Rituals, relationships and restrictions (1)

A while ago Rosa, my daughter, sent me a link to a powerful and moving talk by Taiye Selasi. Her (Taiye Selasi's) bio reads: born in london raised in boston lives in new york new delhi rome writes stories essays scripts + books makes pictures still + moving.

Selasi's talk is about rituals, relationships, and restrictions and how in her view these three things are what help define someone. Thinking of ourselves and others in these contexts rather than by nationality, race, gender, or other labels that get used for pigeonholing each other allows the emergence and recognition of a very different, and much more helpful, picture of someone's life, identity, and experiences.

Her talk came to mind last week when we celebrated my mother, Rosie's, 99th birthday in the usual UK traditional, ritualistic way. (Encyclopaedia Britannica describes 'ritual' as 'the performance of ceremonial acts prescribed by tradition'). She got birthday cards and gifts from well-wishers. She invited people to a lunch party with her. At this she had a cake with candles – and we are fortunate that they now make numerals and we didn't have to have 99 individual ones on the cake – we sang 'Happy Birthday', popped party poppers, and so on. As one of the 'ceremonial acts', she was invited to blow out the candles and cut the first slice of cake.

What made the lunch huge fun with a lot of laughter was the web of relationships around the table. We were a mixed crew – age, nationality, religion, experience, gender, politics – of family and friends, united in this birthday ritual by the fact that each of us has a relationship with Rosie.

But what was also striking were the restrictions inherent in this birthday ritual, and the relationships around Rosie. In her talk Selasi explains restrictions saying: 'By restrictions, I mean, where are you able to live? What passport do you hold? Are you restricted by, say, racism, from feeling fully at home where you live? By civil war, dysfunctional governance, economic inflation, from living in the locality where you had your rituals as a child?'

Rosie is restricted by her capacity to walk, hear clearly, see well, and by numerous other restrictions that aging imposes. She desperately misses sailing, riding her bicycle, being able to read poetry, and having the mental acumen to argue her political and religious corner. Yet no stranger coming to the table could miss seeing her as the strong, independent, social activist she was in her earlier years.

Taking this notion of rituals, relationships and restrictions onwards into organisational life I am wondering how they play out. If we think there is an analogy between individual identity and organisational identity which is about "who we are" or "who we want to be" as an organisation then would it be more useful to think about organisational identity in terms of our organisational rituals, relationships, and restrictions rather than in terms of work processes, hierarchies, and governance?

If we did we might get a very different view of who we are as an organisation and who we want to be. What's your view? Let me know.