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The Power of Proximity — Understanding Through Presence

By: SmallBizClub



A conversation on proximity is more than a dialogue between people (although that’s essential too), it’s a dialogue between our feelings and our logic. 

Jozef Opdeweegh wants to start this conversation. The author of Fair Value, reflections on good business, Opdeweegh is known for his thoughtful writing style, connecting our feelings and logic to draw out the truth. Drawing on a career that’s included senior roles in Europe, the US and Asia Pacific, he’s a passionate believer in travel as a means to understanding and growth.

Born into a family of educators, he grew up in Belgium, speaks three languages fluently, and has a working knowledge of two others. Recently writing on his blog, he describes a recent visit to Vilnius in Lithuania, and the looming presence of Belarus a mere twenty miles to the east. Its proximity (and that of Russia, not much further to the north), he says, adds an extra dimension to any abstract reasoning, bringing home just how precious are the freedoms we often take for granted.

But it’s the language of understanding that concerns him in his recent article. ‘Only by getting up close and personal can we acquire the intimate if intangible sense of what it’s like to live every day under threat of losing the liberties we take for granted,’ he writes. The same applies to pursuing our lives and careers at home. ‘… there’s no substitute for spending time with others in a different situation, of a different faith, from a different social outlook…’ he explains.

Opdeweegh’s point is that rationality can only take us so far. As a trained statistician, he knows better than most in the power of data, and any reading of Fair Value, will confirm his sharpness of mind and strength of belief.  But intellect alone, he says, is not enough.  ‘Objectivity may nourish our reasoning, but taken without accompaniment it is cold and unfulfilling fare. It’s also somewhat of a myth. For the deeper truth is that virtually all our beliefs — and certainly those which speak to our values — are founded on a blend of facts and feeling.’

Drawing on his experiences in the US and UK, Opdeweegh makes the case that the people in both those counties have a tendency to view the world from afar, not least because their physical geography separates them from others. ‘It’s why we must travel if we can,’ he writes. And speaking since the article, he adds, ‘Both countries have made immense contributions to the world’s progress and prosperity —and we should be proud that today they are still leaders among those working in support of freedom, not least in Ukraine. But it was my visit to Lithuania which really brought home how vital this is.’ 

The power of proximity, says Opdeweegh, applies not just to geopolitics or international travel. It’s vital that we spend time with others closer to home but different in outlook or experience — because tangible presence changes our perspective. Writing previously on diversity and inclusion he’s a passionate believer that embracing difference gives us strength. ‘Proximity, is really just another means to that end.’ he says, ‘connecting our beliefs to our feelings as well as the facts.’

Opdeweegh returns his thoughts to the impact the Berlin Wall collapse had on Eastern Europe. Despite many missteps, and far from universal progress, Opdeweegh reminds us that the lifting of the Iron Curtain has brought freedom to millions. ‘It is one of the joys of my lifetime that these places are freely available for us to visit and for their people to meet us too,’ he writes.  ‘We have much to share and even more to learn from each other.’

There is, he asserts, a multiplier effect to our learning when different people come together. That’s a boost we would do well to benefit from, and a lesson in understanding we ought to heed. The parallels to business and domestic politics are, he writes, too obvious to need listing. ‘If you don’t get them then we’re not on the same planet never mind page.’  Ending with a personal reflection on his time in the cafés of Vilnius, he says he’ll be back, but in the meantime, though half a world away, he can still smell the coffee!

About: Jozef Opdeweegh is author of Fair Value, reflections on good business, and writes regularly on his blog. An accomplished public speaker, he can be contacted for engagements and consultancy on the role of Values in enhancing both business and our lives.

Published: October 12, 2022

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