Who’s got a match?

matchIslamic State are sweeping across the Middle East, Ebola rages across parts of Africa, there are signs we are headed for a global economic slowdown, climate change seems unstoppable, UKIP have an elected MP, I think I am getting a bit of a sniffle…I could go on.

Recently I found myself raging at the radio and television as crisis after crisis unfolds and our collective response appears to be inadequate yet again.  I know that anger is a useless emotion and hurling insults at politicians on the television only serves to increase my own stress levels (and make me appear more than slightly unhinged).  I know that simply feeling overcome with sadness for the victims of war, disease and poverty achieves precisely nothing other than upsetting my own emotional well being.

And yet it’s all so complicated and so overwhelming that there is nothing an individual can do, is there?

Thinking about this I was reminded of an old Quaker saying:

“It is better to light one small candle than rage against the darkness”.

Of course, but where is the candle? And who’s got a match?

Again an old favourite came to mind – Stephen Covey, in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People encourages us to only focus on concerns that we have control over. He outlines the “circle of concerns” as all of the things that worry us – and then a smaller “circle of influence” (within the larger “circle of concerns”) that only contains things that we can actually control.
His point is that we should only spend our energy on stuff that we can do something about. Focus only on problems that lie within your “circle of influence.”

By attempting to address every “concern” your energy becomes dissipated and is wasted as you start to obsess over details and situations that are beyond your control. Ultimately, you achieve nothing.

Does this mean that we should do nothing about these complex global issues and ignore them?  I don’t believe so.  My personal view is that we should stop shouting at the television and instead identify some tangible actions, within our control.  Worried about global warming?  Then lobby your MP, drive less, invest in renewable energy.  Taking small actions is likely to expand your circle of influence, so you can take ever bigger steps.

Identifying and taking tangible actions an individual can take to address these huge issues is not always easy, but it beats impotent raging.

Now, who’s got a match?

Who’s got a match I’ve got the petrol to set it to
I know I shouldn’t have trusted you
It’s making me tense when you’re telling me
It’s just the facts that don’t compute the classic way
I guess I’m wrong again anyway

I’m a fire and I’ll burn burn burn tonight
I’m a fire and I’ll burn burn burn tonight…

Biffy Clyro – Who’s got a match?


The Holy Grail?

Apologies for the blatant misuse of two Monty Python clips.

A leading UK doctor, John Ashton, has declared that we should move to a four day week to combat the issue of stress. Click here for the full story.

I don’t like the phrase ‘work life balance’.  There is a lazy assumption that work is bad and free time is good.  Personally I enjoy my work and derive great satisfaction from it.   We all need to have a purpose and for many that is found in ‘work’.   However notwithstanding the knotty details that will vary by individual, there can be little argument that having more time to spend as you choose can only be a good thing, to a point.

Monty Python’s Knight’s of the Round Table sang:

In war we’re tough and able,
Quite indefatigable.
Between our quests we sequin vests and impersonate Clark Gable.
It’s a busy life in Camelot.

So it seems they had the right balance!

Being brought up in the 60’s and early 70’s I was promised a future where we’d all have a personal jet pack and more importantly the leisure time to use it. Increasing automation would mean that we could produce more with less labour and therefore it seemed logical to assume we would all be working greatly reduced hours.  We’d have groovy gadgets to minimise effort and loads of leisure time.

The promised automation happened and exceeded expectations in ways that could not have been predicted, but the golden age of leisure has not yet materialised.

The creation of the consumer society increased the amount of (largely unnecessary) ‘stuff’ we all desire to buy.  Meanwhile the ‘surplus’ of labour depressed it’s value in line with standard economic models. With wages reducing in real terms people are working longer hours to make ends meet and those in more comfortable positions are all too aware that they are easily replaced and so are keen to be seen ‘putting in the hours’.  Only a very small fraction of the population is seeing an increase (many would say a disproportionate increase) in wealth.

Many of the benefits of ‘time’ come from the freedom of choice that it presents.  Without sufficient funds to take advantage of these choices it ceases being a benefit and becomes a drag.  I am not talking about unlimited funds to support expensive hobbies and holidays.  But if your basic needs are not secure you will not be able to seek the Holy Grail of a more spiritual fulfilment.

On the face of it that leaves the rather gloomy thought that until the entire economic model of western society is overturned we are doomed to working longer and longer hours and suffering the health consequences.  Of course that may well be within my circle of concern but it is not in my circle of control.  What is though, is my attitude to ‘stuff’.  By consciously becoming aware of my real needs as opposed to the desires created by the very clever marketing industry and by prioritising those needs I can reduce my outgoings enormously.  This then creates the opportunity to work less and live more.  In turn this creates more opportunities for meaningful work for those who need it and by reducing rampant consumerism we all help to preserve the world we live in (and who knows, taken to extremes it might even change the face of capitalism).

It might be too good to be true, but it beats doing nothing.

King Arthur: How do you do, good lady? I am Arthur, King of the Britons. Whose castle is that?
Woman: King of the who?
King Arthur: King of the Britons.
Woman: Who are the Britons?
King Arthur: Well, we all are. We are all Britons. And I am your king.
Woman: I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
Dennis: You’re foolin’ yourself! We’re living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working class…
Woman: Oh, there you go bringing class into it again.
Dennis: Well, that’s what it’s all about! If only people would…

Monty Python and The Holy Grail






Today the British Prime Minister dismissed the current concerns about smog over the UK saying :

“I didn’t go for my morning run this morning. I chose to do some work instead. You can feel it.  But it’s a naturally occurring weather phenomenon. It sounds extraordinary, Saharan dust, but that is what it is.”

Well that’s not entirely true is it?  The truth is that we have our own pollution created largely from burning of fuels which has built up due to a stable high pressure weather system.  This weather pattern then drew in polluted air from the continent.  To this toxic, but largely invisible (and so unnoticed) mix was added sand blown into the atmosphere by strong winds across the Sahara.  Only the last part of this is in any way natural.

We are told that as the weather shifts to the usual westerly direction the air will come from the Atlantic and be much cleaner, blowing the pollution away. Presumably to Europe, thus creating an export we should not be proud of.

Annually 29,000 die prematurely in the UK from air pollution. Globally the figure is 7 million according to the WHO. That’s more than Aids, smoking, road accidents and diabetes combined, and makes it the world’s single biggest environmental health risk. Whilst the combination of factors have created a highly visible ‘perfect storm’ in the UK the fact is that air quality falls below European standards regularly.  Yet there seems to be no action taken, indeed there have been criticisms of ‘over reaction’ levelled at climatologists.  When we are told not to exercise outside and children are kept indoors at school breaks I think it should make headline news.

With my coaching clients I often use Stephen Covey’s concept of circles of concern/influence, to which I add control.  Surely this is a matter over which, regardless of my concern I have little influence and no control.  On that analysis I would better spend my time on those things that I can control or influence.  Whether it is correctly attributable to Burke or not, it feels like the right time to use the quote

“All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”

I can influence by raising awareness and I can personally reduce my own trail of pollution.  With that in mind my wife went off to work on her trusty bike this morning – risking her own health to save adding to the toxic brew we call an atmosphere.

What can you do to make a difference, however small?


Walk in silence,
Don’t walk away, in silence.
See the danger,
Always danger,
Endless talking,
Life rebuilding,
Don’t walk away.

Atmosphere – Joy Division