Conducting the orchestra

I’m missing the Proms already. Yes, I know you’ve missed me, but at least listening to the proms, as I read a fantastic book about working with organisations balancing many cultures, I learned a great deal about working together and conflict resolution in tense times. The orchestra that really got me interested, as much for its philosophy as for its music, was the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under its co-founder Daniel Barenboim. When he and Edward Said established the orchestra, bringing together young people from differing parts of the Arab-Israeli conflict, they were clear they wanted to acknowledge difference, to help young people nurture their exceptional talents within a context of understanding and exposure to the strengths and experiences of others. They were not trying to create uniformity, to bury difference but to grow understanding and empathy so that the musicians could see the world from someone else’s perspective.

As Barenboim has said, “The Divan is not a love story, and it is not a peace story. It has very flatteringly been described as a project for peace. It isn’t. It’s not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well. The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance. A project against the fact that it is absolutely essential for people to get to know the other, to understand what the other thinks and feels, without necessarily agreeing with it.”

The book I was reading, CI Cultural Intelligence - the art of leading cultural complexity by Elisabeth Plum, a Danish thinker on organisational leadership, caught my imagination too. She wrote it, in part, to answer the question “How to minimize interpersonal anxiety and the need for defensiveness, while maximizing creative tensions and [make] room for divergent perspectives.”

Bringing together health and social care sometimes seems to me a careful exercise in creating common understanding, in building knowledge and understanding without burying difference or creating defensiveness. Once the third sector is added into the mix the potential for misunderstanding and anxiety grows. Over the next weeks I hope to say a bit more about some of the creative tensions I’ve been thinking about and I won’t necessarily expect to you to agree with me. But like Barenboim, I believe, “It is not necessarily a question of accepting the narrative of the other, let alone agreeing with it, but rather the indispensable need to accept its legitimacy.”