Journeying into the business world... one undiscovered culture at a time

Welcome to [Per]Suit of Anthropology, a blog dedicated to the exploration of modern business trends and perspectives from the view of anthropologist, with a special emphasis on cultural understandings of work-life balance and disability rights in the workplace. This blog is a way for me to connect two sides of my professional self that I see in constant dialogue. Though the business world and the anthropological world may not believe it - they have more in common and more to learn from one another than readily acknowledged. Topics covered include: Western business practices and the impact of those decisions on socio-cultural institutions worldwide, invisible disabilities, Ignatian spirituality, work-life balance, and some discussion of issues of tourism and its impacts on culture, and common human capital practices in private industry and government.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Emotions and the search for 'Truth.'

My mind has been occupied the last few days at some of the news I have seen coming from Tibet. I have been following the events and social unrest there for quite some time, always reading multiple accounts of what human rights activists say is happening, versus what the Chinese government has said is happening. I have been first astounded at how bold the Tibetan monastic and local populations have been in standing up to what they believe are unjust policies and practices, and also equally astounded at what a harsh crackdown the Chinese government has taken to suppress these movements - believing that the protests are actually a form of mild terrorism and actions against the tranquility of the PRC.

As someone who has sympathy for the Tibetans, yet also understands the intricacies of the politics surrounding the Chinese point of view as Tibet as part of the Middle Kingdom I've always attempted to stay neutral - to stay academic, and to view things through an apolitical lens of observation and commentary. However, never before have I been impacted on what I believe to be a personal level. Never before has the issue been an emotional one for me (partly out of self preservation). That is until last week when I heard that the protests had spread to Dzogchen Monastery in Western Sichuan province.

For those of you who don't know me, I carry around on my keychain a keychain from Dzogchen Monastery- the name of which is written in Tibetan on one side and Chinese on the other. The keychain for me has come to symbolize the complex interplay of the cultures of the Chinese and Tibetan - and the fact that there are real people at the heart of this turmoil. Both Tibetans and Chinese who want the same thing that anyone else in this world wants: life, liberty, and the ability to pursue their own dreams. For the Chinese entrepreneur, this may mean entering a new market of the "wild west" of China to start a business or to explore. For the Tibetans, this could mean the freedom to worship as and whom they choose, to have jobs that will support their family, and so on.

For me, I remember clearly the valley around Dzogchen - a glacial mountain rising high above the valley interspersed with thousands of prayer flags in every color and size. A series of three glacial-fed pools surrounded by fields of mountain wildflowers; a scene I only thought existed in my dreams. A monastery being built brand new, funded by Tibetans and Chinese buddhists, a lively monastic center - a place of learning. I remember sitting by a stream about 9pm at our campsite. Over the loudspeakers at the monastic learning center down the road I heard the voice of a chant being played against Tibetan flute. I sat, with the sounds of these chants, the gurgling water, the stars above me and just cried. I was homesick, I was confused, I was happy - and I knew that there was so much more complexity to this situation than any one person could ever understand. I was at once incredibly disturbed and oddly, at peace. It was the climax of my three month trip to Tibet - and one of those moments that is etched in my memory forever.

That is why when I heard this news I was so angry. Not at the Chinese, not at the Tibetans, but just angry. How dare they desecrate such a place? How dare they desecrate the place of my memory, my epiphany? I felt I had to keep these emotions to myself - because who am I (an outsider! An American!) to judge either the Tibetans or the Chinese? Who am I to know what it is like to be there on the ground witnessing this.

And that is when I read this post by Carole McGranahan, about our sometimes lack of emotion in the academic or professional world. We are trained as anthropologists, and as business people, to be judgement neutral. To examine our subjects from as much of an etic perspective as is possible - and to observe patterns of behavior. But what happens when that cannot happen? What happens when we know our own viewpoint is thwarted by memories and connections and our culture? How can we maintain integrity to report on what is happening? How do we maintain composure?

How do we know what is Truth?