I’ve posted previously about the Cuban flag and it’s role in the independence movement of that nation, and I can see the logic of a country separated by thousands of miles of Atlantic Ocean from its European rulers seeking more autonomy, whether that be Cuba from Spain or the US from Britain.
I mention this because on my first morning in Barcelona, while making my way towards Gaudi’s confection of a cathedral, I noticed a number of flags hanging from windows that were similar to the Cuban emblem. The same white star in a triangle against a striped background, though the individual components were coloured differently. So similar was it that I assumed that I was walking through a neighbourhood populated by immigrants from some other former colony.
I was wrong of course and the flag was so ubiquitous I soon realised that this was the Estelada, the flag of the Catalan independence movement, though the Cuban flag and experience were inspirational.
To me though the world seems bent on division.
In my lifetime I’ve seen both Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia fragment into smaller nations and although we’ve just seen Scotland vote narrowly to remain in the UK, the issue has only gone away temporarily. There are those in Wales who would also pursue their own route and then there’s Cornwall. The UK as a whole is about to reconsider its membership of the European Union. I hear lots of objections to having laws made in Brussels imposed upon us, but really why does it matter where the law is made so long as its appropriate?
This trend concerns me. This focus on difference seems to be at the heart of so many of the conflicts in the world; Muslim against Christian, Sunni versus Shia, Protestant and Catholic.
Perhaps I’m inherently conservative. In my tattered history of relationships I’ve tended to be the one who wanted to hang on and give things another go, though it seems that others find me harder to persevere with! My point is that we’re capable of more when we work together than when we’re working in opposite directions. It’s the basis of teamwork. Of course when things go wrong it’s easier to blame others than to acknowledge our own role and think about what we’ll do differently next time.
In my day job I often discuss Sir Alex Ferguson when teaching about leadership, and there are two things relevant to his success that have parallels here. The first is his history of working with assistant managers who had very different personalities to his own, which in many respects compensated for his personal shortcomings in some areas. The second is that he wasn’t initially successful, but that Manchester United gave him time to deliver – it was four seasons before the team won anything under his leadership but his potential was recognised and valued. He’s the most successful manager in the history of English football but he achieved it by recognising the power of working with others who are different to you, and by virtue of tolerance.
Catalonia isn’t the only region of Spain seeking self-rule, nor are Spain and the UK the only European countries facing this challenge, in fact Greece, Portugal and Sweden seem to be in a minority of unified nations. The European Union was originally seen as a deterrent against another world war, yet we seem more intent on building new walls. Tolerance? Working with others?
Finally after walking for miles I spotted a Spanish flag.
It was flying over a government building.
The final irony was that even that building represented a regional division.