Variations on cleavages, responsibility, and identities

“If your business partners or colleagues lose focus, the reason could be a revealing cleavage – in particular, if you’re a business woman. Does this sound familiar? If yes, it’s high time for you to check the amount of female allure you bring to work”. Such reads the (translated) introductory passage of an article just published in a German business weekly[1]. Always interested in learning about what makes women (or men[2]) successful in business, and also, I admit, occasionally interested in fashion and style, this piqued my curiosity, and I went ahead and read the whole text. Which proceeds to make the point that physical attractiveness can distract from content, recommends women to check their cleavage in the mirror in the morning by bending down (to see how much is being revealed), advises that “the soft tissue of the breasts has to be covered, at most hinted at”, gives clear numbers for the distance between shirt buttons (6-8 centimetres), recommends strap management (for bras), and closes with the friendly counsel to not inadvertedly “share more female ‘information’ than you want to”. Now, I leave it to everybody – male or female – to make of this specific advice what they want. What it made me think about, however, is the issue of responsibility for who we are and how we bring what we are into our relationships and interactions – whether in business or elsewhere[3]. What (or who) defines our identities? What (or who) defines how we display them to others? How much of who we are and what we display is defined by ourselves, how much is defined by others? When is it advisable to adjust our identity, based on what others see in us? When, on the other hand, is others’ perception of us their problem, not ours? When do we want (or need) to stand out? When do we want (or need) to fit in? What do we do when changes in our – self- or other-perceived – identity require a reshuffling of our relationships with others and with the world around us? Big questions. I know. And – spoiler alert – I’m not going to answer them for you. What I am going to do is try out the logic from the article cited above to create a few variations on cleavages, responsibility, and identities. I leave it to you to, then, see for yourselves what these variations mean to you and how you personally feel about them with regard to the questions just raised. Have fun! Are we our bodies?  Let’s see… – maybe: “If your business partners or colleagues lose focus, the reason could be your eyes – in particular, if you’re a business man. Does this sound familiar? If yes, it’s high time for you to check the amount of eye contact you bring to work”. Walking down this road, we could imagine people talking to each other with downcast eyes, wearing tinted contacts or sunglasses[4], or setting up meetings where participants sit behind metaplan boards to protect themselves from each others (evil?) eyes. Who owns our bodies? Are we our behaviours? So, for example: “If your business partners or colleagues lose focus, the reason could be your note-taking – in particular, if you’re a business woman. Does this sound familiar? If yes, it’s high time for you to check the amount of pens and papers you bring to work”. Building on this, we could imagine people coming to pen- and paperless meetings, sitting absolutely motionless as they negotiate[5], or replacing all physical interaction with virtual contacts so the actual movements of others’ cannot be witnessed. Who owns our behaviours? Are we our feelings? Like: “If your business partners or colleagues lose focus, the reason could be your empathy – in particular, if you’re a human being in business. Does this sound familiar? If yes, it’s high time for you to check the amount of compassion you bring to work”. Following this storyline, we could imagine people checking their emotions in at reception, adopting the virtues of robots as they meet each other[6], or worshipping the value of rationalism and ruthless logic as the only relevant currency of interaction. Who owns our feelings? Are we our minds? As in: “If your business partners or colleagues lose focus, the reason could be an open mind – regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman. Does this sound familiar? If yes, it’s high time for you to check the amount of openness you bring to work”. Travelling on this train of thought, we could imagine people not speaking to their opinions, hiding their true tastes, beliefs, and convictions, or building a parallel universe of secrecy, intransparency, and incoherent messages[7]. Who owns our minds? You’ll have your own answers to these questions, just as I have mine. And maybe that is the point I really want to make about cleavages, responsibility, and identities: Just as noone  can answer those questions for you, just as we’re all left to our own intelligence and understanding (of ourselves and of others) in order to find our paths through the maze of identities offered to us through time and space – in that very same way, no amount of cleavage dressing, button spacing, or strap management is ever going to take away somebody else’s discomfort or lack of focus. If our business partners or colleagues lose focus, they should think about what this means for them; if we worry about this, we should think about what this means for us. The cleavage, like so many things in life, is in the eye of the beholder. Dress well. And don’t worry too much.


[1] Namely, Katharina Starlay’s article “Wie viel Dekolleté ist zu viel?”, published on May 18, 2015 here http://www.manager-magazin.de/lifestyle/stil/starlays-stilfragen-wie-viel-dekollete-ist-zu-viel-a-1033146.html [retrieved May 21, 2015].BACK TO TEXT [2] See one of my previous blog posts here [retrieved May 21, 2015].BACK TO TEXT [3] Recently, I wrote a related article on business and spirituality for LEVEKUNST; it’s called “Being a hermit in a pond of sharks”, and you can read it here http://levekunst.com/being-a-hermit-in-pond-of-sharks/ [retrieved May 21, 2015].BACK TO TEXT [4] Also at night, of course. See here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2LTL8KgKv8 [retrieved May 21, 2015].BACK TO TEXT [5] Maybe like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCmUhYSr-e4 [retrieved May 21, 2015].BACK TO TEXT [6] For the pain of this, listen to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNuSD49chY8 [retrieved May 21, 2015].BACK TO TEXT [7]  A very personal example for this by one of my favourite German song writers is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHJDFGAwgko [retrieved May 21, 2015].BACK TO TEXT

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