Being the adult in the room

It was saddening to see the video going viral of various heads of state supposedly mocking President Trump during the recent NATO meeting.  Whilst I am no fan of Trump’s policies and behaviour, it saddens me to see leaders that profess to lead from the higher moral ground should debase themselves in mocking the behaviour of another, no matter how repellent we find that person.

Where is the integrity in leadership today?  Where is that higher standard that raises each one of us instead of pulling the ‘other’ down?  It can be hard in the world we live in today to value the importance of integrity, respect and principled behaviour and to make a stand for it when needed.  But in these troubled times it is the only way forward.

It has been common to make the excuse that our changing times throw out all the old models of ‘the right thing to do’, to be replaced by a relative sense of what is right or wrong.  We justify a moral vacuum on the false premise that tolerance and open-mindedness necessitate a letting go of hidebound principles from the past.  Or, worse still, we believe that bad behaviour justifies an equal and opposite response.  Like small children in a playground, we lash out when someone hits us, believing this is the only normal response.

But our world does need leaders who operate from higher order principles. Principles that are universal in their reach and unyielding in their implementation.  Principles that are guided by a belief in the potential of what men and women are capable of achieving and by holding both ourselves and each other accountable to that highest order of behaviour.  In short, we need an adult in the room. 

One way I think about this is in my dealings with China.

With China’s opening up to the world several decades ago and the enormous prosperity and growth that the country has generated not just for itself but for the world, it has been common to argue that the rest of the world needs to adjust itself to the ‘China way’ of doing things. I encountered this argument many times whilst living in Beijing and was also myself susceptible of thinking that ‘well, that’s just the way things are done here’.  But I’ve come to realise that, whilst we must always continue to maintain a tolerant and open-minded approach to other cultures and ways of doing things, there is always a higher way which goes beyond cultural norms and, I believe, everyone CAN get behind and understand.

What if, in our dealings with others, we assumed a third way?  A way that by elevating our own standards, we invite others to elevate their own.  To assume the best of another person (or, indeed, country) and model a way of behaving that invites them to also raise their game.  This could be the case in all ways in which we engage with another country.  Whether it’s through doing business with them, dealing with war or conflict, or in encouraging them to abide by the highest standards of human rights.

In China, it’s common to want to do things ‘on the cheap’, at a lower standard, and to accept that things are done at the last minute, just in time, in a chaotic and often opaque fashion.  But I have come to realise that it’s possible – indeed, desirable – to make a stand for a better way of doing things. And that individuals respond positively when you show them that better way.  In the many years of running my enterprise, we often had to make a stand to implement projects in a way that delivered quality at the expense of quantity – a hard ask to make sometimes in a country of 1.4 billion people.  Yet it enabled us to garner a reputation of offering a quality product and put us in a different league of professionalism to other organisations.  Our continued presence in the country and interest in our work proves that when you offer quality and make a stand for it, there are better ways to do business that elevate all concerned.

We can all do this, whether dealing with another individual, politician, world leader or cultural norm.  In fact, even when we parent our own children.  We can choose to elevate both ourselves and the other towards a way that respects the dignity and integrity of each player – and invites a standard of behaviour that we would want everyone to display.

We can choose to be the adult in the room.  The one that doesn’t play to the lowest common denominator, like the world leaders in the video, but one where we play our part in raising the game and modelling the exemplary behaviour our world so badly needs in our leaders.  And in each one of us too.

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

We need to talk about Love

artistic blossom bright clouds
Photo by Pixabay on

We need to talk about Love.  Love as the defining force of our lives, and of the world. Love as the driver of the higher order thinking we need to effect change in this world.  Love as the only foundation of all the issues our world is confronting right now.

We need to ensure each decision we make, whether those that affect our own lives, the lives of our families and communities, and those of the world at large, are informed by Love.   We need to get beyond partisan politics, who said what and what wasn’t said, who was right and who was wrong, and let Love speak – and DO! – for itself.

We need to talk honestly about what’s happening in the world.   How hate and fear is threatening to eat away at humanity’s progress.  We can no longer smokescreen around the issues that are emerging and couch them in purely economic, political, environmental or geographical terms, rationalising away the choices that have been made based on human need.  We need to ensure that each decision we make is ‘rooted and grounded in Love’. And acknowledge our responsibility to make sure our choices are always those based in Love. We need to be ‘extremists for Love’[1].

Love is, and always has been, the greatest force available to mankind.  Fossil fuels, solar power, political and economic power are nothing when we see that the biggest drivers in each of our lives can and must stem from love.  The love a mother has for her child, a partner for a spouse, the love in our families (however imperfect that might be), the love we share with others for a cause or a vision, the love we have for ourselves and our highest vision of what we can be.  Yes to a love for your country if that’s your thing, but only in so far as it represents the potential of what humanity can be.  And what it can give to others.  Love for good and man still at the centre of being.

We need to acknowledge that every decision we make, as people, partners, wives, husbands, parents, brothers, sister, friends, community leaders, politicians, heads of state, journalists, business people, must be rooted in the larger love for mankind.  Love that doesn’t shirk away from difficult issues to be discussed, or the challenges we face, but always elevates and demands the very highest standards of both ourselves and others.  It is moral decency of course, but it goes beyond that.  It demands of us to not just make a claim for integrity and honesty but expects and requires us to see that in EVERYONE we meet, not just those that seem to be on ‘our’ side.  We need to engage in a way that sees that higher order of love in everyone, not just our friends but, especially, our enemies.

It’s a tall order.  But love we must if we are to survive.  For the survival of our species depends just as much on removing the toxic politics of hate, the degradation of our environment and the breakdown of our societies as it does in the deeper, higher search and claiming of love within each one of us and the channelling of that essence into our highest purpose for our lives.  For that force harnessed correctly will solve all those problems in a flash.

Love IS what drives us.  It is who and what we are.  It is what we are made of, our substance.  It is.  Because we are.  Love.

[1] Martin Luther King

two boys sitting on gray wood plank
Photo by sudip paul on

Love, decency and humanity: A higher standard for politics

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Photo by on

I’ve just finished reading the brilliant and inspiring book ‘Let Her Fly’, the personal memoir of Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala.

It is by all accounts an extraordinary story of one man’s profound belief in the equality of women, despite growing up in a country and culture that kept, and continues to keep, women subservient in nearly all aspects of social, political and family life.  But what is especially extraordinary is what informs those beliefs and how little Ziauddin knew about ‘feminism’ as a concept for the early part of his life.  He quotes:

“What was this thing I yearned for long before Malala was born?  And then wanted for her, and for my own wife, and then for my girl students, and then for all girls and all women on God’s beautiful earth?  I did not articulate it, initially, as feminism.  This is a valuable label that I would later learn in the West, but I was unaware of feminism then.  For more than forty years, I had no idea what it meant.  When it was explained to me, I said, “Oh, I have been a feminist for most of my life, almost from the beginning!” While living in Pakistan, I saw my own shifting ideas to be based more on love, decency, and humanity.  I simply wanted, and continue to want, for girls everywhere to live in a world that treats them with love and meets them with open arms.” (‘Let Her Fly’ by Ziauddin Yousafzai and Louise Carpenter)

It seems to me that Ziauddin is expressing a sentiment much higher than the ‘isms’ we would put on our beliefs or political alliances. Our need to self-identify, to fight for a cause, as important as those are, must always be rooted in something much bigger and more fundamental and transformative.

This has always been the hallmark of great men and women, who campaigned not just for their own causes but saw a link between what they were fighting for and a higher order of thinking that put the divinity back at the heart of humanity.  And by divinity, I mean having a spiritual dimension, a sense of something bigger and more superior than ourselves, and with a substance that is all good.

Martin Luther King, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, quotes St Thomas of Aquinas:

“A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”

— King 1963

For King, as with others, the human scene had to be a reflection of the divine plan. That was the standard by which we were to hold ourselves accountable.

I think often of this in the political upheaval that we are witnessing.  When our politicians exhibit scarcely a shred of moral fibre or ‘higher order thinking’ and when our democratic system is undermined by decisions made purely on the basis of self-interest.  When we align ourselves with a particular political party or policy at the expense of a universal moral code that exalts not debases.

It seems that some political decisions or identities ARE based more on love for humanity than other can be.  Decisions based on personal interest, isolation, xenophobia, racism, sexism, extremism, etc can never have the moral force that those based on inclusion, leadership, community, equality, respect, democracy can have.  This is what saddens me as I watch the catastrophe of Brexit unfold.  Whatever your personal viewpoints are on the merits and mistakes of being part of the EU, to me, Brexit cannot stand on the motives of a few men’s egos, and the hatred, xenophobia and arrogance that seem to define the wishes of those who want to leave a community that has ensured one of the longest periods of peace in Europe.  Self-interest cannot and must not be bigger than global peace and security and the love for humanity that those goals inspire.

We have to make our decisions based on that higher order of love.  For, if not, what will we become?  Plunged back into the darkness of our past, a world order shadowed in fear, hatred and xenophobia?

For me, Ziauddin Yousafzai’s vision is what every personal or political belief should be based on, whether you call yourself a feminist, a conservative, an environmentalist, whatever.  Love, decency and humanity.  When those motives are correct, it will inform our political and personal decisions at a much higher order.  And the right resolution will follow.


In search of moral leadership

512px-FDR_in_1933In a recent interview to promote her new book, Becoming, Michelle Obama talked about the pressure of maintaining the moral leadership of the country during her husband’s presidency.  The conversation was sparked by Stephen Colbert commenting that Franklin D Roosevelt was quoted as saying that this was really the role of a president, to provide moral leadership.

“The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. That’s the least of it. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

It got me thinking.  In France, where I live, nothing is ever thought wrong if a president has an affair or a secret love child whilst, in England, where I am from, such behaviour can break a career.  But questions of marital fidelity aside, I would be inclined to agree that we look to our leaders to set a standard of morality that can define the national values and underline the decisions we make in policy and other areas of government.

I’m probably not alone in my great sadness that few countries seem to be exhibiting any kind of moral leadership right now.  Whilst Angela Merkel may have lost votes on her decision to take in a million refugees a few years ago, she did so in her firm belief that this was the morally right thing to do.  Her personal convictions trumped what was politically expedient and for that I admire her greatly.

Closer to home, my greatest dismay over the Brexit fiasco is not so much over the rights and wrongs of remaining in the EU, rather, the sheer level of lies and dishonesty that was pedalled by our leaders to get us to this point and the continuing charade of ‘respecting democracy’ that was based on this dishonesty as a reason to continue with the whole sorry mess.  Not once has there ever been a suggestion that a politician might back down with the admission that the population was fed a whole bunch of lies and that, perhaps, some humility is needed in how we move forward as a nation and with our relationship with others, especially the EU.  If our leaders genuinely think it IS A right move to leave, then at least have the dignity and respect of others to take responsibility over the mess that it is causing to others.

In France, where I live now, a sense of self-serving entitlement obscures any sense of morality in public life.  Whether that’s from the president or the gilets jaunes protestors who are taking to the street, hubris and violence, in that order, obscure any sense of higher order leadership that could genuinely lift us out of this mess.

My own personal passion project is an exploration into the connection between spirituality and leadership.  Spirituality not defined as religion, but by a belief in being servant to a cause far greater than oneself.  Servant leadership.  The capacity to put self secondary to others.  How many leaders do we know like that today?

Paris burns in flames – the ‘gilets jaunes’ and the need for a revolution of the heart

Paris burns in flames, the image of a ‘gilets jaunes’ (yellow vest) waving the Tricolour as the street behind him erupts into fire, emulating that most famous images of Marianne on the barricades of the French Revolution.  One might almost find it comical were it not for the fear that has engulfed the streets of this, my most beloved, adopted, capital city.

It’s hard to understand the anger of so many, living in one of the most privileged countries in the world.  Privileged not only in terms of its comparative freedom at being able to express one’s opinions in the street, but privileged in a country relatively free from conflict, poverty, disease, homelessness and natural disasters.

Before coming to live in France, I had lived my adult life in China and worked all over the developing world.   There I worked daily with the millions of migrant workers flooding into the city from impoverished rural areas, seeking work in the factories, service industries and constructions sites of the rapidly developing cities. These are the very individuals often accused of taking away jobs from low-skilled workers in the West and their lives are at the very centre of the tensions of globalisation.  These are people who continue to earn average salaries of 442 euros per month, without any form of social security protection, free education for their children, free healthcare, protection from the law, gross abuse of their human rights.  These are the people who would be shot dead if they dared to protest in the way that the gilets jaunes have done these past few weekends.

Yet they are also people who work harder than I have ever seen anyone work, whose desire to lift themselves and their families out of poverty stimulates a work ethic that would shame everyone living in France. They do not (they cannot) stand by and blame their government for its failings but make the daily decision to take their life into their own hands and do whatever it takes to build a better life.

Now, of course, there are many issues that need to be addressed here.  The right of peaceful protest is a right enshrined in our Western democracies and one that should be upheld no matter what.  And it is, of course, so important that every individual has access to free education and healthcare for themselves and their children.  There is no doubt in my mind that Chinese migrant workers should have as much right to these benefits as their Western counterparts do.

But it is interesting to see the stark difference in attitude to the two populations, seemingly united in the inequities of a world system that makes the wealth gap wider and wider.

Whilst China has indeed done a lot to lift millions out of abject poverty and the Chinese middle class has indeed grown, the reality of these workers lives is still rooted in ‘just getting by’ and a lack of social mobility that keeps them mired in genuine poverty.  France seems, by contrast, a haven of safety and security, a world where people still think it a right to take 2 hour lunch breaks, have a 4 week holiday in the sun every August and where working on a weekend was looked upon disdainfully.  Despite having lived here now for many years, I continue to be repelled by the self-justification and sheer misery of so many I encounter on my daily ride on the metro, citizens seemingly oblivious to the good fortune that keeps them fed and sheltered, free from genuine political oppression, hunger, disease or natural disasters.  That strong sense of entitlement is observed at nearly all levels of society, including, sadly with children and young people also.  The self-serving idea that others exist to meet our needs at odds with the social contract that the Enlightenment espoused.

I wonder if globalisation really can take all the blame.  We all make choices in our lives.  Choices as to whether we take part in the shared journey of progress.  Choices as to whether we pick ourselves up and stop complaining about what the government isn’t doing and focus more on what we ourselves can do.

My understanding is that, whilst protestors continue to protest the inequities of a system that leaves rural areas impoverished, President Macron has also opened up the doors even wider to providing retraining opportunities to those at risk of being out a job.  Free education and the support to do it.  I know countless migrant workers in China who would thrill at such an opportunity.

As a social entrepreneur living in Paris, I come across daily frustrations of a system that privileges salaried employees.  Just last month, I was made to pay 500 euros towards a pension system that, as an entrepreneur, I will not be allowed access to.  I am constantly being asked to pay a new form of tax I had no idea about and find the system cumbersome and lacking transparency.  So I’m not immune to struggling at the folly of the French system.

But here’s the thing: We all make choices.

The growth of populism and the far right, violence, hatred, xenophobia, racism, blaming others will never uplift mankind, still less improve our own situation.  It is a hatred that eats at the core of humanity and has brought untold damage in our history.

My greatest concern is that humanity is facing a grave crisis about what we value, how we treat others, how much we value the freedom and privileges that we have fought for so many decades. We cannot afford to lose that, no matter how grave we see our own personal situation, for, if we should forget history, we will have far greater problems to be concerned about.

History has always shown a divide between the haves and the have nots, the inequities of a world ruled by elites who scarce show a genuine concern and compassion for those at the lower end of society’s pyramid. Twas ever thus.  But what I always struggle with is the intransigence of those who refuse to progress, who wish to keep things as they are, and refuse to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and take responsibility for their own lives.

Like the slow, steady drum beat of Ravel’s ‘Bolero’, there is another current that can grow faster too.  That of love, not fear. That of a belief in something bigger than oneself.  That of a fight for justice for all, one that will never back down in the face of xenophobia, racism and an overwhelming sense of ‘me first’.

There is, quite simply, no room for hatred in whatever form.

How much more extraordinary would it be if workers of the world truly did unite, not in their shared hatred of the elites, but with a force for a true revolution in leading the change that needs to happen?  That instead of descending into hatred and xenophobia, blaming the ‘migrants’ or whatever else is the scapegoat of the day, there was a generous spirit of inclusion that sought to uplift everyone from the inequities that continue to persist in our society?

The battle, like most things, is ultimately mental.  A refusal to accept the role of victim within oneself and a desire to improve not just our own lives but the lives of those around us too.

That battle lies entirely within ourselves.

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Love not Fear

beach coast island landscape
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on

Our world is calling out for more love.  That will be the only antidote to fear.


When we allow something more expansive to take place in our heart.


When we stop to listen to ourselves and our self-serving agendas, our narrow focuses on our own best interests and take a larger view of humanity and the world and how we might all start working together in a way that truly serves us all.


When self-righteousness and self-justification give way to gratitude and acknowledgement of progress and all the good we possess right here, right now.


When we look beyond our borders and have compassion on the other.


When we can be sure we have exhausted all avenues of giving can we rightfully complain about our poverty.


When we can stand assured of our responsibilities, not just our rights.


When we stand not in anger nor the self-justification that wounds and kills.  But when our heart dares to bleed for another.


When we can look beyond our borders and commit to something bigger than ourselves.


When those in power have the humility to listen and those that are lead the willingness to progress.


When the hatred that burns in our streets gives way to the fire of love in our hearts.




We have not come here to take prisoners

by Hafiz

We have not come here to take prisoners,

But to surrender ever more deeply

To freedom and joy.

We have not come into this exquisite world

To hold ourselves hostage from love.

Run my dear,

From anything

That may not strengthen

Your precious budding wings.

Run like hell my dear,

From anyone likely

To put a sharp knife

Into the sacred, tender vision

Of your beautiful heart.

We have a duty to befriend

Those aspects of obedience

That stand outside of our house

And shout to our reason 
“O please, O please 
Come out and play.”

For we have not come here to take prisoners

Or to confine our wondrous spirits,

But to experience ever and ever more deeply

Our divine courage, freedom, and 

Getting France to say ‘yes and….’


In improvisational theatre, there’s a game that practitioners play called ‘Yes and…’.  The idea is that someone starts telling a story, and each person goes around the circle and builds on the idea or suggestion of the previous person.


“Let’s go to the beach!”


“Yes, and we can go surfing!”


“Yes, and then we can have a BBQ for dinner!”


“Yes, and then we can have ice cream for dessert!”


“Yes, and then we can watch the sunset go down over the ocean – that will be so beautiful!”


Under no circumstances is anyone allowed to say ‘no but’.  ‘No but’ kills creativity.   It would stop the story in its tracks, creating disengagement, preventing imagination from expanding and, critically, disconnecting people from their power, shutting down the conversation.


‘Yes and….’ is a beautiful idea and one I have thought of often since coming to live in France more than 7 years ago.


I love France.  I love the beauty and elegance of Paris, the stunning countryside and the gorgeous houses.  I love the food, I love the art and, in many cases, I have come to love even the prickly French!  But what I struggle with most is the lack of a ‘yes and’ attitude to life that, I believe, lies at the heart of what stops France from progressing and stepping up to the global leadership that the world so desperately needs right now.


I run an organisation that uses participatory theatre to empower migrant and refugee women and children.  At the height of the refugee crisis in Europe, I began to look for opportunities to develop my work in France.  Subscribing to the mayor of Paris’s blog, I learnt of a new centre being opened for women and children refugees in a suburb in the south of the city.  I tried endless avenues to connect with this centre, emailing the Mairie’s office, trying to make a connection through women’s organisations I had heard of in Paris and making endless attempts to visit refugee camps I had heard of to try and make a connection.  Finally, I got through to a lady in charge of the centre.  I emailed her to propose a meeting next week.  She said she would be in touch.  The next week I emailed again.


“Madame, I am extremely busy.  I will email you in six week’s time to arrange a meeting!” was the reply.


Six weeks!  Just to arrange the meeting?  When was the meeting going to be?  Next year?


I was horrified.  Her email was blunt and dismissive.  Arrogant, even.  I was offering a way to help, something for free, that could have contributed to the lives of the people she worked with.  Non!  C’est pas possible.


In my 7 years of living here, I have rarely had any idea met with enthusiasm, let alone open arms and, of all the countries I have lived and worked in (Hong Kong, China, the UK, US, Germany, India…), I have never encountered so many obstacles to simply doing good work.  The list of obstacles are many: bureaucracy, tradition, intransigence (‘that’s not how we do things here’), lack of a generosity of spirit, a preference for meetings instead of action, fear of taking a risk…..but, mostly, a cultural mindset that likes to say ‘no but’ instead of ‘yes and’.


Last year, heavily pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I took a trip to Berlin.  I spent three days walking around the city in the freezing cold, knocking on doors of refugee camps, organisations that worked with them and other NGOs working with women and children.  By the end of those three days, we had an invitation to set up a project in a refugee camp that summer that has now blossomed to partnering with two organisations and the beginnings of rolling out our work to refugee women and children in shelters across the city and community-based workshops with newcomers, expats and migrants.


I had achieved more in three days in Germany, than 7 years in France.  Oh, Mr Macron, what a job you have to do!


I firmly believe that what impedes an individual, a country or even the world from progressing is rarely economic systems, global institutions or ‘capacity’ as defined by man power or even military might.  What causes the biggest obstacles to our progress is, quite simply, our mindset.  Our capacity to say ‘yes and’ to an opportunity, to open our arms to possibility, expand thought and step into our power with a magnamity and willingness to try new things.


It’s something that my friend Travis Thomas understands with his work ‘Live Yes And’, based on the principles of the improvisation game I mentioned above.


“You cannot progress until you say ‘Yes’!  There is no progress, movement, or action until you say “yes” to what is happening. It is acceptance of the present moment, and then your “and” is your response with purpose! 


So what would it take for France to develop a ‘yes and’ approach to life?  And what impact might that have on the future progress of the country and her people?

Spirituality and the entrepreneurial journey


Photo credit by Billie Hara

Spirituality has been indispensable to me as an entrepreneur.  Only last week, as I despaired to my mentor of ever finding the funds that we need for the next phase of our growth, I was reminded to ‘hit the prayer button’ to get me through.  My mentor is, himself, not a spiritual person but he knows how important it is to me – and how much growth and progress occurs when I get quiet and listen for divine guidance.


Being an entrepreneur, especially a social entrepreneur, means to enter completely uncharted waters.  Most other careers have a linear trajectory, a clear beginning and end, defined paths often laid out by others before you – and the promise of professional and financial success if one diligently follows the path.  But not so for the entrepreneur.


When I arrived in China in 2003, I had little clear idea of what I was going to do.  I had a passion for the transformative impact of theatre on personal and social change, and an interest in women’s issues, but I had no idea how that would take shape.  Every day, I would awake and spend the first portion of my day in deep prayer and contemplation, listening for guidance on the next step to follow.  These times were inspiring and transformative, a reminder that true leadership is being a servant to an idea much bigger than oneself, and, indeed, a call to action to get ‘self’ out of the way in the service to the vision that was gradually taking shape.


Fast forward 14 years, and by all accounts, the work has been a success.  Hua Dan is an established social enterprise in China, with a good track record of delivering impactful projects, with multiple awards and accolades under our belt, and we have worked with over 27,000 people to date.  I had thought things would get easier as time went on, that our reputation would serve to smooth the way, that the networks I had built up and the people I had met, would enable us to consolidate and scale more rapidly.  Now, as I sit here, poised to develop our model into new markets through the Scheherazade Initiatives, I see that the work has only just begun.


They say entrepreneurs are pioneers, that they see things that others don’t see, that they create products and services that the world doesn’t know they need.  A characteristic of my own journey has been restless impatience that things don’t happen as fast as I would like them to – or, indeed, as quickly as they need to change.  One of the hardest things I have found to deal with is the slow turning of the wheels from those who are most able to affect change – the foundations, philanthropists and well-meaning individuals who profess to help but then fail to deliver when you most need them to.


I find it extraordinary when my friends in the for-profit world say that one of their biggest challenges is having access to talent.  That it’s hard to find good people to do the job.  One of the joys of my work is the sheer number and quality of people who cross my path, talented, willing people who give over and above what is called on them in service to our cause.  We have had the most phenomenal individuals cross our path at Hua Dan and contribute to making it what it is today.  And are also attracting a capable and visionary team to work with us on the growth of Scheherazade.  It is such a testament to the fact that, in fact, there are many talented people out there, who long to be fully engaged with creative, meaningful work.


At times like that, I find I have to cling even closer to the rock, the clear sense of vision in the face of shifting waters.  To know that the work is even bigger than the people involved – including me.  To remember that we are all able to listen to the ‘still, small voice’ that guides our individual journeys – and to be grateful that our paths have crossed in the first place, and to accept the blessing of each encounter.  To not outline too rigidly the part that someone is playing in the vision, and to negate all sense of personal responsibility of those who share your vision.  To know that each individual plays their part in the story. And that we just have to keep listening for the next steps on our journey.



Beyond Tolerance

A few months ago I was invited to give a talk at the London School of Economics as part of a day-long conference ‘Beyond Tolerance: Citizenship, Diversity, Constructive Conflict’. The conference had been organised in the wake of the Brexit and Trump vote in an attempt to understand how the polls and political climate could have so misjudged the outcome of both elections. Was there something else we needed to understand about how ‘the other’ thinks that will help us to build bridges?


The conference was a fascinating and inspiring look into the extraordinary initiatives that exist to break down barriers between people and included speeches from notable changemakers, academics, social entrepreneurs and business people on the work that they are doing to counter polarised viewpoints in their own communities and society at large. I gave an impromptu theatre workshop on the importance of understanding our role as leaders in our individual spheres to challenge our perceived ‘status’ and power in affecting change. I argued that we each one of us have the right and responsibility to ‘lead’ others in a better way of seeing.



The conference really made me consider what it meant to go ‘beyond tolerance’. It has become fashionable in the circles of the so-called ‘liberal elite’, those who do not share the Brexit or Trump worldview, to believe it is necessary to dig deeper in understanding the world view that could have brought about such a profound upheaval in the political landscape. In the interests of getting outside of our ‘echo chambers’, it is believed necessary to empathise with and consider the points of view that created such a turnaround in the status quo.


I have always believed that it is necessary to appreciate a multiplicity of viewpoints and, indeed, have built my own work ( in solidarity with those who feel underrepresented in society and within systems that treat people unfairly. I am grateful that I feel equally comfortable with ‘kings and paupers’ and believe that we should never cease to challenge our biases and opinions.


But I do not believe that we should ever question our inbuilt sense of what is right and wrong. No form of hatred, discrimination, bigotry or violence – whether in thought or deed – is ever acceptable and our determination to be ‘tolerant’ of other’s viewpoints should never blind us towards the rightful condemnation of behaviour that hurts or harms another. Love is supreme.


It seems to me that our current discourse in the political arena needs to go above and beyond ‘tolerance’ of other viewpoints. Let’s call a spade a spade. Anything that is not love is, quite simply, fear, and has no place in the world as it has evolved until today. We need to be ever vigilant that ‘tolerance’ does not act as a smokescreen towards behaviour that debases both the victim AND the perpetrator.


No matter which side of the political spectrum we sit on we cannot attack others, deny them from speaking their own truth nor collude with a viewpoint that sets up hatred and division – even if, perhaps especially if, we believe we are on the side of right. We need to continue to have faith in the ability of each individual to recognise good and express only love, not fear, or reaction. Critically, we need to see this even in our foes, not just our friends. We need to uphold a higher standard and expectation of how even those whom we did not vote for will make decisions and even govern and not be afraid to call them out on this, secure in the knowledge that each individual can and does know how to lead from a place of love, not fear.


In his fascinating book, ‘Defying Hitler’, Sebastian Haffner, an ordinary German citizen, documents the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930s and the gradual and insidious ways in which the German people came to accept the atrocity of the Holocaust. Time and again throughout the book, Haffner clearly identifies that issue as a spiritual deficit that even started to convince Hitler’s original opponents to collude with the regime. This is not a spirituality that has anything to do with religion, rather, a moral corruption and decay in society that systematically went unnoticed and, therefore, unchallenged. We need to be clear about the true ‘enemy within’.


‘At that time I had no strong political views. I even found it difficult to decide whether I was ‘Right’ or ‘Left’….what saved me was – my nose. I have a fairly well-developed figurative sense of smell, or to put it differently, a sense of the worth (or worthlessness!) of human, moral, political views and attitudes…..As for the Nazis, my nose left me with no doubts. It was just tiresome to talk about which of their alleged goals and intentions were still acceptable or even ‘historically justified’ when all of it stank. How it stank! That the Nazis were enemies, my enemies and the enemies of all I held dear, was crystal clear to me from the outset’. (p86)


I’ve thought about this in my own life, when conflicts arise and my natural proclivity is to pause and examine how my own thinking might have invited the conflict to arise. ‘Was it something I said or did? Have I failed to see the other point of view? Is there something I’m missing here?’ Humility is a strength and we all have much to learn and grow but I do believe that we all of us know that murder, whether of literal human life, or even the insidious assassination of ideas, dreams, the hopes of others, the integrity and dignity of our fellow man and woman, is wrong. We don’t need to be tolerant of viewpoints that have their basis in isolationism, an over inflated sense of human or national identity, or a lack of compassion for others.


We must all refuse to be intolerant of anything that defaces and dishonours the higher nature of man that is within each and EVERY one of us.

Is China ready for global leadership?


IMG_0185.JPGMuch was made of President Xi Jing Ping’s address at Davos a few weeks back, extolling the virtues of globalisation in the face of increasing isolationism from Western governments.  Davos participants and the press made much of the ironies that such endorsement should come from the world’s largest communist party, marvelling at the extraordinary upturns in the new world order.


As someone who was born in Hong Kong and has lived and worked in Asia for more than 20 years, I can testify to the enormous benefits that globalisation and opening up has brought to China, not just in terms of economic prosperity but also in terms of the access and exposure to ideas, people and values that have served to at once challenge and strengthen China’s rise to power.


But as this new world order starts to take shape, I question whether China truly is in a position to step onto the global stage, considering the huge challenges facing our world right now.


We only need to look at the events of these past weeks, and as ‘post-truth’ becomes the new reality, to see that we are facing the biggest crisis in moral leadership of recent times.  The ability for any national leader to step up to the plate with global vision is sorely missing and the jury is still out as to whether China can be the one to lead in this way.


It is becoming acceptable to believe that focusing on national interests first is a justifiable philosophy.  After all, even in a democracy, we vote nationally and not globally.  But visionary leadership is hardly attained by focusing narrowly on self-interest.  China’s self-interest and desire to develop itself is quite literally poisoning its people through its interminable pollution and it has not yet found a way to ‘globalise’ in an inspired and visionary way that has higher principles at stake, aside from purely economic growth.


China has succeeded in lifting more than 800 million people out of poverty since the founding of the Republic, maintaining high levels of literacy and other development indicators, a marvellous achievement that deserves full credit.  But for China to truly achieve the stature of greatness will require more than self-interested pragmatism and a refusal to deal with the moral challenges its own society is dealing with and to stretch beyond the binaries the world is offering up and step up to the plate of truly great leadership.


My own engagement with China continues to make me believe that that quality of global leadership is indeed possible.  Contrary to what many in the West maintain, Chinese society is just as capable of developing the higher order principled leadership that has been, until recently, the preserve of Western democracies.  But it will not come about until the Chinese government dig deeper into their own understanding of themselves and what their culture has to offer to the world and to question the values that shape the country’s ultimate legacy.


I have always admired the capacity for the Chinese to appreciate nuance.  Black and white judgments are hard to find in a country with a civilization covering over 5000 years of complex human history.  Not for them the binaries, false hierarchies and linear thinking that characterises our current world views in the West.   But an understanding that in each Yin is some Yang, and vice versa.  I will never forget, when debating the difference in spiritual thinking between West and East with a Chinese friend, he expressed incredulity that our concept of God (good) should be ‘up there’, pointing to the sky.  Surely, he said, God, Love, is within each one of us?  A truly profound vision of human potential and leadership that has the capacity to shake the world.


I have written before on how the French use the word ‘global’.  Global has at its heart the idea of inclusivity, the wholeness and integrity of a circle wrapping up everything within its reach.  A solution that is ‘global’ is one that works for everyone.  To truly be an advocate of globalisation requires globalisation of thought.  It means going beyond the narrow definitions of what serves the national interest vs the global interest, what we believe in the West versus what we believe in the East, what’s good for me vs what’s good for you.  Just as it means building bridges in our now polarised world, it also means the capacity to stretch beyond ourselves to something higher, a vision of humanity as pure and capable of so much good, and exemplifies the personal and global leadership that knows the common good is not in conflict with what best serves the individual and society in equal measure.