War on waste

Just when I thought I knew enough about this…

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I’m not sure how similar your culture is to mine, but I’m guessing that most parts of the world have a strong emphasis on recycling and the dangers of plastic bags to our environment. I’ve been well aware of these issues for some time – in fact decades ago (the early 90’s?) Australians were first exposed to dramatic and detailed exposes of the desperate need for recycling and what we could do about it. But recently, to my surprise, I watched a 3 part series which rocked me now (and apparently much of our nation as well) almost as much as we were rocked back then.

More of that later. But for now, let me recount history as I remember it. It was only in the 1990’s that recycle bins came to be the norm here in Australia. Before then, all rubbish went into the same bins and into landfill. I’m not sure what was the groundswell behind it all, but I remember various documentaries that captured the nation’s attention. Everyone was talking about the needless waste of our planet’s resources, and, via TV, radio and newspaper, we were all exhorted to develop recycling habits. It was the era when recycled paper was born.

At first, if I remember correctly, we had elaborate suggestions of up to 5 different rubbish bins (or trash cans, as some of you might call them) – one for food scraps, one for glass, one for paper, and so on. Over time that has settled down to one normal bin for typical rubbish and one recycling bin for plastic, paper, glass and tin. I’m curious to know what recycling measures your country typically has in place.

Like most things, intensity of feeling can’t last for ever, and whilst recycling is a firm part of our modern agenda, the fervour that gripped our nation back then has settled into a more or less comfortable routine. But recently, the ABC aired a 3 part series called “War on Waste” – a fascinating and surprising look at the amount of waste that occurs in our Australian society. When Linda and I first decided to watch it, my feeling was one of interest but not much more. It didn’t take me long to become quite shocked all over again at the waste in our society.

The series is separated in 3 parts – the first episode deals with the waste of food, the second with the dilemma of plastic, and the third with clothing. And it wasn’t your typical sensationalist kind of documentary. The way the series was handled was simply brilliant (or maybe that’s just my Australian demeanour shining through). The presenter was relaxed, laid back, thoroughly non-fanatical but still sharp and to the point. No deep, dark music or disturbing “Star Wars” type soundtracks to remind you how ‘serious’ this all is, just a laconic, easy going Aussie who was a pleasure to listen to and even a bit humorous, whilst driving home lots of uncomfortable truths that most of us were unaware of.

For example , did you know that up to half (yes half) of our food is thrown away? It happens at the farms where produce that doesn’t ‘look’ just right is dumped and left to rot in piles; it happens at supermarkets where produce that is slightly damaged, or not moving off the shelves, or reaching its use by date, are dumped in bins; and it happens in our own homes, where food is bought, not consumed and then thrown out.

I don’t know if that’s news to you, but it was to me. In a prosperous nation like Australia, that ‘s an awful lot of food. Of course, there are charities and various groups at work to try and pick up this food before it spoils and redistribute it to the needy, but it is apparently still only a small percentage that gets meaningfully redistributed.

There’s a lot more to the series than just food, but I thought I would use that one issue as an example. I know that, depending on which country you are in, you may not have access to the series, but if you’re interested in checking it out here’s the link to it (not sure how long it will remain up for, but it’s there at the moment):

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/war-on-waste/

And just like in the 90’s (well, maybe not quite as strongly as back then) lots of people are responding to the show and it’s revelations. In our world of online participation, ABC websites are being inundated with requests and support for the various calls to action that are presented throughout the series.

So what effect has it had on me? Well, I’m not about to rush out and try and change the world (maybe that’s just my age showing). But in little ways, my wife and I are being challenged.

Though we were well aware of the dangers of plastic bags, we’re trying harder now to use even less, and are gathering up the ones we do have to deposit in special recycling bins available in select locations (apparently plastic bags and other “soft” plastics are difficult to recycle and require a different recycling treatment to normal hard plastics like soft drink bottles etc). We’re also seriously considering reusable coffee cups, as the disposable ones are not only very difficult to recycle but they are used in the tens of thousands every hour in Melbourne alone. I say ” seriously considering” because although we really don’t want to add to the waste problem, carrying around a reusable coffee cup is awkward, especially for us guys who don’t tend to use handbags. Apparently more coffee shops are accepting them now though, and I’m sure we’ll at least give it a go.

Apart from those specific things, we’re more alert to the issues and will see how that unfolds over time. Though there’s not much we can do about the waste in supermarkets and farms, we can choose to buy more of the ‘odd shaped’ fruit and veg available in some stores. Woolworths, for example, has an “Odd Bunch” line of fruit and veg that is exactly that – a deliberate choice to sell odd shaped produce, at a cheaper rate, that would not normally sell because it isn’t asthetically pleasing to look at. And though I doubt that we’ll join a picket line any time soon, there may be online petitions that we can add our signatures too, or politicians we might write to as part of a broader attempt to raise issues.

So that’s it for now. I’m pretty sure you can tell I’m no radical ‘save the world’ fanatic, but just a normal person who is being made more aware of just how ridiculous some things have become. I don’t want to see our food wasted, especially when there are so many starving in the world; I don’t want to see our oceans clogged with ever increasing levels of plastic; I don’t want to see clothing being worn once and thrown away (not quite so riveting to me personally, but an eye opening example of the incredible waste and misuse of resources in our throw away world).

Of course, it’s up to you what you do. Maybe you knew all of this already. Maybe you didn’t, but you’re already waging an effective war on waste. Or maybe you are neither of those things, but somewhere in between. I’m posting this in an obvious attempt to motivate others in the same way as I have been. I hope it motivates you too.

 

 

The secret of love revealed!

Well, maybe a little….

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 “Love is a dividend of gratitude for our lover’s insight into our own confused and troubled psyche” (Alain De Botton, “The Course of Love”, p21).

I’m reading a book at the moment that attempts, through a fictitious tale of love, to unpack what is really going on when we court and choose a life partner. Along the way the author, Alain De Botton (who has written many philosophical books), inserts lots of pithy comments like the above, taking us underneath the veneer of the behaviour of two lovers. It’s very interesting, a bit unsettling and quite revealing.

Basically he wants to debunk the myths that surround love. He wants to show it for what it is. I am only part way through it so I can’t comment with the full benefit of his wisdom, but so far it seems about right.

Let’s understand that De Botton is trying to bring insight. At the end of the day, romantic love is unavoidable, and who would want to avoid it anyway? It is a wonderful thing. But whilst we can, and should, abandon ourselves to its joys, it behooves us to understand it a little.

According to De Botton it is our lover’s insight into and acceptance of our real self that draws us to respond with the emotion we call love. The idea that someone else ‘gets’ us is pretty potent stuff. I don’t think De Botton means that’s all there is to it, but that our feelings of love are at their strongest at such times.

If he’s right, then love is, at its base, gratitude. On some basic level most of us struggle to believe that anyone could ever really love us, and this person appears to, so we’re grateful (and relieved!). But early in a courtship most of us do all we can to hide the real us from our lover, or at least the parts we are ashamed of. We’re on our very best behaviour, because we’re terrified they’ll find something about us that’s unlovable. Perhaps the fact that they don’t is what leads us to be so grateful.

To feel truly accepted though, we first have to believe that the real us is understood. I remember Meg Ryan, in “You’ve Got Mail” jokingly stating that her phantom email lover had “152 insights” into her soul! 

I know I certainly want to feel understood. I’m not sure how many people really understand what goes on in this brain of mine! Not to say that I am hugely different from everyone else – I seriously doubt that. But I have had my fair share of times when I’m pretty sure no-one had a clue what really going on inside me.

I have a friend that I respect, who once confided that he used to jokingly call me “The Sarge” behind my back. I asked him why, and was totally unprepared for his answer. He had known me, a long time ago, in the context of a leadership position. I was pretty young and green, and apparently I came across as a drill sergeant the way I issued orders or directives to the team. Yet that was not how I was feeling on the inside. If anything, I was the exact opposite – unsure, anxious at how to guide and motivate the team, pretty terrified of not succeeding, and that manifested itself in a somewhat rigid focus on outcomes rather than people. 

Okay, enough reminiscing. But I’m trying to illustrate the fact that most of us have an inner self that wants, perhaps craves, for someone else to peek into it and say, I still like you.

So Alain calls love a dividend. A dividend is a payout – something that someone has earned and is entitled to receive. You like me, you accept me warts and all (at least I think you do) and it manifests in very strong feelings of closeness, connection, and passionate love.

Obviously there is more to love than just gratitude. If that was the case, I would fall in love with anyone who showed me they understood me. For example, I, as a heterosexual male, am not going to fall in love with another man. There must be qualities about the other person that cause our gratefulness to become romantic love – their sex, perhaps their looks, their personality, things we like about them (or perhaps even worship about them!).

But if we put romance to one side, I have had a few bromances over time, and there is still some truth to the concept of love as a dividend of gratitude. There is a greater sense of connectedness between me and a guy who understands me, someone who seems to be a bit like me and who I can trust to reveal more of myself to.

Is that gratefulness though? Yes, I think so, grateful that he is a part of my life and I don’t want to lose his friendship. Perhaps, just as in a romantic relationship, I might try harder from time to time to overlook his faults out of gratefulness for his perseverance with mine.

But what happens when a lover (back to romance now) eventually shows they’re not so enthralled with every aspect of us? That surely happens in any long-term relationship. Well, I haven’t gotten to that section of the book yet, so I await what Alain has to say, but from personal experience I can say we have to look for something more enduring than romantic love. I have said this in previous blogs, and I will say it again, romantic love is wonderful, but a poor basis for enduring relationships.

Romantic love, in the end, is all about us, and less about the other person. Any meaningful relationship ultimately has to have the other person’s wellbeing at heart as well, and once gratefulness has run its course, we need to dig deeper. Ultimately we need to like ourselves enough to be able to stand strong even if our lover doesn’t. Maybe then, when we let each other off the hook, a different, more relaxed kind of love can grow – one with the intimacy of simple companionship and affection, and less expectations that they meet our deepest needs.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Lets revel in the feelings of love. They are truly wonderful, and a necessary part of any courtship. Let’s be head over heels, giddy, and breathless, and full of longing. I dare say you couldn’t stop those feelings if you tried. But if you want to move ahead, it makese sense to understand what’s going on so that you can build a relationship, sooner or later, on a stronger footing. And then, when romantic love pops its head in from time to time (there’s no reason it can’t hang around!), then you can be in the enviable position of having your cake and eating it too.

I’m sure Alain has some other gems of truth waiting for me as I continue to read the book. If he does, I will gladly add a postscript – watch this space.

Desiderata 11

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Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 11th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”

In a world that worships youth and vitality, it’s very common to see those of us who are older try to hold on to what is young. Being in my late 50’s, I can certainly relate. On this topic, Desiderata has some gentle, but necessary, advice for us.

I know myself I have tried to minimise the effects of aging. Some people say I look young for my age, and I certainly try to stay fit. I go to the gym regularly (have done since my late 30’s). I’ve always been slim, but since my mid forties have had to actively watch what I eat in order to keep weight from packing on. My hair has slowly been thinning for 15 years now and I’ve been able to get away with a ‘semi’ comb-over that didn’t look like a comb-over, but in recent times that’s exactly what it’s looked like and has had to go. I now keep my hair pretty short and it looks fine – it’s just a different look.

I’ll confess I have struggled a bit against aging (those of you who read my blog have noted my occasional comment on this). I don’t want to accept that there are some things I can’t do anymore – I’m a little bit in denial (but only a little, because at least I know I am). I’m very good at not giving up on something, which on the one hand is commendable, but on the other hand is not good if you are putting off the inevitable. And there is nothing so inevitable as aging.

This is where Desiderata comes in – the author gently exhorts us to “take kindly the counsel of the years”, and surrender gracefully. Lovingly put. It’s unwise to resist the inevitable, and even though we shouldn’t just ‘give up’, there is a certain dignity in recognising one’s limitations.

It need not be an abrupt, heart wrenching capitulation.We shouldn’t package ourselves up for the nursing home just yet, but at the same time we shouldn’t try to be a young person all over again. Even though I fully intend to do as much as I can, both physically and mentally, I should still take stock of climbing ladders for example (I’ve read that people over 50 are less able to balance properly and ladders need to be approached with caution). That’s just wisdom.

Part of our problem is not just accepting the limitations of our bodies. I think we have a myth, propogated by society, that youth is where life is at its best. I don’t think that’s true. We’ve all heard stories beginning with “if I could be young again I would…”, but almost always they add in “if I knew what I know now”. Well, there’s the thing – a young person doesn’t know what you know now, and they can’t. That’s the beauty and the fragility of their world. In your world now, the beauty is in your wisdom, is (hopefully) in the rounding out of your character, perhaps also the size of your bank balance, and the fragility for you is unfortunately your body.

We face a different world when we are older, but in some ways it is a better world. My wife and I now have the time and the resources to go on trips overseas. With the benefit of wisdom and our lived experiences, we make decisions about things more easily and confidently than we did as younger people. 

In my line of work I come across a lot of clients who are retired or about to retire. It’s not uncommon, once they’ve retired, for many of them to say “I don’t know how I ever found time to work, I’m so busy doing things!” They’re involved in charities, or helping with grandkids, or going on holidays, or enjoying golf, or gardening, or reading, or visiting friends and family.

Of course, not everyone is in that category. I’ve also known people who didn’t want to retire because they dreaded knowing what to do with themselves once they stopped work. The person whose business I bought several years ago sold it in order to retire, but in handing the business over he went through extreme anxiety, and only a year later he bought another small business just to keep himself busy. One of my clients was forced to retire a few years ago because the business was relocating interstate, and at the age of 72 he reluctantly accepted his redundancy package. Whenever I visit him he looks at a loss to know what to do with himself, and he tries to find all sorts of ways to keep me there for a longer chat, because he’s lonely.

So, old age has its faults and obvious downsides but isn’t automatically a terrible thing. It’s just different. But in our youth filled western environment, we hear all about Botox, face lifts, hair transplants (for balding men) and a smorgasbord of potential beauty enhancers, designed at least in part to stave off the effects of aging. We might look younger (emphasis on the word “might”) but our bodies are still older on the inside.

I don’t really want to go out to night clubs anymore, or have all night rages. I do wish I could still play footy, but not massively. I don’t really want to go through the hassle of finding a life partner again (though I know of course some of you at my age are doing just that). I don’t really want to go through having babies and small children again (though I look forward eagerly to having grand kids). I do wish I had the energy of a younger person, but in reality I don’t need that level of energy anymore, because I don’t have to face raising kids or working extra long hours to impress the boss or get ahead. If necessary, I can take my time to get things done.

It’s simply a different world, a different phase of life for people who are more than half way through their life. But it really is a “surrendering gracefully the things of youth”. I think we do actually need to surrender them. Lets not be too eager to do that before our time, but when that time comes, most of us make a conscious decision to let go.

I don’t want to try and be something that I am not (that theme again, which runs right through Desiderata). If there is something you or I want to do, I think the best approach is to say “Do I really want to do this? Am I being foolish in trying to do something that my age simply will not let me do?” If the answer is yes and then no, then I say go for it.

It’s not up to someone else to tell you to act your age – they can of course, but you have to be the one to decide if there is wisdom there or not. Unfortunately, unless they know you really well, they’re more likely to categorise you and try to limit your decisions by their notions of what an older person can do.

There are men in their 80’s still pushing weights at the gym, there are women of the same age still working in charities, there are people of both sexes writing, painting, giving, sharing. Older age can be full of so much activity, enjoyment, and fulfilment. What more could you ask? Let the young people enjoy their youth – and let yourself enjoy the life that comes with your advancing years.

Interestingly, we are seeing more movies and shows these days featuring old people in lead roles, where they are not trying to be anything other than old. And I think (and ladies you can tell me if I’m wrong) there has been an upsurge in fashion for older women. Perhaps our culture is finally allowing older people to carry themselves with dignity, and be comfortable with who they are.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

The outrage culture

o-yelling17-facebookSource of photo: https://emperorstillwearsnoclothes.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/

I was listening to someone on the radio yesterday who used the phrase “outrage culture”, referring to a typical knee jerk response common today about real or perceived injustices. I felt there was a lot of truth to their comment, and want to dig into it a bit more.

How often have you read or heard the word “outrage” in connection to something? It’s so common that the word has somewhat lost its meaning, and to be honest, almost has the opposite effect on me now. I end up thinking somewhat cynically “So what are we supposed to be outraged about now?”

Like any word that comes easily to mind, maybe there are a whole range of other words that would be as, or more, suitable. In my opinion, when people lazily pick the word ‘outraged’ they inadvertently lock themselves into the feeling that comes with the word, whether it’s justified or not. So, to me the choice of words is very important from an emotional rather than a semantic point of view.

Let me give an example. In another life I was a counsellor in a drug rehabilitation program. It was back in the days where serious qualifications for such roles were not of paramount importance (these days I wouldn’t get past the first interview). Nevertheless that’s where I was for a few years, and I remember dealing with one client who used to say “that’s shocking” about just about everything he heard or that was happening around him. I remember chatting with him about this, and wondered aloud with him if there were a range of other words he could use, because surely everything is not shocking. Just maybe if he used less emotive words, he might end up feeling less aggrieved about things than he was. 

Because you see, the words we use shape our perspective.

I am not getting any younger and neither is my wife. But I have noticed that she increasingly exclaims “Oh I’m just getting old” whenever something comes up that she has forgotten or can’t relate to. I’ve said to her a few times “Yes we are getting old, but don’t talk yourself into an early grave!”. I must admit I am in a bit of denial about the whole age thing, but if I refer to myself often enough as ‘getting old’ I’ll start to think that way, and I honestly don’t see any benefit in that. My body tells me often enough how old I am – I don’t need to underscore it!

Words have power. They shape not only what others hear, but also what we think as we say them. There are probably lots of words that we misuse or misapply, but this post is about outrage, so let’s come back to that.

People are outraged about everything or so it seems. Outraged at increasing taxes, outraged that someone is getting a raw deal, outraged that they are getting a raw deal, outraged that laws stop them from doing something, outraged that laws allow some people to get away with certain things. Maybe outrage is an emotion people prefer to feel rather than powerlessness. Maybe outrage comes easily because our disposition is already an angry one, and an event or circumstance allows us to boil over in outrage about something that is actually unrelated to our discontent.

It certainly feels good to be outraged. I’d rather feel outraged than powerless. But it’s pretty hard to maintain the rage, because it takes a toll on our body. So if I get outraged about this for a minute, then outraged about that for a minute, then outraged about something else for a minute, maybe I’m letting off steam rather than really have a rock solid conviction about anything.

Of course if you are genuinely outraged about something you have every right to use the word, but seeing it’s been trashed so ruthlessly, perhaps another means of expression is needed.

So what other words could we use? And what other words would allow a range of expression, rather than full-on outrage? (I know this next bit is a little condescending, especially for those of you with terrific vocabularies, but please bear with me – I’m simply trying to make a point). Here are a few similes to anger and outrage, grouped loosely in varying levels of intensity, though I’m sure you could think of many more:

Mild: Concerned, disappointed, worried, apprehensive, upset, annoyed, dissatisfied, disturbed, pained, piqued, put out…

Strong: incensed, angry, offended, indignant, aggrieved, affronted, resentful, vexed…

Intense: shocked, furious, seething, riled…

So, let’s try it on for size: I am concerned, worried, apprehensive and disturbed by Trump’s recent win. Some of you may feel stronger emotions than that, on either side of the political fence. Are there other words you can use other than ‘outraged’ that focuses and sharpens how you really feel?

I am disturbed, furious, vexed, affronted and riled by the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers. (Yes I am actually outraged too, but for the reasons already stated I don’t see much point in saying that).

I would like to think that most of us are really not as outraged as we think we are, or not about so many things. Or perhaps we haven’t looked closely enough at a situation to really know the facts, and have gone off half cocked because it feels good to do so. If we allow the facts (rather than Facebook memes) to filter through we may just be not so outraged, even if we are still concerned.

One final thing, and I say it carefully. I’m all for standing up for rights, particularly the rights of others. But sometimes we are trying to be so empowered that everything becomes an issue, when perhaps we should be a little more grateful and a little less determined to have our way. You can see why I want to be careful here. I don’t want oppression in any form to thrive, and we need to stand against it. But in our individualistic society we might end up seeing everything through a distorted lens of self and rights and see injustice and oppression where there is none.

Life is full of things that are fair and unfair, good and bad, reasonable and unreasonable, tragic and heroic. Let’s think twice before jumping on the bandwagon, beating our chests with righteous indignation, and have a closer look first at the facts. Then if it deserves our concern, let’s give it the right amount of attention and energy, and save ourselves, and others, the ignominy of being wrong or guilty of a beat up, or of diluting the meaning of a word that should still be used,  if perhaps more sparingly than it is.

So why do you speak out?

I read an interesting (though awkwardly written) article recently, called “What are the implications of believing it’s impossible to alter other people’s beliefs?” I can’t remember how I stumbled across it – it may have been from one of your blogs, so if it is, thanks for pointing me in its direction!

Its premise is fascinating. According to the article there are two different groups of people when it comes to speaking about their beliefs. One group believes that others attitudes are unlikely to change, and are prepared to share their views simply as an opportunity to stand up for what they believe. The other group believes that attitudes can change, and have that as their motivation when they speak out. Interestingly, according to the article, those who don’t believe views can be changed are more likely to speak out than than those who do.

I have definitely been part of the latter group, those who speak out to change attitudes. As a result, most of my forays into public comment have been firstly an attempt to understand others points of view, agree where I can, and then present my view as carefully as possible, in the hope that reason might lead to discussion and better understanding. Facebook is the place where I have probably done this more than anywhere else, usually in response to someone’s post (and yes, I know its hardly a forum for reasonable discussion). I don’t think it applies to my blogs – they are more an attempt to share than speak out.

I have to say I have been spectacularly unsuccessful in getting anyone to change their mind. Those that do respond either agree with me already, or reply in narrow minded, judgmental ways, often insulting me rather than showing any interest in what I have said. I get the impression they didn’t even think about what I’d said at all.

This recently occurred when I responded to a Facebook post of a friend of mine. It was to do with Trump’s win (of course, what else are people talking about at the moment?) and there was no shortage of opinions. It’s irrelevant what I actually said, but someone I didn’t know gave me a caustic reply, showing (once again) they hadn’t read my comments properly or digested what I was trying to say.

I thought to myself, “I can let this go through to the keeper, or I can try a different approach”. So, I wrote a response, not caring if the person agreed with me or not. I took my time, worded it carefully, and then posted it.

I was happy with what I said. It was snappy, to the point, and way bolder than anything I remember writing before. It felt good, and I’m glad I did it.

To my surprise, the person replied with a more conciliatory tone, although they still managed to misunderstand me and certainly didn’t change their view. But because they were a bit softer around the edges, I decided to respond again, this time with my old approach, seeking common ground.

It took just about as much time to shape the second response as it did the first one, and an hour after I posted it, I decided to go back and read it again (I don’t know if you ever do this, but I do it all the time!). I found that what I had written was clunky, long winded and verbose. It said what I wanted to say, but not the way I wanted to say it.

The other person never replied again, and that was fine. But I mused for quite a while about the disparity between the two posts. Why was one well constructed and the other one such hard work to read? Of course, it could have been that I just wasn’t in the zone when I wrote the second piece, but I think it was more my attempt to reason with them that made it so drab. It was full of qualifiers and balancing comments to show them I was trying to understand their point of view. It was heavy going.

If that’s the real reason, then I have some thinking to do. With my first reply it felt good to just state my case. I wasn’t unreasonable, nor was I inflammatory. I made sure my comments did not smack of any personal attack. I attacked their argument instead, though it was definitely a sharp and spirited response. I didn’t care whether they agreed, and I didn’t expect them to.

So – what’s your motivation for speaking out? What do you think about all this and what has been your experience? I for one intend to apply this new approach to Facebook at least, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Are you too cool for the Olympics?

I was chatting to one of my friends recently when the topic of the Olympics came up. He clearly wasn’t interested, and disdainfully referred to the whole thing as a form of jingoism.

I’d heard of the term, but didn’t know what it meant, so I looked it up. Among other things, it means to have a sense of superiority regarding one’s own race.

Now, my friend is a pretty alternative lifestyle kind of guy – kind of anti most establishment things. He’s a muso, just like me, and whilst we have lots of things in common (we love similar movies, shows, and artists) we have our own points of departure on things. And that’s okay.

And its fine, of course, if you’re just not into sports, or just not into the Olympics. Could be that it bores you to sobs, and that you’d rather watch paint dry, or for some other reason its just not your thing. But when my friend said it was jingoistic, that was a judgement call on the event itself. And it made me ponder…

I think I understand where he’s coming from. A lot of flag waving zealots taking pride in trouncing anyone else who is different from them. And there would be some people like that, for sure. But is that typical? And obviously patriotism also has a field day with the Olympics (he’s no fan of patriotism either, and if by that he means a similar form of extremism, I would agree). But does the Olympics have to be that? Is it so wrong to take some pride in our country, and can you do it without being a bigoted racist?

There’s been no shortage of humorous put-downs of the Olympics. I saw a video on Facebook by a guy who’s very good at taking the mickey out of things, and he was having a field day taking aim at the Olympics. I thought he was pretty clever and that he also had a few good ideas as well (no better way to tell a truth than disguise it with comedy). One of his points I really agreed with – whilst I love to see athletic excellence, I do sometimes worry about the lengths that people will go to, and what they will do to their bodies in order to excel. Is perfection worth anything, at any cost? I have mental pictures of them in older age proudly displaying their medals while gazing at them from a wheelchair.

It seems that it’s cool to mock the Olympics. I’m not super cool, but I’d like to think I’m a little bit cool(!) and I don’t buy everything about the Olympics either. But if you set your mind to disliking it, you simply won’t see anything good whether it exists or not. My mate, I reckon, has set up a ‘straw man’ about the Olympics because he thinks it’s not cool and is looking for an excuse. I don’t buy it.

When I’ve looked at the Olympics events in the last few days, I’ve searched for anything that could be regarded as jingoistic, but for the most part I just haven’t seen it. About the only thing that comes to mind is the retort that Mack Horton, one of our swimmers, gave to Sun Yang, a Chinese swimmer, labelling him a drug cheat. And even then I put that down to intimidation tactics rather than an attempt to prove racial superiority (it turns out that although I and many others were unimpressed with Mack’s comments, there may have been more to it, and he may not have been quite so callous as we think).

The Chinese response to Mack Horton could also possibly be viewed as jingoistic, as they mercilessly attacked him online and in any way they could. But, at the risk of sounding racist, I would have to say “That’s China for you”. And by the way, I still don’t see it as jingoistic – rather a defensive response from a nation that is extremely sensitive about how it is perceived.

From a national pride perspective, I enjoy the wins that our athletes achieve, for sure. But I also take joy in seeing superb athleticism and certainly don’t begrudge other nations winning their gold medals, even at our expense. In fact, if they have won in a particularly amazing manner, I am just thrilled to have been able to see it. And I’ve noticed that our own commentators are similarly exhilarated when they see an amazing win from another country.

So what do you think? Am I missing something? If we ignore the fringe dwellers (those who use any excuse to go nuts and big note themselves, their team, their country) is the Olympics something to be proud of, and to watch with respect?

I’m going to enjoy it. I’m not going to get sucked into any saccharine form (or angry raging form) of patriotism, I’m not going to pour scorn on other nations, and I’m also going to have a life while the Olympics is on. But I fully intend to oooh and aaahh when I see something that really blows me away, and take pleasure in the wins that our young men and women achieve on behalf of Australia.

Life’s too short. Let’s enjoy what we can.

When being positive is negative

Plus-minus-equals

The drummer in our band is a really nice guy. Friendly, outgoing, genuinely caring, and pretty upbeat. He also doesn’t read my blog, so I’m going to use him as an example of something that I don’t always find helpful.

The thing is, he is such a positive kind of guy, that after every gig, he always says “Well, that went well!”. And, broadly speaking, he’s not far off the mark. I would far prefer that kind of comment to someone bagging everything we did and pointing out every little mistake we made. But the reality is, there are sometimes things we just simply need to work on, and I can’t rely on him to help pinpoint those things. As a matter of fact, his attitude actually works against improvement.

So, whilst a positive attitude is always a good thing, the same doesn’t necessarily hold true about positive comments.

I’m a proud dad, and I want to do everything I can to build up my kids. And they know that too. Which means they are tempted to disallow my opinion on something about them, because I’m their dad, and of course I “would say that”. Well, they are mostly right. I don’t want anything I say to have the effect of discouraging them. But I also know that if I don’t tell them the truth, my ability to shape their lives has just gone out the window.

One of my daughters is doing a creative writing course (Graduate Certificate if I recall correctly). Recently she handed something in that she had had to rush, and wasn’t too sure about it. To my surprise she asked if I would read it (up till now I have seen none of her work, and I think that’s the way she likes it). So I told her that I would, and that I would give her an honest opinion.

And I did. It turns out it was a good piece of work. I made sure I pointed out all the good things about it, and then made a few comments about what I thought was missing. I made sure she was aware that I was comparing her writing to accomplished authors (because that’s mostly what I read!) so she would not feel disappointed by my critique. I emailed her my comments (she doesn’t live with us) and waited, a little anxiously, for her response.

To my relief, she told me that my comments were pretty similar to her opinion, so I don’t know that I opened any new windows of insight for her. But I did help her to consolidate her own opinion, and just as importantly for me, it strengthened her belief that she could rely on me to tell her the truth.

Do you ever wish that people would tell you what they really thought? Oh, not about everything (that’s never going to happen, and you probably wouldn’t like it if they did), but about things that count. And of course, although you want the truth, you do hope that it will be delivered graciously and with the least possible pain.

Just today my brothers came over for a family get together. They’re musos too, and I decided to play them a mixdown of a recording I was working on. It was still in the early stages but good enough to play to someone. What surprised me was that, as they listened (very intently I might add) they began to make comments about how this was too loud, or that was too soft, or that it needed more bottom end and so on. I hadn’t asked them for their opinion and was somewhat taken aback by their frankness. But it didn’t sting, and I realised that they were totally at ease with what they were saying – there was no vindictiveness or judgment (though they were undoubtedly judging the piece, and at a high level too). Though I became slightly defensive after a while, I realised they were giving me valuable feedback – feedback I will most certainly use.

I know that people want to speak positively in order to build up others. But parents who have nothing but praise, kids who get awards for absolutely everything, friends who always say you were great at something (those contestants for music shows who just can’t sing have friends who have a lot to answer for), in the end are really doing the opposite – setting their loved ones up for a fall.

And being overly positive can also be really boring, sickly sweet, condescending or just plain infuriating. I was talking to someone recently who was complaining mildly about something (can’t remember what) and I made some broadly positive kind of comment. She rounded on me (not angrily though) and told me not spout all that positivity garbage. And she had a point, although I don’t think I am one to spout platitudes.

In fact, I try pretty hard to be positive but not naive. I hope you can tell from my posts that I am not interested at all in fake confidence, in cheesy slogans, or even in dogged  adherence to positive thinking. If something really does suck, I’d like to think that I would admit it. And that’s my goal, whether I achieve it or not – to be real, and, by being real, that I might just be helpful. I hope that’s what keeps my truthfulness from hurting or crushing people. I’m not sure I always succeed.

Actually, I know I sometimes fail terribly. My determination to tell the truth doesn’t always go according to plan. Unlike my drummer friend, I too easily see the things that need fixing. My goal is never personal – I absolutely never want to hurt anyone. But we musos are temperamental creatures, as are most artists – you criticise my work and you are criticising me. And I’m the same. Although I want to hear the truth, my skin isn’t as thick as I would like it to be, and I do sometimes wonder how I would feel if my guitarist friend said to me some of the things I say to him!

Oh for a diplomatic sense of balance – knowing when to keep your mouth shut, and how to finesse a situation so that the truth comes out with minimal damage.

What about you? What’s your take on this? How successful are you in telling the truth in a way that doesn’t cause unnecessary hurt? Or perhaps you find that, in your desire not to offend, you hold back on information that could actually help, if you only knew how to deliver it.