by John Higgins and Mark Cole
There is a Ben shaped hole in our lives. Because of Ben we both know the world differently and better. He wasn’t a “class act”, he didn’t put on a performance – he was simply a class human being.
Let’s start with one of the mantras he used when working with groups. ‘It’s all about the “chickin” he’d say in his NY accented version of the Kiwi for “check in”. And he meant it – it mattered to pay attention to how people were in the moment that they showed up. He’d have happily spent all day with a group checking in, because that was where the real work happened.
Here’s our check-in. We feel like shit, but nothing like his family. We know Kira, his daughter, well and want to dedicate this to her. We’re full of all the clichés – it was too soon, he was still in the midst of too much, finding ways to rock the boat in ways that could make a difference. He was a good man who we wish we’d told more often how much he meant to us. Our mutual friend Megan remembers him for the warmth and richness of his greetings, which reminded you that Ben was reaching out as one human to another.
We never saw Ben get flustered, he was always connected into whatever it was that people needed to express – everything was insight for him, to be paid attention to, engaged with, not shied away from. He was a rock. He wore his background lightly, only a few of us knew of his experience of getting people to leave their actual rather than metaphorical guns by the door.
He was always an ally to those who lived in the shadow of the advantaged, a keen advocate of the work of Robert Fuller and his insights around the use and abuse of rank. He could name rank and make it discussable, finding ways to avoid it evoking too much shame in those who’d unknowingly lived with its advantages. When he co-authored an article for the Harvard Business Review on the topic, and the trolls came calling, he held his nerve and trusted to the counter-arguments to come forward as they did in due time.
The world might try and invite him to join in with its games and anxieties, he simply got on with what he did best – working with groups to work on whatever it was they needed to work on, naming when it seemed right avoided experiences and voices.
Ben respected people for their competence and capabilities, he might give them a little nudge of theory and practice, but most of the time he’d work with what they wanted to work with and on – not what had been the original, imagined intention.
And he was always curious, stepping into new perspectives or revisiting important insights long forgotten by the rush into whatever was fashionable at the time. He did his learning naturally and shared the wisdom that arose from that generously.
Ben – we miss you sorely.