When we moved to Kenya, we spent our first twelve months learning the language and culture of the people we were living among. There were no language schools, and very few books about Turkana, but we read what we could find. We hired a language helper to guide us in learner-directed language acquisition. During that year, we tried to do very little except begin to grasp an understanding of our new neighbors. In local terms, we were learning extispicy—the practice of reading goat entrails for the purpose of understanding the local context. In scriptural terms, we were exegeting the place. It was with that posture, one of being humble learners, that we gained the respect of our neighbors, the elders, and the church leaders. To this day, most Turkana still speak very highly of us because of that posture and our respect for them.
It comes as no surprise, however, that those in power in Hong Kong—especially the colonial authorities— did not approach their role in that way. To be honest, I grow weary of hearing tales of past and present where outsiders come in to a place, assert their authority, and don’t take time to learn about the people they now oversee. When the final British governor of Hong Kong was appointed, Chris Patten, the Chinese government “wondered whether the new man—who had no understanding of Chinese thinking and was probably primarily concerned with British interests” would help or hinder a smooth transition of Hong Kong back to Chinese oversight. Patten and the British did not approach the transition process with a posture of respect for Chinese ways. Unlike his predecessor, Patten did not visit Beijing before publicly announcing his political proposals. This led the Chinese to assume that the Brits understood that the proposals were resolved. The Chinese “considered it at best a deliberate affront and at worst a sly move to undermine Chinese sovereignty.” There were many assumptions and “inaccurate assessments” on the part of the Chinese, because the British did not approach the process in a way that recognized Chinese relationship styles.
These misunderstandings then, by the Chinese, led the British to “close ranks” and double down on their proposals in order to not lose “credibility and authority.”  Thus, the back and forth of misinterpretations and hardline tactics preceded the turnover of Hong Kong. The final institutional structure prepared for Hong Kong, what the Chinese called the “new kitchen” was shaped largely without any British input. And throughout this entire process, the people of Hong Kong themselves were left out of the conversation.
And yet. As the balance of power shifted from the global colonial dominance of Britain to the reprising stature of China, both entities celebrated the smooth transfer. The people of Hong Kong were—and are—a vibrant blend of East and West, materially successful, and a jewel of achievement and pride in the Chinese crown. But I wonder if the people’s participation in shaping their place might have made a difference in what the region looks like.
I wonder what Hong Kong would look like today if the British had appointed a governor who knew the culture and language of the Chinese (or was willing to learn), who understood the context of Hong Kong. I wonder if a posture of respect and listening by the colonial rulers might have diminished the mistrust of the Chinese. I wonder if a willingness to be shaped and influenced by those he was leading might have given Patten a legacy of honor in the remembrance of this transition process. Patten (and the colonial government) would have benefitted from Robert Quinn’s challenge that deep change requires that we “surrender control as it is normally understood…. We join with others in relationships of trust.” Visionary leaders “are not acting upon people—they are acting with them.” It is both this collaborative learning and the willingness to lead by learning and humility that mark a leader that people want to follow.
 Steve Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong, (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 257.
 Ibid., 258.
 Ibid., 260.
 Ibid., 267.
 Robert E. Quinn, Deep Change Field Guide, (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2012), 9.