Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Possible roots of extremism: the role of our ingroup-outgroup understanding

Most of us took note of the terrible mass murders in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik (if you haven't, where have you been)? Extremists such as Breivik's ideologies are often based on stereotypes - creating or defining a very definite barrier between 'us' and 'them', to such an extent that the 'them' or outgroup can become threats to their national identity and security.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D states in "The dangers of the ingroup-outgroup bias" ( that we are inclined to identify and associate with those that share the same qualities than we do.  This is part of human nature.  It is important for us to understand the boundaries for our own 'ingroup' or 'outgroup' since these are not and should not be cast in stone.  You might associate with a specific group of people in one context (colleagues at work) but not the next (you'll most probably prefer going to the movies with your friends rather than with colleagues from work).  The initial ingroup has therefore changed to the outgroup depending on the situation and context you find yourself in. 

Many people find this differentitation between defining and associating your ingroup versus outgroup in various different contexts to be quite easy.  For others this is much harder and even impossible in some cases.  The result is a person who identifies with a particular ingroup to such an extent that anyone who does not belong to this person's ingroup becomes the enemy.  A very dangerous situation indeed! 

Susan Krause mentions a couple of things to keep in mind and practice to ensure that our 'us' and 'them' fences can be torn down as and when needed.  The golden rule is respect for all - ALL other people, regardless of race, gender, religion or social standing.

1. Recognise the arbitrary nature of many ingroup-outgroup distinctions.  Keep the example of colleagues and friends in mind - our ingroup at one moment is your outgroup the next.

2. Put yourself in the place of the outgroup member. Think about times when you've been put in an outgroup position and remember how painful that was.

3. Look for commonalities between opposing groups. Fans of opposing sports teams equally love the sport. People of different religions regard their faith as important to them. There are basic human needs that transcend particular labels.

4. Work on building your inner sense of security. People are more likely to stereotype when they feel they have something to lose. If you feel more confident about your own identity, you'll be less likely to criticise someone else's.

5. Pass along the lesson. We can't all be the Nelson Mandela's of our time, changing society in very definite and tangible ways.  But we can teach others the value of overcoming outgroup stereotyping.

Let's keep these five lessons in mind - engaging positively with everyone we come across!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Inspiring quotes by Madiba - the man of the moment!

While we're celebrating Nelson Mandela's birthday and his wonderful legacy of peace, humility, justice and freedom this whole week, I thought that you might appreciate famous words spoken by the man himself. 

Inpiring, uplifting - wow!

"It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership".

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner".

"It always seems impossible until its done".

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart".

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear".
"I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself".

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world".

And one of my personal favourites:

"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination".  Remember, each small gesture does make a difference!  Let's keep on giving, sharing and being kind throughout the year!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Only three days 'till Mandela Day!

Happy Birthday Madiba!!  Learn the Tata Madiba song - here it is. 

Still not sure how to spend your 67 minutes on Mandela Monday?

  • Give a loaf of bread to every person in need at all the traffic lights on your route from work to home.
  • Read to those that can't - the neglected grandmom's and fathers in old age homes are a good start.
  • Start your own 'keep my environment clean' campaign by picking up every piece of paper or garbage that you come across on Monday.
  • Take an extra lunch bag to work /school and share with someone who does not have.
  • Put a smile on the petrol jockey's face by giving him/her a can of coke or a pie.
  • Start your own vegetable garden (it's so easy, the herbs in my garden have a life of their own at this stage.  If I can do it so can you - no really ;-)
  • Smile to everyone that you come across.

Still not an idea that you can relate to?  Visit LeadSA for inspiring ideas from the GreaterGood online community 

It can be something really simple (as you can see from the above suggestions).  The important thing is that all of us do something, on Monday for sure but on every other day as well.  Each small gesture or action makes a huge difference in the long run.

So let's get active! And please share your ideas.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Do you come across loud and clear?

Effective communication is an essential skill in the day and age that we live in.  Many people regard it as a 'soft skill' which is a nice to have competency in the workplace, but not necessarily a must have.  If one understands the importance of communication - meaningful engagement that involves active speaking and listening, that is,  the gap is half-way closed already.

When it comes to communication, what you say and what you don't say are equally important.  Body language is most often the 'picture that speaks a thousand words'.  We were all in situations where our partner would say "nothing is bothering me, I'm perfectly fine" while his/her facial expression and body language say that the exact opposite is true. 

Effective communication (or lack thereof) not only impacts on our business relations, but also on our family life and friendships.   Take Psychology Today's quick Communication Skill Test to determine what your communication competency level is at current.  It's way too important to regard it as a nice to have and not an essential skill. 

Remember, you have to engage meaningfully before the money can do the talking! ;-)

Other interesting reads:

Friday, July 8, 2011

It's Friday - whoohoo!!

Luckily it's Friday today, so if this is your reality (I'm sure it is) - go home and enjoy a long weekend! For the rest of us, only a few hours 'till the weekend baby! Have a good one!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mandela Mondays...throughout the week!

“It’s in your hands to make the world a better place.”

"This is what Nelson Mandela said during his 90th birthday celebrations when he appealed to all citizens to rise up and do something.  Now, every year on his birthday, 18th July, South Africans are called to contribute 67 minutes of community service.  The campaign is designed to honour Madiba’s legacy of devotion and service to others. By dedicating 67 minutes to making the world a better place, we harness collective energy to build our communities" (LeadSA).  Mandela Mondays is therefore part of the build-up towards celebrating Madiba's birthday on the 18th of this month.

The important thing is, how can you and I contribute?

A good and trusted starting point is GreaterGood SA's online giving community – This is South Africa’s largest and most-trusted interactive database of 1,250 pre-checked non profit organisations. You can search for and connect with worthy organisations in your neighbourhood and ask them what you could do for them.

To do our bit is as easy as 1,2,3:

1. Go to
2. Click on the ‘Mandela Day’ banner
3. Sign up to a project in your area – and take your first step to changing your world.

The challenge would be to make this spirit of giving and sharing a part of who we are and how we choose to live our lives.  Let's commit to this challenge for the month of July and see how it goes.  We might just discover that kindness really is contagious.

Have a sharing, caring week!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Building my (and your) confidence

I'm not a fan of 'ten point quick fixes' - the 'just do this and your life will change forever' approach does not work for me.  But I do think that it does add value to sometimes hear of read information in a concise, 'bullet style' format.

Something that I think all of us are struggling with every now and then is confidence - being happy with who you are and what you contribute.  It is a good thing to doubt your abilities since that enables you to do introspection - to really think about where you are now and where you would like to be - as long as it's the exception and not the rule.

When it comes to building confidence there are a few pointers that might come in handy:
  • Acknowledge your STRENGTHS: This is something you've heard before many times, but 'just do it'!  You have many talents and areas of strength to be grateful for and more importantly, to share with the world.  Think about your unique qualities and gifts and give yourself credit for these.
  • Accept your WEAKNESSES:  My friends called me 'miss technical' in varsity seeing that changing a bulb, finding a solution for the computer not working or how to connect the DVD player to the TV was not my area of expertise.  Although I believe that I've much improved on these, they were right - I will definitely not be on their speed dial for any technical related problems to fix.  And you know what, that's fine with me!
  • Measure your SUCCESSES:  We so often moan and groan about everything that we haven't done or achieved yet, but very seldom take the time to actually think about where we were a year ago and where we are now - acknowledge and measure the tasks that have been completed and dreams that were realised. If you can't think of anything - identify this as a challenge and work on it (see next bullet).
  • Identify CHALLENGES:  You're dreaming about meeting the man of your dreams but only goes to work, the corner shop and then back home.  You might think about expanding your network and social activities to make this dream a reality.  Identify challenges and think about practical solutions to eliminate, avoid or change these challenges into opportunities.
  • Be your AUTHENTIC SELF:  Establish your 'personal brand' and stick to it in every situation - easier said than done - but possible, and extremely liberating!  If you don't know who you are spend some quality time in your own company, think about your strengths, weaknesses and most importantly, your value system - the 'set of criteria' that guides and directs your actions and reactions, no matter what life might throw at you.
  • SHARE - Kindness is contagious:  Be good to others, not because you're expecting something in return.  The good part is that you most probably will receive something back.  The bonus is that 'feel good' experience of "I'm actually not a bad person, well done me".
  • If all else fails - FAKE IT 'till you make it!  Keep your chin up, put a big smile on your face and say "hallo world".  Psychologists say that facial expressions can actually encourage your brain to register a certain emotion.
You know what, you don't necessarily have to love yourself before you can love others, it can actually work the other way round as well.  Read the article on Loving Yourself - How Important Is It? by Mark D. White, PhD (Psychology Today Blogs)

Have a weekend of a bit of introspection, how does that sound?