Congo Reflections Part 3: Faith in (removing/ replacing) the Mask

A jungle pins its own topsoil to the ground. Leave a slash-and-burn farming plot to its own devices for some time, just a year, and it will be overgrown. Things grow so easily but “improvements” are difficult to maintain.

There are stories from Congo about “improvements” such as railway lines and electrical lines that did not survive the building period– by the time a crew finished the line from A to B, the middle was choked with weeds, or the steel torn up, appropriated for other uses by those who live nearby -appropriated for something with a more immediate and concrete use. Of course the concept of ownership is different: land, or even steel, if not in obvious and apparent use, might be used by any passerby or neighbor. I cannot say that I know deeply or intimately the details of cultural differences here, but I can say that the differences are there, and I know the concept of intellectual property is tribal. Look at artwork: tribes co-create, with variations on a theme that may last hundreds of years.

But the written word: so devalued now in the West that we expect to buy your next book for $0.99 or even get a free download, the written word is still a rare and important gift.

Charles and I talked about how we determine which coach training materials ought to be translated into French. This isn’t easy. I’m concerned that any “coaching question” may become rote rather than a flexible framework.

I wonder if there’s a way to mesh the coaching idea with the tribal approach to intellectual property — the idea that we create variations on a theme. Can the questions be developed as a mask is developed? (Not a mask as we think of wearing at Halloween.) I’m talking about a mask as something passed through initiation rites, an entire persona, costume and spirit together, something fluid from generation to the next, adaptable as new materials become available, but rooted in a tradition of authenticity and vulnerability rather than the traditions of secret societies? And in that sense, there is some rote, certain steps to the dance, but room for creativity as well, like when an old costume is worn out and needs to be replaced, that suddenly the new one has Coke bottle caps attached.

As I consider this, I begin again to have faith that in Congo an approach to leadership, to coaching, and even to Christianity itself, can be contextualized by those who know themselves — by the Congolese. A mix of tradition, rote learning, dance steps that stay the same, building a framework for love, for authentic relationship, can emerge.

We want to bear faith to Congo that we believe the Congolese can integrate and contextualize coaching to help them take off masks that need to be removed, but that the idea of a mask-like conversational dance can be useful and transformational. This idea is very fresh for me as of the writing on June 3. More reflections to come.