RUOK 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.
The 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.
Well, 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?
Tomorrow 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…
This blog was established in 2010 as part of this initiative called the 10 City Bridge Run to ask how we might use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival.
Some of you might have noticed that I am now talking about the need to improve the mental wellbeing among veterans, more than issues relating to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
What is this about? Have I lost focus? Is this a sign of me being temperamental? The answer to both of those last two questions is a definite ‘no’.
The 10 City Bridge Run remains squarely focused on child survival. I have realised over the past years (yes, years…how ridiculous is that. I never thought this would consume so much of my time, but at the same time I have no complaint. It is worth my time and energy) that engaging with the institutions and issues surrounding child survival involves more than just throwing a couple of information nights with a little bit of ‘design thinking’ thrown in and reading couple of books by rock star authors.
In order to engage in this process of change, I had to develop my ability to better understand collaboration and social impact. It is one thing to have an opinion about these things that you can crow about over a latte with friends, but it is another matter entirely to put it into practice.
Part of the decision to embrace the Marine Corps Marathon under the umbrella of the citizen-led initiative which I have called the 10 City Bridge Run is to help me to improve my ability to be useful in these areas.
Additionally, it has also taken me back to the roots from where the 10 City Bridge Run began which was an initiative aimed at addressing suicide and depression.
I am learning more, and consequently becoming more effective at helping to stimulate game changing impact.
I would be interested in your thoughts. Tell me if you are satisfied with this apparent detour, or whether you think it is an unnecessary distraction. Either way, I hope you will continue to follow me and challenge me with your comments and questions which itself is a much needed form of support.
The video below talks about my motivation to get involved:
Those who have been following might know that I am training for the Marine Corps Marathon to occur on 30 October in Washington D.C.
I find the discipline of following a training schedule difficult at times, and made easier if I can link it to another routine. In this case, it is a 10 minute stretch and abdominal routine to keep me limber for running.
I am asking for you help, in fact it is an invitation to join with me vicariously as I prepare for the marathon. Will you join with me every day through until 30 October for your own 10 minutes of some physical activity that is good for your own wellbeing? It could be meditation, walking the block, or dancing in the lounge room. If I know you are with me, it gives me more motivation to stick to the schedule.
More than this, it is an expression of community, and together with regular physical activity, these are both things that are good for improving mental health.
Please watch the video I made the other day for more details below. I hope I can count on your participation.
Thanks to those who have stepped up already and let me know with a “+10” on my posts. You inspire me! Thank you!
My good friend Ledy asked a fair question: “what exactly is the linkage between what and why you do what you do?”
It is a good question and deserves an answer.
In this case, I think a simple answer is best, and I draw inspiration from one of my heroes and a guiding light for the 10 City Bridge Run who frames one of the key chapters in the document features on the landing page for the 10 City Bridge Run website.
Jim Yong Kim is presently the President of the World Bank, and a thoroughly impressive individual. I have never met him in person, but I have consumed much of what he has written and spoken.
In one of his addresses at Georgetown University he describes the underpinning of the organisation which he co-founded called Partners In Health as having a preferential option for the poor.
It is a simple statement, but I think it best captures an answer which satisfies Ledy’s question.
This is the linkage between what I do and why I do it: to have a preferential option for the poor.
The first two blog posts to this update described where the 10 City Bridge Run initiative came from, and then how I intend to proceed to complete the journey through the Design Forum and the book Life Bridge.
The posts spoke broadly about these issues, and didn’t describe a plan to achieve these objectives in any detail as such. And so we come to this third update which I hope might help to address some of those queries.
Some of you might know that I previously served as an officer in the Australian Army, and am a veteran owing to the deployments I was sent on during that time. Issues of veteran health are something that matters to me. Veterans health is a complex issue. Too often it is reduced down to something like “the government sends people off to war and doesn’t take good enough care of them when they come home.” There is some truth to this, but it is also disturbingly suggestive of a victimhood culture that I don’t think rightly reflects the dignity of those who served their country. This of course if my opinion, and others will have a different view and might even heatedly disagree.
One of the disturbing trends has been mental health among veterans, which I believe is a function of transitioning from the military into life outside the military. I don’t know that you can ever really describe veterans as plain old citizens because they will always have a particular outlook on life that no one else will really understand unless they have too served. And it is not like we are robots. Everyone is different, but there is a trend of alienation which is disturbing.
Partly because of this trend, some people have suicided. Again, the reasons for this are many and complex, and so it is not sufficient to have a linear logic that makes correlation between veterans and suicide. I think we can all agree that it is a tragic and unacceptable situation.
While I was serving in the military, I had the sobering duty of investigating a number of suicides. All were tragic.
Whether the military system was at fault is something that can be argued and argued. I have an opinion, but because of the sensitive nature of the issue this is not the forum to discuss it, and it won’t be an opinion I will be offering to my friends, just in case you want to ask.
A figure has emerged from the US where it is alleged that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide a day. Admittedly, their military is very large, but even so this is outrageous. Particularly for a community who ought to have greater reserves of resilience and camaraderie, why should this be the case?
I had been thinking about this situation for some time, and coincidentally my good friend who lives in Washington D.C. at the same time invited me to take part in the Marine Corps Marathon supporting the American charity The Mission Continues. I had a lot of admiration for The Mission Continues, and while their efforts are focused on the US, the reach of their activity by example of what is possible extends globally. We can learn from best practice wherever it is found.
The timing of the marathon was good for me. I was wanting to reconcile my disappointing performance (in my eyes) during the 10 City Bridge Run with a subsequent run, and the launch of the Design Forum would occur around that time. Additionally, there was some crossover with the focus on the 9 City Bridge Run, and additionally I felt there was still more I could do with what I had learnt from that experience on the issue of depression and suicide.
I am also drawn to a big idea which Clay Shirky who is a favourite thinker and author of mine expressed called ‘cognitive surplus’. You can see a video from Clay Shirky on the home page to the 10 City Bridge Run site where he talks about collaboration and the role of institutions. Cognitive surplus argues that as a collective community, we have a capacity of social capital and intellectual rigour that could be applied to worthy projects rather than just watching TV. I believe that the issue of cognitive surplus is at the root of addressing this issue of child survival, and I also believe it is key to addressing mental health and a sense of purpose among veterans after they transition from the military. Additionally, I believe there is unexplored potential to examine the benefits that the veteran community might bring to issues that tackle extreme poverty, such as child survival. These are hunches and need to be teased out more.
Not that I need a watertight reason for every single decision I make in my personal life, but consequently I decided to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon supporting The Mission Continues.
The marathon gives me a very real deadline, and also the challenge of how am I going to make that work. (To date, I still have had no luck with the magic carpet, and will need to work out how to afford this travel yet). It provides a good framing timeline around which to orient the publication of the book Beyond The Backswing, as well as to announce how the Design Forum will unfold. In short, I see these things occurring on 24 October in Seoul marking UN Day. If you want more clarity, please leave a comment and I can answer your questions.
While I was in New York in July this year, I was hoping to have completed the manuscript for the book Beyond The Backswing. It took longer than I anticipated, and resulted in me heading out to Newark where I had spent a fair amount of time about 10 years ago while I was hanging out with some friends who were working in that city. I figured it would be cheaper to stay in Newark than New York, and might also be a place with less distractions.
Unexpectedly, I befriended a number of locals who sewed an idea for how the book Life Bridge might be curated. I am still giving this some thought, but I believe it will work, and is also timely following the conclusion of the Marine Corps Marathon.
As a consequence, I hope to achieve my objectives for the 10 City Bridge Run and also bring some important discussion to this troubling issue of veterans health. This blog post is only an overview rather than a detailed plan, but if you would like to know more, please leave a comment.
I value your feedback, and hope you might leave a comment to say what you thought about this update as well as the proposed journey ahead. Of course, if you want to know how to get more involved, I would also like to hear from you.
The entire journey I have been on has been risk-filled. Precarious at every step.
Mostly, this is a reflection on my financial capacity to undertake the next step at each point. It is not as though there has been one or two dilemmas where I had to decide whether to continue or not. In fact, the whole journey has been like this. A high level of risk has been normal.
I don’t like to talk about this too much because it enters into territory that is intensely personal for me. So much so that I am less inclined to even clarify what I mean by that very statement. You will just have to take my word for it. I’m sure you can join the dots.
I concluded the running stunt, as I mentioned in the earlier blog post. I was dissatisfied with my performance, and for some time had considered that I would need to do it again such was my disapproval of my own achievement. Slowly, I came to recognise that I had completed the stunt. It might not have been as dramatic as I might have wanted, but there it was. It was done.
Some of the things that were not done well include my use of publicity and media, inclusive of social media. This was largely a function of my reticence to speak about my experiences. I felt uneasy about putting myself out there in front in public, partly because I knew there were critics who might be looking for some hidden agenda, and partly because I didn’t feel qualified to be representing the issue. After a little time and soul searching, I have come to terms with both these issues. Firstly, to hell with the critics. And secondly, I am entitled to my own opinion, and have as much right to set about making a dent in the universe as anyone else (to borrow the encouragement from Steve Jobs which was recorded in an early interview he made).
I still have some way to go, but I am getting there. Every time I post a blog or share a video is another training day for me, another lesson, more practice. I want to communicate with you, and I also know that by doing so I will improve my ability to better articulate that which I seek to achieve. I owe you, the audience, a considerable debt of gratitude for allowing me this indulgence to improve my skills in the service of helping others less fortunate. Thank you.
While the running stunt was concluded, the two key outputs for the 10 City Bridge Run remain incomplete: the Design Forum, and the book Life Bridge. The Design Forum is where this question of child survival will be addressed, and the book Life Bridge is a photo essay of 100 photos of human bridges to communicate the central theme to this initiative.
After completing the running stunt, I wondered how I might get closer to completing these two outstanding tasks. I could have easily slapped together a publication and posted that out, as well as convening a glorified town hall meeting and calling it a Design Forum. But that is not my style. The issue deserves more from me, and the supporters deserve more although the cost of doing so is that there is a time delay in the delivery of product which I consider to be less than acceptable. I feel rather sheepish about these delays, and I have also accepted this as how it is rather than just giving up and saying “well, I tried…”
Toward the middle of last year, I began meeting with an elderly lady who lives near where I get my dry-cleaning done. It soon became obvious that she benefited from my company as a visitor to talk, and I benefited from the role of mentor that she unknowingly began to fill. We shared many interests, namely Papua New Guinea, and would meet on a weekly basis. I would bring coffee and cake, and we would sit together for an hour or so and have a good talk.
The outcome of this was that she provoked me to start writing. I began with a few paragraphs and a series of notes, and then before too long it was a page. When I was happy with what I had written, I asked if she wouldn’t mind hearing my work. She was happy to do so, and with all the graces of an refined lady listened politely with an encouraging smile as I read this page and a half. I concluded, and she dispassionately asked “is that it?” as if to say that she was expecting much more. I explained that it was just the beginning, and described where I thought it might go. With a cheeky smile she leant forward and threw down the challenge. “Get on with it!” she exclaimed in an amused fashion.
And so I have. That one and a half pages is now sitting at a near completed narrative consisting of 100 short stories that run together in a memoir titled “Beyond The Backswing”. The book explores the necessity of failure in the epic pursuit of game changing impact, and more than just simply narrating my own experiences I place these into a context that I believe will be useful for many to read.
The benefit of writing this book is that it has enabled me to develop a strong sense of clarity to describe how and what the Design Forum and the book Life Bridge ought to be.
The stunt is behind me, and thankfully because of the encouragement of Paddy, the culmination of this endeavour will soon be realised. First, the book Beyond The Backswing will be published, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about this in the coming weeks.
The next blog update talks about an unexpected pivot through The Mission Continues.
After some recess from the blog, it is well time to continue this narrative.
The 10 City Bridge Run was conceived in 2010 to help address the problem faced by high child mortality. It emerged from lessons learnt following an initiative called the 9 City Bridge Run. The 9 City Bridge Run was focused on using resilience and wellbeing as a counterpoint to depression and suicide.
In many respects, the two issues faced by the 9 City Bridge Run and the 10 City Bridge Run were distinct and unrelated. At the same time, these were two issues linked by a similar thread of design and social impact.
I wrote a discussion paper after the 9 City Bridge Run. If you want a copy of an abstract from the paper, leave a comment below and I will forward you one and point you to where it is located. For a range of reasons, I thought that I had left the issue of suicide and depression behind, and was cracking on with addressing child survival as much as I was able.
It is worth noting that my efforts in both cases were well-intentioned, albeit Quixotic. What is one to do? Give up because they don’t have enough knowledge, or desist because the method chosen is not entirely workable at first?
I had sought to partner with large institutional organisations before committing to action, but I found that their capacity to embrace the sense of change I was looking to find was mired because of their obsession with messaging and fundraising.
In hindsight, it is easy for the critic to lean back in their comfortable chair and point to all of the flaws in what I chose to do. This could have been done differently, it would have been better to do that. But the journey of the 10 City Bridge Run is now in its sixth year. There has been untold and tremendous levels of heartache and sweat equity poured into this, and while it has been clumsy at time, there has been learning along the way.
Most of the financial risk was borne by myself. Essentially, this was a foolish move, and I was fortunate to receive the support from many generous people who contributed during a series of fundraising campaigns. The amount of money raised was modest, but enough to steer me through such that I would not give up.
The 10 City Bridge Run was based on a stunt: to run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries inside the space of a month so as to open a conversation about improving child survival. That was 2010, and it wasn’t until a dark, wet and cold night on 3 January 2015 in New York that this running stunt was completed.
The stunt was to enable something else to occur, and that was what I had described as a series of Design Forum to open this conversation about improving the delivery of child survival. To help fund the initiative, the crowdfunding was based on the pre-sale of a book that would feature a photo-essay of 100 photos of human bridges to communicate that it was the connections between us was the greatest resource at our disposal to make change happen. What that change was and how it would occur was unanswered during this process, and is indeed the work of the Design Forum.
Here’s the thing: unless we try things, how will we know if something is going to work. Theodore Roosevelt was right in his frequently quoted address about the man in the arena:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
This has not been an easy journey, but progress is being made. Maybe the issues have yet to be impacted upon, but then again neither is the deeds in the arena complete.
Picking up this conversation again through this blog, I wanted to backtrack a little so you could know where it has come from.
The next post will talk about where the 10 City Bridge Run stands at the present.