The single most important question to ever ask yourself

All business is founded on trusted and trusting relationships. In order for us to thrive and live in harmony, we need to lovingly orientate ourselves.

Here’s a personal story for a change, but with a telecoms twist at the end.

It is no secret that a decade ago my life went through a lot of upheaval. I finally accepted that heterosexuality was, for me, not merely aspirational but absolutely delusional. I “came out” (whatever it means — still not sure), got divorced (painful), and moved from Edinburgh (wife + kids) to London (boyfriend). Concurrently there was massive dislocation in my professional life, with troubled and shifting relationships.

A few years later, I faced another tricky challenge. My ex-wife, who is Lithuanian, wanted to move from Edinburgh back to Vilnius with our two daughters. She sought to find work there, and have supportive family close by. Her presumption was that I would oppose this process, having vigorously advocated for her to remain in the UK when we broke up. There was a growing tension between us, following an interim period of healing.

Naturally, I was conflicted. There seemed to be so many problems, risks and disadvantages. I had already been endlessly and expensively shuttling from London to Scotland, and this would multiply the effort and cost. My inner fantasy world conjured up all kinds of disaster scenarios with two delicate young ladies growing up far away from my fatherly oversight.

Several people gave me wise counsel, but one stands out. I booked a meeting with a friend who had previously been a Catholic priest, as well as being a pillar of the queer community in both New York and London. After swinging by Selfridges to grab some premium macaroons as a gift, I dropped by his welcoming home in Camden.

He was already familiar with my general situation, being an old buddy of my new partner. So I spewed forth the products of my fertile imagination, listing everything that might go wrong. Whilst I cared for and about my ex-wife, there was no way of resolving the decision using logic alone. It seemed such an impossible situation: damned if I agreed to the change, and damned if I dissented.

Then he stopped me dead in my tracks, and in his unmistakable Irish tone asked me the single most important question you can ever ask. I shall never forget this moment for as long as I live.

“Martin, what is the loving thing to do?”

That was it. THAT WAS IT! The only question that mattered, one with an obvious answer: I would support her in making a fresh life in Lithuania. In a single moment, the whole inner conflict was resolved.

A few weeks later, I stood in Vilnius airport about to leave alone for London, the kids having been over from Scotland with their mother to visit family. I looked my ex-wife in the eyes, and told her she had my full support and commitment to move back. She looked stunned and delighted! From that moment forwards, our relationship was transformed. I was no longer a (potential) adversary and persecutor, but instead was a supporter and friend again.

Many years have passed since that day. I have a close and positive relationship with my ex-wife. As it happens, my older daughter was less than keen on Lithuania, and has blagged her way into a boarding school in Scotland. My younger one lives in Vilnius with her mother. We all go on holiday together, and have a harmonious family life that spans multiple countries. All the capital I saved up in my 20s and 30s now sits in the forested outskirts of Vilnius in a lovely new house my ex-wife had built, and that pleases me too.

My then boyfriend is now my ex of many years, but we’ve always stayed friends. Indeed, he is a godparent to my two children, and the four of us are all on holiday together right this moment in the Canaries. Which reminds me, it must be time to give their mama a call. For it is Valentine’s Day, a festival of loving relationships, in all their diverse forms and formats!

Here’s an epilogue to bring this back from the erotic to the professional. The purpose of telecommunications is to bring us together as a human collective. The obvious means is by transcending distance and time, but that’s not all. We experience the sensual presence of others (say via voice, video or VR), and that meets a core human need for feeling connection.

If the telecoms industry has an ultimate purpose, surely it must be an amplifier for our ability to connect and relate in a loving fashion? Everything else is a mere logical function to a utilitarian end. For instance, if we deploy 5G to develop a “smart” city full of alienated citizens, have we made any progress whatsoever?

We can conceive of a network as being a machine for manufacturing interactive moments in the context of ongoing loving relationships. Thus if our core purpose is ethical, then we can escape the limiting logical framing of being a “bit pipe”. We have to ask a different kind of question in order to achieve this.

Whether it is in our interactions with customers, suppliers or partners, we can anchor ourselves into a pro-social paradigm. It could be the “fair” sharing of resources in a packet buffer, dealing with a delinquent bill of a sick customer, or the challenge of a socially awkward supplier.

In each case where we face a difficult decision we can ask ourselves: what, indeed, is the loving thing to do?


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