Defeat into Victory

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Portrait of Sir William Slim standing on the E...
Field Marshall Sir William Slim

When was the last time you were kicked in the teeth by life? It’s painful, isn’t it. Expectations and dreams are ripped apart and broken. Failure is rarely a fun experience, but what is important is to learn for it, and to move forwards. “Fall down six time, get up seven.”

I could reel out here a long list of failure that I have experienced at different times, but won’t- there is no need for it, except to say that being unable to continue with the 10 City Bridge Run last year due to injury from overtraining and lacking sufficient financial support was among the more recent failed endeavours. But now I am back running, and focused on starting the running of 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries all inside of one month on 1 March. Lessons have been learnt.

What is worse for many million people is the lack of choice in their situation. I’m thinking about those children and families who suffer as a result of child mortality. It is a cruel and bitter experience- I remember the toll it took on my brother and his wife. I can hardly begin to imagine what it must be like where there is a 1 in 4 chance of death occurring before the fifth birthday.

What will we say at the end of 2015 when all countries give an account of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals? The window of opportunity for change remains open. With a past career in the military, I draw inspiration from the words of Field Marshall Sir William Slim:

The only test of generalship is success, and I had succeeded in nothing that I had attempted…Defeat is bitter. Bitter to the common soldier, but trebly bitter to his general. The soldier may comfort himself with the thought that, whatever the result, he has done his duty faithfully and steadfastly, but the commander has failed in his duty if he has not won victory–for that is his duty. He has no other comparable to it. He will go over in his mind the events of the campaign. ‘Here,’ he will think, ‘I went wrong; here I took counsel of my fears when I should have been bold; there I should have waited to gather strength, not struck piecemeal; at such a moment I failed to grasp opportunity when it was presented to me.’ He will remember the soldiers whom he sent into the attack that failed and who did not come back. he will recall the look in the eyes of men who trusted him. ‘I have failed them,’ he will say to himself, ‘and failed my country!’ He will see himself for what he is – a defeated general. In a dark hour he will turn on himself and question the very foundations of his leadership and his manhood.

And then he must stop! For, if he is ever to command in battle again, he must shake off these regrets and stamp on them, as they claw at his will and his self-confidence. He must beat off these atacks he delivers against himself, and cast out the doubts born of failure. Forget them, and remember only the lessons to be learnt from defeat–they are more than from victory.



We failed them

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Aboriginal Rock Art, Anbangbang Rock Shelter, ...

Is this what we will be saying in 2015 about the millions of children under the age of five who continue to die of preventable disease in situations of extreme poverty?

This week the (Australian) Northern Territory’s Minister for Children and Families admitted he will have to tear down the system for protecting Aboriginal children from abuse and neglect and start again. He described it this way in a Sydney Morning Herald report:

“The department has been demoralised … we are now going to rebuild from scratch and we have to leave the old ideologies [of child protection] at the door.”

His was a startling admission of failure. In the three years since the biggest federal intervention in 50 years of government in the territory, agencies are struggling to come to terms with endemic mistreatment of children.

Can we as a global community really reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 from a 1990 level? Is the seemingly impossible possible?

If not – if we can’t achieve this – it represents yet another “great moral challenge of our time” which we are impotent to act to change. Failure is not an option.

The one thought I want you to consider today

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Bridge in fog- hard to see the far bank

Where does the time go?!

Dear reader, thanks for your patience- it has been now about a week since I made my last post. A lot has happened in that time, and many ideas and thoughts to write about. I will endeavour to share some of that with you later today, but not everything at once.

A few updates about the 10 City Bridge Run.

Firstly, I’m pleased to say that enough funding through sponsorship has been received to make this endeavour possible, that is to commence the journey. While the first hurdle is cleared, there is still a fair distance down the track to cover.

Secondly, a quick note about date changes. The date for the commencement of the 10 City bridge Run has now slipped twice. I want to be open about the planning to share with you the challenges and difficulties I am encountering. I think to present the vulnerabilities and uncertainties, for all its lumpiness is important in learning to take the crunchy with the smooth as Billy Bragg might say. Let’s be clear that this is an ambitious and difficult venture with a deliberate tagline of “Is the seemingly impossible possible?” At the same time, for as much of the experiential learning that might come from this to mirror an understanding of the challenges to eradicate extreme poverty, it also should be acknowledged that there is a difference between the two. We all have a choice to some degree of what difficulties that come into our lives: those in extreme poverty do not.

The reasons for the date changes relate to a number of issues. The most significant is the clearance of funding through PayPal. This issue has been resolved, although may still have some impact on successfully initiating the run on 8 October. Make no mistake: the run is going ahead, and the objective to present a pictorial petition to the G20 Summit remains a key outcome.

There are two institutional events framing this initiative- two bridge supports if you like. The United Nations Conference which commenced on 20 September and the G20 Summit in November. The last date to commence the running is 14 October should the time need to slip another few days. This would involve an (already identified) curatorial team in Seoul compiling the petition and presenting it to the G20 Summit on our behalf prior to the last leg of the 10 City Bridge Run coinciding in Seoul with the last day of the G20 Summit.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts about how the 10 City Bridge Run might be better organised, communicated and presented. I am particularly interested to know what your response is to the changing of dates. If it frustrates you or disappoints you, if you feel let down or if it challenges your confidence, or if you see this as an unwanted but inevitable part of attempting something that is difficult. Or maybe you are happy to just watch it unfold without having an opinion- that is fine as well.

Just a thought from me I ask you to consider: if you are disappointed by these date changes which have minor consequences apart from how to organise the delivery of the petition, how did you feel after the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, and how will you react in 2015 when the United Nations is called to report on the Millennium Development Goals?


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The Last Days of Lehman Brothers
The Last Days of Lehman Brothers

What defines success? The absence of failure?

Dealing with doubt and uncertainty is all part of trying to start or do something. No one wants to fail publicly.

What is worse is not to try.

There are some more recent examples of spectacular failure which resulted in the loss of billions of dollars, which for most of us is a figure that is difficult to comprehend. During the early months of the global financial crisis the collapse of many companies saw billions of dollars of value ‘wiped off’ the stock exchange. Lehman Brothers is seen as a scapegoat, but terms like ‘toxic debt’ were frequently used to describe the situation many companies faced. Some of those companies no longer exist.

Is there a correlation between the failure of the world’s financial and banking system which led to the global financial crisis, and the situation confronted in less glamourous places across the world where the conditions of extreme poverty are inescapable and oppressive? I contend that there is a wider spiritual failure cultivated from seeds of greed that contributes to both.

Throughout the 10 City Bridge Run I am and will be confronted by my own real sense of failure in a different sense.

The core focus on the 10 City Bridge Run is the publication of a book to be presented as a ‘pictorial petition’ to the G20 Summit leadership in November. With a working title of “Above the Line”, the book will feature 24,000 photographs of people who are posing to create a bridge using themselves and another person or people. We are encouraging people to be as creative as they would like in achieving this- our best response so far is from a village chief in PNG lining up his 200 elders to form a massively long human bridge.

The metaphor of a bridge communicates our connectedness, among other things. This is important. Help us raise this issue to the G20 Summit so that the issue of aid is not sidelined by a focus on addressing structural reform to the global banking system.

The run, the logistics, the photographs, the book…surely you might well be shaking your head in disbelief and muttering that while it sounds intriguing, it also would appear impossible.

Is the seemingly impossible possible? is the tag line to this event, and although inherently problematic (and truthfully is far from ‘a walk in the park’), it is achievable which I intend to demonstrate before the G20 Summit commences.

Put into perspective, my sense of failure is manageable and the consequences are not fatal. Sadly, this is not true for a child born in a community experiencing extreme poverty. What can we do about this? I don’t have the answers, but I am going to try to create a shift through along with other people through the 10 City Bridge Run.

Join us. Please sponsor the book and build a bridge into the G20 Summit.