A puzzle in a picture

A puzzle in a picture

(Estimated reading time = 2 minutes)

The idea for this entry came from Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. I was listening to the episode about ‘The Foot Soldier of Birmingham‘ and half-formed questions were occupying my brain. I’m still not clear about the questions, so it’s not surprising that I don’t have any answers.

What’s the story?

This photograph became an iconic symbol for the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It was taken in 1963, when Martin Luther King visited Birmingham, Alabama. In the photo, it seems like the police officer is setting his dog on a ‘foot soldier’ of the civil rights movement. In fact, the young man – later identified as Walter Gadsen – was an onlooker. He was not part of the civil rights movement. The police officer – Dick Middleton – was restraining the dog.

But the photo – taken by Bill Hudson – was used to show police brutality. Some say that it had a major impact in changing views about the civil rights movement. This seems like a good outcome. But do the ends justify the means? By all accounts, Bill Middleton was a good police officer who treated people equally. Is it right that he should be portrayed as a villain?

Is it right that an incident that was distinct from the protest should be used to illustrate it? What are the responsibilities of the photographer and his editor? Is this an example of fake news?

The art

Much later, this incident was depicted in a sculpture. the details have been changed quite significantly to make a point. The young man is much smaller, the dog more vicious, the police officer more menacing.

Somehow, I feel happier with these changes. For me, the passing of time and the abstract nature of the sculpture lets me know that I’m looking at something that is conveying a message more than showing a specific act.

Is that right? Is my position ethically sustainable? Can my questions about the photo be swept aside when I look at the statue?

Let me know what you think. or what questions this generates for you.

(I also referred to ‘On the wrong side of history‘  while writing this entry.)


Integrity in action

Integrity is measured by the distance between your lips and your life.

Mark Sanborn

And to illustrate the point, read this from the nonprofitprophet.

Great Work Provocations – Consistency

I’ve commented previously on Great Work Provocations from Box of Crayons. Over the next few days I’ll write about some of the provocations that have resonated with me recently.  I’m going to start with the one that I received this morning.

Where does your commitment to consistency get in the way of your commitment to the truth?

This one struck a chord because it reflects several situations that I’ve been involved within recent days.

I frequently hear (and sometimes think) that consistency is the hallmark of integrity.  What is usually meant (as opposed to what is said) is:

‘repetition is consistency, which is the hallmark of integrity.’

In other words, we put the emphasis and value on the action rather than the intention. Mindlessly repeating the same action is not a good measure of consistency.  In fact, neither is mindfully repeating the same action.

Simply because ‘we’ve always done it that way’, doesn’t mean that we should continue to do it that way!

In my opinion, the missing ingredient in this approach is wisdom.  The wisdom to take each situation and evaluate it, assess it and apply the relevant technique/solution.  Doing this consistently will lead to integrity – but it takes time and thought and a willingness to challenge the system, the organisation and the self.