Time to talk about love, trust and respect in development

Published on 12 December 2016

Robert Chambers

Research Associate

New words keep on being invented and becoming current in development discourse. Some, like heteronormativity and intersectionality, are long combinations of Greek or Latin and their meanings have to be learnt the first time you hear them. Interrogating their roots can lead to misunderstanding.

The first time I heard heteronormativity, I thought it meant different (from the Greek, hetero) sexualities being considered to be part of the normal human condition and accepted as such. It is actually used to mean the opposite, that heterosexuality is considered normal and everything else abnormal.

As for intersectionality, intersect means ‘to divide, cut, or mark off by passing through or across, to cross (of roads) or in maths to have one or more points in common’. Inferring meaning from how I hear it used, it refers to multiple adverse human conditions which coexist and reinforce one another. So we have overlapping combinations of poverty, vulnerability, discrimination, stigma, exclusion, marginality of many sorts, powerlessness, physical weakness, ascribed inferiority and so on. I have never heard it used to describe positive synergies. Fitting perhaps for such a nasty word to be confined to describing such nasty conditions.

Positive words for positive conditions

But do we have, and do we need, an opposite word or words for positive conditions?

This question struck me the other morning listening to the Rev Lucy Winkett on Thought for the Day. This is a great series on the UK’s BBC Radio 4 at breakfast time every morning. Though an agnostic, perhaps even more so because I am an agnostic, I treasure Thought for the Day as an inspiring celebration of the diversity and common goodness of different faiths: it has contributions from Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, Judaists, Hindus, Buddhists and others.

Lucy Winkett started her Thought with Fidel Castro’s wish to have nothing, not even a road, named after him. She also reflected on the hubris in Shelley’s poem:

‘…two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,

half sunk, a shattered visage lies… ‘And on the pedestal these words appear

‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away’

And she ended her thought for the day with Philip Larkin’s words on his own memorial plaque just unveiled in Westminster Abbey:

‘what will survive of us is love’.

This reminded me that I first remember hearing love mentioned in a general development context at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) 50th anniversary conference earlier this year.

James Allen, IDS Alumni Ambassador now working in Brazil, used it. He cited Kyocera, a multinational of 229 companies with high tech products like fine ceramic components, semi-conductors, telecoms, microelectronic packages and fibre optic components.

Love, trust and respect

The Kyocera philosophy has as its most essential criterion “what is the right thing to do as a human being?”

Its success is attributed to managers devoting their lives to earning the trust of their employees, and its commitment to ‘the most fundamental human ethical and social norms’. Its vision is to ‘preserve the spirit to work fairly and honourably, respect people, our work, our company and our global community’. The corporate motto is ‘Respect the divine and love people’. Kyocera has shown that respect and love have been a high tech win-win.

Earlier this week I heard the word again, in an IDS seminar given by the Bupati (Mayor) of the Regency of Bojonegoro in East Java and his supporting cast. He spoke of transforming local government from ego system to eco system, from selfishness to service.

Bojonegoro is one of 15 local governments in the Open Government Partnership. Others are in Paris, Sao Paulo, Houston and elsewhere. All budgets are in the public domain. In Bojonegoro they have a system for dealing with complaints, issues and so on through the equivalent of a complaints box, Friday public meetings, and some 50 apps which show yellow if not dealt with in three days and red if over seven days. Anyone can monitor this. The Bupati began his time in office by disclosing all his income, which he continues to do on a monthly basis. Without being heavy about it, he talked of compassion, love and trust:

“I energise myself by loving others.”

Talking, thinking and doing differently

Is it time to learn from Kyocera and Bojonegoro? Should we talk and write more about the positive, about synergies, about win-wins? How love, respect, trust and honesty support each other? And the qualities of those who have been leaders in practising these and making them real? And how champions like them can multiply to seed movements?

Is it time for love to be part of our development discourse, of our mindsets, of how we think and behave and of our visions for the future?

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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