A Bridge Too Far: By Michael

(Sixth in the series from Michael of Melborne-AUZ)

If you are fortunate enough to travel to a country very different from your own, and if you are able to take in some of that culture’s differences, you will wonder why the people accept things that seem very odd, even very wrong to you.

For example, when we crossed from Livingstone which is in Zambia to Bottswana, we crossed the Chobe river. There is no bridge. There are two only ferries each with the capacity to take one semi trailer. On each side of the river, lining both sides of the road for many miles are lines and lines of trucks. The drivers will wait for up to a week before crossing over to the other side.

We will say this is madness. We wont understand why a bridge has not been built (it easily could be). We will marvel at the inefficiency of it all, the cost!

Of course we tourists are not so inconvenienced, our small MPV drove between the lines of trucks to the river’s edge where a speed boat awaited, whisking us to Bottswana to meet another MPV which would convey us to our Safari Lodge. Nevertheless, we were ‘impressed’ by the scene, the silliness, the reality.

To our eyes the solution seems simple and easy. It’s impossible to fathom why nothing has been done, and there are apparently no plans either. Dig a little bit deeper and we peer into one of the mysteries of human nature: we prefer what we know. We want to keep things the way they are. Our own personal culture is indeed our world, our reality, and we find it impossible to see past it.

If you have ever talked to a woman who lived with her husband for twenty years whilst he bashed and raped her constantly, you will come face to face with this strange human fact – she will tell you that the certainty of marriage, as painful, as damaging, as depressing as it was – was preferable to the unknown of separation.

The term ‘comfort zone’ is often used to describe this nature of ours to prefer to remain where we are, rather than risk the unknown, however the reality is that we prefer to remain in an ‘uncomfort zone’ as well. It’s not so much about being comfortable it’s more about certainty and what we know.

Right now in Zambia and Bottswana everyone knows what is involved in crossing the Chobe River. If there was a bridge, everything would be different. The level of discomfort with the present hasn’t yet outweighed the level of discomfort represented by change.

This dilemma is not restricted to the Zambians or wives of bashers. Every human being shares this trait. The personal culture we have developed over our life which combines our parents teaching, our education, our life experiences, becomes our world, our personal reality. If this is really a fact then why bother writing about it?

I write about it because it’s a constant source of tension. In my work I am asked to go to a business, or asked to chat with a person, because they have realised something is wrong, or something isn’t working as it should, and they have tried everything they can think of and nothing has changed, and now they are seeking external assistance. I spend my life like a bridge engineer called into Zambia to see if I can help with their traffic problem. We talk, analyze, we test and we finally recommend – a bridge!

No. That won’t work. We can’t afford it. It’s too new. It’s too different. The people won’t accept it.

Ultimately the dilemma is always – ‘I reject your solution because it’s outside my reality.’ This means that I have to try and be a really good salesman – pure logic doesn’t sell itself. Facts are easily dismissed. The obvious usually isn’t.

My income relies on my ability to ‘sell’ new realities to people who want to solve problems using their old realities. When I fail I don’t get work, I don’t get paid. I don’t get referred. Why do people become so defensive? For some odd reason, when faced with a new reality, our automatic response is to defend our current reality.

The Zambians tell me that their ferry system is actually really good, it generates a lot of income through the fees, it creates jobs for vendors along the roadside, and by the way there is a third ferry on order and that will make a big improvement.
The wife says that it’s really not that bad, her husband only beats her once or twice a week, usually she doesn’t need hospitalization, and really it’s sometimes her fault for not having dinner ready on time, or for speaking out of turn.

Often the strength of the defence washes away the recommendation. The person becomes so entangled defending their present reality that they become blinded to the suggestion. We often reject the better because we prefer the good. We reject the new because we prefer the old. We reject the solution because it’s not the same as the present.

Picture of Bolte Bridge, Melbourne (yes, I know this picture has no connection to this post but it is from Michael’s hometown….that should count, right? right??)

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2 thoughts on “A Bridge Too Far: By Michael

  1. I think Michael has put things in right perspective. I am one of them. In a comfort zone, prefering good to a better because I dread what could be.

    Yes he seems to have a penchant for expressing himself, better still he has been able to read others like me.

  2. Had a chance to look at this blog only today after almost 2 and half months and pleasantly surprised by the thought provoking articles.
    Michael is right …he has written it so well and addressed those facets of our nature which we never pause to stop ,think and reflect. I too love the comfort of comfort zone and the comforts of a not so comfortable “comfort zone”. but everytime I had the guts to come out of it ( oh it required a lot of self motivation and self counselling) it proved to be rewarding. Now I teach my kids to venture out and explore -metaphorically – and keep going even if it sometimes proves a mistake.It is a learning curve neverthless.
    To cut it short, Michael, it is a very perceptive article. and to give the devil its due – maybe i Chobe they are trying to maintain the ecology and live with sustainable resources ,rather than risk opening these pristine forests to the so called “civilzed,technologically advanced” city breds who will swarm in with not so unselfish objectives. Cheers to all bloggers !

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