La bellezza può passare per le più strane vie

Filed under: Stuff... pfu... — Ilias Bartolini at 11:13 pm on Monday, July 11, 2016

(30th July 2015)

Sono appena trascorse due settimane in due campi tra Corviale, una delle periferie dimenticate di Roma, e Lampedusa, crocevia del Mediterraneo.
Da questi due luoghi lentamente emerge un filo conduttore… o forse meglio dire un filo di sutura, un filo che chiude alcune ferite dell’ignoranza collettiva in cui continuiamo a navigare.

A Corviale ascoltiamo le registrazioni delle intercettazioni a Salvatore Buzzi parte delle inchieste di Mafia Capitale: «Con gli immigrati si fanno molti più soldi che con la droga»

Kareem a Lampedusa invece ci racconta la sua storia in prima persona: Lui a Roma è obbligato a restarci a causa di stupide regole. Prima costretto a fuggire da Bagdad per non essersi piegato ad intimidazioni criminali e poi rimandato in Italia mentre tentava di costruire la sua nuova vita in Europa. Esistono ancora i confini in Europa, ma sono solo validi per lui e per tutti coloro che più avrebbero bisogno della nostra solidarietà.

Così tra queste storie capiamo che il nostro sistema di accoglienza si divide in tragici contrasti.

Da un lato abbiamo incontrato Paola e un manipolo di volontari che continuamente si recano al porto durante gli sbarchi al porto. Chi per offrire un the caldo, chi per offrire solo un sorriso. Modi diversi per rifocillare queste persone dallo sguardo stremato di fatica ma anche pieno di nuova speranza su questa nuova terra ferma.

E sempre qui sull’isola abbiamo incontrato quei cittadini che sono partiti con una barca dal Nord Europa e si sono organizzati per aiutare le operazioni di soccorso qui in mare ed evitare che la fossa comune del Mediterraneo inghiotta ancora più vite.

Questi abbracci di solidarietà raggiungono le coste romane di Ostia dove ascoltiamo il racconto di Sara che si impegna per aiutare moltissime donne ad uscire dal circolo dello sfruttamento della prostituzione. Un sistema in cui tante donne africane restano intrappolate come “merce di serie B” vittime di molteplici ingiustizie.

Se da un lato abbiamo incontrato storie di solidarietà dall’altro invece vive l’ipocrisia e l’omertà.
L’ipocrisia di un sistema d’accoglienza che quasi strappa l’umanità dalle carni di queste persone. Dove per circa 50 euro al giorno non è poi tanto male se una pratica burocratica rallenta: così i nostri centri d’accoglienza saranno sempre più stracolmi.
Dove non è poi tanto male se persiste continuamente uno stato d’emergenza: così possiamo evitare gare d’appalto e facilitare le infiltrazioni mafiose.
Dove il lungo limbo d’attesa non è poi tanto male se diventa una scusa per i richiedenti asilo ad attraversare illegalmente le frontiere: così il nostro governo può ignorare queste vite “non registrate” e scaricare il fardello sul resto d’Europa o nei casi peggiori nelle mani della criminalità organizzata.

In mezzo a queste due realtà resta uno sguardo.
Siamo appena partiti da Wörgl in Austria, sono su un vecchio treno sulla via del ritorno. Di fronte a me il volto e lo sguardo terrorizzato di un ragazzo eritreo che si è gettato nel mio stesso scopartimento.
Lui trema dalla paura, farfuglia alcune parole in inglese ed altre in una lingua a me sconosciuta. Chiude al meglio possibile la tendina che si affaccia sul corridoio per nascondersi, e poi la riapre appena un po’ per spiare chi sta arrivando dall’altra parte.
Passano i minuti. Il treno rallenta mentre si avvicina alla prossima stazione.
Arriva un poliziotto in borghese, lo fissa con uno sguardo paternalistico e quasi lo ammonisce per averci provato inutilmente: “We’re in Rosenheim, this is Germany, you must get down here!”.
Lo sguardo del ragazzo è terrorizzato e rassegnato allo stesso tempo. Non comprende: “Perché in Germania? Cosa mi aspetta ora?”

Così la nostra ipocrisia continua a sopravvivere tra quello sguardo di speranza allo sbarco e questo volto terrorizzato su un treno.

La nostra ipocrisia sopravvive mentre le mafie prendono il controllo del sistema degli aiuti di stato.
La nostra ipocrisia sopravvive mentre gli sbarchi al telegiornale trasformano storie di persone in aridi numeri che impariamo ad ignorare.
La nostra ipocrisia sopravvive mentre altre vite a cui neghiamo un passaggio sicuro vengono annegate nel Mediterraneo.

In memoria di coloro che hanno perso la vita difendendo i diritti degli altri e dando la voce ai meno privilegiati: Peppino Impastato, Vittorio Arrigoni ed Aaron Swartz.

Grazie alle associazioni di Libera ed Amnesty International e tutti i partecipanti ai loro campi per il vostro impegno.

La nostra solidarietà contro la vostra repressione.

L’occhio guarda, per questo è fondamentale.
È l’unico che può accorgersi della bellezza.
La bellezza può passare per le più strane vie, anche quelle non codificate dal senso comune.
E dunque la bellezza si vede perché è viva e quindi reale.
Diciamo meglio che può capitare di vederla.
Dipende da dove svela.
Il problema è avere occhi e non saper vedere, non guardare le cose che accadono, nemmeno l’ordito minimo della realtà.
Occhi chiusi. Occhi che non vedono più.
Che non sono più curiosi.
Che non si aspettano che accada più niente.
Forse perché non credono che la bellezza esista.
Ma sul deserto delle nostre strade Lei passa, rompendo il finito limite e riempiendo i nostri occhi di infinito desiderio.

(Pier Paolo Pasolini)

“We cannot help everyone, but everyone can help someone”

Filed under: Stuff... pfu... — Ilias Bartolini at 1:01 am on Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Last October on a trip returning to UK I decided to stop in Calais.
I couldn’t do too much except offering a little help with my two hands to the other volounteers that are working there unloading and packing donations.

The people living in the camp are continuously abused by local police, continuously filmed by the media and by curious improvised photographers but are rarely heard.
So initially, out of respect, I decided that I didn’t want to share too much about this experience with my own voice, but that we should instead learn listening to the refugees own voices. That was probably mixed with the sense of guilt for not being able to commit in helping more.
Now, in reality, the conditions in the camp are so inhumane that makes you realise how much dignity there’s in the people who are fighting to find a better future for themselves and their families.

Makes me sick so much that our governments are ignoring the most vulnerable and innocent at our own doorsteps and I don’t know how to be more angry when they criminalize the gestures of the few compassionate people who are left.

Rob Lawrie, interviewed in this short video, is facing accusations up to 5 years in jail for trying to help a 4 year Afghan girl.
You don’t always have to follow the law to do the ethically right choice. I believe he has an important message to not feel owerwhelmed by the amount of injustice and start doing our little part in changing it: “We cannot help everyone, but everyone can help someone”

Now, some of you can find this video inspiring or easy to empathise with. If this video helps moving your ass from your chair out of social media, please do it!
There are many people helping in Calais and many more are needed. If you’re one of those currently living in France or Britain please seriously join or support one of the organizations that are bringing solidarity.

You cannot hold someone in the mud without losing ground - Calais Refugee CampPS.
If you cannot help directly or in first person send your donations, your old winter clothes or an old pair of shoes.
But please, also remember that this video follows one of the uncouncious motives of the “western white saviour” trying to help those “helpless refugees kids”.
I hope that one day the humans that are now living in the camp will come and use that old pair of shoes you donated to kick our own asses. Especially the ones of the people who have been waiting, sitting here and ignoring this injustice for years.

7 suggestions to avoid unethical decisions in organizations

Filed under: Stuff... pfu... — Ilias Bartolini at 6:50 pm on Tuesday, November 4, 2014

In 1970 Ford released to the public a new car to compete in the market segment of the cheap small vehicles: the Ford Pinto.
During its design phase the engineers found a potential issue with the fuel tank placement which could increase the risk of fire after an accident. After a cost-benefit analysis they estimated that the cost of case settlement for these accidents ($200,000 per death, equivalent of $11 cost per car) was lower than adding a plastic shield behind or changing the design of the tank.
7 years later the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) forced Ford to recall the vehicles. While controversy still exist today the incident caused, based on different sources, between 27 and hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries attributed to the initial design decision and to the conscious decisions to not recall the vehicles that has been re-evaluated multiple times.

How many unethical decisions, maybe with smaller impact, are taken daily that never reach public attention? What are the common factors in the the Enron and Lehman Brothers collapses? How can we avoid this to happen in our organizations?

In the last period of time I started reading a studying about ethics and social psychology.
Interest in this topic started when a couple of years back I read about Aaron Swartz review of the book Moral Mazes

The most common perception is that “unethical decisions” are usually taken by “bad apples”. When we look ourselves in the mirror every morning we consider ourselves as very rational beings regarding our ethical behaviour: this belief is false.

When we take decisions situational, organizational and institutional factors can push us towards unethical decisions: this is known in social psychology as “the power of situation“.Barca Elena in a Frame
The worst part is that we might act unethically and be completely unaware of our bad decisions until an external perspective helps us recognise the implicit frames that surround our point of view. Psychological frames are like real frames, they help us focus on one part of the situation but hide what is outside of the frame: this is effect is called “ethical blindness“.
You too, can potentially be the protagonist of an unethical decision being in totally good faith, with good values and good intentions.

We make most of our decisions through heuristics and frames that are simplified models of reality which help us take decisions effectively focusing only on a part of the system.
Keeping consequentialist ethics in mind is very common for people to take decisions based only on the consequences that are immediately visible to us ignoring unintended consequences.
When we choose to board on a flight we do it based on the time it takes to reach our destination, not on the contributions to the climate change and the impact it could have on the agriculture of poor populations few decades from now.

Here are some suggestions to avoid ethical blindness.

1) Limit pressure and fear
Pressure and fear are some of the most important factors that impact the immediate context. Pressure can come in many different forms and here are 4 common examples from social psychology.

- Authority pressure:
Stanley Milgram showed us with the electric shocks experiment how people following orders can do extremely bad things. If you’re in an authority position in your organization be “a servant leader” rather than a “feared boss”. Build your organization so that concentration of power is limited and different groups can guard each other.
If you’re in a position under the influence of authority learn the lessons of civil disobedience, care about your peers and be a little bit anarchist after making sure you’re driven by good ethical intentions :)

- Peer pressure:
Solomon Ash experiments showed us that people are strongly pushed to conform with the rest of the group they’re part of. Learn to welcome and defend dissenting point of views, use facilitation techniques in group activities in order to minimize the group pressure, invite out-group members. This is also a reason why asking for consultants to visit your organization is sometimes an important factor in taking good decisions (…worst case you can always blame an external person :)).

- Role pressure:
Zimbardo’s “Stanford prison experiment” was probably the one that coined the idea of “power of situations” and covered many other aspects of social psychology. Each of the roles we play on a daily basis comes with expectations and a set of normative rules. As a project manager you might focus on the financial result of your project or worry about the velocity of your team. As an engineer you might focus on the effectiveness of your design. When “playing a role” you might lose sight of what are the holistic needs of a diverse group. Each of this expectations can push you away from “doing the right thing”.

- Time pressure:
Darley and Batson in the experiment of the Good Samaritan showed us that one of the most important factors that limits altruistic behaviour are not personal attitudes but simply time pressure. If you’re pushed across multiple deadlines your behaviour can change in ways that is overall less effective and act in ethically blind ways.

Along all of these lines I like a metaphor on “pressure” that I learned few years ago. Your group pressure should always be careful regulated.
A pan should always boil a little bit so that chemical reactions that produce good food start to happen, but never up to the point that might cause it to burn or increase the risk for the pan to explode.

2) Personal incentives and performance expectations
The most common form of “role pressure” is the one driven by “personal incentives” and “performance expectations”.
Big individual bonuses are considered some of the root causes of unethical decisions in the banking sector. Performance expectations are not only for individuals but can also be set at an organizational level and raise pressure in unrealistic ways.
Performance reviews if present should be designed in ways that “fear of unsuccess” is limited. The Enron’s scandal is a case in which one of the contributing factors was a quasi-Darwinian culture for survival in which high performers were given high bonuses and a large percentage under-performers were immediately fired after each performance reviews.

3) Avoid rigid routines
Another important psychological frame are routines and habits. If your team meets daily with a specific intent in mind it might cause other important decisions that need to be taken together to be overlooked. Routines are also the ones that drives us towards inaction in the situations that do not fit in our patterns. “It has always been this way” is a common excuse to transform routines in rigid frames that we keep adopting. In the Ford Pinto case the callback coordinator was aware of the issue but kept adopting an inadequate standard procedure to evaluate if a callback was needed.
Routines are more dangerous in today’s world in which context rapidly changes.

Routines together with role boundaries can become an extremely strong factor. It becomes easy for us to believe that something unethical “is not my responsibility” and blame others for it. “Not acting” could potentially be an important and very un-ethical decision.

4) Work with a diverse group of people
Frames are also cultural and based on knowledge and background of people. Start working with a culturally diverse and poly-skilled group. Foster diverse contribution and be open to listen to opinions of others especially when they are different from yours.
Often invite out-group point of views in your decisions.
It’s not a coincidence that was the NHTSA to force Ford to recall the vehicles and that people within the organization were unable to acknowledge the problem

5) Check out the language used by your organization
Language is a powerful tool for communicating ideas that influence how we behave and metaphors are a form of framing. Languages related to Gaming and War are two symptoms of subtle frames that push the decisions away from the real context. It’s not very uncommon to “make a bet in the financial game“, to make decisions that “change the rules of the game” or to “head into the battle” when a project starts.
You can find a lot of this language in Lawrence McDonald’s book “A Colossal Failure of Common Sense” that tells the story of Lehman Brothers from the point of view of its former vice president.

In today world the common mantra of “disruptive innovation” should carefully checked against the ethical rules.

6) Don’t rely too much on code of conducts
Code of conducts are often a good way to share and communicate the important values and principles we share as an organization. Unfortunately they are designed with “control” and “punishment” in mind and with a legalese perspective. This goes back to the false principle of “bad apples do bad things”. While is recognised that feeling of “being watched” can remind us of being “honest” it can also cause “stress” of being watched, stifle any extrinsic motivation and control can be misused from authority for bad purposes.
Code of conducts should be a guide that could remind us our principles, but control and punishment should be limited.
The only ethical justification for “control and punishment” is to influence and protect us against psychopaths… but we’ll see an interesting facts about psychopaths near the end of this article :)

7) Start questioning institutional frames
The most difficult frames to recognise are the one shared largely by entire institutions (big organizations, countries, cultures, educational systems). These frames shift very slowly, sometimes across decades and it’s more difficult to recognise that are influencing and changing ourselves. We take these for granted, it becomes more difficult to start questioning them and they slowly turn into dogmas and ideologies.
For example Milton Friedman in the ‘70 popularised in the whole business world the idea that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits” and the only moral responsibility of executives “is generally to make as much money as possible for their shareholder” justifying a belief system in which greed and egoism are positive. Today this system is still present in our culture.

In the organization I work we put “attitude” and “integrity” as two of the fundamental attributes for our people. There have been in history exceptional people with extreme integrity that can inspire us. However we still need to remember the “power of situation” and that what “integrity” and “attitude” can do for us is limited when we’re immersed into a strong context.
While it’s true that psychopaths are statistically 4 times more present between the ranks of CEOs they’re on average only 1% of the general population.

Remember that most people that make “ethically bad” decisions do it because they happen to be in “ethically blind” situations or under pressure without being aware of it. They happen to be in a situation in which they’re not able to see the consequences of their actions, but not because they are inherently bad people.

Be aware that the above suggestions might help you to avoid unethical contexts but are not a substitute for learning and understanding descriptive and normative morality.
The recommendation is to learn the fundamentals of ethics and keep in mind how you can avoid stepping into strong situations that can push you towards ethical blindness.

References:
The main inspiration for this article comes from the Coursera class “Unethical Decision Making in Organizations” by Guido Palazzo and Ulrich Hoffrage which I recommend

Other resources that helped me learning in this area are:

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