Culturally Insensitive

What is culture? Culture can be defined as the the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group. 

In the Bible there is a story about the tower of Babel. It goes like this – the ancient people who had one language and a common speech wanted to build a tower so high that it would reach the heavens. They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar to build a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, to make a name for themselves. This was also done to prevent themselves from being scattered over the face of the whole earth.

While they were busy constructing this tower so that they could be gods – it is said that God mixed their tongue so they will not understand each other. It is believed that the God scattered them from there to over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. This city was called Babel because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world forcing them to be scattered over the face of the whole earth. This story doesn’t happen only in the Bible but in many ancient cultures having different forms of the same story. Gradually these people who now spoke different languages were shaped by their interactions with each other and of the world they interacted with.  

Later in Christianity it is believed that the arrival of the Holy Spirit following the death of Jesus was an attempt to bring all the cultures together in spirit – a more religious way at approaching the problem of divergent cultures. The religion of Christianity that was setup soon after that was able to have more than half of the world’s population under its fold. However as science, industrialization and individualism grew, religion started to diminish because these new logical and rationalized concepts contradicted its existence.

I was born in the United Arab Emirates, an extremely oil rich nation with a sparse population of native tribes amalgamated into a federation of 7 emirates. Due to these inherent factors and the desire to build a modern society, the country needed external help, however they did not want to compromise on their rich Arab and ancient Islamic heritage. Instead of providing immigration, these ‘expatriates’ worked contractually for a fixed period after which they would have to leave the country – this applies to even business people who invested capital there. The motto was simple, you come here, make money and then leave. Due to a zero taxation culture at that time, living in the Emirates was lucrative for decades. Growing up there I was exposed to a cultural melting pot of people from Europe, North Africa, South East Asia and the subcontinent. This gave me a solid foundation at an attempt to understand people and their cultures that defined them.

When I moved to Kerala for my higher education, I was exposed to extreme tolerance, another key aspect in being sensitive to cultural norms. This helped me understand and appreciate how much one needed to understand the point of view of others. If you study Kerala and the migrations to the state, you can see Arabs, Jews, Muslims and various Indian nationalities living peacefully, some even to this day. The key here is tolerance.

When I came to Canada with its immigration policies, one can clearly see how this country embraces the right people from different cultures and countries with open arms, accepting newer customs into their culture and realizing that the Canadian culture will be formed eventually through generations by a process of acceptance and assimilation. The same applies to the US as well, however with a caveat – racism.

US has a chequered history partly due to its inability to heal racial divides and stubbornness to actually move on from its obsession with racism and never ending victimization. You cannot deny there is racism in Canada, but it is more passive in nature and not as deadly as seen in USA. I have had bad experiences multiple times during my visits to USA, partly due to the color of my skin and also my place of birth – UAE, which with its Islamic roots was the place where some of the 9/11 attackers actually came to USA.

To summarize, the various cultures that roam around this earth are formed by the conditions that the earth has exposed them to from time immemorial. We should make all efforts to ensure that we respect various cultures, have tolerance and be patient with them – because with a prolonged global pandemic still raging, the general populace is not going to tolerate outdated assumptions and cultural insensitiveness anymore.

Being culturally insensitive is no longer a choice.

Photo by Robert Metz on Unsplash

Superhero Leadership

As the Covid-19 pandemic rages across the world with no end in sight, one wonders when will it all end and whether we would be able to return to our normal lives from the pre-pandemic times. Across the world we see never-ending Covid-19 surges, friends and loved ones succumbing to this deadly pestilence, some fatally. Despite taking all the necessary precautions, we see a steady surge of cases, newer variants amplified by a slow rollout of vaccines and generally poor leadership across the world. One would wonder what is happening around our world today – is there anyone in charge? Does anyone know what is going on and when will it all end?

The year was 2012 and Marvel released the blockbuster movie The Avengers. The superhero genre which had sporadic successes before this movie truly became mainstream after the release of this well-received blockbuster which is the 8th highest-grossing movie of all time currently. The world that just recovered slowly from a financial recession still felt that the perpetrators of the greatest financial crisis in modern history were not brought to justice – was thus wounded. It was also the time of the implosion of the social media giants – Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube which provided an unregulated platform provided platform to broadcast shrill voices. So you have a wounded populace, movies about superheroes that can save the world and a platform that provided ease of broadcasting. All it needed was a trigger and few smart politicians across the world from India, China, Turkey, the USA, Brazil etc., happily noticed and played it to their full advantage.

Often known as nationalistic leaders, these men who rule swaths of countries across the world, portray themselves similar to these superheroes with a huge fan-following around them. They have social media armies that amplify every message of their leaders and disdain any counter-narrative. They often take quick decisions, disrupt the established order that relied heavily on bureaucratic systems and processes, focus on pragmatic approaches than well-informed decision making, a fondness for a capital-focussed opulence and a general disdain for social justice. It can also be argued that this way of looking inward grew from the frustrations with a globalist world order that flattened the world, destroyed (shipped) jobs & local industries, transferred national wealth into a select few along with the implosion of the internet. The onset of the nationalist leaders across the world rode a tidal wave that threatened the globalist world order deeming it along with its founder – the United Nations highly irrelevant. As more and more superhero movies were released, this counter-culture became the new norm for a new world order, where feverous nationalism reigned.

It was all going well – till Covid-19 struck and then grew into a global pandemic. The nationalistic leaders who shunned globalization and the established world order built on the ruins from the Second World War did not have any local solution to a global problem. More than a year into the pandemic, with wave after wave of a surging virus and its variants, they still do not. One almost feels like it is not going to end and we are doomed. Yet all hope is not lost. We now see a new world that is starting to discover what we did have once – one where we spoke to each other and collaborated. As the pandemic rages on, the only solution that would save us would be with all these ‘superhero leaders’ across the world working together as in the movie The Avengers. But once the hubris of this leadership model finally peaks, we may need to sit together and discuss how we tackle newer problems going forward.

Photo by Fredrick john on Unsplash

Why processes matter!

The year was 1962, the time of the Nuremberg trials which tried the ex-Nazi personnel for war crimes against humanity including Jews. As the trial progressed one of the main perpetrators of the dastardly war crimes, Adolf Eichmann including others many wrote letters to the commission in charge of these trials, stating that they were merely obeying the orders of their superiors while carrying out heinous war crimes which resulted in the death of more than 6 million Jews in concentration camps including the Auschwitz1. This argument did not refrain the public who believed that there was a moral falling with German people as a whole, who may have facilitated this heinous horror of a crime.

However that same year a Yale social psychologist by the name of Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments with 40 participants to test the hypothesis that humans can cause harm to another human, while under the instruction of a superior. In this famous experiment, the participants (called teachers) were directed by an experiment conductor to query another person (an actor, let’s call him a follower) in an adjacent room on a series of questions to which the latter always replied the incorrect answer. For each incorrect answer, they were to administer a series of electric shocks in increments of 15 volts. The follower faked groaning in pain when the volts were increased. The teacher upon hearing the screams of the follower were instructed by the conductor to continue the questioning and not to stop the experiment. Out of 40 participants, only 14 defied the conductor and broke off the experiment in between. However, 65% of the participants of the study were willing to administer 450 volts on another human under the direct supervision of the conductor before the test ended. At the end of the experiment when the participants were asked to rate on a scale of 1-14 on how much they felt the shocks hurt the follower — the result came out to be 13.422.

The controversial Milgram experiment confirmed Eichmann’s assertion that under a superior authority and within the right framework any human can passively hurt another human causing significant and lasting harm. It demonstrates the fact that processes have a bigger role to play in any organization in determining the effectiveness of an individual in any position.

In 2007 the famous actor Dennis Quaid and his wife Kimberly Quaid after the birth of their twins had to send their newborn children to the Cedars Sinai Medical Center NICU to address serious staph infections. They were given antibiotics intravenously and seemed to be doing well a day into the unit. The Quaids left for home for some much-needed rest and checked with the nurses periodically. However, on the 3rd day when they reached the hospital, the staff at the NICU informed them that the nurses had accidentally given their children a blood thinner that was more potent than the one prescribed by a factor of 2000. This turned their blood into the consistency of water where they were literally bleeding out and almost on the verge of death. What happened was that a pharmacy technician took the 10000 unit thinner first and accidentally put them in the same bin as the 10 unit bottles. A nurse in the NICU took the 10,000 unit bottle from the same bin and without confirming the label administered it twice on the twins – one time while the Quaids were in the room with their kids. Fortunately, the kids survived and the hospital spent $100 million fixing their systems and processes to ensure that such an event doesn’t happen again3.

It is easy to blame the lab technicians, nurses or even the German people in these case studies. However if one examines the root causes of some of these events it is clear that systems and most important processes in a company enable or facilitate such deviations. The father of the modern PDCA (plan-do-check-act) cycle was correct when he once famously remarked:

Blame the process and not the people

Dr. William Edwards Deming


  1. How the Nazi’s defense of ‘just following orders’ plays out in the mind | PBS NewsHour
  2. AS Psychology Milgram (
  3. How a Medical Mistake Almost Killed Dennis Quaid’s Twins (
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The Era of Electric Vehicles

The following post is based on my notes for two speeches completed in my local Toastmasters club earlier this year.

The transportation sector in Canada is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter in Canada accounting for 25% of the emissions, second to the oil and gas sector (at 26%)1. In the U.S transportation accounts for the highest greenhouse emissions at 28%2.  The carbon emissions of an electric car are around 17 – 30% lower than driving a petrol or diesel car as per European Energy Agency3. It is also believed that a single electric car on the road can save an average of 1.5 million grams of CO2. That’s the equivalent of four return flights from London to Barcelona4

For the past two centuries, there had been a concentrated effort to develop a commercially operated electric vehicle. The first electric vehicle was introduced in 1828 using galvanic cell technology. Rechargeable batteries, the main power driver behind these types of vehicles were invented in 1859 with the introduction of lead-acid batteries. Electric-powered taxis, then known as ‘hummingbirds’ were introduced in London as early as 1897. The electric starter was discovered in 1912. However, with the mass production of gasoline vehicles, the production of electric vehicles ceased in the 1910s. There were sporadic, unsuccessful developments in electric car technology till 2000s5,.

One of the biggest reasons for the failure of electric vehicles were the following:

  • High Cost
  • Low Top Speed
  • The short range of travelled distances

Path-breaking developments in the transistor, microprocessor and lithium-ion battery technologies helped to renew interest in electric vehicles during the early 2000s. They were:

  • Metal oxide semiconductor technology field-effect transistor (MOSFET) by Hitachi. This helped with higher switching frequencies that made these vehicles easier to drive. It also helped reduce power losses, and significantly reduced prices.  
  • In 1971 Intel introduced the single-chip microprocessor which helped improve drive control and improved capacity for battery management. 
  • Developments in lithium-ion battery improved energy storage enabling long-distance travel6.

In 2006, Tesla introduced the first viable all-electric vehicle option driving the general acceptance of these vehicles in the market. In the year 2016 for the first time, 1 million units were delivered and 4.8 million electric cars were in use around the world. Currently, the fully electric Tesla Model 3 is the world’s all-time best-selling plug-in electric passenger car, with around 645,000 units sold. In 2020 alone, there were 3 million electric cars sold.

Electric cars are known to run very quietly, especially while they are on full battery power leading to the requirement in some jurisdictions to have noisemakers installed and let pedestrians know they’re coming7.

It is to be noted that aggressive targets are being set by automotive manufactures to go completely electric by 20508. This raises concerns especially around the sourcing of raw materials. The supply chain is heavily monopolized with the extraction and processing of these minerals being overwhelmingly controlled by one single state actor: China9. China’s proactive industrial policy loaded with enormous subsidies has led its companies to dominate, at home and abroad, the extraction and processing of the critical raw materials necessary for EV production. It can be categorically stated that Beijing’s aims to dominate the entire EV supply chain and the nascent EV vehicle industry, reminiscent of the erstwhile Standard Oil (which was declared as an illegal monopoly in 1911 by the U.S Supreme Court). Last year the impact of a monopolized PPE supply from China created significant challenges to world economies during the COVID-19 outbreak10.

There is also negligible discussion on the lasting environmental footprint the production of electric cars creates. Lithium is concentrated in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the world’s dominant source of cobalt. Mineral extraction in all these locales is rife with environmental degradation. Lithium mining, a water-intensive business, has impacted the agricultural sector and has contributed to increased soil contamination. The enormous demand for copper, lithium and rare earth elements needed for a complete transformation of the existing automobile market currently at 1.4 billion cars will definitely leave a lasting environmental and ecological mark on this planet11. For the environmentalists that lampoon the Alberta oilsands and its tailings ponds, this issue alone should offer some retrospection.

Another threat to the adoption of electric cars is not understanding ‘Lifecycle Emissions’12. For example, a car with its battery made in China and charged up in Poland (where coal is used for power generation) emits 193 gm of C/km (C=Carbon). If the same car is used in Sweden/ France with a low carbon grid it is 50 gm of C/km. Comparitively a gasoline-powered car emits 284 gm of C/ km. The electric grid thus will have to be decarbonized extensively for many meaningful benefits from the electric vehicle transition. This opens new challenges as seen recently in Germany and Texas during the winter outages of 2021.

To summarize, electric vehicles are a true paradox.  On one hand, they are important to obtain a step change at reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the world, but on the other hand, their accelerated development can result in a permanent ecologic disaster of enormous proportions that can scar the extremely fragile earth that we live in. I do believe that transportation would need to be reimagined to address the problem of climate change, but I am not yet convinced that the answer lies in electric vehicles.

“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Mark Twain


Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

A disciplined approach at getting rid of bad habits

What is discipline? In my simple definition it would doing the same activity regularly again and again in an orderly and systematic manner. How is it different from a habit? Basically they are the same when seen through the prism of getting things done. For a habit one needs:

  • A cue
  • A routine
  • A reward

The above definitions were provided by Charles Duhigg in his path breaking book – The Power of Habit. This anatomy of a habit provides many insight to the ‘why’ we do certain things in life.

Recently I finished reading a book called Atomic Habits. This books takes over from where Duhigg stopped and expands the universe of habits. It is a well written and thoroughly researched book providing deep insights into habit formation, sustainment and even elimination techniques for bad habits.

I’ve had my share of bad habits for a greater part of my life. I have been able to eliminate a good amount of them. However just like weeds grow next to a beautiful flower – some other bad habit always seem to take their place as we grow older. Some of the lessons I learnt while eliminating bad habits are:

  • Identification
  • Mapping them out
  • Remove them and replace with something else
  • Slow and steady progress
  • Allow the soaking time
  • Eliminate them completely

Identification:  This is the most important step – identifying that you have a bad habit. This is not easy because once the system gets used to something, it will find a million excuse not to let go of that bad habit. Once you are ready to move forward with elimination of the bad habit, do not look back and try to have a strong bone while doing so.

Mapping them out: It is important to map out a bad habit in the format shown by Duhigg – first identify the cue i.e., the trigger which forces you to commence the bad habit. Identification of the routine would be next – this is the easiest part of the activity. The final step would be the reward. Once this is identified, it becomes easier to proceed to the next step.

Remove them and replace with something else: The reward is the fruit of the bad habit one which enthrals or excites. If this is clearly understood, try the following:

  • Can I obtain the same outcome by a different and better habit?
  • Can I have a better outcome with a different and better habit?

Answering these questions can be helpful with the activity of eliminating the bad habit.

Slow and steady progress: Rome was not built in a day, so try to take it slow and no burden yourself or be hard on yourself, should progress falter. In due course and with focus, you could be on your path of elimination provided you are steady and undeterred by any setbacks.

Allow some soaking time: If you are replacing a bad habit with a better/ different habit, allow for some soaking time. During this time there will be a period where both habits may interlace. This is normal. As time goes on you will realize how the better habit decimates and overlap the weaker bad habit. This soaking time hence would be crucial.

Eliminate the bad habit completely: With time you will realize the slow degradation and demise of the bad habit. Most of the time it would leave the scene without a whimper and you will never realize that you actually did have a bad habit. They say time is the greatest healer – it is also the greatest nullifier. There is nothing that cannot be eliminated with willpower and patience. The latter is most important.

The above steps provide a disciplined approach at eliminating/ getting rid of bad habits. Being orderly and systematic, one can expect to achieve greater results.

Photo by Prophsee Journals on Unsplash

Being positive

Before I write a single word, I can hear the unbearable groans from everyone who reads this post. I would imagine that it would go on something like this -‘please do not post another positivity snake oil sermon. We get it. Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown has completely shaken up the entire 2020 for us. We do not have a single positive outcome since this pandemic spread out throughout the entire world from mid-March. There is no vaccine in sight, fatalities are increasing across the world, the economy is in shambles, jobs are lost, businesses are being shuttered and the strains in the health care system are beginning to show. We do not need another positivity sermon, please. Thank you’.

In the midst of all the gloom and darkness we are limited by our belief that the worst is yet to come. Michael Hyatt in his book ‘Your Best Year Ever’ explained these limiting beliefs as follows:

  • Black and White thinking – If we haven’t achieved perfection, we have failed
  • Personalizing – Blaming ourselves for random negative experiences
  • Catastrophizing – Assuming the worst with minimal evidence
  • Universalizing – Assuming our bad experience to be true across the board

If you think for a minute about the different belief and our present situation- they do match up well. We live in an unreal world – the likes of which no one living has seen or experienced before. We are limited by beliefs such as we have failed as a human race and have been stopped in our tracks of progress by a mere virus. We believe that as a human race we are responsible for what has happened to us. We assume that since nothing is getting better with increasingly bad news everywhere we look, hear or speak, this is going to be the new norm. The only solace is that everyone around the world is in the same boat as we are, some in an even more unfortunate situation.

Liberating truths – from our limiting beliefs

Martin Luther King believed in the true power of liberation. In his pathbreaking speech, ‘I have a dream he exhorted his fellow men that true liberation begins from our beliefs.

….America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice……

‘I Have a Dream’ delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.

Limiting beliefs are amplified during this current period of deep uncertainty. However this time also provides us with a different opportunity to identify our limiting beliefs that plague us and reject them since they limit us or reframe them differently. For example. lets say you have a limiting belief that you are not good with relationships. You can use this period to either reject that belief completely and try to connect with old acquaintances or reframe the belief as – ‘I may be not good with relationships but I can certainly try to change myself’.

This period of uncertainty does provide the best opportunity to reorient ourselves to something we never were. Why do not we then try to liberate ourselves from what held us back for so long? Why do not we try to be better than we were before and live life differently once this is over? Why do not we try to… be positive.

unsplash-logoPeter Conlan

Prioritizing in a Period of Uncertainty

We are in the midst of an unprecedented black swan event – the Covid-19 pandemic. It has created uncertainty across the world, the scale of which has never been seen since the Spanish Influenza outbreak over a century ago. One look at the latest Covid-19 outbreak and how it has impacted the world looks like this:

Source: Bing

Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown has resulted in a sudden, drastic change to the working habits of millions of people. The hardest hit have been the many people who live on daily wages, gig economy, service industry etc., who have seen their pay checks evaporate overnight. The impact on small businesses cannot be understated. For the fortunate people who still have a job and are entrusted with ensuring the economic momentum, this lockdown has forced them into embracing the change of working from home. With more or less the same work load, the traditional ways of working has been upended forcing people to use new tools and methods. This uncharted territory has underlined the need to prioritize more than ever before.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of the most accomplished two-term American presidents of his time with accomplishments including the victory in Normandy, first commander of NATO, developer of the Interstate Highway system including many others. In an commencement address, he once said:

I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Something that you are forced to do immediatelySomething that you know should be done at a given point of time

President Eisenhower is known for The Eisenhower Matrix which is a simple prioritization matrix that provides a tool to demarcate urgent and important tasks as shown below.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Making a list of all the tasks in a given day and plotting them in the matrix as shown, the user is provided with a simple prioritization model. This model helps in being effective and efficient especially in an ambiguous time such as now.

We live in a terrifyingly uncertain time – the likes of which very few living people today has seen in their lifetime. Normally black swan events impact only a certain population of the world – for e.g., Arab Spring, Gulf War, Fort Mcmurray fires etc. Here the entire living population of the world is affected. Thus prioritization in professional and personal lives especially when swathes of population are ‘locked down’ in their homes becomes paramount.

Eventually when we see the light at the end of the tunnel, prioritization provides us with an opportunity to be better persons than we were before.

unsplash-logoPaul Skorupskas

Leading through Crisis

At the time of writing this blog, most of the developed world have been quarantined from the novel Covid-19 pandemic. The whole world that never slept, bristling with activity across the oceans and continents have been gripped by this deadly virus since it came in the news in November 2019, when it first originated in Wuhan, China. Despite a warning provided then that this flu is on its way to infect the world, we can see countries across the world scrambling today to shut down all non-essential services, schools, universities, airports – locking down everything, forcing people to work from home, canceling examinations, etc. Even the voice of reason – God from Twitter (David Javerbaum, a former Daily Show writer) clearly explained with a sense of urgency what needed to happen.

How then do you lead during this periods of duress? How do you shut down entire modern societies and force generations of people to strictly stay inside and arrest the compounding spread of this pandemic? If you read the earlier pandemics including the Spanish flu of 1918 which abruptly ended the first world war and wiped out 5% of the known human population at that time, 50-100 million people, you do not get any solace. All the measures that have been announced to combat the Covid-19 duress including washing hands, self quarantines and shutting down cities were lessons learned from the Spanish flu. It is said that during the Spanish flu, while the adults walked around wearing masks, children skipped rope to this rhyme:

I had a little bird
Its name was Enza
I opened a window
And In-flu-enza.

Children rhyme

To this day, no one knows why the Spanish flu ever happened, no one knows where it originated and after claiming a bloody toll, it simply vanished.

It is not easy to stop the juggernaut that is the 24x7x365 world which we are a part of. However about hundred years later we see that the Covid-19 virus has ravaged through more than 128 countries (and still counting) with a lethality rate approaching 5%. This crisis is truly unlike anything that the post Second World War generation has seen so far. It has finally managed to completely ‘stop’ the world.

It is an interesting challenge for any leadership during this rare ‘black swan’ event. We are battling an enemy that cannot be seen or be reasoned with. Despite our best efforts, all we need is one perforation in the loosely amalgamated social containment efforts. Such cases continue to amaze and frighten us – Patient 31 from South Korea.

What then is the solution? We need to follow all the recommended activities by governments – self quarantine, social distancing, keeping our hygiene in top notch, enrich ourselves with hope and prayer to withstand these tough challenging times. There are a gazillion home remedies that we can apply even today – keep ourselves hydrated, drink immunity boosting teas, proper diet control, good sleeping and mental peace. Despite all these efforts, we may or may not be successful. But true leadership is in being proactive – i.e., by preventing.


The Response

The year was 2016. It was a period of high economic uncertainty in Alberta. During this time, there was a massive forest fire in the oil rich boom town of Fort McMurray which spread into an area of 590,000 hectares and caused the immediate displacement of 88,000 people. The fire happened all of sudden caused by abnormally dry spring conditions, human ignorance and a lack of proactive urgency from the provincial administration. It ushered in the perfect storm of unusually large proportions, never seen before in Canada.

Fort McMurray was my workplace for about 5 years and hence I was fortunate to be involved in the relief works that were staged in the capital city of Edmonton. The disaster was one of the largest forest fires that Canada had ever seen. Yet it was amazing to see how people came together and responded to the natural disaster in a magnanimous and honorable way. The people were evacuated safely from Fort McMurray in an orderly manner with zero causalities and located in Edmonton and Calgary aided by both public and private assistance.

I was fortunate to assist in one of the many relief centers as a volunteer. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. To see familiar faces wait in long lines in relief centers showed me how tragedy is a great educator. Many of my friends lost their homes to the fire and some couldn’t even return to the city where they lived from the trauma. However both the government and citizens of Alberta and Canada, through various acts of policy and charity ensured that the affected people from this great tragedy were cared for. This helped thousands to move on from the tragedy quickly.

If there is one thing that I have learnt from disaster is our response to it matters. Whenever disaster strikes, the first question we ask as human beings is – ‘Why?’ It is often a natural human tendency to blame someone over a disaster – either the government or humans etc. But when it strikes and you are in the heat of the moment, it doesn’t matter. Does it? The question of how do we survive becomes paramount now.

Human beings are built for survival. Charles Darwin explained human evolution as survival of the fittest. When we face danger, or feel stressed, the brain activates the hypothalamus which initiates chemical releases and nerve cell response to make us get ready; adrenaline is released, heart rate increases and blood pumped to our muscles and limbs making us alert and aggressive. Harvard university physiologist Walter Cannon in 1915 coined the term fight or flight response, i.e., a biological trigger that helps us decide whether to stay and combat or flee from danger.

When the Fort Mcmurray fire happened, instead of panic, the people evacuated themselves (or were helped) in an orderly manner despite the raging forest fires that approached closer and closer to the town. This magnified response by holding to your impulse and nerves during times of great danger, contrary to natural human design shows us what we are capable of as human beings if we put our heart to it.

Today the world is plagued by a new type of danger – a pandemic triggered by an unknown virus. We see countries shutting down, stock markets collapsing and fatalities increasing. We see an entire world affected and trying hard to contain the spread of this virus, accentuated by the modern comforts afforded to us from human travel and hyper-connectivity. I believe just like any other disaster, this one too shall pass. However what is going to make a difference even now is how we respond.

As humans, we are built to survive and defend our turf just like our forefathers, the original caveman once did. Images of empty shelves and stores, people fighting for toilet paper all reflect our natural human design. It is not easy to keep cool and believe nothing is happening. Some people try to move on as if nothing is happening or has happened. This is denial and it cannot be denied that we are in a period of deep uncertainty.

Leaders always get the blame for not preventing a crisis; for not having foreseen that something could go wrong. They will never be forgiven if the response is inadequate or weak. It is all about the response.

How we keep our cool during this period of uncertainty will help define the stories we would tell about this virus outbreak tomorrow. Simple steps such as personal hygiene and social distancing can help combat this outbreak. It is not difficult and is possible. Our response matters.

unsplash-logoKelly Sikkema

Servant Leadership

For a long time, I have been quite enamored by the concept of leadership. From the early days of this blog, the focus was always to define what leadership truly means. Leadership means different things to so many people. For some it is that all powerful person who leads, inspires, guides, mentors to some one who knows all the questions and the answers. Everyone has an unique definition to what a true leader is. At the end of the day just as it is important to believe in something, it is important to believe in a leader or what a true leader actually means. Often most people prefer to be led that to lead. This is truly synonymous with our times with strong leaders in many countries espousing intense nationalistic fervor.

One of the finest concept of leadership that I have come across is that of Servant Leadership. What is Servant Leadership? It is simply a leader that leads by serving. This is one of the path breaking leadership concepts that was first introduced by Jesus. Hours before he was captured and executed, while sitting with his disciples for the last supper, Jesus took it on himself to wash the feet of his disciples. This was a revolutionary gesture by Jesus to his disciples.

The disciples who were convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah who would fight alongside them and secure their freedom from the Roman oppression in a true zealotry Maccabean style were stunned at the gesture of their leader. In fact Peter who was the second-in-command, refused at first for the Lord to wash his feet, because that is not what leaders do. They lead their followers, not serve them.

We can see that Jesus then clearly outlining the expectation that if Peter wants to be a part of his ministry and his leadership, he has to permit him to wash his feet. By doing so, Jesus was ascertaining that his ministry (leadership) was about service and he expects his followers to do the same once he was gone. He clearly explains in the end that by serving, the leader doesn’t become beneath his followers, nor does he lose his stature by doing so. He becomes something different – he becomes a servant leader. A leader who leads by serving.

History is plastered with examples ever since the time of Jesus of leaders who led by service during times of their greatest adversity. Some examples include, Martin Luther King during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Mahatma Gandhi during the Salt Satyagraha etc. These leaders also known for their nonviolent mode of protest were one of the finest examples of servant leadership – they led by serving their causes in a non-violent manner. This had a lasting impact to their movements to this day.

If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword”. We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you”. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance.

Martin Luther King Jr.

There is a fictional character in a TV series that we watch as a family quite regularly called This is Us about a fictional father Jack and his 3 children all of whom who share the same birthday. One of the children, Randall was adopted by Jack after his father left him in a fire station . Jack and his wife Rebecca were expecting triplets, however one ended up being stillborn. This provided them with the impetus to adopt Randall as one of their own. The endearing series is how the children grows in the shadow of their father, who dies in their teenage years. Jack who was devoid of a strong family during the time he grew up, ensured that his children was well taken care of. Throughout the series, we can see Jack imbibe the finest qualities of servant leadership as a husband and father. He was always active, keeping his family front, never afraid of getting his hands dirty, humble to the core, seeing the bigger picture, appreciating the weakness in his children and inspiring them to be the best that they can ever be. Years later we see how this influence of Jack on Randall inspires him to do something remarkable when he saw a failure of leadership in a local councilman. These dialogues are truly reflective.

My dad was a superhero. Man literally saved my life the day I was born. And he always took action. He never sat still. He was a superhero and then he died and we’ve all been scrambling ever since, scrambling to keep him alive however we can, scrambling for new ways to feel close to him. I pride myself on having a piece of my dad in me, always have. But my dad wouldn’t have sat still. And my dad wouldn’t have just made phone calls. If this councilman won’t do his job, then maybe I can. I think I’m gonna run against him, Beth

Randall Pearson, This Is Us

Servant Leaders are inspirational since they do not have a top-to-bottom approach. They believe in being at the bottom, taking their team to the top by being one among them and by serving them. In doing so, they inspire the team – to be something better, and if not great!

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