Older, but no wiser
Andy Borrows' musings on life and all its confusion, contradictions, richness and opportunities
Thursday, July 27, 2006
*Those still using archaic scales of temperature will have to do the conversion for themselves.
I wouldn’t have noticed, had it not been for an old Flickr invitation still sitting in my inbox to join the “faded flowers are cute too” group. I liked the idea, and the thought stuck in my mind although I’d nothing suitable to post to the pool.
Just a few moments between getting up and getting out; no time for the niceties of tripod and composition and attention to depth of field. The lighting on the kitchen windowsill was fine, but the background was disastrous, so with camera in one hand and plant pot in the other I elbowed my way through the fly screen hanging in the doorway to find a better spot outside. The sun was still low though, and all suitable horizontal surfaces were in shade. Where was that shaft of sunlight that found its way into the kitchen?
Ah, there it is, in mid-air. But how…? Inspiration – I have two hands, one for the camera, one for the plant pot. Hold it just so and…Voila! Not ideal, but better than nothing.
The conventional view, of course, is that a flower only has value whilst in bloom, and the more unblemished the flower, the greater its value. But it is only when the bloom withers and fades that its purpose is fulfilled in the spreading of the seeds.
A whole host of metaphors tied up in there, all ready for the taking. Choose whichever has meaning for you…
Thursday, July 20, 2006
I delight in systems thinking - in understanding how parts fit together to make a functioning whole, be that components of an engine, interconnected electronic sub-systems, or people and processes in organisations – yet one system which perpetually baffles me, with which I’ve never come to grips, is that which is closest to me: myself. How the patterns of thought and emotion and belief and behaviour work together to create this mysterious entity known as Andy Borrows.
The defining features of any system are often to be found in its connections, in how the elements are joined up and interact with each other or operate in the presence of each other. Any network engineer (of which I’m not one) will know how one single change in the configuration of a network switch can totally screw the operation of the network. Or to take an example from biology, as I understand it, genetics isn’t as straightforward as being able to say that there is a gene “for” any particular feature of an organism; rather, those features derive from combinations of genes, genes working in complex interrelated patterns. Change one gene and the consequences can be as unpredictable as changing that switch config. (Someone out there tell me if I’ve got that all wrong…)
It was just such a connection in the system known as Andy Borrows on which that light shone today. I knew a bit about some of the elements of the system, but I’d never before realised the profound impact of how those elements operate together. Or to be more specific, how powerfully they can oppose each other and lock the system in a static conflict.
I’d better stop talking in the abstract and explain.
Last week, I undertook a particular psychometric exercise – a Thinking Styles Profile. This looks at a number of aspects of the way in which we think, grouped into three main categories – how we receive and use information from our senses, how we interact with other people, and how we approach tasks and problem solving. Other than for the sensory group, these thinking styles are grouped in related pairs – for example collaborative or competitive; a preference for possibility or procedure, or for a detailed or a strategic approach.
The two elements of each pair aren’t necessarily opposed, and one isn’t necessarily biased to one or other element; the most flexible people have all ways of thinking available to them and can pick and choose to suit the situation. When it gets interesting though – what makes people individuals – is when certain patterns of thought have a strong preference at one or other end of the spectrum – heavily preferred or heavily disliked.
When I saw my results last week, they held no immediate surprises – I recognised myself easily; all the known strengths and weaknesses were there. As a slight digression, that included one feature that I was told is unique to engineers – a dead equal balance between creative or intuitive thinking and logical or linear thinking. That’s one to explore another time.
Back to the main thread. It was only today, in the light of those recent posts about dreams and goals, that I made a significant connection – a realisation of the profound implications of the combination of certain thinking style preferences. Consequences which go a long, long way to explaining some of my stuckness over this business of dreams and goals and hopes for the future.
To begin with, I have a strong preference – significantly more than average – for difference as opposed to sameness. I’d much rather have change and variety than stability and predictability; I’m also powerfully motivated by the prospect of moving towards a positive goal – by a vision - as opposed to solving problems, either real or potential. Add to that an approach to tasks which tends to focus on options and possibilities and in handling complexity and detail instead of using the simpler, tried-and-trusted approach of known procedures, and you’d think I’d be well equipped with the capacity to handle the practicalities and challenges of turning dreams into reality.
And so I might be, were it not for some of my other thinking style preferences. Something I already knew well is that I’m intensely anti-competitive; a dyed-in-the-wool conflict avoider. I don’t just back down from conflict; I stop and find another route the moment I think I see the faintest mirage of a potential conflict over the horizon. When I stop and think about it, I realise how habitual, how ubiquitous, how insidious that approach has become. In almost every human encounter, however routine, however trivial, however everyday, there’s a part of me that expects some kind of conflict, some kind of attack, and automatically adopts a defensive position. Don’t get me wrong; that part isn’t always dominant, but it is always there to a greater or lesser degree.
There are other styles too which get in the way, although not to the same extent. In spite of my preference for difference over sameness, I have a milder preference to conform instead of challenging. That’s my chameleon nature; the desire to blend in, to belong. It can be a useful feature – it makes it easy to get along with just about anyone – but it’s not a good way of finding a path through opposition. Another factor too which gets in the way of those dreams is a preference for altruism over selfishness. I’ll put another’s dreams before my own.
The real killer though is when you combine those two sets of patterns. On the one hand, a make-up that is strongly motivated to move towards a goal of change and possibility; on the other hand, a powerful, debilitating aversion to conflict. What happens? In one word, stress! I’ve known times when that stress was so powerful it felt like a physical force literally tearing me in two; the clearer the vision became, the more intense was the desire to reach it, yet the clearer also were the bridges I’d have to cross in order to reach it; bridges which I equated, rightly or wrongly, with conflict. There have been times when I’ve been so tightly gripped by those opposing forces I’ve scarcely been able to breathe.
I couldn’t bear the stress, so there were only two options. Abandon the dream – in effect, abandon even the idea of having dreams – or face up to those conflicts, whether real or imagined, and learn how to deal with them.
Clearly, it’s the former approach I’ve been using for so long now; it’s time I took a look at using the latter. Time to examine, identify, describe and quantify those blockages which have taken on at least the outer appearance of conflicts; time too to look at those few conflicts I know I have handled successfully and determine what was different on those occasions.
Incidentally, but importantly, it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether this model is “true” in any absolute way; after all, it is only a model. What matters, what’s significant, is that it opens up possibilities for action that weren’t previously accessible.
Follow those possibilities, and I might even start dreaming again.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
Sunday, July 16, 2006
I spoke of dreams the other day, or rather I quoted some of Paulo Coelho’s words on the subject. I’d been mulling over dreams I’d had in the early days of this blog, and it gave me quite a jolt to realise how completely I’ve given up on so many dreams. Although I’m not totally convinced that the ugly, frightening picture painted by Coelho’s words represents the inevitable destination of the road of abandoned dreams, nevertheless I can believe only too easily how that pattern of which he talks grows and feeds on itself; how abandonment turns to rejection, then cynicism, then anger, then an emotional violence against self and against anyone who represents either the dream itself or its nemesis. I feel future echoes of that state; glimpses in the here and now of the person I might become – or am becoming – if, or when, I leave those dreams to die and become cankerous in their rot and decay.
I’m talking in the abstract. What are they, these dreams? And what happened to them?
Three years ago I professed a keen interest in people and organisations, in exploring how, instead of being in conflict, personal goals of growth and development could harmonise with goals of organisational success, so that instead of people being the servants of the organisations, organisations would truly serve the deepest needs of the people. I believed – and still do – that there is tremendous potential to foster a modus operandi whereby deep, powerful connection between human souls shifts engagement, effectiveness and personal fulfilment onto another plane, beyond mere business success – although business success would be a by-product - to a paradigm where the good of one and the good of all amount to the same thing.
Utopian? Like I said, it was a dream. Anyway, back at the plot… I encountered a number of bloggers who seemed to share something similar, each expressing an individual hope which had parallels with my own. People like Jon, and Euan, and Dave, and Chris and Michael and Dan. I dreamed of becoming involved, making connections, expanding my limited knowledge, enjoying the feeling of belonging in a community of shared values, shared purpose – and for a while, that’s exactly what I did; I made connections, began to join in. But somehow that engagement seems to have largely fizzled out.
“Seems to have…” – what a disconnected, dispassionate way of putting it! What happened to my excitement, my enthusiasm, my sense of anticipation as I rushed downstairs in the morning to see what gems the blogosphere had thrown up overnight?
Perhaps it was this: I had a sense of direction, but no clear purpose, no tangible goal. The road seemed attractive, but I had no idea where it was heading and no clear desire to get to anywhere in particular. I thought that was okay – just go with the flow, do what feels right at the time, and “the universe” will reveal the next step along the path. I didn’t need to know where that path was headed, I just needed to be open to recognise the next step along the way. Keep moving forward, and each step will build upon the last – but build into what? Truth was, I had no sense of purpose, no vision, no goal, no specifics with which I could anchor this vague sense of… - of what? Even now, it’s hard to put a name to whatever it was that I was hoping for.
As I became more involved in all things bloggy, I found other dreams too. I found delight and pleasure in making connections with people who shared common elements of experience – hopes, fears, beliefs, values, a sense of wonderment at the natural world; these connections became for a time more real, more powerful than any in my “real world”. But that too has largely fizzled out. Many of those to whom I felt closest have since stopped blogging; others blog now only occasionally, and for whatever reason I haven’t made the effort to forge new relationships or to generate the kinds of conversation that open up possibilities for connection.
“For whatever reason…” The $64,000 question – why? It’s been in my hands all along; I can’t blame anyone or anything for this drift away, this increasing self-imposed isolation.
I could list plenty of other dreams that I’ve let sink into oblivion; castles in the air which never became rooted and grounded in anything concrete; seeds that germinated but were starved of nourishment and failed to grow (he said, mixing his metaphors with gay abandon). There was my counselling journey, which I cut short abruptly for no good reason (other than the expense) and my hope to be able to share those counselling experiences in some way that might prove helpful to someone, somewhere; there was the totally unexpected pleasure I found in writing; there were hopes to develop as a photographer (before long that will cease to be a pun). I’ve said many times how much I love hills and mountain and wild unspoiled places, yet even here I’ve set possibility aside. The year more than half gone and so far only one brief weekend trip and no more planned outside the worlds of the city and suburbia.
I don’t mean that in a “poor me” way – I’m just setting it all down in black and white so that I can stand back from it all, look at it, and try and understand what’s going on. Why would I allow those dreams to fade?
I had no conclusion in mind to this piece – I just thought I’d take a look back at three years of blogging and see where that retrospective took me. But perhaps there is a conclusion – a lesson – after all. Dreams, unless they become grounded in reality somehow, will stay forever as dreams, and like their nocturnal variant will fade into nothingness on contact with the hard unavoidable realities which the daylight brings. Dreams on their own are insubstantial – they cannot be anything else; by their very nature they have no tangible form, no substance; they’re ephemeral, ghost-like and can’t be grasped directly by hands of flesh and blood. They need to come down to earth, to take tangible form, to find concrete representation – to transform into real tasks and actions.
These tasks and actions aren’t the dream, but they’re shadows cast by the dream, like images projected into a flat two-dimensional plane from something that exists beyond that simple 2D world.
Perhaps that’s it; perhaps I’ve lost sight of that dimension which exists beyond the flat, linear, deterministic, cause-and-effect world of my conventional senses; I’ve stopped being able to see the extra dimensions of the world of dreams, stopped being able to see how hopes which find their origin in a paradigm beyond this world of sight and sound and touch can yet be projected onto this tangible world of substance.
Perhaps that’s the skill possessed by those who know how to make their dreams come true – they have an ability to recognise and hold firm those projections of their dreams onto this flat world of daily existence, and in so doing they create bridges between the banal and the sublime.
I’ve run out of time; this’ll have to end here for now. But there are ideas this soliloquy has surfaced which may be worth exploring further. Another day…
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
"And, finally, the third symptom of the passing of our dreams is peace. Life becomes a Sunday afternoon; we ask for nothing grand, and we cease to demand anything more than we are willing to give. In that state, we think of ourselves as being mature; we put aside the fantasies of our youth, and we seek personal and professional achievement. We are surprised when people our age say that they still want this or that out of life. But really, deep in our hearts, we know that what has happened is that we have renounced the battle for our dreams - we have refused to fight the good fight.
“When we renounce our dreams and find peace, we go through a short period of tranquillity. But the dead dreams begin to rot within us and to infect our entire being. We become cruel to those around us, and then we begin to direct this cruelty against ourselves. That's when illnesses and psychoses arise. What we sought to avoid in combat - disappointment and defeat - come upon us because of our cowardice. And one day, the dead, spoiled dreams make it difficult to breathe, and we actually seek death. It's death that frees us from our certainties, from our work, and from that terrible peace of our Sunday afternoons."
~ Paulo Coelho, from "The Pilgrimage" ~
The death of which he speaks need not be physical death - death of the soul or the spirit will serve just as well.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
One day, a Good Public-Spirited Citizen in the town where these three Cool Dudes lived decided that it would be a good idea to hold an event in the town to showcase all the local organisations who do Good Things in the local community. There would be stalls and sideshows and games and a stage set out on the grass with a BIG sound system; well, big for this small town, anyway. So he made a plan, and he gave it a name – a Community Fun Day - and he rallied support, and he got permission to hold the event in the local park, and he sent out messages to the local community groups – and he also prayed fervently for a sunny day.
Now, the three Cool Dudes belonged to local churches and, believing those two features of their lives – coolness and churchgoing – not to be mutually exclusive, wanted to put on something at this fun day to demonstrate this non-mutual-exclusivity. Together, they nearly had a band – if only Cool Dude Three had six arms (he’s the one who can play keyboard AND guitar AND bass AND drums, you remember) they’d be alright. Hey, well, y’kno, they *were* alright – I mean, like, all RIGHT, yeah? But sadly Cool Dude Three, in spite of all his unbelieeeevable coolness, was endowed only with the one pair of arms, same as those of us with only the tiniest modicum of cool.
Now, you can’t not have drums in a band that has even the most modest pretentions towards rockiness, and one thing this band was not, was shy about was their sound; they liked people to be able to hear their music – from half a mile away. So that decided where Cool Dude Three’s talents were going to be employed - hitting things with sticks. Loud.
But a band ain’t a band without a bass player. So Cool Dude Three spoke to his Dad, and Cool Dude Three’s Dad spoke to a friend of his in another church, and Cool Dude Three’s Dad’s friend gave Cool Dude Three the name of an Old Fart he knew at his church who plays bass guitar.
So they all got together for a practice one Sunday afternoon in Cool Dude One’s church, (which really only pretends to be a church on Sunday mornings – for the rest of the week it’s a community hall) and Old Fart had to turn up the wick on his bass amp higher than he’d ever had it before, just so that he could hear himself play. Even if it hadn’t been such a hot day, which it was, they’d still have had to open the doors just to let the sound out.
And so it was that, a week later, Old Fart found himself on stage (tucked unobtrusively away at the back) plugged into the BIG (for a small town) sound system, with Cool Dude Three at his side and Cool Dudes One and Two out front (with Cool Dude Two wearing his super-cool shades), plugging away at six songs he’d never even heard just a week before (but emailed MP3’s and MP3 players that can be listened to unobtrusively in the office all day work wonders for familiarity).
It was a bit ragged round the edges, but the three Cool Dudes and the Old Fart managed to hold it all together and gained a polite round of applause. And Old Fart’s daughter, at her boyfriend’s house half a mile away (well half a kilometre anyway, but who's counting?), could hear them, so there was success on at least one front.
Some of the Dudes’ coolness may have rubbed off on the Old Fart – he already knew how to write in txt-spk (although he doesn’t very often) and now he can even shake hands dude-style - when he remembers, that is.
But he doesn’t wear his jeans at half mast so he’ll never make it as a *real* Cool Dude.
Friday, July 07, 2006
You Reading This, Be Ready
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life -
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
~ William Stafford ~
Monday, July 03, 2006
Would you please consider posting this to your blog, distributing it to those you think might find it of interest, and/or responding yourself?
WANTED: STORIES ABOUT OUR LONGER LIFE SPANS
Seeking stories and people to interview for a book project exploring all aspects of the ways in which we now age, and how folks are adapting to increased lifespans. Themes in the book will include keeping fit enough to enjoy the 70s, 80s, 90s; saving enough for a longer retirement; innovative paths for those post-65; post-retirement careers, jobs, activities, larks; marriages that go on, and on, and on, and on; quirky approaches to the senior years; where to live; senior tourism; organ regeneration; the importance of attitude; and whatever else those planning for or enjoying a long life can tell me. Interested in stories (and the people with the stories to tell) both happy and not-so-happy, funny and difficult. If you have a story or know of someone I should interview/profile, please e-mail me at: