Thursday, January 15, 2015

Leaders and Freedom

A week ago freedom was attacked, freedom was murdered at ‘Charlie Hebdo’. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time. A lockdown in shock was followed by an outcry, an outcry for freedom. Freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion are fundamental human rights. And those rights were attacked by what happened in Paris. Attacked by a bunch of brutal murderers. 

What then followed was not surprising. ‘Assigned political leaders’ of many countries almost  out of reflex began claiming “je suis Charlie”. Reflex being the innate sensor of politicians for a PR opportunity. Other ‘self proclaimed leaders’ of many diverse and often strange movements hijacked the claim “je suis Charlie” and using it to their advantage. Embarrassing movements like ‘Pegida’ in Germany for instance. 

Before the murder of staff members of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ none of these above mentioned so-called ‘leaders’ had ever heard about ‘Charlie Hebdo’, let alone cared for them. They shamelessly took advantage of what happened for their own and sometimes obscure purposes. 

And that’s not all of it. When I am looking around I see many people posting in social networks ‘je suis Charlie’. And between them are those thinking of themselves as ‘leaders’. In companies and organizations alike. They suddenly became ‘Charlie’. Many of them might be well-meaning, I give them the benefit of doubt. Yet, most of them are janus-faced. They preach one thing in their private life and live quite a different one in their ‘official’ business life. They have the ‘split personality syndrome’. But they thought they were leaders. Gives the term ‘thought leader’ quite an interesting twist, doesn’t it?

So, what are our ‘political leaders’ now doing? By now I think we all saw it already in the news. Total surveillance everywhere seems to be the goal. Best expressed by the PM of the UK, Cameron, who said: “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which…we cannot read?” His goal is getting end-to-end encryption banned. Talking about freedom and then cracking down on human rights like privacy. Of course, he is the ultimate frontrunner of surveillance in Europe. Yet, he is just one example. All the other leaders are not far behind. And that holds true not only for those parties governing, it holds also true for most of the other ones in opposition. And those were the ones claiming “je suis Charlie” while gathering at their PR event in Paris. How dishonest is that?

The question is if you, the electorate, are willing to tolerate that and for how long more. And if you do then the pain is obviously not big enough yet. The question is whether you are willing to stand up for freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, and privacy protection. Willing to standing up for your human rights. Willing to fighting for your human rights. Always. Are you?

We don’t need mass surveillance and human rights taken away. We need to speak up more. Much more. Having the courage and standing up for freedom. Particularly those claiming to be leaders. We need to talk. Talk to each other and make the effort to understand the different perspectives. Discussing, debating the different points of view. About the things that really matter and not just trivialities. Provoking thoughts. Applying critical thinking and thinking for ourselves. And more than anything we need to stand up and fight if necessary for our freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, and privacy protection. Each one of us. Especially nowadays. Freedom is fragile. If you don’t protect it well enough it will vanish right before your eyes.

Many of you are going to the numerous different conferences all over the year. Some of you are even delivering speeches and keynotes. Do you dare to show your ‘true colors’? Do you have the courage there at such conferences to stand up for what you claim to believe when nobody is listening? Stand up for your values? Stand up for freedom? If so, you might earn the right over time to say “je suis Charlie”, but not before. My guess is though that you go on with ‘business as usual’ for the sake of fitting in, well adapted to mainstream, softened, and with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Douchebaggery. Prove me wrong by daring to take a stand for what you claim to believe. 

You might say such ‘business conferences’ are non political. Therefore you are only allowed to say what’s in line with the conference. Wrong. Everything is political. That’s what you need to recognize and understand. Are you always only saying and doing ‘what’s allowed’ and still consider yourself a ‘leader’? If so you can easily be replaced by an algorithm. Speaking out loud only at home alone or just with your close friends makes you expendable. 

Something is fundamentally wrong in our societies. Something is fundamentally wrong with political leadership. With the elected political leaders. Pay close attention who they are, if they stand for anything at all, and if so what they stand for. And it’s the same with leaders in companies and other organizations. There are too many ‘Teflon-people’ around. Nothing sticks to them. Masters of ambiguity. They are everything but not leaders. And certainly not ‘thought leaders’, because that would imply the capacity of thinking, critical thinking. And there are many, far too many.

Standing up for freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, and privacy rights takes courage. The courage of showing your 'true colors', showing who you truly are always and in any circumstances. No matter what and without compromise. That’s what one can expect from a leader. Anything else is hypocrisy.

The people of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ are living that on a daily basis. They have the courage to stand up for freedom in their way, the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ way. They are ‘Charlie Hebdo’. And no one else is. And some of them had to pay the highest price last week. Yet, they continue. The people of “Charlie Hebdo’ are truly leaders of their own right. They earned it with their unwavering courage. I bow to them with deep respect.

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