Outrage is not enough

24 10 2010

Yesterday I was working from home as I was having a new boiler fitted. The installation engineers took 12 hours to fit the boiler and to reduce my home to something akin to Beirut after the fighting stopped. The noise and general disruption meant that I wasn’t able to do the work I had planned and so spent the day catching up on e-mails, checking LinkedIn invitations to connect and in particular I spent more time on Twitter than is safe for one’s sanity.

The tweet doing the rounds concerned 5 kittens that had been found hanged at a shopping centre in Aberdeen. I have no reason to assume that my pals are all ailourophiles or particularly tuned in to grim news so it made me wonder why so many people pass on these types of story. A similar case, but with a happier outcome for the cat concerned, that of the ‘cat in the bin’ dominated the headlines for many days. Is it just that we are a nation of animal lovers? Clearly we can’t all be as the stories of cruelty wouldn’t abound.

So why do stories of cruelty to children, women, the elderly not go viral in the same way. One possibility is that the horror of these stories of these human tragedies is just too great – they are beyond the comprehension of most people. Maybe we don’t pass on these stories as they are just too dreadful. But when these stories are presented to us, as with Baby P and James Bulger, we are all animated beyond belief and the media are encouraged to uncover every grizzly detail for our edification and to fuel the demands for retribution against the perpetrators, whether that be the actual killers or everyone else who is involved, however tangentially, in the story and onto whom we can heap blame.

But when the news becomes old news we all go back to our lives. We all know that there are thousands of children being abused, neglected and mistreated everyday but until and unless a tragedy occurs of the proportions of the Baby P case we trust the authorities to get on with the job of looking after these cases on our behalf so that we don’t have to think about the society we live in and the roles and responsibilities we each have

Greater Manchester Police recently conducted an experiment on Twitter. It released details of every single call that came into the force over a 24 hour period. The idea was to show the public what it had to deal with during the course of a normal day. Most of us don’t give much thought to what the police do on a day to day basis, only concerning ourselves if we are the victims of crime or of police malpractice. This is true for most things. We don’t look for information but are ready to respond when the information is placed right under our noses.

A perfect example of this is the TV fund-raising spectacular. Not many of us wander the streets at night looking for homeless people to help but when Comic Relief brings pictures of hardship into our living room we do, at least, put our hands in our pockets to fund those that do devote their time to offering practical help and support.

I find myself wondering whether it would be useful exercise for social services departments, for example, to undertake a similar experiment to Greater Manchester Police; to tweet the brief details of cases they investigate every day. If we saw the huge list of children who are neglected, abused or simply disadvantaged by living in poverty or in a dysfunctional family, would we create a twitter storm akin to caused by that caused by the death of the 5 kittens.

Maybe if the actual stories of the children suffering in our society were placed right in front of us on our twitter screens we would be moved to act as well as to spread the story – or maybe we prefer not to see the world as it really is.

Outrage is not enough.

We can’t all do everything but we can all do something to engage with the community and society we live in.

It is not acceptable to leave others to manage things for us and then rage when failings result in tragedies.

Outrage is not enough.

Sherlock Holmes and the law of attraction

18 10 2010

Over the past year lots of people have asked why I object so strongly to The Law of Attraction so here goes!

First of all, it isn’t a law!

The definition of a scientific law that I favour is “..a concise verbal or mathematical statement that expresses a fundamental principle of science.” For example Boyle’s Law states that there is a constant relationship between the pressure and volume of a gas. Independent measurements can be, and have been, made to confirm Boyle’s supposition. Newton’s Law of Gravity predicts that objects will fall to earth and over centuries of measurement and observation not a single instance has contradicted this law.

Scientists do not bestow the term ‘law’ frivolously. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is just that and while vast amounts of evidence have been collected to support the theory,  it remains just that, a theory. Now we could debate the merits of inductive and deductive reasoning in scientific proofs and there are, of course, alternative definitions of what a scientific law is, but the law of attraction fails them all.

Secondly, I am a linguistic pedant!

Words are very important. In the early twentieth century a whole school of philosophy, The English School of Philosophy, grew around the ideas of Bertrand Russell and focussed almost entirely on the way in which we use words.  I’m not the kind of person who rages at the radio each time I hear a split infinitive, rather it is the sloppy use of words that allows language to conceal real meaning. During the 1970’s and beyond the BBC have been prone to say that a terrorist organisation has “claimed” responsibility for an atrocity rather than say that they have “admitted responsibility”. You claim a prize. It should not be acceptable use of language to claim a bombing.

By using the word “law” the perpetrators intend to evoke science – they attempt to disguise their ideas behind the cloak of scientific language. It is strange to me that the worst offenders are practitioners of NLP. They should know better. Our habitual thinking creates shortcuts in our brain. In NLP we are told to create new patterns of thinking to break these old habits. Supporters of the law of attraction seek to use the fact that, thanks to our years at school, we all shortcut from the word “law” to assume that there has been rigorous, scientific proof of the idea. There isn’t any scientific evidence or research that would support a “law” of attraction and it is clear, therefore, that supporters are being deliberately misleading in their use of language.

If we allow this improper use of language to persist it allows charlatans to imply knowledge when they have none. If we all agree to use the word “law” to apply to real laws, not ideas or ideals, then it will give the fraudsters, of whom there are plenty in this area, no place to hide.

Thirdly, it demeans us as human beings.

It puts your ego at the centre of the universe, implying that your needs can be met above all those of all others. You wish it and the universe will make it so. I hope that now it is written here the ludicrous nature of this assertion is clear. If the universe has a conscience (and in the interests of creating a blog post rather than a book, I’ll save the arguments against this for another day!) then I am sure it has better things to do with it’s time than deliver my dreams.

It is far better to rethink the law of attraction completely.

In our every waking moment our senses are bombarded by millions and millions of bits of information. We cannot, and do not, process them all. Our brain helps us to choose which to pay conscious attention to and which to ignore. I can give an example. If you move house to a place next to a sewage farm you would be aware of a foul smell…to begin with. After a relatively short time you will not notice the smell. It is still there but your conscious mind no longer notices, or at the very least notices the smell less than when you first moved in. The same is true for people living near train tracks on flight paths.

But as the great Sherlock Holmes says “Everything is always there.”

I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. If you haven’t seen the films, read the books, listened to the radio plays or seen the recent TV adaptation, then you have been missing one of the great literary creations in the English language. Anyway, Sherlock Holmes will attend a crime scene with his assistant Dr John Watson.  Dr Watson will emerge having noted the nature of the crime, perhaps the type of victim, murder weapon, cause of death…the obvious things. Sherlock Holmes will have noticed much, MUCH more. All of the clues, all of the evidence was available to both men. Everything was there but only one man was open to all of the information.

My assertion is that we should take responsibility for our own experiences. Everything is always there.  We have to change the way we think in order to become aware of the opportunities that present themselves every single day. We have to act. We are not passive dreamers waiting to attract good things from the universe.

I propose that we ditch the passive, egocentric and misleading law of attraction and replace it with an ACT OF AWARENESS. We all need to make a conscious decision to change the way we think and sense and act in order to become truly aware of the universe we live in and make the most of the opportunities that will then be clear to us.

Everything is always there. Making an Act of Awareness, making a change within yourself to improve your perception is what will really make a difference to your life.

Is it what you know or who you know?

4 10 2010

There was a perception, and perhaps there still is, that getting a place on the board of a quango depends upon who you know. If you had a pal on the board of a public body, or knew someone who was part of the appointments process, then they would give you the nod. There was a feeling that jobs were spread amongst a few of the usual suspects.

Over the past few years the application process has become more open and the intention has been that it should be ” what you know not who you know” that is the important factor in selection. But has this change in attitude brought a change in the composition of public bodies? I wonder?

When you look at the individuals who hold board positions you can see that many of them hold more than one post. It would appear that board positions are still being shared amongst a relatively small number of people. True, the more open process means that posts can no longer be allocated through the old boy network so how do the same names keep appearing?

My suspicion is that increasingly the “what you know” does not apply to the complete skill set of the individual but to their ability to navigate their way through the application process.

In my discussions with Karen Carlton recently, she indicated that the language used on the application forms was being interpreted by lawyers in a way that wasn’t intended and which had resulted in them being disadvantaged in the process. When I spoke to Anne McLean OBE she spoke about a recent meeting she had had with women at the STUC. The women didn’t recognise that the talents that they exhibited everyday were exactly the expertise and experiences required to sit on the board of a public body. The language used on the forms did not allow them to match their skills to the requirements of the post even when they had all of the skills needed.

Both of these experiences, and the comment made by Roseanna Cunningham MSP when we met that she was quite often presented with the same names when making a ministerial appointment, suggest that board members are being selected from a small pool of people who know how to apply.

But the problem of selection from a small pool works form the other direction too. In speaking with Beth Edberg she indicated that board members of the Women’s Fund are found through their own network, for example, via their own fund raising events. And a friend who is the full time official at a small charity which helps individuals with severe mental health problems found their newest board member from the circle of friends of the charity. I can’t help feeling that we are not making the most of the talent available when making public appointments.

Beth identified that the main reason that there are so few women on the boards of public bodies is that “no-one asked them!” That is probably true but is it good enough?

Time has been cited by many as the reason why more women don’t get involved and Anne McLean OBE and Jane Irvine are particularly eloquent in this regard but I, at least, cannot use this as an excuse. As most readers will already know, I spend several evenings and most weekends helping at a community for adults with moderate to severe learning difficulties so I can find time but for all of the voluntary work and the fact that I have held board positions since I was 29 years old, I haven’t once considered applying for a position of governance.

In my defence, I had assumed that these posts were only awarded to the great and the good. Reading the biographies of the fabulous women who kindly agreed to give their views in the3rdi magazine this month, it is clear that they are great and good but it is also clear that they are there on merit.

One of my intentions in forming the 3rdi magazine was to make a difference in the areas of work where women are still disadvantaged. To make a difference on a national or global scale what better way than to become involved in the public bidies that affect all of our lives? So, in line with Ghandis famous saying “be the change you want to be” I will issue a call to public bodies to come and get me and a challenge to myself to put myself forward!