Inspiration

Now, Not Later.

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Photo of Hans Rosling: Challenging people’s preconceived ideas (TED)

“If you could live forever, would you?” This is the opening question in an exchange between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Larry King.

An interview between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Larry King, shared by my friend Nat, and originally posted by an intriguing personality and photographer called Hicham Bennir.

“The urgency of accomplishment, the need to express love, now, not later.” This statement was the reason for doing given by Neil deGrasse Tyson. He goes onto say that “the knowledge that I am going to die that creates the focus to being alive.”

Here is the interview here:

I thought those comments were poignant in the wake of hearing news that I listened to Hans Rosling had died.

I never met Hans in person. Maybe you have never heard of him until today. Hans was and remains an inspirational person who shaped my thinking on the journey that became the 10 City Bridge Run. Back in 2010, he wrote to me with these comments:

I wish you good luck Matt.
The seemingly impossible is indeed often possible, but be aware that the impossible is impossible. It takes a lot of wisdom to see the differance between the impossible and the seemingly impossible. We follow you with interest!
Hans Rosling (17 September 2010)

Those words from him were a source of great motivation. It was in the early days of this epic quest in which I had undertook to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities in 10 countries. The purpose of the running was to create a stunt that might allow a conversation to be opened. That conversation was to focus on a question asking: “How might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

In fact for the last few weeks, I have been meaning to get back into this blog, because this year I intend to finally convene these conversations which now have taken a broader view beyond just child survival to consider the larger issue of the Sustainable Development Goals. I had in the back of my mind the thought that I could report back to Hans with news of a completed journey after the conversation had been joined.

Now, it is not possible to share this news with Hans, but the conversation must still continue. Hans’ legacy will be seen in many different ways. The renewed motivation to pick up this challenge is but one small expression of that.

To recap, here are some thoughts from Hans:

Here is Hans speaking at a recent TED event with his son Ola.

We can’t afford to wait until “the right time” to do stuff. And more importantly, delaying is costly when it comes to a better world. We must act now.

Thanks for the inspiration, Hans.

I’m back with a fresh resolve, continuing this journey. It’s time to be the difference that makes a difference. Now, not later.

Let’s get to work.

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Dear Kevin…

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img_6547Dear Kevin,

For the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about your recent disappointment. You passion for the top job was clear. Maybe too clear.

I know the impact of unwelcome news can be demoralising. No one likes to be let down by the institution.

It has taken me a while to respond because I didn’t know what to make of your expression of grievance by turning to the media as a direct channel to express your sense that this was somehow unfair.

I know some people will disagree with my opinion here. I know that you were passionate to help the global community in the top job at the United Nations. And you clearly have a lot to offer.

Your strength of having a sharp insight into the dynamics of international affairs is well regarded, and no doubt this would have been beneficial for the myriad of challenges tackled by the United Nations, not the least of which are the wicked problems which the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals seek to address.

I have an interest in where the United Nations goes because I, in my own small way, am trying to contribute to game changing impact relating to child survival. Some might say and with good reason that to date I have been unsuccessful in my pursuit, but I continue to see what I difference I might make.

As I was reflecting on your grievance, expressed so publicly through the media, I remembered the seeing collateral that the Australian Government was using a few years ago when it was lobbying for a non-permanent seat of the United Nations Security Council. Some this collateral use photos showing the work of many of our Australian veterans who were on deployments under the banner of the United Nations. Many sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen deployed away from their family, often in danger, for long periods of time. Privation is part and parcel of service to country. And yes, we were all volunteers.

And it made me think about how some veterans feel. Many veterans feel completely abandoned by the government after they take off the uniform. And often these feelings held by veterans are not unjustified.

Often the grievances the veterans have relates to government decisions or government policy. Certainly, this often is a matter of interpretation by the veterans involved, but when people have given so much, aren’t they entitled to have this opportunity to express a grievance?

Sadly enough, most of the time their complaints seem to be stonewalled by bureaucracy. Or they get treated like just another number, their surname the unremarkable heading of a file or a letter. There is no sense of dignity reflecting the uniform they once wore in the service of country.

The military culture can be unforgiving at times. Often, in the face of a complaint or grievance the advice from superior officers is to get over it. Suck it up. Move on. Deal with it.

I have listened to the exasperated comments of many colleagues, and more other veterans who I don’t know but who have been brought into my circle of friends through social media such as Facebook. Their complaint is genuine, even if the technicality of their grievance has no basis according to government policy. I know this, and I suspect you know this too.

Worse still, it is these unanswered complaints held by many that I suspect has often been a large factor in many veterans deciding to take their own lives through suicide. Such a tragic waste and loss.

I mentioned that I am committed to making change about child survival. I am spending a lot of time thinking about my approach, and am writing about my experience in the form of a memoir that I think will be of value to others. This memoir will also point to a way forward. In the meantime, I am training up for a marathon at the end of October in Washington DC where I will focus my energies on raising awareness for the need to improve mental health among veterans. As I get more experience in having success in raising awareness in an area I am familiar with, I will deploy that knowledge into this pressing problem of child survival.

It hasn’t been easy, but I think back to the number of veterans who are suffering in silence and know that more needs to be done.

I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t use your platform in a more constructive way after you became aware that it seemed that the rug had been pulled from under your feet in your endeavours for the top job of the United Nations. There are so many problems bigger than your own grievance. Why did it need to come down to political point scoring? Why back yourself? Even if you were right, was there not a better way to have used that opportunity better?

And I think about all those photos of veterans used as collateral for campaigning to the United Nations that wove into your story to strengthen your platform for credibility as a contender for the top job. Many of those photos of veterans who now suffer in silence. Have you thought they feel let down, used and abandoned too? They have no platform to go to the tabloids.

We need better leadership in Australia. This begins with me and you. It is a responsibility for all of us.

I’m sorry for your disappointment. Suck it up. I hope you might contact me as there are more important fights that need your help.

Training Schedule- Week 2

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Week 2 of the lead-in training schedule ahead of the Marine Corps Marathon to be held in Washington D.C. on 30 October supporting The Mission Continues.

Day Date Load
Day 7 Monday, 12 September 2016 8 km
Day 8 Tuesday, 13 September 2016 6 x 200 m,
then 3 x 400 m,
then 3 x 800 m
Day 9 Wednesday, 14 September 2016 8 km
Day 10 Thursday, 15 September 2016 5 x 1000 m,
then 3 x 400 m,
then 6 x 200 m
Day 11 Friday, 16 September 2016 Rest
Day 12 Saturday, 17 September 2016 27 km
Day 13 Sunday, 18 September 2016 Rest

And How About Today?

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ruok-skywritingRUOK Day has come and gone. Let’s all get back to watching the rugby…

I know, I know. This is not a binary choice either way. It is good to be critical, and it is also good to try. You never know the consequence of your actions.

This post is about RUOK Day- it was earlier this week, and you can read my post that I posted then here.

The point is that all too often ‘raising awareness’ ends once the enthusiasm from the celebrity laced event concludes. It becomes namedropping collateral, humblebrag for another time. Or is it?

Yes, I jest. Sort of. My point is though that if we care, then we should do more than just be satisfied with a minimalist approach to slacktivism.

This blog is about improving child survival. My earlier post was about improving mental health among veterans. Where is the connection?

This is what is on my mind: too often there is great enthusiasm to talk about an initiative, especially among politicians. After the press brief, it is back to business as usual. Not for those who are in the thick of it. Not for veterans struggling. And importantly not in the remote villages where child mortality is an unwanted blight.

No, while these things still prevail, I am not ok. And neither should you be.

Update on Design Forum

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imageThe principle reason for conducting the 10 City Bridge Run was to shape a conversation to improve the delivery of child survival with a locus at a Design Forum, or series of Design Forums.

In many respects, this is an absurd goal. What part of arrogance, hubris or just plain stupidity leads me to think that an initiative began from an idea about running could actually make a difference?

From an alternate perspective, is it also worth asking whether we are content to live inconsequential lives obscured by the dull light of mediocrity? There is nothing wrong with ordinary, after all it is the canvas upon which the extraordinary is painted.

I believe that it is worth going for game changing goals that show some glimmer of making a significant difference for good, even if how that might be achieved is not readily apparent.

Perhaps my biggest mistake to date has been trying to rush things. I should have been more patient with what I seeking to achieve, and to be more focused on a single objective rather than trying to boil the ocean in a single afternoon. While I might receive extra points for effort, the results have been unimpressive.

It was good to visit the Dongdaemun Design Plaza before I left Seoul, and confirm that I would be able to conduct a gathering on 24 October to launch the book Beyond The Backswing and point to the execution of the Design Forum that are yet to occur. On 24 October, the event will be informal, and best to include people who are already in Seoul. I wouldn’t advise people to fly in to Seoul for the event, but it will be possible to open participation through online streaming somehow.

It would be an informal gathering to look ahead to a time in 2017 when a more deliberately planned Design Forum might be held in Seoul and possibly other locations as well.

The advantage of turning my attention to the needs of improved mental health among veterans is that it helps to frame what works with an issue that I am familiar with, before tackling with more vigour a large and more complex issue of child survival. The other point to note is that this needs to be approached with a view to achieving collective action which is more about the group than the individual.

There is a date to prepare for, and in the meantime the book Life Bridge can begin to be assembled. It is slow movement forward, but a necessary pace. As always, I’m looking for good ideas and guidance as to how to do this better. If you have any thoughts, please let me know.

RUOK?

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img_7611Well, are you?

RUOK? A campaign which began in 2009 as an initiative of an Australian whose father was lost to suicide. The rationale is that many more people consider or attempt suicide that actually are successful, and that by having one day a year to ask this question it might raise awareness to help those who are struggling.

In some respects, RUOK? and the 22 Push-up Challenge are examples of “slacktivism”. An intervention which requires the bare minimum of effort. The collective effort is seen as the benefit of this intervention.

Many people ask whether this is of any value. It is a fair question.

Consider this: if someone is really struggling and you ask them “RUOK?” can you really expect for them to give you an honest answer. Our default towards avoiding pain and shame is that we will mostly brush off the question with a polite smile, and possibly even the even result in a stinging sense of alienation because the question seems to be so superficial.

So what is the alternative? Is it better not to ask?

Derek Weida is an American Iraq War veteran whose leg was amputated as a result of injuries while sustain on duty. He is is skilfully provocative with his posts on Facebook. Far from just seeking attention, I really believe he cares about what he talks about. Recently, he gave a lot of focus to ranting about the 22 Push Up Challenge. His view that people we far too obsessed with the number 22. Rather than being focused on strengths, it pushed us into a culture of victimhood. You can read more about this and see his video on this post at Task And Purpose.

Similarly, is RUOK? pointing to the hole which someone might be silently suffering in, rather than constructively building a way out? We could discuss this all day and not come to an unified response.

What do you think? Much like the 22 Push-Up Challenge, I believe that the RUOK? initiative is good, but it can’t stop there. There must be some action orientated activity following the question, often involving taking time to listen to another person.

Part of the reason I have been asking people to join me vicariously in the training for the marathon by adding “+10” to my daily post is that it gives a sense of the daily attention we need to bring to helping those who might need our support. It takes effort.

This current training and marathon is associated with raising awareness for the need to improve mental health among veterans. It is real, not just some social experiment.

I believe that the learnings from this will help in our understanding of what makes a difference in other areas too. I am doing this now because I care about the health of veterans, partly because I am a veteran myself. I also know that the benefits we realise from working out what works will help in this overarching pursuit that seeks to improve child survival.

Enough of the big ideas. I just want to finish by asking one question. Yes, I’m asking you. RUOK?

Blithesome Our Hearts Are

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img_7155Tomorrow I begin the journey back to Australia. It has been a long time away, and a productive trip. There is a lot more I could write about this recent time away, but will save it for now. Here, I want to mention briefly a reunion I am attending for my high school in Melbourne.

I’m looking forward to attending, although must admit to being a little avoidant earlier on. I am not a big fan of reunions like these most of the time. I don’t have a nostalgic view of school, and if I am honest will say that there were many things about school that I didn’t enjoy or didn’t capitalise on being of my naivety at that time. But that is just how it is.

I am looking forward to hearing what people have been doing. Another reason I am interested in the gathering is that it marks a milestone of sorts for me. The 9 City Bridge Run, from which the 10 City Bridge Run emerged, had its genesis because of a two informal dinners I attended with two school mates (the same guys both times). At these dinners, we learnt through sharing news of the sad deaths through suicide of some of our school colleagues. That was a beginning point that would subsequently end up as the 10 City Bridge Run.

I am in the last stages of completing the draft manuscript for the book Beyond The Backswing which details in part the journey undertaken through the 10 City Bridge Run. I hope to celebrate the fact that it is completed with my mates from school on Friday night, knowing that without those conversations with my school mates that this initiative might never have begun.

Strong like its pillars, the school stands behind us…