on being polite

Cosmopolite, that is:

a person who is cosmopolitan in his or her ideas, life, etc.; citizen of the world.

 ‘In infinite play, one chooses to be mortal inasmuch as one always plays dramatically, that is toward the open, toward surprise, where nothing can be scripted.’*

I followed the reporting of this year’s GCSE and A level results for across Britain whilst also following the news from EducAid, of Sierra Leonean students icaught in the horror of recent floods and landslides.  Miriam Baker-Sesay, heads up the charity Educaid and reported a few days ago:

‘We are slowly gaining a clearer picture of who has been affected and to what extent, and we also know more clearly what we don’t know yet.  There is quite a significant number of children who have lost absolutely everything including family members and their homes. At the moment there are three EducAid children believed dead as they were in an area that is highly-affected and have not been seen since that day.  Many addresses simply don’t exist anymore, so information about these children is still unclear.  There is still a small number of children that we have been unable to trace and we know their addresses are in the ‘red zone’ so we remain fearful.  Had people not looked after each other, raising the alarm and waking those who slept, the numbers lost would be much greater.’**

These children had a hard enough time of continuing their education before the storms hit.

Kio Stark writes about how strangers can change our lives for the better:

‘As cosmopolitans, as humans, when our other identities [‘as members of a state, nation, race, ethnic group, affinity group’] come into conflict with our shared humanity, shared humanity wins.’^

It seems that we are strangers, worlds apart when, really, we are all citizens -cosmopolites – of the one world.

Martin Seligman poiints to how we need something other than GDP (Gross Domestic Product) when it comes to understanding how we need to flourish:

‘GDP is blind when it comers to whether it is human suffering or human thriving that increases the volume of goods and services.’^^

Bhutan is exploring how to measure Gross National Happiness (GNH).  Maybe the next step from this will be how we share such happiness: GGH (Gross Global Happiness).

It’s Anne Lamott who added to this narrative for me this morning by pointing out how we all come into the world much the same:

‘We come into this life so generous, alive, unarmoured, and curious.  Curious, in the best silliest, most fixated, life-giving way.*^

Yes, these are our wonderful equalities before the heavy stuff of state, nationality, race, ethnicity, and affinities kick in – not always bad, but always in significantly shaping way.  What if between these there hides that wonder of being citizens of the planet ‘like the silence between musical notes, where the mystery is’?*^  This is the drama hinted at by James Carse in the opening quote, rather than theatre – this being the script of state and nation and such.  This is where the cosmopolite lives, where we encounter strangers and surprises.

‘”Wherever you are, there you are,” [Greg] said, whenever anyone asked him if we were lost yet.’^*

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(**EducAid is a British based charity which seeks to provide free secondary education in Sierra Leone.  VOXedinburgh is working towards an event on the 28th October to tell the stories of young people who have found and continued in education against great odds, this to raise awareness as well as to fund what will now be a rebuilding effort.)
(^From Kio Stark’s When Strangers Meet.)
(^^From Martin Seligman’s Flourish.)
(*^From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)
(^*From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)

vocabularies of imagination

Everyone’s lists are different.

Mary Oliver watches a grasshopper on a summer’s day and comes to ask a question:

‘I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?’*

Iris Murdoch reflects on the energy that is the human life:

‘Here neither the inspiring ideas of freedom, sincerity and fiats of will, nor the plain wholesome concept of a rational discernment of duty, seem complex enough to do justice to what we really are.’**

This all seems too orderly and Murdoch suspects there’s what I might suggest is a more complex randomness beyond this:

‘What we really are seems more like an obscure system of energy out of which choices and visible acts will emerge at intervals in ways which are often unclear and often dependent on the condition of the system in between the moments of choice.’**

if this is so, Murdoch ponders, is there some way of bringing some shape and order to this:

‘If this is so […] are there any techniques for the purification and reorientation of an energy which is naturally selfish, in such a way that when moments of choice arrive we shall be sure of acting rightly?’**

Murdoch is thinking about the qualities of being human which, in their absence, I believe cause us to say we are being inhumane.  What we can humanly be is indivisibly linked to language.  We are our words as a species and as individuals.  And each is capable of developing our own vocabularies towards these higher qualities:

‘Ordinary language is not a philosopher. […] Such a reflection requires and generates a rich and diversified vocabulary for mining aspects of goodness.’**

Our language determines what we can imagine.  Clearly some can imagine more than others.  I do not think of these being comprised of longer, composite, or more obscure words so much as comprising stories and narratives that are meaningful and open up possibilities.

Peter Senge catches my eye when he writes:

‘the primary threats to our survival […] come not from sudden events but from slow, gradual processes’.^

The fact that we’re set up to notice events – there’s the sabre-toothed tiger again – means we miss the gradual:

‘We are conditioned to see life as a series of events, and for every event, we think there is one obvious cause.’^

We need to develop story or process-vocabulary rather than events-vocabulary.

Now we’re creating lists that are more interesting.

(*From Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer’s Day.)
(**From Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good.)
(^From Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline.)

when it is hard to be light

I could have done that better.

There it is.  The thought that most of us have had at some or other time.  Showing how we continue on our journey of our discovery towards what it means to be human.

“Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.””*

Philip Newell is using the words of poet Mary Oliver as he reflects on power, how those who have power need others not to have power:

‘Those who cling to power for their own sake, or for the sake of their chosen communities and their special interest groups, do not want everyone to shine.’**

Implicitly or explicitly, our educational, business, political, entertainment, and religious systems support and exploit this.  I found myself reading a blog from marketer and writer Seth Godin next.

In his experience of marketing, Godin identifies three forms of power:

‘Every brand gets to make this choice, pick one of three:

  • We have the power over you
  • You have the power over your choices and your competitors
  • Our products and services give everyone power’^

After this, I read Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, just where Harari is outlining of Hernán Cortés’ conquest of the Mayan and Aztec empires.  Cortés definitely choose the first option identified by Godin.  550 Spaniards with their technology against millions of Mayans and Aztecs without.  The indigenous people of these lands had power – they could have snuffed out the hundreds with their millions but it seems they believed in the power of these invaders before their own.

After reading a couple of pages of Sapiens, I went on to read Rebecca Solnit’s description of the pilgrimage destination of Chimayó in New Mexico, from which pilgrims would take home holy soil rather than holy water:

‘The curative properties of the earth were already known in 1813 – a pinch of it in the fire was said to abate storms.’^^

Solnit continues, reflecting on the pilgrim and power:

‘Their secular powerlessness may be compensated  for by a sacred power, however – the power of the weak, derived on the one hand from the resurgence of nature when structural power is removed, and on the other from the reception of sacred knowledge.  Much of what has been bound by social structure is liberated, notably the sense of comradeship and communion, or communitas.’^^

Here’s a mixture of magical power – do something here with earth on the fire and the storm will calm down – and something real – the power of liminality and communitas for those who enter into it.

We know there’s more and we’re trying to discover it.

There is, I believe, a power within each of us which is about curiosity, imagination, and creativity, that involves compassion and generosity.  It’s identified here in part by Hugh Macleod:

‘The hunger will give you everything.  And it will take from you everything.  It will cost you your life, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.  But knowing this, of course, is what ultimately sets you free.’*^

There’s something we want to do more than anything else and that is where we find our power.  It consumes us and keeps us going at the same time.  It feels like Tom Hodgkinson attests to this power when he writes:

‘I will never retire.  I will continue reading and writing till the day I die.’^*

Here is something about power those seeking to always have more do not understand: it seems: power exists in both receiving and giving.   The power from within is courageous, generous, and wise.  Any other kind of power isn’t worth having.

Peter Sense writes about the learning disability of “the enemy is out there.”  Needing to overcome this enemy in order to take away its power blinds us to the “in here.”  (The knock-on learning disability, says Senge, is “the illusion of taking charge.”)⁺

For power, look within.

(*Mary Oliver, quoted in Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(**From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(^From Seth Godin’s blog Marketing about power and with power.)
(^^From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(*^From Hugh Macleod’s Evil Plans.)
(^*From Tom Hodgkinson’s Business for Bohemians.)
(⁺See Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline.)

the discipline of presence

‘But the real reason you extend yourself in these moments when it all falls apart is that this is how you will measure yourself over time.  What you did when you had a chance to connect and to care.’*

‘When people in organisations focus only on their positions they have little sense of responsibility for the results produced when all positions interact.’**

The afternoon tea was for celebrating our wedding anniversary.  The day had been planned towards arriving at the cafe, but our booking had been lost.

The person in charge was apologetic.  Perhaps we could have some cake and a drink with a good discount.

She saw our disappointment.

Give me half an hour.

We returned to a full afternoon tea , gluten-free and vegetarian, impeccably presented, attended by wonderful table service – and prosecco thrown in.

The discipline of presence begins with the mindset, I am here, now, so what can I make happen.

The mindset of absence is, It’s someone else’s fault, I wish I wasn’t here, there’s nothing I can do.^

Yesterday, the person in charge became the whole organisation for us.

We think this is where the best afternoon tea in Edinburgh is served.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog The toxic antidote to goodwill.)
(**From Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline.)
(^This was our exact experience a few weeks earlier at a different place.)

wait for me

‘The more prepared you are, the more spontaneous you can be.”

‘Walking came from Africa, from evolution and from necessity, and it went everywhere, usually looking for something.  The pilgrimage is one of the basic modes of walking in search of something intangible, and we were on pilgrimage.’**

There is waiting for something.  And that something may never come.

There is waiting towards something.  Moving towards we don’t know what, watchful for what appears.

Whether we call it a walk, a pilgrimage, or a quest doesn’t matter.  What matters is what happens while we’re waiting towards something:

‘[W]hen we go, we find we’re not just entering new territory.  We are becoming new people.’^

‘Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human.  through learning we recreate ourselves.’^^

(*From Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)
(**From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(^From John Ortberg’s All the Places to Go.)
(^^From Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline.)

so you want the moon?

“Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs.”*

‘Technology isn’t an answer, it’s a tool.”**

Technology isn’t the thing.

The system or the rule isn’t the thing.

Neither is the teacher or guide who has lots of good things to share.

Each can help us move towards the thing, if we find the right ones.

The thing is simply the integrity and wholeness of our lives, no matter how imperfect or incomplete these are, out of which we make our contribution:

‘I’m still left standing squarely in my integrity.  From there, all things are possible.’^

(*Joan Didion, quoted in Brené Brown’s Rising Strong.)
(**From gapingvoid’s blog Identifying the question.)
(^From Brené Brown’s Rising Strong.)

the habits of our lives

The first step is learning how to do it. […] But step two is turning it into a habit.’*

This is how it is with the thing we most want to do.

It can take us a long time to identify the art or artisanship we want to contribute into the world.  The next thing we must do is to embody it, to make it into the many habits that are as special friends to us and that help us get up in the morning with a larger anticipation, move into the space we need to be in, and are channels for our unique energy in yet another day.

Without habits, personal energy leaks.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Don’t forget the second step.)

when a guide comes along

‘Each society and each individual usually explores only a tiny fraction of their horizon of possibilities.’*

‘It is a cause of great joy when a guide comes along who can help us discern our way.’**

What if Nassim Taleb and Albert Einstein are half-right?  What if we were to move through our adult lives unquestioning of how we see the world, then we see some faux-horizon at best:

‘I remind myself of Einstein’s remark that common sense is nothing but a collection of misconceptions acquired by age eighteen.’^

My experience has been that it is through the lives of countless others that we see what is the real horizon.  This can be overwhelming and I’m reminded of Pamela Slim’s exhortation to find a niche an inch wide and a mile deep.^^  That’s all we need.  We don’t have to do everything but we do have to do something to allow our creativity to flow, opening the possibility of generosity, and these bringing us enjoyment.

The infinite can be very small and the finite very large.

(*From Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.)
(**From Henri Nouwen’s Discernment.)
(^From Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness.)
(^^See Pamela Slim’s Escape from Cubicle Nation.)

the future depends on what we can imagine

Thomas Merton offers a prayer for lostness:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.”*

God or not, we all need those paths in our lives about which we’ve no idea where they’ll take us, which open up surprises.

We also need others to walk their paths of unknowing that may or may not lead them to us, bringing to us what we have no idea of – someone living differently, doing something we may like the look and sound of, and which we may try out ourselves:  ‘concrete embodiments of big ideas [which] spark imagination in ways that abstract arguments cannot’.**

(*From the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.)

on boundaries

‘Finite players play within boundaries, infinite players play with boundaries.’*

The first boundaries to be played with are those of our own lives.  It’s likely, though, that we all stop short of exploring the extent to which these boundaries are malleable.

Brené Brown asks a question on boundaries when it comes to ours and those of others:

‘What boundaries need to be in place so that you can stay in your integrity and make generous assumptions about this person’s motivation, intentions, or behaviours?’**

We’re explorers of the generosity of our boundaries.

Only we can take responsibility for this.  Education tends not to teach on this, and it’s unlikely that our workplaces will help – even with the best of intentions, our teachers and employers are in a system that focuses on some but not on everyone.  Anne Lamott seems to see mercy as important to playing with boundaries, especially when we see boundaries through Brown’s question:

‘Pope Francis says the name of God is mercy.  Our name was mercy, too, until we put it away to become more productive, more admired, and less vulnerable.  We tend to forget it’s still there.’^

We don’t have to believe in a god to see Lamott’s suggestion that mercy adds an important element to the growing of our boundaries:

‘We startle awake.  This is part of the mystery, that the humane, humanity, human bodies, are where we experience transcendence and God, restoration, the inclination to serve those who are suffering.  We reach out as we are reached out to.’^

This plasticity of boundaries witnesses others reaching out to us as we reach out to others is provided with more beauty and wonder by John Ortberg when he writes:

‘Somebody said that what the world needs is not more geniuses but more genius makers, people who enhance and don’t diminish the gifts of those around them,’^^

Let’s go play with that.

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(**From Brené Brown’s Rising Strong.)
(^From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)
(^^From John Ortberg’s All the Places to Go.)