Month: September 2016
In preparing for the Marine Corps Marathon on 30 October 2016, here is my training schedule:
|Day 1||Tuesday 6 September 2016||4 x 1600 m|
|Day 2||Wednesday, 7 September 2016||24 km|
|Day 3||Thursday, 8 September 2016||8 km|
|Day 4||Friday, 9 September 2016||Rest|
|Day 5||Saturday, 10 September 2016||9 km|
|Day 6||Sunday, 11 September 2016||Rest|
My good friend Ledy asked a fair question: “what exactly is the linkage between what and why you do what you do?”
It is a good question and deserves an answer.
In this case, I think a simple answer is best, and I draw inspiration from one of my heroes and a guiding light for the 10 City Bridge Run who frames one of the key chapters in the document features on the landing page for the 10 City Bridge Run website.
Jim Yong Kim is presently the President of the World Bank, and a thoroughly impressive individual. I have never met him in person, but I have consumed much of what he has written and spoken.
In one of his addresses at Georgetown University he describes the underpinning of the organisation which he co-founded called Partners In Health as having a preferential option for the poor.
It is a simple statement, but I think it best captures an answer which satisfies Ledy’s question.
This is the linkage between what I do and why I do it: to have a preferential option for the poor.
The first two blog posts to this update described where the 10 City Bridge Run initiative came from, and then how I intend to proceed to complete the journey through the Design Forum and the book Life Bridge.
The posts spoke broadly about these issues, and didn’t describe a plan to achieve these objectives in any detail as such. And so we come to this third update which I hope might help to address some of those queries.
Some of you might know that I previously served as an officer in the Australian Army, and am a veteran owing to the deployments I was sent on during that time. Issues of veteran health are something that matters to me. Veterans health is a complex issue. Too often it is reduced down to something like “the government sends people off to war and doesn’t take good enough care of them when they come home.” There is some truth to this, but it is also disturbingly suggestive of a victimhood culture that I don’t think rightly reflects the dignity of those who served their country. This of course if my opinion, and others will have a different view and might even heatedly disagree.
One of the disturbing trends has been mental health among veterans, which I believe is a function of transitioning from the military into life outside the military. I don’t know that you can ever really describe veterans as plain old citizens because they will always have a particular outlook on life that no one else will really understand unless they have too served. And it is not like we are robots. Everyone is different, but there is a trend of alienation which is disturbing.
Partly because of this trend, some people have suicided. Again, the reasons for this are many and complex, and so it is not sufficient to have a linear logic that makes correlation between veterans and suicide. I think we can all agree that it is a tragic and unacceptable situation.
While I was serving in the military, I had the sobering duty of investigating a number of suicides. All were tragic.
Whether the military system was at fault is something that can be argued and argued. I have an opinion, but because of the sensitive nature of the issue this is not the forum to discuss it, and it won’t be an opinion I will be offering to my friends, just in case you want to ask.
A figure has emerged from the US where it is alleged that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide a day. Admittedly, their military is very large, but even so this is outrageous. Particularly for a community who ought to have greater reserves of resilience and camaraderie, why should this be the case?
I had been thinking about this situation for some time, and coincidentally my good friend who lives in Washington D.C. at the same time invited me to take part in the Marine Corps Marathon supporting the American charity The Mission Continues. I had a lot of admiration for The Mission Continues, and while their efforts are focused on the US, the reach of their activity by example of what is possible extends globally. We can learn from best practice wherever it is found.
The timing of the marathon was good for me. I was wanting to reconcile my disappointing performance (in my eyes) during the 10 City Bridge Run with a subsequent run, and the launch of the Design Forum would occur around that time. Additionally, there was some crossover with the focus on the 9 City Bridge Run, and additionally I felt there was still more I could do with what I had learnt from that experience on the issue of depression and suicide.
I am also drawn to a big idea which Clay Shirky who is a favourite thinker and author of mine expressed called ‘cognitive surplus’. You can see a video from Clay Shirky on the home page to the 10 City Bridge Run site where he talks about collaboration and the role of institutions. Cognitive surplus argues that as a collective community, we have a capacity of social capital and intellectual rigour that could be applied to worthy projects rather than just watching TV. I believe that the issue of cognitive surplus is at the root of addressing this issue of child survival, and I also believe it is key to addressing mental health and a sense of purpose among veterans after they transition from the military. Additionally, I believe there is unexplored potential to examine the benefits that the veteran community might bring to issues that tackle extreme poverty, such as child survival. These are hunches and need to be teased out more.
Not that I need a watertight reason for every single decision I make in my personal life, but consequently I decided to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon supporting The Mission Continues.
The marathon gives me a very real deadline, and also the challenge of how am I going to make that work. (To date, I still have had no luck with the magic carpet, and will need to work out how to afford this travel yet). It provides a good framing timeline around which to orient the publication of the book Beyond The Backswing, as well as to announce how the Design Forum will unfold. In short, I see these things occurring on 24 October in Seoul marking UN Day. If you want more clarity, please leave a comment and I can answer your questions.
While I was in New York in July this year, I was hoping to have completed the manuscript for the book Beyond The Backswing. It took longer than I anticipated, and resulted in me heading out to Newark where I had spent a fair amount of time about 10 years ago while I was hanging out with some friends who were working in that city. I figured it would be cheaper to stay in Newark than New York, and might also be a place with less distractions.
Unexpectedly, I befriended a number of locals who sewed an idea for how the book Life Bridge might be curated. I am still giving this some thought, but I believe it will work, and is also timely following the conclusion of the Marine Corps Marathon.
As a consequence, I hope to achieve my objectives for the 10 City Bridge Run and also bring some important discussion to this troubling issue of veterans health. This blog post is only an overview rather than a detailed plan, but if you would like to know more, please leave a comment.
I value your feedback, and hope you might leave a comment to say what you thought about this update as well as the proposed journey ahead. Of course, if you want to know how to get more involved, I would also like to hear from you.
The entire journey I have been on has been risk-filled. Precarious at every step.
Mostly, this is a reflection on my financial capacity to undertake the next step at each point. It is not as though there has been one or two dilemmas where I had to decide whether to continue or not. In fact, the whole journey has been like this. A high level of risk has been normal.
I don’t like to talk about this too much because it enters into territory that is intensely personal for me. So much so that I am less inclined to even clarify what I mean by that very statement. You will just have to take my word for it. I’m sure you can join the dots.
I concluded the running stunt, as I mentioned in the earlier blog post. I was dissatisfied with my performance, and for some time had considered that I would need to do it again such was my disapproval of my own achievement. Slowly, I came to recognise that I had completed the stunt. It might not have been as dramatic as I might have wanted, but there it was. It was done.
Some of the things that were not done well include my use of publicity and media, inclusive of social media. This was largely a function of my reticence to speak about my experiences. I felt uneasy about putting myself out there in front in public, partly because I knew there were critics who might be looking for some hidden agenda, and partly because I didn’t feel qualified to be representing the issue. After a little time and soul searching, I have come to terms with both these issues. Firstly, to hell with the critics. And secondly, I am entitled to my own opinion, and have as much right to set about making a dent in the universe as anyone else (to borrow the encouragement from Steve Jobs which was recorded in an early interview he made).
I still have some way to go, but I am getting there. Every time I post a blog or share a video is another training day for me, another lesson, more practice. I want to communicate with you, and I also know that by doing so I will improve my ability to better articulate that which I seek to achieve. I owe you, the audience, a considerable debt of gratitude for allowing me this indulgence to improve my skills in the service of helping others less fortunate. Thank you.
While the running stunt was concluded, the two key outputs for the 10 City Bridge Run remain incomplete: the Design Forum, and the book Life Bridge. The Design Forum is where this question of child survival will be addressed, and the book Life Bridge is a photo essay of 100 photos of human bridges to communicate the central theme to this initiative.
After completing the running stunt, I wondered how I might get closer to completing these two outstanding tasks. I could have easily slapped together a publication and posted that out, as well as convening a glorified town hall meeting and calling it a Design Forum. But that is not my style. The issue deserves more from me, and the supporters deserve more although the cost of doing so is that there is a time delay in the delivery of product which I consider to be less than acceptable. I feel rather sheepish about these delays, and I have also accepted this as how it is rather than just giving up and saying “well, I tried…”
Toward the middle of last year, I began meeting with an elderly lady who lives near where I get my dry-cleaning done. It soon became obvious that she benefited from my company as a visitor to talk, and I benefited from the role of mentor that she unknowingly began to fill. We shared many interests, namely Papua New Guinea, and would meet on a weekly basis. I would bring coffee and cake, and we would sit together for an hour or so and have a good talk.
The outcome of this was that she provoked me to start writing. I began with a few paragraphs and a series of notes, and then before too long it was a page. When I was happy with what I had written, I asked if she wouldn’t mind hearing my work. She was happy to do so, and with all the graces of an refined lady listened politely with an encouraging smile as I read this page and a half. I concluded, and she dispassionately asked “is that it?” as if to say that she was expecting much more. I explained that it was just the beginning, and described where I thought it might go. With a cheeky smile she leant forward and threw down the challenge. “Get on with it!” she exclaimed in an amused fashion.
And so I have. That one and a half pages is now sitting at a near completed narrative consisting of 100 short stories that run together in a memoir titled “Beyond The Backswing”. The book explores the necessity of failure in the epic pursuit of game changing impact, and more than just simply narrating my own experiences I place these into a context that I believe will be useful for many to read.
The benefit of writing this book is that it has enabled me to develop a strong sense of clarity to describe how and what the Design Forum and the book Life Bridge ought to be.
The stunt is behind me, and thankfully because of the encouragement of Paddy, the culmination of this endeavour will soon be realised. First, the book Beyond The Backswing will be published, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about this in the coming weeks.
The next blog update talks about an unexpected pivot through The Mission Continues.
After some recess from the blog, it is well time to continue this narrative.
The 10 City Bridge Run was conceived in 2010 to help address the problem faced by high child mortality. It emerged from lessons learnt following an initiative called the 9 City Bridge Run. The 9 City Bridge Run was focused on using resilience and wellbeing as a counterpoint to depression and suicide.
In many respects, the two issues faced by the 9 City Bridge Run and the 10 City Bridge Run were distinct and unrelated. At the same time, these were two issues linked by a similar thread of design and social impact.
I wrote a discussion paper after the 9 City Bridge Run. If you want a copy of an abstract from the paper, leave a comment below and I will forward you one and point you to where it is located. For a range of reasons, I thought that I had left the issue of suicide and depression behind, and was cracking on with addressing child survival as much as I was able.
It is worth noting that my efforts in both cases were well-intentioned, albeit Quixotic. What is one to do? Give up because they don’t have enough knowledge, or desist because the method chosen is not entirely workable at first?
I had sought to partner with large institutional organisations before committing to action, but I found that their capacity to embrace the sense of change I was looking to find was mired because of their obsession with messaging and fundraising.
In hindsight, it is easy for the critic to lean back in their comfortable chair and point to all of the flaws in what I chose to do. This could have been done differently, it would have been better to do that. But the journey of the 10 City Bridge Run is now in its sixth year. There has been untold and tremendous levels of heartache and sweat equity poured into this, and while it has been clumsy at time, there has been learning along the way.
Most of the financial risk was borne by myself. Essentially, this was a foolish move, and I was fortunate to receive the support from many generous people who contributed during a series of fundraising campaigns. The amount of money raised was modest, but enough to steer me through such that I would not give up.
The 10 City Bridge Run was based on a stunt: to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries inside the space of a month so as to open a conversation about improving child survival. That was 2010, and it wasn’t until a dark, wet and cold night on 3 January 2015 in New York that this running stunt was completed.
The stunt was to enable something else to occur, and that was what I had described as a series of Design Forum to open this conversation about improving the delivery of child survival. To help fund the initiative, the crowdfunding was based on the pre-sale of a book that would feature a photo-essay of 100 photos of human bridges to communicate that it was the connections between us was the greatest resource at our disposal to make change happen. What that change was and how it would occur was unanswered during this process, and is indeed the work of the Design Forum.
Here’s the thing: unless we try things, how will we know if something is going to work. Theodore Roosevelt was right in his frequently quoted address about the man in the arena:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
This has not been an easy journey, but progress is being made. Maybe the issues have yet to be impacted upon, but then again neither is the deeds in the arena complete.
Picking up this conversation again through this blog, I wanted to backtrack a little so you could know where it has come from.
The next post will talk about where the 10 City Bridge Run stands at the present.