“Liar, liar, your pants are on fire” – so goes the childhood chant and, if the words are true, there must be a few bankers, pharmacists, journalists and politicians with hot posteriors at the moment. Deception does seem to be a predominant theme in many of the current big stories in the media. I am not going to wade into the rights and wrongs of bankers’ behaviour, nor the honesty and integrity displayed by News International journalists, nor even the conduct of persuasive representatives of GlaxoSmithKline. Given that the majority of public eyes seem to be focussed on the woes of Spain and the Euro Zone, I must confess that I was tempted to write about the current issues in the Middle East, especially between Syria and Turkey – all is not necessarily as it seems. The internet is rife with articles speculating as to why a Turkish plane was in Syrian airspace and the possible agendas of various countries with interests in the region. (http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article31766.htm is particularly interesting, as it is one of the first to be published by a leading Turkish academic and raises some provocative hypotheses as to what various countries are hoping to achieve through conflict and regime change in the Middle East – the sentences “Other agendas are easy to see. Saudi Arabia wanted the US to attack Iran during the George W. Bush presidency and ‘cut the head off the snake’” set me thinking – in modern times, why is the snake so often the bad guy?)
Snakes have played an important role in myths and legends from the ancient stories of Hercules strangling serpents whilst still in his cradle to Harry Potter – I suspect that the inspiration for Harry’s ability to speak and understand reptilian language originates from Bulgarian folklore. There is a story that when a young shepherd saved the daughter of the Snake King (a creature “as big as a century old pine with wings and an enormous head”) the king gave the youth a magical ring, that the serpentine monarch had stored under his tongue, which could fulfil desires and enable humans to understand the language of the animals.
In Bulgaria snakes were viewed as dangerous and unnatural creatures that lived in a huge cave “in the lower world”. According to tradition, they would crawl out of their holes on the Day of Annunciation (March 25) and hide again on the Day of the Transfiguration and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in August. Spring cleaning is a tradition in many parts of the world, but in Bulgaria there is an extra twist – the refuse produced during the ritual cleaning is piled up and set on fire. All the family are encouraged to jump over the flames – for health and as a protection against snake bites. It was believed that snakes would try to bite a victim in the heel and hence, by jumping over the smouldering garbage, an individual could smoke their heels, thereby making them harder to bite. Snakes weren’t always viewed as bringers of harm – if a snake was killed on the day of The Annunciation and its head successfully used as a buried fertilizer for basil or garlic, it was believed that the gardener would gain almost miraculous powers of healing using these herbs. In addition, each home had its own Guardian Snake which the household actually cared for in return for its protection.
Clearly, snakes are not always viewed as evil – many early legends grant them the power of forming life and even making the earth itself – this idea perhaps originating from the snake’s ability to appear to be reborn after sloughing off its old skin. Tribes in both Africa and Australia have creation myths about a Rainbow Snake that was mother to the creatures on Earth or the provider of water. In Chinese mythology the woman-headed snake, Nüwa, made the first humans out of clay. Her initial creations, constructed with care, became the high-class populace from whom the royal line, scholars and aristocracy were descended, as she began to tire; she conserved her energy by simply flicking clay with her tail to form lower-class people. Ancient Egyptians believed that, before the world as we know it was created, there was a many-coiled serpent named Amduat from whom arose Ra the Sun God to form the world. Like many ancient people, the Egyptians revered snakes for their healing properties; there are hymns recorded from workmen in Thebes in honour of Mertseger, the snake goddess, thanking her for curing illnesses. Similarly in Sumerian culture the healing god Ninazu’s son is depicted with a serpent and staff (the image of a snake entwined around a pole, known as the Rod of Asclepius, is still used today as the symbol for a large number of medical organisations including the British Medical Association, the Pakistan Medical Corps and the American Medical Association. A similar staff is also described in The Bible in The Book of Numbers, chapter 21, verses 6-9, when Moses is instructed to create a rod with a fiery serpent wrapped round it to use to cure the Israelites dying from snake bites). The Rod of Asclepius, the representation of the ancient Greek God of Healing’s staff, is not to be confused with The Caduceus, the rod carried by Hermes, the messenger of the gods. Hermes’ baton is represented as having two snakes twined round it and is surmounted with a pair of wings. Hermes was responsible for commerce and travel, famous for his silver-tongued eloquence and powers of negotiation...perhaps a symbol more appropriate for a purveyor of snake oil than a medical practitioner.
Sadly lies and deception are a recurring aspect of the human condition – from Eve succumbing to the sweet-talked words of the subtle serpent, encouraging her to give Adam the apple in the Garden of Eden, to us in our daily domestic lives. How many of us haven’t occasionally grunted to indicate that we heard what someone said, when our minds are in fact on other things? I did it on Sunday afternoon when asked a question during the Andy Murray vs. Roger Federer final at Wimbledon. We tell lies to “make life easier”, but easier for who? Genuine relationships need to be based on trust and it is hard to trust someone who continually lies to you. Shakespeare’s words in Macbeth about people not being what they seem springs to mind:
“Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under't”
The world seems to be full of people making false or misleading claims. Often those whom we trust most are exposed as being “snakes in the grass” – hence the public outrage at the recent scandals we have witnessed concerning the media, the police, and our politicians. Things are often little better within the corporate environment. The traditional “command and control” approach has relied on a “need to know” mentality, where only a select few are privy to certain information. This often works upwards as well as downwards – Bob Diamond, as CEO at Barclays, was in a position where he could expect to be privy to all data pertaining to the Bank’s performance, but it is probable that individuals lower in the trading hierarchy felt that there was no need for him to be bothered with the intricate details of their teams’ day-to-day transactions. Part of the frustration that the self-named 99% have with Big Business is that they are not party to information and feel dominated by the controlling but secretive corporates.
The world is often easier in the longer term if people cooperate and share information before problems occur. I spotted a possible problem yesterday when thinking about snakes for this post. There is a sinuous and attractive lake, named the Serpentine, located in one of Central London’s major parks. Following its being granted a clean bill of health – well almost, it’s waters were deemed “good and sufficient” as opposed to “excellent” by the European Environment Agency - The Serpentine was announced as the venue for the London Olympic Triathlon swimming, with a slight proviso that this rating could be adversely impacted by severe weather and heavy rain in the lead up to events (The Serpentine is fed by water from the Thames, the main river that runs through London) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/may/23/london-olympics-watercourses-bill-health.
I am sure that most people in the UK are aware of the current weather, as will be those of you who have been following the tennis; it has been foul with many areas suffering severe flooding. I checked the ten day forecast and it does not bode well for The Serpentine, and hence perhaps for the Triathlon...
10 Day Details
From West South West at 16 kmph
From West South West at 16 kmph
From West at 23 kmph
From Southwest at 24 kmph
From West South West at 18 kmph
From West at 18 kmph
From West South West at 18 kmph
From West South West at 21 kmph
From West South West at 18 kmph
From Southwest at 19 kmph
I hope that my sharing of this information is not viewed in a negative light. On the subject of light, I was fortunate to be invited to a wonderful party in The Gherkin last Thursday – it was full of people from global businesses and it was a pleasure to be able to chat with some of them and to gain their news and views. It is amazing what people will tell you if you ask them nicely. Thursday was also the night of the official opening of The Shard (a massive Arab investment towering above the British capital. At 310 meters, The Shard is Western Europe’s tallest sky scraper). The event was celebrated with dramatic music and laser light shows. As I made my way home over London Bridge, I could not but smile at the placard carried by James Bridle. In many ways it says so much...
Secrecy and the withholding of potentially powerful information is a common theme in both fiction and the real world. It is regrettable that in many businesses there are still interdepartmental rivalries, where specific data is deliberately withheld from others elsewhere in the organisation. I worked once in a business where individuals in one part of the firm were banned by their head of department from even setting foot on the floor where a “rival” team were based – this resulted in a significant loss of business and opportunities, to the detriment of all. HR and Finance are often cited as examples of divisions that should not get along, as, supposedly, one is focused on verifying current performance against forecasted figures and hence is backwards looking and numbers driven, whereas the other is focused on the future, devising what can be done to enhance performance, using tools such as Learning and Development, which are not exact sciences (the tangible prediction of anticipated returns on training and L&D investments are hard to quantify). With such different outlooks, it is easy to see why misunderstandings and even suspicion can arise. In my own employer I work hard to ensure that there is cross-divisional comprehension and support. At my team's recent offsite in London, I deliberately included representatives from various departments and areas across the Group, thereby encouraging better understanding and cooperation. We had a wonderful day, with help from http://www.changecontinuum.com/, http://stirringthesource.com/ and http://trainerskitbag.com/. Photographic evidence below:
It is impossible in the modern world to be all-seeing; we need to work together to enable mutual success.