Army

What’s The Plan, Stan?

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Matt with friends in Timor Leste
Matt with friends in Timor Leste

What’s the plan, Stan?” With these words, the familiar, raspy voice of one of my senior soldiers would ask what was happening next.

The radio squawked a low, crackly hum breaking the silence of the bush surrounding an unseen force of camouflaged men crouching patiently nearby. A dispassionate look on his face was challenged only by the steely glare of his eyes.

Rifle in hand, he looked relaxed, waiting for me to work out where the plan we just received was to take us next. Dragging back on a roll-your-own cigarette he held between his fingers, the lit end facing in toward his palm, he watched as I placed a map on a cleared space on the ground at the centre of the our small team that had gathered together.

That was then. An army works on command and control, orders and reports, and when it is at its best is like a finely-tuned machine with a mind of its own, responsive to any stimulus.

But this is now. The 10 City Bridge Run was a ridiculous stunt to frame a conversation that is shortly to follow. I ran 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries to gather attention so as to open this conversation asking “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

Unlike the army, there is no authority given for me to do this. I just made it up and did it. Much of the time I was making up the journey not long before taking the next step.

It was only made possible because of the support of a community which had joined in, each with their different reasons to see th quest arrive at its destination which is the Design Forum.

The 10 City Bridge Run is driven by passion, imagination, leadership, vision, inspiration, collaboration and trust. It might have seemed that the journey to date was a one-man journey, but in fact it was a collective effort.

More so, the Design Forum which follows beginning next week is all about collaborations and collective effort. Individuals provide a background to the focus on a community which grows in the centre of this picture. It’s about us.

Shortly, I will post my thoughts about how the Design Forum might unfold. And then together we will navigate the way forwards.

Who is ‘we’ exactly? The ‘we’ is the team that is making this happen. I am part of the team, and you can be too if you want, but I can’t make that decision for you.

This is an invitation for you to join that partnership, this collaboration, our community. Upend the M and me becomes we. But if you do join the team, I want you to know one thing. In as much as you might be looks to me for inspiration for the next steps that follow, I will just as likely be asking you how it should unfold by asking your thoughts to answer the challenge before us: “What’s the plan, Stan?”

Good News For A Change

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Matt with friends in Timor Leste
Catching up with some enthusiastic youth in Los Palos, East Timor, about 10 months before the SIEV14 incident

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 themeĀ 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.