Wisdom is the ability to hold two conflicting truths in your mind at the same time, without budging

Mammoth or no Mammoth – Out caveman ancestors faced simple questions with simple answers. In this case the answer is: Mammoth.

This morning on Radio France Internationale I listened to a story on child abuse by catholic priests in Canada. And I heard myself thinking: “Well, no wonder, if you create a system where critizising the authorities is considered blasphemy and at the same time forbid these authorities from having healthy adult relationships… It’s no surprise that in a system like that you have a lot of abuse of the weakest parties and that it will be easy to cover this up for decades.” But then, at the same time, I thought: “Wait, are you saying it’s not the priests fault? They just did what the system made them do?” So I sat in my car in the Washington DC morning traffic and tried to hold these two truths in my mind at the same time:

  • The abusers are guilty, it’s their full responsibility. They chose to act the way they did and used the system to their benefit, destroying lifes in the process.
  • It’s the sytem’s fault. A system like this is destined to lead to abuse. As long as you have a system like this, there is likely to be abuse like this.

Holding two conflicting truths in your mind at the same time is painful. It somehow doesn’t feel right, because from back in the caveman days we are wired to pick one truth and run with it. Mammoth or no mammoth, clear thing. If you accept conflicting truths, the world will yell at you: “Are you for us or against us? Make up your mind!” And because you accept both truths, both parties will think you are against them, as you accept the truth of their opponents as well. But I am convinced that true wisdom comes from holding steady and giving all kinds of conflicting truths a space at your table. I must warn you, though, it’s not a very useful skill (But I don’t think that wisdom should have the purpose of being useful, anyway…). While those who fully embrace one truth are plunging ahead in bold and passionate action, you are still sitting there, pondering all the different guests around your table, unable to go on a crusade. But training your mind to hold steady while hosting different truths will lead you to a deeper understanding of the world. And to a deeper connection to all people you encounter. Because you will consider their truth do be true. If only you could stop telling them that other people’s truths are true as well…

Talk to the Emir to save new-born chilrden

If you want to protect new-born babies from dying of preventable cause, who do you talk to? The Ministry of Health, right? Because it is their mandate. And their expertise. And they get the funding to do it. Well, do they?

Nigeria has the highest number of maternal and newborn deaths of all African countries, with 33,000 women dying during pregnancy and childbirth every year and 251,000 babies dying in their first month of life – often due to preventable and treatable causes. Katsina State in the North is one of the states where the situation is especially dire, because on average people are poorer and because the state is mainly rural, so hospitals and health centers are few and far between.

My colleagues at Save the Children wondered: Is it really enough to speak to the Ministry of Health? In the past they had observed that making a good plan, submitting a solid budget is one thing, whether or not the funding actually gets released to the agencies is a completely different story. So they asked me to map out: “Who influences the budgeting and the release of funds for newborn survival activities in Katsina state?” I am lucky to have well trained Net-Mappers on the ground, Amina Yauri Mustapha and Haj. Amina Lawan interviewed a whole range of people in Katsina, and this is what we found out:


Katsina Save Children DisbursingKatsina Save Children Planning Budgeting

Links: Black - Hierarchy, Red - Funding, Actors: Yellow - Government, Red - Donors, NGOs, Projects, Grey - Others, size of actor - influence

Two completely different sets of actors influence making the plan on the one hand and disbursing the money on the other. The size of the dots indicates the influence of actors on the specific issue (on planning/budgeting in map 1 and on disbursing in map 2). As you can see on the second map, the governor, executive council and political associates of the governor have a stronger influence than the Ministry of Health. And the Ministrie’s influence is on par with that of the governor’s wife. And even the Emir (here called “religious leaders”) has far more influence on the disbursement of funds than the front line health providers – the people who do the job (State Primary Health Care Development Agency – SPHealthDevA and Health Services Management Board – HealthSMBoard).

What does this mean for a successful advocacy strategy aimed at getting the money to implementing agencies? Read the full case study here (1845 KB).

If you have a hammer…


… every problem looks like a nail…

Net-Map training – 2 spots remaining!

If you are one of those eternal procrastinators (yes, you know who you are) and were thinking about joining us for the Net-Map training in August, this is your last gentle nudge. Two spots remaining, then our group is complete. We have a great mix of participants already, the furthest traveller will come here from Australia, we will have some researchers and some who want to use Net-Map in a very practical way to help groups achieve their goals. Some have initial experience with network analysis or Net-Map, others are just excited to learn it from scratch. Maybe our group is still missing the special contributions and confusions only you can bring…