On Wednesday evening, as the Chilean miners emerged one by one from that hellish, six-hundred-metre-long metal tube, President Piñera, who seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of bons mots, declared that his country’s most precious resource was not copper or gold, but ‘we Chileans’.
It wasn’t a particularly original sentiment, although in the circumstances it did have a very particular resonance. But what made it interesting was his choice of the word ‘we’.
How often has one heard the leaders of businesses and other organisations trot out the old cliché, ‘our people are our most precious resource’?
Leaving aside the notion that people can be relegated to the status of mineral deposits, it’s the ‘our’ – that possessive pronoun – that gives the game away. It implies something paternalistic, a little condescending, and it always carries an underlying sense of disconnection, as if the speaker and the people they are referring to don’t belong to quite the same tribe.
But what the Chilean president did was to make the statement inclusive rather than exclusive. He placed himself in it, as one of the resources. ‘We Chileans’, he said. And in that moment, with that simple phrase, he summoned the image of a nation profoundly united.
As the miners were being winched to the surface, I was running a workshop for a large financial institution in Edinburgh. I invited the participants to use art materials to portray where they felt their organisation was at present, and their group within it.
One group created an underwater scene, complete with octopuses and sharks, shoals of small colourful fish, shipwrecks and a submarine. In the bottom left-hand corner was a blacked-out section, evidently a cave, from which peered several small pairs of eyes.
‘Who’s that in the cave?’ I asked.
‘Our leaders,’ came the answer. ‘They don’t like to come out much.’
The kind of leaders, no doubt, who would be quick to proclaim that their people are their greatest resource, while failing to acknowledge that they themselves are part of the same rich seam of human talent and energy and emotion.
While this was obviously a source of huge frustration, even anger, for my group, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of sympathy for those wretched leaders, failing to connect with the tribe they belong to, trapped in their cave by their own fear. For a moment, they even reminded me of the miners…