Life Bridge: true voyage of discovery

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This photo I took on the island of Bagabag back in 2011 out to sea from the north coast of PNG is what captures a 'Life Bridge' for me: the bond between a mother and her healthy child. That doesn't mean it will be in the book, and doesn't mean it is a standard by which to judge others. It is about your imagination and revealing your universe with its narrative about the importance of connection through a photo.
This photo I took on the island of Bagabag back in 2011 out to sea from the north coast of PNG is what captures a ‘Life Bridge’ for me: the bond between a mother and her healthy child. That doesn’t mean it will be in the book, and doesn’t mean it is a standard by which to judge others. It is about your imagination and revealing your universe with its narrative about the importance of connection through a photo.

The vision for the 10 City Bridge Run was ambitious. Ridiculously ambitious, but even though it is taking longer than first thought, I believe that delay is acceptable towards achieving a far better outcome and lasting legacy.

The initial concept from when it was first conceived in 2010 is unchanged. The execution has differed, but only in ways so as to improve the journey. There are three parts to that concept:

  1. Running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries as a stunt to open a conversation about improving child survival (completed successfully!)
  2. A Design Forum to address the conversation asking “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” (commenced, in progress, culminating at the end of October 2015)
  3. A book with a working title ‘Life Bridge: the importance of connection’ which will feature 100 photos of human bridges to illustrate the importance of our connection which is necessary to both flourish and also to solve any problem

The concept for Life Bridge is simple enough. A human bridge might be a photo which would describe the importance of connection in the mind of the photographer, maybe in collaboration with the subjects. Each photo is a design project in its own right.

While the concept is simple, organising this task has taken time. It is a collaborative effort. Soon we will be underway.

I will be the first to admit that the delay in the book Life Bridge is unwelcome, but I also acknowledge that the space which has been created because of the time has helped to mature the concept defining the book. Presently, I see the curation, design and distribution all being events which will compliment and contribute towards the conversation that is unfolding through the Design Forum.

I just finished reading a book which I highly recommend by Alan Gregerman called “The Necessity of Strangers: the intriguing truth about insight, innovation and success.” He opens the book with a quote from Proust which succinctly frames the concept for Life Bridge:

“The only true voyage of discovery would not be to visit strange lands but to posses other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them holds, that each of them is.” 

The 10 City Bridge Run involved a journey, and through the Design Forum we are learning to see. And not just to see, but to do.

Life Bridge will be an important book. It is a call to action for all who read it, by being stimulated by the imaginations of the holders of one hundred universes. It will be beautifully published in Korea, and present itself as a fitting coffee table book, but one with a difference. My hope is that every time anyone reads Life Bridge, it will change the world beginning with the reader.

By way of thanks, I also wanted to clarify that everyone who has contributed to this journey will receive a copy cod this book. I don’t regard your engagement as transactional, but it is the tangible thing which many have effectively pre-purchased by supporting this journey. There is no more you need to contribute to receive the book. And thank you for your patience as we uncover the alchemy to weave together these one hundred universes seen through the eyes on another.


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 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.

We Take Our Past With Us

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IMG_0761“You can run, but you can’t hide.” It is such a common quote, but actually I don’t know where it is from.

Joe Louis the great American boxer was attributed to saying “He can run, but he can’t hide”, but that is not the reference I had in my mind when I started writing this post. I am sure it is a line from a movie somewhere, but someone will have to help me out.

The point is that we have a past, and try as we might to shake off the bad bits, they are part of makes us who we are for better or worse. Learning to live from the past is of far more importance. Make peace with the past and become a better person.

When I ran through Singapore, I was reminded of my early days as a young officer in the Australian Army when we did some training exercises in Singapore. I didn’t so much run through Singapore as across it, from top to bottom starting at the Causeway and finishing on Sentosa Island. I was a hot and humid day, and I was feeling it, probably getting a little heat stroke and dehydration along the way.

A short distance after getting started on the third leg of this journey when I ran across Singapore, I passed this red sign you can see on this post.

Singapore is only a small island, and so space is at a premium. It is also a country with conscription with every male required to do national service. So with a large army, they need space to train, and safely. This sign to some extend explains that, but it also echoes a past history marked by violent struggle to emerge as a strong democracy.

We have to know our past. There are lessons to be learnt, and the getting of wisdom.

Without sounding too dramatic, there is a lot we stand to learn about child survival from what has happened in the past. Not everything has worked, and no doubt there has been a lot of wastage. Some of that has been well-intentioned, and other has been simply wasteful. But this is not a time for criticism, but analysis and designing a better future. And that is what this journey is about. The 10 City Bridge Run asks “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” We are not all experts, but we can learn from those who have gone before.

Here is a short reflection from during the third leg across Singapore:

And here is a short musical note of thanks from the very talented Freddie King to Robert for his support on the 10 City Bridge Run. Thanks Robert!

A Moment of Unexpected Excitement

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A friendly gathering with students as I began running
A friendly gathering with students as I began running

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.

Goat track
Goat track

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.

Fighters conducting landing drills
Fighters conducting landing drills

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.

Beaters patrolling
Beaters patrolling

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.

Can anyone identify this snake?
Can anyone identify this snake?

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.

IMG_1734Thanks for sharing this journey Kent.

Nine Lessons – PDF Document

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Click on the photo to access the Nine Lessons.

Enclosed are all the Nine Lessons from this Epic Journey in one document.

Click Postcard from an Epic Journey to download the PDF document.

Lesson Six. Take the pressure off and change the conversation

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IMG_0190There were many things I could have done differently to influence a more successful outcome to the previous crowdfunding campaign. I take responsibility for falling short. There are many things I don’t do well.

The anxiety I have felt about the viability of the journey was perhaps reflected in the earlier conversations about this initiative during the crowdfunding campign. Unintentionally, striving towards a financial goal placed a lot of pressure on myself, on top of other considerations relating to preparation, fitness, logistics, and my overall ability to commence the journey.

Unexpectedly, as the crowdfunding campaign drew to a close I felt the pressure being taken off me, and the conversation shift in terms of participation. We transitioned from the question of ‘can you support?’ to ‘how might we work together to create the next steps?’

The question of ‘can you support?’ is unhelpful because it can solicit a guarded response. Importantly, focusing on ‘how might we work together to create the next steps?’ opens the conversation to a fuller participation.

The 10 City Bridge Run is not about reinventing the wheel. We respectfully want to play our part in the ecosystem of those vibrant communities already actively involved. The reason why the 10 City Bridge Run is necessary is that there is huge untapped potential which can only be accessed through a much larger conversation echoing the words of Bill Gates: “I’m convinced that getting our brightest minds to focus on our biggest problems will save lives and make the world a better place.

Lesson Five. Get people to ask why

Lesson Three. The view from the other side is better, but you won’t know until you get there

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IMG_0771Start. We can’t just talk about it. There needs to be action.

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.

Lesson Two. Deep personal commitment is needed to perform stunts

Lesson Four. Lead by example by learning

Read all Nine Lessons here in a complete PDF attachment

Lesson Two. Deep personal commitment is needed to perform stunts

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IMG_1268If 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?”

Lesson One: Feel the frustration that the journey is not yet complete

Lesson Three. The view from the other side is better, but you won’t know until you get there

Read all Nine Lessons here in a complete PDF attachment