Monday, February 16, 2009

I have seen the future... on Top Gear of all things!

Just watched Top Gear and saw a feature on the new Honda electric car, the FCX Clarity.


It's only available in California so far, but it's going well (according to Top Gear).  This car offers a big improvement because it doesn't run on a battery.  Here in Australia, that would most likely mean we'd be burning brown coal for our electricity, which is not a great improvement (maybe not an improvement at all?) on petroleum.  In the UK, they would be using nuclear energy (umm...).

It's an ordinary Honda.  But it runs on hydrogen and the only by product is H2O (water).

What struck me is that this will cause a minimum of social disruption:  petrol stations will gradually change over to be hydrogen & petrol stations, and apart from that nothing much will change.  That reduces buyer resistance.  That reduces commercial resistance.

Sometimes human ingenuity just makes me hopeful for the future, instead of afraid.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Paying Attention

The gift of attention is a precious gift.  

We all enjoy being with someone who "gets" us, who is easy to talk to because we know they are really listening, who knows all our faults and likes us faulty as we are. Such people seem to see us for who we *really* are.  

Love without attention is like planting a garden and then forgetting to water it.  

We also know the perils of too much of the wrong sort of attention.  There is an attention that sees without joy: that always sees our flaws, our mishaps and the bits that could do with some improving.  It might love us in spite of our faults, but it almost feels like we're loved out of duty, and in spite of our good points too.

Love with too much negative attention is like having a garden, but only seeing the weeds - and even when the garden is weeded and perfect, bewailing the fact that the weeds will just come back!

So how do we develop the right sort of attention?  How do we get better at noticing?

There are two games I like to use.  The first one is a well-known concept of Mindfulness and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.  I just named it and turned it into a game. The second game I came up with all on my lonesome.  

Bear in mind, I'm not clinically trained, I'm just an opinionated childless woman, so use these games at your own risk.

Game One - Notice, Notice, Notice

This game, based on Mindfulness, is about direct experience.  Its allowing ourselves to be open to what is happening, to just notice it and try not to understand, judge or change it.  This takes practice.  

In relation to other people, it is usually more helpful to focus on the person rather than on what you're feeling yourself.  The next time you're with a loved one - a partner, parent, child or friend - spend some time just noticing everything you can about them.  (But don't choose a moment when the other person is trying to tell you something important, or not until you've had lots of practice...)

Use all your senses to Notice, Notice, Notice - what do you see?  what do you hear? what do you smell? what do you feel? and (if appropriate), what do you taste?  

Spend some time going into lots of detail.  If you see that your friend's hair is brown, what colour brown? Is it all one shade? What is its texture? Does it look different from the last time you saw it? Has she had a haircut?

As you focus on the other person, you'll probably get caught up in your own feelings about that person.  Note the feeling that arises in you, but get back to the actual experience of the other person.  So, if you're noticing your baby's soft blond hair, and thinking of how much you love to stroke it, that's fine, but move back to noticing your baby rather than staying with your feelings about your baby.

Game Two - Opinion Origami

The second is to think of opinions (or even judgements) you have about someone, and try to unfold how you came by them, then try to fold them up in a different pattern (hence origami). This works better with positive or neutral opinions than negative ones - negative opinions don't need reinforcing and you probably won't change them.

For example, you might feel that your niece (or brother/sister/nephew/friend) is keen on football.  That may be positive or neutral.  Ask yourself: why do you feel that?  Is it because she often wears team-branded clothing? Is it because she carries football swap cards everywhere?  It is because she talks to you almost exclusively about football when you meet?  

Try to include as much detail as possible.  You might consider how her eyes light up when you bought her a set of football swap cards as a treat.  Or how her voice gets a note of excitement when she is telling you about how she did a deal with a school friend for a rare card last week.

You will end up with a lot of information.  Now your job is to put that information together in a different way, so you end up with an alternative opinion about your niece. (The alternative opinion may or may not be true, that's not important.  It is important that you consider it.)

Maybe your niece is not interested in football, per se, just in football swap cards.  Swap cards may be the latest trend at her school.  The team-branded clothing may be a gift, or perhaps they're hand-me-downs.  Or perhaps she wears them for protective colouration, because they make life at school easier.  Perhaps she wears them to annoy her brother who supports a different team.  Perhaps she talks to you about football because that's what YOU are interested in, and she doesn't know what else to talk to you about.

At the end of Opinion Origami, you may not change your opinion, but isn't your experience of your niece richer?  You've called up memories that are visual, aural and tactile.  The next time you meet her, you're likely to regard her with a kind of wondering curiosity - partly you're testing out your opinions, and partly she is just more interesting now you've spent some quality attention on her!

This game also works well on strangers on public transport, or people at cocktail parties.  In which case I call it the Sherlock Holmes game.

Try one or both of these games this week - and do let me know how it went for you!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

'Good' or 'Adult Convenient'?

Were you a good child?  Do you have a good child?  What does that mean, anyway?

During my years working with families, I was fascinated by how often good came up. Babies come into the world and are immediately either good feeders and good sleepers (or not). I never heard an adult call a child bad, we don't say, "He's a really bad sleeper," but instead, "You know, he hardly ever sleeps".

Shortly afterward, the child will be good with new foods (or a picky eater), a good walker or talker (or else 'not walking/talking yet'), and good with strangers (or 'shy').  

If adults want a child to be quiet, stay put and keep its hands to itself, they ask it to be good.

This good thing is hard on adults who, deep down, feel the child they are with is not being good.  I say, "You know, there's not much moral dimension to behaviour in the under 3s, and none at all in the under 2s.  It's probably easier to think of good as adult convenient. If a child is not in-conveniencing the adults in its vicinity, it is called a good child.

I don't think it's possible for a small child to be bad, in the sense of making a moral choice with an understanding of the implications.  In fact most small children aren't thinking about the people around them much at all, they're just reacting to their own experience and needs. 

An adult convenient child will not just behave in a way that makes life easier for the adults around it, it will behave in such a way as to reflect glory onto them.  

An adult convenient child will happily interact with paid carers, teachers, medical staff and other children.  An adult convenient child will joyfully bang on a child-safe instrument when offered.  An adult convenient child will meet, or preferably exceed, any developmental milestone available. An adult convenient child never makes noise in banks or cafes.

Yes, that's right, the perfect good child - the perfect adult convenient child - is not really a child at all!  It is a mechanized doll.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Encouraging whining?

Ok, maybe it's the heat, but I detect an upswing in public tolerance - even encouragement - of whining.  So I'm going to have a whine myself, about that.

For the past week Melbourne has sweltered in record heat. (For my northern hemisphere readers it was 111'F [44'C] by day, and a balmy 92'F [31'C] overnight, if we were lucky.) The rail system broke down - the rails buckled in the heat.  There were bush fires. There were power outages, as our air-conditioning overloaded the power grid.  And the drought meant we were denied even the comfort of a long, cold shower if we had any environmental sensibility at all.

The newspapers had a field day: news-hounds haunted suburban train stations where commuters were stranded, inviting hot, tired, frustrated people to let 'er rip.  And they did. O how they did!

Did the whining make anybody baking on a platform feel better?  I don't think so.  Playing the blame game gets most people's blood pressure up.  It's always someone else's fault.  Encourage whining in a group situation, and you're well on the way to creating a mob.

Did reading the whining make any of the rest of us feel better? I noticed that in the many column inches of rhetoric and whining, what was absent was a constructive suggestions for a solution.  Apart from, "someone (else) should do something".

Yes, I agree the government should probably have worked out by now that a growing population will put pressure on infrastructure.  No, I don't agree that the government ought to have forseen a once-in-a-century heat-wave.  Can you imagine the public response had our government said, "We're putting taxes up because we want to install super-duper rails that will withstand extreme tempreratures"?

I see that it is enormously irritating that one's local train line has become unreliable.  I don't see why individuals haven't done more to improve their own situation.  Work from home, car pool, taxi pool with other stranded travellers, catch a bus or drive to another, more reliable train line, take your own water/food/umbrella for long waits - all these are possible part-solutions.

Not much space was granted to those who said, "Yep, there are problems with public transport, but really this weather is unusual and the government doesn't control that."  

None at all was granted to honouring those who had to work outside (or inside without air-conditioning) through it all - fire fighters excepted. I've watched my postman toiling up the hill on his bicycle every day, and I question whether he ought to be allowed to work in such extreme conditions.  No-one seems to have thanked the rail workers who walked ahead of the trains pouring water on the tracks. Noone has thanked the station staff who have continued to come to work to be yelled at for situations well beyond their control (and pay rate).

It's time for a stiff-upper lip, people.  Australians traditionally mocked the "whingeing" Poms, but now we're surpassing that stereotype. If there's something useful you can do, do it.  If there's something helpful you can say, then say it. If not, don't whine about.

On which note, I'll take my own advice and stop.