From Silence to Sisu

A guest at a meeting suggesting that I make him and the other male attendees drinks. A lawyer banging his fist on the table in front of the other male negotiators to silence me.

It takes time to shake off the effects of being silenced. Whether overt or subtle, sexist or not, the sudden impact is not unlike the five stages of bereavement: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and – acceptance?

First comes the stomach flip and the subsequent queasiness that ensues: “Did that just happen?” Then follows frustration and anger.  But it is the bargaining, depression and acceptance that are the most confronting.

Bargaining in this context for me, takes the form of a lively inner debate: an attempt to rationalise, excuse or shake-off an incident that more often than not resolves itself by attributing blame, shame or both at my own door rather than the perpetrator’s.   That resolution ensures that the incident is never spoken of openly, although it will occasionally resurface to nudge me towards negative introspection.

Depression nips at introspection’s heels when an inability to speak out safely, isolates.

John Boyd, a well-known military strategist and once Pentagon adviser identified this when he said in his 1987 lecture “The Strategic Game of Interaction and Isolation”:

“Interaction permits vitality and growth while isolation leads to decay and disintegration”.

What started with the leak of Trump’s “locker-room talk” audio and the manner of Clinton’s defeat, is now permeating through every layer of society in a post-Weinstein era, most recently, in the humanitarian aid sector. The conversation is no longer a solitary whisper, it is a marching chorus. “Did that just happen?” “Was it my fault?” and “Is it just me?”, has transitioned to: “It did just happen” “It wasn’t your fault” and: “Now, what are we going to do about it, together?”

Acceptance of the status quo is no longer an option.  Silencing others – and the desire to control and undermine that underpins it – can be challenged now that we have the space, the forum and the voice to do so.

But how?

Acceptance of others and alternative points of view is one of my #2018goals.  As a seasoned and scrappy negotiator, this is I can tell you one of the more challenging works in progress currently on my slate.

My version of acceptance does not mean submitting to conflicting viewpoints with a serene and benevolent smile.  It means listening to them, getting educated, finding precedents and trying to identify some kernel of commonality, where possible. Mostly, my version of acceptance means taking the time to reflect, throwing a sponge frustration brick at the wall and/or bending the ear of one of my inner safe circle of three.  This self-imposed time-out no longer includes negative introspection and self-flagellation. But it does provide a safe space to objectively assess the situation and the part that I played in it, as well as whilst in that space, identifying some less incendiary and more positive next steps.  Next steps more often than not lead to options and everybody, save the most steadfastly entrenched, prefers options to stalemate.

I was recently made aware of the Finnish word: “sisu”. A key proponent, Emilia Lahti,  wonderfully explains that sisu “…is often translated in to English as determination, guts, perseverance and the capacity to endure significant hardships…but ‘having sisu’ has the added dimension of doing so with integrity, honesty and humility.”

As silence and control are lowered in to the earth, sisu shoots emerge as the only stage required for an invigorated life philosophy to guide me through 2018 and beyond.

 

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