Monday, November 2, 2009

Civility and Humanity

I've just finished Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. If you are unfamiliar with the book, Griffin modified his skin color to walk as a Negro in the deep south in 1959. He journalled his experience, and his deeply moving account is described in this book. What struck me is the dehumanizing effect of withholding simple civilities like a smile, a hand-shake, eating together, cautions (watch your step), and looking a man in the eye.

Withholding economic opportunities also, no matter how politely rebuffed, oppresses ambition. I once witnessed a native couple walking hand in hand, initially hopeful, making their way down a row of apartment buildings displaying vacant signs. When I exited my building a couple hours later, they were walking dejectedly, less hopeful than the start. How many times must a person face rejection - or worse, the "hate face" as described in Griffin's book - before he gives up and believes the lie? I am reminded again of Gladwell's comments on meaningful work. Griffin also describes in detail how the persecutor demeans himself by stooping to cruel behavior. To deny another his humanity is to diminish your own.

An afterword in the book describes the violent upheaval a scant decade afterwards, in the race riots of the late sixties. Mr. Griffin describes the pattern of oppression and explosion, as whites heeded rumor rather than the blacks in their on community and in the white community's reaction to a phantom threat, sparked the black communities in their midst. In the subtext is a suggestion that a lot of this could have been avoided with simple communication. In helping the black man, ask him. Provide an atmosphere where he will be honored and heard.

I can't help thinking in the general neglect, the failure to offer simple courtesy, and the polite refusal to allow a sub-group access to good housing and good jobs, that we as Canadians continue to do a disservice to our native communities. I overheard Shawn Atleo, head of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) that it is the First Nations responsibility for instance, to develop a response to the H1N1 virus. I think he is talking about upending the paternalistic response to "the problem" (As Griffin speaks of in his book), and allowing this community to speak for itself and take care of itself.


On another note, I stumbled across this article while investigating online acquisition of queue. Guess what? Other people took it before me. At, a Canadian IT company, they speak about Customer Relation Management (CRM). Like most things, it's not the tool that makes the company, but the application. Guess what? Just like community interactions, a company will also be much more successful if it listens to it's customers, and is willing to make changes to their process in order to make it better.

The technical issues with CRM are not unlike those of any software development project. First, objectives and specifications must be well defined and documented. Tools and technology must be selected based on relevant criteria (features, cost, etc…). Implementation milestones are then set according to business timelines and availability of resources. A significant testing phase is recommended to ensure functionality, so problems can be corrected on schedule. Final delivery of the application should also be accompanied by a maintenance plan for regular housekeeping issues (backups, synchronization with remote locations, database maintenance, etc…). E-CRM is not EASY by Alex Lee, 2002