Bad things happen to good people

I really have no qualification to comment on what I write here other than to say that I like to think, and I have been thinking a lot about the following the last few months.

This piece is a bit of a diversion from my previous pieces, and in any case, it is a bit of a ramble.  It is less personal, yet still caries weight for me, and it does so because I have seen good people and those near them, those that are trying to do good in the world, be hurt.

One response to the question of why bad things happen to good people, which takes divine considerations off the table, is that many bad things are the cause of the natural order: lightning strikes can hardly be controlled, for example.  Another is the simple statement that the natural world is actually unjust, or there is no guarantee of justice of distribution of natural calamity. That is, to say, that the natural world does not discriminate between good and bad people, whatever these descriptors might mean.

But this is not about the natural world, this is about people, and unlike the natural world, we are led to believe that humans are rational.  That is to say that when humans act, those actions are deliberate and they can give rise to the conditions which may cause others to rejoice or to suffer.

I would like to think that such suffering is a byproduct of others’ thoughtlessness and that such actions are not calculated in ways that intentionally cause suffering for others, that no one actually acts in ways that wilfully harm others.  I’m struggling with this position however, for, as you will see below, it is clear to me there are cases where people act within frameworks that judge the value of suffering of others against the value of the gains they themselves will experience.

There are a number of contemporary claims that our actions as humans are inevitable, that we cannot blame people for their actions (though we can forcibly stop them if necessary), as all of their actions are the results of certain antecedent conditions.  Much of the basis for this position comes from contemporary neuroscience.  So, for example, a person that lies to you in order to scam you out of your money really has no choice, as that action is the result of all the pre-existing conditions they have encountered.  Their acts, then, can only be changed by changing those conditions and, since we cannot go back in time, we cannot do that.  What we can do is judge whether their actions were good or not, and this is where I want to go here.

Such judgement presupposes that we have the ability to determine what we ought to do or ought to have done from empirical facts, and it is this position that troubles me, for while empirical facts can tell us how to achieve our moral goals, it is unclear to me that they can tell me what the goals actually are.

One position for the scientification of morals is posited by Sam Harris who suggests that the moral thing to do is to increase the well-being of humans.  He does this by proposing a “Worst Possible Misery Argument” where he suggests that any behaviour that minimises collective misery is moral. Morally good behaviors, then, are those that promote human well-being, and the experience of this well-being exists only in the brain’s chemical and electrical makeup and so can be quantified through scientific technique. Therefore, science, not philosophy or religion, points the way to morality.

Let’s not forget at this point that if the above argument holds, it holds for all values of conscious beings, not just morality, whatever that may mean.

In his book, The Moral Landscape, Harris admitted that in respect of well-being, “it is sometimes hard to know what is being studied”.  In order to attend to this little problem he turned the discussion around and In a set of tweets sent out in January 2018, he conflated the idea of unpleasantness with something morally bad.

“So what is morality? What *ought* sentient beings like ourselves do? Understand how the world works (facts), so that we can avoid what sucks (values)”.

In this way the landscape is reframed so that we no longer define goodness by well-being but by the minimisation of suckiness.

And this immediately identifies the first issue with this position, for in resorting to the vernacular (“it sucks”) in order to simplify and appeal to the masses, we must grant that what “sucks” differs for different people.

Regardless, the argument goes that when we minimise the amount of suckiness in the world we are doing morally good things.  Let’s take that at face value and look at what such a stance might lead to.  In order to determine the value between competing claims of what sucks, we simply have to measure how an action that redistributes misery or well-being measures out.  If the amount of well-being or bliss generated overall outweighs the amount of misery or suckiness generated then an action is moral.  Put more simply, if suckiness decreases an action is moral. Whoa, say what?

The first issue I see, which others have dealt with much better than I ever could, is that such a consequentialist stance is not the only way to determine what “ought” to happen.  It is not obvious that the best course of action is the one that leads to the best consequences.

Taking consequentialism, however, there is a clear assumption that there is a causal relationship between action and outcome.  That is, if we know what we are going to do, then we will know the outcomes.  Not to put too fine a point in it, but history would tell us that we have been woefully inadequate at predicting such outcomes especially when it comes to human behaviour.  The reductionist response to this would be that we simply don’t know enough to predict, and if we knew everything we would be able to.

This obviously assumes that we actually can know ‘everything’, and that we can actually navigate the insane network that exists in a ‘knowledge of everything’ to work out how all the different pieces act to produce a singular outcome.  I mean we have trouble predicting all sorts of things infinitely less complex than ‘everything’ so how we could hope to accomplish this begs to be asked.

In principle, the consequentialist might argue, this is simply a matter of weight, just because we don’t know how to do it now, doesn’t mean we can’t do it.  As I mentioned above however, this assumes that relationships between all the known variable are causal, but we have no a priori reason to believe this.  In fact, if we delve into the micro world, we know that relationships are not quite so simple and that outcomes are probabilistic.

Next, and to condense the claim,  our goal as conscious creatures is to attain the maximum well-being, now measured as the least suckiness, that we can.  Harris does suggest in his writing that this is a collective well-being, but it is not explicit in his “worst possible misery argument”, and this is a concern for me as it seems to gloss over a significant point, and this is how we determine this collective betterment and who actually determines it.  We’ve already suggested that well-being cannot be defined (yet) but when it can be defined who actually gets to define it?  Likely not you or I, as our subjective experience is irrelevant in this scheme.

But let’s take it that we can do this and consider the following.

Assuming everyone in the world is at their worst possible misery and we could enhance the life of one person so that their well-being is improved while everyone else’s misery is maintained, the outcome would be morally better than doing nothing – suckiness would decrease overall.  Let’s disregard the question of the character of that person and assume we know exactly what the outcome of the decreased suckiness will be, and ask how do we decide who it is?  Or let’s enlarge the experiment and privilege a number of people, while others remain subjugated, for this is what it is.  How do we decide who they are if they are all at the bottom of the scale?

What this scenario leads us to, in a world of finite resource, is the argument in support of slavery.  In this argument, the well-being of an enslaved minority (as measured by overall moral health) is sacrificed for a maximization of well-being of a majority, or a rise in the collective well-being.  In fact, in an extreme case, bliss may explode in a minority (kind of like what we have when we look at wealth distribution) at the expense of a majority.  Put simply, this system does not consider fairness or justice as values that come into play.

Of course it might be argued that the enslaved, for whatever reason, don’t have the psychological capacity to reach the same level of moral bliss as the free, as perhaps they are already at their maximal well-being even if it is misery.  Why we can’t actually remove barriers to capacity growth is unclear, and begs the question of actually where to do so in any case.  As in schooling, as an analogy, we need to make a decision whether to treat the illiterate or enhance the highly literate.  So how do we decide? And again, who decides?

Moving on, while the consequentialist argument is clear on the claim that genocide will result in more misery than not genocide (though why remains murky) this argument is premised on the position that people are not in abject misery.  Assume that a proportion of the world’s population are at this nadir on the scale, the absolute ‘bottom’ end, and that these people are merely consuming resource to, at best, subsist. There is a powerful claim to be made that their extermination will provide a decrease in the collective suckiness of the world, and a decrease in suckiness is justification enough, because by definition, this increases the overall “well-being” of those left.

This position gets more insidious if we consider ability to maximise the use of resources.  Clearly, if one person is using a resource more efficiently than another then there is claim to strip the resource from the latter and give it to the former, assuming, of course that there are no diminishing returns, which is another assumption that we might want to look closely at.

I had a discussion about such matters, about genocide in essence, with a colleague who suggested that this was a fine stance to take if society agreed that this was the best possible action.  Now this assumes (again) a number of things.  Majorly, it assumes that those at the bottom have equal power to decide as those at the top.  It also assumes that all actually measure suckiness in the same way, which is problematic, and that the returns from each action can be reliably measured.  It also discards any other values which may exist, which as I pointed out above, may well be identifiable by the same conditions as it is claimed that moral values are.  Oops.

If we were to consider rights and liberties as having intrinsic value themselves, which may still happen to be the eventual case, then justice, as Martha Nussbaum would argue, takes on a moral aspect along with suckiness and we have a means of going forward, assuming we know how to integrate these.  Justice, is the means by which we can keep a check on the excesses of Harris’ and similar moral theories.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to like about the feel and the ease of Harris’ theory.  It is eminently reachable by a lay person and lays out rather simply what we need to do if we are to act morally.  But, this very simplicity is its curse, as an uncritical reading of it can easily lead a person to rationalise their own actions at an atomistic level. By latching naively onto this consequentialist stance it is perfectly acceptable to argue that if something benefits me more than it costs you, then it is the moral thing for me to do.  And this is where the problem lies, where the individual considers this a theory for the self, for the promotion of personal well-being, and for doing so without any consideration of the complexity of outcomes.

How does this action impact the suckiness of those people who haven’t been born?  How does such action impact those conscious beings that are once or twice removed from the situation?  How does such action impact the immediate social and environmental fabric, and thus those living within it?

And this then brings us back to the crux of the question I posed at the beginning.  With all the above in mind I ask again “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

If, as it is posited above, moral actions are ones that decrease overall suffering, then it is possible that there are people who are actively involved in actually pursuing such actions and doing so by lowering their place on the moral scale to increase others’.   It may well be that in an absolute sense, for example, the 100 dollars that you give away will do far more good distributed, say, to malaria prevention than it would if you had kept it.  I would then define you as a good person.

I can’t say that the outcome would be good for sure as I don’t have the way to objectively measure this in a neuroscientific way, but then, and this is important, neither does anybody else have the ability to measure such outcomes.  The fact that it intuitively feels like a good action doesn’t necessarily make it one, but by any gross measurement of suffering, it seems obvious that saving ten lives is worth more than a bottle of scotch.

Of course, without such measurements, it is impossible to determine the value of a person’s moral worth, and so, any choice that promotes one individual’s action over another’s is done without any recourse to the full knowledge of consequences.  Let me repeat this.  Without any objective measurement of suffering, I cannot legitimately privilege my worth over yours and, therefore, acting in the belief that I can is utterly irresponsible, and, I would add, antithetical to the central thesis that neuroconsequentialists propose.

The responsible thing to do, the apt thing to do for those seeking to reduce their ‘suckiness’ at the expense of another, is to abide by the precautionary principle –  namely that if there is a possibility that their action will result in an overall increase in misery, then that action should be curtailed.  But that would require people to think, to think beyond the obvious, to predict outcomes accurately, and to actually act on the objective data if it was there.

And unfortunately, it seems that this is too much work, or perhaps more sadly, that such work might ultimately lead them to the conclusion that the best course of action would be to increase their own misery in order to lessen that of others.  And so, we have people acting in a moral void, and doing so results in bad things happening to good people.

 

 

 

Poverty Porn

As a person who is involved in the education of young people, I ask myself what my social and/or moral obligations may be.  At the very least, given that I have contracted myself to my organisation, I am bound to honour its stated purpose and those of its badged affiliates.

Most schools have very similar missions – you know, excellence, complex world, dynamic environment, thriving, caring for humanity, blah, blah, blah.  But what does that really mean, and why don’t schools honour those missions?

Recently, our school received the go ahead to participate in the 2019 World’s Big Sleep Out and, as I write this, young people are signing up to sleep on a tropical rooftop on the night of December 7, in order to raise money for homeless people, and to ostensibly give them a taste of what homelessness is.  The ideal is noble, but, unfortunately, it runs the very risk of doing the opposite of what it claims to.  Rather than help participants understand the life of the poor and homeless, it can serve to mask the real plight of others, while at the same time instilling in those taking part  a belief that this might be all it takes to do good in the world.

You may say ‘better something than nothing’, but I would challenge that one too.  In this case, this something ends up misrepresenting how the world works. At the same time, this ‘something’ panders to the wants of the privileged to jump onto the greater good bandwagon in order to satisfy their well-being requirement (according to positive psychology) of showing compassion and in order to build/maintain social connections.

An eighth-storey equatorial rooftop tennis court, especially one devoid of any form of insect life, safe and snug, amongst other kindred caring people who gladly give up the comfort of their air-conditioned boudoir, is hardly characteristic of what most of the world’s homeless experience when sleeping.

Acting the part of homelessness alongside humans with lofty hopes and goals and dreams, with no concern for personal safety, with no worries of whether your possessions would be with you the next day, paints an obscenely distorted picture of the experience of homelessness.

Maybe if a storm erupted there may be a bit of a taster, I guess, but I expect there are contingencies in place if this occurs.   I also expect we are going to make pretty darn sure that there are no other physical threats present, just for that added touch of realism.

It would be apt if we could get the participants to package all of their belongings in a box or a trolley or a bag (yes I know it’s more complex than this) and carry them up the flights of stairs to their ‘home for the night’.  Oh and carry them back down too, for these have to go back to where they really live right? Yes it’s a lot to ask, but there has to be some form of realism.

Realism? Realism? Instead of any attempt at realism the following appears on the ‘recruitment’ poster.  “We…carry on with our evening including a movie and snacks, a sleepover on the tennis courts, a morning activity, and a healthy breakfast to start your day!”

Indeed so, precisely what a destitute person would do.  Quite the experience stepping into their shoes isn’t it my friend?

I’m not sure whether this is vacuous or perverse, as I can’t put head into the space necessary to write such a thing.

The fact is that a Big Sleep Outing, in its most honest form, doesn’t even begin to uncover the inconceivable scope of homelessness. Not all homeless people, for example, sleep in streets.  They may sofa surf, stay in hostels, or in dirty squats, and many, many of them live in climates that are extremely inhospitable, and sometimes deadly. These people, who are multitudes of times more likely to be victims of violence, theft and robbery, and sexual assault than you or I can imagine, would have a life expectancy that is half of ours, and many are never reached by any form of organised help.  They either can’t be found, or it is too dangerous to step in.

So, instead of actually painting this picture in all of its stark ugliness, we ‘raise awareness of the issues’ and demonstrate our care and engagement, by using our social media savvy to connect with others around the world, tapping in to their moral proclivities, all the while taking care to sanitise our accounts to ensure we don’t offend.

Of course, one of the ways to justify such poverty porn is to focus on the amount of money that is raised for charity.  And yes, this does happen, and yes, some of this does find its way to people of need, but we really need to ask whether this simply strokes our conscience or whether it actually does something to redress the inequity which gives rise to homelessness in the first place.

I would have hoped that educated people who claim to care, would actually act as if they cared and took the time to get to know the ‘homeless’ to understand their particular culture(s) and allow them some dignity rather than turn their plight into a circus sideshow.  At the very least, we could take the time to actually think through what the hell we are saying and doing.

Instead, we trivialise their realities.  We throw a little money at them, and completely ignore that many of these people, through no fault of their own, literally don’t have any other choice.  We, on the other hand, congratulate ourselves for checking another few boxes off our happiness list, and continue to feed our and the organisers’ perverse narcissism.

If you want to focus on poverty, focus on poverty. And that’s it.

Purge 2

On October 27, 2019 I wrote the first piece of “purge“, and at the end of that piece I hinted that there was more to come. This is the more.
October 29, 2019

I looked at all the scraps of paper in front of me and knew it would be burdensome. And so it was, thousands and thousands and thousands of words transcribed from script to digital space many hours later. Given the rain outside, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything, though my neck and back screamed at me for the trial I put them through.

It was hard. Physically, there was a lot I wrote about in the first half of this year, as you might have figured from the first par, and this meant a lot of exercise for a four-finger marvel like me. I even tried speech-to-text, and it gave some respite especially for my smarting muscles, but it was woefully inaccurate, regardless of what accent I put on.

Scottish was the worst, and my Australian accent didn’t fare much better. For some freaky reason, the best accent I found to use was the one of my relatives, you know the one that Gus has in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding.’ Kinky, hey?

But its done, the physical work is done

Emotionally, the exercise was, well, interesting. It was a truly tumultuous time back in the first half of this year, especially from about March to June. I had not revisited the writing since mid-June, in fact I had never read it in its entirety, till now. While I still remember, and to some extent, still live the key themes, the main events were a little more vague, and the detail sporadic. Arranging these in an orderly chronological fashion on the screen allowed me to do so in my mind as well, and it also allowed me to track the development of my impressions and growing awareness of the world I lived in.

It surprised me. I mean the process of transcription surprised me. I expected the re-reading of the words to evoke some pretty severe reactions especially given that my long-time ally, Jose Cuervo, was keeping me company. Jose and I have been through some pretty rough times together; we fed off each other well. But it didn’t. Rather than go down the rabbit hole of self-doubt once again, I found the process to be disturbingly sober.

Much of what came back to me as I was transcribing is recorded, in a fashion, in my earlier posts, but these posts are somewhat disjointed, and although they share common motifs, there is something lacking. They feel piecemeal.

This time, as I read the notes and typed them out deliberately, I clearly recognised instances where I could make links to previous thoughts, to previous events. In fact, it was pretty straightforward and these moments inevitably led to some genuine contemplation. Collectively, this study, for it was a study, allowed me to isolate what really was going on in my mind at the time. I’ll get to that.

What was difficult for me, however, was to read the extremes of thought that I had experienced and lived for those months. Some of what I had splattered in ink on paper was awful. I mean furious, indignant, raging awful. I’m not sure what the psychologists would call it, no doubt there is a term, but it was a first for me to be so effusive with my anger.

I don’t know whether it was the typing that stripped the words of emotive power that they once had or whether it was something else. It didn’t matter though as the sterilized texts gave me the fuel necessary to isolate what had actually caused the hurt.

This hurt still surfaces at times, and not always pleasantly. A few days before starting this piece, I had cause to take out pen and paper and jot down a couple of paragraphs about something that had prodded me into a grey place.

This will never change. I know that. To have witnessed people act in some of the negligent, and self-serving ways that they have (and by this I mean many, many people) is a rather stark experience. To have watched and experienced others manipulate, lie and cower, and to have seen first-hand, and been the victim of, their unwillingness to treat others with the dignity and respect that we should give humans, has been quite profound. To have witnessed people do such things and continue to walk and talk, unrestricted at best, supported by others at worst, clearly raises questions in my mind about the very nature of humans. And revelations such as this are clear conduits for personal change. Slowly perhaps, but change nevertheless.

The sorts of behaviours I lived never surprised me when I saw them in the corporate world where material wealth is the measure of success, but they sure as hell confounded me here. I mean let’s get a lens on this shall we? All of these people I allude to above work in schools with children. Surely this is a problem. Surely we who work with young children have some moral responsibility to look out for and address injustice instead of modelling emotional illiteracy, or even worse lying about what we value. Unfortunately, it seems in my experience, recent and past, that we only show remorse once we are placed under duress, where we must face our actions or be condemned. It seems that we really only truly give a damn, when it is we who are suffering, or run the risk of suffering. Am I generalising? Sure. But make no mistake, this comes from somewhere, and it is not an isolated incident.

So now that I understand why and how I reacted the way I did, and I suppose will continue to react, I can ask myself, “how could I have reacted and what will I do from now on in?”

Clearly, I have chosen to edit my ways to consider people a little differently than what I used to. There has, in the past six months, been a weighty change in the ways I relate with a number of my colleagues. I keep my distance, physically and emotionally and am very clinical about any dealings with them. I certainly don’t trust them, and it seems, if last week was anything to go by, that approach has been vindicated.

Other colleagues I am closer to, but I cannot run the risk of letting in anybody the whole way. There is enough doubt there, the little things often, even with those I trust the most, to demand breathing room. Just because I trust them the most doesn’t mean I trust them totally. And this is not to denigrate their character, but rather an observation that they do not always act on their words. This does not mean that I should not believe to hem, but it does mean I should be prepared for changes to agreements. This is a simple lesson, that played often enough, simply cannot be ignored or wished away.

So what have I learned? In no particular order then

  1. People lie, whether overtly or by omission, and it is not for the good of others
  2. Taking responsibility for ones actions is not normal, blaming the world is
  3. There is no such thing as someone who can be trusted totally
  4. People will put their wants before others’ needs
  5. Ego is rampant, even in those we consider to be ‘good’ people. Just look closely.

Pretty dire isn’t it. But that is my experience. That is what happened.

As I wind this up, I’m thinking of all the warm and fuzzy organisational theory, and general feelgood literature that exists out there, and how this is targeted at directing inwards such feelings and thoughts as I have and to characterising them as something of me that has to be fixed.

I’ve been told by many a devotee of this new world view, and I paraphrase here, but I’m sure you’ve heard similar elsewhere, that “yes the world is a stressful place, but there are ways to make it much less so. By focusing on my physical health, by reframing and being grateful, like glass half-full grateful, by breathing intently for ten-minutes every day, and by channeling the universal energy flow, I will alleviate the stress and be a much happier person.”

Yep, despite the ills of the world if we do the right things it can fix us. If others get hurt by it, why well they are broken, but with the right courses and diets and books they can be fixed too!

I’ve never bought into this sort of blatant commercial manipulation, but others have, oh how they have, and this nonsense simply gives them the food to palm off any form of liability for the harm they cause others to the ones they cause harm to! Read that previous sentence again – this nonsense simply gives them the food to palm off any form of liability for the harm they cause others to the ones they cause harm to!

And it is easy to do so, simply because it is designed to be that way. You put it in enough books, and websites, and advertise it hard enough and people will buy anything. And so they have.

I would like to offer a simple alternative to this though. And this is –

Stop telling me that there is something wrong with me, and start telling them to stop all the BS in numbers 1 to 5. (Look up a few pars) I mean, really? It is acceptable to be a laughing reprobate and act as such, but to be upset and aggrieved by such actions is an illness and needs curing?

So this is another place the purge took me. A very clear awareness of not just physical purging, not just emotional purging, but of contact purging too. I can’t fight against the forces that channel the actions of these people, all I can do is limit the access that such behaviour has to me, minimise the amount of energy that I devote to such drivel, and choose where and when I will stand and where and when I will walk away.

And the interesting thing about this, is that this little wandering is causing me to rethink much of what I purged and kept already. As I write this, I am thinking of all the physical things I held onto two weeks ago, and why I did so.

It is looking like there is going to be a phase 3….

Talkers and doers

Right now, it is work time and I am sitting at a desk doing this.  Do I feel guilty?  Yes I do. This isn’t work, it isn’t what I get paid to do.

But, you know, other people do it, others book flights, or show pictures of holidays, or talk about their night out when they are expected to be working.  Why right now, someone behind me is watching funny youtube videos, and someone else just walked in and started announcing to the whole room something about doughnuts. Yes I feel guilty, but here it goes.

***

So it happened last week.  I asked someone for some help to complete a task regarding something they had been waxing lyrical about for the last number of months, and the response was as vague and diversionary as they come.  No help given, no clue what I was asking for.

“Uh huh,” I thought.  “Here we go again.”

It’s easy to be a talker.  “I’m going to write this great procedure that’s easy to follow” or “I’m going to overhaul the way we do things around here” or “She has no idea, we should do things this way.”

All the above are pretty commonplace and achievable, at least on my world, yet they rarely ever happen once they are vocalised.  And this is for three main reasons in my mind.

Talkers are afraid

This is the real bottom line difference between talkers and doers, and the simple reason is that to translate talk into action takes work. And some of that work is challenging, and some of that challenge runs the risk of failure.  What if others don’t follow the brilliant procedure, or agree to the changes you want to make?  What if you are actually wrong about how much “she” does know, maybe “she” really knows a lot more than you?

Doers, on the other hand understand and accept the risks.  Those who make it happen have figured out that doing anything new is fraught with risks, but they aren’t afraid to try to manage those risks and recover if things don’t turn out well. I have heard the term pessimistic optimist being used to describe this characteristic.  Aim for the best, yet plan for the worst. These risks or barriers are actually learning points for doers, which is why they continue to be able to navigate the landscape and do while others talk and walk away.  Which is why talkers continue to exhibit the same behaviours over and over and over.

Talkers are divergent

It’s not easy to get things done when there are so many distractions around us, well especially when the ‘thing’ is not deeply personal.  Doing beyond talking actually requires us to recognise the distractions and the impact they have on our work.  “I didn’t have time,” for example, really isn’t a phrase that doers ever use, and that is because doers focus.  For an outsider looking in, the tricky thing is that excuses for not doing seem to make sense.  And this is, typically, because talkers direct such mitigations outwards, placing the burden for lack of doing on the world around them.

Doers simply don’t do this.  They recognise the problems, and might have considered their possibility earlier, and work to get around them.  Doers may very well have thought of such issues well before encountering them, and this is because it is not only the doing, but the thinking behind the doing that is focused. Doers plan to produce.  Every day.  Doers focus on long term goals and on doing what is needed to get there.  Talkers simply talk grand schemes.

Talkers don’t act

Focus is nothing without acting.  The clearest plan, the most well laid out progression is nothing without actually doing something about following it.  Doers have already got to this point, leaving talkers languishing in the Land of Lost Time, lounging over a cup of Moringa (“isn’t this magical?”) tea discussing the the latest book they read and how this modifies their previous argument.

Getting things done, executing, as alluded to above, means doing.  Every day.  “To do” transforms to “completed”.  This doesn’t mean doers are not sensitive to setbacks and changes, of course they are, but they do a lot more than talk about them. They get their hands dirty, so to speak.

So why do talkers persist to remain unscathed?

I very recently (this morning in fact) had the fortune  to  browse through parts of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “Skin in the game” and he tackles this distinction between those that do and those that talk.  He categorises people into those who make decisions in full knowledge and ownership of the associated risks, and into those who don’t and who  obviate themselves of any form of responsibility.  Any of us who listen to sports commentary has seen/heard this over and over, the athlete is out there putting everything on the line, while the commentator pitches in with expert opinion, and well, gets it wrong often enough.

The difference here is obvious.  Commentators are not chosen for their ability to do, to handle risk. Although we nowadays have many ex-athletes as commentators, this is always as the expert or the sidekick to the ‘trained’ journalist.  The journalist, the politician, the consultant et. al. while not being able to do are all very good at arranging words.  And if the words are used carefully, failure, or perceived failure, is almost non-existent, and can certainly be forgotten.

How many economists does it take to change a light bulb? Seven, plus/minus ten.

When you give yourself “seven, plus/minus ten” latitude with words then its pretty easy to talk.  When you present convoluted, obfuscated claims, you leave yourself oodles of room to weasel out when the time comes.  When you spatter talk with “pop” jargon, then its easy to move on as that jargon gets replaced by marketers by the next “word of the day”.

There is the saying that goes something like ‘if you can’t do, teach’ or something like that.  I do take offence at this because it is misconstrued to suggest that all who teach can’t do (yes another logical fallacy) but if we read it correctly, if we assume that teaching is only a verbal act, it sends a pretty clear message.

What talkers don’t realise, or don’t care about, is how their words might affect others.  In the above example of a teacher it is rather obvious that damage can be done, but many would say the teacher must exercise caution and keep in mind that they are working with children.  But is it any difference with adults?

One clear and vocal example that comes to mind is Sam Harris’ well-documented public statements about Donald Trump’s chances of becoming president.  Harris is a very popular man, but his knowledge of the political landscape is next to zero, well it is actually zero. Not surprisingly, he got it wrong – twice.

Of course, doers got it wrong too, but they weren’t standing on their podium and blaring it out to all their followers because they were busy doing.  And when they got it wrong, well there was no face to save, so they just got on with their business.

I assume if Harris had got it right he would have continued to hold interviews explaining his rationale for such foresight.  But he didn’t, and he didn’t.  Instead, now that he got it wrong, rather than show the humility to admit that he doesn’t know everything, he goes on to take the stage again and attacks Mr. Trump.  I am not condoning Donald Trump here, that is not what this is about.  It is about people who talk, and get it wrong, just continue to talk, and we just seem to allow them to do it.

How many of his followers actually took stock of the false hopes he may have given them, and how did he deal with the consequences of abusing his position and voicing, what in the end, was an incorrect and very naive claim? Well, he simply moved the goalposts to suit whatever he wanted to talk about next. And so forth and so on it will go…

There are many, many examples of cases such as this, where talkers talk, and then when things turn to dust, just walk.  And it irks.  It irks because people listen to the talk, and act on the talk, in the honest belief that there is substance behind the talk, on the belief that that this mortgage rate they are getting really isn’t a dream.  But it is.  And we let it continue to happen.

 

Fragility

blur branch close up cold
Photo by Dan Hamill on Pexels.com

I just read a blog post from someone I am following, and in that post she comments on how fragile we are as human beings, and how others’ insensitivity to that frailty can have significant effects on our lives.

 

 

She writes:

“Treat others gently because they, like you, are fragile. Treat others gently because they, like you, deserve dignity and respect. Treat others gently because they, like you, are only human.”

If you read through my past posts here, you will realise that I am no stranger to insensitivity, and that the actions of others have provoked in me reactions that have been far from healthy.  In almost all cases, my reactions have contributed to an evolving life story.  While I would like not to have experienced such times, reframing the experiences has allowed me an opportunity that many just don’t take.

Emotional and physical responses to situations are all informed, on a biological level, by the neural pathways that we can access, and, as such, a study of those responses can tell us a lot about who we are, and how we are truly wired.

If there are such things as intrinsic values, then any triangulation of responses that uncover such values are a far more reliable indicator of our core wiring than the words we use.  Time and time again, I have seen people act in ways that are contrary to their stated true beliefs, yet they resort to rationalising their actions instead of working to understand them.  Just as sadly, there have been many cases in my world where pointing out inconsistencies between words and actions of another has led to aggressive and hostile retorts on their part.  Typically in these situations, the retorts take the form of well-worn fallacious ripostes: ad hominem, circumstantial ad hominem, fallacy of division, false attributions, moralistic fallacies, and more.

Such reactions often lead conversations away from the core issues and into irrelevant territory, and this is associated with arguments of repetition.

While we, as fragile human beings, can be deeply hurt by the content and tone of others’ words and by the ways in which those words are delivered, intentional retrospection, especially one carried out once our chemical responses have died down, can give us a much clearer picture of the assailant and of ourselves than if the situation(s) had never occurred.

Note the plural above.  Typically, encounters that evoke deep responses arise from those whom we least expect.  In some cases these may be from those with noble reputations, but in most cases such events arise with people we know and have known with some degree of closeness. There is, at least, some element of trust that is present.

This trust of friends or acquaintances develops over time.  Few of us have the knack or skill to know who to trust from first meeting, so relationships are built structures.  And the ways they are constructed relies, at least in part, on the ways in which we relate with those people in the first place.  The problem with such relationship compositions, is that they occur within our existing framework, one which is far from objective.  As such, many of us like to believe the best of people as we grow to know them, and we do tend to overlook many of the small things, that might otherwise warn us of the person’s integrity.

It is important to consider what we mean by integrity.  There is a saying that goes something like “you will always see your employee’s best at the interview.”  This means that when people are prepared for an event they are more likely to show what they think you want to see than when they are not.  As time passes, and as people become more comfortable with their status, they tend to allow minor inconsistencies through.  This means, then, that there is no integral between the person we think we know, and the one that exists.  These inconsistencies may be little, but they may well be signs of bigger things.  I hate to say I told you so, but…

When such trust is broken, we are inevitably hurt, either by the way in which it is done, or by our perceived unfairness of the violation.  Even if the message is confronting but valid, we may well not see it as the latter, as this (i) threatens our own self-conception and (ii) raises question of our ability to develop strong relationships.  Unlike the resilience we have to strangers, self-doubt rises pretty easily when our glasshouses have stones tossed at them by those we are faithful to.

So what to do?

The reactions we have when our vulnerabilities are assaulted, if reframed, can prove to be a significant growth opportunity if we are sincere enough to examine them carefully.  The dilemma is, however, that often we are not genuine in reflecting on our emotions and thoughts, for doing so raises the spectre of change, and change brings uncertainty

Falling back on claims of fragility also lessens the power of agency we have to take control of our lives.  It’s not that we are not delicate, of course we are, and of course we hurt, and we should be treated kindly, but often we indiscriminately allow others to work into positions where they can hurt us.  We use fragility as an apology for inaction, both past and present.

We may well believe that all humans should be treated with dignity and respect, but that does not portend that we should condone others’ actions, or inaction(s) for that matter.  Nor does it mean that we should look to reconcile with those who hurt us.  We cannot forget that, before we are able to look after others, we need to look after ourselves.

In such situations, one of the first things we can do is examine why and how we allowed others to gain our trust, and why we ignored the earlier warning signs that inevitably arose.  How deep does our claim to fragility run?  Only then can we possibly hope to be able to parse the situation into manageable and meaningful facets.

We could try and understand why we, through our own reticence to act on certain knowledge, enable others to hurt us.

We can also look at where we choose to devote our time.  While we may wish to consider all humans to be worthy of our care and love, and while we may want to save everyone from the evils that ply them, we have a finite amount of energy.  I mean, physically there are 24 hours in a day so we can only live those 24 .  We can only care for others in that 24.  So who are we going to give that time to?  And what are the implications of those choices?

I have learned to be a person who will choose where to devote my time and energy to, and I have done this through a good deal of soul-searching which I have embarked on after my many mistakes.  I have learned to divorce the behaviour from the person, but I have also learned not to ignore the power of behaviour to give insight of another’s true values.

Consequently, I will choose, as I have done in the past, not to empower others by continuing, through my trust of them, to consent to behaviours and actions that may well belie a public impression that they give.  I’m not going to say that it’s OK for you to behave as you do, and to continue doing so, if it isn’t.  That doesn’t mean I won’t talk with you, but I certainly won’t trust you.

If I consider that I am fragile and that I can get hurt, I will not, as far as possible, put myself in positions where the probability of others doing this is maximised.

Yes, this may leave me with far fewer ‘friends’, but note the quotation marks.

 

 

Purge

Yesterday I purged stuff.

It’s not that I possess a lot of stuff, not in the way that George Carlin characterises it in his wonderful five-minute piece. I don’t even have enough things to fill my 550 square foot little apartment, but I still have stuff.

A seemingly commonplace rule of thumb, according to others, is that if you haven’t used it for a year, especially if it is functional, get rid of it.  Recycle it, repurpose it, donate it, or sell it even.  With that in mind, I decisively began the business of absolving my world of the belongings that didn’t fit the criteria.  Except it wasn’t quite that elementary.

Had I kept a ‘stuff that has been used diary’ I might have had found the task a little more straightforward.  But, I hadn’t, and as I struggled to remember the last time I had worn my Ferris Bueller tie, the niggle started.

“I might actually wear this again on a special occasion.  Maybe someone will throw a retro party and that’s all I have to adorn myself with.”

Or, “I’ve rarely used this blanket here because its too hot.  I might well use it the next place I move to.”

Or, “I bought this crepe pan because my friend liked crepes, but now he’s gone.  Maybe someone else I meet will like them too.”

Those sorts of thoughts, right?

And then there is the stuff that sits stainless, in its original packaging, bought in anticipation of something to come.

These thoughts were cumbersome, and, in some cases, tedious to resolve, one way or the other.  I started the  purge to strip myself of those things that cluttered my world, and was finding that I was doubting my resolve.

As I pondered over a coral, sweat-stained short-sleeve shirt, that I had made in Vietnam, thinking that maybe with Oxi-Clean I could get rid of the blasphemous grey splodges under the arms, I started to realise that the problem was not with the stuff, but with my mind.  It was one of many shirts, one that I would never wear as is, so why was I flailing with the decision to rid myself of it?  What neural pathways was the shirt triggering?

I left Australia twenty-years ago with: two suitcases of clothes, shoes and bedding, a job contract, my personal documents, and some money. I was fine.  But, and this is compelling, I had connection to that place back then.  My mother and father were alive, my family home was in tact, my childhood friendships were vivid, and the memories of past times were easy to access.

It’s not like that any more.  Most of who I was growing up has been erased, and so the only physical links I have to my past is the stuff I posses, which, I guess is why I keep it.

Why it seems important to maintain such links I don’t know.  Perhaps it is to remind me of the purpose I have had and of the paths I have taken to pursue that. But then why should that matter if it is in the past?  Is it, as a friend put it, to realise who we were and who we have become?  But again, why does that matter as long as we know who we are now?

It was also interesting to me to consider the things I had no doubts of getting rid of.  To put this into perspective, the spare mattress and bedding that was tucked away, just in case I had visitors come and stay, is no more, yet the empty bottle of liquor that I shared with a friend about a year ago, still sets on the the little dresser over – there!

And it is an iterative process.  I’m currently looking at the little tray of electrical adaptors sitting under the TV console and ask myself why I need so many of them.  As stuff gets purged, thoughts congeal, and intention clarifies.

The most difficult of all was the written ‘stuff’. It scalds me to label my hand scribed words this way, especially the ones that were penned in times of joy or pain.  It is contemptuous to put them in the same category as the shirt or the old worn out shoes.  It is naive to think that such items carry the same gravity as written records of past thoughts and feelings, however cumbersome the latter may be.

As I read scanned the ink-filled pages torn from notebooks, and browsed the little scraps found here and there, I decided to discard them, but not before I digitised them.  It took time, and it still isn’t finished, but the process itself ensued a certain clarity of thought that had never reached me before.  As I copied the words from the page to the keyboard, I found myself asking why I’d written things that way, what the key words were, and what, precisely, had prompted the emotions at the time, and the way I had described them.

I transcribed seven-thousand four-hundred and ninety-nine words from one three-month period, adding to the already existing thirty six hundred that occupied part of my computer drive.

It wasn’t cathartic, as such, but having a little experience in linguistics, I could pick out clear thematic patterns and easily gain some perspective, something that reading alone had failed to do in the past. This isn’t the place to go into what I found, tempting as it may be, but it is the place to begin to recognise where the purge is headed.

In a rather convoluted and unanticipated way, this process, and the writing of this piece, has shepherded me to a place where I am more at peace with myself.  Its not that I am free of all the impediments that are products of the past, but that I have recognised, at least to some degree, how I might approach the world when I inevitably will, once again, have the scars of prior encounters provoked by whatever it may be.

There are electrical adaptors to discard, and there is more paper to wade through.

I had better get on with the purge.

Don’t ask just because it feels good

It is raining out. Heavily.

And it has been like this almost the whole day, save for three of four hours in the afternoon when I headed into hospital for my screening for tomorrow’s procedure.  It’s a relatively minor one, just an overnight stay afterwards, but I know that even those carry their risks.

And that is what prompted me to finally write this post, I need to get this out, you know, just in case.

This origins of this piece go back a long way to a birthday in my early teens. My father asked me what I would like for my Christmas gift.  I asked, in my typically undemanding way, for a football, an Aussie Rules Sherrin.  It wasn’t a hollow request by any means.  At the time, playing footy was the core of my world and I longed to have a ball to take to training early.  I was excited.  However, on the day, there was no football under the tree but, rather, a flat rectangular box.  I didn’t want to open it but, knowing my parents, felt obliged to do so, and, moreover, felt moved to mask my disappointment with manufactured smiles.  Why did they ask me and then ignore me?

Since then, that experience and others similar have been repeated many times, with many different people in many parts of the world.  Some are distant, some quite recent, some are momentary and others have seen me waiting and waiting for months on end.

And, as is wont to happen, the emotional impetus of these situations has ensured that many of them have remained with me and have shaped who I am.

I have taken some responsibility for my part in such events to be sure.  I have learned that sometimes I need to be more careful of what I say, to temper my anticipation of joy and to no longer abide by the naive expectations I once had.  Nevertheless, I am still caught out from time to time, and, at such times, I find myself withdrawing into my foundation, yearning to shed myself of all the baubles that we might call stuff, and longing for emotional hygiene.

While such washouts have always resulted in a healthy dose of introspection, their effects have been exacerbated because of the almost inevitable denials of others once I approached them and tried to talk genuinely about my feelings with them.

Rather than acknowledging my emotions, the typical responses have led off with “You weren’t clear enough…I didn’t think you were serious…You should have told me again…Things got in the way…I thought you had forgotten…”

I am not writing about life changing commitments here, just simple things like a football for Christmas or lasagne for Sunday dinner or this silly but meaningful real life example.

She: “Hey would you like to go to the Trivia night on Tuesday?”  

Me: “Oh sure I’d love to go with you.”

Tuesday morning

Me: “What time shall I pick you up this evening?”

She: “Oh, I thought you had forgotten. I arranged to go out for dinner with Melinda, Stuart and Dan tonight. Didn’t I tell you? “

No you didn’t tell me. You did ask me to go to trivia, however, and I did agree.

Why is it so easy for us humans to renege on relatively plain pledges to others and then not even acknowledge that we have done so?

I have my suspicions but I can’t say I know.  What I can attest to is that I will not fight you, I will not beat my drum, nor will I take a better offer, you know, just in case you don’t follow through.  I will, however, as I have learned over time, take your words with a grain of salt.

So when you next ask me what I want for Christmas, don’t be surprised if I simply shrug and say “I don’t care”.

This saddens me deeply, because it doesn’t have to be this way.

 

 

 

Why won’t people do the hard work?

Sunday, October 20, 2019 9:18 pm

It was a relatively straightforward task.  Create and share an online matrix with specified dropboxes for designated files, distribute the matrix to the owners of these files, and request them to label according to a convention and upload the files.  Two weeks to do this seemed reasonable enough.

I mean, how hard can it be for to locate, for example, the results of your December survey of student opinion on their Music classes and upload it? Yes, the requests were that detailed.  And yet…

By last Friday, the final day before a 10-day school vacation, the total number of requested submissions from colleagues numbered closer to zero than fifty.  And those that had contributed were the ones that always contribute.

Let me put this into perspective. Thirty minutes ago, I tapped the send button one last time and closed off this task myself. A whole Sunday, on top of all the previous days, of work, as others snapped selfies in airports and posted them for the world to see.

The work wasn’t glamorous.  It involved finding, opening, and reading hundreds of files from a digital abyss, finding the 218 files required, or that would suffice, turning these into pdfs, re-labelling, collating, and finally, uploading them into their designated spaces.

And it got me thinking, yet again, as to why people just won’t do the simple things.  in “Ego is the Enemy”, Ryan Holiday gives us some insight as to why this must be.  To cut a long story short, he suggests that the reason that people fail to do the hard work is because their ego, or what he terms ‘the disease of me’ gets in the way.

What is troubling, especially in the education field, is the way that ‘passion’, has become, ostensibly, a clarion call for learning success.  Using Robert J. Vallerand’s definition of passion as “a strong inclination toward a self-defining activity” we can see how the immersion of oneself into a passionate mindset can, contrarily, simply be a pursuit of glory.  Sure, there are plenty of stories of passionate people who were extremely successful in their pursuits, but there are far more untold of those who failed because they were blinded to purpose.

Purpose, for Holiday, is key to success.  It requires work and “the critical work that you want to do will require your deliberation and consideration. Not passion. Not naïveté.” This path is not glitzy, it is not exciting, and it won’t gain you the hollow accolades that accompany big, bold, dashing words. However, it is the right thing to do by the world, and it is essential if we are going to make the most of what the world opens up to us. Quiet, hard-working achievers abound if we dare to look deeply enough.

It is disturbing, therefore, to find myself immersed in a culture, where such predilection for purpose is maligned, if actions are anything to go by.  It is alarming when the architects of grand designs can’t or won’t forward any substance for those schemes.

I’ve written elsewhere that actions are an acute indicator of underlying values, and I am very aware of the normative power of such actions and of their associated discourses.  To emphasize passion at the expense of purpose, to forego the hard work to build the foundation that will enable some form of systemic longevity, is to say to our students “do what makes you feel good”.  And yet the ‘pasionates’ turn around and judge them on the very things that they fail to do themselves.

Something is very, very wrong here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know

Recently, I asked my daughter why she had just simply left her socks on the table and then gone out to play in the yard. As I expected she replied with “I don’t know.” I left it at that, though at other times I would have dug with her to uncover the real reason. It got me thinking, again, however, why do those that are close to us respond to questions with “I don’t know.”

It is a response that has always troubled me. On hearing “I don’t know” I go into critical mode Really? You don’t know? Yes you do. Somewhere deep inside you do, or you could if you tried. Why won’t you?

There are situations where the conversation is benign, say when we ask “Where do you want to go to eat?”

“I don’t know.”

OK. At times like this I can provisionally accept that the other doesn’t know or is indifferent, which would be a better response. Any time there is variety of choice, and the preference for variety is contextual, “I don’t know” may well signify that the person is seeking further information. Clearly this is the case when shopping for a chainsaw, or a dishwasher, where something other than the latest advertisement bears some influence on the choice.

At other times, “I don’t know” may simply be a lack of ability to put into words the other’s feelings, or jumble of thoughts. Just because I am prepared to risk ridicule by expressing myself as best I can doesn’t mean others have the experience, skill or resilience to be able to do so.

Such a non-answer can be terribly frustrating in a relationship situation. When we see a person being passive-agressive or actively shutting down when challenged with a question or a statement they cannot respond to it doesn’t always signify that they don’t care or don’t have the courage to engage in what could be a very difficult conversation, one that lays them bare to criticism. It may well be, and we need to keep this in mind, that there is so much going on inside them that they cannot, at that moment, give the response that their partner or friend deserves. That is, a person who says “I don’t know” may well just need the time to think, to tease, to organize and to piece together a coherent and genuine response.

Typically, we find such seemingly evasive responses in others who have learned not to display their emotions as children. Those who have been told to not overreact, whose emotional outbursts are disturbing, whether genuinely or superficially, to their parents. Instead of being loved for their willingness and courage to express themselves openly, such children were chided for their intrusion into their parents, and indeed, their teachers’ lives. Very few of us would ever dare to venture anywhere physically where danger was predictably lurking, so why should we expect anyone to do this emotionally?

With relationships, of course, be it adult-adult, or adult-child, there is the opportunity through therapy, with a skilled impartial mediator present to create a safe space for people to learn that they can express and for listeners to learn how to act. There are ways of saying things that are non-demeaning and invite the other to engage in a non-threatening conversation about whatever it is that is at issue.

A friend once told me that when she was upset at something that occurred that I would sometimes respond with “You could have…” She suggested to me something that I have taken to heart now in all such conversations I have. She suggested to acknowledge the emotion as genuine before proceeding.

“I can see you are upset my friend. Have you ever thought about…”

Such a response acknowledges that the feelIngs that other has are real. Furthermore, it diffuses the power differential that exists when we respond in ways that are critical of past acts. “You could have..” carries a very different message than “have you ever thought about.” The former is backward looking and disparages or disapproves of past actions. The latter, on the other hand, says something akin to “what happened to make you hurt is gone now, and it was an awful thing. How might you deal with a similar situation in the future so that you don’t feel the same way again?” It empowers our loved one to learn and be well.

There is one more situation where “I don’t know” arises as a response, and this one takes some tact, for the consequences of being open and honest can be extremely threatening for the speaker. “I don’t know” is what we hear when a person realises they have done something that has transgressed certain relationship or ethical boundaries. “Why did you turn the light on when you know it will wake me? You could have used the night lamp,”

“I don’t know.”

Such an “I don’t know” is an indicator of “I do know why I did that thing, and I know it was wrong but I don’t want to tell you.” In this case it may simply mean that “I valued my want for light more than yours for darkness, and I couldn’t be bothered the one extra step to use the dim light. I know telling you that will get a negative response.”

Whether such an “I don’t know” is out of shame, or out of regard for the listener clearly makes a difference. How we might proceed in each situation has to take into account different beliefs and habits, different emotional landscapes.

What is important though, and this is where a lot of relationships with others break down, is that the one who “doesn’t know” doesn’t simply walk away, doesn’t simply withdraw.

There was something a therapist once told me that has stuck with me for many years. Any situations where we have tension or conflict with other can be treated in a number of ways. One of these, to draw an analogy, is to sweep the dirt under the rug so that it can’t be seen. The problem, of course, is that if we continue to do this, and there are many ways of doing this, that the pile gets bigger and bigger, and eventually becomes so obvious that we cannot ignore it.

I don’t rightly know what to do when our partners, friends or children continue to behave in the above way, to walk away from legitimate questions and not return to them.

TBC

I would show you…

It is a cool, quiet pre-dawn here in South Western Ontario.

In the distance, I can notice the activity of the day starting. Rumbling trucks are grinding up the hill from the salt mine, the drone from the distant highway is gaining more force, a canoe is slowly making its way up the gently flowing river below and walkers voices carry up to me from the nearby trail.

Only yesterday, I was corresponding with a friend and, in reference to being on vacation in her home town, she messaged me “[I] want to show you things, which is a feeling I like.”

What are those things you want to show me, what would I show you?

When I awoke, well before sunrise this cool quiet morning I sat on the back porch with a cup of fresh brewed coffee and pondered that last question.

It was time to close my eyes, breathe and listen to the birds usher in a fresh, calm, gently emerging dawn. Taking this time is not a luxury, it is an essential part of living.

It is easy, in the goal driven world that I live in, to succumb to the temptations to gain self-esteem out of achievements. Salaries, possessions, bars, fridge magnets from all over the world, houses, fine clothes might be alluring and they may well give some pleasure, but this is short-lived. We are always looking for the next best thing, and by doing this we miss so many of the delights that the world can offer us.

Melbourne is where I was born and grew up and it is a great city, well known for providing its inhabitants and visitors with so many opportunities to enjoy their time there. Great food, museums, colonial history, art, beautifully constructed landscapes, a vibrant music scene, sports events galore, marvellous picnicking places, sandy beaches, bike trails that meander along the river and beyond. And not to be forgotten, wineries nearby, within just over an hours drive for those who enjoy a little tipple.

Some time ago now, I went back to my home town as a tourist, and it was only then that I realised that I had taken for granted many of the opportunities that I gradually ignored as I changed from child to adult. Seeing the place afresh, and with a different mindset, allowed me the freedom to once again play, free from the hindrances of having to abide by the norms of my peers. Not that I was one to be molded like this vacuously, mind you, I did resist. Yet still, despite my independence, despite the “out-thereness” that my friends saw in me and that I knew of myself, I was shaped, sometimes subtly, sometimes crudely.

Yes I have observed those places I mentioned just above, and I would go with you, but this is not what I would show you.

Years away from my country of upbringing and the people I grew up with, gave me the opportunity to live life in the wide world and provided me the tools and experiences to be able to contrast what was with what could be.

And so, my return to Melbourne was resplendent with reborn sensations and new sensations, ones that had captured me as a child, and ones that I never had the way to notice.

The dappled golden light of the elm lined boulevards, the sound of trams rolling along their rails, the berries that had fallen from trees and had been crushed underfoot by the pedestrian traffic all came into being. I would show you these.

I would take you through a fresh food market, hawkers voices urging us to come and try the day’s harvested produce. I would lead you to the beach to listen to the gulls squawk, and gaze at the sails in the bay waters. I would sit with you against the sun warmed warmth of my favourite rock wall on a cold evening and share a simple meal. I would settle on top of that cliff with you, the taste from salt spray from the ocean far below ever present, and watch and feel the impending brooding storm front approach us. I would walk you through the narrow back streets of where I grew up as a child and talk with you about the changes that time brings.

I would run free with you at the pirate ship playground. I would take a sidewalk coffee and an hour or two and watch the colors of the people meandering past us. We would travel to the gardens and watch the swans do what swans do. We would explore the rock pools of the back beaches I know so well, searching for treasures to marvel at and “toe suckers” to play with. Together, we would don a layer of warm clothing and go out into the cool morning, looking back at the tracks our feet make on the dew encrusted spring grass as we made our way to lick the sparkling condensate off the petals of the rose blossoms in my mother’s garden.

I would show you these simple, priceless joys, which is a feeling I like.