Monday, February 27, 2006

North Country thoughts

Last week I blogged about a whole bunch of movies, including North Country.

Such a good movie! (Warning, spoilers below... stop right here if you don't want to know how the story turns out!)

I was first of all interested in how it was marketed. Here in New Zealand, it was presented as a feel-good film that would make you glad to be alive (or something like that).

Strange, because the first half of the film displays a really hard life - hard mining work, poverty, and the constant threat of sexual assault.

But the marketing was right, the final scenes of this film make you feel like you yourself have won a great victory. While a tragedy shows everything that should be right going wrong, this shows everything going wrong, then coming right. It's brilliantly done.

What about Leadership?
Most obvious candidate for best character is Charlize Theron's character, Josie Ames. While her female co-workers are willing to settle for horrible treatment because of fear, she can't abide the status quo.

Both she and her co-workers see the same thing: gross injustice in the present, the difficulty of changing it, and the possibility of it getting worse if any complaint backfires. But while they see that as a reason not to do anything, she sees it as an unacceptable situation that must be changed.

She's willing to go through the risk, endure attacks on every area of her life, and even have a deep dark secret dredged up - all to change life for the better. And her example inspires others.

So, without a doubt, Josie is the hero of this story.

But I also noticed her father, Hank. He begins the movie as everything that's wrong with men in this story. He's not one of the ones who abuse and harrass, but he is one of the ones who stand by let it happen. He has no honour, only a sense of shame in his daughter. Selfish, and downright unmanly!

His character is painted so thoroughly apathetic that I wondered if he would ever change. So when he got up and stood by his daughter in the union meeting, I nearly cried. Finally, you're becoming a man! Better late than never.

However, that's easy to say from the cinema seat. What would be the scenario if it was me there, in a culture absolutely entrenched in the status quo, where your entire social network depends on getting on with these SOBs, harrassers, abusers? I'd like to think I'd stand up sooner than Hank did, to realise my job as a father was to protect my daughter, not my own reputation.

Last post I talked about the character's journey. Hank had one hell of a journey.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Are you Peter, Susan, Edmund or Lucy?

Yesterday I mentioned the movies I'd been seeing lately, and how the good vs. evil movies left the biggest impression on me.

Today I want to talk about the main characters of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and the personal journeys they took. Spoiler alert: if you haven't seen the film, and don't want to know what happens, you'd best save reading this till later.

In film parlance, it's called the character arc - a term I don't like so much, because an arc starts low, gets to a peak and then lands down low again. A really satisfying character journey, I feel, leaves someone higher than where they started. So I'll use the term journey.

Peter (William Moseley) begins the film bearing a heavy burden. The children are without their parents, and as the eldest he feels the pressure to become a father figure. His siblings are not so sure they want that, though.

They enter into the kingdom of Narnia, where very real danger haunts them. Instead of decreasing, Peter's responsibilities increase to epic scale. First he just wants to get his brother and sisters out of Narnia safely; before he knows it, he's carrying a sword and shield, and leading armies into battle!

And then there's the disparaging voice of reason, coming from sister Susan: "Just because Father Christmas gave you a sword doesn't make you a hero!"

Thankfully, there's another voice - the terrifying, gentle encouragement of Aslan: "Don't help (Peter)," he says to his soldiers. "He must fight this battle." He does, and by the end he is crowned Peter the Magnificent.
Sometimes we feel we need a break from life, but instead of getting better, it gets worse. Often, that's the best thing for us.
Susan (Anna Popplewell), as the second eldest, and the eldest girl, feels some of the parental responsibility that Peter feels. But as second eldest, she also feels a little bit helpless - she never has the final decision, and feels out of control of the situation. Maybe that's why she tries to stop Peter fulfilling his destiny - because it's not safe!

It's interesting, then, that Susan receives the bow and arrow - a weapon that lets her wage war from a distance, and the perspective that comes with that. (Quite cool, too, that CS Lewis could give his female characters weapons and an active role in battle - quite something for the 1940s!)

Susan's Narnia experience gives her a sense of herself - she no longer feels like a spare wheel, or out of control. She no longer needs to control the situation, and in the end is crowned ... Susan the gentle.
Crises can give us the wherewithal to stand up and know our role for that minute - and not worry about the roles of others.
Edmund (Skandar Keynes) is in the end crowned Edmund the Just, which is ironic, considering his role as traitor in the beginning. (An interesting theological point there by CS Lewis, too.)

Edmund travels the furthest in his journey. He starts as a solitary, surly character, given to adjusting the truth to whatever's convenient. But when he's in too deep, when his love of Turkish Delight - and approval - has gotten him in deep, deep trouble, Edmund realises he has choices to make.

Time after time he must walk the line between preserving his own life and saving the lives of others. To save others, he must stay alive, so it's not a black and white choice. Where once Edmund took the easy path every time, there is no longer any easy path. He rises to the challenge.

Later, when he has been atoned for by Aslan, Edmund is suited up and ready for battle. He faces a similar challenge to Peter - fighting his own battles. Peter tells him to fall back, to retreat, but instead Edmund attacks the witch (Tilda Swinson) and saves Peter's life, risking his own.
The easy way will not always be there. Start seeing the choices you have in life early, and take the high road, not the easy road.
While Edmund has the longest character journey, Lucy (Georgie Henley) has the shortest. She begins as a child full of wonder and compassion, and ends in much the same way.

At the end, Lucy is crowned Lucy the valiant. Her valiance is driven by her compassion, and fear never gets in the way. Though she's the youngest in the family, Lucy's curiosity and credulity leads the rest into the magical wonderworld that is Narnia.
Curiosity and compassion are two forces in the world that appear weak, but are incredibly strong.
One last note: At the beginning, the siblings are a group of individuals. At the end, they are a team. Crisis taught them how to look after each other, and let each other become the best they could be.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

We need idealistic movies!

This weekend just past, I had a bit of a movie marathon.

First, to test out our new surround sound system, I watched the Coen Brothers' The Ladykillers. (Sure, not much of a surround-sound film, but it was next on my list). A great film, very funny to watch and intellectually satisfying as well.

That was Friday; Saturday had me going to the Auckland War Memorial Museum for a free screening of Illustrious Energy (screening was free, admission was not... still, I'm not complaining!). Brilliant, little-known New Zealand film from the late 80s about Chinese gold miners in New Zealand's deep south.

Sunday, I went with Marie and our two mums to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Everything I expected and more. Just like the book, but not predictably so.

Then on Monday, Marie and I snuck into a late session of North Country at the Berkeley (thanks to Movieshack for the free ticket!). A fantastic film, not just because it was directed by New Zealander Niki Caro, but because it was a powerful story, well told.

Now, time for me to get to the point.

The Point

While I really enjoyed Ladykillers and Illustrious Energy, Narnia and North Country left a huge impression in my mind.

Why? Because they're both films about good vs. evil. In both of them, the heroes are reluctant and feel inadequately skilled. In both, the odds stacked against our hero are incredibly high. In both, good eventually wins out over evil.

If you're familiar with Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey", you'll see they pretty much follow the pattern. But paradoxically, that pattern, done right, never wears out it's welcome.

And it made me think - sometimes simplistic, good vs. evil stories like these are criticised as not being 'art', because they don't reflect the complexity of reality.

But maybe that's just what we need sometimes. Simplisticity! Why? Because the courage shown by our heroes helps us gain courage to face the complexity of our lives.

Please don't take this as a criticism of Ladykillers or Illustrious Energy - they are both brilliant movies. What I'm saying is that some movies give you a take-out that's just for you to use in life. Others just help you reflect and say, yes, life is like that.

Over the next couple of days I'll dig a bit deeper into what stood out to me from Narnia and North Country.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

You really know what you want when you have to wait for it

Our DVD player died a couple of weeks back and we have been watching DVDs on Marie's laptop - not bad, but definitely not good! Why the delay? They've been trying to repair it.

By "repair", they mean making us wait while an optical receiver - a tiny piece of equipment - travelled on a slow boat from China. It was agony!

Thank God for Tom. He's the guy in the stockroom at the store where we returned the player. While everyone else gave me indifferent service, Tom took a commonsense approach: three weeks is too long to be without as vital a piece of equipment as a DVD player.

While policy dictated the vendor had to approve a refund or repair blah blah blah... Tom knew that we, the customers, were getting withdrawal symptoms. Enough already.

So, he organised a refund. He shot the donkey for us, and I'll always appreciate it.

Why am I singing Tom's praises on Leadership Issues? Just to give praise where praise is due, really.

But the real reason for this post is the lessons learnt while waiting. With the refund we went and got a totally different DVD player than the one that was in repair. We'd learnt over time what we needed (as much as your whims for home theatre can be classified as 'needs').

The bottom line: sometimes life makes you wait, and you can either sulk, or learn from it.

For example: most of us don't have millions of dollars, so we have to choose carefully what we invest in, whether personally or in business.

For the lottery winner, they have no such luxury of time. The money - the opportunity - is all theirs, all now, and the urgency to use it somehow is overwhelming. (I imagine!)

How many lottery winners have you met who made very sound decisions with their winnings? Sure, there are a few, but they usually learned from experience before they won. They learned through limited resources, so they could handle virtually unlimited resources.

It's the same with any limitation we experience: time, energy, health, technology. The limitations give us a chance to explore the possibilities, and discover the best path ahead over time.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

To Know What You Want, you have to let life show you

Yesterday, I talked about knowing what you want. It's a great feeling when you do know exactly what you want - whether from your next conversation, or from life in general.

Top salespeople make it their business to get what they want by helping others getting what they want.

But what happens to top salespeople - or in fact persuasive types in any industry - when they realise they can make anything happen that they want. Does it take the excitement, the randomness out of life?

I've got to admit, I don't know. Y'see, I'm not naturally one of these master persuaders (despite studying the subject for years!).

However, I have met at least two fantastic people who can sell proverbial fridges to proverbial Eskimos (sorry, Inuit), who feel a sense of dissatisfaction with their current state of life. They want to experience something bigger than themselves - something that happens without them making it happen.

While they know what they want on the micro- level, they don't know what the ultimate "desire" is. Or they think they know, arrive, and are disappointed.

As for me, I've been through enough ups and downs to know that my imagination in any given moment is often not as good as what's waiting around the corner.

If I'd called the shots sometimes - if I could have anything I wanted - I would've missed out on the totally unexpected surprises life had for me. There is great treasure in the unexpected.

I'll leave you with that thought today: if you're a strong personality who prides yourself on making things happen, let life show you something bigger than yourself.

I'm not much of a country music fan, but there's a John Denver song I love: Sweet Surrender. While Denver and I would probably disagree about who we're surrendering to, I love the idea of the song.

PS: I found I'd touched on this subject before, with my post Systematic and Serendipitous, way back in 2004. Seems I've stumbled on a recurring theme.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Knowing What You Want

In the excellent little book The Experts' Guide to 100 Things Everyone should know How to Do, Donald Trump says of negotiation:
"Know exactly what you want, and focus on that."
It sounds easy, doesn't it. But on a micro level as well as macro, it can be difficult in any given moment to know what you want.

Asking the right questions
Take, for example, the story I'm writing right now for Management Magazine. I've been given something of a brief, but to make it a really good article, I need to:

  1. Put myself in the shoes of the potential reader
  2. Decide what I - in those shoes - really really want to know about the subject
  3. Start digging - start asking questions - intelligent questions, because I've put myself so well in the shoes of my reader.
Of course, I could fake it and just ask people the question word for word from the brief, tabulate the answers and make into a half-decent article.

But here's the problem I find - people want to know what I want from them. They don't like vague.

And it's not just in interviewing people, either. Knowing what you want determines your attitude to information and opportunity.

For some time I've had the book How to Pass Exams on my shelf. It was one of those many books that you get because it might come in useful one day. I have a lot of books like that.

But when I showed it to my wife Marie, who is now a student, her eyes lit up. Suddenly, what was just another book became one of the most relevant and valuable books in the house.

Desire will do that to you. It will help light up the things you need to get what you want, and it will also help you filter out the things that are irrelevant, unhelpful or harmful to your goal.

Desire can be good or bad for you. And that's why it needs to be harnessed together with purpose. And when those two - purpose and desire - combine, you get focus.

More on Purpose tomorrow.

PS: Here are the rest of Donald Trump's pointers on negotiation:
  1. Know exactly what you want, and focus on that.
  2. View any conflict as an opportunity. This will expand your mind as well as your horizons.
  3. Know that your negotiating partner/partners may well have exactly the same goals as you do. Do not underestimate them.
  4. Patience is an enormous virtue and needs to be cultivated for successful negotiations on any level.
  5. Realize that quiet persistence can go a long way. Being stubborn is often an attribute. The key is to know when to loosen up.
  6. Remain optimistic at all times. Practice positive thinking - this will keep you focused while weeding out negative and detrimental people.
  7. Let your guard down, but only on purpose. Watch how your negotiating partners respond.
  8. Be open to change - it's another word for innovation.
  9. Trust your instincts, even after you've honed your skills. They're there for a reason.
  10. Negotiation is an art. Treat it like one.
From Experts' Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do, created by Samantha Ettus, Allen & Unwin 2004

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Focus Point

Focus Point

This guy is kinda talking about what I'm trying to get articulated this week.

For the first time since I started blogging, I struggled to structure my thoughts, and scrapped several drafts. That's probably a good thing.

Y'see, I have a lot in my head right now about Focus, Purpose and Desire. But getting it down. on paper. in. the. right. order ... is a little difficult.

So bear with me, please, as I draft and draft again. I think this is going to be important.

Monday, February 13, 2006

My wife is a student!

Now that's a happy face!

Marie got her study material for her degree in Business Psychology last week - I had to capture the moment.

Marie's joy is as if she's already graduated. But the simple act of enrolling has been a long time coming.

For years Marie has wanted to study. When we got married eight years ago she had a suitcase full of all the prospectuses and application forms she'd inquired about. But the time was never right.

Part of the problem was that, while she wanted to study, she didn't know what she wanted to study. And it's very important to know that (especially under a user pays education system!).

Have you ever felt like that? That you know you want to study ... create ... fulfil something, but you just don't know what it is.

This week I'll try to address this issue of knowing what you want, through my own ongoing experiences and some books I've been dipping into lately.

Meanwhile, my own educational aspirations have taken a slightly different turn. After going on a two-day screenwriting workshop, I realised that for a filmmaker or screenwriter, letters after your name counts least. It's what you actually do that counts. So for me, a programme of tightly focused workshops might be better than a degree programme.

But it's all about knowing what you really want. When I first floated the idea to myself of being a full-time student, it was because I wanted to be nothing but a student. I was fatigued from the stresses of being in many different places at once - necessary stresses for a business owner of any kind.

But times change. We change. And we learn.

To be continued!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Robert Rodriguez: You are a filmmaker

Okay, so this quote more properly belongs to my DIY Film School blog, but it's very relevant to leadership: you are what you say you are.

"So you want to be a filmmaker? First step to being a filmmaker is stop saying you want to be a filmmaker. It took me forever to be able to tell anyone I was a filmmaker and keep a straight face until I was well on my way. But the truth was, I had been a filmmaker ever since the day I had closed my eyes and pictured myself making movies. The rest was inevitable. So you don't want to be a filmmaker, you are a filmmaker. Go make yourself a business card."

That's from the inside front cover of Rebel Without a Crew, by Robert Rodriguez. Heard of him?

He's the guy behind Spy Kids, Sin City, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, and more.

This book is about how he learnt, step by step, how to make movies with what he had available - cheap video equipment, and a lot of time - and became a big Hollywood director.

If there's one lesson to learn from Rodriguez, it's this: start with what you've got.

Have a great weekend!

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Book Review: Philosophy in 30 Days

I've always been a philosopher of sorts.

When I was 7 or 8 I remember looking in the mirror, wondering, "Why am I me and not someone else?"

And then, "If I was someone else, how would I know?"

The art of asking questions no-one can answer is one way to define Philosophy. So why is it so popular?

That's one of the questions that Dominique Janicaud tries to answer in his ambitious Philosophy in 30 Days.

Written for his teenage daughter, and therefore accessible to a wide audience, this book tries to introduce the basic 'big names' in philosophy. But more importantly, it encourages the reader to think philosophically.

Knowing that philosophy can be a daunting subject, the 30 chapters are incredibly short, taking only 5 to 10 minutes to read. Janicaud limits each chapter to a central thought, rather than overloading you with facts.

Being a translation from French, there are some ideas expressed here that necessarily come across a little clunky in English. But generally the ideas behind the words shine through.

The subject of religion comes up often in the book, first as Janicaud expresses the impossibility of a modern (or postmodern) mind to relate to the important philosophical works of St Augustine or St Thomas Aquinas, and then throughout the book, contrasting Jesus' claim that "I am the Truth" with other philoshopers' thoughts on the nature of truth.

I am pleased to say that Janicaud showed true philosophical detachment in dealing with the subject of religion - not judging it, neither insisting on it nor insisting it is wrong. I say this because another book released around the same time (The Heart of Things, by A.C.Grayling) which claims to "apply philoshophy to the 21st century", completely ridiculed religion, showing a dogmatism which seems uncharacteristic of true philosophy.

I started this book hoping for an outline of the great thinkers and their great thinkings, and this book in part does that, starting with Plato and spending quite a few chapters on Nietzche, the author's favourite philosopher.

But Janicaud also warns that many philosophers' works cannot be boiled down into a few paragraphs, and instead gives a beginner's reading list for those with the time and inclination to go further.

What this book does very well is bring up the great questions of Philosophy - questions about nature, about existence, and even about Philosophy itself - so the budding philosophical thinker can at least know the conceptual landscape in which he or she stands.

Sadly, Janicaud himself died the day after this book's first draft was published. I'm glad for his sake and his family's that he wrote down what was very important to him while he still lived.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Just a bit more on diet

I'm realising a mistake I made last week, when I talked about what Daniel's Diet cuts out. It's not about what's missing, it's abundantly about what's there!

Of course, it is fairly important for that particular diet to avoid artificial stuff, dairy and wheat, but for any diet it's great to realise what is good for you - and go crazy with it.

Fresh fruit and vegetables, for one thing, are wonderful when you just enjoy the raw sensual joy of them! Here are naturally grown foods, each one completely different.

Perhaps that's partly what detracts from them, too. You don't know exactly what you're going to get, unlike McDonald's where it's all about predictability.

I used to prefer predictability, so I simply reprogrammed my mind. This natural stuff is better for me, and I do enjoy a good stir fry when someone else makes it, so why don't I start experimenting with the veges I know well - and some I don't! The worst that could happen is I don't like the taste.

So now, even though I stumble with naughty ice cream sometimes, it's a real treat to go to the Otara Flea Markets after dropping Marie off to work at 6am on a Saturday, and, in the glimmering dawn, choose from some of the whopping vegetables and fruit they have there.

I came home last Saturday with a spring onion about 3 feet long! And a celery I needed both hands to hold. Healthy vegetables and fruit give you such a feeling of abundance and wealth, it's amazing.

And now I'm sounding like a true nut! Must be time for my salad...

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Looking after your body, epilogue

Last week I had a bit to say about how to look after your body. In case you missed it:

Part One: Intro
Part Two: Exercise
Part Three: Food
Part Four: Why this is important

Since then, I had a really bad weekend in terms of living up to what I'm saying.

I mean really, really bad,

Pizza... fried, battered fish... ice cream. That kind of bad.

Of course, there are mitigating factors. The pizza was Marie's idea (sounds familiar: "The apple was Eve's idea!"), and the fried, battered fish was part of a spread for a family get-together. So I take extra extra seriously my last words from last week:

Does this mean that only trim, slim saints who walk every day qualify for the top jobs. Heavens no.
("Heavens no"? What was I thinking?)

But then I said this, and I still agree with it, even though it incriminates me:
But having a healthy, balanced personal life sure gives you an advantage in getting the job done, and helping everyone involved reach their potential.

With that in mind, an excellent book arrived last week, The No Diet Diet: Do Something Different. Better than Atkins, say the reviews. Didn't think much of Atkins in the first place, but let's have a look at this then...

A quick glance shows this to be very different from other books I have on the subject. Food is seldom mentioned here; instead, this is all about habits.

Chapter one begins with a Spanish proverb: "Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables." Then it says: "Turning off the TV, making someone laugh and singing in the bath can all help you lose weight!"

I think I'm going to enjoy this book. And I think I'll learn things that will apply to other areas of life as well. This sounds like it will be an eminently suitable Leadership Issues book. I'll keep you posted!

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Happy Waitangi Day

I just checked and saw the great variety of people viewing this blog from all over the world! Kia ora and welcome, visitors from Hawaii, the mainland USA, the Netherlands, the Czech republic, Chile, Britain, South East Asia, Greece, Turkey, Pakistan and Japan. To mention a few!

Because of the international nature of you, the reader, I thought it might be good for me to explain why New Zealanders are having a day off today (except for me, of course).

It's Waitangi Day, the 'celebration' of the Treaty which really launched New Zealand as a nation in 1840. I put 'celebration' in inverted commas because these days it's more associated with protests than peace.

Why is this?

Celebration and controversy
That's a question which many a pakeha (white) New Zealander, and many immigrants, ask. And it's hard to reduce to a nutshell, but I'll try:

The original 1840 Treaty had two translations, one English, one Maori. Seems the two translations ended up saying different things, the key difference being about the word rangatiratanga - nowadays generally agreed to mean 'sovereignty'.

So, whether by accident or deliberately, the aftermath of the Treaty had the British thinking they had complete control over the country - sovereignty - and the Maori thinking the same thing.

Back then, arguments were ultimately won by who had the most guns, and the so-called Land Wars of the 1860s established British governmental control over New Zealand. (The naming of the wars as the Land Wars reflected the thinking of the time, that the wars were simply about land. Historians now refer to the wars as the New Zealand wars, reckoning they were actually about sovereignty).

A culture's resurrection
As time went by, the Maori culture grew weaker and weaker, diluted, some say, by the white man's religion, by disease, by alcohol, and later on by urbanisation. Maori families moved from their rural land to new opportunities in the city, and new generations learned that they needed to abandon the old ways, the old language, to get ahead.

It could have been the end of the Maori culture, let alone hopes for the sovereignty promised in the Treaty. But a brave group of Maori intellectuals and radicals spearheaded the so-called Maori Renaissance in the 1970s, bringing back the language, culture and - most controversially - land claims into the public eye.

What began as a movement of (relatively) peaceful yet illegal protest eventually influenced the New Zealand government at the highest levels, and today the Treaty is entrenched in legislation, and the government of the day attempts to fulfil the spirit of the Treaty as best it can.

My perspective
That's a very short nutshell approach to what the Treaty is all about. Waitangi Day is a time which tests the leadership and PR skills of all the major political leaders, who in the past have faced protest, humiliation and challenge at Waitangi.

This year, Prime Minister Helen Clark has declined to be at Waitangi, a point she is trying to play down. However it's the sort of occasion when it doesn't matter what you do or don't do, as a leader you'll be noticed.

For me, as a fifth generation pakeha New Zealander, Waitangi makes me think of a lot of things.
  • I'm thankful for the system of government we do have, that we inherited from Britain. A constitutional monarchy, though archaic and complicated, is a very stable form of government that gives the people a lot of voice in the affairs of government - if they know how to take advantage of that.

  • On the other side of that coin, I'm sad that so often, the words that should communicate instead block the other party from being able to understand. That's what some say the Treaty was about in the first place - a bloodless war to plunder the indigenous peoples of New Zealand. I don't agree with that, but I can understand that point of view.

  • I'm thankful that I met Robyn (another erstwhile contributor to this blog) last year, a Maori activist who showed me what all the fuss was about. It makes a big difference to meet someone, share a meal with them and find out what a regular person they are. Much different to seeing marching protestors on TV.

  • I think about my own ancestors and their experiences with Maori. They came to this country as settlers with the New Zealand Company, but instead of the large, cleared land they expected, they found bush and hard terrain. Thankfully they formed good relations with Maori in the several places they lived, learned the language and customs, and lived peacefully side by side. At least that's how it comes across in their written accounts - which I realise may be euphemistic. Still, it's nice to think that while chiefs and governors were haggling, common folk such as my ancestors were simply getting on with the business of life, and looking not only to their own interests but the interests of their neighbours, brown or white. One part of me says that is incredibly naive, another part of me says, so what?

The Australian: Hamas's new doctrine: talk to the Jews [February 06, 2006]

The Australian: Hamas's new doctrine: talk to the Jews [February 06, 2006]

Interesting update on Hamas (see last Monday's post).

Friday, February 03, 2006

Looking after yourself, part 4: why all this is important

You might be wondering why I've spent the last four days sharing my experiences and advice on looking after your through and .

I believe how you look after yourself is an integral part of being able to lead others.

Would you be willingly led by a cocaine addict? I wouldn't. What makes that different from a chocolate addict? Or a caffeine addict? Just degrees of magnitude.

I'm sounding like a freak here because I'm trying to make a point. What you put into your body, and how you treat it, reflect how you feel about yourself, and how well you look after others.

Of course, this brings up big questions about definitions. What is leadership?

Is leadership simply 'getting the job done', as seems to be the de facto definition in politics and business today? If so, who cares if you're a chain-smoking, whisky-swilling glutton - as long as you achieve the objective. Such a man was Winston Churchill, whom I greatly admire. But I don't think that style of leadership will survive the demands of the 21st century.

I believe that 21st century leadership will have both 'fathers' and 'mothers'. Traditionally the father is the one who introduces the child to the wider world, to risk, and to adventure. God knows we need fathers, and good ones at that.

But we also need good 'mothers' - the nurturers, protecters and carers. And in saying this I'm not trying to tie down people to gender roles - I believe an individual can learn the lessons of both 'motherhood' and 'fatherhood', although they may tend towards one direction.

The message for organisations now is sustainability. Traditionally that makes us think of the environment, but it's just as urgent for people - 'human resources'.

So learning how to sustainably use our own personal resources - through good diet and through exercise - will help us as we endeavour to lead those around us.

Does this mean that only trim, slim saints who walk every day qualify for the top jobs. Heavens no. But having a healthy, balanced personal life sure gives you an advantage in getting the job done, and helping everyone involved reach their potential.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Looking after your body, part 3: Food and diet

Yesterday and the day before, I've been on about the importance of looking after your body, and how I've gone in my quest to look after me.

As you'll recall, after her surgery my wife Marie motivated both of us to get into , but we still struggled to know what to eat.

Of course some things were obvious: don't eat junk food, keep sugar, fat and salt to a minimum. But it was all pretty vague and in the back of our minds - until we went to Australia last year.

There's something about a different environment that makes you open to new ideas. That's why it's great to travel. :)

Plus, we also got fed very well by both our sisters (both very good cooks!), and we decided it was time to do something when we got back home.

We started with Daniel's Diet, by Philip Bridgeman (not to be mistaken for the many other "Daniel's Diets" out there). It's a fairly extreme diet from a Christian naturopathist in Australia that eliminates or severely reduces:
  • sugar
  • fat
  • anything artificial
  • wheat
  • dairy
The last two items surprised us a bit, because bread and milk are two of the most frequently bought items in supermarkets.

The reasoning behind getting rid of dairy is that we're not meant to eat/drink milk past infancy. Wheat, meanwhile, is not harmful in itself, but tends to cause intolerance because it is in so many foods these days (take a look at some ingredients lists sometimes, it really is!).

We have ended up relaxing many of the standards of Daniel's Diet, but I'm glad we started with it. There are so many diet options out there that it's easy to get confused. By trying just one for a period of time (for us it was roughly three months - give or take) we can start to understand the principles behind the rules.

For us that was the most important thing - understanding why we're eating so many fresh vegetables, and why we're avoiding this that and the other.

Interestingly, we found that cutting dairy and wheat has actually helped us lose weight, or at least some appearance of weight. Water retention, whatever. We like getting the compliments!

So here's what our looks like now:
  • Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Snacks: nuts, fruit or healthy chips (e.g. pita chips - yes, even though they have wheat in them)
  • Spelt or rye bread, if we have bread (not often)
  • Soy milk
  • A large lunch, smaller dinner
We've also been helped by The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, which is a lot more moderate in its advice, and a lot more comprehensive. Great stuff like weekly shopping plans help translate the information from theory into practice, from intention to reality.

Tomorrow, why all this stuff is important.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Looking after your body, part 2: walking and pilates

Yesterday I promised to tell you how Marie (my wife) and I are tackling the need to .

The most obvious form of exercise is walking, which is not only rewarding physically, but also a great way to get to know your neighborhood in slow motion (rather than speeding past in the car) and also lets you enjoy conversation. Unless you're walking by yourself, of course!

Walking gets the heart going and loosens up your limbs. I like it because you don't have to think about it too much, and you get to see new things.

It's good to know what motivates you. I found I wasn't that interested in walking somewhere I've already walked. I like to explore, and will walk much further if motivated by curiosity than any other form of goal-setting. It's good to know stuff about yourself like that!

The other exercises we've been trying are Mari Windsor's DVDs. Hard work, but the great thing is you don't really need equipment - it's hard enough fighting gravity, let alone using a whole bunch of gym equipment.

Theoretically, you could get so used to the Pilates exercises you could do them without the DVD. But I haven't done them regularly enough to memorise them, and it really does help to hear Mari Windsor saying well done, even if you skipped some exercises (well, she didn't see me skip them).

What doesn't help is the skinny models who make everything look effortless. Sure, it wouldn't be encouraging to see a chubby person like me puffing and making faces, so I don't know what the solution is there.

I admit, it's been hard to get into Pilates on a regular basis, but a recent visit to the osteopath about back pain reassured me that Pilates was going to be more help than any 'quick fix'.

The great thing about Pilates: it targets specific areas of your body. That means it hurts, but it also means you're being improved all over.

Of course, I have books about exercise too! One that I'm particularly looking forward to getting into is Bodywise: Discover a New Connexion with Your Body by none other than the Royal Australian Ballet.

While I don't think I'll be doing Swan Lake anytime soon, I do like what the book says about learning to wear your body well. Makes a lot of sense. If I can't be the brain in a box like that ancient episode of Star Trek, I can make the most of the body I live in.

Tomorrow, food.