Monday, March 19, 2012

On my Reading List: Spring 2012

I believe this week is the first of spring. With that, a few thoughts on some books I'm enjoying:

Whistling Vivaldi, by Steele. A fascinating look at the effect of stereotypes and how to stop the unhealthy side. By an African-American academic who discovered that if he whistled classical music while walking through white parts of USA, he wasn't viewed as a threat. Has many insights for people doing cross-cultural work inside and outside USA.

Greatest Sailing Stories Ever Told, by Caswell. Twenty-seven incredible pieces on sailing including humor pieces, journal entries, and essays. When it is too cold to go sailing, these keep me warm with inspiration.

Book of Man, by Bennett. Although the editor is highly conservative politically, this collection of short stories, poems, and readings for boys are interesting and helpful. Centered around themes like work or leisure, these give me material for bedtime stories with my young boys.

Celebration of Discipline, by Foster. A good collection of thoughts by Quaker writer on spiritual habits that can deepen and focus your life (i.e. meditation, prayer). Reading this on my Kindle.

On the list of what-I’ll-read-next-if-I-get-the-time:
  • A new book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo about life in the slums of Mumbai: Beyond the Beautiful Forevers. Looks a little depressing but very realistic and balanced. Great review by WSJ India here.
  • A book on raising kids: Boundaries for Kids by Cloud and Townsend.
  • Three books on overconfidence: The Logic of Failure by Dorner, Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman, and Everything is Obvious Once You Know the Answer by Watts. 

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Full-fledged justice: CQ plus development minus corruption?

A 2008 UNDP-sponsored study showing 4 billion people cannot improve life for themselves because they are excluded from the rule of law rocked my world. The authors, including Madeleine Albright, indicated billions of dollars in relief and development are wasted in countries without good, enforced laws and fair courts. The poor remain poor without legal empowerment.

"Charity is no substitute for justice withheld," said St. Augustine around 400 AD. So perhaps this is nothing new. But, then I ask myself, should we stop work in places where judges, police, and other authorities are corrupt?

From an efficiency perspective and objective evaluation, we must answer yes. The link between aid and functioning public justice systems was brilliantly argued in a 2010 Foreign Affairs article by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros. Charities, foundations, and international development agencies need to change.

However, then we look at the wider definition of justice: a balance or equity of right relationships, proper use of power/influence, and a well-ordered community so that all flourish. Also, we can't stereotype an entire country. There may be pockets of justice and community-led reform that need our help. These truths mean we must answer no. Development and reconciliation projects should happen anywhere there is a felt need.

Perhaps the answer is to be aware and balanced. To work towards just legal structures as well as "neighborly" living conditions.

But for me the key piece is that we engage in justice efforts with local partners that desire and DRIVE the collaboration. Getting to common ground and assessing motives is difficult. The outsider is perceived to have unlimited money and power; this initially can attract the wrong people. But there are ways to find good partners through asking great questions. By finding people already doing the type of work you're trying to 'establish'. This cultural intelligence (CQ) piece is crucial. If a local/national leader makes the key decisions, controls distribution of the money, and is bought-into the results, then the work can have a long-lasting impact. When Westerners come set up an office or project and then just hire locals, it's efficient in the short-term and likely to fail in the long-term.

While sitting in The Justice Conference last week, I was reminded how culture-bound the Western view of justice is. Although "minorities" in the USA (i.e. first nations people/Native Americans, or blacks) might understand the breadth of justice, the culture I come from hasn't. First, we think of justice mostly as laws, punishment, or lack of corruption. That's a crucial slice of the justice pie, but there is more and it's based around restoring relationships so all flourish. Second, we look for theories and discuss solutions. For most people, including the Dalits I lived and worked with in India, they simply were engaged in justice daily. Because so much injustice existed, in the mere effort to move ahead with their lives, they instinctively dealt with justice issues. No time to think and plan. Just dive in.

Are both approaches needed? Sure. Can we help each other? Definitely. But it depends on clear conversations, examining our motives, and finding great partners as we tackle foundational issues like legal empowerment. That takes hard work.