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The Identity Circle Newsletter                                                                Issue Three  |  April 2009
Dispatch from Tanzania:
The World Is Not As It Seems 
 
Just back from 2 weeks in Tanzania. No cell phone, no computer, no email, no TV or radio. I left it all behind, including the ever-present economic crisis. I took a moratorium on life as we know it. I watched. I listened. I slowed down. And I learned. In short, this wasn't a vacation; it was a pilgrimage. Join me on my trek.
 
No surprise, the wildlife and landscapes of Africa are startlingly beautiful. (I have the pictures to prove it.) No surprise, too, so are the people, whose villages we visited, customs we observed and who often traveled with us on our journey. These people include the Hadza tribe, among the oldest, remaining hunter-gatherer societies in the world.
 
What was surprising to me was what I discovered about us and how what we don't know, or have simply forgotten, affects the choices we make, every day.  What I found out about us while in Africa can be boiled down to a few, striking illuminations. I invite you to consider which, if any of these illuminations, makes sense to you.
 
Illumination #1 - We live in a bubble that leads us to operate from the outside in, which in turn isolates us from ourselves. We believe that more is more: more stuff is good, more power is good, more money is good.  What came into sharp relief for me in Africa is that we human beings are not our stuff. The more we rely on what we accumulate to define who we are, the less able we are to develop meaningful relationships with other human beings, whether in the workplace, at home, or in our social circles. People, it seems, still prefer to relate to other people, rather than to the things they own.
 
Illumination #2 - We don't really live in communities, at least not in the strictest sense of the word. The Hadza do. So do the Maasai and other indigenous tribes. We have lost touch with the core meaning of community, which revolves around needing one another in order to survive. That's part of the problem: We don't actually need each other to survive. We are financially independent, whether through income or assets or both.
 
We're also all so busy with our work, our families and our extracurricular activities that we don't have (or make?) time for "community." Yet I watched as groups of Maasai men and women spent many hours content to simply be with and talk with one another. I'm not advocating being materially poor, or idle, as a way to build community. But I was moved by how genuinely communal these tribes are, in ways that seem to strengthen relationships and forge powerful bonds.
 
Illumination #3 - Aging is not a plight visited upon the old. It was remarkable and reassuring to watch the reverence with which older members of tribes - the elders - are treated. Interestingly, you don't need to be old to be an elder in these tribes. But you must be wise, insofar as having something to offer - teach, guide, help - that improves the lives of people, or the community in general.
 
Witness Gude (Goo-deh). Somewhere between 90-100 years old, Gude is the oldest, living member of the Hadza tribe. Over 2 days, he was with us in camp and responded to our questions. Expecting a profound answer, I asked Gude one evening what brings him happiness? After 10 minutes of back and forth translation, he acknowledged that he was at the end of his life and what brings him happiness is simply knowing that, at his funeral, he will be surrounded by many people, including his children, grandchildren and friends. That's it. Gude's visage is seared into my memory, an indelible reminder of human power and grace.
 
Illumination #4 - What we call progress has caused us to forget important things, like where we all come from, skin color notwithstanding. The measure of our humanness doesn't begin and end with the industrial and information ages we know so well. It reaches all the way back to the hunter-gatherers we were, followed by the pastoralists who cultivated the land and spawned our agrarian society. We have been, and remain, a product of all of these "ages." As we progress, we will benefit from keeping this entire picture in mind, not just what's in the foreground. Doing so keeps us honest and whole.
 
So what?
So, what will I do as a result of what I experienced in Tanzania? There are 6 themes that are already penetrating my life:
 
Tolerance - I will bring a conscious compassion to existing and new relationships
Humility - I will assume less and observe more
Eldering - I will approach aging - others' and my own - as a passage to wisdom and influence
Curiosity - I will ask 'why' even more than I do now
Simplicity - I will seek less in order to gain more
Gratitude - I will never lose sight of what I have
 
There is one more thing I will do, which Gude taught me. I will make a practice of being still when everyone else around me is chattering, bustling and rat-racing. Why? So I can think more clearly, choose more wisely, and act more confidently. That's power, especially, when it is exercised in the name of leadership.
 
Now what?
 
Do I want to live in a grass hut as the Hadza do? No. Am I still a capitalist at heart? Yes. That said; I am changed. My vistas are larger and my perspective is broader. I feel more complete as a human being now than I did when I lifted off the tarmac at the airport in New York. My sense of identity is more rounded and grounded.  I'm not exactly sure how all of this will play out in my consulting, coaching and teaching work - I only know that it will.
Read More feature of Identity Insights   

Discover How To ... 
... Build an identity-based life
 
The theme of our African journey was back to the rhythm. In that spirit, here is a short article that outlines how you can start to discover and apply your identity to your life in ways that will establish a distinct, personal "rhythm" in everything you do.
 

"Your identity is your gift to the world."

Larry Ackerman 2

Larry Ackerman
Founder and President
The Identity Circle 
 
 

"The more we rely on what we accumulate to define who we are, the less able we are to build meaningful relationships with others."  

 
The Identity Circle
 
is a reseach, education and consulting firm that helps organizations and individuals clarify and apply their uniqueness and potential in ways that improve corporate and personal performance.
 
 
Gude, the Elder
 
Gude, The Elder
 
 
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