Author Archives: Barnabas

What work is worth doing?

This question, and several variations on the theme, has been obsessing me for months.

I’ve been carrying around just about everywhere with me a book I bought last September: Maxwell Maltz’ Psychocybernetics. I can open that book to where I left off, and very quickly find food for thought, comfort, and challenge.

One question it asks (or more accurately, quotes Dorothea Brande asking) is, What would I do if it were impossible to fail?

And then just recently, I have heard that same question improved on by Megan Macedo:

What is worth doing even if it fails?

Those two questions are really one and the same.

If something is so worth doing, so valuable, that its failure in everyone else’s eyes would not daunt me in the least, would not sway my view that it was always the right thing to have done . . . . then in reality, failure was never (for me) a possibility.

What work is that failure-agnostic for me?

What work is that failure-agnostic for you?

Do that.

Do that first. Before anything else. That’s your mission in life. That’s your top priority. Nay, that’s your only priority.

Everything else, you leave for later. Or drop it entirely.

The doing of it is actually the easy part. The hard part is answering the question in the first place. Like I said, for me it’s been an obsession for months. I’ve concluded that the answer is recursive: The answer is answering the question.

A bried perusal of my favourite author’s writing in Ecclesiastes reveals that it was an obsession for him too.

Meaningless, says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless. Everything is meaningless.

He gets to the end of the book (and, I suspect, his life) and he’s still asking the same question.

Fortunately for us, he doesn’t leave us with a cliffhanger. He actually stops asking the question, and says (in effect):

Look, peeps, give it up. You ain’t going to get to the bottom of this one. I’ve tried, I’ve accomplished more than the lot of you, I’ve experiemented with everything. Nothing gets there. This rabbit hole is a black hole.

So take my advice: Fear God, and obey his commandments. That’s it. That’s the sum total. That’s the solution to the equation. I can’t show you the proof, cuz I don’t know what it is. I do know that the proofs to the other answers, are proofs to the wrong answers. So get going.

(This article is in a partial fulfilment of a promise to old friend and colleague Matt Williams, who asked me to get back to writing stuff on my blog. Here you go, mate. More coming.)

Wall builder or destroyer? Choose.

We were there in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. Now the walls are going back up. – Bono, talking to the BBC in December 2016

Greetings, mesdames et messieurs.

I hope this toasty January finds you in scintillatingly cheerful humour.

That line by Bono has stuck in my craw ever since U2 did that gig with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in December.

Walls.

They are everywhere.

Continue reading

Alarms bells

A senior individual, heard recently on BBC Radio 4 (discussing government help for young people in finding employment and affordable housing):

“Look, just forget the young people, will you? It’s the older folk who are really struggling. They need the help!”

And a more junior individual, on their Facebook acount just after the Brexit vote:

“What an embarrassing day to be British. No surprise, it’s the 65+ vote that screwed us over.”

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Pick your DNA. Before DNA picks you.

What’s going to happen to the world the day after you’re gone?

Whoa. Back up.

Do you care what happens to the world the day after you’re gone?

I meet a lot of people who are just drifting through life. Trying to stay out of trouble. Avoiding any kind of impact, good or bad, on anyone. Marking time at their jobs until they can retire, put their feet up, and “finally start living”.

One chap last year told me he had one year left to work.

“What will you do then?” I asked. “As little as possible” came the reply.

My prediction? He won’t last long.

Or, he’ll find himself henpecked and harried by those around him, who will happily use the time that he won’t.

He’ll be wondering how he ever found the time to work before. Almost every retiree I meet says that.

A car without an engine is a rusting hulk. The scrapyard beckons.

The only reason for the car, in fact, is to allow the engine, and you, to get around.

Human beings are not a true lifeform.

DNA is the lifeform. We’re all just carriers for our DNA.

Every human being is just another experiment being run by DNA. What, that person crashed and burned. Whoops, I guess that experiment was a failure. Let’s not repeat that one.

But there’s a twist.

A gold nugget that most people never learn:

You get to change your DNA.

Disclaimer: I’m not sure how true this is physically. I’m no geneticist. Although I am reading an increasing amount about how you apparently can switch certain of your genes on/off by your behaviour.

But mentally? You can alter, choose, change, adapt, tweak your mental and psychological DNA.

Most people never do.

Their DNA is, Survive. Stay alive. This life is a crock. Survive until tomorrow. Hang on until I retire. Life sucks, then you die.

They’re really just acting as carriers for other people’s DNA. Their own DNA forfeited the match and left town.

Last month, while in Toronto, I had an encounter I won’t forget in a hurry.

Pastor G, as he’s always been labelled, is Gerald Griffiths. Good old Welshman. With a name like that, what else could he be.

He inherited the label from his wife, Mrs G, the storyteller.

He a career clergyman, she a great storyteller. So great, in fact, that she started recording them and shipping them around the world to pastors and teachers in far-flung places where education was hard to come by. It turned into a tidy little business called A Visit with Mrs G.

Mrs G is gone now, but Pastor G was one day shy of ninety-six, and he stood and talked with me at the back of the church for twenty minutes.

Stood.

For twenty minutes.

If he was in any pain or discomfort, he showed none. Seen many 96-year-olds stand for more than 60 seconds?

He’s a bit hard of hearing, and slightly stooped, but that’s it. His eyes are unchanged. Dark. Focused.

His eyes lock on you, and you realize very quickly: He’s on you. You have his full attention. He is listening.

And his mind? Razor-sharp.

I had not seen him since he officiated at my wedding 27 years ago. That had been his last official act as church pastor before retiring.

Retiring. Yeah, right.

He hasn’t retired.

“I’ve got five projects on the go. You know about the church in China? It’s an adult church, because the authorities make it difficult to teach the Bible to childen. But that’s changing. So we have to equip the people to be Sunday school teachers. We’re translating Mrs G recordings into e-books and podcasts and sending them over via the net. That’s just the biggest project, but there are four besides. What’s your email address? Here, jot it down for me. You used to work in wind engineering, didn’t you? How are those chaps that you used to room with? Are they still in the faith? Where in the UK are you? What do you make of Theresa May? I wish she’d do away with Boris Johnson, he’s a loose cannon.”

And with that, he walked away. Unaided. No cane, no wheelchair.

Ninety-freakin-six.

Met many 96-year-olds with an email address? Who know what an e-book is? A podcast?

That, folks, is great DNA. My mind was blown.

Note to self: Be like this when I’m 96. When I’m 106.

This engine is waaaaaay oversized. Well maintained, purring like a cat. It will eventually blow the body and chassis apart, but he doesn’t care. He’s tied up with the engine. He isn’t him, he’s the DNA.

What’s your DNA?

In the 1960’s, a young man, just graduated from Cambridge law school, returned to his island home and found it in political turmoil. The federal government resented the islanders, and declared them all persona non grata.

They didn’t want independence, it was forced on them.

The island had loads of disadvantages. Mostly uneducated peasants. A history of ethnic conflict. High population density. No natural resources. Hot, humid climate.

Only three advantages.

(1) Strategic location for trading.

(2) Human brains. Lots of ‘em. Uneducated, undeveloped, but loads of potential.

(3) One local bloke with a decent education, vision, optimism, natural leadership, and loads of pluck.

Go check the place out today.

Lee Kuan Yew had great DNA. Singapore punches waaaaaay above its weight.

When the Boxing Day tsunami hit Aceh and Phuket, the Singapore navy and air force scrambled. Ships sailed and aircraft flew in aid.

The tsunami-affected governments had two reactions:

(1) Gratitude. Obviously. They needed the help.

(2) Shock and fear. Who are these guys? Where did Singapore get this military capacity? The puny little flyweight we cut adrift fifty years ago is a potential threat. Living next door. Damn.

Lee Kuan Yew saw it all in his mind long before it happened. He had a vision for what his little island home could be. Even after he was gone.

Have you picked your DNA yet?

If you don’t pick your DNA, someone else’s DNA will pick you.

What your mind can imagine, you can create. What you do not imagine, never happens.

Want to change the world? Fix yourself.

You should be a student of history.

One of the best things about living in the UK is access to BBC documentaries. Excellently produced, very educational, a lack of overt bias (though not a lack of bias).

I’ve just finished watching Royal Cousins at War. Three first cousins, all Queen Victoria’s grandchildren, all on European thrones, utterly failed to prevent World War I. Three very flawed human beings.

How? Continue reading

What is the essence of Wisdom?

If you had to boil all the ancient bodies of wisdom literature down to its most basic fundamental idea . . . . . . what is that idea?

You may have heard the account the old Cherokee chief (or whoever it was) gave his grandson about the two wolves, one foolish and one wise, battling inside him, and one he feeds is the one that wins.

This story comes very close to the mark, and is defective in only one small (but critical) measure:

Which wolf wins if you feed neither? Or both?

Answer:

The foolish wolf.

You’ve got to feed the wise wolf. And starve the foolish one.

Every day.

Pick your fear. Make it a Smaug.

I’ve just come up with a cool business idea.

The Fear Store.

Buy your fears here. Learn how to be scared in new and more interesting ways. Then buy some fears to give to your loved ones for Christmas.

Think it’ll work?

Sigh. Well, it was fun dreaming.

Most of us don’t have a shortage of fear. It’s not a highly priced commodity. We won’t pay to get some when we run out, because, incredibly, it seems to reproduce itself with amazing consistency.

Every. Blasted. Day.

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The joy of uncomfortable conversations

I made a cool discovery this year.

Or more accurately, made a cool re-discovery.

Success is a function of your willingness to have uncomfortable conversations.

Last week, I quit my contract job. Without another one to go to.

I had been working flat out for a year, with only a couple of short breaks. My mental health was suffering. I wasn’t enjoying the work at all. My weekends were spent recovering from the week, just in time to go back in for more punishment Monday morning.

A confluence of unexpected family circumstances meant that, if I quit before the end of the contract, I’d be able to recharge, do some much-needed DIY around the house, and enjoy a holiday with my youngest daughter before she shoots off to start university.

And I’d be able to rethink what I do, and why I do it. I’d have some time to write posts like this one.

I had to bid farewell to colleagues I’d been working with for a year. One or two of them, I’d grown quite fond of.

A voice in my head was saying, Are you nuts? Continue reading

UKIP will put British people first!

So says Paul Nuttall, leader of U.K. Independence Party.

Why?

Why should British people come first?

Remind me of that line in the Jason Bourne film. I want to save American lives. 

Why?

Why are American lives worth more than other lives, Mr Trump?

Charity begins at home, doncha know?

Really? Why?

Why is Here better than Over There?

Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave . . . . . 

The Dichotomy of Meaning

Meaningless! Meaningless! says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless! – Ecclesiastes 1:1

My Inner Stand-up Comic responds, Yeah? So?

Step aside, Stand-up Comic. Here comes The Philosopher.

Why is meaning important?

Dunno.

And yet, it needs no justification. Would you challenge Mr Solomon on his assumption?

You just have to flip on the news to realise: After all the progress that has been made, the human race is no closer to figuring out what life is all about.

It’s an inner gutteral urge. Who the hell am I? Why am I here? What is the reason for me? Continue reading