Barracking for the best

Barracking for the best

Photo by Shapelined on Unsplash

When I was a kid, I was a Leeds United supporter. They were top of the league at the time, had the best players, the best team, and I loved their funky logo, very 1970’s.

I painted it on my school satchel.

This was a risky thing to do given that I went to school in North London, a spit and a shove from White Hart Lane, the home of Tottenham Hotspur, the team most of my school mates supported. And, of course, Tottenham is up the road from Highbury, the home of Arsenal FC and the enemy in one of the biggest local rivalries in soccer.

In fact, it was a huge shock when my son who was born in Zimbabwe and raised in Australia turned out to be an Arsenal supporter. What was he thinking?

My excuse for not ‘go you Spurs’ was that I had no sense of association with the area having just arrived from two years in the north of England and then prior to that as a young kid in South London. No affinity for North London at all really and so I aligned myself to the club that was doing the best at the time, the one at the top of the league.

I’ve noticed that throughout my life I’ve always latched on to the team or the player who was the best at the time. I admired that ability to become the world’s best or recognized as one of the best players of a particular game.

These days when I must decide between England or Australia during the Ashes tests, baracking for the best is a problem. As a cricket buff it’s kind of fascinating to want the home country to win or the best team to win which invariably in recent years at least has been Australia. Often I will cop out and follow the players who I think are the best out of those two teams, again most often Australian.

My focus is on high quality wherever I see it and not just barrack for those people but to follow them and to recognize them for their skill and artistry.

When somebody stands out from the pack because they’re genuinely good then I recognize that straight away and become a fan. Interesting to understand why that’s the case, why I’m going for the best team at the time.

Leeds United of course has been in the doldrums for decades. After relegation from the first division they struggled in the championship only this year to return to the Premier League. I have no idea who plays for the many more. I know they have a dynamic manager who’s given them a new way of playing and their current success. And I wish them well and I hope that they do well but I don’t follow them in the same way as I did as a kid.

Looking back a big part of this risk taking – wearing a Leeds United scarf to Stamford Bridge in the late 1970’s was reckless – was me going against convention. I wasn’t following in footsteps or the tribe. At least not of tribalism that has to do with why people support their local teams through thick and thin. For me, it’s about a search for excellence and an insecurity in my own ability.

I want to manage my own sense of inadequacy by looking up to people with talent, recognising high quality and becoming a fan of not necessarily the individual or the team, but the qualities that they represent.

That way, I always have something to live up to.

I find this motivation useful in just about everything that I do. Even when I tried woodworking, which I’m dreadful at, and put together tools and the skills to try to have a go at it. I went to the great training ground of YouTube and found incredible individuals who were able to not just demonstrate skill in construction with wood, from the basics through to some complicated solutions, but we’re good at explaining it. They made woodworking accessible and the skills learnable through humour or an ability to take a process and break it down into its constituent parts. After many an hour across multiple channels looking at the woodwork material I now have a reasonable idea of how to do it, at least not to make a complete hash of it, and hopefully keep myself safe.

My problem, as regulars will know from the sort of post on Alloporus, there’s always a challenge in there somewhere. The challenge of seeking excellence is this.

I have lost the ability to find excellence in the workplace.

Many of you will know that I work in the environmental sciences. My role as an ecologist is to try and understand how the natural world works in order to better apply policy and practice.

At the moment the application is to agricultural production systems and balancing agricultural production with other values that we gain from the environment.

I have struggled over the last decade or so to maintain that sense of who should I barrack for? Who can I see that is demonstrating excellence in this process. Who is really across there portfolio and understands the processes and what’s happening.

To be honest with you, I don’t have those people anymore.

As a young academic I found such individuals easily. They were the senior professors and the prolific academic writers who were able to talk with true depth of understanding. Whenever they said something I would think, ‘I didn’t get that, you know, I need to learn more from what this person is saying’ and off I would go to the library. Maybe I put those people on a pedestal a little, but they were extremely helpful in guiding me forward.

One of the reasons that top academics achieve success is because they’re knowledgeable. They read a lot. They spend hours and hours and hours reading up on their discipline and unpacking the information. It’s not about smarts, more about absorbing and putting content into context. And individuals good at this were never short of an answer or a pearl of wisdom. So I tried to be like them. I tried to gather as much information as I could and I think that, over the years, I’ve been reasonably good at that.

Perhaps my weakness is that I am interested in so many different things. I have more breadth than depth. That is not so good if you want to be an academic but perhaps not so bad a thing if you’re trying to be an environmentalist or to create genuine sustainability outcomes.

Breadth distances you from the main players. A shortage of these well read people in the latter part of my career is perhaps understandable. Those individuals I admired have either retired or have passed away. The youngsters coming through are out of my reach now that I’m no longer in the academic world.

In the applied work I now find myself closer to the operations of the environment on the ground. The quality of knowledge is different. People know about their local circumstances. They know about the local situations they’re dealing with and are not lacking in knowledge. But they’re mostly ignorant of the sort of theoretical and structural underpinnings of their subject.

I have local knowledge too from the many years spent trudging around in the field collecting data. But it wasn’t their fields, Mostly it was fields on other continents. And it creates a gap in the sense that they don’t believe that I understand what they’re talking about because I don’t know their local circumstances.

And they don’t know what I’m talking about because they lack that knowledge of the theory and applying the theory to the practice.

I feel at a bit of a loss to be honest, desperate for the workplace equivalent of the best player and the best teams. I can’t find them, nobody available to latch onto and regain a sense of motivation and something to work towards.

Unless of course, they don’t exist. And so we arrive at the nub of it.

Maybe we don’t have these people that understand the bigger picture. At least in the way that I’ve been trying to understand it for the last decade with breadth rather than depth.

I hope that I am wrong.

Trump lost but Trumpism didn’t

Trump lost but Trumpism didn’t

Photo by Laura Seaman on Unsplash

We’ve seen that Donald Trump was a bumbling politician, had no idea what he was doing, and had no idea of how to win an election. He fluked the first one on the back of heavy popularism and failed miserably to repeat the exercise.

It’s easy to convince ourselves that the US election result in 2020 was a great win for common sense. For the sensible majority to pat themselves on the back for coming back from the brink of disaster.

Except that, number one, Trump was elected the first time around.

Number two, he still won more votes in the election the second time around than any other President has won bar Biden. Seventy million people plus thought he was still a good idea. Even after four years of total nonsense and chaos.

And it would be very wrong indeed for Democrats to simply assume that it’s all back to business as usual. Bask in the joys of a net majority in the population and win on the back of that whilst hoping that the status quo will return.

Heads up, there is no question that popularism will come back.

The right will continue to develop more competent candidates for future presidential elections. It has happened already in other countries around the world: India, Brazil. Russia, Turkey already have competent politicians who fit what you might loosely call Trumpism. A would-be strong populist stance, only they are much better at it than the Donald.

This problem is that division is not going away just because Trump was removed — well, at the time of writing he still hasn’t actually gone, but we’ll assume that justice will be done and eventually the oval office will be vacated. The reason Trumpism won’t go away is because of what it represents. It’s actually all about resources and access to the wealth that those resources create. For with wealth comes power.

The human instinct is to grab and obtain power, maintain it, and grow it. A reflex that has given us success as a species and will never go away.

Breaking down this approach that is so innate in our biology, if we hadn’t grabbed resources and concentrated them in organised units, then we would not be here having this conversation using this technology. To simply remove that approach is not only difficult biologically, but it’s also near impossible psychologically. Hence the failure of communism, evening things out is simply not how humanity works.

Humans are designed to be competitive and to want winners and losers in the system. Politics is about giving a safe place for those winning and losing wars to be fought and for outcomes to be given at least a little empathy and equity. The reality is that in recent times the wars are being won by the right, by people with a lack of empathy and a very strong sense of that wealth creation gene that leads to power — those of us alive in the UK during the decade of Margaret Thatcher experienced something similar.

So don’t be surprised at all if much more competent Trumps appear. They won’t be orange, they won’t tweet all day, and they won’t play golf when it’s time to make a decision.

They will be as hard and as politically savvy as anything we’ve ever seen. And they will push their agendas as forcefully as any other political party that you could imagine. The only way to win against such candidates is to galvanise the majority who we hope, and I say hope because I’m not convinced of this, are fair-minded and empathic to others. Then for everyone to become aware that wealth is not the be-all and end-all and that there is a moral responsibility to look after the less fortunate.

Ironically, most modern societies actually do this rather well.

In many countries, there is a solid and functioning education system, law enforcement, healthcare of sorts, and realistic infrastructure. Many of these services are provided by the taxpayer so they are paid for before households have discretionary funds. These systems provide opportunity and support people.

Obviously, it is not perfect. There are many who are not supported well enough and do not have sufficient opportunity. The thinking is that these were the Trump base, the disadvantaged and the stagnant, those who lost faith that there was an opportunity.

Maybe so but there are 70+ million of them in the US alone. It’s hard to believe that they nearly made a majority, that is ‘most people’.

It means that the things said and done by governments, even the centrist ones, have failed to maintain the well-being of everyone whilst still allowing the system to continue to progress in technology and wealth. What was working ‘rather well’ isn’t anymore.

Centrists beware. Trump was a was not an aberration. He was lucky and he took advantage of an opportunity. But there will be people who will follow him that have a better grasp of the politics and better grasp of the policy in order to push that right-wing agenda of more rewards for the winners and more pain for the losers.

They are unlikely to appease those who lack opportunity but that does not seem to matter. In the time it takes for their popularity to wain a great deal will change.

Are we ready enough to cope?


Thanks for reading these posts, it really helps to know that they might tweak some healthy thinking

Gender reveal

Gender reveal

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Jill is so excited. She has invited the whole family and her besties around on a sunny sunday afternoon for tea.

On the table is a beautiful cream cake.

Her husband Joe joins his heavily pregnant wife at the table along with their son Billy and he announces that it is time to cut the cake. The gender of the unborn baby revealed to the expectant audience.

What will it be?

The excitement builds, will Billy have a brother to beat up or a sister who will run rings around him before breakfast?

In the mother’s belly, the baby is wondering what all the fuss is about and wishing that its mother would stop stressing and go lie down.

The mother and father hold the knife together just like they did all those years ago and plunge the blade into the cake.

Squeaks of delight from all the single ladies while the mothers clip their little Johnnies around the ear for pigging out on the sausage rolls.

A second cut. It is the moment of truth.

The slice emerges from the creamy camouflage to reveal… beige.

It’s a gender-neutral baby.

OMGs all around, what is going on?

Shock and blank stares and a few chuckles from the early adopters.

Joe rotates the cake and quickly cuts another slice, maybe the reveal is sector-specific. He lifts the next slice and the crowd gasps. It is still beige.

This baby has no gender. It is destined to live life on the outer rim of society never fully accepted by any social group.

At this point Joe’s mother-in-law steps in.

She snatches the knife and begins to hack away at the cake as if her hand will obviously find the blue or the pink bit.

But no. There is no colour.

It is either the wrong cake or the baker forgot to add the food colour. The gender of Billy’s bro or sis is still a mystery.

What happens next says everything about the human condition.

Everyone could all have a laugh and do it all again next week with a coloured cake or…

Jill shouts at her husband, bursts into tears and runs up the stairs bawling with embarrassment. She had spent weeks preparing for this only to have a disaster in front of all of her friends. Her anxiety spikes and suddenly the sky is falling in.

The mother-in-law clubs the husband with the phone as though it is all his fault, then calls the cake shop to give them hell as the worst cake shop in the history of the patisserie, only much less politely.

Joe escapes to the barbecue in the garden where a couple of his mates have stashed the cold beers while the guests are left to mill around and come to their own conclusions.

If I tell you that this scene is played out on a YouTube video, then of course we find that funny. We’ll lol with hilarity that the family goes off at an honest mistake and starts to blame those idiots from the cake shop before they realise it’s their own emotions that are triggered.

The scene is entertaining and it gets millions of views.

What concerns me is that the family reacted that way in the first place. Put that situation in front of all the families in the world and half the time you would get the same result with the family suing the cake shop for damages. The other families would have a good laugh about it for years.

Too many of us have lost the ability to put events into context and how seriously to take them.

The disaster that was 2020 didn’t help.

It is a new year.

Let’s smile at the little mistakes in 2021

Have a great one.