Forgive us for hanging a broader point off a recent political headline (especially as we’ve apologised for this already this month), but the reshuffles of both the government ministers and their Shadow counterparts – and the media commentary on them – does beg a larger question or two.
The headlines (see, for example, The Daily Express, Daily Mail, New Statesman, Sky and BBC News) tell us as much about the commentators as they do about the content, although The Spectator deserves an honourable mention for a deadpan headline that may more accurately reflect general public interest: Small Reshuffle in Britain; Not Many Dead.
What’s interesting about the interpretations and responses is the factionalism – looking for signs as to what the changes mean in terms of which interests, tendencies and allegiances are being advantaged. Accepting – naturally – that organisations are not political parties, there are important points here about diversity and strength, sustainability and vanity (and possibly also the difference between product and branding).
Every culture, however broadly or narrowly you define it, tends to have its ideals, including the type of people that it holds up for admiration. We may think of etiquette as being the preserve of delicate ladies in lace gloves, but every situation has its own protocols. ‘Honour amongst thieves’ is a type of etiquette too. But cultural ideals embrace personal and behavioural styles as well as social manners. Being ‘the ideal’ type can be about more than which fork you use for the fish course or where you were schooled. Consider the following quotes:
On the surface, I was an all-American teenager, a rah-rah cheerleader type. But deep down I was a shy and lonely outsider. It took some long years of self-reflection to break through my old fears and come into my own.
I was this shy, introverted kid and through the game and through athletics I was able to gain a lot more confidence and express myself on the field. It is about enjoying themselves and that’s what I could tell about all of these girls. They played hard, respected the game and just had fun doing it.
I can’t speak for you, of course, but I got one consistent message: extroverts and extroversion are more admirable than introverts and introversion. The ‘rah-rah cheerleader’ trumps the ‘shy, introverted kid’: the bold, fun-loving and gregarious extrovert is not just the type to admire, but the type to become if at all possible. Introverts are the ones who get their heads wedged in toilet bowls in high school, while their extrovert peers are the ones who get the applause/prize/girl/boy.
The charisma thing has, it seems, raised its perfectly groomed head once more. The always readable Mervyn Dinnen blogged in response to a Guardian article by Jonathan Freedland, both exploring the apparent gap between the type of leaders we elect or support, and the kind of leaders we might choose if perhaps we put a bit more thought into the process. As is customary in contemporary business blogging circles, lines from a song were quoted. I think this is primarily an attribute of the demographic profile of bloggers, and can only plead guilty. And as songs go, Paul Weller’s Going Underground has retained the lyrical and emotive power it originally had around the time I heard being blasted live from the back of flat-bed trucks at various protests and marches in the early 1980s. Personally, however, I might have chosen a line a few bars further into the song that strikes me as both truer and considerably more cynical: “The public wants what the public gets”.
That’s not a suggestion of subservience, masochism or blind obedience, by the way. I think it’s rather closer to Gareth Jones’ observation, posted as a comment to Mervyn Dinnen’s blog post:
When you live in a bubble, that is all you know. If, for example you have 2 large dogs in your household then you house is likely to smell of dogs. You won’t notice the smell as you will be used to it. Even when you pop out to work or for a night out you won’t notice it when you come back. It’s only when you leave it for an extended period of time that you notice it smells of dogs. However, when someone visits they can smell it but are mostly too polite to mention it.”
Gareth’s point is about being in touch – having sufficient contact with ‘visitors’ that someone eventually has the audacity to mention the dreadful pong and suggest something is done about it. There’s a lot to be said for a breath of fresh air, after all. But Gareth’s point is also that the issue, nebulous as it might be, is systemic.
Though their governments and economies may rise and fall, countries have one lasting trump card: national pride is a potent force. A force strong enough to effectively close much of England yesterday afternoon, remove traffic from motorways and leave every checkout in my local Sainsbury’s completely queueless. Which is one reason – probably the reason – the French Minister of Sport was tasked by President Sarkozy to have what was presumably neither a quiet nor a soothing word with the national football team during a World Cup campaign marred by in-fighting and threats to ‘strike’ in a sense totally unconnected with goal scoring. ‘Sporting behaviour’ embraces more than a strictly athletic meaning: it also invokes respect, team play and a bit of basic decency.