Category Archives: Motivation

Did you make your mark? And how?

I haven’t had much to say of late, but I have been listening.
That’s partly because I’ve been ill.
I was listening and trying to make sense of the cacophony of ideas and comment that filled cyberspace, the radio waves, television and our newspapers as we approached the UK’s general election.Big Ben
Believe me, it was hard. So much noise and so little clarity. With only a week or so to go, no one seemed to be able to predict the outcome.
Too close for comfort
Now it’s all over bar the shouting, at least until September, when The Labour Party has its conference and there’ll be plenty of noise about then.
That’s not so surprising when you think that, for years, it’s been nigh-on impossible to slip a cigarette paper between the two major parties’ policies or their leaders, whoever they may be.
Both leaders banged on before the election about reducing the budget deficit, blaming each other for its existence and the way it was handled. Yet neither seemed to have a credible solution.
Each one swore blind the NHS was safe in their hands while acknowledging it needs reform. But who knows where they might take it? Less than a month later it was deemed to be in trouble again.
And they both had our ageing population’s welfare and our children’s education right at the heart of their programmes. Where is it now?
“Vote for us from cradle to grave”, but what would we get?
Even if you turned to the minority parties, there wasn’t much on offer.
The Greens’ ideas seemed attractive, until you recalled their leader’s February “brain fade” and asked yourself if they’d be able to keep a grip on their day-to-day thinking, let alone the economy.
UKIP didn’t fare too well, unless you were a rabid anti-immigrationist or a simple-minded little Englander.
As for the Liberal Democrats, they seem to have completely lost their way since they were blinded by the bright lights of so-called power sharing as they went into coalition with the Conservatives. Their leader quit almost before he’d lost his seat.
Damaged goods
Aside from their policies, there was also the question of morality or, to be kinder, the whether of whether or not any of our currently serving MPs are fit for purpose.
Even now it’s hard to forget, and even harder to forgive, the business of MPs’ expenses. The infamous duck house enjoys legendary status. The second homes are an indelible memory.
More recently and nearer the election, we had accusations levelled at both Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw that they were willing to accept cash in hand in exchange for a word in various MPs’ ears.
Even the church, which delivered such a well-reasoned critique on the state of British politics early in the year, was accused of hypocrisy for demanding an increase in the minimum wage when it currently paid some of its people less than that.
And then there was the government’s relationship with big business. What were we to make of the half-Nelson administered – and still administered – by some of the huge corporations whose influence paralyses the politicians’ ability to effect change in almost any walk of life?
Could we, in short, have confidence in anyone or any party that entreated us for our vote?
The radical alternative
I don’t profess to have an absolute answer to any of your questions, but I do have a suggestion.
Between now and the next general election let’s try to get something on the ballot paper that allows us to express ourselves properly, rather than having to vote in a way that leaves us uncomfortable just because we’re trying to keep someone out, rather than vote as we feel.
I didn’t vote (because I was stuck in the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, too late to register for a postal vote, and too ill to be allowed out to the polling station).
But had I been able to vote I probably would have spoiled my paper by writing something like NONE OF THE ABOVE ARE SUITABLE across it.
It would then have gone into the pile marked “Spoiled papers” and been forgotten.
Let’s, next time, have a place where you can put a tick next to NO CONFIDENCE.
That way we all be able to vote as we feel, not as we’re expected to.

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What choice for the UK’s floating voter?

One hundred days to go and counting.
It’s unlikely that, when election day dawns and the real counting begins, there’ll be a hundred names on your ballot paper. But the way things are going, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were.
And how then will the floating voter vote? Faced with so much choice, with the old political certainties sundering and political dissent gaining traction, what can he or she do to prevent his or her vote sinking without trace?
The negative vote
Yesterday morning I heard a man telling the world (or at least Radio 4 listeners) that, after voting for one or another of the major parties since the day he could vote at all, he’s planning to make his mark for UKIP.
He’s doing so because, he says, the major parties are now all the same as each other. When they get into power, they spend two or three years undoing what their predecessors have done and then promise things they ultimately can’t deliver.
So this time round he’s going to vote UKIP; to cast what even he admits is a protest vote.
Why must he be left with such a negative choice?
Probably because the only alternatives are to reject the election altogether and not vote at all, or to spoil his ballot paper. Which means that his ‘vote’, along with thousands of others, would simply drown in an ocean of spoiled papers.
What a waste. Especially when there could be an intelligent alternative.
The No Confidence vote
If there was a space on the ballot paper where voters could make a mark against No Confidence, our man would have a clear way of expressing his current dissatisfaction.
What’s more, at a time when a great deal has been said about the accountability of politicians, his vote would have clear and identifiable count-ability.
It could be totted up with those of likeminded folk and declared as an accurate percentage of the nation’s preference.
As a result, the politicians would know beyond all reasonable doubt that, let’s say, 56% of the population had no confidence in any of their parties, their policies or their candidates.
And that might wake them up; get them to engage with the people. Thumbs Up 2a
My hope is that, by giving people a sensible positive choice, they would be encouraged to take part in what will be a very important election.
For me, the choice should be either vote with confidence for whoever you have confidence in, or vote No Confidence.
Whatever the outcome, we would at least know who’d voted for what. And the politicians would know where the people’s confidence lay.

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Beware the jerking knee

A week or so ago I was all set to sound off about Prime Minister David Cameron’s apparently foolish opposition to the choice of Jean-Claude Juncker as boss of the European Commission.

Cameron’s argument was that the appointment was flawed in principle – Juncker had not been elected by the people’s representatives – and he was the wrong man for the job. He’s too much of a federalist for Cameron.

Now that Juncker’s been given the nod it seems that Cameron might’ve been right and that the new President’s powers might be curbed.

Which leaves me feeling relieved that I didn’t respond to my own knee-jerk reaction to what I now see is a more complex situation than I’d thought.

I wish the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, would also be wary of his jerking knee.

His claim that “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay” for the deaths of three hitch-hicking Israeli teenagers seems rash in the extreme, especially when there is no proof of who killed the boys.

In much the same way that Cameron’s fire-brand denunciation of Juncker’s appointment – “This is a bad day for Europe” – may be proved ill-judged, Netanyahu’s violent condemnation of Hamas may also turn out to be the wrong reaction.

In both cases, I hope sense prevails; that Britain stays in the European Union and that peace comes to Palestine.

 

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Over-working the hard-working

“If I hear that expression once more, I’ll scream”.

So said my partner, a few weeks ago.

Thank goodness she was speaking figuratively, otherwise I’d be deaf by now.

The phrase she hates with such passion, and which I’ve come to loath in equal measure, is “hard working people”.

We hear it all the time these days.

Politicians from every party constantly talk about “hard working people”, as if they’ve identified a special group in society – the hard workers – that they want to identify with.

How many times have you heard David Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg, David Milliband, Ed Balls and a host of others say they’re “on the side of hard working people”?

Britain’s Tories quite clearly are. The phrase is splashed all over their current party conference.

Even President Obama used the phrase in a recent discussion about the value of Obamacare. Apparently, it’s for America’s hard working people everywhere.

What I want to know is this?

What’s the difference between hard working people and people who just work? Even people who just work hard?

Do we all have to be grafters employed on production lines to fit into the group and get the benefits? How dehumanising could that become?

Do we all have to have fingers worn to the bone by hard work? How painful would that be?

Must we spend endless hours slaving at work we’d rather not do? How much stress must one person bear?

Are our noses to be worn smooth by constant contact with the daily grind? Where’s the fun in that?

Can’t we have just a little bit of fun, even at work?

Must we always be working so hard?

A joyless life

It seems to me that, if we’re all expected to be so “hard-working” in order to reap the rewards offered by the politicians – the tax breaks, the mortgage deals and so on – we’re likely to lose something along the way.

We’ll all be so exhausted we’ll have nothing left to give to our lives outside work. No time. No energy. Nothing.

Creativity will wither, unless someone’s paying for it. Why would anyone create anything just for it’s own sake?

Family life may suffer, unless one works hard to find a sane balance. How much energy will be left for that?

Joy may become just a woman’s name.

Because everything in life will be governed by whether or not it – or the person who’s done or made it – qualifies as “hard-working”.

I’m sorry, but I don’t subscribe.

I’ve never been afraid of hard work; not ever in 50+ years of near-continous employment.

But I hate being expected to join the ranks of the “hard-working” just to remain part of the government’s thinking.

And I suspect the government’s thinking centres on how much tax it can harvest from “hard working” people rather than how much joy it can sow in the hearts of the country’s careworn population.

What a miserable, over-worked “hard working” lot we may become!

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Do we know too much today?

It was Alexander Pope who said “A little learning is a dangerous thing”, which has since been misquoted as “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.

While I’m not one to quibble over the exactitude of an 18th century phrase, I do wonder what Pope, pictured below, would have made of today’s information avalanche.

In 1709, in An Essay on Criticism, Pope contended that a small amount of knowledge can lead people into thinking they’re more expert than they really are.Alexander Pope

Back in his day, he believed that knowing just a little about a subject could “intoxicate the brain”, whereas a greater depth of knowledge “largely sobers us again”.

Nowadays, with news, facts and opinion flooding the airwaves and swamping cyberspace, it’s become all too easy for most of us to harvest small amounts of information and fool ourselves into believing we have a vast silo of knowledge that lets us think we know everything we need to know about anything.

Thus, armed with a few small pellets of understanding, we let loose a fusillade of ill-informed verbiage that – more often than not – makes us look like someone drunk, not on knowledge, but on self-regard.

Nowhere is this more self-evident than in the unmediated, cacophonous worlds of Twitter and Facebook, neither of which I patronise but both of which I cannot avoid.

Abe Lincoln Looking Off to the RightClearly, Pope had a good point; one that was echoed, in part, by Abraham Lincoln, left, or – some contend – Mark Twain, one or another of whom said: “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”

Whoever said what, all three men held fast to a shared idea: that knowledge is a precious commodity, and that it ill behoves us to treat it lightly.

Babbling like Bedlam

I’ve been drawn to this line of thinking by the sheer volume of nonsense I read in the press and see on my screen.

As a keen cyclist and ardent follower of the world’s road racing news, I was astonished by some of the bigoted, prejudiced – even hate-filled – opinion voiced in the weeks and months following Lance Armstrong’s appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.

True, I added my own tuppence worth.

But I like to think that – just as I did when I sounded off following Lady Thatcher’s death – I did so after some consideration of what I know, and some thought on how best to present my points of view.

Again, as a supporter of Chelsea Football Club, I follow their progress via the press and the web and – once more – I’m sometimes aghast at what I read.

Jealousy, derision and fatuous empty-headedness once again hold sway.'Scene in Bedlam', 1735

The pictures painted in these and so many other cases are of a world that resembles Bedlam; a place teeming with desperate souls all vying to be heard; crazed people who – because they are making so much noise – will never get the eye of those whose attention they seek or the ear of others they’re trying to impress.

Knowledge is power

I’m tempted to say, at this juncture: “Can’t we all shut up?” But that would be fruitless.

The fact is, we all need knowledge to both sustain and enrich our lives. We need it to communicate with others. And, most importantly, we need it to underpin the veracity of what we say.

When we speak from a position of little knowledge we are, indeed, the empty vessels that make most noise.

When we – as we like to say – “know what we’re talking about”, we’re more likely to be believed.

As it is, living as we are through snow storms of whirling facts and howling opinion, and mind-numbing blizzards of information, we too often like to think we know what we’re talking about when, in truth, we only know as much of anything that has managed to stick to our memory banks. And that’s frequently precious little.

Clearly, the answer to my original question – “Do we know too much today?” – is both “yes” and “no”.

Yes, we know – or think we know – who should play for our national soccer team. Yes, we know the colour of Gwyneth Paltrow’s most recent party frock, the length of Kim Kardashian’s hair and who her siblings are dating this week. And yes, we’re led to believe we know what Justin Bieber was up to last night. We also know gazillions of other trivial facts and titbits of information relating to people whose lives never really touch on our own.

But we don’t know enough about the things that really matter.

We don’t, for example, know who’s really in charge of the country – of any country, come to that – who truly controls the world’s security systems, or who’s behind the forces that constantly try to disrupt the even tenor of the world as we know it, or would like it to be known.

Let’s think on’t

Perhaps the real answer to the question is: “Not enough about the right things.”

And – recognising that – perhaps we ought to think more carefully before taking to our keyboards or tablets with the aim of adding yet more to the ceaseless clamour that currently risks deafening itself, and – as a result – causes us to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to most of it.

Let us all think more carefully before opening our minds to the scrutiny of others. Let us try to avoid looking foolish.

That way, we may all get to know a little more that’s truly valuable.

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What happens after work?

Years ago, when I last worked full-time as a copywriter in an advertising agency, what happened after work was simple.

I either went for a drink in a pub with a work-mate or two, or I went home.

In 1989, when I left the agency world to go freelance, the framework of my life changed.

I no longer got on my bike and cycled the five miles from Earls Court to Fleet Street, did a day’s work (and a little drinking) and cycled home.

I started working at home.

Change on every front

The first thing I noticed was that I had nowhere to ride my bike to.

Pedalling up and down the corridor in my flat seemed a pretty fruitless exercise. Given the confines, there was no way I could rack up ten miles a day.

The second thing I noticed was the way my work changed.

Instead of being asked to beaver away on projects for clients brought into the agency by the account handlers, I had to find some work myself.

For a while – and to my surprise – I felt like a man set free.

It was almost liberating to discover I no longer had to do what someone else had elected I should do, but could choose my own projects.

I felt a bit like a man released from prison who could decide what to have for lunch instead of having to eat what was put in front of him.

Of course, I soon discovered there’s no such thing as a free lunch!

Nevertheless, as the years went by, I did find my freelance diet was frequently more nourishing than any dish I’d been expected to sup from at the agency’s table.

Aside from anything else, I started working as a part-time photographer for Chelsea Football Club.

I was even stationed pitch-side when the club won the FA Cup for the first time in 26 years and the English league title for the first time in 50 years.

They weren’t just lunch breaks. They were cigar days.

More recently, as the economic conditions have faltered and the demand for copywriting skills like mine has diminished, I’ve found myself at the fag-end of my working life.

And I’ve discovered it’s a curious place to be.

On the one hand, I believe I still have all the skills I used to have.

On the other, I have to recognise that I may not be quite so adept at deploying them. What used to take a little while now sometimes takes a little while longer.

I think it’s what they call “slowing down”.

As a result, like so many other people my age, I’m having to find new things to do after work; new ways of staying connected with the warp and weft of daily life that will preserve the fabric of my own being as a working man.

This – as many will know – isn’t easy.

An idiotic suggestion

It certainly isn’t as easy as suggested by David Willetts, Britain’s Minister of State for Universities and Science, who recently floated the idea that people over the age of 60 should return to college to re-train for the world of work.

As so many others have said: the man’s an idiot.

First off, he doesn’t seem to have taken into account the cost of college courses in the UK.

They’re not cheap. And especially not cheap if you’re on a fixed income, with no prospect of it increasing.

Second, he seems to think the world of work is a place where there’s an endless supply of interesting jobs for people who – by the time they’ve finished whatever course they might have chosen – will probably be 65 or thereabouts.

He’s like a wide-eyed child who thinks the tuck shop will be forever full of sweets.

In truth, with Britain’s high streets struggling to survive the worst economic downturn in living memory, almost every tuck shop in the land is fearful for its very existence.

The bitter pill is, the jobs don’t exist.

Third, he seems to have based his thinking on what he’s described as getting retrained and upskilled.

If, by this, he’s referring to readying oneself for the world of computers and twenty-first century technologies, he’s possibly even more idiotic than I thought.

How can anyone over the age of 60 – no matter what they may have learned about computers and modern communications platforms – compete with young people who’ve been playing with keyboards and mice since they could crawl towards a screen?

It’s simply not possible.

Another approach needed

Nevertheless, for all his lunacy, Willetts is in tune with a real need.

Many of the older members of our society – and there are more and more of us as the years slip by – do need to feel as if we’re still able to make a contribution.

And some of us, for economic reasons, still have to work. For money.

But re-education is not necessarily the answer.

Perhaps a better solution would be to abandon the notion of retirement; to develop a collective mind-set that pays no heed to age only to ability; that allows anyone to work for as long as they want – whether it be until they’re 45 or until the day they slip off the dish.

With a fresh approach in this new employment utopia, the question of what happens after work need never arise.

Instead, work would be a continuum defined only by desire.

Do you want to work or not?

Of course, many will say that such a society simply encourages the feckless.

Is there anything wrong with that? Wouldn’t it be better if the feckless were allowed to feck their way through life without any guilt?

And what of those who want to work, perhaps throughout their lives?

Surely it would be for the best if they could do that, knowing that the feckless didn’t want their work, their jobs or their livelihoods?

In this fanciful new world there’d be no insecurity, only the certainty that those who enjoy work could have their fill of it and those who prefer to do nothing could revel in the barren emptiness of their alternative.

There would be no question marks over work and – by extension – none over what happens after it.

I guess we’d all just go to the pub for a drink.

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On yer bike, Mr Armstrong!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been asked a couple of times if I’m going to delete a particular image from my photographic website (www.glibberyphotographs.com).

The picture in question is in my Sporting Heroes gallery. It was made in 2010 and features Lance Armstrong, taking part in his last-ever Tour de France Time Trial.

I’ve decided not to delete this image, not because I don’t want to erase Lance Armstrong from history, but because I still like it.

Lance Armstrong, Bordeaux TT 2010

The Tainted Time Triallist, Bordeaux, France, 2010

For me, it represents a moment in sporting history: the last hurrah in Europe of a man who, for many, will always be some kind of hero, if only for beating testicular cancer and returning to competitive cycling at the highest level.

Never first among equals

I hope it will also always act as a reminder of what we now know: that  – when he won his seven Tour de France titles – Armstrong may have been first but was never first among equals.

He was, as he admitted to Oprah Winfrey and some 28 million people watching worldwide, a serial cheat who’d used performance-enhancing drugs since before he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Now, for me, he’s history. If he’s going to get on his bike at all, it should only be to ride off into the distance where, before too long I hope, he’ll become part of the distant past.

He was a hero once, but – as we now know – a deceitful winner of his palmarès. Shame on him for that.

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What motivates you?

I can’t deny it. This is a plagiaristic post.

Just before Christmas, Owen Bailey, a digital marketing executive at Creativepool, posted a piece on Linkedin’s Creativepool Network that asked the same question – with one difference.

Instead of simply asking “What motivates you?”, he wanted to know what motivates creative people. Not just any people, but creative people.

As you’d expect, he got a lot of answers, which generated some interesting debate.

What he didn’t get was a consensus.

Indeed, he seemed to divide opinion, with responses ranging from challenging oneself through to making people laugh or smile, creating something new, playing like a child and and playing God.

Who wants that last role, I wondered? Too much responsibility for me!

My own contribution was: “There’s always a problem to solve, always a creative solution to look for. What else does one need?” To which the trainer and mentor, James Sale, added: “Empathy?”

Good point, James.

For it seems to me that anyone who’s creative, and motivated enough to mobilise their creativity, does need some empathy with either their chosen medium, their subject or their audience, if their output is to succeed.

So, whether you’re writing, painting, acting, sculpting, composing or performing music, it must help if you like the process, sympathise with your subject and have some sort of relationship with your audience.

Which is, I guess, what motivated me to produce this post.

Unless, of course, you can think of another reason!

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