Wednesday, 9 July 2008

My Heroes: Two have died but one still lives

Heroes, you come across in books. I have my real life heroes, people who have appeared, taught me something ( whether I knew I need to learn, or was prepared to learn it, is ANOTHER matter) and in the process taught me something else. They are unsung to the world at large and it is probable in most cases that they are unaware that to me they are heroes. Heroes they are, and they are all around me.

Then there are the ones from books who are real too. A long time ago I read Good to Great by Jim Collins, about companies that get good and sustain it over years and years and years to become great companies. He described a number of factors that were common to the handful of companies he and his research team decided passed the entry bar they had set for a great company. One of these characteristics was labelled the Stockdale Paradox (I am told it isn't a paradox, but I am not a scientist and therefore the label works well enough for me)

A description of this can be found

He was a flier, tortured and held captive, for years during the Vietnam War.

“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Admiral Stockdale
You do need to have faith that you will prevail AND you do need to face the current situation as it is, not as you would like it to be, but as it is. The faith supports a personal resilience the brutal facts support decisions about how you can deal with your current situation.

To me this seemed second nature. Use of the word Brutal seems highly militaristic, but he was an Admiral and they were truly brutal facts that he was facing. Maybe the use of the word Brutal was a function of the time in which he was operating too, and also a flavour of the time Jim Collins was writing his book and the companies he identified, living in the land of " it's a jungle out there" and operating from a mindset of siege rather than opportunity, retaining for oneself, rather than sharing with others too.

The Admiral had an effect on me and I wanted to find out more about him. Web is full of stuff, and Wikipedia is a good start and his own website.

One very Admirable, Admiral.

Cecil Lewis author of Sagittarius Rising and one of the founders of the BBC

I picked up a book a long time ago in a bookstore at a railway station because I was bound for a long journey. I picked the book by its name! A whimsical choice that took me completely by surprise. It is about the exploits of a WWI flying ace. It has the most breathtaking and real descriptions of flying I have ever read, which has inspired a goal - not yet embarked on - to learn to fly. Literal by the "seat of yer pants stuff" for which you'd need a cool head and a sense of adventure. He joined the RFC from school underage and survived the war becoming an ACE in the process. There are lots of reviews of the book on the net, Amazon has most. The best parts where he really comes alive in his writing, are the adventures and descriptions from above. Though he clearly approaches and experiences life as a series of exploits and adventures, his element is the air and his place is in the sky at speed, maneuvering.

He was an interesting person to read about, as seen from the centre of his own universe.

As with Admiral Stockdale above, after reading about him I wished I really could have met him. But I had prematurely decided on both their deaths, and was and am very frustrated with myself when I read later at different times obviously,that they HAD just died!!!

Monty Roberts - The Horse Whisperer man

Breaking in horses, is the way that for hundreds of years worldwide man has been able to subjugate and control horses. Break is a brutal word. Monty Roberts is not alone in believing there has to be a better way, but he probably is the most famous. His life is one of contention, he maintains he was abused as a child by his father and his siblings maintain that he was not. He believes he has an affinity with horses and his methods are improving the lives of horses (and people worldwide)

He starts from a premise of respect, that the animal has to choose to work with you and that choice does not come about through coercion. Messages might be very clear about consequences, but the consequences are clear and accepted by both sides. By choosing the horse maintains dignity and his own spirit. He has written many books, and he, or a ghost writer, writes in a simple voice, old fashioned, homespun - nevertheless sincere.

This respect for the intelligence and sense of the horse has saved his life at times, when the whisperer listens to the horse and is guided by their insight.

He is tough, he thinks, ultimately he is kind. He is confronting the brutal facts and has faith that he will prevail, he is living in his element and having an adventure.

A few years back I was standing outside a bookshop and noticed a sign that read he was giving a reading and signing books that evening at a local hall. I stared and stared at that notice for probably several minutes because I really could not believe my eyes.

I was not disappointed.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Oh to live in the canopy!

Much to the annoyance of others I like the trees to grow tall in my garden.

When I look out of my bedroom window at the dawn rising or at the antics of the weather that day, I do so through the veil of branches from a Flowering Cherry Tree. When I hear the rain at night I hear is as it bounces off the leaves, or patters on the twigs or slides down the branches for a drip drop rhythm onto the ground below. I could tune that out and hear the water in the guttering, or tipping against the roof, but hearing the rain through the leaves is the best way for me. The sound is dampened, its percussive nature given more subtlety and variety simply because it is not as harsh.

I could live in the trees (provided I could have regular hot baths and access to reading material) I like the green light, I like the play of shade. I love the fact that one part of the tree can be completely still and another experience some turbulence, probably external, but who can know.

Today I saw something close up that I know happens but you can not see from the ground.
A rather determined blackbird had decided he wanted something. As I looked out the window, at eye height in the trees was I with a shiny healthy blackbird. In his sunshine yellow beak against the green leaves he had a cherry. This Cherry was almost as big as his head, glowing like his shining beady eye, and was a glossy scarlet red, plump and full of juiciness. He held it firmly and was apparently standing in the midst of a large leaf, and looked all around him - turned to me, barely gave me a second thought (maybe he calculated that the chances of me leaping into the branches for his fruit were too slight to worry about). He was both very pleased with himself and also prepared to protect his booty. His beak for a swag bag, he turned once more and despite the theft of it's fruit, left swiftly without disturbing the tree