Life is a difficult place.

For everyone.

It requires deft navigation and some sort of protection .

Mostly we get hurt and as a consequence build defences so high and so strong and so completely that not only do we keep others out, we also keep ourselves in.  Hidden and afraid.  Cut off from real contact outside ourselves, we offer our masked face composed from person-coloured armour to the world.

Is this the price we pay for safety?

Is it too high? 


Chatter in.

Chatter on.

Chafing on my skin and brain and heart.

Not your fault.  Not even my fault.

But true.

Need spiders.

(Mary Jane Kennedy)

Is This What Really Frightens Us?

“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 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 and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for 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 he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt – “Citizenship in a Republic,”Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

This is a very interesting talk.  It’s funny.  It’s sad.  It answered some of my questions about why we do – or don’t do – what we do (or don’t do).

See what you think yourself.

Getting Over It

The year spreads out ahead and it’s clean now.

The slate scrubbed with shame and judgement.

We need mirrors not slates.

To reflect the past

into the present

into the future.

Blank slates make lousy maps. (1)

If we were less afraid to make mistakes would we do more and learn more and understand more?  Would we benefit from what we do – for better or worse – and learn not to value ourselves and others using shaky standards of success and failure as our measure?

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. ~Mahatma Gandhi


The Only Failure is Failure to Learn

David Damberger works with Engineers without Borders. In this talk he explains the importance of facing up to failure – not as an exercise in shame but in order to really be open to learn and innovate.

Convinced of this by their own experience, Engineers Without Borders Canada have begun to publish an annual report of their failures.

They have also set up a web-site – – where NGOs can go and post examples of their own failures and research and learn from the failure of others.  As it says on the site –

By hiding our failures, we are condemning ourselves to repeat them and we are stifling innovation.

Failure in the development sector is no different than failure in any arena of professional or personal life.  As long as we persist in hiding our failures and pretending they don’t exist, we will continue to really fail in reaching our objectives.


Have a listen –


One of the problems we face even when we want to improve things is that, as human beings, we aren’t fond of change. We tell ourselves we welcome it but mostly that isn’t actually true. The truth about our attitude to change is – we don’t like it and we don’t trust it.

My grandfather, who was born around 1890, was fond of telling stories about when he was a small boy growing up in rural Ireland. One of these stories described how, as a very small boy, he and his brother were walking with an elderly neighbour.  Suddenly, they heard a strange noise up ahead.

The boys had no idea what it was but the old man picked them up and threw both of them over the hedge into a field, hissing instructions at them to hide.  He jumped in after them and they all hid in the ditch.  A few seconds later a man cycled past on a bicycle.  As soon as he had gone, the elderly neighbour explained to the boys that all the calamities in the world were being caused by diabolical machines like the one they had just seen.

In many ways we are all like that old man.  He was obviously a well intentioned man – after all, frightened as he was he still ‘protected’ the small boys.  But just like him, we often find it hard to see how change will improve our lives.  We want to stick with the things and the ways we already know because – well, because no matter how bad they are we do know them and that makes us feel safer.  Even if it’s not true.

Most of us would like to live in a world where everybody cooperates and tries to get along.  But, as this has never really happened before on any sort of a large scale we are frightened of the change.  Where we would hope for unity, we are frightened of being forced into uniformity.  We can see that others are really like us but then, because we are trained to focus on their ‘otherness’, the strangeness of it all makes us frightened of them and we convince ourselves they are different to us.

In the context of working our human systems as they should be worked as reciprocal systems of oneness – to do this requires a complete change.  Because we have never done it before we have nothing to give us confidence about the future and so, because we don’t yet know how to function as a whole we are inclined to cling to our old ways of fragmentation, dominance and aggression.

Change feels dangerous but sometimes not changing is actually more dangerous.  After all, if we don’t like cooperating we can always go back to fighting, can’t we?


Courage is not the opposite of fear – it is the defiance of fear. Looking fear in the eye, we gird up our loins and act anyway.

However, to be courageous doesn’t mean to be reckless.

Recklessness is thoughtless.

Courage is thoughtful.

When we are reckless we don’t recognise – or acknowledge – the dangers, therefore it requires no courage to act recklessly.

Courage is what’s needed when you know what you stand to lose and act anyway.  We admire courage in others and, if we want to feel good about ourselves, acting courageously will generally help with that.

It’s easy to say we should have courage – we’d all like to think of ourselves as courageous – but if it was that easy to have we’d all be brave all the time.

Still, we can but try…

Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.  John Wayne