I write this week’s article from a small lovely village called Tällberg in the heartland of Sweden. This pretty village is located on the side of a hill that slopes gently down to Lake Siljan and during the short summers the sun does not set; literally. It is the first place where I have had to wear sun-glasses at 11pm.
I am here to attend the annual Tällberg Forum at the invitation of the Tällberg Foundation; a non-profit organization that was established by Bo Ekman in 1981. Bo is a leading businessman and corporate mogul, who has been an advisor to governments and international organizations for decades. He is also a recipient of Carl XVI Gustav’s Gold Medal for extraordinary services to the Swedish society in many sectors.
The Tällberg Forum is a platform for free and open exchange of ideas and experiences where world leaders from assorted fields are invited to come together every year and share their views about where they think the world is going, and what they feel should be done to ensure both the journey and the destination are positive to human kind. Each forum is a classic combination of presentations, conversations, nature and music.
Tällberg Foundation operates on the theme ‘How on Earth Can We Live Together?’, and each year’s forum takes up a specific focus. This year the focus has been on technological advances and the focus of the discussions was ‘How on Earth Can We Live Together – Beyond Our Imagination’. The forum participants include international business leaders, senior government officials from various governments, politicians from across the world, scholars from various institutions including Stanford, Yale, Harvard, MIT; writers, journalists, etc.
We even had a UN Deputy Secretary General in our midst and we also got to meet ‘Mr Toilet’; Jack Sim; a businessman from Singapore who attained financial independence by the age of 40 and then founded World Toilet Organization – a network of over 235 organizations in 58 countries whose focus is to ensure as many people in the world get access to toilets, as possible.
Jack explained how toilets are the world’s leading preventative measure against illness, and that the advent of the flushing toilet increased man’s life span by 20 years! He is a Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum and has been named as the Hero of the Environment by Time Magazine.
However I had attended this forum with a clear intention to carry away from it that which would be useful in the context I find myself; a Kenyan living in a country going through fluid socio-political transition processes. I was not disappointed, and what I carried away is best explained through a movie we watched called ‘An Ecology of Mind’; a film portrait of anthropologist, biologist and psychotherapist Gregory Bateson presented by his daughter Nora Bateson.
Gregory Bateson is considered the ‘father’ of system thinking; the belief that everything works together. He believed that words or actions without context are ineffective, and that everything is best understood, only when in relation to something else. He spoke of how when we define things we tend to do it in separation, based on convenience and stated the fact that whereas we can nearly always agree on what’s there; we tend never to agree on how to describe what is there, and this is where our differences and acrimony comes from.
Greg Bateson spoke of the need to understand that the assumption that we all see things the same way is false; that we must accept that we have different backgrounds, contexts, etc that colour what we see. He advised that this makes the difference and that if we used it as a platform to engage each other rather than ignoring it, we could all live a lot better together.
He also about the ‘double-bind’; or ‘Catch 22’ situations where the solution seems to be an enhancement of the problem; e.g; bridging inequality calls for growing the economy faster, which only widens the gap more! He said that such issues can only be solved through a creative impulse; (a case of square pegs coming into the equation of round holes) to continue Albert Einstein’s theory that no problem can be solved from the same level in which it was caused.
He also made some interesting illustrations; that no man can step in the same river twice because it flows; or hold the same baby twice because the baby grows. He explained of how progress only comes from perpetual self-correction and that with change as a constant in life flexibility is what determines the level of success in life. Finally he said that whereas change is scary, not changing is worse; and that stability, ironically, is based on how well one adapts to change.
My take-away was that no one can be Kenyan all by themselves. I also learnt how the ethnic, religious, gender or age separations that we live with here are illusions based on imaginary lines drawn between us from our backgrounds and context. I also learnt that Kenya will only be complete when each of us accepts that we are incomplete, without the other.