Six-part Harmony

Recently, I’ve written about seemingly disparate but related conversations. As if these conversations are individual musical notes, they fill my mind with a unified sound even as they retain their distinctiveness. Today’s discussion is an example of the six-part harmony I hear.

In Reuters, Lesley Wroughton’s article, “Okonjo-Iweala: World Bank Must Mirror Global Shift” reports on Iweala’s view that increased globalization should justify a shift in institutional leadership at the World Bank. That this is the “first time the [top] post has been contested” should come as no surprise. The world is increasingly interconnected; geopolitical shifts, multinational corporate efforts, diplomatic reach into realms that previously lacked engagement, and the increasing global presence of universities are all indicators of important global shifts. Yet, the process for selecting a leader of the World Bank has not changed. In “The World Bank’s Quota System for Leaders” Uri Dadush and Moisés Naím lament the opaque process for selecting leaders and the Reuters article notes, “[u]nder an informal agreement between the United States and its allies in Europe, Washington has laid claim to the top post at the World Bank since its founding after World War Two.”

In another Reuter’s article, Roman Kozhevnikov reports on a recent conference where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad weighed in on the shifting balance of global power. His assertion that “the United States could no longer dictate policy to the rest of the world” was complemented by his commentary on the US role in Afghanistan, US relations with Pakistan, thoughts on NATO’s role in the region, and a declaration for building a railway between Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan. The US representative at the conference “left the hall when Ahmadinejad began to speak and returned after the conclusion of the speech.”

“When Other Voices are Drowned Out” is a New York Times editorial that delineates the consequences of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. “This naïve, damaging view” has privileged the political assertions of the elite (via unlimited financial contributions to Political Action Committees or PACs) to the relative exclusion of engagement by the so-called 99% who cannot command unlimited funds. This shift has effectively constricted the discussions of national significance. Indeed, “financing a PAC is equivalent to financing a campaign.”

Adam Lee contrasts the laws of obedience hailing from religion with those of free thinking. In “How Religion’s Demand for Obedience Keeps US in the Dark Ages” Lee quotes various religious leaders and even provocative pundit Stephen Colbert who satirically noted, “If every rule made sense, they wouldn’t be learning respect for authority, they’d be learning logic” as examples of the rigidity of rules and the ways in which they restrict critical thinking. Indeed, Lee’s timeline of historical events and his alignment of blind faith and obedience with maintaining the status quo in oligarchies are convincing. He contrasts rigid structure with democracy, a relatively new way of governing societies in which power is believed to be dispersed amongst the citizens. Lee encourages his readers to “throw off that ancient and limiting mindset… act and speak as we choose” so that “humanity as a whole will prosper.”

Finally, and for now, “Overcoming the Stress of ‘Englishnization’ is an article written about a case study conducted by Tdsedal Neeley, “Language and Global ‘Englishnization’ at Rukuten” that describes the efforts of multinational corporations to mandate English as the language of business. Basically, when non-native English speakers were made to communicate only in English, they experienced high levels of anxiety and decreased self-confidence in their professional ability. Neeley explains, “There’s this universal experience of status diminution when people compare their native/formally trained language to this new language.” She continues, “[N]o matter how fluent some people are in English, they believe they’ll never be as sophisticated, as influential, or as articulate as they are in their native language.”

How in the world do such different “notes” harmonize in my head? After all, these segments represent taxonomical dissimilarity . However, thematically, the connections seem clear (to me!). The changing geopolitical topography noted in Wroughton’s article regarding candidacy at the World Bank is illuminated by the critique of the Bank’s organizational structure – its inherent hierarchy and nepotism – noted by Dadush and Naím. The inconsistency between the geopolitical reality and the organizational structure at the World Bank as noted by the authors, effectively obscures or silences the reality of new, different and multiple actors having a voice in global institutions. Similarly, the New York Times editorial laments the consequences of PACs, the powerful elite, shaping the political landscape in the US. Those silenced in the US represent the non moneyed and the majority of potential voters. This silence is evident in Kozhevnikov’s article as he takes notice of the US delegate who took leave when Ahmadinejad began to speak. Lee’s article about religion and obedience is essentially about the historic ways in which power has silenced disparate voices in order to retain the status quo. Neeley’s case study makes clear, such silencing occurs when people are not confident their communication is effective. In Neeley’s study, such silencing has consequences that lead to anxiety, which can have dire consequences on workplace performance. Here it is necessary to note, the silence may be countered with deeper, ongoing and more meaningful integration into the English language as part of the process of cultural osmosis.

The “notes” come together in harmony, to reveal a cohesive understanding of seemingly disparate voices. Duke Ellington was a master at illuminating individuality while advancing a singular mission or composition. Individually, each note articulates a single point-of-view; together, the harmony resonates broadly. In a jazz ensemble, this diversity is also captured in instrumental sections. In the present scenario, the diverse notes or voices represent cacophony while the voices of the powerful “few” move towards a particular type of cohesion; one that lacks diversity and is unified against the many. This is bad in music because it indicates monotonality; in business, it represents a lack of competition or monopoly; in language, it is monolinguistic; in politics, dictatorship.

As diversity in voices enriches music; so, too, does it enrich business, culture, politics and associated organizational structures. Harmony, the balancing of individual voices to create a rich sound, requires coordination and diversity. The silencing of voices, literally and metaphorically, is not only unimaginative but leads to no good place.

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16 thoughts on “Six-part Harmony

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