Politics…

gumybears and unicornsThis word politics conjures up a variety of emotions and reactions from us all mostly guided from past and present experience and perceptions with persons, rules or laws you have interacted with. On the whole, it will boil down to where you are geographically on planet earth and your exposure to the workings of us humans.

For instance you give an opinion over something in governance in some countries in Africa – and immediately you are perceived by most to be an aspiring politician! At worst you are seen as a threat to the sitting president, MP or local council official, who in turn will try and find a way of eliminating you – even say you are a terrorist for daring to mess with the order of play! This word politics is not easy my friend.

The word politics in itself is quite varied and can have a variety of meanings to differing persons.  Some, including myself, might define politics to simply being a combination of many little lies of coercion, with the aim of manipulating to attain a given aim or goal

However, I will go with this definition if only to keep those waiting in the wings to sign me off to the loony bin: Politics, in the broadest sense, is the activity through which people make, preserve and amend the general rules under which they live. Mansoor Maitah

However. As with everything in life, nothing is as ever black or white. Grey areas exist and you are probably wondering what politics has got to do with my ramblings today.  Those concerned I’m about to rant on about the main political parties here in the UK, relax!! Far from it. Those guys have their own platforms and media to put anyone attempting such a fit to shame.

You see the other day I was sharing a coffee with a colleague. She had been threatening to leave her present employ for quite some months now as she felt unsupported by those managing her. This time around she was voicing the same sentiments. She had requested to be paid in money her annual leave that she didn’t want to take but been denied this by her line manager. (In effect she was seeking to be paid double for the period she worked during what should have been her annual leave). In return she’d escalated this up to the next Manager who it soon became clear wasn’t going to back down from the decision made by the first manager.  Now my colleague’s annoyance over being denied her request was compounded by two major issues she voiced that struck a chord in me.

  1. She thought the line manager was way younger than her and as such felt he was ill-placed to be telling her she had to use up her annual leave or lose it.
  2. The previous line manager had allowed my colleague this request the past year – so she felt she had a right to it.

The first issue resonated with me because once upon a time in my mid 20’s, I’d risen up the ranks of managing persons who were older than me. My age and the speed my promotion had come at seemed to irk plenty of my older colleagues and they often showed their “discomfort” over this in how they opted to refuse to carry out tasks asked of them – even when I gave them full professional respect when engaging them to do so. It wasn’t long before I started seeing the camaraderie which once was when I had just started with them disappear and in place, often undisguised dislike.  For some it was my position, others it was my race, but mostly it was my age that seemed to attract so much conflict.

The second issue made me recall the sort of working relationships employees and employers weave – a sort of ‘I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine’ whereby it is not written anywhere but is at the discretion of those directly involved. Now discretionary acts I have often found add human elements when assessing and dealing with fellow beings. However as with gentleman’s agreements, it calls for the ones exercising discretion to be on a similar wave length. If you have a manager with whom your personalities clash or who is unable to exercise professionalism over work matters, getting a discretionary ruling on anything might be stretching it too far.

Over time in various employs ranging from nursing right through to medical secretarial then management, I’d learnt that there was always a form of politics with fellow colleagues which one had to keep in mind that didn’t get written into job descriptions. I also learned to respect positions of all personnel be them under my management or above – they simply were doing roles they were employed to do for the betterment of the whole company or institution. Office politics are usually to do with persons vying to protect their space/job in a given employ and some will go to varying lengths in acts to do that.  The trick is being able to decipher how persons play or get played.

So now when I have young students or managers coming with all the confidence of a young spirit, I simply appreciate that I still have some role in the bigger frame of their dreams. I don’t see them as competitors but merely as young trees to carry forth the baton.  Where needed or asked, I will offer my thoughts/input. I respect their zeal and youth and hope that they in return do same for my seniority of the knowledge archived.

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Are we serious about addressing gender imbalance in accessing male dominated professions such as science?

earth-2 Science-and-Technology-Some-advantages-and-disadvantagesSo if we want to address gender imbalance in science and other professions in society, what supporting infrastructure is being laid?

Situations arise at every turn in our lives which unravel the mind to question or look at things in a different light.

Last week at work brought us new enthusiastic young people whose dream of stepping in to a world of academic science gave them hope to fulfill personal ambitions and dreams.  All these young persons from different walks of life, are female and in their last years in secondary education.  Their goal at this stage is to prepare for their Nuffield education award by undertaking work experience during their summer break from school.

The application process for these sponsorship or awards can be quite arduous on its own.  The next challenge is in obtaining work placements within academic institutions. This can vary and can often be disappointingly frustrating for the students and their would-be host supervisors. images (1)

indexMost academicians are quite willing and happy to take on school age budding scientific minds.  It is the conditions and requirements imposed by institutions in order to avoid any legal issues which may arise, for example such as inappropriate adult versus minor interaction, that prevent would-be supervisors from undertaking this.  The stipulations are often quite stringent: female supervisor to supervise female student(s), any meetings with female students where a male supervisor is leading, to be held in an open office or area. In an academic/laboratory setting, this is simply not as often feasible.  After all, students often are quite keen to work within the laboratories to put to experiment  ideas as opposed to soaking in theories from textbooks or journals.

Now I’m not being funny but anyone who has worked with “serious”/genuine science professors/academicians will back me up on the fact that these guys, (and mostly they are males), are for the greater time, only interested in what goes on in their Petri-dishes.  The highlight of their conversation peaks when discussing discoveries or results of what has been crossed with what and how long it may have been spun in the centrifuge etc…

photo_co_lab_lgI have been working on the academic side as their ‘office person’ for years – I still don’t know what the pretty images are in their submitted academic papers or what they mean by gene expression let alone hybridisation of mRNA!   They give new meaning to the term computer-widow.

Now we forget; a student that seeks work placement/experience at this late stage in their academic pursuits does so out of their keen volition: to cement their academic goals.  They actually want to be there to explore, and learn, as opposed to law requirement that they be.  It is not the same as attending school out of duty/fear, such that you turn up to school and take it out on the teachers or establishment in general, behaving like an absolute jerk at any opportune moment.

The other issue we forget is that not all females actually enjoy working with fellow females as their seniors.  Not everyone is from a culture where segregation of genders is the norm nor is it the case that all male species are just waiting to jump on any available female species they set eyes on. Believe it or not, some men are quite able to control themselves and are respectful to females.  This idea that all men are to be seen as sexual predators is proving to be quite damaging in many areas of society and commonsense really needs to come back to earth.

Further irony to these work-placements in scientific institutions that have such stringent criteria is that of claiming to address the gender imbalance in society in order to encourage females to pursue science or other currently male-dominated professions.  How in the hell is this going to be facilitated if the persons within these professions who are mostly male are not facilitated with supporting personnel to oversee supervision?   Are we to live in a future where segregation is the only mode of interaction for either gender?

Surely these stringent conditions albeit understandable but borne out of fear for legal issues, are more harmful to the ideology of voiced encouragement to address gender imbalance in professions such as science et al.

From experience dealing with young persons, I often find that seeking their take is far more conducive and productive to what we adults assume is correct.  Has anyone asked would-be-students, their take in all these measures  in order to obtain a workable solution that does not leave many young female budding scientists, loose out?

A question of preparation

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.”

— Francis Bacon

Often we are faced with situations or opportunities (setting aside exam time scenarios!) when we engage with persons we either admire or disagree with.  Unfortunately, it is when such an opportunity/situation has passed that the ‘light-bulb’ moment shines through and we smack ourselves on the forehead for not having said or asked this or that question.  On the other hand, when we do ask the question, come away still not quite satisfied.  Any of this rings a bell?

No. I am not talking about that date once upon a time which went belly-up…

Take for instance a friend of mine today shared a joke about a couple whose marriage came to a grinding halt following revelations of an indiscretion which took place in the very early years of their marriage.  The long end of it all was that my friend was warning fellow “good men” out there to avoid at all costs revealing any secrets to their better halves. Reason being in that although some of us can say we forgive, we do not forget.  Well, I could see his point of view in as much as how we each define forgiveness…and forgetting! I guess it could be comparable to asking a husband to forgive and forget upon finding out after decades of being married, that the children or one of them was not biologically his.

I tend to be intrigued by this forgive and forget carry-on…What are we forgiving, the act of indiscretion or the person’s fall from grace?  Are we seeking forgiveness for being caught out or for having kept it a secret? I do agree forgiveness is essential for self-healing foremost, I just do not agree about forgetting the reasons or lessons of that which you are forgiving. For in forgetting the causes/reasons, chances of repeating similar occurrences from taking place will most likely be the pattern.

But back to my original quest of why it is important to prepare yourself beforehand for everything and anything.  Preparation is always the key.  Let’s take a moment and consider some questions that are truly empowering for many given situations:

Is there a message for me in this experience?

  • What’s the gift in this situation?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What’s the most loving thing I could do now?
  • What’s the most important thing for me to focus on now?
  • What would I do if I knew I could not fail?
  • What would I do if there were nothing to fear?

Realise. By pausing these questions to yourself, often making a rushed decision or even saying something that could cause you egg on your face, you give yourself a moment’s reflection to finding out the gravity of it.

Corruption – an overused rhetoric for social awareness?

A new poll of citizens’ views on corruption in the UK uncovers some fascinating – and disturbing – insights into how UK citizens view corruption in this country. The Gallup/ICM Research poll conducted for Transparency International UK reveals that a majority (53%) think that corruption has increased in the last three years – with very few (3%) believing the problem is on the decline.

Although only a small minority claims to have been directly affected by corruption (14%), as many as a third say they have had their suspicions about a specific event. And, while an overwhelming majority (93%) would be willing to report corruption, only one in three say they know where to go. This suggests that corruption in the UK could be going unreported.

The poll, published on 9/12/2010 to mark International Anti-corruption Day, also reveals how little trust the public has in the UK government to tackle corruption.

More than one in three (34%) say they trust nobody to fight corruption and almost one in five (19%) don’t know who to trust to tackle it. The media is more trusted than government – with one in six trusting the media (16%) and only one in eight (12%) trusting government leaders.

Now, observing political pursuits during election times on the African continent (and indeed by other international observers!), one cannot fail but notice one word which often comes up by all vying for political office. Of interest – Uganda’s indecies for corruption are placed high at 2.5 by the Transparency International…That word is the need to fight “corruption”; a call of injustice by those opposed to the sitting-regimes, promising change that would bring about an end to corruption: whilst the regime in power also promises to redress corruption and indeed appearing to do so. At times it would appear to be offering up some scapegoats as damage limitation to be written off as collateral damage for the survival of the party’s political ambitions. It can get to be quite interesting to observe if it were not for the sad reality of failure by all to grasp what corruption actually is and how it manifests.

When persons talk about corruption in African politics, often they apply it to government officials, leaders, presidents or those in powerful political status and follow this up in explaining why those less well-off or down the ladder of political status or finance are to excused from “minor “ social deviances in society at large. Hence the abuse in other areas of society at large is not graded or seen as corruption.

Corruption to me comes in all walks of social interactions of society. Starting from the family social norms – the person seen to have financial clout, could determine how to exercise his/her authority in manipulating those around them in order for them remain the “top-dog”. This is often seen when a wealthy member of a family, instead of delegating powers or funds that can remove the dependency mode displayed by all that come to him/her for assistance opts to control the cash pot and instead operates a begging bowl policy. This ensures that all that require to get somewhere in life, have to go through him/her. There are always exceptions to the rule of course in that some persons naturally do not wish to take responsibility for their lives and willingly stay dependent on this system – blissfully happy too. The problem arises when within the family some clever Tom questions the status-quo and wishes to rise above his/her standing of the “dependency mode”. The ensuing outcome could result in acts by the wealthy family member to mobilise support by any means necessary within other members of the family to ensure that his/her authority remains unquestionable and intact. There are not many families within African who will not have had experiences of exploitation, blackmail, witchcraft, deceit, murder even etc…being done to them by close family members simply because they in one way or other felt their authority threatened. Yet how many persons have stopped to ask themselves how the abuse of trust by family members does not equate to corruption? When for instance you get orphaned children’s assets grabbed and sold off by various well-meaning uncles/aunts or even close family friends and the orphans end without anything from their deceased parents? Or when you get family lawyers who are supposed to protect the welfare of these very children opting instead to alter or destroy legal documents to hide the truth of Wills? Or widowed wives who will sell off assets that should be for the off springs to then later claim falsehoods? Or elders within family who side-step transparency of their accountability to their responsibilities and instead opt to wallow in alcohol-induced self pity? Is this not corruption which is at a level that touches each and every person, done by close entrusted persons?

To those that often are quick to point the finger at government as being corrupt I often ask this question? Who is government? Is it not your uncle/brother/sister/dad/mum/aunt/friend who when elected in to a ministerial position you will rejoice in the hope that “now you are made”! For after all, if your relative/friend is in government, you are sure to get a share of the bootie. You can have your kids go live with him to commute to school/hospital for instance and if you don’t have funds for their schooling/medical care, well that’s also sorted. You are certain to get some assistance in one form or other which of course will not be on the ministerial salary but on the allocated budget of what that post is supposed to achieve. But hey – do you stop to ask how this will impact on the intended project that ministerial money should go to? NO – you don’t really care, you just want money for your aim and your ministerial relative can provide a way out.

Or remember that time you needed to get through customs quickly with a shipment you had coming from abroad but didn’t have enough money to clear it through the proper channels? Well that too got sorted. You know someone in customs who was could clear it for you, no questions asked and what the hell if the revenue looses out on tax…you got your goods and made the profit you wanted to finish off that mansion you are building. Life is sweet. As for my son/daughter who is not faring so well at school/university, must make sure I leave an “extra” sweetener for the head teacher/guild president to rectify that. We need a doctor in the family…

Now for these elections coming, best you ensure your front man is on top so as not to disturb your business interests. So what if the roads are poor, just make sure that next shipment brings you the latest 4×4 that can get you to that meeting up north with some foreign donors who wish to start on a project for displaced individuals that cannot make up their minds whether to stay or go out…A note to make an appointment with that clinic abroad again for my medical check-up too.
Oh and yes must remember to mention that we are fighting corruption and find some fall guy to take the hit…

Corruption is innate in all of us – it’s the degree in which it is allowed to take root that determines its long-term effect on a society. We all are guilty of corruption if not directly, but indirectly and should stop and examine our motives and actions before accusing governments/leaders/politicians/presidents of corruption.