Friday, January 18, 2019

Unleash the Flâneur Within (Part II)



Here is my three-point starter kit for the 21st century flâneur:

1.   Plunge Into Chaos.
Go where your heart takes you, but too much structure and order sterilises the art.  It sucks out the life.  Here are my 5 cities for unadulterated, joyous flânerie:
1.    New York (Street beat)
2.    Rio (the exuberance of the body)
3.    Beirut (a whiff of danger)
4.    Barcelona (Viva Guardiola)
5.    Manchester (See Silva, de Brujne and Aguero).

2.   Feel the Pulse.
For me there are five ways to get the rhythm of a city, to feel its meaning:
1.    Read fiction set in that city – from any period.
2.    Listen to the music on the street.
3.    Eat local food in local bars and street vendors.
4.    Visit local art galleries.
5.    Watch the local soccer team.

3.   Take the Right Equipment.
Woody Hayes said luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.  Here’s my equipment:
1.    An open mind.
2.    A ‘Flow’ personality (positive tending on radical optimism).
3.    A waterproof chest and a bullet proof back (so if people throw bad stuff at you, it bounces off your front or runs off your back).

KR
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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Unleash the Flâneur Within (Part I).



“Yea I went with nothing
Nothing but the thought of you
I went wandering …”
         The Wanderer – U2 with Johnny Cash

As wandering the world goes, I’m up there.  Work has stretched me into over 80 countries and in any year I touch down in 50+ cities.  And between (or during!) appointments, I vanish into them.

There’s nothing like exploring a new city.  The thrill of adventure, the excitement of discovery, your blood pumps and you feel alive.  Around every corner, a world awaits.  No doubt a flâneur feels some of this.  A what?  A flâneur!

Emerging from 19th century Paris, the flâneur is a strolling urban explorer with an eye for insight.  The French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) saw a flâneur as a person who walks the city to experience it.  I think of Bob Dylan, wandering off and getting picked up by the cops. 

Flâneurs are cultivated, super-sensory, and empathetic.  They are switched on because they are switched off, with time to kill.  These characters have been strolling down through time, popping up and down in different guises.  Voyeur, drifter, writer, artist, phantom, photographer, psycho-geographer, photo-blogger.

Flânerie is a bit like culture, difficult to pin down, as both subject and object are dynamic.  The object – the city – is undergoing accelerated change.  Over half of the world’s people are city dwellers and this is rising, even as some older cities crumble like Babylon.  At least 20 cities are now mega, with 10 million + people.

As cities get bigger and shinier, some have said the Flâneur will disappear.  Personally I can’t see it, despite the best efforts of American culture and rational urban planners.  Thanks to financial cycles, cities are innately regenerative.  Good times squeeze the essential creative resources out of the centre of cities.  Bad times open the cultural space, inviting flânerie into the back alleys of human endeavor.

I love meandering through cities, absorbing the mystery, sensuality and intimacy of each city.  I explore physically and virtually.  It’s the local that interests me most, from local artists right through to the local football team.  There are diamonds in this rough, priceless revelation in a mainstream that re-packages information and labels it as insight.  I’d argue the flâneur is now more valuable than any research project.

It’s true across art, music, food, design, psychology, architecture, sport – all of it.  When our whole life is on a schedule, we miss the hidden doors to better futures.  So let heart and mind wander, and dare to dream.

So, long may the journey of the flâneur continue and far may he travel.  Today he is bridging ideas as diverse as creativity, mythology, meditation, urban planning, technology, surrealism and sustainability.

KR
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Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Tale of Two Gunfights





1)         The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral - October 26, 1881.

Today we had planned to visit a re-enactment of the epic gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone.  The three Earp brothers and Doc Holliday vs the Cowboys Clanton, Claiborne, and the McLaurys.

Instead we spent most of the day with two eye doctors in Tucson.


2)        The Gunfight at Desert Dream - December 31, 2018.

Between two-year-old grandson Andrew (Sneaky Pete – a young New Jersey born whippersnapper) and the grizzled veteran KR.  KR was unarmed, sitting at the kitchen bar.  They were two feet apart.  Sneaky Pete inadvertently pulled the Nerf Gun trigger and boom.  The veteran hit the deck.  A bullet driven hard into his wide open left eye.  The lights went out, no vision in left eye, scrambling around for first aid kit.

Blurred vision cleared gradually over 12 hours, New Year’s Eve celebrations gathered pace and a great time was had by all.  But pain from eye continued and increased – medical treatment became inevitable.

And so to Tucson where a pre-planned, much anticipated trip to the O.K. Corral was about to take place.  Instead (after consulting Dr Google) an excursion to a Tucson eye doctor (sounds like a Jackson Browne song).

The initial diagnosis from Dr #1 was a damaged pupil, an enlarged and inflamed iris and a possible torn retina.

Medical reinforcements were summoned in the guise of an expert eye surgeon / ophthalmologist, Dr Brock Bakewell, who agreed to see us even though his surgery was closed on Saturdays.

One hour later the diagnosis was clear.
·            Retina in ok shape.
·            Iris - traumatic iritis – four weeks of steroids will cure.
·            Pupil permanently enlarged – will now always be marginally bigger than the right pupil and more light sensitive.  A permanent reminder of my last gunfight.

Off to the O.K. Corral tomorrow.

KR

PS:  For future learnings around this, please see Guy Clarke’s The Last Gunfighter ballad.
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Friday, January 4, 2019

The Case For Optimism – Part II




Earlier this week I talked about The Case for Optimism.  Here are five ways to pump optimism into your life stream:

1.   Inspire Everyone You Touch.
Inspiration-out has a direct relationship to inspiration-in.  Can you imagine the high Nelson Mandela was on when after 27 years in jail he liberated his people from apartheid?  Nelson!  Nelson!  Nelson!

2.   Think Again.
If you think you know everything, you’ll miss out on life.  Rekindle your curiosity, and take the long way home like a Hemingway character.  You may discover something.

3.   Start Something New Every Month of Your Life.
I took up blogging in my ripe middle-age.  It’s been like rocket fuel.  What I’ve learned from my global audience has been invigorating.

4.   Kid-Test Yourself.
What would your five-year-old self think about your life today?  Let your heart not your head decide what you’re doing this weekend and you’ll have a good one.

5.   Do What You Love, Forever.
Bill Shankly summed up career choice when he said: “Football’s not a matter of life and death, it’s much more important than that”.

KR
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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Case For Optimism – Part I




As I wrote on New Year’s Eve, world events test one’s capacity for positive thinking.  In every direction there is something that can get you down.  From The Donald to Boris.  Depression is on the rise, affecting 20 percent of the population of developed countries.  There’s a universal divide between pessimists and optimists, and it runs like an invisible fault line across every sector: from economics, to philosophy, to medicine, to business.

Television journalists, those hound dogs who lead with what bleeds, would have us believe the world is going to hell in a hand basket.  Academics have struggled to measure happiness and uncover statistical conclusions.  I’ve always given ‘research vampires’ a hard time for stuff like this.  Quantifying happiness in relative terms does not shed light on tomorrow for me.  We can crunch the variables day and night, but happiness comes down to personal action, and daring to dream.

As I see it, optimism is the single greatest agent of positive change.  “That’s not possible”, was never the motto of Steve Jobs, Sir Edmund Hillary, or Nelson Mandela.  Colin Powell said “Perpetual Optimism is a Force Multiplier”.  You can’t chalk up world changing achievements to accident.  Behind each dream is the unwavering faith in possibility, because action itself is powered by optimism: paddling to catch and surf a wave, quitting your day-job to found a company, or starting your own family.  There are many drivers in life, but without optimism it’s hard to ever leave the couch.

Children are the embodiment of optimism in its rawest form.  The world is something to discover, to understand, and to live to the fullest.  Children are curious and inquisitive about everything under the sun.  On average a four-year-old asks 437 questions a day, often in a profoundly simple way.  Psychologist Allison Gopnik says: “Children are linked to optimism in a way that runs deeper than just the biological continuation of the species”.  And children remind us that optimism is a self-fulfilling emotion.  It’s not about reason, which will only slow you down.  Kids are emotional animals, erupting with joy without being taught the concept.  We are all born with optimism, so let’s live with it.

Dreaming big is part of being a kid.  That’s why heroes inspire us to pursue our dreams.  The heroes of children are the brave, the good and the strong: astronauts who explore the universe, firefighters who rescue the needy, and athletes who never give up.  Heroes are courageous and inspire us to reach for the stars, not just count them.  The risk takers in life are young at heart and most often inexperienced.  They don’t even know the ways they could fail.  In business this is true of entrepreneurs, and the failure rate of the first-time CEO is high.  But without optimism, there can be no success.

Of course, children live carefree while the adult copes with the anxieties of a mortgage, a career, and a family.  With age comes a narrower field of interest, an acceptance of limited capacity to change things, and diminished trust in others.  But age should not necessarily conform to the law of diminishing optimism.  Philosopher Erich Fromm said: “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties”.  Through the starry-eyed wonder of children, we can.

We would do well to inject more childlike wonder into our lives.  If you approach your future jaded and with limited imagination, you experience less of the good stuff.  Let the young ones remind us that life is about stepping outside the boundaries.  How age affects your reservoir of optimism is a decision.  Anyone can choose to stay young and joyful by participating and being open-minded to the power of ideas.

Happy New Year.

KR

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Goodbye 2018 – Our Best Year Yet





Yes – I know about Trump, Putin, Brexit, Man City slipping to third place, the All Blacks losing to Ireland (again!) and all the hoo-hah around feminism, sexism, transgenderism, ageism, privacy, Twitter abuse etc, etc, etc – but despite all that, 2018 was the best year ever recorded.

I know I am a Radical Optimist and see hope and dreams everywhere, but Philip Collins in The Times sums it up factually.

We end 2018 healthier, safer, freer, better educated and cleaner than ever before.

We have never been better off – extreme poverty is at its lowest ever level.

1.2 billion people have gained the power of electricity in the 18 years of the new century.  The villages of India are lighting up.

Education is the driving force behind our increasing global prosperity.  The world literary rate is an unprecedented 85%.  The number of girls enrolled in primary school reached 90% this year.

Human beings have never been so healthy (and IQ’s are increasing 3 IQ points per decade) as diets become more and more effective.

Global life expectancy is at an all-time high and child mortality has never been lower – largely because of the staggering increases in the number of one-year-olds immunized.

The battle against vicious diseases is being won.  Bye-bye malaria and polio – cholera should be beaten in the next decade.  Aids deaths have halved in the last 10 years, leprosy deaths have fallen 97% since 1985.  We can expect cures for heart disease and cirrhosis in the next decade.

And (amazingly!) we are cleaner.  The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica shrank to its lowest in 20 years; population in the developed world has increased by 50% since 1970 but water use has not increased.  In 2018 more than 90% of the world’s population had access to safe water.

Crime rates are falling and deaths from terrorism have fallen by 20% since their 2014 peak.

Mr Collins says “Prosperity, education, health, cleanliness and security are the components of a life lived at liberty”.

This is the formula for freedom.  And it’s working.

Let Freedom Ring.

Happy New Year.

KR