Dear Q&A friends,
Taking the helm of your vessel, be at a big ship or a small tug boat, is a subject causing mixed reactions. Taking responsibility is this weeks theme. For your actions as well as your opinions. Not because you must, but because you can. Enjoy!
Writing down your thoughts can be immensely valuable to gauge your progress and connect your thinking. Every now and then, I also bump in to inconsistencies and plain changes of heart. I was wrong, or just changed my opinion.
When COVID hit and most of us were forced to work at home, I praised the gains of working remotely whenever possible. Technology was improving all the time, making virtual connectivity better and better, so how could we ever doubt it replacing most of physical meetings in the future? All around me, I saw inspiring examples of people connecting and creating virtually.
Two years of remote work in, a few days back I attended my first concert in a long, long time. Guitar player Cory Wong and his band touched down in Utrecht and turned the place into a smouldering heap of funky goodness (pardon my scientific language).
Feeling the energy of the crowd all around me, I realised just how much I missed gatherings like these. No amount of optic fiber could hold the bandwidth between me and everyone in the room. It was an overwhelming amount of energy, impressions and views.
Which makes me re-think my view on remote work. My usefulness-balance between technology and in-person has shifted. I'm still certain the balance will not be as before, too much has happened. But let's make more meetings feel like a concert; fun, energizing and creative. For the meetings that can't be improved, maybe even consider cancelling them altogether.
Pointing out responsibility is generally experienced like harsh feedback. Our amygdala takes over, and a ferocious counterattack is a more likely result than any form of introspection. We just hate, hate, hate to be held responsible for anything. Still, if we can learn some lessons from a couple of millennia of written human experience, taking responsibility for our actions lies at the core of personal growth, and even liberation.
Take a look at climate change and our addiction to fossil fuels that cause geopolitical issues like the conundrum we experience these days. For the Netherlands, just setting our thermostats a degree lower would help us reduce our need for Russian gas in excess of 10%. Easy, right? Then, why are no governments professing this cure like crazy these days? The answer may lie in the fact that these past two years, a lot has been asked from the population in terms of acting responsibly. Politicians may be wary of losing touch with their base by being over-demanding.
Indulge me and take part in a small thought experiment. Imagine setting your thermostat a full degree (or even two) lower, and feeling a bit chilly when you're sitting on the couch watching TV. Now, see what kind of emotions you register.
If you're like most Western citizens, you start feeling like a sucker. Your freedom feels at stake, you're being limited. Your tiny contribution to the whole will be unnoticed, right?
But once you raise the thermostat again, the cold truth is that the one who will be noticing is yourself. Deep down you know the sum of our individual actions defines our results. That it's not the government or the industry that should take action, because everything they do, they do because of you. You vote with your feet, with your wallet. And running from that responsibility causes tension.
Release from that tension can manifest itself in two forms, collective and individual. Collective release usually takes the form of a crisis forcing us to change our behaviour in a radical way. The individual release, though, is what interests me most. Inspired by the notion that T-shirt temperatures in our homes and 9 minute showers (Dutch average) are a thing of just the past few decades, I started taking 2 minute showers, wearing a sweater and having a comfy little blanket at the couch.
Re-framing responsibility into an act of liberation might be one of the most energizing little life experiments I have done. If not for the collective, do it for yourself.
My family and I enjoyed watching the movie 'The Theory of Everything'. The movie covers the life of renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, his battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) disease and the impact on his family. The movie is based on the book Travelling to Infinity: My life with Stephen, written by his ex-wife Jane.
Though you may expect this movie to cover a lot of physics and Stephen's quest for the theory of everything, it is rather more focused on everything else besides physics. It may be a bit dramatised and covered mostly from Jane's perspective, it is a truly personal story full of sacrifices and choices. The movie makes it abundantly clear to the audience that you really can direct your own life despite setbacks and turns of fate outside of your control.
With perseverance and open-mindedness towards new possibilities, life will be in a continuous development. At the same time, this also means that the path you're on may bend and diverge as Jane and Stephen will discover after 25 years of marriage. It's an emotional moment in the movie that does feel surprisingly natural and logical.
Accepting who and what you realistically are, forms a solid foundation on which to embark on new (pathless) paths.
Polly Higgins delivered a truly inspiring talk in 2014 called 'I dare you to be Great' (or her shorter TED-talk) as part of a programme of Schumacher College. The college is located in England and offers ecology-centred masters programmes, short courses and horticultural programmes.
Polly is one of the driving forces behind implementing global ecological legislations and making damaging the environment a crime. She is the creator of term Ecocide. Apart from the fact that it is an interesting story how she came to be the frontrunner in this area ("Life becomes complicated when you become ethical"), her talk covers many different subjects covering multiple philosophies and life principles.
Her basic life principles are driven by three core values:
This is why she doesn't see herself as a 'protester' when fighting for new legislation and criminalizing harm to the environment, but as being a 'protector', giving earth a voice. It is the sense that there is something greater than yourself present around you and you have a duty of care. Imposing legislation is just a tool to move people on the scale from deep disconnect to deep care.
Daring to be great is also about being a carrier and/or messenger of something far greater than what you can achieve by yourself. Your own contribution can be small, but often requires a bit of courage and stepping outside your comfort zone. You'll be surprised to find a lot of like-minded people occupying that zone.
As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and tips. Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.
Have a great week!
Quinten & Alphons