Learning from Whoopi

If you want to live life free
Take your time. go slowly
If you want your dream to be
Take your time, go slowly.*
(Donovan Leitch)

Solving interesting problems is the best work we can do.
Seeing the world as it is, offering people dignity, choosing to make a difference… none of these are fast and easy paths, but we do them anyway.**
(Seth Godin)

There’ll always be interesting problems.

Living in a material universe guarantees this.  Materiality means everything is always changing.  Alan Lightman reflects:

“Nothing persists in the material world.  All of it changes and passes away.”^

Interesting is in the eye of the beholder.  That’s the amazing world of diversity.

Lightman has found a place to live and a way of living, things we each need to find.  As his body wears down and his life moves towards its end, Lightman speaks of finding wisdom:

“As the seconds tick by, I breathe one breath at a time. I inhale, I exhale.  These spruces and cedars I cherish and know, the wind, the sweet scent of moist and dark soil – these are my small sense of enlightenment, my past life and present life and future life all in one moment.”^

We meet the interesting problems with who we are becoming slowly, a slowness more disrupting than fastness.

Youngme Moon tells of a performance she attended of a then unknown and young Whoopi Goldberg:

‘I remember going to the show with a set of expectations – I expected it to be funny, perhaps even sidesplittingly funny – but as it turned out, the most memorable aspect of the show was not its humour but its poignancy; the show was streetwise and gritty, at times heartbreakingly so.’^^

My friend Alex McManus suggests we long for a life that is an immersive, interactive, integrated and impactful.  This deeper life is contained, it seems to me, in the words Moon uses for Whoopi’s performance: yes please to humour, but we also desire poignancy and grit, and even something to break our hearts.

Each of us is capable of such a performance.  Albert Camus spoke about how:

‘Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves.’*^

They are whispers to be listened for, so we must listen carefully:

‘Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope.’*^

Hope is to be found in the living of many lives slowly, persistently stepping out from the norm:

‘Some say that this hope lies in a nation; others, in a man.  I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of individuals whose deeds and work every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history.  As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever threatened truth that each and every man, on the foundation of his own sufferings and joys, builds for all.’*^

(*Donovan Leitch, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: Speaking up about what could be better.)
(^Alan Lightman, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Alan Lightman on the Longing for Absolutes.)
(^^From Youngme Moon’s Different.)
(*^From Albert Camus’ Create Dangerously.)

That’s not my responsibility

The gap is usually in the difficulty of getting the non-owner to see a path to happiness that comes as a result of acting like an owner.   Most people are taught to avoid that feeling.  Because it always comes with another feeling – the dread of responsibility.*
(Seth Godin)

Creating a space collaboratively is the best recipe for creating a collaborative space.**
(Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft)

When we are included and involved from the beginning then we are more likely to have ownership and, with it, responsibility.

Carl Sagan got us thinking about how we are made of the same stuff as stars.  In one form or another, we’ve all been around from the beginning.  We are increasingly opening this truth and reality through science and mathematics, imagination and creativity:

“It is astonishing but true that if I could attach a small tag to each of the atoms of my body and travel with them backward in time, I would find that those atoms originated in particular stars in the sky.  Those exact atoms.”^

If all of us have forever been involved in the unfolding of the universe, what a tragedy if we believe the stories we’re told that some are more important than others, that only a few have something worth contributing and the rest don’t, but Jospeh Campbell would encourage:

‘I always tell my students, go where your body and should want to go.’^^

For a little while at least, we have the opportunity to be more than stardust, doing something more focused than careering thoughtlessly through space.  Campbell named this our bliss:

‘When you have the feeling, then stay with it, and don’t let anyone throw you off.’^^

Nancy Kline might be speaking about thinking in the business world but really she’s touching on the same things, the possibility we all have to participate from the beginning:

‘I think we’re living in an epidemic of obedience. […] The crises we face today started with obedience yesterday. […] I ponder what it would take to produce an p[lanet of people thinking for themselves – in the best interest of all people.’*^

What’s your idea for including more people?

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: But what about the people who don’t care?)
(**From Scott Doorley 
and Scott Witthoft’s Make Space.)
(^From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Alan Lightman on the Longing for Absolutes.)
(^^Joseph Campbell, from Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(*^From Nancy Kline’s More Time to Think.)


The material and the spiritual

Two members of my family sent me messages yesterday.  They were letting me know that the garden centre where I had been born was largely destroyed by fire on Friday night.

I’d not thought about this small patch of land for a long time, but for some reason the news affected me more than I thought it would.  My father had the house built in 1949 on five acres of land as he pursued his dream of running a market garden and, later, a garden centre.  I was the only member of the family to be born in the house back in 1959.

We then moved away in 1974 when the working of the land became too much for my father’s health.  Though my childhood years couldn’t be measured as bad as some are, they weren’t the happiest, and yet the news of the fire saddened me.  The land, the bricks, certain memories are still very much a part of why I am who I am and why I do what I do.

We are strange creatures.

I sometimes use the word humystics to describe us: hominids who are both products and walkers of the Earth, and yet mystics too, searching for and touching the unknown.  Some news about a place I have not lived or visited in decades causes me to think of so many things deeply.

All the time, the spiritual is held within the material.

It is not one or the other.

I breathe, I feel the quickening of my heart, I take a step – not as some may have expected.  Something caught my attention and my imagination and I changed direction.

Albert Camus writes about creating dangerously, about how dictatorships of whatever kind fear art, because art is more that paint-patterns on canvas, or words in lines, or clay lumped and fired:

‘Every great work makes the human face more admirable and richer, and this is its whole secret.’*

My understanding of art includes whatever someone is curious about, explores, imagines, practises and contributes.

Each has the capacity and ability to imbue a day, an activity, a breath, with far more meaning than others may think it ought to have.  And then we wait to see what happens.

Our gift may be something very practical, but Lewis Hyde reminds me that every gift has three parts: the gift itself, the spirit of the gift and the community of the gift.**

Time to play.

(*From Albert Camus” Create Dangerously.)
(**See Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.)


Brand loyalty

According to Nielsen, 83% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, and 66% trust other consumer opinions posted online.

Trust is currency.  We seek it.  We earn it.  We spend it.*
(Brian Solis)

Out of the depths I call to you …**
(George Appleton)

According to Google, 90% of people don’t know which brand they’re going to buy at the beginning of a search on their smartphones.  Reaching out beyond themselves, they will trust what others post – people they don’t know as well as those they do.

Theoretical physicist Alan Lightman ponders our longing for Absolutes in a material and, therefore, relative universe; absolutes such as constancy, immortality, permanence, the soul, and “God”:

The Absolutes and the Relatives can be considered a large frame in which to view the dialogue between religion and science, or between spirituality and science.  But I suggest that the issues go deeper, into the dualism and complexity of human existence.  We are idealists and we are realists.  We are dreamers and we are builders.  We are experiencers and we are experimenters.

Here we are, taking our place amongst countless generations of hominids born on a relative world in a relative universe, asking questions about Absolutes.  When you think about it, it’s a funny thing.

(*From Brian Solis’ Once Upon a Digital Time.)
(**George Appleton, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Alan Lightman on the Longing for Absolutes in a Relative World and What Gives Lasting Meaning to our Lives.)


Your advantage

Our advantage is not something that we gain.  It is something we give.

It is found where our deepest joy meets the world’s greatest need.

These are different for every person but something very special happens when we hone our gift in the secret place of personal inquiry and reflection, when we develop it into something artful through great effort and when we make it available to others because we care:

‘Create an imbalance of effort and care.  Show up.  Don’t spam, in any form.’*

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Effort in the face of near-certain rejection.)

The reducing life (or, the robots are coming)

The goal can’t be quality, not for people anyway.  It needs to be humanity.  The rough edges of caring, of improv and of connection.

If all you can do is meet spec, better be sure you can do that faster and cheaper than an AI can.*
(Seth Godin)

Like the old saying goes, people don’t remember stats, they remember stories.**
(Hugh Macleod)

I don’t know if robots get headaches, or their digital equivalent.  I know I’ve got one today, and it’s getting worse.

Robots and AI are taking on more and more of what we can do and probably without headaches slowing them down.

What are we left with? is a really important question.  It brought me back to the critical 21st Century question:

What does it mean to you to be human?

Maria Popova is asking her own questions:

‘It is, of course, an abiding question, as old as consciousness — we are material creatures that live in a material universe, yet we are capable of experiences that transcend what we can atomize into physical facts: love, joy, the full-being gladness of a Beethoven symphony on a midsummer’s night.’^

I find myself thinking that AI and robots probably not only don’t get headaches but they don’t get to begin with greed, pride and foolishness as humans do.  Yet from these starting points, the overcoming of these things on a daily basis, it often seems to me that we become most human, most imaginative and creative and loving.

Robots will do more and more of our work, life becomes more and more reduced in many ways, and yet there are untouched worlds that we get to explore as humans.

Every day.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: We can do better than meeting spec.)
(**From gapingvoid’s blog: What’s your story?)
(^From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Alan Lightman on the Longing for Absolutes in a Relative World and What Gives Lasting Meaning to our Lives.)

Today! (new improved recipe)

Great content starts with great stories and great stories start with thoughtfulness and intent.*
(Brian Solis)

There is today and then there is today with a little more added.

Not adding stuff from outside of us but adding from the inside.

This can be the hardest thing of all, to find the energy to make the effort to bring what we are capable of bringing.  How we bring more curiosity or focus or presence or questions or humility or gratitude or randomness … .  There’s an endless list of possibilities right under our noses.

The hardest thing of all but also the most satisfying and transformative.

(*From Brian Solis’ Once Upon a Digital Age.)

In the depths

‘After all, perhaps the greatest of art lies in the perpetual tension between beauty and pain, the love of men and the madness of creation, unbearable solitude and the exhausting crowd, rejection and consent.’*
(Albert Camus)

Imagination and creativity may be at their best when addressing problems and difficulties.  Nancy Kline tells of how her father delivered a speech calling for the equality of African Americans.  He was seventeen, graduating from high school in 1920 in Tennessee:

“I just asked myself, ‘What is the most important challenge facing my generation?’  I knew immediately.

Then I asked myself, ‘And if I weren’t afraid, what would I say about it in the speech?'”**

K. M. Welland writes about how a good story needs conflict, progresses and has some unexpected element.  We are all capable of bringing the unexpected.

(*From Albert Camus’ Create Dangerously.)
(**From Nancy Kline’s More Time to Think.)

Beyond the beyond the beyond

Listen to the silence. […] Silence will speak more to you in a day than the world of voices can teach you in a lifetime.*
(Frances Roberts)

What then is art?  Nothing simple, that is certain.  And it is even harder to find amid the shouts of so many people intent on simplifying everything.**
(Albert Camus)

I cannot lurch straight into the noise, how hide myself in the familiar.  I must find some asymmetry, a place for finding what I do not yet see, what I do not yet feel, what I cannot yet do.  A place to imagine.

Why do we imagine?  Is it because it is where we feel most alive?  Where the promise of some better world yet unimagined is still to be found?  Where simply is discarded for engrossing?

‘The artist constantly lives in such a state of ambiguity, incapable of negating the really and yet eternally bound to question it in its eternally unfinished aspects.’**

(*Frances Roberts, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Albert Camus’ Create Dangerously.)

Nothing changes, everything changes

One thing about the future we cannot say is: This is how it’s going to be.  It hasn’t happened:

‘The future won’t be perfect.  We won’t be perfect. […] The future won’t always work.  We won’t always succeed. […] The future won’t always be fair.  But we can try […] It can be better if we let it.’*

I don’t know about you, but I like the fact that the future is uncertain in this way.  It means that this moment can be uncertain too, that it can be better than I think it might be:

“Live from day to day.  If you do so, you worry less and live more richly.”**

The present is more than simply the result of the past; without this sense of future-what-might-be, the fullness of the present remains unknown to us.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: What is and what might be.)
(**Anne Morrow Lindbergh, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)