Avoiding behaviour

Time to own up…

I’m in denial.

I really don’t like the idea of turning 50; even though I’ve convinced myself it’s only the attention I don’t fancy.

I’m a better man than I was turning 40; more skilled, knowledgeable, kinder and more resilient and optimistic. But my job and professional life are much worse.

Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned these last few years, it’s this: positivity and action beat carping and ruminating.

The universe is on your side if you keep fighting the good fight.

It’s all good – once next week’s out of the way…

Sacks and Seneca

  

A very autumnal feel to this week; in lots of different ways. It’s back to school for all of us: big school for one; a new class for the other; and very soon a whole new place of work for me.

As the kids accelerate forwards, I’ve been mostly looking back this week; at eight years of corporate memory. I’m methodically archiving, filing and mostly deleting my electronic back catalogue. No-one else is going to be that interested. Little that has been done before works exactly the same way again. 

But what sticks – looking at the better part of a decade of pronouncements, presentations, reviews, restructures and change programmes – is that many things have got a whole lot better; but the fundamental issues have hardly changed at all. 

And perhaps that’s the lesson, as I move onto the next; and next week clock up another year closer to 50… most of the big things in human affairs stay pretty much the same over the sweep of history.

A wise associate of mine, sent me the later life and closing thoughts of Oliver Sacks yesterday, from the New York Times; here:

The joy of old age (no kidding).

And 

My own life 

I replied:

“These are incredibly moving. This is how I want to live my older years and then ‘rise, satisfied, from the banquet of life’ as Seneca had it. This is the most important and defining thing of all – how we face death and then make the most of life.”

Easier said than done of course – and shame on me; the ‘banquet of life’ is Aristotle’s quote: 

“It is best to rise from life as from a banquet, neither thirsty nor drunken.”

But Seneca’s reflections ‘on the shortness of life’, precised here, are timeless too:

 Why do we complain of Nature? She has shown herself kindly; life, if you know how to use it, is long. 

But one man is possessed by an avarice that is insatiable, another by a toilsome devotion to tasks that are useless; one man is besotted with wine, another is paralyzed by sloth; one man is exhausted by an ambition that always hangs upon the decision of others, another, driven on by the greed of the trader, is led over all lands and all seas by the hope of gain; some are tormented by a passion for war and are always either bent upon inflicting danger upon others or concerned about their own; some there are who are worn out by voluntary servitude in a thankless attendance upon the great; many are kept busy either in the pursuit of other men’s fortune or in complaining of their own; many, following no fixed aim, shifting and inconstant and dissatisfied, are plunged by their fickleness into plans that are ever new; some have no fixed principle by which to direct their course, but Fate takes them unawares while they loll and yawn—so surely does it happen that I cannot doubt the truth of that utterance which the greatest of poets delivered with all the seeming of an oracle: “The part of life we really live is small.” For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time. 

Ask about the men whose names are known by heart, and you will see that these are the marks that distinguish them: A cultivates B and B cultivates C; no one is his own master. And then certain men show the most senseless indignation—they complain of the insolence of their superiors, because they were too busy to see them when they wished an audience! But can anyone have the hardihood to complain of the pride of another when he himself has no time to attend to himself? After all, no matter who you are, the great man does sometimes look toward you even if his face is insolent, he does sometimes condescend to listen to your words, he permits you to appear at his side; but you never deign to look upon yourself, to give ear to yourself. There is no reason, therefore, to count anyone in debt for such services, seeing that, when you performed them, you had no wish for another’s company, but could not endure your own.   

Wise words.

Chameleon

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I read this week that science has discovered when a lizard re-grows a tail – having dropped the original to escape a predator – what grows back is not the same. It looks the same. But the new tail has a cartilage tube instead of vertebra and very little sensation except at the tip. A pale imitation.

This reminded me of a conversation with a good friend on Friday – who’s looking very lean. What you expect to see conditions how you view what you are seeing. I saw ‘thin’, thought ‘he’s ill’ and started worrying. But on closer inspection he is actually in tip top shape.

We had our ’25 years on’ University reunion yesterday, along with ’40 years on’, ’50 years on’ and ‘past counting’. My year all looked older. Not a lot older – you’d still recognise us on the fresher’s photo. But inescapably older.

The classes of 1972 and 1962 though were in a different league – much much older. I couldn’t help wondering how we’ll see each other when we are that group. How much will we see each other’s age, how much will we still see the people we were aged 18?

Talking to folk I’ve not seen in years, I was surprised by what they expected from me. Of course everyone remembers you as you were, not as you are. I was famously grumpy, but I’m not now. It’s funny how people couldn’t quite cope with that. They all prefer the cheerier 21st century me, but couldn’t quite believe it.

What we expect to see conditions what we do ‘see’ even when all the evidence is to the contrary. People can look the same and be very different, look different but still be the same. I can still do grumpy, but I’ve found a happy colourful chameleon has more fun than a grumpy one.

Relevant Complexity 5) Age

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Talking to someone at work, she said she’d been surprised that a very experienced chap in his late 50s had come on a training course.

We concluded that age shouldn’t matter in deciding who gets training. I know plenty of pig-headed twenty and thirtysomethings who’d have got less and will give less as a result of that training course – it’s openness to new ideas that matters.

It dawned on me that nearly all the people I most enjoy conversation and contemplation with, are at least ten years older than me. And many much older. When it comes to thinking about things, you can’t beat the right sort of older person.

Contemporary society glorifies youth. But younger people haven’t always got much to say. Of course there’s freshness and simplicity but relevant complexity in people takes time to grow.

Openness, curiosity and the experience of age are key attributes of the Aristotelian ‘friend in contemplation’. Aquinas’s ‘prudentia’ – practical wisdom – is not innate, it is learned. Wisdom takes time. Forget youth, when comes to interesting people – the oldies are the goodies.