How do you know when it is you who has failed or when the system has failed? Is it possible to tell the difference or even what failure is at all?
Everyday life is enough to trigger such anguished questions in all of us. Should we ‘man up’ and take responsibility or go the way of the mountaintop and realize that nothing is ever fired directly at us?
Recently a series of events made my own thoughts about failure acute.
First I enjoyed a delightful [if somewhat rainy] charity golf day to raise money for bushfire victims. The local community rallied as it has done consistently since 193 homes were lost in a fire that an ecologist friend of mine described as a huge blowtorch.
Sponsors showered golfers with freebies and the golfers duly purchased vast numbers of raffle tickets and made generous bids in the auction when the golfing was done. The clubhouse was packed with people and there was a palpable sense of unity in a shared cause… and that isn’t so common in these distracted days.
Out on the course it was a team game [the scramble format for those in the know] and we were doing ok. We had an ideal handicap mix and the will to win that seems to gush out of every golfers pores no matter their [in]ability.
Coming to the last two holes we knew we had a bit of chance but really needed a couple of birdies. Drive, 6 iron, putt gave us one. Then, a 9 iron to two feet. That was two and enough for a credible 4th place. We were quietly chuffed with that.
Not a failure at all and, for me, sticking that 9 iron when it [kind of] mattered made me quite proud of myself. Such moments make the memories of an amateur sporting life.
I’ll pass over the conversation a few days later with a social media marketing guy who politely said I would never make any money from my books along with the ongoing anguish that is every consultants daily grind — clients who, bless their cotton socks, don’t really want the help you are offering — and cut to the chase.
The system of information gathering on how the environment works in the state of NSW is, abruptly, surplus to requirements, along with the conceptual framework that supports environmental decision-making.
The new[ish] state government have thrown out statewide natural resource management targets and cut the guts out of the human capital and budgets that previously gathered data on the health of the environment. A brutal dismantling that stinks of the political polemic.
Why would anyone do this? Knowledge is power and always has been. The environment is and always has been the foundation of our success, not to mention the source of what keeps each and everyone of us alive. So why stop trying to understand it by scrimping on the measly current spend on collecting the data?
Perhaps it is a sinister plot, a backlash against all those closet greenies in the previous government who had run the show [somewhat corruptly as it turns out] for more than a decade. Or, more worryingly, a belief that natural capital is inexhaustible and that humans were invented to mobiise it into wealth, fast cars and tea parties.
Whatever the reason the news hit me as a monumental personal failure. Clearly I had nothing to do with the decision or any influence over it either way and yet I took it personally.
Even as I fought the illogical feelings with personal pep talks and a viewing of Despicable Me 2, anguish was taking hold. It has since solidified into a funk that if I don’t shake it loose will sit for a long time in the pit of my stomach.
Of course there is some justification for my malaise.
Since the early 1990’s I have been variously teaching, researching, advising, criticizing, developing and talking up environmental monitoring — I even switched out of academia into the risky world of entrepreneurship to build an environmental monitoring company that for a time helped accumulate data and understanding.
Wearing my consultant’s hat I have prepared countless reviews of strategy and provided policy advice on MER that has consistently talked it up and tried to explain the value proposition. Recently I even came up with some new approaches to data analyses that will add more value to the raw numbers.
And it feels like it was all for nothing.
Only worse, it also feels like I should have done more to make it obvious, even to blind Freddie, that monitoring the environment was worth it for everyone.
As I write there is still a lead weight in my midriff that I am sure will take some shifting…
But this too shall pass.
Time will lighten the load and another golf game will see a white ball fly and land somewhere near the flag.