do something human

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

As often seems to be the case (at least with me), it caught me unawares, this idea.  It kind of came from nowhere, but once it arrived, wouldn’t let go.

I was sitting in a meeting last week, thinking about strategic planning (I know, everybody’s favourite subject) for the organisation I work within. In the midst of the meeting a story was being told – a personal story, only peripherally related to the subject at hand – by one of the participants. In the middle of describing a difficult situation he’d found himself in, full of stress and anxiety, and surrounded by people who were (legitimately, reasonably) having a hard time, he described how he’d done something very simple to help someone, and described it as “you know, doing something human”.

It was a throw-away line, and the story continued, but for some reason the idea grabbed hold of me. For the rest of the meeting, and since, I had this phrase running through my mind, and the question that goes with it: do something human.

What does it mean to do something human, and why would be such a big deal?

I’ll tackle those questions in the reverse order.

I think perhaps it’s a big deal (to my mind at least) because so much of our modern life is dehumanising. We’ve built for ourselves a society that puts human-ness a distant second place. We’ve turned human beings into economic units – an entity only worth considering because of the economic value or economic cost it brings to a system. We’ve built a society where our identity is shaped not by the relationships we have with other people, and the place (both physically and in terms of community) we live in, but by what we consume and what we contribute. A society where the every present marker of success is “busy-ness”. Where change and complexity are daily realities. Where isolation is keenly felt by so many even in the midst of a crowd. Where anxiety, dissatisfaction and conflict are the stock-in-trade tools of an advertising industry designed to part us with our money. Where fear is a weapon wielded by politicians the world over. Where human-ness is being codified and fed into ever-more-complex computers and robots destined to replace us. And so on.

I’m not blaming someone else mind, we all are willing participants in the system that we’ve created. I’m as likely as anybody else to be consumed with consuming, wrenched with anxiety, caught up in numbers and busyness and so on.  Even one of the most human activities of all – being and raising a family (whatever shape that family takes) – seems destined to be of interest to our society more because of the economic cost and contribution of such an activity than because of any intrinsic good or worth.

IF that’s all vaguely true (and I’ll grant it’s a big ‘if’) then it’s no wonder the notion of doing something human caught my ear on the way through.

So what is it to do something human?

I think perhaps it starts with noticing the other human. Noticing them for long enough to realise they’re in need (and then doing something about it), noticing them long enough to realise they might have an interesting story to tell (and then listening). Noticing them for long enough to see, or hear, or feel pain, anxiety, fear or isolation (and then stick around long enough to be part of a solution). Maybe it’s just noticing they exist (and acknowledging it).

Then there’s doing something human that’s entirely personal.  Slowing down. Switching off. Resting in the beauty of this world we inhabit. Doing the things that feed your own human-ness rather than drain it away. As simple as the choice about what you eat, and as complex as the choices about career and calling.

Coincidentally I just yesterday started reading Simon Cary Holt’s new book “Heaven All Around Us“.  He writes about the spirituality of the everyday, how there is so much goodness or fullness or richness right in front of us at any given moment if only we would notice (at least that’s what I’ve heard so far!). The book is written from a Christian perspective – but even if you’re not able to go with that belief system, I think there’s truth in what he writes – and I think it’s something to do with this notion of ‘doing something human’.  In any case, I think Christianity is fundamentally about our humanity, rather than some far-off spiritual realm inaccessible to normal people, and removed from the ordinary stuff of life – and that’s something like what I hear Simon describing.

Then of course there’s the harder stuff – the systems things that need to be addressed in order to enable us collectively to do something human. The things that are political, and economic, and that raise questions of justice and goodness and “right-ness”.  To do something human is at times to call out unjust or harsh or downright dehumanising systems and practices in our world. They’re maybe harder to agree on – like for example if I was to say that as a nation we dehumanise those who seek asylum on our shores, some would write that off as “left-wing politics” and by labelling it such, avoid the need to do something about it.  Any number of social issues that either result in or emerge from dehumanising another (gender based violence, sexism, racism, the treatment of indigenous Australians, bullying to name a few) might fit that description.

In any case, this is sounding more like a sermon, and less like a personal reflection, so let’s park that thought.

For me, the challenge that emerged from my meeting was threefold.  First, to wonder how in our organisation (and via our strategic planning) we can incorporate practices that help us all (collectively and individually) to do something human.

Second is to revisit the ways in which I understand and define my identity – and consequently revisit the ways I understand, interact with and acknowledge those with whom I share my life, not matter how tangential that sharing might be.

And third, most importantly, to hold this question before me in whatever situation and circumstance I find myself in: “What will it mean right now to do something human?”

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on balance, and rocks, and beautiful places

On the weekend just gone, Sheri and I took our kids out to Girraween National Park. If you haven’t been there…you should go. Just saying.

Girraween is just out past Stanthorpe in what is known as the Granite Belt. And it’s known as the granite belt for a good reason – it’s a giant playground of granite boulders of varying sizes.

Some of the boulders are small enough that you can lift, or sit on them. Some are the size of your car, or your house, or some are literally whole mountains made of granite. It’s an incredible place to explore and enjoy. And not even some rain on Saturday ruined the weekend for us as we played and wandered.

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One of the incredible features of Girraween are the ways these boulders are piled up, or balanced upon one another.

Take this one, for example. It’s called Granite Arch.  Kind of a natural Stonehenge looking feature, with the capstone balanced on the lower two. Amazing.

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Nearby are a couple of mountain-sized lumps of rock called “The Pyramids.” The first one is walkable, the second is technically off limits. They’re incredible to look at, and even more so to explore.

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High up on the first pyramid, the one you can climb by following a marked path, is a boulder generally known as “Balancing Rock”.  See if you can guess why when you look at the photo below.

The kids, along with some friends, joined the long, long, long list of people who’ve tried and failed to topple this rock from its perch.

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It’s perfectly balanced, standing on its end, on top of a mountain.  And as I stood and looked at it, I couldn’t help wondering what probably everybody else who’s made the climb thinks: “How does it stand there?” It’s centre of gravity must be just right, and the fact that it is perched on a firm foundation keeps it there, through rain, hail, wind and the attempts of 12 year old kids. It’s been there day after day, year after year, decade after decade, probably century after century. This rock is balanced, perfectly.

The challenge to visiting Balancing Rock, of course, is climbing up, and then back down this mountain-sized monolith to see it. On this journey up and down the steep slab-sided pyramid it’s a case of the balancing person. Keeping a firm footing, a balanced centre of gravit, avoiding obstacles or damp patches, and keeping focused on the path ahead are the key. Balance matters to us as climbers, just as much as it does to the rock that stands.  Balance matters as much when we are in motion, when we are living life actively, as it does when we are just trying to stand firm.

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Balance, centre of gravity, firm foundations: these things matter not just to rocks. But to people, to communities, to you and I.

As I walked I wondered what it means to be balanced in life as while walking, as while being a rock standing on top of a mountain.  What does it means to be on firm footing?

For me one of the things that means is that I wonder what the story of Jesus has to say into that space (for you it might be something totally different). Jesus on multiple occasions talked about rocks, balance and firm foundations. He used a metaphor about the value in building our house (our life) on rock, not on sand. He talked about building his church on a rock. He talked about the importance to balance in life of seeking God’s kingdom first – that other things will take care of themselves.

Balance. Firm foundations. Rocks.

Where does balance come from in my life? Where are firm foundations found? What does it look like when everything is in balance? Is it all in balance right now? If not, what’s missing?

Those are the questions I’ve been pondering this week. Maybe they’re of interest to you too.

under your nose

IMG_6926This weekend we had some good friends staying with us, and went looking for something fun (and outside) to do in Brisbane. In that same situation in the past we’ve often headed for Southbank, or wandered up Mt Coot-tha, or maybe a local park or playground.

This time, for some reason, Mt Glorious came to mind. It’s part of the D’Agular range, and right on the edge of Brisbane, with access through Samford Valley and then up the winding road to the village of Mt Glorious. Of course we stopped for breakfast on the way…at our friend’s cafe Delicatezza in Mitchelton (an unashamed plug for a great feed, and a great mate).

Once we made the climb to Mt Glorious, we left the car at Maiala Picnic Area and wandered the 4.something km Rainforest and Greene’s Falls trails. It was, it has to be said, an absolutely stunning Brisbane winter day, and the walk was a joy. Beautiful forest, easy walking trails, kids chattering away (apart from the odd “Dad I’m hungry” call that seems to accompany just about every family adventure). We clambered down the rocks at the Falls, balanced our way along a 30m fallen tree, played, explored and then back at the picnic area sat in the sun, enjoying lunch and good company.

IMG_6952A meander back via Mt Nebo with stops at the beautiful Westride, Jolly’s and Camp Mountain Lookouts completed the day – all without ever travelling more than an hour from home. Jolly’s Lookout is amazing…we’ll definitely be back there for a sunrise brekkie bbq one morning.

It was a lovely day.

I haven’t been up Mt Glorious for probably 20 years or more…and its right on our front door. Right under our nose, so to speak.

Why is it that we sometimes don’t see, or notice the things that are right in front of us? Maybe it’s beautiful locations, like Mt Glorious; maybe its the extraordinary blessing of family and loved ones that we sometimes don’t think about; maybe its business or professional opportunities. Sometimes we (by which I of course mean me) are so focused on the next big thing that we miss whats right there before us.

I’m left wondering how many other Mt Glorious’es are right on my doorstep, right under my nose, just waiting to be noticed, explored and enjoyed. Not for the first time (to my shame that I keep having to be reminded) I’m reminded of the value of slowing down a little and enjoying whats right in front of me.

How about you? What’s your Mt Glorious?

choosing drama

Recently I was sitting with the 13 year old at a high school subject selection evening. She’s preparing for year 9, and has a couple of elective choices to make, so the school puts on an evening where all of this is explained to parents and students.

Helpful.

There are two things you need to know about this particular 13 year old. First, she’s very academically oriented (and I’d say gifted too…but them I’m biased). Second, she has inherited an intense introversion and dislike of public speaking from her parents.  We’ve both learned to do it, but it hasn’t been a fun ride.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, right, subject selection.

In the end she had one choice left to make, and the list of options was long. A whole bunch of arts subjects, some industrial tech stuff, and geography.

I thought the choice was simple. She loves geography, would do well at it, would find it relatively easy. An easy choice.

Naturally, she didn’t choose it (I mean she could have, but then this would have been a dull story, right?).

She said to me “Dad, I’m going to choose drama”.

“Drama?”, I thought to myself.  “Drama? Seriously? What about geography?”

“Oh, that’s good” I said out loud, desperately trying to play the cool, supportive, helpful parent.  “Tell me why you’re thinking drama?”.

The answer, when it came, floored me.  Stopped me. Confronted me. Challenged me. Then and now.

“Because I know I’m not good at speaking in front of groups. It makes me nervous, and I’m not good at it. I think if I do drama for a year, it will help me to find my voice. I can always do geography later”.  Such is the wisdom of the 13 year old.

Now let me hasten to say at this point that I have no objection whatsoever to drama as a subject. I wish I had the courage to do it (I would be hopeless, but I still wish…).

It’s a choice that impressed me, and for several reasons:

  • She chose the unexpected
  • She thought it through enough to not just take the obvious choice
  • She chose to be challenged (and believe me, she will be challenged)
  • She chose her weakness
  • She chose to grow a new strength
  • She knows that choosing one (drama), involves letting go of another (geography)

So many of us (I raise my hand high) don’t take those kinds of choices. We stick with what we know. We stick with what we have already learned. We stick with what we have proven we can succeed in. We stick with the safe, the obvious.  To choose challenge, growth, weakness, risk?  That’s unusual.  Most of us would choose geography over drama every day of the week (it’s a metaphor…go with me):

  • We take a holiday to the same place (or at least the same kind of place).
  • We stick with the same kinds of food.
  • We make the safe, obvious career choice.

And so on. Geography over drama, every time.

In the organisation I work in, we are under some degree of stress. Our future is clouded.  Under such stress, we choose geography time after time after time. We choose what we know. We choose the obvious. We choose to keep doing what we’ve always done. I can’t help but think that at this point in our life cycle, we should be consciously choosing drama.

It’s left me both (a) incredibly proud of this child (even more than before…true); and (b) challenged in the way I go about my choices as a person, husband, father.

I’m wondering what it means for me to choose drama. I’m a little nervous about the next choice I have to make. And if I’m honest, a little sad too….because I quite like geography!

 

to kaizen…..or not to kaizen?

IMG_2776I’ve been getting steadily re-addicted to mountain biking this year.

I had a period 10 years ago or so where I rode regularly, but this is on another level. I’m riding with a few mates a couple of times a week, exploring trails around south-east Queensland and having a great time.

We’re also putting lots of effort into learning how to ride better, faster, hit bigger jumps, rougher trails and so on.  In the grand scheme of things, we’re not that good – but we are trying!

One of the main tools in  this attempt to improve is a little phone app called Strava.  Strava uses the GPS in your phone to track where you’ve ridden, how fast, how much elevation gained and a heap more.  It automatically compares your ride performance against your previous rides on the same trails, and against other riders (who use strava) on those same trails.  Within a few moments of finishing a ride we can be looking at the data – how fast did I ride today? Was i strong on the climbs? How about that particularly difficult (we in the MTB world prefer the word ‘gnarly’!) descent? Continue reading

did you hear the one about…

Did you hear the one about the psychologist, the musician and the golfer?

It started a couple of weeks ago:

I was sitting in a meeting that included a guy whose profession I would describe as an ‘organisational psychologist’. By that I mean he specialises in understanding how organisations and groups develop, how they deal with changing culture and context, and what kinds of steps an organisation and its leadership can take to move from one place to another.

We hadn’t met before, and I hadn’t seen him at work prior to that meeting…but it very quickly became evident that he is brilliant at what he does (at least from where I sit). He was sharp, direct when required, tactful when that was helpful, and immediately able to pinpoint key issues under discussion in the meeting.  It was a short, chance encounter that left a deep impression on me.  I went away inspired.

And then last week:

IMG_3063[1]On Thursday night I went to see musician Stu Larsen ply his trade at Brisbane’s Black Bear Lodge. I’ve written about Stu before, here. If you haven’t heard of him before, go and read that story for a little introduction and then come back. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Stu’s life is that of a wandering storyteller. A guitar and a microphone all he needs. On Thursday night, he held the audience spellbound as with voice and string he wove a tale of place, of people, of life.  This room, packed to the rafters, was still and silent as he shared his trade. And full of voice as he invited us to join in song.  We wandered from King St Sydney, to the 101 Highway San Francisco, to outback Queensland and continental Europe as Stu’s stories and songs took us places that we had never been (and yet seemed strangely familiar).

In a former life Stu was a bank worker…and I’ve no doubt he would have done a good job at that. But here, on stage, singing stories, inviting responses. It’s where he belongs. He’s found his place. Storytellers, in my experience, do two things with their words. First, the words create images that pop up, unbidden, into our minds. We create for ourselves the images, the video that accompanies the story.  And second, they evoke in us, invite from us, our own story. They make us wonder. Stu does that every time I see or hear him play. And Thursday was no different.

And yesterday:

IMG_3071[1]I trooped down to the Gold Coast with a bunch of family and friends to watch one of our own, Matt Guyatt, play in the final round of the Australian PGA golf tournament. Matt was well placed and backed up a big month with a good finish. He played yesterday alongside recently crowned Australian Masters champion Nick Cullen.  It always strikes me as a strange profession (like music or any other ‘performance’ profession) when members of the public come along to watch you do your job. But that’s the daily reality for some, working live in front of an audience.  Matt (and Nick) put it all on the line yesterday, at times quite brilliant, and at others caught out by the gusting wind and fatigue on the final day of a heavy season.

I’m biased, but Matt is quite clearly an extraordinary golfer, with all the technical ability to play the game, shoot the low scores required to be successful in that particular career choice.  But more than that, it was obvious as I watch that he understands he’s in the entertainment and the ‘people’ business. There was constant interaction with the crowd. A chat here or there, a ball or glove given to a child, a joke quietly shared with those nearest the green to lighten the mood at a tense moment.

What I noticed in each case, was a person who had very clearly found their place. Who has discovered and put to good use a unique and delightful talent. That through doing and being what they are cut out to be, makes the world a better place.

We’re not all, of course, going to be pro golfers, travelling musicians or even organisational psychologists (does the world really need more psychologists? Probably!).

But I got to wondering, as I watched these four in action, what a difference it would make to our world, and to us each as individuals, if we never gave up and ‘settled’ until we have found our place. Until we are sure and certain that what we do (whether as a volunteer at nights or on weekends, or in a professional sense) makes the most of our God-given potential.  Jesus told a story about that once…go google the ‘parable of the talents’.

At each place, in each person, I found my own story being drawn out. My own sense of wondering, of self. That’s a powerful gift given when someone who is very good at what they do, simply goes about doing their thing.

And of course I got to wondering…have I found ‘my thing’ yet? At 43 years of age, husband, father, participant in multiple hobbies and community groups, and in my 3rd totally different career…am I in the right place? Am I making the most of what I have?

And….how about you?

the fear of making people afraid

IMG_1872Those who read regularly (hi!) will know I’m a some-times runner.

I’m not that good or that fast, but I enjoy it, and I run. When I travel for work or play, I’ll usually pack the shoes and go for a trot to explore new places. It’s a nice way to start a day, and to get to know the lay of the land wherever I happen to be.  I sometimes do the same with my bike…but it’s not quite as portable as a pair of running shoes!

Those who know me personally will also know I’m a bloke, and a fairly big and tall one.  That matters too, in the context of this story.

A while back I was on the Sunshine Coast, and early one morning laced up the shoes and headed out for a run from Coolum down to Mudjimba. It was a beautiful early morning, and quiet, with not many people out and about yet.  On the return leg I started taking little detours off the main road, into little beachside streets or waterfront walking tracks and then back out onto the main road. It was a nice bit of variety and a few extra metres each time.

The first time I did so, I came back out onto the main running track just in time to see a fellow runner (a woman, and yes, in this story, it matters) join the trail from a side street a little in front of me. I was traveling a slightly quicker, so passed her by, offering a quick “hello” as a greeting often shared by runners, and continued on my way. Soon after I turned off the trail onto another little side route, and when I returned to that main trail found myself just behind the same woman. As I said, I was running a little faster so I went past, and continued on my way. I took the next side-route and on rejoining the main road, once again found myself behind the same woman.

This happened about three or four times before I made it back to my starting point, turned off the trail once and for all and went home for breakfast.

Later that morning (I’m a bit slow to pick up on these things) it occurred to me that I could well have been causing my fellow runner to think she had a stalker…a middle aged, dark-sunglassed, huffing-and-puffing stalker who kept on detouring and then running up behind her.  She could well have been quite anxious about my presence, really worried in the quiet early morning about my motives.

I have to say it was a horrible feeling, that I could have been causing anxiety or fear in another, and even worse that I hadn’t realised the possibility until later (when it was too late to take a different route for example). It matters not that the repeated encounters were totally innocent. It matters not that I was there (on the trail) first. In some ways it matters not whether she actually was afraid or anxious (I have no idea). The very possibility was real.

What concerned me then, and concerns me now, is that we live in a world where the very presence of one (man) can and does cause anxiety or fear in another (woman). We live in a world in which I understand women are continuously targeted for harassment or intimidation. Where men (yes not all men, hopefully including me and most men that I personally know…but surely that’s not the point) continue to inflict violence upon women that they know (and don’t know).

And that my feeling of anxiety and fear about making another afraid and anxious while palpable to me completely pales into insignificance when compared to the experiences and feelings of many women every day.

We live in a world in which this video (released yesterday) depicts an everyday reality for some/many women. I can’t say from personal experience if this is genuinely what it’s like (for as already canvassed above…I am a bloke), but women I know and trust tell me that it is:

And we live in a world in which a well known V8 Supercar driver (my sport of choice, please don’t judge) said today:

Hello Adelaide! In town for the 2015 @Clipsal500 launch. Most pressing item for the day, what do the grid girl uniforms look like?

This is a man with a huge public following, and with a wife and young daughter. And who continues the culture-wide objectification of women. And who is defended in social media commentary as “just having some fun”. And this is the relatively innocent end of the spectrum.

And….I don’t know what to do with all of this. Really, I don’t.

I’m a man. Men cause this.  Maybe not me personally (to my knowledge). Maybe not many of the men who might read this.  But we do, collectively, harass, objectify, instil fear in women everyday.

And that’s just not right.