I was struck this past week by the presence of Aung San Suu Kyi, a remarkable woman with grace and dignity who has been touring the UK as a visiting dignitary. Her achievements are well documented, as a human rights activist and a fighter for democracy whilst always maintaining such poise. She has suffered much including 15 out of the last 20 years under house arrest.
I have watched news footage and read articles that have reinforced my views about Suu Kyi; she is a torch-bearer for so much that I believe in and work for.
During her week here, she visited Oxford, met politicians, chatted with royalty and addressed both houses of parliament, following in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela and Barak Obama and, in so doing became the first woman (other than the Queen) to achieve this feat. Furthermore, she met the Dalai Lama here; surprisingly these two great eastern leaders have never met before and it is this event that stimulated me to write.
To me it feels like an honour that has largely been missed in the UK – perhaps too many in the country have been overrun with Euro fever – that two great icons of global human rights, each a Nobel Laureate should have met in London. Both have faced life-long discrimination and isolation; have been oppressed by totalitarian states and have stood tall against their policies. The Dalai Lama has lived his life in exile from his Tibetan homeland, whilst Suu Kyi has, when not under house arrest, been afraid to leave Burma lest she be prevented from returning to her home. Despite all they have suffered they both are peace loving and forgiving.
I wanted to write something about the London meeting, but was struggling with an angle. Thinking about what Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama model that our workplaces can learn from? Then there was a reply to one of my on-line postings from the Hindustan Times. It came from Marta Cullen, a member of the LinkedIn’s group called Disability Equality, Diversity, Rights & Inclusion. She said “They both have dignity and integrity! More people with integrity is what we need and I am aware that it starts close to home, with me”.
Are our workplaces struggling with integrity? As a regular visitor to a variety of SME and public sector departments, I would suggest that they are. I meet many ambitious people only seeking personal fulfilment and self aggrandisement. They go with the majority, never put their head above the parapet, do not stand up against authority when it is in the wrong and do not support fellow workers when oppressed by management. Managers look to get themselves noticed, whilst not always looking out for the welfare of their staff and teams. I see business owners and board members focusing on profits, taking large salaries and dividends on the one hand, whilst making staff redundant with the other. In short, many workplaces are toxic environments that support superficial, insubstantial and sometimes immoral behaviour – they are devoid of integrity.
So, accepting Marta’s comment that we need more integrity in society puts an implicit requirement on each of us, to address how we behave at home or in the workplace.
I am reminded of a Chinese Proverb – If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world. Maybe Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama know something from which we can all learn.