Hope

Change The World

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Street graffiti from the East Village near the dosshouse I was staying at in New York when I finished the epic running stunt earlier this year. Inspiration is everywhere!

What are we to make of Mark Zuckerberg?

If you have 20 minutes spare, I would highly recommend you take a moment to watch the video below where he delivers an address to Tsinghua University.

For me, what is intriguing is not the wealth or influence of Markey Z, or even that he has mastered language skills in Mandarin and speaks with aplomb to an engaged audience. I was really inspired by how much enjoyment, how much satisfaction, he is showing for his ability to being able to communicate and connect with the audience.

He speaks about how when he first build Facebook how he dreamt that one day there would be a similar tool built that would connect the global community. He says that at the time it never crossed his mind that he was in the process of building that platform.

We don’t know the impact of our actions. Often, we will never see their impact as the ripples extend far beyond our sphere of influence in ways we will never know. But what this video does confirm is that for change to occur, action must first take place, and that action must be guided with a sense of purpose. For Mark, he shows his humanness by expressing a desire that everyone should just care more.

It sounds simplistic, but what a formula. First decide on what you want to do, then care radically in such a way that the way forward manifests itself out of our efforts to realise our purpose.

This is no time to be spooked by large corporates or big institutions. If the answer was known to this question framing this epic journey, someone would have done it already. It is incredulous that after so much money has been spent, so much need remains. But this is no time for complaint. Rather, lets elevate the intensity of caring more, and act with intention to change the world.

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Hope Is The Consequence Of Action

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sunrise over manhattanThis has been a time of inspiration. Perhaps this is unwarranted, because it also has felt like a time when the sands of opportunity seemed to be avoiding my grasp as they slipped away through my fingers.

Trying something, and it not working. It is a very common experience. A quintessentially human experience. Is it strange that we have forgotten all of the failures from the early years of life during a time when walking might have seem to have been an impossibility? Perhaps it is stranger that we can get so hung up on a point in time when it would appear a plan has ended in failure. Not that we can remember, but if we were to think back to childhood, we would know that through perseverance we would eventually overcome.

I’ve been caught up in the words of a Brazilian philosopher called Roberto Unger recently. The title of this blog comes from a quote of his that I like:

Change requires neither saintliness nor genius. What it does require is the conviction of the incomparable value of life. Nothing should matter more to us than the attempt to grasp our life while we have it, and to awaken from the slumber of routine, of compromise and prostration, so that we may die only once. Hope is not the condition or cause of action. Hope is the consequence of action. And those who fail in hope should act, practically or conceptually, so that they may hope.”

This post is an update about an epic quest I undertook in 2010 and have yet to complete. I called that quest the 10 City Bridge Run. The purpose of the quest was to address an ambitious question through a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” The method was all the more ambitious to the point of ridiculous: I proposed a stunt to highlight the conversation about child survival where I would run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries.

Long story short, I have completed the stunt, but not yet done justice to the conversation. And in between these two events there is a book I am yet to publish and send to my supporters. That book is to be called Life Bridge, and will feature a photo essay with 100 pictures of human bridges to illustrate that it is through our connections that change can take place.

I am very aware of ways this could have been simpler, or ways the execution to date could have been more effective. It has been lumpy in parts, but that too is part of the journey.

And so that brings me to this point about failure, about inspiration, and about hope where I began the post. A reasonable person would at this point in time cut their losses and apologise saying that it was all too much trouble, and that they were not up to the task. As I write that, I know that I cannot accept this as failure, and hear the words of George Bernard Shaw. You know the ones: “the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.”

And so yes, I have been staring down failure as I interpret what this journey has meant.

Staring down failure because there is inspiration. Inspiration from the fresh initiative called the Sustainable Development Goals which will replace the United Nations Millennium Development Goals when they expire at the end of this year. Inspiration because I know there is purpose in holding this conversation, and that hardship is part and parcel of trying to achieve difficult things. And inspiration from a conversation I had in Newcastle recently where someone challenged me to look again at what I had achieved.

Let me explain this incident from Newcastle briefly. Back in 2009, I ran what was the initiative that preceded this 10 City Bridge Run initiative. In 2009, I called it the 9 City Bridge Run, and it was undertaken in response to the suicides of many friends as an effort to show that resilience and community wellbeing could be counterpoints to the conversation that was prevalent about depression and suicide. Long story short, that journey was personally a success, but a complete failure in attempting to have some impact on an issue which I considered to be important.

Unger refreshingly argues that change can be piecemeal, fragmentary, gradual and experimental. His words help to reframe our perspective: “we should not associate radical change with wholesale change, and gradual change with inconsequential change.”

The strength in Unger’s words to me is this: “To grasp what it can become” is necessary to embrace is we are to overcome the failure of structural imagination. To be sure, I have take Unger’s words out of the context they were written for, but I believe that remain entirely relevant to this situation.

And so from that conversation in Newcastle, I realised a few things. And this is where you come into the picture.

I realised that my efforts have been too much me pushing. As valiant as that might be, it leaves little room for the ‘us’ to truly collaborate on this epic quest.

I realised that concluding this quest through the publication of the book Life Bridge and the holding of a series of Design Forum to address this conversation about child survival required more input from others. It was possible, but it wasn’t just a matter of pushing harder from where I am now. I need to relent a little to invite others in to this space.

I also realised that what I achieved in 2009 and in the recent 10 City Bridge Run was worth exploring further. And this has pointed me to the next steps. And I’ll come to that shortly at the end of this blog.

Mao famously had a quote to ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ which was actually a ruse to out the intellectuals within Chinese society so that their influence could be purged by “enticing the snakes out of their caves.” I think that Mao was definitely onto something. Not the crackdown of dissidents, but an openness to others being involved.

One of the last acts of the 10 City Bridge Run involved me delivering a letter to The Hon Julie Bishop MP, Australia’s Foreign Minister, asking her to be the champion for this initiative. Her staff replied in time, and I recorded a video when I was in Korea earlier this year just after receiving their message. Watch it below:

And this is where you come in. I’m asking for some help. I’m inviting 100 people to be our champions of change, to pick up the slack where Julie Bishop is unable to put her shoulder to the wheel. Returning to Unger, I note his words: “Great ideas are not beyond the reach of ordinary people.” So please note that I am looking for 100 champions of change, and you could be one. There will be more on that in a later blog post.

But here is the final comment, and the point of this blog post. Hope is the consequence of action. What I am proposing is to return to my initiative from 2009, and next year in March 2016, to run 16 runs in 16 towns across NSW in 16 successive day, and in each of those towns it is conducted where there is a group, individual or organisation that is prepared to host a Design Forum. The issue will be the same one I championed in 2009 which was to address the taboo issue of depression and suicide. The reason for this activity in March is to provide a rehearsal for the big event in September/October 2016.

So then in mid-September through until mid-late October over the course of a month, I undertake to run 17 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 17 cities across more than 10 countries. In both the March and the September/October dates, I will be inviting others to run with me, and more about that later. And importantly for the September/October event, in each of the cities, and in other cities even where running doesn’t take place, I will be asking people to organise these Design Forum for me. Why 17? Because that is the new number of Sustainable Development Goals. What about child survival? That remains a key focus, but also we will be taking a holistic focus in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Many friends have given me very good counsel about my execution of the 10 City Bridge Run, noting my shortfall on a reliable team, social media strategy and media coverage. Those are all very good comments, and I completely accept the need for improvement in those areas as well as many other. We now have an opportunity to get this right, but I seriously need the help from others.

We are at a Turning Point where Hope is the consequence of Action. And to achieve this Turning Point, it is necessary for us to take The Next Step, together.

Strove

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“Warm your hands with the invisible fire of hope!!!” Anonymous New York scribe on New York’s Mott Street in Chinatown

I friend reminded me of the humourous epitaph written by Walter Savage Landor on the weekend:

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.

Nature I loved, and, next to nature, Art;

I warm’d both hands before the fire of Life;

It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

Strove is the past tense of to strive which means “to make great efforts to achieve or obtain something”. 

Hard work and the ability to persevere are their own reward quite often. After completing the first phase of the 10 City Bridge Run, having run an impossible journey around the world. I can say that I strove.

The Design Forum which mark the next phase in this epic quest are an opportunity for us to strive together.

Landor was most likely being idiosyncratically facetious with his short poem, and without getting lost in borrowing from the meaning of the poem, I can say that I want to strive with all of you, as the issue we are contending for is well worth our strife: improving the delivery of child survival.

Last week, I stumbled across a graffiti scrawled outside one of the many Chinese markets on Mott Street in New York. I don’t know if the author intentionally departed from Landor, but I think his inspiration is one we can share in together moving forward. You can see it at the photo on this page, and it reads:

Warm your hands with the invisible fire of hope!!!

So, please join me. Let us strive together, so that we can look back and say that we strove for something worth our strife.

Hope for the vulnerable: A Christmas reflection

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Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...
Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbilical cord has not yet been cut.

The story of Christmas as it is told is a little bizarre, even completely weird. Allegedly, if we are to believe the Christmas narrative, it involves a bunch of angels appearing and delivering messages, first to two women who were relatives, and then later to a group of shepherds minding their own flocks.

Whether you believe this narrative or not, I think it provides a story of hope for those who are most vulnerable – newborn babies entering the world. Not just newborn babies, but in this story a baby who was also homeless, born into poverty, and into the care of a young and ill-prepared mother.

Life is such a fragile and precious gift, and we too often just take it all for granted. For me, the Christmas message this year is about the possibility for hope and transformation in all of our lives through the birth of a baby called Jesus. In particular, this year I am thinking about how this relates to the calamity of child mortality – is it realistic that we might we also claim a sense of hope and transformation there are well?

I often think that the book which records this Christmas message, the Bible, is often greatly understated leaving much to the imagination. We could do worse than echo the hope given to a bunch of vulnerable shepherds, who responded in this brief vignette recorded in an historical account from a physician called Luke:

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about”.