Month: December 2016

A Timely Reminder

A Timely Reminder

December 22nd

In this prelude to the Trumpian era, we find ourselves unsure. What does it all mean? And what will it mean in the years to come? Perhaps it is nothing more than the usual US election hype and drama playing out. Or perhaps we are witnessing a turning point: something a little more important than it may at first seem.

This evening I watched Pleasantville for the first time. To be honest, I was ignorant to what it was even about. For those who don’t know, I recommend you give it a look before you read this. I’ll do my best not to kill the movie, but I can’t really give the monologue I’m planning without a few spoilers.

It struck me as a particularly poignant film to be watching at this time of transition. The people of America have spoken and have opted for making “America great again”. We are left wondering what greatness it is exactly that they seek. I’ll leave you to ponder your own thoughts on that for a moment because when I went to write my own, I realised just how many variants there may be.

It could be that this assumption is in itself flawed and that Americans actually just voted for change. A switch from a classical politician to someone who might do things differently. Maybe they voted for someone who they could relate to as having come from a corporate rather than political background. In reality, it must be assumed that there are several permutations of many different reasons. Each existing on its own continuum.

I suspect though, that when it boils down to it, some sort of variation on Pleasantville is exactly what is being sought. The specifics can be fiddled and changed, but the core emotions remain. The Trump line seems to be about making a secure, safe, predictable comfort zone… if only for the select few that the vision may comprise.

For it takes no genius to see that this is the state of modern democracy: It is an institution that relies on the strength of emotion to override fact or logic. The fruition of a lifetime of priming by marketing agencies and a top-down approach to social order.

The parallels in Pleasantville are not exactly hidden and while the emphasis is clearly a reminder of America’s past racial issues and segregation, it casts a net over greater social attitudes: the importance of free thought and emotional expression.

It is the warning tone of the film that stayed with me most though. Those whose endeavours tended toward ‘pleasantness’ were the seen as the agents of oppression and violence. Those whose resistance to flexibility held them contained in ignorance found themselves as puppets to the whims of he who would restore the balance of ‘normal’. Those who strove to evolve and grow according to their inner drive became victims.

It is not a new idea that humans seem to react to the unknown with violence. History shows us time and again. History also reminds us that there are certain signs which must be heeded. That there are certain threshold which, once passed, give a terrible momentum and may lead to horrible events. At the risk of adding to the fear-mongering that has been rife in recent times, I leave you with my recommendation to watch Pleasantville (with a thinking mind) and to remember that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (Edmund Burke).

In this case, it seems it is not men but women who are leading the charge on this one… and they seem to be doing it in the buff…
Esquire- This is What Happened When 100 Women Got Naked at the Republican National Convention (NSFW)

Huffington Post- Haunting Photos Feature Trump’s Sexist Comments Drawn on Women’s Bodies (NSFW)

Still, the lads aren’t absent in their warnings. Charlie even had something to say. When was the last time you saw him saying anything useful? ;0)

Then there are those offering tips for self-care and local action:
Mashable- 4 Positive Ways to Take Action After Trump’s Victory

To keep things in perspective, this is what is happening in other parts of the world that have brought in ‘hard-line’ leaders… Not saying it’s the same thing, but is it?
The New York Times- They are Slaughtering Us Like Animals

And by the way, since I’m posting this on Christmas…

Asking from Altered Assumptions

Asking from Altered Assumptions

December 18th

One of the main themes of this year so far has been testing assumptions. Next year I aim to operate out of a different core assumption. This blog is about how it will change (and has already changed) my life.

Testing assumptions requires first paying conscious attention to them as often as possible. One assumption I noticed I operated under was “that people are ultimately looking after number 1”. Although it may be true in specific situations, on thinking it over, I decided it is not true overall.

Next year I choose to operate under the assumption “that to help others is one of people’s greatest intrinsic rewards”. That is to say that people really want to help and to serve others. I am aware that some act more often with this guiding principle than others. I am also aware that some may be more selective in the population towards whom they extend this beneficence. However, operating with this assumption first, I notice some striking and very important differences in my experience of the world.

First I must digress slightly. About seven years ago, one of my uncles said something to me that has stuck: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”. It obviously makes sense on all sorts of different levels, but for some very complex and long-established reasons, New Zealand culture (and to some extent, many other world cultures) discourage asking for help. There are specific situations in which co-operation is actively encouraged, but also many that carry with them the unspoken law that you must suffer alone. Our culture frowns upon people who can’t/won’t “stand on their own two feet”.

This belief has a very strong effect on the way we communicate and behave toward one another. It tends to make a request for another’s assistance a burdensome thing both in our own mind and theirs. They believe that “I work hard to manage on my own, so why can’t you?” It then follows that if they then do assist, they may resent it or feel you are in their debt. It becomes an emotionally loaded currency.

On the other hand, I feel I am burdening them with my needs. I may feel weak or unaccomplished for not being able to do it all alone. Ultimately, it makes me less likely to ask for help, more likely to take on too much and it contributes to the modern phenomenon of disconnected communities.

I saw a really interesting TED Talk a few years ago which addressed this aversion to asking for help. It might have actually been before my uncle’s sage advice. I’ve seen many TED Talks over the years, but this is one that stuck with me. The presenter talks about the difference in how she felt about the world and people by asking for help and in turn, receiving it. She also talks about the social stigma of asking for help. She then gives specific examples of how that willingness to be vulnerable allowed her to feel gratitude and to achieve so much more than she could have alone.  You can find it here.

More recently, I came across Marshall Rosenberg’s (audio) book, “Non-Violent Communication”. In it, he approaches the topic from a more scientific psychological standpoint. He talks about how if we embrace this basic social need that we humans all have, our approach to the request can come across with a different energy. When we recognise another’s need to contribute to others’ well-being and come to really believe that we are offering an opportunity to fulfil that need by asking, it becomes a gift. When our requests come from a place of giving rather than an attitude of taking, it can be received in a different way too. Not only will the person be more likely to help, but the latent feeling towards the one who asked can become one of gratitude rather than one of indebtedness or resentment.

Another thing he makes a strong point of is that the implied consequences make a world of difference to the tone of the request too. That is to say that if you have already taken responsibility for the idea that the task is yours and yours alone, you will not feel let down if it remains yours. If however, someone agrees to help, that is a bonus. In the first case, you harbour no resentment. In the second, you have nothing but gratitude. With gratitude and positivity on both sides of the equation, we set that discourse up to be really positive thing to our relationship with that person. It becomes a relationship builder rather than a hindrance to it.

If we instead have an implication of requirement behind the request (i.e. we feel it is not really our task to do in the first place), there is likely to be a tone of disappointment or judgement should they choose not to help. In this case, the implication feels compelled to help and may resent having done so. If they refuse, they feel (perhaps unfairly) that they have let you down. In either case, we set it up to have a net negative effect on our relationship overall.

With these ideas in mind, we see what an important tool it can be in building great relationships. On a somewhat unrelated note, it can be an excellent way to meet new people and makes a great opener when trying to pick someone up ;0) Worth paying a little attention to in my books.

I’m still not great at it, I’ll admit. All too often, I often catch myself slipping into the behaviours of “looking after number one” and taking rather than looking for the opportunity to give. But as with all things, improvement come from first giving attention to the practice.

That said, even the practice of focussing on the concept has helped change my world view. It’s been a large part of the healing I have undergone this year. It has also meant that I have been able to find a different way to approach the problem of resources for The Longest Walk NZ.  In theory, I approach new people with the idea of “How can I help this person? How can I make their life a little better, if only for a moment?” This sets the tone for a pleasant conversation, at worst. At best, it lays the foundation for a mutually rewarding interaction and/or relationship.

Ghandi is oft-quoted as saying “Be the change you want to see in the world”. For me, this assumption allows me to be the change I want to see: to live in a world where people act for something bigger than themselves… whatever that may be. If we can succeed in this internal shift of “default attitude”, imagine what sort of world this world could become.

A Reasonable Absence…

It’s been a while since posting here with anything of substance. (The ketchup coffee post doesn’t count). But rest assured, you are not forgotten nor have I lapsed in the seeking of freedom. Quite the opposite.


It’s full steam ahead with The Longest Walk NZ. Give-a-little, a free PDF download, a video and website are all up and ready. The camper is complete and we’ve been out training throughout the week. The dogs are coping well with the scary, rumbling monster we are walking with now and I’m starting to get used to the idea of hauling up a hill.

In a month’s time, the boys and I will be on our way… walking around the country… for a looooongtime. Like, share, donate, contact me with any other ideas you may have… Your support would really help.

Choosing Change

Collective Evolution is a site I have followed for quite a while. I stumbled across this TedX Talk by its creator, Joe Martino.

I’m not going to introduce it with what it’s about, he can do that better for himself. But I recommend you watch it if you have that feeling that change is happening in you or the world aroound you. This talk allows us to relate to his feelings and gives us an introduction about some of the theories of what is going on in the legacy of social upheaval we have inherited today.

Cos… Freedom

Cos… Freedom

Friday, 9th December 2016

Today I put ketchup in coffee.

Cos… Freedom.

It came up in conversation and I couldn’t visualise (tastualise?) what it would taste like. So I tried it. I had feeling it would taste bad but I couldn’t be sure. So I decided to test my assumption.

We assume so much without testing those assumptions. I’ve found freedom most when I choose to face them head on and look for alternatives. What assumptions could you test today?

p.s. In case you were wondering, I found that indeed coffee and ketchup does not agree with my palate.

Freedom is… Trading Possessions for Community

Florian joins me today at the Riverside Cafe in the village of Riverside Community in Motueka (near Nelson), New Zealand.

Riverside has been mentioned a few times before, particularly here. Personally, I love the ethos of the place and it has a very welcoming feel. It is the feel of the place itsef, but it is also members of the community like Florian, who give it a friendly and peaceful timbre.

Not sure what happened, but the last file of the interview didn’t last the distance. Apologies for that. However, I improvised. Have a listen to what Florain has to say about choosing community life.