Moving on beyond trying to manage a very complicated problem by just labeling everyone as a xenophobe and bigot.

April 25, 2014

I’m not a big fan of ascribing labels on people. Don’t doubt that may well be a very easy way to get a handle on someone or a group of people. But to me, at best, labelling has to be just a lazy man’s way of trying to understand people’s motivation along with what really makes them tick. As it’s a form of reductionism that regularly uses simplification as a way to make sense of what’s usually a very complex situation.

Granted! No one denies there are certainly xenophobes, bigots, fascist and those who might belong to the ultra right who are bent on a spot of agro. Only my point is when a label is put on someone or a group of people without the requisite due diligence and rigor of having to use one’s grey matter – then what invariably follows is we don’t ever feel to need to drill deeper or peer into darkened interiors to further understand what’s really behind the groundswell of anxiety and fears that triggers off such irrational reactions.

Label someone as ‘crazy’ or ‘mad’ and that’s really code for ‘I don’t have the brain power or inclination to understand you.’ That’s really how I have always seen it.

Realistically though, I don’t think society can ever do without labels…. As it’s a very efficient way to categorise people along with supplying us with an executive summary of what motivates them. Being able to put someone or group of people in a pigeon hole in the time it takes to empty one’s bladder remains one of the most reliable way of gaining wisdom on the cheap to what may otherwise be a very complicated subject that we just can’t bring ourselves to admit that we have neither the intelligence, imagination or inclination to ever fully understand.

I don’t doubt for one moment, labeling may well be very useful when it comes to speed dating, trying to figure out whether the guy with the bag pack smiling at you in the MRT has the hots for your or just a crazed suicide bomber or trying to figure out whether its a good choice to sign up for an insurance policy with someone that you just bumped into last week in the MRT….but to use it in statecraft to manage the complexity of social and economic change along with smoothing out the multitude of interest of diverse groups is just plain infanticide lah… have to be kidding me!

Coming to think of it, you have to be crazy…how that for a label?


‘When you put a label on someone. All you have really done is buy lock stock and barrel into a happy illusion that you understand that person – not only is that idea at best a figment of your over inflated sense of worth about yourself and how you believe…only you and you alone see the world in clearest terms – but since all you can really do is take comfort in the crumbly idea that the label that you have chosen to ascribe to that person adequately explains everything about them along with their objects of interest – it also means that you have successfully managed to bracket the conversation – that is to say, you have stopped it dead on it’s tracks, like the phrase, ‘I don’t care!’ ‘he’s like that!’

Only understand this clearly! Just because you are lazy and have no inclination to see the problem for what it is and not what the politicians and newspapers say…. doesn’t mean there is no problem. In the same way just because you have managed to bracket a conversation concerning a problem doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t taking place elsewhere or isn’t discussed in earnest by the disgruntled masses – and just because newspapers don’t publicize the plight of those who may feel marginalized, desenfranchised or left out, doesn’t mean all is well either or that it’s just another balmy day in paradise – it just means they much prefer to believe all is well.

No. I don’t imagine for one moment this is the way intelligent people go about solving problems. Personally, I am always assaulted by a keen sense of envy whenever I come across ‘leaders’ who seem only to manage themselves and others by just labeling people and situations – I do, as it’s so simple for them. But I cannot do that in my business. Because if I don’t keep my ears to the ground and just choose to talk about the problems I want to talk about while avoiding wholesale the problems that I should talk about and most important deal with! By diligent intelligence gathering, interdicting threats, pre-empting a revolution – then it’s conceivable one night…very angry folk will march up the hill with torches and that will be end of me!

I can of course call the police. Or appeal to the sagacity and better nature of my fellow men by saying to them…’this is not our way!’ But that does not discount the awful reality that should I ever have the misfortune to find myself in that sort of position – I have failed in my duty of care to my community and should I even go to my peers for moral support – the serious men of this world will simply have this to say,

‘we trust you will do the right thing for the sake of your wife and children…rest assured they will be cared for…’ and it will end with the cryptic words, ‘travel well…we will met in happier times.’ and that is really just planters code for please kindly make preparations to go the other side lah….remember to put a damp towel over your head…don’t make a mess!

This has always been the planters unspoken creed – doesn’t matter where your plantation is, could even be anywhere along the Amazon, from the paraffin blue waters of the Madeira to the croc infested muddied waters of Tocantins…could even be along the never ending length of the Nile from Alexandria right down South to what Bedouins call the blue Nile, the Amharic in the great lakes of Tanzania – it is….what it is.

Now you know why I don’t nearly have the same margin of error like some incredibly lucky folk and above all I certainly don’t have the luxury of just resorting to labeling people as a means of managing myself and others in a business environment of complexity – I just have to see it for what it is….roll up my sleeves and take the problem by the horns and deal with it. I don’t have a choice. As that is the first discipline of leadership! People who do not understand this discipline have absolutely no business in leadership roles…they should just be content being followers!’

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