In working with a few of our cooperative partners in the workshop sessions last month (see some of our recent blog entries here), participants were working toward the objective of forming alliances with one another. By bringing together the various players in the coffee commercialization chain from the San Juan del Rio Coco area, workshop facilitators Rene Mendoza and Edgar Fernandez orchestrated a dawning realization among participants that their mutual collaborations could strengthen each organization, both individually and collectively. Such strength-through-solidarity may seem obvious to some, but for rural Nicaraguans it’s not a model that automatically takes hold. Hence, the workshops to develop such thinking.
The discussion around formation of alliances got me to wondering about similar connections in my own experiences. I recall alliances between our company and others, among the various chapters of a national association which I served, organizations within our home community and even political alliances around important national issues. I even recall an uneasy alliance with a fellow manager with whom I did not share a “friendly” relationship, but who sought my support on a questionable initiative.
The importance of consolidating strengths is hard to overstate, yet maybe even harder to teach. In a world where “me first” seems to have become the norm, the value of a strong alliance can be missed by people who are laser-focused on what they might have to give up instead of what they might stand to gain through forging an alliance. Rene and Edgar did a good job in setting the table for that understanding through examples, parables, and entertaining an idea that emerged in the discussion. That notion suggested that before alliances can be effectively formed outside an organization, they must be firmly established inside the organization. The workshop attendees seemed to grasp this importance pretty quickly and the conversation moved on to other elements. As usual for me, I found myself falling behind the discussion: I wanted to continue wrestling with this question of how effective alliances are born.
If effective outside alliances are predicated on the presence of strong inside alliances, then perhaps those inside alliances stem from some earlier base, as well. And that base just might be the alliance that exists within ourselves, an alignment among our personal values, our courage to remain true to those values, and the actions we take as a result of that alignment. That’s the alliance which lies at the core of every relationship we build, and which ultimately determines whether we can ever be successful in constructing alliances with others anywhere. It’s an alliance that is more difficult to discern and to honor than any of the other alliances which may grow out of it.
The notion of personal values likely resonates with everyone, yet our abilities to articulate those values, to fully describe what they are like and how they came to be, is often beyond our reach. Most of us simply haven’t taken the time from our busy lives to stop long enough to fully identify that which drives us from the deepest levels of our being.
The courage to act on those values is often muted by the fact that we really haven’t fully identified them; it’s hard to stand up for something when you’re not fully aware of what it is. Most of us are brave to act when we know clearly that which we would defend. Self? Of course. Family? No doubt. Values? Well, what are they….?
Finally, actions are a reflection of what’s on our minds at any given moment. And if we aren’t continuously conscious of our values, of our willingness to stand up for them, then our actions are likely to be as scattered and disconnected as random thoughts. It’s how fundamentally good people sometimes perpetrate horrible acts, and then end up wondering why.
Alliances among disparate entities can be almost soothingly integrative; they rekindle a deep-seated hope that somehow, at some level, we can come together for everyone’s advantage, that the world can indeed “work.” But for that to emerge, for the courage to fight for that hope, we have to start by aligning ourselves with what is fundamental, true and essential to our own cosmic truths. It’s excruciating work when it’s done seriously. But when those ideas are united within us individually, only then do we stand a chance at successfully collaborating with others….