10 November 2013

Its easy to get caught up in a conflict, or be misunderstood in all walks of life, especially business. A business is a complex web of personalities, egos, desires and needs, and its impossible to please everyone all the time.

Have you ever been wrong about something only to find out later, you misunderstood the situation? But at the time, it felt so real and you felt so passionately about it. Of course you have, we all have. But this is the same in business, family life and even politics. I wonder how Tony Blair felt when there were no weapons of mass destruction?

This is how a conflict starts. Even the longest bloodiest wars started with a simple disagreement or misunderstanding. But there is no victor in war and no-one attacks another and walks away unscathed. Be it reputation, disruption, lost opportunities through lost time, there are always unseen casualties of any conflict outside the obvious ones. Steve Jobs describes “focus” as one of his key metrics for success. Jobs removed all distractions, or tried to once he learned the importance of time. I’d like to know if he learnt this after his first cancer scare? It would be speculation, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

If only I’d realised the importance of time before my avalanche accident in 2001 at 30 years old. If I’d learned that lesson when I was in my 20’s, I could have avoided so many incidents that ensured I bumbled through an entire decade.

If you get yourself into a conflict with someone, its important to respect your opponent. Never underestimate someone that stands in your way.

Smaller opponents will often work harder to settle a score and a larger opponent may have limitless resources.

Its easy to visualise an initial victory, but if a small victory embroils you in a life long war with an opponent who will dedicate their life to getting even, was the initial win, really a victory? I always encourage people to look at whats at stake long term, what do you hope to gain, before embarking on a journey where its difficult to turn back and at what cost? Just how determined is your opponent? Just what lengths will people go to protect their family and friends? I know which category of person I fall into when it comes down to being protective and standing up for what is right.

I think if people really thought things through from the outset, we’d have a very different set of results. We’d live in a very different world. As of 3 October 2010 there has been a total of 338 fatalities amongst British troops in Afghanistan alone. This is a horrendous number when you consider the number of dependents affected. And on the other side of the fence in Iraq, how many Iraqi’s mourn the 103,468 civilian casualties mindlessly killed in the name of peace. Calculate the number of dependents there! I shudder to think.

One of my earliest memories of conflict was Northern Ireland. A place split by religious and political beliefs where people were prepared to kill each others families in the name of their cause. Any of my age group will remember just how different life was back then.

Two British soldiers from the Royal Corps of Signals (David Howes and Derek Wood) both in their 20’s like me, were killed on 19 March 1988 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The non-uniformed soldiers were killed by the IRA, after they drove into the funeral procession of an IRA volunteer. The soldiers were dragged from their vehicle. “He didn’t cry out, just looked at us with terrified eyes, as though we were all enemies in a foreign country who wouldn’t have understood what language he was speaking if he called out for help.” Reported a journalist at the scene. They were dragged to a nearby sports ground. Here they were again beaten and stripped to their underpants and socks where the young men were tortured by a small group of men.

The corporals were further beaten and thrown over a high wall to be put into a waiting black taxi. It was driven off at speed, The two men were driven less than 200 yards to waste ground near Penny Lane. There they were shot several times. Corporal Wood was shot six times, twice in the head and four times in the chest. He was also stabbed four times in the back of the neck and had multiple injuries to other parts of his body.

This was all captured on television cameras and this incident was just another in a long line that made the Northern Ireland peace process an impossibility at the time.

I will never forget seeing the fist of the IRA person driving the boys to their impending death. I can’t imagine the felt they felt at that moment. How do you forgive something like that?

Yet that conflict is now over. At some point a line was drawn. It’s the same in any disagreement, you have to say, enough is enough.

The Northern Ireland conflict with the British government only subsided once both sides called a truce. This took tremendous courage from both sides. There was outrage at some of the terrorists having their sentences quashed and some even being appointed to high positions within politics, yet if both sides hadn’t agreed impartiality, things would simply continue. The IRA were fighting for their cause and although I don’t agree with their methods, there wouldn’t be a conflict if both sides were blameless.

The IRA were a tiny force compared to the mighty British Armed services, yet the determination and passion in their veins made them an extremely dangerous and unpredictable opponent. And although even now, there are groups that may attempt to revert back to days gone by, there is a far greater cause set in motion to prevent something like this happening again. Peace is a powerful force and our children’s future has to be more important than our own.

I was humbled at an event recently where I was interviewed at the Digital Entrepreneur Awards and a husband and wife, Wendy and Colin Parry stood up on stage and were interviewed about their past and what they were doing. I was busy as ever worrying about our business issues, when I learnt how they lost their little boy Tim Parry, along with another child who died that day,  3 year old Jonathan Ball, when a bomb went off in Warrington. Yet these two incredible people have dedicated their lives since to bringing peace to the world, building the Warrington Peace Shelter. They even invited the old leader of the IRA as a guest to an annual Peace Conference.

Colin calmly said, “We cant run a peace centre unless we really were at peace with everyone, and that meant the people responsible for the death of our son too”.

Well, with tears in my eyes, Colin won my heart and I left that auditorium a better person that evening. I was not prepared to meet such extraordinary people at such an event, but I go through life being continually surprised. And whilst I disagree with what Tony Blair did misleading the UK into a war in Iraq, it is good that the government thought twice about Syria. I am sure we will be able to help in much more constructive ways than applying force.

Being bigger doesn’t give you grounds to attack someone. Being smarter doesn’t give you the right to ridicule. Proving you are right when someone knows they are wrong is not a victory, it’s a time for forgiveness.

And at a time when the ultimate respect for our service men and women, our relatives, great grandfathers and great grandmothers is due, its worth paying our respects to those on the other side too.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them. On every side.

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