Posts Tagged ‘wisdom’

Clinton makes an ill-advised pitch for the youth vote.

Clinton makes an ill-advised pitch for the youth vote.


Hillary Clinton inspires me. But not for the reasons you might think. No, not because I’m a bit of an ironed-on old leftie and she’s the likely small-l liberal winner in 2016. No. In point of fact, Hillary’s probably a bit right wing for my taste. I’d prefer Bernie Sanders (who despite his populist appeal is not going to beat her), or perhaps Elizabeth Warren, who chose, sadly in our view, to keep her powder dry this time round.

No, she inspires me because the very likely next President of America is 68 today.

As we all live longer – and not just longer, but more healthily, too – the cult of youth that has pre-occupied the Western world since the youth revolution of the later 1950s and 60s appears increasingly silly and unwise.

Other sixty plus leaders still doing the rounds include the impressively successful Angela Merkel at 61, the forceful Vladimir Putin, who is 63, and Tunisia’s first freely-elected President Beji Caid Essebsi really leads the way, being just a month from 89.

And at the eye of the perfect storm, Mahmoud Abbas is still the President of Palestine – juggling one of the most difficult jobs in the world – at nearly 81.

And with age does come a certain perspective. As Clinton herself has said: “I think that if you live long enough, you realise that so much of what happens in life is out of your control, but how you respond to it is in your control. That’s what I try to remember.”

Which is why it is more ludicrous than ever that businesses often discard employees in their fifties and sixties, or don’t employ job-seekers in that age group.

It could be argued, one supposes, that younger employees have more energy or ambition than older ones, but with those traits can also come impulsiveness, foolishness, or simple lack of knowledge. They may also have more distractions, one supposes.

So whilst I would dearly love not to have a sore shoulder – gardening, grrrr – and a bung knee – too much sport as a kid, I fear – and I do not always take the counsel of my own body gracefully – I am not so curmudgeonly as not to recognise that I am, despite myself, improving as a person. Late in the day, mayhap, but unmistakeably.

At 58, I am not the same cantankerous person I was twenty years ago, when I thought I probably knew everything. Or even ten years ago, when I was sure I did.

And largely, the late changes in my character have been improvements that make me much more useful organisationally.

I am slower to anger. Later in life, I discover that anger is always exhausting, and rarely useful. So I look for alternatives.

I also have less need to always be “right”. (It’s now honestly more important to me that the group is right.)

I now find it easier to see other people’s point of view, whilst still maintaining my own politely if I think it’s justified. I can discuss, more often, and more easily, rather than argue.

I have also found dealing with inter-personal conflict easier in recent years (which has always been a thorny area for me) as I have gradually realised that though it feels like personal conflict it is actually very rarely truly personal, in reality.

People turn conflicts personal because they are not taught how to resolve them less antagonistically. Once I realised this, it was easier to learn how to de-personalise conflicts and resolve them more easily.

I am not sure that was an option when my testosterone levels were at their tippty-top. Nowadays, my gradually but inexorably appearing pate is evidence that they are dropping, and as they reduce so I have definitely become more skilled at defusing grumpy colleagues or customers.

I have also given up the need – at least in part, I am trying, Dear Reader – to control every last feature of my life. Sometimes, letting go of overt control can reduce not just your blood pressure and anxiety levels but also increase your chance of resolving a problem successfully.

Not everything matters equally, and sometimes stepping back can let things meander their way to a good conclusion without one having to be personally involved. As you gradually reduce the sheer number of items you’re worrying about – and let someone else worry about them – you can do a better job of resolving the ones that really matter.

Additionally, everyone has problem-solving skills. If you try and control every solution all the time you unsurprisingly tend to get the same sort of solution all the time, when other answers may in fact be preferable, but other people will never use their problem-solving skills – that might be better or different to those you exhibit – because you’re always pre-emptively using yours. Dumb.




And then there is always the point that we shouldn’t “sweat the small stuff”. It’s easy to say, and hard to do. But look: whether one has carrots or peas with that evening’s lamb chops doesn’t really matter, in the scheme of things. Does it? Really? Do you have to have an opinion? Do you have to dominate the planning?

You like both carrots and peas, yes? Or at the very least you can tolerate one or the other. Far better to focus instead on the things that we have to solve, because only we can solve them.

Just go with the flow. “Hey, it’s carrots tonight? Yay!”

Last but by no means least, when one is in one’s 20s or 30s, the sheer amount of time hopefully stretching ahead of one rather oddly creates an impatient and insistent pressure to “achieve”. With no apparent reason why we can’t do everything on our bucket list, ironically the extra time available just makes us anxious to make sure we “do it all”.

When one gets a little older, it’s obvious that one can’t do absolutely everything one could possibly imagine because one literally doesn’t have the time left, so one becomes more selective and thoughtful about what one does do with one’s life. And as one subtly becomes more “on purpose” with ones deepest needs and desires, one’s sense of well-being duly improves as well, and we become nicer – and more productive. We become better people.

This is not by any means an argument against younger leaders. Quite the opposite. Younger people have much to recommend them, including a mind less ossified by past experiences – Einstein remarked that he never had an original idea after 21 – and, of course, that ebullient energy mentioned earlier.

But it is an argument that we discard productive people to their metaphorical pipe and slippers far to quickly, and that we are very foolish to do so.

So thanks Hillary. We might run for Prime Minister yet.

And Happy Birthday.

Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what to make of knowledge. (Actually, that's not bad.)


As I roam around the internet on a daily basis, I am often finding little aphorisms or snippets of advice – or commentary on the state of the world – that I really find thought-provoking and even, sometimes, useful. Or people send them to me, obviously caring for my personal or business health. And people post them on Facebook pages, and I think “Gee whillikers, more people should hear that.”

So I am starting an occasional series called “Good Things I Have Stolen”. I make no claim whatsoever to be clever enough to have thought these things up, unless I say so specifically. Only clever enough to recognise good advice, when I see or hear it. And where I can, I will credit them fully.

Today’s are:

“If you attempt only what you can do perfectly, you won’t get started on most tasks.
The world does not reward perfection. It rewards productivity.”

Excellent advice, especially as most A-type personalities, who should be achieving heaps with their days, are also prone to the very specific form of anxiety known as perfectionism, which is frequently a distracting and fatally limiting character flaw. It’s from Peter Bregman’s new book, “18 Minutes”.

"Life is like a cake. It takes time to bake."

With this first “Stolen” post, I will also add one that I dreamed up myself the other day.

“Life is like a cake. It takes time to bake.”

Apart from my inherent poet’s joy in rhymes, (even simplistic doggerel-style ones), this apparently simplistic but I think important piece of advice was born of me reflecting on how we create a life that we will later look back on as “successful”, and on the difference between the perspective (and perception) of passing time of young people, and older people, and what we do with it.

At three years of age, being four seems like a massive step forward, doesn’t it? No surprise, it’s adding another third to one’s existence so far.

Similarly, at 21, taking a year to achieve something would have felt like an age: and an impossibly luxurious and tardy time taken to achieve anything, to boot.

Now, aged 54, I consider a year a perfectly reasonable time to achieve something successfully. The wisdom is born of a lifetime of striving, and an understanding of how anything worth doing is worth doing well. Just as the urgency of the younger person is born of a lack of that perspective.

Yet the world needs both the driving, intemperate urgency of the young, and the reflection and wisdom of the older generations. Harnessing them both together would seem to be the plus sum game.

Last but not least today, this quote from Steve Biko, the brave martyred opponent of apartheid in South Africa, who was murdered by police while in custody in September 1977.

Most potent weapon

"The most potent weapon in the hand of the Oppressor is the mind of the Oppressed." Those that rule control those that are ruled with a mixture of consent and fear. But when the ruled believe in their own abilities to run their lives, look out the ruling class.

On the 18th of August, 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 and interrogated by officers of the Port Elizabeth security police including Harold Snyman and Gideon Nieuwoudt. This interrogation took place in the Police Room 619. The interrogation lasted twenty-two hours and included torture and beatings resulting in a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody, and was chained to a window grille for a day.

On 11 September 1977, police loaded him in the back of a Land Rover, naked and restrained in manacles, and began the 1100 km drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities. However, he was nearly dead owing to the previous injuries. He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September. The police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed multiple bruises and abrasions and that he ultimately succumbed to a brain hemorrhage from the massive injuries to the head, which many saw as strong evidence that he had been brutally clubbed by his captors. Then journalist and now political leader, Helen Zille, along with Donald Woods, another journalist, editor and close friend of Biko’s, exposed the truth behind Biko’s death.

Because of his high profile, news of Biko’s death spread quickly, opening many eyes around the world to the brutality of the apartheid regime. His funeral was attended by over 10,000 people, including numerous ambassadors and other diplomats from the United States and Western Europe.

Donald Woods, a personal friend of Biko, photographed his injuries in the morgue. Woods originally wrote articles critical of Biko’s activism, but later met him, and became a friend. Eventually, he also had to flee South Africa, and became a noted white anti-aartheid campaigner. He further publicised Biko’s life and death, writing many newspaper articles and authoring the book, Biko.

I met Woods personally, and was very impressed with his courtesy and self-effacing manner. A less likely hero – and he too deserves that title – one could not imagine.

(The story of their friendship is moving portrayed in the 1987 movie “Cry Freedom” directed by Richard Attenborough. You can find it on YouTube probably, or your local DVD store. Well worth a watch, great cast.)

The following year, on 2 February 1978, the Attorney General of the Eastern Cape stated that he would not prosecute any police officers involved in the arrest and detention of Biko. During the trial, it was claimed that Biko’s head injuries were the result of a self-inflicted suicide attempt, not those of any beatings.

The judge ultimately ruled that a murder charge could not be supported partly because there were no witnesses to the killing. Charges of culpable homicide and assault were also considered, but because the killing occurred in 1977, the time limit for prosecution had expired. On 7 October 2003 the South African Justice Ministry officials announced that the five policemen accused of killing Biko would not be prosecuted, because there was insufficient evidence, and because the time limit for prosecution had elapsed.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was created following the end of minority rule and the apartheid system, reported in 1997 that five former members of the South African security forces who had admitted to killing Biko were applying for amnesty. Their application was rejected.

More Good Things I Have Stolen about every three days. Enjoy.

This is consistently one of the most heart-warming and thought-provoking blogs I read. This young woman is a fine, funny writer – and seems like a great human being, too. Her writing will bring joy and peace to many, which at Christmas, especially, is a great thing. I also particularly like her advice to the world in this article:

Well done, Mary! Keep on keeping on.