Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 3rd, 2011

Culture of Contempt: Misplaced comprehension of Personal Failure

A week ago, I sent a link ten speakers at TEDxBeirut, asking for their feedback.  I received a single reply.  Two of the speakers’ email, as noted in the biography booklet, were not functional. I reminded TEDx electronic address on these facts, and I have yet to receive an answer.

Was I expecting such result?  The first realization was that most of the speakers’ enterprises were Lebanon-based, and consequently, behaved within the realm of culture of contempt prevalent in our societies.

For example, when I taught at the Lebanese American University, I sent administrators, Chairpersons of departments, and “professors” many emails.  Fact is: I didn’t receive a single reply over 4 years. Never received “Thank you for letter”, “read your mail”…Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I got into thinking: “Is this lack of civility a consequence of our society culture of contempt? Or this contempt is a tradition acquired from the “classes of authority” that indulged in humiliating communities, or is it basically an “elite club” ethics of ignoring non-members…?

Speaker at TEDxBeirut, Ali Jaber, answered my request and replied: “I very much enjoyed your critical piece. Such critical thinking is required in our Arab World, so we can move ahead. Two thoughts I would like to share with you.

1.  The most oppressive of limitations for the Lebanese expatriates is to realize (achieve) what they aspire to (becoming) abroad, and not in their own country.
2.  Collaboration, listening and turning to others for support, — whether they know you or not — is very important in the creative and liberal process. Creating a collaborative environment around the activities that you endeavor in the land of big egos, increased individualism and egotistical attitudes, is the road less traveled.”

(I have discussed at length the second thought in many articles.  For example, mankind intelligence evolved because they managed to realize the great advantages in trading goods, expertise, and culture…)

People in the Arab World expect to be ultimately recognized by the restricted clan, in the general modern meaning of restricted community, as a member who can be of real support.  If by the age of 40, an individual fails to be perceived as a “useful” member of the clan; for example, the members stop paying him regular visits and asking for his input and opinions, then he thinks that he is a failure.

This misplaced comprehension of personal failure blocks any further attempts to continuing education, to trying harder, to looking at failure from a different perspective…He has reached the psychological dead-end for trying to changing and transforming his life and his “destiny”.

This urge to be recognized as an “Important” person, who can be relied upon to come to the rescue (of the clan members), is the direct link to our view of the meaning of personal failure:”Officials”, public servants, or private employee who are unable to dissociate the “good positions” with personal failure when they are fired or transferred to a job that is viewed by the community as a downgrade in importance.  The job has been personalized: I am the position and I refuse to go but higher in responsibilities and recognition, as a very important person in the community…

For example, when I taught at the Lebanese American University, I sent administrators, Chairpersons of departments, and “professors” many emails.  Fact is: I didn’t receive a single reply over 4 years. Never received “Thank you for letter”, “read your mail”…Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I got into thinking: “Is this lack of civility a consequence of our society culture of contempt? Or this contempt is a tradition acquired from the “classes of authority” that indulged in humiliating communities, or is it basically an “elite club” ethics of ignoring non-members…?

At this university, it was a Russian Poutine/Medvedev style of chair swapping among the tenure-track “professors.  My course of Human Factors in engineering was very popular. One semester 60 students registered; it is not a math class, and there are plenty of reading, writing, reflecting on many issues…I asked for the class to be divided into two sections. My request was declined.  In reaction, almost all engineering departments decided to drop the course as optional.

No wonder that our universities are chaperoned by foreign powers:  How to disperse this climate of stagnation, which is poisoning attempts for healthy development and improvement in academic affairs. Part-timers were disposed of so that tenure-track teachers fill in course, which they were never expose to and not proficient in.

The irony is that US appointed Presidents of Lebanese universities can remain in their posts as long as they are serving according to dicta, and repressing opposition opinions and free speech zeal among the students.  And you can understand why our region enjoys natural dictatorial regimes.

For example, was it the custom of the club of full-teachers or tenure-track “professors” of ignoring part-time teachers and professors?  Why is it that, in general, foreign professors answer your request and reply to your email, even if they are originally from your home country, and your countrymen refrain from basic civilities at home?  The irony is: As a foreign teacher stays in Lebanon for a couple of years, the culture of contempt sets in, and he stops replying to mails…

This is normal behavior.  The difference in social behavior among developed and non-developed communities is the availability of sustainable institutions, which can be transformed and be changed, by taking seriously the input of the communities…a culture of respecting individual opinions and intelligence, regardless of position, clan, genders, or religious affiliation…

Note 1: My four-year stint of part-time teaching courses related to Human Factors in engineering was challenging.  It was an opportunity to publishing over 50 articles in my field, and also describing my various teaching methods to adapt to university student tendencies in Lebanon. You may go to my two categories “Human Factors” and “Educational methods”.

Note 2: A speaker at TEDxBeirut, Michael Kouly, was specifically on the perception of personal failure as jobs are transformed. He said: “Never take as personal failure changes in positions or job transfer…Current responsibilities are basically temporary roles and they are volatile.  We are NOT our role.  Conflict is the norm and we need the heat to cook a conflict into resolution. Thus, your main job is to staying on stage and confront conflicts.  Learn to identify and understand authority, the psychology and system of authority: How to dance with elephants, learn the many manifestation of dynamics in role-playing. The default value of 5 in the middle of the scale of ten is: Respect yourself and respect authority.  Going overboard on the two kinds of respect defines your status in the hierarchy.

Be flexible and negotiate with authority. Nelson Mandela was scared shit of the warden on his first day in prison but he took a chance on saying “I am a lawyer, don’t forget it…” Nelson went on “I wished the warden was not looking at my shaking knees…”

Note 3: I received today a short “thank you” reply from Yorgui, but no feedback.

Session 3 of TEDxBeirut: Any follow-up session to wrap it up?

Note: You may read detailed info on 8 speakers on this post

You would assume that the third session, after lunch and no siesta, is usually doomed to be more on the dosing side, regardless of how inspirational a speaker is.  Sort of the speaker must learn clowning to attracting attention first… The auditorium was still packed and buzzing.

Najat Rizk spoke at 2:50.  (Read link for further details) The story is how Najat turned from “Bent el Ashrafyye” (Christian East Beirut) to an open-minded person and investigated the Moslem Shia of Dahieh, headquarter of Hezbollah. She entered the lion’s den and had the guts to visit all regions and cultures by breaking through stereotypes and delving into the other side fo the fence.

Halim Madi took the stage at 3 pm. Halim examines the internet to feel what are the needs and wants of the world community and discover trends.  We are into web 3.0 where you start searching internet for medical information before you visit a physician.  We have more confidence in the internet “intelligence pieces” and what it disseminate in knowledge than textbook materials…Halim explained the process of how the Flying Spaghetti Monster God got so popular.  A single  person has now the power to trigger changes.

Hala Fadel spoke at 3:13.  (Read link for further details).  In order to have a successful enterprise, she commended: “Work like a slave, lead like a king, and create like a god”.

Andrew Bossone appeared at 3:30.  He said that a wolf trust his companion in the group, and thus, he has no fear, and can howl to the moon as long and as hard he wishes.  He participated with the Egyptian mass upheaval on Jan. 23 in Tahrir Square.  Andrew gave the butterfly example for drastic transformation: At its second stage before turning to a butterfly, it just dangle from a branch and is an easy prey to all kinds of danger.

Andrew likes to predispose friends to noticing changes in their life.  For example, he tells a person: “Expect to see a butterfly soon”.  Obviously, butterflies are everywhere, but we fail to see them, unless we are forwarned to expect their existence soon in our life… 

Hassan Aziz spoke at 3:43.  Let us not take shadows for granted: We used to be fascinated by shadows in our early years.  I failed to note down this speech: I was outside for an urgent need.

Arne Dietrich expounded on the theory that what people claim as “higher level consciousness” is in fact a far reduced level of consciousness.  In a transcendental phase, the brain fails to compute properly and differentiate your body from the environment.  This state of merging with the surrounding and becoming ONE with the universe is a state of brain failure. The world is happening in your own mind, an onion of different layers of consciousness..

Ziad AbiChaker spoke at 4:08.  (Read link for details). He shared his enthusiastic hate-love story with waste and garbage. That guy is the recycling monster in Lebanon, and I’m not quite done with him. Stay tuned for updates from his side as well..

The event practically was wrapped up at 4:23.  Tania Saleh was slotted to sing, but she could not deliver at last-minute invitation.

William Choukeir and Patricia Zoghaib took the stage and introduced the volunteers, and the speakers joined to a round of applause.  Huge thanks and appreciation to TEDxBeirut team from a grateful audience to this monster organization that required 9 months in preparation.

I met with speaker Ziad AbiChaker and I learned that the Hariri clan, monopolizing the waste disposal contracts in the last 20 years, has tried to buy him out for $5 million. I also learned that, in order to getting rid of small insects and flies in the composted waste, all you have to do is using the water of diluted Mexican hot pepper…

We were supposed to have cocktail drinks to celebrate the big event: It never happened!

All TED talks will be posted online!

Note 1: In the first session, TEDx displayed the speech of Kankwamba in one of TED events.  This African young guy from a remote and poor village put together a functional windmill from whatever material he could gather around the village.  This installation generated enough electricity to transfer water, and for the neighbors to recharge their cellular phone…I guess words of cell calls led Kankwamba to being selected a TED speaker.  Sort of TED company needed to diversify the range of limitations and exotism…? Most probably, TEDxBeirut realized that the slogan “From Limitation…” was to be desired and speakers’ limitations were lacking in the selection process. Consequently, TEDxBeirut was implicitly extending apology? 

Note 2: Miscellaneous posted on Sept. 25, underTEDxBeirut was yesterday and it was amazing

(With slight editing to abridge the post) “In the days leading to the event, I had wondered if the event would be worth an entire day. I walked into the theater thinking that I was one of the first to walk in after all the ushers were saying that people should start going in. Boy was I wrong!  The theater was packed up and I barely found a place in the first session (in later sessions I opted for a seat on the stairs for it felt more natural). 685 people were sitting there waiting for the event.

The stage looked amazing: Simply decoration of various luminescent boxes (in the form of file boxes?) in an elegant testimonial to what was about to begin. Our host Sara was well rehearsed and so were all of our speakers.  The talks alone were not the cause for success. The success came from the well-timed breaks, allowing people to mingle and to bring forth discussions, to linger in conversation, as speaker Mahomoud Natout had so hoped.

And to my surprise and happiness those discussions during the breaks were not about people selling their products or their companies, it was about knowing other individuals in such a short span.  But the greatest testimonial for the event’s spirit and success came from the audience.

During the sessions, you would be hard pressed to hear side conversations taking place. People were listening, and dare I say reflecting. More importantly, after lunch, I came back to a theater that was still packed. You might not grasp the significance of this immediately, but in Lebanon (or elsewhere) I have yet to see a little less than 700 people stay the whole day for conference.

Yes, yesterday’s TEDxBeirut event was well worth the day and much more. It was worth it thanks to the hard work invested by the TEDxBeirut team who volunteered to make such a great event, and to the speakers who volunteered their stories. To both of you a great thank you for the wonderful even you did. As for me, I think speaker ‘Arne Dietrich’ put it best when he said that “It was the most fun he had in a single day in Beirut”. Do visite TEDxBeirut“.

Sketches of a few speakers at TEDxBeirut by David Habchy

Note:  I have published 4 posts on TEDxBeirut. You may start with session One.

The English version of the Lebanese “Daily Star” commented on TEDxBeirut conference held on Sept.24 at Berytech institute (Mkales): “It’s a surprising and impressive feat to get 19 speakers, four performers, a 27-member organization team, numerous volunteers (about 55 in all) and over 600 attendees into a lecture hall at 9 a.m. on a rainy Saturday morning, but TEDx Beirut achieved it.”

Daniel Habib & Tony Oudaim

Yorgui Teyrouz

Farid Younes

TEDx Staff

Michael Kouly

Katia Saleh

Ali M. Jaber

Mahmoud Natout

Farid Younes

Reine Abbas

Najat Rizk

Mazen Hajjar

Ziad Abichaker

Ziad Abichaker

Hassan Aziz

Arne Dietrich

Bassam Jalgha

Gilbert Doumit

Hala Fadel

Halim Madi

Joanna Choukeir

Andrew Bossone




October 2011

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