After living in Europe and recently visiting Africa and Middle East again, I have been reflecting on the ways how we do perceive things without even questioning its reasons and intentions behind.
Historically, we have been thinking of everything around us in a very segmented way, by dividing a substance or breaking a complex topic into smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it. That's called an analysis. And there is nothing wrong with that if you're aware that this is one of the ways of learning (and even opposite to a synthesis, for instance).
It is so easy to break one into two (or more) and oppose to each other - black and white, day and night, good and bad - you name it. And the same way of thinking applies when we think about nations and countries - I'm pretty sure we all can agree which countries we consider "developed" and which are "under-developed" or "developing" ones.
Let's take a definition of a developed country - "is a sovereign state that has a highly developed economy and advanced technological infrastructure relative to other less industrialized nations. Most commonly, the criteria for evaluating the degree of economic development are gross domestic product (GDP), the per capita income, level of industrialization, amount of widespread infrastructure and general standard of living." Also Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, defined a developed country as "one that allows all its citizens to enjoy a free and healthy life in a safe environment."
Photo credits: Jjumba Martin
There are so many assumptions behind those definitions and, more importantly, "good intentions" and actions to "develop" "under-developed" countries in the context of western world. And I also believe we can learn much more from the right questions than from the answers. Here are some of them:
- Why does the world still measure success and development by GDP? Are we more developed and successful by producing and consuming more tobacco and alcohol (which is counted in GDP as well)?
- How do we define freedom? Is it only visible condition? Can women wear headscarves because they are free to do that and not to be judged for that? Do we still consider, for instance, Belgium or swiss canton of Ticino as developed since it is banned to wear publicly niqab and burqa? Could there be possibly an internal freedom from fragmented thoughts and judgments taken into consideration?
- Aren't we all unique? Can we all be free to find a unique path of development that is aligned with our unique culture, history, mindset and soul? How come the best product nowadays to export from developed world is democracy and expertise as a return for natural resources?
- Do we still consider those countries that consume 4 times more energy, 3 times water consumption, 2 times more of waste and 5 times more CO2 production being developed? Does the fact of consuming more necessarily mean being more developed? Why those countries that have the most of global government debts and spend more than they can generate considered developed and successful?
- Are people who have less management practices, consulting strategies and yet have deeper connection to their history, traditions and more meaningful relationships with their bodies, families, their soul and the Planet... less developed?
- Lastly, the definition of "developed" has a sense of completeness in its own. Instead of "developing" that has a mindset of constantly learning. If knowledge and expertise can be just transferred and assembled by "experts" or "consultants" from the West, how are we different from machines then?
A machine's purpose is designed into its structure. Once a machine's purpose has been set, it does what it has been designed to do. But if the environment changes, a machine does not have a way to become aware of the change and adjust to the new situation. It just becomes obsolete.
Organisms, on the other hand, control themselves.
An organism's purpose does not come from an outside designer or controller but from within.
An organism strives over time to realize its intentions in the world. As conditions in the environment change, an organism responds by adjusting its behavior and improving its performance over time. In other words, it learns.
For many years the machine view has prevailed, and many societies are designed as information-processing and production machines. But information processing is not learning. Production is not learning. Learning is a creative process, not a mechanical one. Many critical factors in life cannot be easily counted, measured or controlled.
For example, what is the lifetime value of a happy citizen for a country? What is the value of an authentic smile when greeting a neighbor or a customer, as opposed to a fake one? What is the value of a hundred, or a thousand, people who authentically and enthusiastically connect with each other on a daily basis? Imagine trying to measure something like authenticity. You can force people to say "have a nice day." You can't force them to mean it.
I firmly believe the most important things that will bring competitive advantage to a company or a society, like authenticity, trust, and connection, are often the most difficult to measure, and they certainly can't be controlled by traditional methods, like supervisors, policies, scripts and procedures.
So do we still consider these countries as less-developed? And what can we all learn from them?