More and more frequently I am finding myself falling into the Facebook trap of liking (their word not mine) links to the support of people with disabilities and I sometimes even get channelled over to signing online petitions. I don’t normally like ‘liking’ and I avoid overt political statements and things that might come back to haunt me one day, but when it comes to acknowledging things such as bullying and mental health I find an upsurge of a need to scream ‘injustice’ coupled with the as-yet-unnamed emotion ‘World, please see me as a good guy’.
I suspect one reason for all this is that I feel guilty for being ignorant and guilty for not being helpful to people I ought to be helping. I also suspect I am not alone in this and that by opening our Facebook souls we are somehow assuaging this guilt. If you think I’m about to say this is wrong and shallow, I’m not. Indeed although a public airing does little to immediately support those that might benefit by creating awareness, which in business terms is a chief function of Marketing, a first step is being taken. But it is only a first step.
The mention above of my own ignorance comes from a specific incident that happened today. One of my daughters was offered the chance to attend a free training programme (run indeed by a credible organisation) to help her set up her own business. My reaction was immediately upbeat and positive (i.e. pushy) and when she displayed reticence I went into the predictable parental assault/tirade about ‘missed opportunity’ and ‘it’s a once-in a lifetime chance’ when I ought to have realised, as pointed out by an observing third party, that she was basically scared and I ought have taken another more paternal approach.
Recap: Here I am; a writer, a Facebook sympathy giver and somebody who wants to look like a good guy failing at entry level Emotional Intelligence. I cannot even read my offspring’s feelings.
And yet again, I am sure I’m not alone. What is happening in this Facebook age is that many of us are taking to the touchscreen and demonstrating our nuanced skills of empathy and advocacy. This is a reaction to getting more information and hopefully (but with no guarantees), more knowledge about topics like depression, self-harm and cancer. A cost of this however is that some of us are creeping away from real-life interaction and hiding behind the cleanliness and safety of the keyboard. I don’t think we are to be blamed. So much of the modern world turns us towards selfish and egotistic behaviour and I believe the internet and its stable mates (smart phones, tablets, on-demand viewing etc.) all enforce and consolidate the message ‘you are alone, buy into it and act alone’.
At this stage I am not proposing a solution, I was the one that wanted to sacrifice Tim Berners-Lee at the 2012 Olympics ceremony rather than celebrate him, but realistically had it not been him it would have been somebody else. I do think however that perhaps Mr Facebook himself could look into turning his behemoth into something that actively helps people to actively help.
Q.The good news is that my classic-car rental business, that I began during the recession, has done well. The difficulty is that as it has grown, I spend more time being the administrator and less time coming up with new ideas. Also, I get loads of emails requesting internships and money requests from needy charities. I believe in CSR but it’s all too much. How can I address these issues?
A.It looks like you need a ‘right-hand person’. You will need an assistant that shares your passion and knows everything about the business. This will help in two ways. Firstly when you need to brainstorm and bounce thoughts around, it’s good to do it with someone who reflects your normal self, allowing you to play devil’s advocate. Secondly, you need a trusted person to be able to step in either when you take a well-earned break or if you get run down by the proverbial bus or more likely, a dose of the ‘flu. Invest time in selecting the right person and be prepared also to invest substantially in their wages. You are appointing a professional and not just someone to fill a gap.
Once your ’emissary-on-earth’ is in place you can shut yourself away and get back to developing schemes, meeting creative talent (designers, web-builders, young tech experts etc). Your team will soon get used to arranging their own lunch breaks, sorting appointments and returning forgotten baby-seats and roof-racks without having to disturb you at all.
Forward non-urgent e-mails to a second, secret (known only to you) mail box that you can look through in your own time. It’s good to support students needing work advice and it’s important to consider the needs of various charities, but do these things on the way home or indeed at any time that you choose.
If these strategies are designed to show your team where their interaction with you halts, you need to do something that allows you to engage with them too. The best way to achieve this is to hold a weekly scheduled meeting. As always, it needs fixed start and finishing times and has to be structured. Although this may initially feel a little too ‘bossy’, a viable agenda is to allow your staff the chance to ask advice and opinion and for you to answer their queries and to agree their goals and strategies.
Ensure somebody takes notes of what has been agreed and make it clear that there ought to be no reason to revisit what has been said unless there are problems. Remember, the aim here is to empower each person to have total control over what they do, in order for you to be free to do what you want to do. These strategies are for everyone to benefit and that in turn will benefit your business.
Many artists, creatives and innovators find their idea gets swamped by their business admin – don’t let it happen to yours!
(originally featured in Travel Bulletin’s Travel Coach /Ask Renato-October 2009)
The radio discussion then morphed onto the Overview Effect which seemed so interesting…I had to learn more.
The Overview Effect appears to be a new(ish) awareness. It is a combination of thoughts and feelings around looking at Earth from space and realising:
Our planet is so small, it is probably only significant to the organisms that live here.
The only divisions on the globe are the ones of physical geography e.g. mountain ranges and water (lakes, oceans, rivers). Any political or national or human interventions are false constructs that despite the best efforts of ancient China or Hadrian are basically meaningless.
The human species’ desire to build fences and stake out ownership of land walks hand -in-hand with our communal actions of abusing land by chopping down oxygen giving greenery, melting polar ice caps, exploding/testing nuclear warheads and challenging animal species to cope with whatever we feel can be thrown at them.
The effect can probably be summed up; the planet in space is fragile and beautiful and perhaps godly. Yet ‘we’ prioritise other things and take it all for granted, probably because there is no such thing as ‘we’, just me plus me plus me…
This blog however is not a pro-eco clarion call. You can read that kind of thing anywhere (although if you want to cut out the chaff go straight to http://www.monbiot.com/
What I’m writing about is more akin to the exclamation (though neither the film nor its sci-fi context; “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.” (Alien dir. Ridley Scott 1979 sci-fi) and how, in effect, Space is the last quiet place.
Some of my blogs over the last year have dealt with my Silence Project. It is something I find myself constructing piecemeal and it’s like building a jigsaw puzzle with no guarantee that the all the pieces are present and the box top picture is almost certainly a different scene from the one I am making.
Two weeks ago I went in search of silence in London. My plan was to visit an obvious silent place and then find a less obvious one in its shadow. I began at the British Library (my thoughts from there are at the foot of this page) and although I found a lovely art book on the topic (which I then bought online) my doubts about the existence of silence were confirmed as soon as I explained my project to a librarian called Ulmila. Her unprovoked reaction was something like ’Silence? In a library? You’re joking. This place is full of background sounds which are amplified by the voices of complaining people who want quiet.’
I left the magnificent building with every intention of going to at least one nearby park but my ardour was so dampened by the angular London rain, I returned to the Library and had a coffee and high-sugar bun until I went home. It was in this café however that I had a mini revelation in the form of a flashback reverie.
I thought back to six days before when I had attended a wedding in a deconstructed brewery in the City of London. I recalled the moment my wife and I ambled towards the bar to say ‘hello’ to somebody and somebody. The bar was by the wall and the whole area was bathed in purple lights that jumped to this sick beat (so sue me Swift!) of the darkened vibrating room. The noise was nauseating and I didn’t hear a word that ‘we’ uttered to somebody and somebody, nor what somebody and somebody said back to ‘us’. Acting under previously dealt instructions not to abandon my spouse, I took a sidestep shuffle and propped up the once keg-lined wall. Seeing that somebody and somebody and my wife were merrily gesturing above the noise to each other I grabbed the moment by the ears, tipped my head forwards and shifted my gaze down at my non-dancing feet.
Aah…silence. Of sorts. In a room with 220 people competing with the pumping line of the hellish bass thumps I managed to crawl into the snail shell of my mind. I timed 26 seconds of respite. I snapped a mental photo of my shoes atop the light wood dance floor and although the music was present, I managed to subdue its relevance by allowing it to become wallpaper. Sure my ear drums were still being struck towards terminal deafness and no doubt any observer would have thought of me as a sad loner but I had stolen some hard-to-find thought time against the odds and in a throbbing environment to boot.
I have long argued that silence is more a state of mind than an absolute and now I have experienced it. I suppose my version of silence is a subjective truth rather than an unequivocal one but I am confident that with this rather muted revelation I have found a way forwards with the Silence Project.
Perhaps this is the birth of an Inner/Under View Effect or maybe it’s simply the overview as seen from inside. Either way, it’s no less valid.
True silence is impossible to find. Experts confirm this and add that even in a scientifically silent place you can hear your own blood careening through your system.
My staring point therefore is that silence is impossible. Extreme quiet however is possible and can bring about similar benefits. I’d actually go on to say that it’s preferable because it is natural and more comfortable for thinking beings to deal with.
Facts: 11. Feb 2017 British Library, London 10.16 am. 22 degrees C Humanities 1. Thirty Two fellow readers, 65% female.
SOUND: A/C hum, padded footsteps on looped carpet. The soft slide of my borrowed pink pencil (TATE: [not sweet}). Low female voice with a non-local accent, brief punctuated coughing. Key board clicks. The low ecru suspended ceiling swallows bigger sounds and bounces them out through its holes.
SMELL: Cool tinge to a bookish musk
FEEL: Deep paged paper (this book!) smoothly springs up against my writing right hand. My own unshaven face.
SIGHT: Blanched people moving at slow pace and purpose. A woman breaks into a march and a bald male (professor?) follows suit. He slides to his chair, positions four books at jaunty angles (Blue one on the top) and flicker/reads the pages. Broad wide room, up lights shine up and move the white to grey.
Light wood modern desks consume the floor. A library, this one too, a centre of knowledge. These walls house data, opinion. Old news and accidental history (when I write now I’m not thinking of becoming the past).
My own concentration — as ever — is fragile and waning and the SILENCE is only a truth in outer space and earthling death.
Realising upon flickering and reading (flickerding?) that SILENCE (Kamps, Said Menil collections 2012) turns phrases of non-sound to pictorial art. Once concept represents another and my problem with (love of) art is that it borrows its stabilizers from philosophy and intellectual impulse. My project needs to come in at a non-intellectual level.
Person I met: Ulmila, female library assistant who once worked in ASDA and the library in Colindale and at once misses the buzz of retail yet appreciates the calm of the British Library. She also -now that she is older -likes the detail of handling book loans. She agrees that true silence is an unrealistic concept, even in the BL. People complain about human generated sounds, but it is futile.
I am a male car rental specialist working in a female only office. My male friends think that I’m lucky, but I disagree. Sometimes it feels like my co-workers gang up on me and make comments based on me being a man. I try to shrug it off and act like I’m not bothered thinking they will get bored but it only seems to make it worse. What tips do you have so that they appreciate I’m not willing to be the butt of their jokes?
This is tough to answer because I can only guess at how your colleagues gang-up and how they ridicule.
What is interesting about your question is that we are so used to hearing about harassment the other way around that our immediate reaction, as seen from your friends, is to ridicule the scenario. The fact is that your situation is as important as that of a female worker subjected to innuendo from men and you have every right to want this to be taken seriously.
Unfortunately your mates typify what is wrong in so many places.
They listen to you talk about work, but are imagining your job as a fantasy sexual arena.
Ganging-up against the odd-one-out begins at school and sadly never really leaves us. It is a sick part of human nature. My first piece of advice therefore is to try not to take it too personally. If you were the only left-handed person in an office or you were the only red head you would still experience stupid and senseless prejudice.
Try to clarify in your own mind what your colleagues are doing that is really offensive. Write down examples and maintain a log. Sexual harassment can be tricky to define, so before you start reporting your colleagues be sure of your facts. Do they touch you or make frequent comments about their own or your sexual activities? Do they force you into doing “men’s” chores such as lifting heavy brochures more often than are prepared to do?
Divide and rule:
Do they really act against you as one consolidated unit? Surely at least one of the women is worth talking to alone. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking they are all they same. I am sure that most of them are decent when apart from the group. Work on building a friendship with one person. It would be better with someone to whom you have no physical attraction (and vice-versa). You will then develop a professional relationship that is built on what you have in common. In time she will distance herself from the remarks of the others. Once the other people realise that you can be taken seriously, they will follow.
Overall I’d say this is a human rather than a gender issue and please don’t allow it to influence the way you think about women. The truth is that anyone can be horrible to anyone else and we should maintain awareness of this.
As bad as it is for you, neither you or I (as men) have experienced the pressure of wearing certain types of shoe or ‘flattering’ clothes to work. Women continue to treated worse than men and as a victim yourself you now have the awareness that avoids most men. Maybe you can use it to broader advantage.
Lady Gaga image: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/7Siugif5Wes/hqdefault.jpg
In 1975 I had a Saturday job in a North London travel agency called Frames Travel. It wasn’t so great because all I did was rubber stamp the holiday brochures and put them on the shelves. An exciting day was when I took the old brochures off the shelves and threw them away. Such fun.
During the ensuing forty years and as I grew up, that branch of Frames became a Thomas Cook travel shop. Since my own business transferred to North Finchley in 1990 I have walked past this shop every working day and every working day therefore has offered a connection to my past.
This week Thomas Cook closed the shop down. The building is still there but the erosion begins instantly. The interior colours will fade, the furniture has already gone and my personal connection will wither from a time spanning umbilical cord to a frayed thread of rain sodden parcel string.
I’m not complaining about the past being cut away from me. After all, it’s not necessarily desirable to be in daily contact with one’s yesteryears and it can be argued that being surrounded by your youth can hold you back as it offers the comfort of familiarity that may in fact be a false friend.
On the other hand, I recently visited the hotel in Rome where I worked and lived many years ago. The changes to the locale had been so total and complete that it left me feeling abandoned. There was nothing recognisable at all. Although the upper parts of the buildings were, I presume, the same the street level shops and office fronts were all new and nothing was familiar. The sadness from this experience was sharper than the slow evolving changes that occur daily in North London.
People have different levels of nostalgia. I suffer from it quite deeply and am one of those who looks for his own past and scratches the surface of time in the vain hope of finding small ways to re-trace what once was. My suffering however is a philosophical luxury. I have always had freedom to live where I wanted and have only every moved when I elected to. I imagine that refugees and people that move around because of their work e.g. army personnel, develop an immunity to nostalgia as pragmatism and survival instincts take over. The sub-conscious probably kicks in knowing that if you cannot be sure of where you’ll be tomorrow why upset yourself by connecting to the now and the past?
At a time when the media has ‘moved on’ from reporting on migrants in Northern France (and presumable elsewhere in Europe) it makes me wonder how people from stable and rooted lives are coping with reality of being cut adrift. It also makes me wonder that with President Trump appearing keen on shutting the door on people flying BACK to the USA how they cope with being told on arrival that their country is now in their past. The human timeline is a fragile thing.
I recently learned about the condition of ’separation anxiety’ and this week I felt it vicariously when I saw this story about the kidnapping of baby chimps to be sold as pets, my primal reaction was disgust towards the ‘nappers with subsequent thoughts that their lives are actually worth less than the monkeys’ and the planet would be better off with fewer useless hunting humans and more cuddly animals. This however is not the point.
The point is that we feel so much for the little chimp because we can relate to his loneliness and isolation from his tribe and his home. Very shortly, maybe even today, you will see a homeless person or somebody meandering with symptoms of dementia and remember that like the loveable chimp, everything about them before this moment has been smashed and effectively deleted. Judge them after you have helped them and I shall try to do the same.
As we tumbled out of the taxi my foot hovered over a shallow puddle. Although the Malaga December evening bore no remnants of neither Autumn nor Summer it still held out a hint of a tropical hand: mild, still air, a dry Guadalmedinariver bed and post-flood evaporation.
The Hotel Posada del Patio is a combination of at least two old buildings. As we walked towards the more modern half and glanced up to the left I saw its traditional saffron speckled beige walls and wrought iron balcony rails staring back down. They suggested an echo of the middle-ages. We stepped to and through the sliding glass doors and I was struck by a moment’s need to either hesitate or speed through. The entrance floor was also glass and the shock of walking ‘on air’ caused me to falter. Beneath my feet there was an aerial view of an ancient world that had been put ‘on hold’. The sub-floor spotlights picked out a constant day light as the tops of red dusted walls fell short of holding up the floor. I looked down and then up again unnerved by the transparency.
As we strode towards the reception desk a spindly African sculpture tipped her masked head up from the below-ground and whispered ‘Yes, I’m anachronous and incongruous but deal with it mate. I’m art and that’s what counts’.
A couple of days later I actually ventured sub-terra within the hotel. It wasn’t difficult, the lift drops there and the stairs arrive too. The hotel is built on the ruins of Malaga’s ancient sea walls- the first one of which dates back to the third century and the second the eleventh century. Over time Romans, Muslims, locals and invaders have had bricks to add and defence in mind. This city was clearly worth ring-fencing.
And all this made me think. It made me think of time and it made me think of the human instinct to acquire property and to then fortify it so that the acquisition process STOPS HERE.
TIME IS WAITING IN THE WINGS…
I have often fallen into the trap of seeing time as something linear. I’m not the only one though, consider these concepts, none of which I created:-
January, February, March …
The 12 hour clock
The 24 hour clock
Eram quod es, eris quod sum (Latin) “I was what you are, you will be what I am.”
Looking up from the old city walls I realised the lessons from TV shows such as Time Team– that on planet earth time goes upwards and forwards. For thousands of years humans have excavated and dug deep to explore our past. No wonder our instinct is to look up to the sky when we contemplate the future. We are hard wired to sense that ‘back then’ is down and behind while the unknown is up and in front.
I CAN REMEMBER STANDING BY THE WALL.
These two walls, Roman and Muslim stand three metres and eight hundred years apart. They were built to do the same thing- to demarcate and create a stronghold. The problem is that wall builders just cannot beat the clock and ultimately lines in the sand are withered by the waves and a stronghold becomes weak in the face of new ideologies and technologies.
There are remains of Roman walls throughout Europe. Consider also the wall of China, the Western one in Jerusalem and even the one under Donald Trump’s Sombrero. They are all conceived with purpose and civil engineering skills. Their long-term fate however remains in the hands of humans who in time will always seek to disassemble what old foes built, even if they are foes no more.
A warm 4pm sun slanted towards me as it prepared to set. The 27 degrees were made bearable by a speedy breeze. I stepped up onto the repaired jetty and began a casual stroll seawards towards its lamp bearing point. This is one of two parallel structures that sit about 200 meters apart astride the estuary of Porto Santa Margherita, Caorle near Venice.
I love this place.
I love the peace of knowing that to my right sat my hereditary home town of Venice, to my left, the Gulf of Trieste and in front, beyond this pier, the relative safety of a calm Adriatic. I’m no seafarer, but if you want to wax and wane about green\blue salt waters, this is a good comfort-zone location to do it.
I was on a mission of silence. Part of a project to unearth a level of inner peace – something that has always eluded me. It should have been easy to let the wind and lapping waters transport me someplace ‘else’ but to be frank, I’ve never been able to relax or to contemplate but a self-awareness crept up on me as I watched other people I could begin to take aim.
As I begun the stroll I was immediately struck by how many other people were passing their time on this same strip of concrete. A random cross-selection of Italy, about fifty people, was shuffling, marching, walking, swaggering and flouncing.
There was the noise of the seaside; birds, swans, wind, voices and the further I walked out, the softer they became. The shuffling sandals always belonged to people and of the people, this group of disconnects, I found four types of person, each embracing their own peace;
Western Guru, Fishermen, The Seaweed Community, The Observer’s Shadow.
When it comes to a calm the mind there’s no hierarchy and no space for judgement. Each has their own place along the jetty and whether that person is on a holiday break, a pause between bouts of depression, a child losing her inhibitions in the warm sun and a million other permutations. They are all valid.
What works for you
Could work for them
Or it may not.
If this silence is actually loud
There’s another version that will work
Your task is to find it and own it
And this is one thing you don’t have to share.
The first person was the Western Guru.
A European man sat facing the sea. Legs crossed lotus. His slim flexible frame sent a shudder of envy down my un-flat stomach. With his yoga mat and straight back it could even be that he wanted to be seen ‘doing it right’. I couldn’t decide if he was performing and wishing to be seen or truly building from inside. To offer the benefit of my doubt, I’d say that from his point of view the passing sample of public was an incidental thing. He could create an internal calm not despite, but because of the external sounds. Slapping waves, gull cries and even fighter jets on their way to and from an air display along the coast.
The more (confusion) outside: the more (controlled calm) inside.
It made me think that to assume a place of inner silence when already surrounded by silence, can for a town dweller, be rather daunting. But to be silent when surrounded by the familiarity of sounds and voices can enhance the peace.
And on I went along the path. I remember a brassy hook embedded in the sunken concrete that blinked up at me emblazoned TEMA FAENZA.
And so to the fishermen.
Mainly alone yet some in pairs, these men and boys enthuse about tackle and bait yet once they’ve cast the line, cloak themselves in stillness. Somehow the muted hubbub doesn’t affect the fish and a little like the Western Guru their actions are minimal and habitual. They do what they do and that is enough.
Fishermen seem to know themselves. They appear self-aware.
Is their end game really to capture the flailing floppy fish or is the act of fishing the end in itself? I shifted focus to a tanned man with a simple rod and the ancientness of this activity came to me. Was this the beginning of humans discovering patience? When they accepted that the road to the goal of food required strategy and stillness and that this waiting time brought about the bonus of introspection and chill?
As I moved along the pier I noted that if a fish was caught it was the watching kids and adults that reacted in excitement at the capture. The fishermen remained stoic and controlled, as if the hook and haul was part of the process, not the end of it. Somehow even though hobby fishermen could undertake the activity without trying for a catch, the potential bite remains key. Even if the catch is in truth a secondary goal to the main one of carving out some ‘me-time’, to achieve moments of peace, the ‘wake-up’ jump-to-it moment of getting a bite is sewn into the process.
The Seaweed Community.
And on further towards the sea I went. To my right, on the large bank of sloping crane-planted rocks sat three young people and a dog. Here they shared a long, clumsily rolled joint. My first thoughts turn to the quadruped, barking his passive smoking way to dog-space. And as his bark subsided I confessed to myself that I never got this hippy thing. Personally I’m happier with the odd-un-shared Tramadol.
‘Off my head inside my head. Alone.’
Yet this group chill is shared by many and as I watch the humans giggle and move in slow motion I accept that this kind of shared space doesn’t have to be a bad space. Whatever these people are feeling, or think they are feeling, I can see that as the sun sets and the sea breeze blows, the reality of the situation really doesn’t matter. If you can slip into a moment and then let it slip away, what the hell? After all, it’s a viable rehearsal for the great unknown. The giggles and whispers between the youths and the dog are certainly not silence, at least not in its literal format but the state of a different reality is possibly just as valid. I suppose the issue with drugs, apart from dangers, costs and social alienation is that they might take you further away from inner peace rather than nearer to it.
But I’m not the one to judge because my own peace is largely derived from being the passive observer. I’d like to be the invisible man. In fact not even that man himself, but his shadow. Reality not once, but twice removed.
The Observer’s Shadow.
Consider some facts;
I have tried yoga and meditation. I’ve even had an Ayurveda massage and disliked them all. I find that an enforced introspection can dig up those not-so-deep lying demons of failure, conspiracy of the system against me and lost opportunities. The shark-toothed bite of nostalgia can infect me with quaint smells and deep regrets. My past is one of cautious times cautious squared. The ghost of the mediocre scares me when my own silence is loud.
I tried fishing too and despite the thrill, the idea of waiting Godot-like for a fishy end with a wormy hand and hook-punctured finger has no appeal. I’d be sitting on the edge wishing I’d brought my hand sanitiser. C’est la guerre.
I do find a peace in being the watcher. The one based on the periphery with licence to step in and step out in a heartbeat.
My silent place is derived from watching two or three people or ideas come together and curating the outcome.
I’m aware that this is very much an artist’s position. Watching, interpreting and creating. My own silent place kicks-in before the creation. It’s the joy of seeing connections, those already manifested and those yet to occur. The world recreates miniature works of art every moment and even if I’m no Da Vinci, I can still sense the silent rumble of things about to unfurl.