Did you see what I did there? The heading is a pun! It can be read in two ways.
I would like to take credit for such cleverness, but that is actually the title of a book by David Suzuki and Holly Dressel. The full title is “Good News For A Change: how everyday people are helping the planet.”
It is a good book. I bought it from a bookstore which I found to be oasis in a desert of ideas when I was deployed on a temporary posting assignment to Darwin during my service as an Australian Army Officer. I was engaged in border protection duties, and we successfully repatriated a so-called ‘Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel (SIEV14)’ from Australian waters back into international waters from where it then travelled back to its original port in Indonesia.
It was during a difficult time in my life for other reasons of a personal nature, and while many people might want to point the bone for my role in the government’s machinary of ‘stopping the boats’, I think that chapter of my life just goes to show the messiness of defining clean ethical boundaries inside of which we might like our lives to operate.
Just before I departed on the 10 City Bridge Run in late September last year, I posted a video on Facebook to some of my old army buddies which had been recorded by IS (the so-called Islamic State). The video showed the effect of a recoilless rifle exploding when the projectile detonated in the barrel. A recoilless rifle looks like a large tank barrel, basically because that is what it is. As an artillery officer, weapon effects and projectiles was a daily part of my life when I was in the Army. A premature detonation was an extremely rare event, and so on a professional level I shared the video. The video was pretty graphic, in that it didn’t leave much to the imagination of what might have come from the operator of the weapon.
What I didn’t count on was a friend trolling through the video and determining that from his perspective it was inappropriate content. And he made sure that was well known before defriending, and since then has never been heard from again.
So why go to the trouble of writing this story. Or talking about my role in the downfall of people who had their hopes set on settling in Australia (yes, an oblique reference there to Spike Milligan, staying with the military theme for a minute). How can that be good news? How that that bring about positive change?
Well, they aren’t and they don’t. They just are. The world can be a messy place. A lot of things happen that disgust us. This is not what we signed up for!
My point in this post is that we can decide to only see the good news. It is a pollyanaish approach to not seeing the bad. I think that is less than helpful actually, even though it fuels us with goodness and possibility.
To solve a problem, we really do need good news for a change. We need the good news both to make a change, and as a break from the relentless misery of bad news reported through the unforgiving 24 hour news cycle. But let’s also take a minute to appreciate the bad and how it created an obscene situation that at worst might be described as an abomination. We don’t need to forgive or embrace the bad. We just need to know where the rot started so that we can change for good.
It has not been an easy year for my mother. For many people it has been difficult. While our family comes to terms with the loss of my brother, my mother is finding these days difficult, and so I asked Luigi to sing for her when I returned to Glasgow.
Luigi is the head chef at the Val Doro Restaurant, which is the oldest chippie in Glasgow. It has been in his family for over 80 years, and in operation since the late 1870’s. An institution. I’m convinced that Glasgow wouldn’t be the same without it.
It would be easy to draw a comparison to some British comedy tv shows, but I won’t. Luigi has a heart of gold. Francis who is the sous chef on shift is every bit as diligent, taking care with the deep fry while Luigi sings.
Make yourself a cup of tea Mum, and enjoy Luigi singing especially for you.
Sharing stories is part of makes us who we are. Of course, it is the ability to tell a story to someone that makes it worthwhile. Not so much the audience, but it is in the sharing.
I encountered a moment of unexpected excitement in Shanhaiguan, a costal city in China located at the beginning of the Great Wall, and am sharing it here to say thank you to my mate Kent for his support of this epic quest.
Shanhaiguan is an interesting city in itself, having been strategic for defence for centuries to protect China from domestic threats, and was sieged and sacked in 1901 with most of what we now enjoy of the Great Wall that can found there being destroyed. What stands now was largely rebuilt in 1986 or thereabouts. Still, it is an impressive structure today of what must have been an impressive engineering feat back in the day centuries ago.
But that is not what this story is about.
When I set off on the run, I initially headed west running out of the town to the river that forms a valley which runs parallel to the Great Wall. The river is very wide in parts, maybe wider than the Han River in Seoul, and there are many bridges there which I thought would be good to cross over as part of this initiative.
I reached the river, and found I could head south to the Bohai Sea on a badly sealed road, or take a goat track that weaved it’s way along the reeds at waters edge below. So I decided to travel on the goat track.
Since beginning the running, I had been hearing fast air spinning around upstairs. There were a lot of planes in the sky from what it sounded to this old Forward Air Controller, but I couldn’t spot any despite the noise. I was at a loss to work out where they were or what they were doing.
As I took the goat track, I began to see the aircraft. Coming in to land at what I soon found to be an airport located abutting the river. Every two minutes, and with little break, these jet fighters were landing. An impressive sight.
Running closer, I encountered a farmer with his goats. He signalled to me something, but I didn’t know what he was indicating. I sensed something was not quite right up ahead. Then I realised the sounds I was hearing was also gun shot from shotgun. I wasn’t wanting to push my luck in China, already I was running in a city wearing a gong fu uniform and Mao Army hat. Not the easiest situation to explain when questioned…
I indicated I would proceed to the high ground, and then saw ahead of me two soldiers who were patrolling away from me in the same direction I was travelling. Both watching their arcs, both with shotgun drawn. After a few moments earlier considering the vulnerability of the location, and having taken some happy snaps, I decided to be on my best behaviour but also get a little closer to see what was going on.
By this stage, I was able to take some pretty good photos of the planes. I didn’t want to make it too obvious, but I ought not to have worried because of the cameras that were monitoring the area, including me no doubt.
It was then obvious to me. The soldiers were not hunting anyone. They were basically beaters, making sure there was going to be no aircraft Foreign Object Damage from birdlife taking off startled by the fighters. Their job was to make the reeds as least hospital as possible for birds. Besides, there was plenty of river for them to next elsewhere.
A little while later, I found a dead snake on the pathway. Being used to snakes in Australia that are pretty poisonous, I generally make it a habit to treat all snakes with respect. I had no idea what this snake was, and still have not identified it. But I was happier to see it after I had left the reeds.
Running further down the footpath, I started closing on an old ‘grandfather’ type character. He was adorable. Dressed in his Mao styled suit, he just wanted to talk. And talk. And talk some more.
My Chinese was pretty scant, but he had the impression that I knew enough to have a chat. I put it down to the fact that he was lonely and wanted to have a chat. It didn’t seem to bother him that I was a foreigner, but he was full of compliments for my gong fu uniform. In the end, I just had to run off. I couldn’t stand there and listen for a long time. I didn’t know how to say “sorry, but I had to run”, but he soon got the message.
And perhaps he was just showing my premises where this blog began. Sharing stories is part of makes us who we are. But it is in the sharing.
Having now run through six of the 10 cities, and ahead of the seventh leg here in Seoul, I have come to realise that going on the journey is necessary to improve child survival. These are things I could not have known from the beginning of the journey that I have learnt along the way. While this stunt might seem superfluous and unrelated to the question of child survival, taking these first steps has been an essential part of the journey.
Experiencing different cultures and how different people think, while not a new experience, has shown me that this is a bigger conversation than simply holding a singular Design Forum in one location as was the original intention. By talking about this journey with others, my reach has been extended well beyond my grasp. Perhaps most importantly, I have come to recognise many of my own weaknesses and how the support from others is indispensable in order to make a difference.
While in Port Moresby, I learnt a Tok Pisin expression: “Yumi wok bung wontime!”. The expression means “Let’s walk together!” I am appealing specifically to a select group of ‘bridge builders’ within our extended networks to walk with us, so that we can together reach the destination of the Design Forum.
‘If anything were possible…’. We are captivated by daring stunts. There is an element of showmanship. The real risks involved are often less apparent to the audience than what is accepted by those involved.
Risk involves cost, or perceived cost, which is why stunts are daring. The important thing with a stunt is to try. To commit to the stunt.
On a personal level, the risks for me in undertaking this initiative are significant. But it is the vulnerability involved in discussing failure which has been the most difficult part of the stunt of me. Physical challenges are one thing, and from the outset I have been concerned whether my own level of fitness was sufficient to complete each leg of the running, let alone the entire journey. But it has been the risk involved in discussing vulnerability which has most held me back from engaging more fully with media about this journey. Now when confronted by a relatively small funding challenge that I cannot resolve within my own resources, I am forced to dig a bit deeper in committing to this stunt.
This is where deep personal commitment is needed. Exposing myself as imperfect, to risk the embarrassing and public possibility of failure, but to try anyway. That is what takes guts. Running is comparatively easy.
This is where courage is found. Deep personal commitment is needed to extend yourself into those places that you would prefer not to go. The imagination gap takes courage to enter, and right now we need the support of a select group of ‘bridge builders’ to do this.
It is a trite expression, but worth repeating in relation to our willingness to help improve the delivery of child survival: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
Oxfam explore communicating poverty through film. This is a great initiative shared by my mate Ted featuring a short film: Bang for Your Buck.
In Burundi, Africa, a grenade costs the same price as a pint of beer.
Check out this clip and share it to rate the video. It is a story worth telling.
How can we use creative expression as a way of communicating complex themes, particularly to an audience whose attention is difficult to reach? The audience I am addressing through the 10 City Bridge Run is the leaders of the G20 member states. This is about collective action and collaboration- it is not something I can do on my own, and it represents the voice of many individuals coming together.
How might we best capture ‘human bridges’ on photograph for use as a pictorial petition?
Ridley Scott gives good instruction in this clip below titled Life In A Day. It was part of a collaborative video project he started earlier this year.
Scott gives two good pieces of advice in telling a story through capturing an image:
- It must be personal.
- Capture what appeals to you as the photographer/curator.
The 10 City Bridge Run is about participation. Not a spectator sport. It is about bridge-building. During the 30 days that I am running I will be seeking 24,000 photographs of ‘human bridges’ which will then be collated and sent to each leader of the G20 member states as a pictorial petition to appeal for action to reduce child mortality as a way of influencing extreme poverty.
What we do matters. It is not about waiting for the G20 countries to act- that is largely outside of our immediate influence. We can determine our actions, and make them meaningful.
Build the bridge. This is a powerful metaphor. How are you going to tell your story of a human bridge and what this means to make a difference?