Monday, July 21, 2003

Real People or cardboard cut-outs? 

A friend of mine runs a company that delivers leadership and teamwork training, using the outdoors as a delivery medium. We do this in a fairly low-key, non-threatening way in order to provide both a reasonably challenging context and a leveller. I put it that way just so you don't imagine its a hard-hitting break-'em-then-make-'em approach. We're much more supportive and encouraging than that!

Anyway, I help him run courses occasionally, and last week we did a one-day intensive course for trainee doctors. I love running these courses. In part that's simply because its much more fun being outdoors than it is stuck behind a desk in an office, but mostly its because in the space of a day you can make a deeper contact at a person-to-person level than you do in a year with so many people at work.

Maybe its just the company I work for, but so much of the time people seem to forget that they are real people and just act out the role that fits the post they occupy. At work they become just cardboard cut-outs with no depth or substance. They've stopped being a person and are simply a postholder. And unconsciously adopting a "when in Rome..." approach, I find myself doing the same. Which gives rise to internal conflict - being aware, albeit dimly, that I'm being something other than that which I want to be.

Yet one of the strange things about life on the web, as has been pointed out before, is that it seems much easier here to make this kind of deep contact and bypass the superficial. Whilst face-to-face communication is beset by a history of social and cultural baggage, web based communication has no such long history and seems to be developing in a direction of greater directness, frankness and honesty (in blogs at any rate). Of course there are risks, and I really hope that the negative consequences that could arise if this openess is abused doesn't strangle so soon after birth this newly developing willingness to be congruent, to be real.

Our use of the web has the power to change the way we relate to each other, if we're prepared to make it so.

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