. Yes it may be risky but any large energy project finance deal or any investment for that matter carries risk. Imagine our future and our countless new opportunitites if something on this scale could work? It can even help our sub Saharan friends with their own well-being as we buy their energy that answers to so many of our own problems as we turn our mysterious charitable ways into a long term viable business venture.

In short the sentiment still remains very high against our banking system. Only the other day a politician that I was sitting with, forgive the expression he wanted to ‘bomb the banks’. Edelman the public relations firm earlier this year did a yearly survey of 27.000 people from 27 countries found that the banks and financial services continues to remain the least trusted sectors. In order to avoid our old business habits the question will always remain in how are we going to change to rebuild that trust?

I was reminded once of an ex-boss of whom had expressed a belief  that power is where the money is. Yes maybe albeit at a superficial level, yet sometimes we need to crab the bull by its horns into the 21st Century as with power, must carry new meaning, reason and purpose.

The lions roar is in all of us