As part of their Fitness+ service Apple recently introduced Time To Walk. This is a series of recordings, added to your workouts on your watch, of various people, recorded while they themselves are out for a walk, reflecting on their lives and careers. They also include some of their favourite music and at appropriate points your watch vibrates and a photo appears on its face of something pertinent to their story.
I listened to my first one this morning and loved it. It was actress Uzo Aduba talking about her career and being a first generation American from Nigeria. You get to hear the atmosphere around her as she walks, in a park in New York, and it really does feel as if you are walking with her.
Many moons ago I registered the domain name walkingthetalk.co.uk with some vague ideas of setting up a business around the unique appeal of conversations that take place while walking in the great outdoors. There is something about the situation, the rhythm of your steps, the open space, the fact that you are not facing the person you are talking to, that makes it more likely that you relax and think more clearly. In fact Uzo commented that she was surprised at how much she opened up on the walk and how much she learned about herself.
Uzo wasn’t someone I knew of, and her music wasn’t my usual listening, but perhaps that was part of the appeal of the thing. The general idea is to get people, perhaps not used to going for walks, to get out and get moving and from that point of view it seems like a great idea.
Our girls are doing their drama and musical theatre classes from home at the moment so with Penny working from home as well there is hardly a room in the house not being used and it’s hard not to overhear what they are all doing.
I am always impressed at how the girls and their tutors are coping with doing what would normally be a very physical activity, that relies heavily on presence and use of physical space, virtually. In particular yesterday one tutor was doing a great job of adapting his teaching method to the circumstances and was being really inventive and clever about it.
At the end of the session he asked the students how they were coping. Again stories of people adapting to, in some cases, very challenging circumstances with sick relatives, far flung families, and generally a very different situation from what would normally be an exciting and optimistic time in their lives.
I promise I won’t do this for every post but following on from my previous one about using audio occasionally the link below is off the top of my head thoughts about where civilisation took a wrong turn.
My daughter Mollie gave me three bottles of Molton Brown bath and shower gels for Christmas. They are all lovely but there is definitely a pecking order of good, better and best thereby presenting me with a challenge each morning as to which to choose.
My current strategy is to use up the good bottle first, saving the even more special ones for the future. The upside of this is that I have something to look forward to, the downside is that if I get run over by a bus tomorrow I will have denied myself the pleasure of the better and best beyond my original small samples.
If that rogue bus is imminent, or if I feel generally vulnerable, perhaps starting with the best would be the right strategy, but that would leave me with a general decline in pleasure down to the good to finish up with.
Perhaps the most sensible strategy would be the one I adopt with meals, namely to try to achieve a balance of tastes in each succession of mouthfuls, and ensuring that I end up with an even mix of the various tastes at the end.
And isn’t this true of life generally? Rather than saving ourselves for some fictitious nirvana in the future, retiring to a tropical island and sipping Pina Coladas, or wellying in without restraint to every current opportunity for excess and indulgence, perhaps we should consider every experience as a part of our incredible good luck to be able to experience everything that life has to offer – the good, the better and the best?
Over the years people have consistently told me that face to face communication is best because you can see the other person and work out their intentions from facial and bodily expressions. I have countered this by saying that in some ways face to face makes it easier to dissemble, you can smile while stabbing someone in the back, wear a uniform that makes you appear trustworthy while you are engaged in dodgy dealings etc..
It is therefore fascinating in the current circumstances watching everyone being forced to resort to online communication. The perceived need for face to face equivalence is driving the obsession with video calls but these bring with them their own challenges: worrying about how you look (at least on the top half); arranging an impressive choice of books on the shelves behind you; maintaining eye contact throughout mind numbing meetings; and trying to look interested when your boss takes a breath, says “to keep things short”, and launches into another endless monologue; the list goes on.
What is more optimistic is that some are learning the craft, and benefits, of asynchronous conversations whether through a different approach to email or tools like Teams and Slack. Working out how to say enough, but not too much; adopting a tone that engages and informs; how to keep the to and fro going and how to end it. These are all skills that those of us who were early adopters of online tools have discovered can replace, and in many cases enhance, more analogue forms of communication.
It will be interesting to see how many of these new found skills survive the return to the office – whenever that happens.
I’ve been pretty good about being stuck at home during lockdown. I love my walks, I love having the family around, I love not having to travel.
It became obvious this weekend that, despite having worked from home for years, I am still conditioned to expect weekends to be different and the fact that at the moment they are not means that each day is exactly the same as any other.
The new Photos widget on iOS is a constant source of delight. Each day the algorithm selects a photo from my collection and displays it on the front screen of my iPhone or iPad. Sometimes it is based on date, sometimes on season, but it regularly digs out photos that otherwise I would have forgotten or not seen for ages.
I realise that it is probably the same thing as when you think of buying a new car and see nothing but that type of car on the roads, but since my mother’s death the widget has presented an uncanny number of photos of Mum. Lovely photos of her with the kids at the beach, photos of her on her first day of school, photos of her in her last days in the care home.
Mum and Dad’s wedding photo coming up today and I found myself looking for a long time at both families, bridegroom, bridesmaids etc. all standing neatly arranged on the steps of the church. As far as I know all of them are dead apart from my Dad.
It is fascinating looking into their smiling eyes, especially my grandparents on both sides, thinking that they are all part of me. Their stories, their hopes and aspirations, their challenges, are all encoding in my DNA.
Being part of those story lines disappearing back into the forgotten past is a salutary thought.
One of my favourite things for lunch is a tin of mixed beans with some chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, Italian herb seasoning, chilli flakes, olive oil and lemon. As I was slowly eating my bowl of beans this lunch time I was reminded of one my favourite Buddhist ideas, namely that everything is connected and everything is dependent on everything else for its existence.
I started thinking of all the people that it had taken to produce the ingredients in my lunch. All the growers of the various bean plants, those who harvested them, the lorries that took the raw materials to the canning factory and the lorries that delivered them to the shops. The people who grew and harvested the onions and the tomatoes, the people working in the canning factory and the shops, even the graphic artists who designed the tin that they came in.
Having had my lunch I sat down to look through my RSS feeds and there was this lovely post from John Davies about never feeling alone in his garden. Looks like he’d been having similar feelings of connection with everything around him.
One of the upsides of COVID is the number of people discovering the delights of getting out into the countryside. I now walk every day, no matter what the weather, and today was one of those days when it feels mad to be setting off into the grey gloom. But it is consistently wonderful. As I’ve said before in some ways wet weather feels more real, more immediate.
I took the video above to convey the feeling of being out in that real weather. What I hadn’t noticed until I got home and watched it on the bigger screen is that, if you look closely, there are three deer walking along the edge of the field in front of me!
Following up on my post the other day about sharing I thought I’d share a bit about why sharing is hard, especially at work.
Most of us are conditioned to keep things to ourselves until we feel very safe and confident of what the response will be. I suppose a lot of this comes from school where sticking your hand up risked ridicule from your mates, and writing things down came under crippling scrutiny from your teachers.
For most of us things got harder at work. Sharing brought with it the risk of being found wanting by your peers and your boss, if done in writing there was an accountability that most avoid.
Sharing on social media might sometimes feel too easy, especially other people’s sharing, but it isn’t. We’ve all had the experience of sharing something that we thought interesting or revelatory and getting zero response. Either that or what we have shared is misconstrued and the indignation engine kicks in and the comments thread becomes a battlefield.
In some ways it was a weariness with sharing into those spaces that inclined me to return to my blog. At least here I can just write with very low expectations of unwanted exposure or unanticipated responses.
I would also write whether anyone read it or not. I have often said that the biggest beneficiary of my blogging is me! Just getting things out of your head and down in writing is beneficial. I write a whole lot in my journal and in notes all over the place that never see the light of day.
But even the slightest chance that what I share might be interesting or helpful to someone else, as I hope this very post is, is enough to incline me to keep sharing.
I was recently asked to do something about knowledge management for a client and, yet again, found myself pondering what it was that they were asking for. However much the topic gets mangled into document management, internal communities, after action reviews, etc., it all comes down to an inclination to share. This inclination can take many forms but if no one has it then no knowledge gets managed.
I really love Charlotte Joko Beck’s writing. What attracted me to Buddhism in the first place was the pragmatic philosophy and positive psychology that under pin it – and this is very much what Everyday Zen focuses on.
Too often this very applicable knowledge gets buried under metaphysical speculation, or religious dogma. Even though Buddhism isn’t theistic it has been turned into religion over the centuries by various groups with very different perspectives.
Seeing past this to the underlying principles, and the truths that they help reveal, is far from straightforward. When you add in the cultural conditioning that we overlay on top of these universal truths then the scale of the challenge emerges.
But this is what this book is so good at explaining and describing. It’s one of my favourites and highly recommended.
Thanks to Quentin for this great share of some Lumiere Brothers’ footage from all around the world shot before the turn of the last century and lovingly, and painstakingly, restored and colorised by Denis Shiryaev. As Quentin says, not a lot happens, but they are strangely mesmerising.
And I do, even to the extent of believing that the ultimate extinction of the human race could be seen as a good thing for the planet.
But it could get very ugly and dystopian in the short term.
Watching America struggle to keep a grip of the norms of democratic society, and the rise of violent groups responding to, frankly, trivial provocation, it is worth imaging what would happen if climate change, for instance, leads to real global instability and gave people a real reason to riot…
The factors at play are so intricately interlinked and so complex that idealistic or simplistic interventions are likely to make things worse not better. And yet each of us are a part of that Indra’s Net that, increasingly apparently to me at least, underlies the world we live in, and as such we have more power than we believe to change the outcomes.
What we think, what we say, what we do, what we buy, what we share, who we connect with and how we relate, all have the ability to affect the whole of the universe, each and every moment.
Some of you may have seen on my various social media feeds that I have decided to pull even further back from them. I have logged out of them in my various browsers and removed the apps from my devices. I will still pick up if people message me but otherwise I’m off.
One of the triggers for this decision was becoming frustrated at recording my reading in Goodreads. Worrying what people thought of my reading list, worrying about my reviews appearing on Amazon, worrying that I wasn’t finishing books that I had started, basically, like all social media platforms, worrying too much about what other people thought. But I do want to record my reading and will do so here. I will even mention books that I have given up on, which is many!
So that then got me thinking that some people might want to see my book reviews together so I thought “I’ll tag them”. I have come and gone with tagging in all sorts of contexts over the years but never managed to sustain it for very long. But from now on I will at least attempt to tag my book reviews and, who knows, maybe posts about walks, oh, and maybe about technology, oh, and…
Like I said, I’ll try, but don’t hold your breath.
No matter how much I walk, or how fit I am, there is always a point on a steep upward section where I end up wanting it to stop. Muscles aching, lungs heaving, wondering why on earth I am doing this again – all I want is for it to be over.
But then I remember that this is part of the whole experience. Digging in and keeping going that makes the challenge worthwhile. The point is to experience the reality of the situation, even if it is unpleasant. It is the detail of the moment, the particular muscles that are stretching, the rhythm of my breath, the textures of the ground beneath my feet that make me feel alive.
The situation is not the problem, it is what it is. It is the wanting it to stop that causes the suffering.
This is true of everything. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Whether it is feeling frustrated at the COVID restrictions, feeling frightened driving a big truck, or even feeling grief at the loss of a loved one, wanting it to stop is the problem. Accepting that it is happening, and that this too will pass, offers a blessed relief from suffering.
Longer walk today. Ten miles from home via Little Missenden, Old Amersham, Chesham Bois, Chesham, and Blind Lane (map here).
At both ends of the walk though I found myself thinking of violence triggered by ideas. Near the beginning I passed through Mantle’s Wood. This wood has remained pretty much unchanged for the 27 years we have lived here but in the past few weeks Forestry England have been thinning it out and it looks like a scene from the Battle Of The Bulge episodes of Band Of Brothers.
This got me thinking, yet again, of what a grim, grinding, battle that was and how those fighting on both sides were there, in part, there as a result of ideas expressed by Nietzsche and misunderstanding of Darwin’s ideas about evolution. Without those ideas Hitler would probably not have gained so much traction and we wouldn’t have ended up with WWII and the holocaust.
Towards the end of the walk I encountered the sad sign in the photo above. Thomas Harding was a local martyr burned at the stake because of his dissenting religious views. Again someone subject to violence on the basis of ideas.
Ideas are just thoughts, thoughts that originally appear unbidden, thoughts that can lead to millions of deaths. It would be great if we all learned to take our thoughts less seriously.
While on my daily walks I encounter other people walking, running or cycling. They are usually on their own or in small groups. We can see each other coming from a way off. And yet some choose to pass me without looking at me or responding in any way when I greet them with a friendly “hello”.
Are they so lost in thought that they haven’t even noticed my existence? Are they so afraid of meeting someone without other people around that they don’t want to provoke me? Or have we got so used to living in our own little islands that we just can’t be bothered connecting?
The word holy has the same roots as the word whole. We forget that we are part of nature, part of the world around us, part of the whole, holy. We see ourselves as separate, as fractured, split off.
Our unhappiness stems from our inclination to divide the world up with labels. Our vocabulary and grammar keep us apart from the world around us. This is the sour fruit of the tree of knowledge, the story of the fall.
My daily walks are more about recovering a feeling of wholeness than they are about fitness. An attempt to reconnect with the world around me, to mend the splits in a fractured world.
This is why I love walking in the rain. It is harder to pretend that I am separate from the world , that there is a space between me and the apparent objects around me that my brain has made up and labelled. The rain clings to me and envelops me. It becomes part of me and me of it. We become whole.
Setting aside the differences between extroverts and introverts, and those who are confident online and those who are not, my biggest worry is the number of people I encounter in business who are still playing safe.
Whether it is not speaking up on Zoom calls, saying what you think on work forums, or chipping in in meetings, all too often I see people sitting on their hands and keeping their heads down.
Clearly this is as a result of long and deeply held fears. Fear of being criticised, fear of being found out, fear of conflict.
But the perceived risks that lie behind these fears pale into insignificance in comparison to the ever increasing risk of not being seen, of your contribution never being recognised, and increasingly, in the not too distant future, the risk of being replaced by a bot.
The safest thing you can do these days is to feel risky.
I was reading a book the other day where the author was talking about her “orange” period in the seventies when everything from carpets to wallpaper had to be orange. As she said “what was I thinking!?”
It took me back to our front room at home in that decade which had an orange shag pile carpet and purple walls. “What were my parents thinking?!”
It also made me ponder the idea of the “front room”. Like so many families at that time, despite not having lots of rooms, we had one which was kept for special occasions or for when guests were visiting. As kids we spent most of our time in the living room at the back of the house and the front room was clearly different. In fact as I write this I can smell the sweet sherry that was consumed in the front room on said special occasions.
It is fun to occasionally look back on the conventions of your youth and to think what different things we aspire to and how differently we view symbols of status these days.
When walking at the side of our normally busy road there are still occasionally cars who will pass me very fast and too close. I step onto the verge but nonetheless my body still reacts to the proximity of danger. I can’t stop this immediate response, it is involuntary.
What I can stop though is the habit of spinning off into a reaction, getting angry and often gesticulating or yelling. In many ways our usual responses to emotional situations are distractions. They mask the underlying feelings and allow us to run away from them.
Just being with strong feelings is hard. Harder than reacting. Noticing where in our body we feel them, noticing our hearts racing faster, feeling the rush of adrenalin. Turning to face our emotions allows them to exist, acknowledges them, recognises them, and in doing so allows them to dissipate naturally, to run out of steam, to enable us to return to calm rather than getting caught up in the drama of reaction.
It takes courage to do this, to truly experience our feelings. It is easier to fly off the handle, to vent, to indulge. But in the long run letting them flow through us is better for us – and for those around us.
As we drive down through some woods to reach the A413, and if we look to our right, we are greeted with a beautiful view along the Misbourne Valley. In winter, in the mornings, this valley is often filled with a low fog which creates an otherworldly feel to the view especially if the ground is white with frost. This view has remained unchanged for centuries.
Sadly I will never see this view again. The foreground is now filled with a mountain of earth and teams of earth movers which are carving a massive gouge through the countryside for HS2. All along the valley similar acts of violence are being carried out every day with open wounds spoiling other long enjoyed favourite views.
To the very few of you who are not only inclined to travel after the experience of working remotely through lockdown, but who can also afford what I gather are going to be the steep fares to get to Birmingham quicker, I hope that you make good use of the few minutes that are going to be shaved off your journey.
We are very lucky where we live to have 360 degrees of choice of walks from the house. I am currently doing a walk every day and to avoid the muddiest paths I am sticking mostly to tracks and single track roads. This means that most days I walk along a choice of about four routes ranging from 3 miles to nearly 8.
Doing the same four walks could so easily feel repetitive but they are not. Each day the weather is different, my mood is different, I see different things and see them differently each day. From the road surface passing below my feet, to the light catching the rain on the road, to the trees that I pass, to the birds and the animals, each day is so different and, if I choose to see it this way, fascinating and delightful.
Notice the tension, usually somewhere in your gut, when you can’t face making your bed, when your spell checker takes on a mind of its own, when you keep putting off filling in that form that you know is really important.
Notice your ego kicking and screaming and putting up a fight against life. Notice it with the little things.
Then, when you are tempted to go berserk at someone in traffic, when you are about to allow your boss to make you feel small and frightened, when a loved one disappears… notice the tension.
If you can notice it with the small things, you can notice it with the big ones, and if you can notice it – it’s not you, it’s not real, it’s a story. You made it up.
It’s small things, daily things, that are in some ways hardest to deal with. The things that should just happen, that should go well, that we expect to not have to cope with. They add up. The sense of things going wrong, of losing control, of life stacking against us. It builds up over time and we end up losing faith in our ability to cope.
We are brought up to expect life to be manageable, to be predictable, to be safe. But it isn’t. We have no control, anything could happen at any time. Rather than getting bent out of shape about this we could learn to accept it, to not expect things to be otherwise.
Unpredictability is just how life is. In fact it can be seen as a good thing. How boring things would really be if everything went as expected, if nothing surprised or delighted us, if we never had to face challenges and everything was easy?
I’ve realised why so many people stick doggedly to the middle lane on motorways when there is no other vehicle near them for miles around and despite the fact that they are meant to pull over to the left unless they are overtaking and the fact that their refusal to do so causes much of the congestion on the road.
It’s because the inside lane is working class and for grubby things like lorries or people who can only afford little cars that don’t go very fast.
The middle lane is for the middle class. Nice people who have nice cars but don’t like upsetting people, especially themselves, by changing things.
The outside lane is for the upper class. People who can afford speeding fines or middle class people who have ideas above their station.
Being judgemental has to be one of my my least acceptable characteristics.
I grew up in a household where we judged each other, and those we met in the outside world, against some hidden but testing standard.
Not being good enough was a constant threat. Being found wanting, lacking, letting others down, you name it, the implied failure was always there, brooding behind every conversation and every encounter.
The corrosive stain of judgement still seeps into my life.
This morning while on my walk I noticed the beaters’ van from the local manor. I then heard the beaters making their way through the appropriately named Devil’s Den banging sticks and yelling. Eventually I heard the noise of gunfire starting up and realised that the local pheasants, who I’d thought were lasting longer than usual, had sadly come to an end this morning.
Many years ago, when Mollie was little enough to fit into a rucksack, our walk took us past just such a shoot. The path we were on was a legal right of way and shooters are meant to stop in order to allow us to pass. They did, but before we had fully cleared them this God awful racket started up as some birds rose into the air. Mollie was in tears and really distressed at the loud noise and the sight of birds dropping out of the sky around her.
Before foxhunts were banned there used to be a local hunt near us and one day the hunt, and a large number of hunt saboteurs, ended up in front of our house. I went out and enthusiastically joined in with the saboteurs!
More recently, when visiting my mum and dad in Dorset, the main road home was blocked by a hunt. Large numbers of horses, beaters, hangers-on in Range Rovers, all of them, I’m bloody sure, chasing a fox rather than the artificially laid scent trails that they are meant to be constrained to these days.
As a vegetarian who struggles with the idea of even eating meat for protein, killing animals purely for “fun” is utterly bewildering. ￼On each occasion I have been of a mind to have a reasoned argument along the lines of explaining that what they were doing was barbaric, unnecessary, and incompatible with the norms of modern civilised a society.
However in the interests of expediency and brevity I decided instead to yell “wankers” at the top of my voice.
I recently tried to buy a pair of replacement boots. I selected the right size and colour from the only available options on the Amazon page but was sent a different size altogether. What then ensued was a to and fro about EU verses UK sizes with the marketplace seller not taking responsibility for what was clearly their mistake. Not helped by language challenges (the supplier is based in Germany) I tried to keep calm through the various email exchanges. But I failed. Miserably.
Should I just let things go? Doesn’t it matter that I have the wrong boots? Is it fair that I have to go through the pain of re-packaging them, taking them to the post office, re-ordering them all of which take time?
It might not be fair but, at one level, it doesn’t matter. Not in the grand scheme of things.
Yes, if I insist on the world being the way that I expect it to be, I should do battle when it doesn’t. But if I remember that all that is at stake here is my misguided idea that life is/should be predictably as I would like it then I should let go, chill, enjoy my trip to the Post Office and wait for the boots which will give me years of pleasure.
We watched Sleepless in Seattle last night for the umpteenth time. I know what happens. There are no surprises. But I still gasped out loud at the end when they come out of the lift and I then proceeded to blub for a good five minutes afterwards.
These are fictional characters for goodness sake. I knew what the ending was going to be. But I still got hooked. The story still tugged at my heart strings. Literally. You can see where that phrase came from. The feeling is as much physical as mental. Emotions are. They are physical reactions that we are not in control of and aren’t driven by conscious thought.
There is something about seeing other people in emotional situations that, for me at least, is frequently more powerful than my own emotions. When my Mum was dying recently for instance I was more triggered by seeing other people upset than I was by my own situation.
I guess this is down to what they call the empathy gene, something in us that feels compassion for others around us. It is a powerful force and one to be celebrated and encouraged rather than hidden in embarrassment.
Now that we have decided to let Alby off his long rope the mouse population in the field behind us is dropping by the day. I hate watching him playing with them, and in fact will often step in and bring him into the house, but nonetheless the casualty rate is increasing.
The girls make the case that it is his instinct to do this but I counter with the fact that it might be a dog’s instinct to savage little children but that doesn’t mean we let them do it. If Alby ends up psychologically scarred by my attempts to save the mice then I’ll pay for the therapy.
If he’s playing with mice in the back garden, within sight of the house, then he is not dicing with death crossing the main road in front of us. It seems that he too is worried about the mouse population of the field reducing and is researching other sources of entertainment. He might be savvy enough to dodge the traffic but there are no guarantees.
So, sit back and watch him torturing mice or watch him dodging traffic? A rock and a hard place.
There is a persistent myth along the lines of “if we just pay enough money for a fancy enough search engine then all the stuff that our staff know will become available to us and we will make better decisions and become incredibly efficient and successful”
Bollocks, all you usually end up with, if you’re lucky, is someone else’s badly written out of date document.
Much better to take the time and effort it takes to build lively and engaging online conversations amongst staff so that what people know surfaces in a timely and contextual manner.
Don’t worry if you think the question has been asked before, ask it again. The answer will probably have changed over time and someone else who is prompted by the question will think hard about the subject again and probably come up with something new. At the very least someone in the network will realise that your question is answered by one of those badly written out of date documents and point you to it with a URL.
Oh and don’t be suckered into spending the money you would have spent on a search engine on a “enterprise social media platform” instead. Same mugs game. The reason staff don’t take part in lively online work conversations isn’t because of the tools you have, or haven’t, given them, it goes way deeper than that and is much harder to sort.
I have mentioned before that the road in front of us is currently blocked off for repairs and I am enjoying walking towards Chesham and back each day. Given that there isn’t meant to be any traffic going up and down the road whenever anything passes me, especially if they are driving fast and don’t move over, it was beginning to wind me up. There’s a whole empty road in both directions. Why not move over to the other lane as you go past me, especially as you’re going so fast?!
Two things have helped me to let this go. Firstly there is an estate the “wrong side” of the roadworks and if they want to get into Chesham they have to come all the way past us, a road trip of about 8 miles. If I was having to do that every time I want to go to the shops I would probably be getting wound up and driving too fast as well.
The other reason that I’m learning to let this go is that I can’t do anything about it. My righteous indignation at their driving affects no one but me. They have no idea that I am annoyed with them. It makes no difference to them but it spoils my walk. Until I learned to let go I would hold onto my irritation for ages after each time it happened. Now I just step onto the grass verge out of their way, smile as they pass, and get on with my walk unperturbed.
Now all I need to do is to apply this learning to all the other things that press my buttons!
There’s been a bit of a spat recently between a couple of writers I follow on non-duality/Buddhism and it has been fascinating to watch the consequences.
The trigger for the argument was trivial but it was fuelled by the followers each writer has who started ramping up the indignation. Thankfully, after an initial spate of name calling, both writers calmed down, had a Zoom call, and subsequently wrote interesting posts about the event.
The reason I am writing about it here is that here were two people, who write about self awareness and was of achieving calm and equability, losing it in public. Both subscribe to a world view that says that everything that happens is grist for the mill, that even bad things, maybe particularly bad things, give us the opportunity to learn about ourselves and life.
But we overlay this with the perceived need to be good, to be seen to be good. What good is can be incredibly slippery. Trying to be good is hard. We fail as often as we succeed. But somehow it still feels important to try rather than to give up.
This photo popping up on Facebook reminded me that it is two years ago that I got my Class One HGV licence. Although I drove mostly Class Two trucks like the one below these were my first steps on what became a great adventure, in fact many great adventures.
Like all great adventures I was stretched, way beyond my comfort zone, on a daily basis. I learned so much about myself and about people. I gained an insight into an industry that we take for granted but without which the world would grind to a halt.
I still look at trucks on the road and wonder if I will ever go back. I occasionally dream that I have, and the dreams are the same mix of excitement and fear that reality was for the eighteen months that I did it.
One of the questions I have been asked most over the past few weeks is “How do you filter the information coming at you in ever increasing volumes?”
In a word “ruthlessness”. Inevitably sources of information increase all the time and it is easy not to notice until you are feeling overwhelmed and under pressure to keep up. Every once in a while I have a purge, stripping things back ruthlessly to sources that I trust to provide more signal than noise and that are diverse enough to give me confidence that I will hear about things that matter to me.
The biggest casualty of this process is mainstream news. I find little value on the list of scary things that I can do little about that seem to be their main product these days so I never watch TV news, never listen to the radio, and never browse any news sources. What I do is make sure that my network includes a range of people with different perspectives and if a news article has been sufficiently relevant and interesting to share it I will pick up on their links.
Second biggest casualty currently is social media. I have really reduced the amount of time I spend in Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin. I am really enjoying not being subject to the indignation engines and focus on a very small subset of all of the people in those networks. As I said earlier the challenge is to reduce that number to as small as possible without losing signal as well as noise or ending up in an echo chamber.
So I mostly pay attention to my trusty old RSS feeds of certain journalists, bloggers, and experts in my network. I focus on writing posts on my blog and sharing photos via Flicks. Going back to first principles is working for me, it might for you.
I have been doing a series of webinars recently, one on how to adapt to online communication in COVID world and the other on how to better share knowledge. Both subjects I know a fair bit about and in both cases I was being paid to say what I think.
I am also aware that when doing online presentations the artifice of it (the fact that I am sitting at my computer rather than on a stage) means there is a risk of coming across as too laid back and so I need to inject some energy into my presentation.
So I get into the story telling, become less restrained, and let rip. I am aware that I might, to some, come across as opinionated. But then they are the ones who are probably not going to agree with my pitch that we all need to become more open and share more and I guess I’d rather take that risk than appear unsure or dispassionate.
When I was a teenager I used to cycle for hundreds of miles in all weathers. Setting off from home I would head into the local moors in all seasons, sometimes straining into the teeth of a winter gale in the snow. There was something about the grunt, the focus, the one stroke after another repetitiveness of it that was deeply meditative. Staring down at the tarmac passing beneath me I could get into a trancelike state.
As I mentioned previously the normally busy road in front of our house is currently blocked off for months and as a consequence is very quiet. I am enjoying rediscovering the same grunt and focus that I experienced as a teenager as I plough up and down that road for a minimum total of three miles (appropriately to Half Way House Farm and back) each day in all weathers.
Staring at the road surface induces the same mindful/mindless state as my step cadence gets in sync with my heart rate (data thanks to my beloved Apple Watch). My racing mind slows down and I feel deeply connected to the countryside I am passing through. It is a wonderful feeling.
It is easy to get frustrated at corporate IT. I have ranted as much as anyone against the constraints they place on people at work and their general risk aversion. In fact I am currently ranting as my emails are stuck in a client’s draconian spam filter and it is making life hard.
I remember hearing a hoary old IT pro once saying “If you want to sort out your corporate computing make Unix your standard platform and if the buggers can’t work out how to use Unix they shouldn’t have a computer.”
What if Microsoft hadn’t wheedled their way into the corporate world? What if we had decided that if you are at work you get given “a computing machine” that does what you need for your job and no more? Probably a mainframe with dumb terminals. Totally reliable and friction free. Imagine how many billions, no trillions, we would have saved. No tinkering, no faffing around, no tears, no frustration, just doing your job.
Imagine a parallel universe in which computing was entirely your responsibility. You could choose to use any device you wanted so long as you were able to deliver your work. You had to learn how to use your computer. You had to make sure that any hardware or software you chose would work with everything else you needed to share with, and you made sure it was safe and worked reliably.
I know I have written about this before but I am often struck by the consequences of our inclination to label the things in the world around us.
As I was doing my walk yesterday through beautiful autumnal trees I was realised again that I have no real clue what kind of trees they are. I have read so many books on flora and fauna over the years but none of it has stuck. Apart from beech trees, which are everywhere around here, the others remain a mystery to me.
And that was the point. I realised that in some ways I appreciate them more as a mystery. Otherwise there is a risk of walking around going “Oh, that’s an oak, that’s a chestnut, that’s an elder” and as a result not really seeing them. Even the label “tree” creates a sense of separation and isolation.
In reality, like ourselves, the tree is an undifferentiated part of the nature around it. Finding hard edges for where the tree stops and starts is infinitely complex. By labelling things we over simplify the world and separate ourselves from it at a fundamental level. This is the biblical story of the fall and and the consequence eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
We are still paying a really high price for that fall.