Month: March 2015

Few Will Have The Greatness To Bend History Itself

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IMG_4100“Who are you doing this for?” This is perhaps the most frequently asked questions of me as I set about the epic journey which I had called the 10 City Bridge Run. I ran 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. I wasn’t doing it for myself, and I wasn’t doing it for an organisation. Truth be told, I was doing it for the many millions of children born and unborn, along with their parents and communities to give them hope and the enjoyment of a good start to life by combatting child mortality. Audaciously, I proposed that through this crazy stunt that we could open a conversation to improve the delivery of child survival.

Initially, I did think this question about “who or which organisation was I doing it for?” was entirely reasonable. I now look back and see that instead that question is based on a flawed premise that it is only through having the juggernaut of a fundraising institution behind you that our efforts might have any credibility. We don’t need anything other than our own sense of daring and will to make change happen. It doesn’t mean will will be successful, but then again, not everything the large institutions do is successful either. Certainly there are questions about probity that need to be addressed, but that is also a matter of trust between those that might support me and my own personal integrity and conduct.

Can we really give ourselves permission to tinker a little as individuals collaborating together so as to put a dent in the universe?

Yes, it is about us as individuals and what we will do together. This thought returned to me as a startling epiphany today while I was re-reading “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs. “The End Of Poverty” is a great treatise on how poverty can be eradicated by 2025 from the perspective of an economist. What struck me as profound in Sachs’ book is the final paragraphs are dedicated not to how the UN or the IMF or the World Bank will save the day, but he writes very pointedly:

In the end, however, it comes back to us, as individuals.

He amplifies this comment by quoting Robert kennedy:

Great social forces, Robert Kennedy powerfully reminds us, are the mere accumulation of individual actions.

And he goes on to end his book with a powerful quote from Kennedy, repeated below:

Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence… Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation…

It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different enters of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

I’m inviting you, asking you, challenging you, and imploring you to do something that maybe you might not have done before. Do something daring. Go ahead and take action, become an activist. Do it as yourself, an individual representing yourself, but as part of a collective experience. What that something daring is will to some degree be up to you.

We need your participation in the series of Design Forum that are unfolding. Let your little droplets of activity send out tiny ripples of hope, so that together we will build a current that will sweep like a tsunami of activity that might even bend history itself.

I dare you.

Blackbird

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IMG_4134The rhythmic whirring and tapping sounds coming from the life support machines sound like a reassuring metronome. If only it was that idyllic…

The video below is self-explanatory by the comment which accompany the clip from Chris describing his bitter-sweet experience as he sings to his son Lennon following the death of his wife:

Chris Picco singing Blackbird to his son, Lennon James Picco, who was delivered by emergency C-section at 24 weeks after Chris’ wife Ashley unexpectedly and tragically passed away in her sleep. Lennon’s lack of movement and brain activity was a constant concern for the doctors and nurses at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, where he received the absolute best care available. During the pregnancy, Ashley would often feel Lennon moving to music so Chris asked if he could bring his guitar into the NICU and play for Lennon, which he did for several hours during the last days of Lennon’s precious life. One day after filming this, Lennon went to sleep in his daddy’s arms.

Can you feel that crushing blow which must have accompanied Chris through this song and for the days, weeks, and years that will follow as he remembers his wife and child?

Many child deaths are irrevocable, and in the West in developed countries this is by and large the majority of incidents of child mortality. My brother’s son Xander is one such case as this. Lennon is another. Some reading this will have a very personal connection with that too, and I write these words with much care because I know that any reminder must be hurtful for you in ways only you could understand.

But what about those in so-called developing countries where we have no visibility of their deaths through YouTube or media? The sadness shared by their parents is no less. And the figure, while diminishing because of improvements in child survival is still too great, still over 16,000 children under the age of five per day. More than 16,000 parents singing their own version of a broken-hearted Blackbird daily. And that is not to mention the large numbers of women who die while pregnant or during labour. Life is a risky business. It is a situation we hope to address through the Design Forum accompanying the 10 City Bridge Run. Join  us.

Standing In Front Of A Blank Canvas

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Pity, Rider of the Unicorn
Pity, Rider of the Unicorn: My work currently exhibiting at the Peacock Gallery in Auburn

Did you hear the news? I am now an artist, officially!

Yes, I have my first public work displayed in an exhibition at the Auburn Peacock Gallery which launched on 21 February. It is a wonderfully curated exhibition, and a great collaboration to be part of. I’ll return to this point about collaboration a little later in this post.

In actual fact, anyone can be an artist. This was the emphasis placed on understanding art by our professor when I studied Art History back in the day during my undergraduate studies. Taking Art History happened by serendipity, and the opportunity arose only because I was quota-ed out of my primary choices of studies. It was an influential and instructive time for me where I learn a new way of seeing. It was the stepping stone to other opportunities in learning and education, including picking up studies in English Lit a year later where I first met my good friend Fay.

The professor in his opening address for the beginning of the Art History course urged us to look beyond just studying because it might lead to opportunities in curation, or because of some romantic dream to study at the great galleries of Europe. He instead placed more emphasis on making a difference wherever you found yourself, and in a very local context. He said that if we were able to subsequently engage with and appreciate art at even a local gallery and find the joy in doing that, it would be his measure of success. It was a profound statement, although I don’t know if I fully appreciated this at the time.

My perspective of the 10 City Bridge Run has changed since it began in 2010. It is a circuitous story of how I came about to engage in this epic quest, and sometimes I wonder whether it is more a fools errand because of the personal risks I am taking. Even so, I move ahead. My perspective has changed, and with it my ability to communicate has changed as well. When I first commenced this initiative, some might remember a couple of monthly newsletters I emailed out to supporters at the time. I look back at those as cringeworthy productions, but that was where I was at then. Now, I am wiser for the experience, and have an epic journey behind me with the recently completed running stunt all but finished in New York in early January this year. I have written this elsewhere already, but it took longer than expected, and in every way I took on much more than I had bargained for.

Now we have began the next phase of this journey. I say we because this current phase of the Design Forum is about us. I could do the running alone, but I can’t do the collaborative designing on my own. Now, it is about us, and the conversation has began. This email is part of that conversation, and you reading it is another part. All of these small parts will all add up, like droplets of water forming a pond that then runs into a much larger river and eventually into a sea of activity. In that metaphor, individually and together we are like the droplets that make that pond, and the pond to some degree defines our efforts through the Design Forum. In order not to stagnate, the pond needs to connect to the existing rivers of experience that flow into and shape the great sea of activity. It is a bit of a dramatic metaphor I know, but it is a way of saying that the Design Forum is not ‘it’. There is much to learn and some amazing work going on around the world to help improve child survival, and our aim is to contribute to that somehow.

My last post continued thoughts about The Hero’s Journey and shame. It is where I find myself now. Shame is not the same as ashamed. Shame is an expression of how we view our own sense of adequacy, and it is the entry point to experiencing vulnerability. I know there will be some tough guys out there who might want to say “just suck it up , buddy”. If that is your response, I think that you still have some distance to travel on your own road in order to explore your own personal limits of vulnerability. We all have them, and that is where true courage and invention is found. Vulnerability in that space which requires us to draw upon our immense reserves of imagination, creativity and innovation to find a way through a situation that is inherently difficult. Of course, there is one special group of people in society that experience no shame. These are not super-soldiers, but in fact psychopaths.

It is actually good and healthy to experience shame because it lets you know you are human. And it is what you do with it that matters most too. If you (like me) are paralysed by shame into inaction that leads you to not engage media, that is not such a good outcome, but all the same it is an outcome. We live and learn. Much like my journey with the 10 City Bridge Run, it has been a learning journey. To be honest, I don’t know that I was fully equipped to lead a global conversation about child survival until now. If I had attempted it earlier, there still would have been an outcome, and that outcome might have been great, but it still would have been premature.

And so now I am back in this familiar place. Standing in front of a blank canvas again. Actually, this time we are all here. But for me, I sense that there is some reasonable expectation to shape the conversation to get this work underway. It is a familiar feeling, and I’m sure we have all been there before commencing anything of significance. I felt it last year when finally drawing on the blank canvas which my friend Anoop gave to me to draw on. He asked me about nine months after he gifted the canvas to me: “so what has happened to that canvas?” I know he was asking casually as a friend, but he also pushed me into action. I painted that canvas, and it lead to the work that is currently being exhibited in the Peacock Gallery.

When I first visited the exhibition and saw my work on the wall, I had a wonderful insight into the collaborative process which had in fact begun with Anoop’s prompting. During the making of the work for this exhibition, I engaged with Penny and Nicole, the two curators for the exhibition, as well as Dani who helped to get my image formatted digitally. That was also all in context of being part of a holistic expression of what the Centenary of Anzac meant for the Auburn community. It was a real awakening to collaboration, and in some ways provided an opportunity to better glean what the professor of Art History had been hinting at all those years ago.

Similarly, I am inviting you to be part of this collaborative process as the Design Forum unfold. I can’t say what your part will be, and in fact I think to some extent serendipity will be our guide as this opportunity unfolds. It is not a singular experience, there is no ownership, and it will involve the flowing of many ponds of inspiration into a river of experience to flood that great sea of activity ahead.