The Dangers of the Mob

“The Government got that wrong. They have double standards.”

It has been a common refrain around the country in the past few weeks when discussing the protests around the Black Lives Matter movement.

Many have asked why we haven’t been able to gather for weddings and funerals in large groups during the Coronavirus pandemic, but thousands of people have been given approval to meet together and protest. How is that fair? What is the government thinking?

Maybe the government was confident that the protesters would be outdoors and could maintain social distancing, or perhaps it had nothing to do with any political alignment or any opinion about how contagious or controlled the virus was, but was based on the power of the mob. Of course, not all protests turn into riots, in fact very few do – but the risk that something will escalate is real.

Here are three insights into mob mentality:

Mob Mentality is Dangerous. Something significant happens when large groups of people get together, especially when they are all in agreeance on a hot-button political and emotional issue. In a group setting, individuals are emboldened and grow in courage to act in ways that they never would if they were alone.

History shows us this – whip a mob into a frenzy and it can turn into a riot. We saw this in Cronulla in 2005, but there have been many others including in Kalgoorlie in 1934. We’ve seen it in America numerous times also, in LA in 1992, Baltimore in 2015 and, of course, LA in 2020 (among many others). Jesus was crucified by the mob, without evidence and without the explicit approval from the ruler of the day.

Mob Mentality is Powerful. Governments across Australia did not deny people the ability to come together and protest in the midst of a pandemic, basically because they had no power to do so. Some groups are just too large to stop.

For example, WA has almost 7,000 police officers, including auxiliary staff. All you need is for 8,000 people to turn up somewhere and authorities have little hope to quell anything that gets instigated. Trying to keep a large group from rising up and overpowering you in a violent incident is not as far fetched as we may think.

Fredrick Douglas said “the oppressors only have as much power as the oppressed give them.” Which means that the mob can be outrageously powerful, for a while.

Mob Mentality is Short-lived. It can escalate quickly but then, just as quickly it can dissipate. Sometimes within seconds, sometimes within hours, other times it can last for days and weeks – turning into an ‘occupy’ type situation. But the mob will always run out of steam and begin to disintegrate, but only after the damage has been done to the people and the places around it. The longer it lasts the more damage is done, and when it is over the community is left to pick up the pieces and get back to real life.

Politicians fear nothing more than an angry mob, because whilst it exists, they are powerless against it.

Was That Tit or Tat?

Two truths and a lie:

  • We don’t control what happens in the world
  • We get to choose how we respond to things that happen
  • Some people know how to push our buttons and they make us angry or force us to respond negatively

The last one is a lie. No one can make you feel any emotion. Our emotions are our own response to what is happening inside us.

Harsh, but true.

When how we feel depends on what happens around us, it can lead to dangerous outcomes. We get caught up in what is happening to us, how people are hurting us, how those around us are making us feel, that we respond with raw emotion and anger in an attempt to hurt the person back.

The trouble is we don’t see that we are doing exactly what we are getting upset about. We only see what is happening to us and not the impact our actions are having on, which is probably how someone hurt us in the first place – they were dishing out the pain they have received on to others. Hurting people hurt people.

Similarly, there is a slippery slope of justifying questionable behaviour. I have seen it firsthand; when a person has perceived that something bad has happened to them, they will then do something unethical, (lie/steal/slander) to make up for it, because ‘someone did something bad to me, so I can behave like this’.

When you think about retribution and justice there a probable a few phrases that come to mind, like

“An eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth”

Which for the longest time I considered to be barbarian, but I discovered that this Old Testament Law came at a time in history when it was common place for acts of violence to escalate so quickly that an innocuous knock of a tooth could turn into all out war and hatred. (Some would consider that we still live in that time).

Martin Luther King Jnr. was talking about this exact issue when he said “Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence…we must meet the forces of hate with the power of love”.

Jesus gave an example of what love looks like in this situation, and took the eye for an eye concept further:

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get  us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.”

Generosity is outrageous. It humbles the ego, looks to the other person, sees their pain and willingly submits to physical, emotional and social brutality. At the same time it takes all the power away from the instigator. Non-violence is the most powerful, subversive act.

Generosity, by looking past someone’s actions to their intentions and motivations, will not fix all our immediate problems, it just removes the future ones. The ones that we create for ourselves.

Not That Kind of Locust

“Our experience shapes the way we see the world and how we see the world shapes our experience.”

“Sometimes stuff happens to you and sometimes you happen to stuff.”

I find it fascinating to watch how people respond to life circumstances. And let’s face it, there has been a lot of ‘life circumstances’ happening this year. It’s got me thinking a great deal about what responses are appropriate and what it takes to control our response to those things which are outside of our control.

I decided to do some reading on the psychological concept of locus of control thinking that it would help me break down people into two groups.

  1. Those that have an external locus of control being people who sees the events of their life and the world around them as happening to them, without having any control over.
  2. Those with an internal locus of control being those that can control their response to external events and recognize that they can always do something.

It turns out locus of control is more about people’s view of how success is achieved – whether it is completely within their control (internal locus) or success comes from luck or fate alone (external locus). As you could imagine, most people fall somewhere in between.

Regardless of that, this frame of thinking can be the springboard for how we approach the world. Generally, people will either lean more towards action or reaction. Action, being more in line with an internal locus of control, someone who creates the world that they want. And reaction being more about an external locus of control, someone who responds to the world as it happens to them.

This year has seen a great deal of things ‘happen to us’ and I am in awe of those who are creating the experiences they want, the life that they want and the cities that they want to live in. They are the people who are not overwhelmed by challenging circumstances and are creating positive outcomes where others only see tragedy.

As Hamlet put it, ‘nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

You’ve Been Owned.

There is something about completely owning someone. To be the victor in a challenge or sporting event feels great and is an amazing boost to the ego. You can look down your nose at those you have overcome and know that you are better than them. You are the winner and they are the loser.

Winner…

Loser…

That’s what it is to ‘own’ someone. It’s young person lingo to describe you as a winner and someone else a loser. They are trampled underfoot and you are the victor dancing on their grave.

I guess it’s not too much of an issue in the context of a game, but I am seeing the culture of ‘owning’ someone become common place in political engagement and social media. The goal no longer appears to be to create dialogue, uncover each opinion and seek to change someone’s mind. Instead the goal looks like finding the most cutting one liner that is both clever and true – a zinger perhaps, one that is so amazing that it removes the need for any further conversation. The person delivering the line then walks away in full knowledge that the other side was ‘owned’ whilst onlookers can only think ‘Well, there’s nothing more to be said. I am well and truly convinced by that pithy statement ausguy_645 said’.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, that’s not how communication works. What we end up seeing instead is dozens of people jump in with their one liner in an attempt to cut down someone else with a different opinion. They all speak at the same time and use whatever language necessary to be heard over the others and it does not have the desired impact of silencing anyone. It only creates more angst and anger, and more one liners. Finally, the only way to be heard is to say the most outrageous, malicious statement as loud and as violently as you can so that the conversation stops, therefore winning the argument and ‘owning’ the other side.

Here’s the thing. It’s lazy. It’s bad communication. There is no generosity there. Anyone can say something cutting and seemingly interesting in 280 characters. Anyone can drop a comment on a post and bring in to question the credibility of someone else. Sure, some people do it better than others, but the real work comes from the second 280 characters, and the 280 characters after that. And the curiosity about someone else’s opinion. And the suggested way forward after that. That’s where the skill lay.

That’s generosity. It comes along side someone and invites them into a thoughtful dialogue, and if the invitation is refused, generosity walks away without malice and frustration.

Now is the time

Who you are tomorrow begins with what you do today” – Tim Fargo

Building muscle is hard. Especially if it’s not a muscle that you naturally use every day.

If you want to build the muscles that don’t get a lot of use, you need to intentionally exercise them, put them under stress, so they grow and strengthen. This requires discipline, time, and money. It becomes more of a challenge if you suffer an injury to that muscle because then it’s not just a question of building it, but of repair and healing, then building. It’s painful to rehabilitate but it’s also painful to do nothing. Either way, pain is forced on to you, but you get to chose which pain you experience.

Generosity is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, it doesn’t grow. And through challenging financial times, it can feel as if it is a muscle that has suffered an injury. It hurts to use it. But if you want to see the muscle grow over time, and to become a more generous person tomorrow, what you do today is paramount.

Now is the best time to start working your generosity muscle. To give some money away. Start small, make it consistent and keep it going. Sure, it may hurt, but it will heal and repair over time, then it can grow, and you become who you want to be tomorrow.

If you want to be generous when you have much money, start when you have little.

As Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Don’t waste this challenging financial time. Begin acting generously.

Feeling lonely? Try this.

Telephobia is real. It has research to back it up and everything. Essentially it is a fear of making phone calls, or of Teletubbies, perhaps both because they can both be terrifying. But about two thirds of people have experienced fear when answering a phone call, and about 20% say they feel it all the time. Perhaps you have experienced it at some level.

So we text. We avoid. And we put making a call off until later, when we feel like it.

The unfortunate part about that is we are hurting ourselves and others.

As we try to stay connected during this time of isolation and working from home, people are realising that digital conversations are just not cutting it. They are not meeting the need we have to be part of a community.

But making a phone call can. It’s the next best thing to meeting in person because hearing someone’s voice helps us feel connected and gives the sense that we belong, much more so than digital conversations.

Which makes sense because there is something powerful about our voice. It’s not just the words that we say, but the emotion, state of mind and sincerity that are communicated through the tone. In fact, hearing someone’s voice provides a more accurate insight into their emotional state than their body language.

If you are wondering about what you can do to help those around you during this global pandemic, an act of generosity is as easy as making a phone call. Reaching out to someone so they can hear your voice, talk about how they are going, and help them feel part of a community, can do wonders for them. And us. It is the antidote to loneliness. It may cause some anxiety for you to make the call but bringing joy to someone is worth the discomfort.

A Global Pandemic is like…Breast Milk

If you have kids, you will know about the blur that happens in the first few weeks/months/years of a child’s life. You’re not really sure what day it is, where you are or how you got here. You are kind of surviving on auto pilot. Kids can have that effect. You will also probably have an understanding on how challenging breast feeding can be. Now, I can’t speak of this firsthand, but I have witnessed it and have seen the brutality of the feeding, burping, sleeping, changing, expressing regime.

The most frustrating experience that a woman can face in that time is when breast milk has been spilled. All that effort and discomfort for nothing. What a waste. It’s a waste because breast milk is limited, you have to work hard to increase supply and it is valuable because it has the ability to bring growth if it’s used properly. 

It’s the same as a global pandemic. It is limited, you have to work hard to survive, but it is also valuable because it has the ability to bring growth if it is used properly.

The face of work has changed – thousands, maybe millions of people are working from home in Australia who have never had the chance to previously. Commutes have been slashed, down to just seconds as we walk from one room to another in our home, work attire is drastically different (sometimes pants are ‘optional’), and never before has the word ‘Zoom’ got so many mentions.

All that aside, we have a rare opportunity before us. One which encourages us to think creatively, embrace change, try new things and implement strategies that a few weeks ago seemed impossible. Everyone seems to be looking to find a way to do things differently, because at the moment, it is necessary to find other ways of doing business.

If we are lucky, we will soon begin to return to some form of normality, perhaps a new normal. Now is the time to think about what we want to change – what are the things that we used to do that are unnecessary? How can we create more stable industries, businesses and governments in light of this experience? What are new ways we can use to achieve results quicker? We have done the hard work of living through it, let’s not waste it and throw it away, we may never get this opportunity again.

Generosity Without Money

“Over the years I’ve learned that investing in other people’s success doesn’t just make them more likely to enjoy working with me, it also improves my own chances of survival and success”

Chris Hadfield, Astronaut

I am often asked ‘What can I do to do be generous? What practical step can I take?’

Giving money is always great, and I talk a lot about that.

But there are other ways too. Things that we can do which can be incredible gifts to those around us, just by the way we turn up or listen or give space to someone. At the same time, they can have amazing, unintended consequences that give something back to us.

One way to do this is to help someone else succeed.

This is an act of generosity because it costs us something. We choose to give it away to someone else, something that is so precious and finite: our time.

It takes time to train, teach and mentor someone else, to intentionally invest in them and see how you can help them become who they want to become. It can be taxing to bring brutal honesty and constructive criticism, even if the person is willing to hear it. Over time, it is for their benefit as they become a better person.

A better person becomes a better employee, a greater contributor, a better boss and a more involved community member.

So, helping someone else succeed improves their own personal ability, but it also makes their team better, their organisation, city, and world better. Which is also your world, which directly impacts you, making your environment better and ultimately creates a better version of you. Helping others succeed makes you better at whatever you are doing.

I’ll Give More

I’ve seen my fair share of generous acts. The one’s that stand out most are those that are initiated out of trying circumstances. There is something special about witnessing an act of strength out of a place of weakness. That’s what I would consider a generous act to be – one of strength.

I spoke to an Opportunity International Australia supporter recently, just to check in and see how he was going in the current climate, hoping that he and his family were safe and healthy, which they were.

During the conversation, his concern turned to the people that Opportunity works with. Those living in poverty in India and Indonesia and how this global pandemic is affecting them, and what it could look like in the next few months. The truth is, we really haven’t seen anything close to what the impact the Coronavirus will have on developing countries, and these two specifically. My sense is that it will get a great deal worse before we see any light at the end of the tunnel which will have drastic implications on millions of people.

This supporter shared my concerns and agreed with this dire possibility. He said, ‘I like what Opportunity does and how you go about it. I will give again this year, and I will give more than I have before’.

I was blown away. We are still living with a great deal of uncertainty in Australia. No one really knows when things will turn around economically for us, but here was someone who was committing to an act of strength when surrounded by weakness. This type of generosity is so powerful that it impacts everyone it touches. I was inspired, and I know that what he will give will also inspire those living in poverty who will be on the receiving end.

I Want the Numbers!

I am a fan of the West Wing – the TV series that ran from 1999 to 2006 staring Martin Sheen as the President of the USA (wouldn’t we love him in the White House now?).

My favourite character is Josh Lyman. A witty, emotionally unstable, and hugely intelligent deputy chief of staff. There is one scene where he is waiting on polling numbers after the President gave a speech and there was delay after delay, even a blackout, pushing back the arrival of the data. To which he eventually yelled in growing frustration, to no one in particular, “I WANT THE NUMBERS!!!”. Did I mention emotionally unstable?

I have found myself saying the same thing every day over the last few weeks. Each afternoon I have patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, waited for the official announcement of the latest Covid-19 numbers. The new cases, total cases, the number of deaths and the number of people who have recovered. I have been hanging on every figure, every speech, every news article which might give me numbers, or at least some insight into what the numbers mean. Are we flattening the curve? Am I doing social distancing right? When can I get my hair cut?

Why? Why am I so invested?

I think it’s about progress. Getting somewhere. I have been looking for some indication of what we have been doing as a country over the last few weeks (has it really only been weeks? March was the longest decade ever), is actually making a difference. I long for a feeling of progress to make sense of the sacrifices we are all making. Tell me we are getting somewhere, and I will dig in and keep going. I will stay home longer. I will social distance. I will flatten that curve. But if I can’t see a point to it, or there is no sense of progress then you will have a hard time telling me to stay put.

Progress is vital in all areas of life. If we feel like we are moving towards something, then it is incredibly motivating, and we can take the next step. We can endure the most difficult and frustrating of circumstances if we feel like we are making progress.

So, keep the numbers coming!