Who You Know is Not Quite Relevant

Last month a wonderful woman, Hazel Hawke, passed away. Years ago both she and her daughter had been friends of mine. I traveled with them, they introduced me to people they knew. The mother invited hersef to stay a week with me in Amsterdam, en route to her next destination. They returned home to Australia after each of their traveling adventures and I made the Netherlands my home. The mother went on to become the Eleanor Roosevelt of Australia, she was First Lady for eight years and had a huge impact on human rights issues including, in later life, the care of people with Alzheimers.

When she died I thought of how rich my life has been, to have her in it. And then I realized how different it could have been if I had involved her more in the things I was up to.

Now the fact of the matter is, I was in the Netherlands and she was in Australia and we were not often working in the same geographies, even if many of her areas of influences were thematically the same as mine. I didn’t blunder or fail by not involving her. That’s not the point.

The point is, I realized that knowing people is not what makes the difference. What makes the difference is becoming involved in their passions and involving them in yours.

I received a book in the mail yesterday, from the head of the Egypt department at the British Museum. I had met him once, at a conference for people working at the intersection of LGBT equality and cultural heritage that I had organized. He is responsible for a web-trail of objects at the British Museum that are part of the cultural heritage of the world, and have a gay component. The objects are left in the part of the collection where they have always been, and through the web trail you can, if you are looking for them, find them. I sent my two interns to visit the Museum and report on what they saw. They were moved and empowered, and I wrote and told Dr Richard Parkinson this when I invited him to speak at the conference.

Fast forward a year, and I received an email from Dr Parkinson letting me know that the long awaited book associated with the trail, called A Little Gay History, Desire and Diversity Across the World, was published and would I like a copy. Of course I would, I said, and a few days later it was delivered by the postman. I had visitors and was busy cooking, so I let them look at the book first.  “You’re in the preface”, my visitor told me. Surprised, I asked him to read the passage, and sure enough there I am, described as one of the people who has helped the author with expertise very distant from his own. What had I done, my visitors wanted to know. I scratched my head and said: “I listened to what he was doing and shared his excitement for the project.”

The Warren Cup, a silver chalice from Roman times, is part of the British Museum’s collection

Many of us are passionate about the world, our families, our work. We are up to big things. When I train people in companies to utilize the power of connection, I ask participants to outline, list or draw the people they know, the people they talk to. I then ask them to listen to what their colleagues are up to and to see how the people they know can contribute to their colleagues.  The colleague may be setting up an equestrian event and may be great with horses but hasn’t the first clue about event organization. See on your drawing who could be a valuable person for your colleague to know.

The idea is that more gets done without you doing any work.

What Hazel Hawke’s passing has taught me is that having the people on your paper (or in your life) doesn’t make a difference. It is listening to them, connecting them with other people that can support them in their endeavors and have them meet people who need them, that makes the difference to them, and ultimately also to you.

A client shared some African wisdom with me today: we have one tongue and two ears.

Thank you Richard for listening when I listened. And thank you Hazel for involving me in your life.


Lin McDevitt-Pugh


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