Monday, September 18, 2006

Loaded Gun

I once witnessed a colleague entering a meeting room with a loaded machine gun. She calmly sat down at the end of the meeting table and waited for our boss, who was sitting at the other end of the table, to issue a list of demands and mildly contradict her (just once). At which point she stood up, raging. She switched the rifle off safety, onto automatic and fired the entire magazine of live bullets at the poor man. He fell back in his chair, eyes agog. As witnesses our eyes and mouths were equally agog as we cleared away from the sides of the table in shock.

OK, it wasn’t quite so dramatic. She didn’t have a gun (thank goodness). But she clearly went into the meeting waiting for the boss man to say something, anything, that she disagreed with. With the aim of responding as vigorously as possible. And then she pounced. Perhaps it wasn’t pre-empted but it seemed that the boss man was doomed from the first moment and if it hadn’t happened then, it would have happened soon thereafter. Although clearly angry and shocked beyond compare the boss man responded remarkably calmly to the assault, addressing his long response (after we had all taken a huge breath to recover from what we had just witnessed) to all of us but clearly with a single audience in mind. Shortly thereafter I was running the project on my own.*

What struck me in this tale is the similarity to the current
furore regarding the Pope’s recent comments on Islam. What he uttered was insensitive and for someone who should be as circumspect in his speech as Ben Bernanke it does seem a little rash. But I see a remarkable similarity between this and the incident I have just described above. The reaction to the Pope’s utterance is the result of similar type of build-up of tensions, unresolved differences of opinion and frustrations as that experienced by my colleague. Somewhere along the line these frustrations manifest into a caged reaction that waits desperately for the opportunity to break free and pounce on its victim. If the caged reaction didn’t get the chance to pounce on the Pope last week it would have simply pounced on someone or something else this week (or next week). Sadly by the time that these frustrations get to this level of impasse there is little that can be done to salvage the relationship.

The grave problem here is that the build-up and the release of this tension will have a profound impact on all of us. For the first time ever in my life the horrific thought has crossed my mind that I may become a participant in a world war in my lifetime. Hopefully this prediction is as flawed and off target as my regular sports predictions but it will take great leadership to diffuse this global time bomb that we are all sitting on. I'm just not sure that such leadership exists.

UPDATE: I finally got around to reading a translation the Pope's full speech . A solidly argued piece of work it is, and read in context I retract my previous conlcusion that the use of the quote was rash. It's part of a well structured argument - not a voicing of his own opinion. Laurence has more commentary here. My loaded gun analogy remains relevant though.

*Interestingly this incident, which is still regaled today by those who were there, would seem to be career suicide (on the part of the 'shooter'), but it hasn’t been at all and now some years later she is on a par in the hierarchy with the said boss man. But that is another story...


VallyP said...

I fear you are right, even if I sincerely hope you are wrong. What still mystifies me is that apart from the obvious built up of tensions in the middle and near east, why has the entire international community become so polarised. How and when did this happen? It seems to have crept up on the rest of us unawares while we were distracted in watching the deterioration of affairs in the middle east. It's rather like turning away from the conflict and finding it's reared up behind you.

ATW said...

Where's John Lennon when we need him?