Fiddling While Rome Burns

12 03 2011

On Tuesday night I was booted and suited and striding along Princes Street on my way to the Caledonian Hilton for a drinks reception hosted by CMI-WIM group at which Lady Susan Rice was the guest speaker.

I’d had a productive day and was looking forward to getting out of the rain, to networking in pleasant surroundings, to cocktails and canapes and to hearing what Susan had to say. It was cold and starting to go dark in that sullen way that is peculiar to Scottish cities.

As I strode towards the hotel I passed bundles of humanity huddled against the rain and preparing themselves for the bitter night ahead.

As I passed I was struck by a single thought – one that I haven’t been able to shake – are we fiddling while Rome burns?

This week the New Statesman printed a well written and well argued essay from Natasha Walker in which she details the plight of a woman, Saron, who fled Ethopia and jail, rape and violence only to find that her treatment here in the UK was even worse. As Saron puts it, “ It wasn’t what happened to me at home that broke my spirit it was what happened to me here.”

I am not going to detail her mistreatment here in the UK and her repeated detention at Yarl’s Wood. Hers is not a unique story, would that it were. The mistreatment of women refugees here in the UK is commonplace.

I mention her case, in this week when we celebrates 100 years of International Women’s Day, to suggest that a preoccupation with issues that just affect women in business here in the UK is a tiny part of a much, much bigger picture.

No man is an island and, more crucially if we are to address inequality, neither is any woman.

It is easy to focus on issues that affect one personally. I may have had a good day, or a bad day, but I am always able to come home to a safe place.

We all know, at some level, that women are oppressed in other countries but stories like Sarons show that women can be treated just as brutally here in the UK.

We are all connected and it is incumbent upon all of us to join the dots!

This month’s issue of the3rdi magazine has an article by Ruth Walker highlighting the plight of the Dallits in India. This piece is the first of many and the April issue will be opened up to look at the issues facing women in the wider world and, importantly, explores ways in which we can do something to support women who are not as lucky as we are, as knowledge without action means that we run the risk of fiddling while Rome burns.

The3rdi magazine will continue to develop initiatives to support women in our communities and beyond.

The Inspiring Leaders Foundation will support community projects following the launch event in Edinburgh.

Fair Comment is designed to support community projects in collaboration with the Women’s Fund.

You can support us by joining the co-operative. You will get benefits that support you as an individual and you will support our programmes for women . £50 is not a lot of money but we know that these are difficult times. If you are unable to become a full member then please consider making a donation.

Putting my money where my mouth is

5 01 2011

When we first launched the3rdi magazine our aim way to provide something totally new, totally fresh.

Business magazines were largely written for men and about men; who was at the top, how much they earned, who their beautiful wife was, what car they drove … you know the sort of thing! We felt women wanted something different, that they were interested in hearing each others stories, to celebrate each others success and to inspire each other to greater achievement.

The3rdi has become the most extraordinary collaborative project, bringing together the UK’s most innovative and entrepreneurial women …and 2011 will see us uniting to change the way the world does business.

I have always been an advocate of collaborative working and believe that working together we can be more than just the sum of our parts. What better way to demonstrate that commitment than making the3rdi magazine; the business that me, Phil and the team have worked so hard to build, into a member owned and run co-operative. Rather than simply reading the magazine you can own a share of the business!

So what does that mean?
Well, it is clear that the current system isn’t working; women are under-represented in the boardroom and in public office and issues such as work-life balance have slipped off the agenda. The bail-out of the banking system has continued to dictate public finances, with the perpetrators of the failures not only remaining in post, but seemingly unrepentant and still drawing huge bonuses.

Now we could sit back and wait for someone else to fix it … or we can take control ourselves – together we can build a community of women, become powerful on our own terms and be the driving force behind the change we want to see.

Over the past few months three areas have emerged as key if we are to improve things.

Firstly, we must empower the authentic voice of women leaders
Getting more women into the boardroom is not enough. It isn’t just a numbers game. A quota system, even if it was to be accepted by big businesses, which looks increasingly unlikely, would fail if it only delivered lots of women in the male mould. By that I mean women who squeeze themselves into the current system rather than changing the system to better fit them and other women.

We need to be powerful on our own terms and effect change within the system which will allow others to follow in our footsteps.

As a first step we are working in an audacious collaboration with Inspiring Leaders, who are taking the lead in transforming the way we do business by supporting more women into influential leadership positions, pioneering corporate transformation and creating sustainable futures. Amongst us will be senior women leaders: women with spirit; women of action; women of courage; women who make a difference.

Participation is by invitation only and limited to 150 influencers so if you think that you could be one of those women, women who dare to step beyond traditional approaches and who can lead change please get in touch.

Secondly, we are committed to improving women’s confidence and self-esteem
Over the past year I have heard women who were heroes of mine, including figures as diverse as Shirley Williams and Leslie Caron, yes, Baroness Williams of Crosby and the star of Gigi and An American in Paris respectively, all saying that they didn’t really have the confidence to go for the big job, for that starring role. Now, no-one dislikes boasting and posturing more than I do but we have to start to promote our positives. Did you know of Sarah Brown’s involvement with PiggyBankKids? No, neither did I until it popped up on a US awards website!

And our young women need positive role models so that they can aspire to be more than a WAG or a contestant on a reality TV show. There is lots to do but there is lots of great work going on in this area, like the GirlsOutLoud programme delivered by the Well-Heeled Diva and the3rdi ambassador, Jane Kenyon.

The co-operative community will bring together and promote best-practice in this area and create a positive environment in which women can flourish.

And thirdly, we need to Network UP!
I have to confess that I am not a fan of most of the networks that currently exist. Many women’s networks are little more than ladies who lunch. Others are simple business exchanges, swapping a photography session for web site design, for example. Many are just frantic business card exchanges, like children collecting the lastest football cards in the playground, working out which they’ve “got” or “not got” and adding them to the pile, never to be looked at again. And at worst, as Lord Sugar recently tweeted, networking can deteriorate into people just “bullshitting with each other whilst they should be working”.

But there is a place for building a community of people you know; people who you can turn to for help, advice and support in growing within a business or in growing a business.

We need to NETWORK UP!, that is to network above our peer group, if we are to build and grow careers and businesses. Again, there is some good practice out there and the3rdi co-operative community will make that accessible to all women.

This is just a glimpse of my vision and of what we will achieve in 2011 and beyond when we all work together.

Karen x

I’ve never been hungry and I suspect that you haven’t either.

9 12 2010

I have never been hungry and I suspect that you haven’t either.

In common with the majority of women in the western world I have been on diets and felt hungry, but this lifestyle choice can hardly be compared to the hunger that huge swathes of the world’s population experience every day.

By hardly ever feeling hungry I am disconnected from my body.

I eat because it is a designated meal time, or because I’m bored, or because there is something in the fridge that I find impossible to resist. I never eat solely to sustain my being. My prompt to eat is always social and never biological.

There is a huge problem here in Scotland, and increasingly throughout the developed world, with obesity. Millions struggle with their weight and resort to ever more extreme measures to lose weight. Most women when asked about their life goals, will put losing weight towards the top of the list but find it impossible to do so.

It should be the easiest thing in the world. No-one forces us to eat. Our own weight is one of the very few things that we can control in a century where our fates are often in the hands of others; our employers and governments to name two. But we are surrounded by so much that it is difficult to deny ourselves these pleasures. We have become accustomed with our food intake, as with many things in our lives, to taking what we want rather than what we need.

We accrue money so that we can buy bigger homes, with rooms we never use and bedrooms no-one sleeps in. We buy bigger cars when most of us drive alone. We buy second homes which we live in for only a few weeks each year. We gather possessions around us when the world’s population has so little.

So, starting today, I am embarking on a project to take a closer look at what I need, starting with food. I am going to discover what it is like to feel hunger.

In order to eat just what I need I must learn to respond to signals from within my body rather than responding to external stimuli. Put simply, I need to learn to eat just when I’m hungry and to stop eating when that feeling goes away again. I need to become familiar with the feeling of hunger, so that I can recognise what it is, and what it isn’t.

So for the next couple of weeks I’m only going to eat small portions of very simple food, like plain rice, a maximum of twice a day. The reason for eating just simple foods is that by limiting the range of tastes and textures in my diet I will become used to eating for sustenance rather than for pleasure. This is a discipline that I will need if I am to continue this project beyond the next few weeks.

And I’ll continue this blog to tell you how I get on!

DAY ONE – Monday

I headed to Edinburgh without breakfast, not totally unheard of but I do usually take a piece of toast to eat in the car if I’ve missed my porridge. I met Jackie for lunch and, since Urban Angel had no vegetarian soup on the menu today, I had a small portion of beetroot risotto. I didn’t arrive home til after 7pm and I expected to feel uncomfortable preparing an evening meal for Anne that I wasn’t going to eat myself. But it was OK and I didn’t feel at all hungry all day.

DAY TWO-Tuesday

I still wasn’t hungry when I got up, which surprised me, so off to Glasgow without breakfast or car snack. In explaining this project to Lindsey I realised that it was also about discipline and thinking time. I have blogged about my reasons for being a vegetarian elsewhere but there are similarities in that the doing without gave me time to think the issue through more clearly. I wandered into Sainsburys to see if I could find a carton of ready prepared boiled rice but the nearest thing they had was vegetarian sushi. To eat sushi would have been eating for pleasure so I decided to search out a Greggs and buy a plain white roll. Glasgow is full of Greggs but today I couldn’t find one! The search for a Greggs to buy a single white roll added a surreal, hunter-gatherer element to the experience, which I rather enjoyed! I expected to get tired and hungry while playing badminton but I actually played a lot better and my reactions were quicker than they had been of late so I hope this is a real and lasting benefit! When I got home, I had a small bowl of cold, plain rice that had been left over from Annes meal yesterday. I still don’t feel hungry but I am getting a bit bored with green tea already!

DAY THREE-Wednesday

I’m not hungry. I’m amazed but I really am not hungry so there is little more to say other than “how much fat must I have laid down before Monday so that I am still not hungry on Wednesday?” Maybe I should consider hibernating as I seem to have the metabolism for it! For the record I’ve had two small bowls of plain rice, one with a few roasted root vegetables. There would have been more vegetables but I forgot that they were in the oven and burnt the lot. I salvaged a few and eating them certainly fitted with the plan of not eating for pleasure!

DAY FOUR-Thursday

Well, a cup of rice and a handful of mushrooms today. I do feel something today. It’s not a feeling that I would have described as hunger. The feelings I have experienced before, the kind you get when on a diet or comimg to the end of a really long walk when you’d forgotten to take a packed lunch, have been sharp pangs, You know the kind of thing. I’m sure that you have felt hungry. What I am feeling is as if my stomach is being gently squeezed. It’s as if it is clay and being gently pressed into a slightly smaller shape. It isn’t sore. I am constantly aware of the feeling and it is a constant reminder to my brain from my body that something different is happening. I haven’t felt like eating more but I have had to make a big change in my eating habits. I’m a grazer by nature and will tend to pick at food. If I open the cupboard to get a tea bag I might also grab a handful of peanuts! I’ve had to be on my guard today against that reflex. Apart from that I’m fine…but I would love a big glass of red wine!


I skipped breakfast in order to have a planning meeting for the3rdi magazine in Java Lava cafe in Crieff. Paul brews the best coffee in Scotland and he can’t believe that I’m drinking green tea instead of his perfect coffee! I got back up the road and my tummy was rumbling so bowl of rice time. I sprinkled on a couple of sultanas and was blown away by the taste – so beautifully sweet. Maybe the lasting legacy of this project will be an improvement in my taste and enjoyment of simple foods.

By tea time, and my second bowl of rice of the day and I’m still not hungry. Most days, as you will have read, I have had a single small cup of rice, cooked and eaten as two meals. Five days in and I’m not hungry. To be honest the project is at risk of being a complete damp squib. I am becoming less, not more compassionate. Next time I see journalists explaining that people have had to survive on a cup of rice a day I’m likely to think that they have never had it so good!

DAY SIX-Saturday

Hmmm, what’s that phrase about pigeons coming home to roost?! Today was really difficult. Through the week I live a fairly solitary existence if I’m working from home. Weekends are full of food, wine and friends. This morning, despite the heavy overnight snowfall, I drove to the Corbenic Advent Fair. Thomas, the community’s baker had the full range of his delicious breads and biscuits on sale. He is a continental master baker so you can imagine the wonderful smells. Escaping to the coffee house and there were more cakes, this time baked by the community’s staff. Since these young people come from across Europe there was a huge range of delicious baking on sale. I took myself out of temptations reach by walking the dog around the snow covered grounds. That part of Perthshire is magnificent, particularly in the snow when there is an amazing feeling of isolation and peace.

I usually watch Strictly Come Dancing with red wine in hand, or perhaps a gin and tonic – or both! A cup of green tea didn’t come close.

Today has been really hard and I suspect Sunday will be just as difficult. Serves me right for being smug!

DAY SEVEN – Sunday

Yes, Sunday was hard! Snowed in and just wanted mulled wine and comfort food. This is the point though, I guess. To eat just out of habit, because I always eat when nthere is nothing else to do, is the habit I’m trying to break. Two bowls of rice with a handful of veg between the and lots of green tea. You bored yet?

DAY EIGHT – Monday

Snowed in again so the appointments I had in Edinburgh turned into conference calls. I found myself thinking about what fantastic meal I was going to cook myself when this project ends on Saturday. When I first explained this madness to Lindsey last week she related the story of having to fast for a day each year when she was at school. She explained that the day was bracketed between two huge feasts. The total amount of food consumed in the days around the feast was probably more than would have been consumed in an ordinary 3 day period, thus negating any benefit in terms of releasing some of the worlds food resources. The day without food did give that valuable thinking time and the day is still remembered 20 years on. So even if I binge on Saturday night the project wont have failed completely but since one of my aims was to find a way of eating just what I needed rather than what I wantedit wont have been a complete success either.

DAYS NINE to ELEVEN – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday

The snow fell and fell and fell and then fell some more and to be honest the days merged into 1! I’ve been snowed in in Crieff and so I haven’t had to face the challenges of lunch with a colleague in Glasgow, champagne and food at a reception in Edinburgh or a meeting at the Scottish Parliament as these dates, along with everything else in my diary has had to be rescheduled.

With temptation reduced to a minimum, and getting even less of a problem as J emptied the fridge and the snow prevented a restocking shopping trip, it has been easy to stick to my two bowls of rice a day. I can, however, confirm that a cup of rice a day, with a sprinkling of vegetables is enough to stave off hunger!


I refrained for writing up this blog as soon as I’d completed the project in order to have time to reflect.

Living on a single cup of rice a day was actually really easy.

It may have been more difficult had the snow not fallen so heavily, preventing me from the temptations that would have come with appointments with friends and colleagues.

Not being a foodie helped me too. If I’m working from home, particularly if I am in the house on my own all day and into the evening, I struggle to decide what to eat and, as a consequence, eat rubbish. I’ve been known to eat such delocasies as mushy peas on toast and mashed potato with HP sauce, neither of which qualifies as a proper meal! For me, knowing what I was going to eat at lunchtime and for supper was a huge bonus. So much so that I have found myself longing for that simplicity and removal of the decision making process.

I had expected to feel short of energy but in fact I found the opposite to be true. I had far more energy each evening than usual. A bowl of rice and green tea turned out to be far better in this regard than my usual large meal and glass of red wine.

Knowing what I was going to eat also stopped me thinking about food. Had I been on a traditional diet, reducing food intake in order to lose weight, I’m sure that a large part of my mental process would have been taken up with thoughts about food, cravings and thinking about foods that had been forbidden. Any time I had been on this kind of diet I had become mildly obsessed by food. This time was different. I think the simpicity of the diet, the monotony if you will, dampened my cravings.

As I said when I started out on this project the intentions had nothing to do with weight loss. But did I lose weight? I don’t think so. I never weigh myself so I have no starting point from which to measure any losses, or gains. My impression from the fit of my clothes is that I’m just the same.

I did have time to reflect on the feeling of hunger, which was one of my aims. The feeliong wasn’t as strong as I had expected it to be but I do now know what it is and I have to say I much prefer the feeling that I could eat a little more to the feeling of having eaten enough to feel full.

Just so that you know, my break-fast meal was a glass of red wine, which tasted devine, goats cheese tart and a few parsnip chips. Since then I have maintained the routine of two meals a day. I find that I prefer a cup of green tea each morning to my previous favourite, porridge and/or toast. The portions have been much smaller than I’d eaten previously and I have achieved, so far, my aim to eat just enough.

Would I do it again? I hope that I don’t have to. The point is that I do seem to have retrained my mind and body to eat for fuel more than out of boredom, which was my previous starting point. I hope that I retain these lessons but if I find myself drifting back towards all day grazing I will return to my rice diet.

Maths is a different country

25 11 2010

Usually when commuting by train to either Glasgow and Edinburgh I sit opposite business man and women, people heading to shopping trips in the city or sometimes families on a day trip. Yesterday I say opposite a talk, very lean man with disheveled hair, fashionably distressed leather jacket and designer stubble. Not that remarkable but it was what he was doing that caught my attention.

As soon as he sat down he took out a thin blue notebook and a single mauve sheet covered with mathematical problems. He opened the book and looked at the sheet for a few moments before copying a line of symbols onto a clean page of the notebook. For several minutes he looked at the equations, His expression was one of concentration and puzzlement.

After a short time he started to write and quickly covered the page with a range of numbers and symbols. Throughout this process he didn’t look up. His expression changed little. He was totally absorbed in finding an answer to this problem.

I was a salesman in one of my earliest business incarnations and developed the skill found in all great salespeople – the ability to read upside down – but the sheet of maths was totally incomprehensible to me. I had absolutely no idea what the sequences of numbers and symbols meant. It wasn’t even clear to me whether it was a question or a statement. Was the young man trying to find a solution to a problem or seeking to prove a premise? And was there a right solution or could there have been more than one answer?

I’m a zoologist, by degree, so I am used to scientific terminology, most of which can be explained in words as well as symbols. It is a relatively simply process to convey in words what is mean by E=MC2. Understanding the implications and ramifications of the equation is another matter but it is easy to describe the symbols in a few words.

But a whole sheet of symbols, with no words, no other explanation. The question and answer both being presented in terms completely beyond my ken. Maths is a different language,

I found myself wondering if there are mathmetical equivalents of linguistic nuances. When a question is posed, for example, concerning the role of women in the novels of DH Lawrence there may be some wrong answers but there will certainly be more than one right answer. It’s a matter of observation and interpretation. I wonder if maths at it’s most complex is the same or whether it is always a search for a single, ultimate truth? I rather hope it’s the latter.

Very few things in life are clear cut, most are open to interpretation and discussion. It would be nice to think that at least the young man doing maths on the train can find a single answer to his problem.

Can capitalism save the world?

3 11 2010

Recently  David Cameron spoke to the CBI and urged the private sector to step into the void which will be created by the government’s devastating cuts to public services.  Leaving aside the fact that the private sector, in the form of the global banking system, caused the financial crisis that necessitated a government bail out and caused the huge hole in the public finances, is there any possibility that capitalism can save us all?

Two things this month.  The Chilean miners, when rescued, were wearing Oakley sunglasses – Oakley Radar to be exact.  The sunglasses that were deemed to be essential to protect the eyes of the men who had spent the previous two months in the dark, were provided by a commercial organisation, free of charge.  This is clearly an act of altruism on the part of the company – one which has garnered them millions of pounds of free publicity as the image of weary miners and that of the President who insisted on wearing the sunglasses as an act of solidarity with the men, was beamed around the world’s news networks,  filled the front page of every newspaper and dominated the internet for days.

What should we make of this?

Product placement has been an integral part of film and TV for decades.  Should we really be surprised that the practice is now filtering into our news networks?  And is it actually something to be encouraged, as it did result in the miners getting the protection they required at zero cost to everyone but Oakley – whose donation of sunglasses cost the company less than £10,000.

And if you have had cause to spend any time on any British High Street this past month you cannot have failed to notice the profusion of pink.  October was breast cancer awareness month with every company, or so it seems, producing pink versions of their products in support of the campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer.

On the face of it, this is a good thing, surely?

I am becoming less convinced.  I am finding myself questioning the nature of this campaign.

The profusion of pink and the proliferation of fun ways to raise money trivialises what is a devastating, nasty illness by showing the smiling faces of fundraisers and their sponsors and further belittles women by presenting images of boobs and bras that  continue to titillate.

All of this pink fundraising also risks taking our attention away from the failure of the state to dedicate sufficient funding to research into cancer prevention and to support women and their families in the treatment and recovery process.

Is it reasonable that companies are able to sell more of their iffy merchandise on the basis that a small portion of the product price will be given to a charity?

Is this David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’?  One where commercial companies boost their sales and support areas of the public service that should really be provided by the state?

I haven’t reached a conclusion with which I am happy but I do believe that it is a debate worth having as our public services face cuts and possible collapse.

Do we really want private companies to step into the gap and if we do,  shouldn’t we first establish guidelines lest we drift towards disneyfication of our public services?

Where do ‘e come from, where do ‘e go?

1 11 2010

My Dad has lots of sayings, picked up from books, plays and tv down the years that have passed into family lore. One of these, recited in an iffy west country accent, is “if ‘e be a natural thing, where do ‘e come from, where do ‘e go?” As with most of my Dads sayings, I didn’t know where this came from. I’d never asked as most of his offerings are conjugated from several phrases and don’t have a single derivation, but I was listening to a radio play, The Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley, who found further fame as Corporal Godfrey in the tv seies Dads Army, when I heard the station master say “if ‘e be a natural thing, where do ‘e come from, where do ‘e go?”.

I was delighted to hear this refrain from my childhood. It brought a huge smile to my face. The real significance was the timing. I’d been sitting with a blank piece of paper considering the theme of this months issue of the3rdi magazine, ‘confidence‘, and writing, or failing to write this editorial and then this phrase “if ‘e be a natural thing, where do ‘e come from, where do ‘e go?”

Confidence then. Where does it come from?
We all have it at birth, I think. When my son was about 3 years old we were on a family holiday in Portugal. We were having a meal in a beautiful courtyard and, as with most children, he got fidgety when he’d finished his meal and wanted to head off to play. We were still finishing wine and coffee so he had to stay close. Whay he did was to stand in pathway and smile at people. He didn’t stand in their way, he wasn’t pushy, he just smiled. If they didn’t smile back he smiled more. Everyone smiled. Imagine having the confidence to do that now. Street entertainers do this everyday but most of us feel nervous meeting new people and don’t feel we have the confidence to make an impression.

One of the most interesting stories I heard this week was about the neice of a friend. She had been looking for a job and my friend had suggested that she take a look at her LinkedIn contacts and see if there was anyone there that she might like an introduction to. The young girl looked at LinkedIn and decided that there were indeed great contacts to be made so, without third-party introduction, she contacted key individuals, including the CEO of a major Knightsbridge retailer and asked for an internship. He responded personally and has given her many great contacts and introductions to help her along the way. Would you have had the confidence to make that direct contact or would you have waited to be introduced? Her confidence came from not knowing that you’re not supposed to do that. But who says that you’re not supposed to?

At speaking engagements and through the3rdi magazine I tell people all the time that they can contact me personally and directly to get publicity for their business stories. Few do. While this is not all about lack of confidence, it may be that the time isn’t right to look for help or publicity with the business, but it often is that people don’t feel confident enough to introduce themselves.

So we all start out with confidence so where does it go?
There are many suggestions in the3rdi magazine this month of things that may, over time, erode our confidence. The media driven imperative for young girls to attain the perfect figure is one. The celebrity culture that has led young girls to aspire to be a WAG or a reality TV star, and berate themselves if this does not happen for them, is another. Something as simple, and beyond our control, as being the middle child of three is another example given by one of our contributors for lack of early self-esteem. The point is that the list is endless and infinitely variable. Things that may have happened to me to shake my self-belief may have left another unaffected. Business setbacks that may have fatally undermined someone elses ability to prosper have not dampened my desire to succeed. We are not all the same and the reasons for our confidence being built on shaky foundations varies.

So how can we build firmer foundations.
There are hundreds of suggestions in the3rdi magazine this month. Each offers a solution to particular crisis of confidence. I want to offer my own, broader based solution. AS ever, I’ll explain by way of a story. There are several times in my life that I have felt utterly indestructible, times when nothing was a problem, when nothing could shake my confidence. I can remember each time very clearly and the funny thing is that none of these times is closely linked to a moment of particular success. They seem to have arisen independently of the circumstances in my life at that time.

For example one time, very early in my career I was a salesman and I remember driving north up the M1 listening to Black Man Ray by China Crisis as I drove. I felt indestructible. The feeling didn’t follow a particularly successful call, I hadn’t just earned a huge bonus and I wasn’t driving a brand new car – all causes for euphoria if your in sales! The feeling just was.

If the feeling can arise without obvious cause then we are free to create it within ourselves. If you act like a confident person then people will think that you are a confident person.

And a final point about confidence. We all assume that other people have it! When we walk into a crowded room at a networking event everyone who is already there looks relaxed and confident. Think about this. Two minutes ago they were exactly the same as you are now; feeling a little nervous about entering a room full of strangers. It is not confidence that separates you, just two minutes. Once you are in the room and settled you will be the confident one, so take that ‘two minutes later‘ feeling with you into the room.

Think of a time when you were indestructable and take that feeling of how it feels with you wherever you go.

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!

Charity Tourism

27 09 2010

I was faced with a dilemma in deciding the title for this weeks blog. The issue that I want to raise is the proliferation of overseas jaunts purporting to be in aid of charity.

We are used to seeing celebrities swanning off to Africa in order to be filmed chatting to locals and aid workers in a famine ravaged village, the footage to be transmitted at some future date as part of one of the regular gala fundraising TV spectaculars. On these occasions the cost of making and televising the film, complete with celebrity expenses, is quite probably exceeded by the amount of money donated by viewers when the programme airs.  And in these days of falling newspaper circulation it quite probably raises awareness of the plight of people in places that would never otherwise be on the radar of most TV viewers. If I were a celebrity I might well want to use my celebrity to bring famine and war and injustice into comfortable suburban sitting rooms, so to speak.

However the idea of visiting far-flung places in order to raise money for charity has taken a new dimension over the last few years. It has become charity tourism.

Essentially charities organise trips abroad and participants are asked to raise a certain amount of money in order to be able to go on the trip. Participants, therefore, approach friends, family, business colleagues, clients and strangers to collect money towards this financial target.

Has it not occurred to anyone else that we are simply being asked to pay for someone elses holiday abroad?

True, an amount of the money raised will go to the charity organising the trip but a significant proportion goes to pay for the trip itself as the costs of taking UK nationals to far-flung corners of the globe, feeding them, moving them about and returning them home safely are not inconsiderable. If I raise £5,000 for charity I would much prefer that the full £5,000 went towards the work of the charity than some pay for a jolly overseas trip. If I want a trek through the Hindu Cush I’d find a way of paying for my trip myself.

Another problem with charity tourism is that in order to excite the potential tourist the destinations chosen are ever more remote and ever more distant. I’m sure that there are many charity tourists hiking to Everest base camp, pounding the Inca Trail or cycling through Malawi as I write.

So what about the impact of tourism on these regions?

We fly thousands of miles with not insignificant carbon impact, invade local environments, buy a few trinkets and head home from these impoverished regions having improved their lot very little and raised a small amount for relatively wealthy western charities. Unlike the celebrity visits to remote regions this type of fundraising does nothing to raise awareness of these remote regions and nothing to help the local people out of poverty.

Why do people chose to raise money in this way? Whatever happened to sitting in a bath of baked beans in the local leisure centre?  I can only think that it is vanity. “Look at me. I’m walking in the Andes to raise money for ‘chaarideee'”, as Smashy and Nicey of Fast Show fame might put it.

I know that we all suffer from giving fatigue and that charities have to be more and more inventive to persuade us to participate and to help them to raise funds, but paying to take a UK national on holiday to China in order to raise money for a local hospice makes no sense at all. Look at the great work Maggies do with their Bike and Hike endurance events in Scotland. Innovative, challenging, integrated with local communities and fantastic in raising huge sums of money.

So next time someone approaches you looking for a tenner towards their trip to The Andes, please politely refuse and give your money somewhere where all £10 will go towards the work of the charity and let the vanity charity tourist pay for their own holiday to South America