I got into a discussion with a friend yesterday about religion. You know the sort. It became a discussion about basic beliefs and ideas about what had happened in the past with facts that neither of us could prove. I capitulated, not wanting to tread on ground that was sacred to them, yet still holding true to my own beliefs. In past times, I might have argued the point. But I was tired and did not see the point.
It got me thinking about this religion and holiness and that sort of stuff and reminded me of a phrase my father used to say to me: “All great religions die with their founder”. He was a spiritual man with his own religion. He is now dead. So I suppose, in his own way, he was right.
In so many things in life we seek out the differences. And religions are often a major culprit. If you believe in one version of history and someone else another, then you are different. You have different religious beliefs and are not of the same system, creeds, language etc. etc. And even within a religion, there are sub-sectors, different interpretations and different organisations supporting them. Yet what is common between religions is far more powerful than what makes them separate.
And so it is also true in the business world. We have finely-tuned sensors to work out if another company is a competitor or a potential “partner”. What are the “differentiators” that make you special? We have defined a set of rituals for ignoring or attacking other businesses. Just as in human relationships, these reactions can be commanded on a whim. Defined by tiny variations in perceived behaviour or circumstance. Individual differences are to be highlighted. Sameness is boring.
Yet there is a counter-force which is found much more commonly in nature. This is the unifying force which finds similarities and which seeks out common ground in any given situation. It requires a different way of thinking and a different way of feeling about a situation. More inclusive. More holistic. More local.
I am not an economist. Nor will I argue the pros and cons of globalisation in this short piece. Yet it seems to me that with all the rational arguments for globalisation and free-trade markets we have lost the ability to balance the world with this holistic energy – because responsibility has been taken away from what makes sense at a local level. We could blame Adam Smith and his ideas on how to increase the quantity of pins produced in pin manufacturing – so aptly celebrated on the British £20 note:
It is as if the new religion of global banking and global economics has become the new church which must be obeyed. Making money at the expense of making things whole, rounded, sensible and appropriate at a local level. With differences, of course, but much less important in this context. Much less expensive, for sure, because it does not carry the burden of national or international overheads.
And so it was that I was browsing a book, “The Nature of Order” by Christopher Alexander, one of the greatest architectural thinkers of our time. He describes wholeness as a series fifteen ideas or factors which are represented in the diagram below:
The Elements of Wholeness by Christopher Alexander
So, I wondered, with these fifteen design ideas, what would a new bank look like? What would a new economic system look like? Globalisation ideas don’t fit very well with concepts such as “Boundaries”, “Local Symmetries” and “Inner Calm”. Then again, that shouldn’t be too surprising!
If you are a wordsmith, you will notice there is a lot more in common between the words HOLINESS and WHOLENESS. The only difference is that makes the first unique is the letter “I” and the second that has the letters “WE”. Not that I am pushing one over the other, but it makes you think, anyway!