History repeating

Standing up for truth

My heart hurts for the innocent this evening. But if I’m honest, what I think I really feel is fear. Anxiety based upon a bursting of assumption. Assumption that tragedy of war only befalls distant shores.

I’m in awe of the bravery of the peoples of Ukraine tonight. And those in Russia prepared to stand up and break a silence upon what now unfolds.

As World War Two was becoming history, Karl Jaspers wrote his classic book “The origin and goal of history”. Publish in 1953. A monumental piece of philosophical discourse. He asserts that the human project only has 6,000 years of history, because to have history requires means to remember. He writes, “only with history did man become truly human” (Jaspers 1953, pp57). He is making the case that with history comes potentiality as well as substance; our transitory nature becomes a conscious reality and with it an ever-present awareness of our time and mortality; calling the individual to action amidst a historical perspective; this dependently acquired set of beliefs.

I read this book over Christmas, thinking how powerful his insights. Coming as they did, so soon after the Second World War. I also read his work thinking he was writing in a very different age. This week, we seem to be dragged back a little closer to that time again.

Karl Jaspers was a Swiss-German. He was a psychotherapist, turned scholar of philosophy. Brilliant, but without a philosophical position of his own, his name is less well known than other Germans of this time. Most notably Martin Heidegger, who infamously took to Nazism. Jaspers, married to a Jew, and generally regarded as the better human being than Heidegger became, is inevitably less well remembered.

In this same era – the era of propaganda and mass communication owing to the availability of radio – another psychological perspective was published in 1953. This was Carl Hovland and Yale University who explained persuasion inspired by the effectiveness of messaging in World War Two. The Hovland/Yale model, remains the prominent means to explain the critical importance of “who says what to whom”. It explains our susceptibility to propaganda. This model became the foundation stone of sales, marketing, and what we know to be the power of persuasion.

These insights came from moments of heightened uncertainty. Where a disdain to historic reality had prevailed. By those seeking to own truth, rather than speak it.

Today this same owned truth, is heard once more, in its insidious glory. Abroad. But also at home. What must prevail is the demand that we judge leadership that takes care for truth. And through that lens we must call out all who dare lead by weaponising truth. For it is they few alone, who are dealing out this new despair. In the name of owned truth.

49 not out

Birthday meeting today was strictly business

18th December

It was all by the rules. My 49th birthday celebrated in the same manner as the year before. Let them eat cake. Because, as we all know, celebrating is a luxury event that is less important than saving lives.

Just think:

  • this time last year there was no party going on at No. 10 either.
  • this time tomorrow England may have bettered my 49 not out
  • this time next year England may be lifting the World Cup

Warning: some of these claims may be easier to believe than others…

Social Representation

…Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler

Albert Einstein

…I apologize for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one.

Mark Twain

Where do we, the general public, sit between these two truths?  In the modern age we have no time – or no will – to read lengthy explanations.  We prefer lowest common denominator, headline grabbing, click bait.

If there is honest intent to maintain truth in explaining cause and effect, psychology might call this stripped bare version “Social Representation”.

Although it must be said even the summaries of theory hardly get us closer to what this represents.  From my text book we have these two summaries to help us:

…collective elaborative explanations of complex phenomena that transform them into familiar and simple form

Hogg and Vaughn 2018 pp105.

Their second attempt was:

…simplified causal theories of complex phenomena that are socially constructed through communication contextualised by intergroup relations.  Rumour and gossip may play a key role in social representations.

(ibid pp113)

My homework tonight was to explain this in less than 200 words.  I think Social Representation is simply:

…what science looks like once filtered through Twitter

author’s own

—//—

199 words

The golden rule

One rule to unite us all

There is a single rule we can each apply in life. A single sentiment that, according to an accomplished historian of origins of beliefs and moral teachings, sits at the heart of all. The golden rule.

This blog offers a little compassion in response to today’s news headlines, all of which – to me at least – share nothing but despair. I introduce an author who has written extensively of this shared message from our past. She has traced it back to a time period of our shared history from which numerous great people found commonality of paths for humanity, in their own way, and from many corners of our shared world.

Origins of the Golden Rule

In 2006, Karen Armstrong, in her book, “The Great Transformation – the world in the time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, and Jeremiah“, presents a shared history. Or at least histories running parallel and toward a common truth. It is a book written with all the academic prowess and worldly grace one would expect of a historian of all religion. A historian whose own path was moved from vows of order to more direct intent upon spreading a compassionate message to us all.

The axial age (800-300 BCE)

This book remains focused upon the Axial Age. A remarkably pointed part of our shared history. When we, as a globally dispersed peoples, turned ourselves toward belief systems in ways we still hold as true today. This is a time span of five-hundred years from 800 to 300 BCE. A period that, in timeframe at least, connects faiths, fables, philosophies, and enlightened thought from around the world.

There is philosopher, mystic, and theologian, all represented as influencer, translator, or narrator toward this message. Socrates, the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Jeremiah. All laying foundational stones as platforms of hope, wisdom, and compassion, whether in our science, our logic, or how we choose to believe, strive to know, or to pray. These wise people of old, the theologians, the philosophers but also in their teachings, fables, and their doctrines. All being shown to have this same sentiment at their core.

treat others as you would have others treat you

the golden rule

This one Golden Rule, she argues with some persuasion, presents a connection to all. Enabling a circle of disparate but shared history, happenstance, or necessary change, finding way to be reunited by this one rule that binds it all.

Our faltering project in the news today

I read this book again last night. I reflected upon it anew this morning. My reading of the news confirming we perhaps all awoke a little more suspicious of our neighbour. In Leigh-on-Sea, a servant of the people murdered whilst at his duty within his community (cf. BBC). In Kandahar, Islamic State claiming culpability for 47 Shia worshippers killed within the sanctity of their place of worship (cf. Sky News). A 16-year-old boy charged with murdering a boy of 18, on a playing field in south-west London (cf. BBC). In the US, a man expected to plead guilty next week to shooting dead seventeen school children and staff in a Florida school in 2018 – an action he forewarned and then committed when he was aged 19 (cf. Sky News). In other inquiry, an obstructive witness to the bombings in Manchester declining an invitation to aid inquiry, and now to be forced to take the stand next week (cf. BBC). The inquiry into the suicide of the former head of the Royal Marines in October 2020, confirms a firearm removed from his possession days before he was found to have hanged himself at his home (cf. BBC). The deadly game of cat and mouse between border patrols and people smugglers across the sea from Calais to Dover, reportedly seeing 1,835 people reaching UK in 2019, increasing to 18,720 so far in 2021 (cf. BBC citing Home Office statistics).

None of these headlines directly connected to each other. But all seemingly connect in other ways. Desperation, ill-will, them and us, all interfaces and division. All representing boundaries. Gaps between the lives of people. Divisions. Distance. Distant until by one will, such distance is shortened again. With the reality of one life foisted upon another. Thrust desperately, angrily, violently, with malice. Each an intended change to deny life itself.

It seems easy to have a lessened grip on our compassion at moments likes this.

Hope is alive in the Golden Rule

By whatever means or belief we each hold, Karen Armstrong’s message is clear. All of these paths of origin of belief contain the same message. From 800 BCE to today. All such circumstance leading to origins of axial revolution, she reflects upon as intending to lead us the same way.

In her book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” she captures the essence of this sentiment into modernity. In this contemporary examination of the Golden Rule, she writes:

“One of the chief tasks of our time must surely be to build a global community in which all peoples can live together in mutual respect; yet religion, which should be making a major contribution, is seen as part of the problem. All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana, or Dao. Each has formulated its own version of what is sometimes called the Golden Rule, “Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you,” or in its positive form, “Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.” Further, they all insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group; you must have concern for everybody — even your enemies.”

Karen Armstrong “Twelve Steps to a compassionate life”

A rule for every moral compass?

I consider my own moral compass to be well set, with or without a badge to label its form. My obedience to its wisdom perhaps not always honoured as closely as it might, but the sentiment of all teaching I have taken to be true seems suddenly connected to this singular truth. Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you. That seems to me a worthy Golden Rule to hold us all. A Golden Rule to apply to all our intended change.

Perhaps the biggest of my own many faults is hubris. Or perhaps hypocrisy. Or therein both. I have neither the learning nor good sense to preside more carefully around these most emotive and divisive subjects. Karen Armstrong has many supporters but there are plenty learned people who would disagree. Secularists who deem her too apologetic. Academics who express despair at sentiment too far forgiving of intolerances the other way. Reference to well known polymath thinkers who openly hold views in opposition to her own.

I park myself well shy of the depths of intellect necessary to follow all thread of each alternative and no doubt valid perspective. What is clear to me however, is that some of the essence of this Golden Rule sits well within my own working hypothesis of visibility | behaviour | trust.

v | b | t

Visibility | b | t

We can seek to clarify our own intentions by this rule. See if those intentions would be welcome in reverse. We can look at the bigger projects we feed into and ask the same. Demand to see the visions of those that lead us, and see if the Golden Rule therein applies too.

v | behaviour | t

As with all behaviour there is need to have control. And this one rule sits as a centre-piece to them all. This is fairness. This is compassion. This is respect. These are the behaviours or at least intentions, attitudes, beliefs, that are informing our actions. Actions and motivations of ourselves and as a whole. This is to consider all our projects actors. All other projects to which we connect. And the world as its ultimate passive actor and its frame.

v | b | trust

Herein also is trust. Trust that ancestors in their suffering and sacrifice have held a future promise true. Trust that in all of us this rule can emerge. That from the past versions of us all to the here now, we are derived from those who walked this same path to that same destination. Whatever that destination is, it is one we arrive at together, or individually fall apart. Trust starts with this Golden Rule. It gives a purpose. It gives the justification for us each to be better. A Golden Rule that demands better of us all. By comparison, right now we have no trust. That is true in construction. I think it true at all scale of cooperation. We trust only that we cannot trust. We trust only that we are each selfish. Perhaps in time, we can trust each other to ensure that selfish is what we are not.

A single rule to connect all our projects

As we all scramble around a little today – and every new day that we are trying to find a thread of hope amidst so many headlines to divide us all – perhaps in this one rule we have a single golden thread that connects all humanity, all projects | within projects, that we can each remind ourselves applies always. And a check of ourselves, and all others. How we can each individually better hold to this self regulating control upon our behaviour. Ultimately, our one shared project’s Golden Rule.

treat others as you would have others treat you

So says the compassion in us all

To find out more about Karen Armstrong and her charter for compassion (click here)

To find out more about how I am attempting to connect this Golden Rule to our projects – and find better ways to connect our projects of mind to our projects of management – feel free to subscribe to my daily blog, as linked here.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Is seeing, believing?

What truth can we know from sensed perspective?

This blog is a brief summary of my own thoughts before going into tutorial discussions this week. It might be interesting to post a before and after perspective to a great question set within my cognitive psychology module this week.

Group question: What does the distinction between sensation and perception imply when discussing one’s “truth”?  If there are, in fact, multiple “truths” what does the lack of objective reality mean for scientific psychology?

I had a few immediate pithy sentences come to mind. Who do you believe?  The truth is out there…  You can’t handle the truth!  Is the truth even knowable?

I was tempted to reflect upon philosophical truth in wider sense but personal truth seems hard enough. The hard problem…

Physiological truth

The bounds of our experience are closely connected to our senses. Therein how we interpret the information received. Technology allows us to expand some of the ranges of our senses but even with this expanded translation of reality we perceive, interfaces are crossed between us and the reality known. If indeed reality itself is more than a belief.

Even without artificial aid, the sheer scale of data we gather is extraordinary. From lecture materials just read, the precision of the data captured by our eye is almost innumerably complex. The interconnections of cells and pathways connected to sight are 100,000,000,0004,000 which presents more possible connections than there are atoms in the universe. From this unimaginably large array of data connections – once over whatever interface exists between reality and perception – we can then process what we determine to be thousands of objects at any one moment. To which data we may add touch, hearing, smell, and taste; bodily awareness and spacetime positioning. Even considering just the relays of these receptors not all is fully understood. By example, there are receptors in our skin we know exist but only best guess their purpose.

Perceived reality

What then of the processing itself?  We have innate abilities considered unique in the animal world.  Our physiological orientation associated with touch concentrated in body parts unlike other mammals.  Our tongue physiologically more acutely connected by touch than cats, or dogs, rabbits, or rats.  Our fingers more intimately registering a range of touch.  Klatsy et al. (1985) 95% of 100 common objects (e.g. fork, brush, paper clip) correctly identified by blindfolded subjects i.e., identified by ‘feeling’ them.  At some point in our anthropology, tongues enabled sound to be morphed into repeatable and more complex phrases of noise.  The dexterity of our opposable thumbs offering information gathering potential and control enough to mould and craft.

The brain’s Somatosensory cortex receives and processes the layers of information derived from touch. Each skin location is represented by a corresponding cortical area (orderly ‘topographic map’ of body). The processes space in the brain demonstrated to be greater for some areas of the body than others.

somatosensory cortex
(Graphic source unknown but adapted from Penfield, W. & Rasmussen, T. The cerebral cortex of man. New York: Macmillan, 1950, via UoN lecture notes)

This is a mapped area of the Somatosensory cortex. Devised from Penfield & Rasmussen, 1950 work on patient responses during brain surgery.  The amount of cortex are reserved for more sensitive skin areas are represented by larger areas of cortex where ‘more neural hardware’ is present.

Not mentioned in these lectures was a wider comparison of other more distant specie relations. The octopus has the same number of neuronal cells as a dog (~500m), and twice that of a cat. Yet only 10% of those are in each of it’s two brains, with the majority of the rest divided equally in each of its eight arms. Our principle sense is sight – imagine that! The octopus dominates its perspective via its sense is smell – through its skin. It also has semi-autonomous ability to morph specially adapted skin to mimic hue, form, and texture of the environment it is in. How different must the organisational structures be to have more decision-making made near the source. The High Reliability Organisation of the animal world. Here then are senses and interactions with a less centralised perception in a range of information alien to our own. What truth does it smell that we cannot see?

Intentional change

Crucially and uniquely, is our capacity to imagine and to symbolically rework information into repeatable and transient inner form and temporal bound.  Within these mechanisms we gain insight.  We predict.  We learn.  We find ways to repeat, communicate, and adapt.  I am yet to encounter the psychological explanations for this within this course, but other reading informs me this is unique to us. Noam Chomsky is on our syllabus but not until next term. Crucially this symbolism enables intervention, interpretation, adaptation and theme. A rework of information as translated from nature whilst not fully knowing what that necessarily means.  We operate through best guessed grey spaces.  Summarise, approximate, prioritise.  We predict based upon imperfect information, errors, and change. What is truth when there is always a necessary approximating and therefore an unknown?

Scientific truth

By what measure can we deem science as singular truth? And by extension therefore psychology. As examples, Aristotelian revisions by Galileo.  Newtonian physics revised by Einstein who for twenty plus years thereafter resisted but slowly accepted the notion of quantum mechanics – which his theories cannot fully square.  Within living memory for many was the witness of the Kuhn vs Popper debate which pitted the historic realities of the settled science practices vs the acclaimed scientific method of falsification, which Popper advocated was our norm but which Kuhn reflected upon as no more than an ideal. Reality vs best practice therefore not harbouring singular truth – or at least not for long. Within this framework of discourse sits the question of whether mathematical precision can ever replicate what our limited instruments of measurement can perceive as real.  And to what extent the bounds of human knowledge and sensory perception can be extended by the technology we build – and may one day soon be replaced.

Moral and ethical truth

Kant, Hagel, Nietzsche or Foucault all parked for another day. Here I will only dwell upon legal truth – as onus of proof. In the narrowest of definitions here sit more interfaces of truth.  Innocent until process demonstrates guilt.  The ownership of a better, more believable, subjective truth. The intent or the transit by a letter in the post assumed sent.  Or the intentions of words – contract or intent – hermeneutics – at the risk of the drafter or interpretation of the reader as forever at risk of latter-day revisits of old truths.  New science to old facts. Fingerprints or DNA affording hidden reality to be revealed.  All of which requires a level of trust in the moral and ethical agreements of people, and the technology by which we rely.  We have a sensed record and perception of its meaning, but is this ever unquestionably right, or unequivocally true?

Socratic discourse, know more to know we know less

This is a group question for debate amongst peers this week.  A moment of perhaps coming to our senses or a sense check of what is known.  Offering perhaps a sensible solution.  Perhaps seeing is believing as we push this around all week.  Even if we collectively agree on what we think we might know, can we be sure we agreed to the same thing?  Can we be sure we communicated it without error?  Can we ever really know anything?  Or just hope to narrow the gap on the unknown.

In truth, Socrates was probably right.  If Plato’s writings in his name are to be believed. To be wise, is to know we do not know…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The road ahead

Let’s hope for driverless cars, if these are our choices

A critique of Keir Starmer’s vision of where Labour is headed under his leadership.

I love a good essay. Once the most eloquent way to present an account. A reasoned version of a truth. Some of the most captivating narratives of the English speaking world took the form of the essay.

Today however, I am going to join the evening traffic report. Reflecting upon the road works and pot holed carriageways holding the narratives of the day. Boris Johnson offered us an essay of sorts a while back on his vision of Brexit. I was surprised and disappointed at its flippant account of what had been, and a flaccid and uncommitted account of what was hoped to come. For a man of words, with journalistic training, this was very much not worth the 18 month gestation it took him to write. I was therefore curious to see how Keir Starmer would fair, with his legal training, and similar time to prepare. His own essay offering, was this week made accessible ahead of conference season. I spent a few hours of Thursday evening in similar despair. It prompted a change of direction of my own, by way of this evening blog.

Congestion warning

I will confess to being somewhat torn between these two essays by two head boys. Star pupils that are Boris and Keir. Not by the politics, although neither camp convinces me enough. I am torn between the lasting impression I suspect I will now hold long of both political figureheads. Torn as to which one presented the least convincing case. The least accomplished representation of the essay form, each has claimed to write.

These were two opportunities to present a version of truth. A perspective of intended change. In my project language, each reflects a project of political means to direct us all with clarity of purpose and outcomes of intended change. As projects I will therefore attempt to use my metrics of visibility | behaviour | trust to consider the truth this latest outline of a project represents. This essay entitled “The Road Ahead”, by Keir Starmer MP. Originally accessed via BBC website.

Regardless of political leanings therefore, lets take a look at 11,500 words of missed chances to present a plan of time-bound intended change. Using v | b | t to guide another critique.

I conclude a draw. This offering to be on par, and to be as accomplished a vacuum packed political vernacular of fluff, as Boris could have ever have hoped to hide behind.

Visibility | b | t

This was an opportunity to present a vision of what could be. In the being mode of reflecting upon what is here now, and what is intended to be changed at project end. The being and the becoming. The clarity of how all project actors involved are to be accounted for, and the priorities of stakeholder interests, and metrics of success. A positive to start with therefore, it is quite clear which actors are most of interest. I am just not sure which families are to be categorised as not being the hard-working ones addressed here.

As a project, my question is what is intended by this proposed change?  If we press deeper into the questions of why. Beyond the first why of the politics, the second of why and where the balance of distribution of wealth for future engagement of the labour force should sit. Thereafter I struggled to find any answers of note. This essay offers no vision of what we can as a country become.  Our place and our role in the global village. It is an outline of the ambitions of process, of the priority of what we have (as potential, opportunity, and what is owned), and a vague inference of readdressing the owned by whom.

It is not until page 21 that the future focus is introduced. The Future.  The visibility of what we can become.  “A future in which we ensure everyone who wants to contribute can fulfil their potential” Starmer argues is only feasible if Labour have ownership of the reins.

A new deal for business and working people.  A government backing both business and the working conditions of all.  Long-term planning to the benefit of both (page 22), setting high standards and favouring British firms for contracts with public sector (page 23); increasing the minimum wage, sick pay, parental leave and flexible working and removing fire and rehire practices; replacing universal credit; making low paid better off with better work-life balance.  Investing heavily in green recovery, with more homegrown electric car production, wind turbine, clean steel for schools, hospitals, and railways (page 23 and 24).

It then outlines how more resource is to be moved towards physical and mental health (page 25); better starts to life for all with better access to modern schools, soft-skill development, and with it a greater sense of self-worth.  Safer streets with more Police and stricter laws against antisocial behaviour (page 28-29). All admirable sentiments, but toward what end? What national self-worth?

The road ahead from page 30, begins with Tory, Liberal Democrats and SNP failings of the past.  Starmer stands us at the cross-roads again, presenting the better path by further pointing to the vulnerability and failings of others who have sat in the driving seat.  The better path of government is outlined as a focus on security of, and opportunity for, the people.  A government able to face up to tough decisions, prioritising the hard-working family, we are told.  The final page then presents the ten principles of a contributing society, finally outlined as a coherent whole (page 31). My best attempt at a more pithy summary is this:-

  1. Hard working families first
  2. Fair reward for the fair minded
  3. Contribution based society
  4. Equal opportunity
  5. Community before individual
  6. Interventionist economics
  7. Partnering with private enterprise
  8. Responsible spending
  9. Return to honesty, decency, transparency
  10. Patriotism without nationalism

In terms of visibility therefore, I found nothing but disappointment at the sheer lack of detail. There are some significant socio-political concepts summarised here, but what does our country look like on this path?

I was left with a reasonable idea of what it would be like if Keir Starmer were our King-Pin. This is how I would rule you. This is how I would waft my wand. This is what power would be to me. But little real vision of what that would all be for. Accordingly, let me now consider what behaviour this leadership message reflects, at least to me.

v | behaviour | t

“People in this country are crying out for change” says Starmer in the front facing part of his Foreword.  This is an encouraging sentence given my project theory is suggesting that all we are is vehicles of intended change. But the paragraph then evades what destination is in mind.  Offering instead the change of principles and redistribution of power and decisions to localised autonomy and the labour force.  We are thereafter presented a detail of sorts to this vision, but framed as the how he would have power assigned. This is the behaviour of the having mode. How power would be held in leadership. Little to offer in terms of what this would all transform us into being. How we would be served.

The psychological tone of the whole essay is one of focus upon what is being owned. Mostly, it is allocation of blame. Pointing out others failings, as a reflection of their selfish overtones. I estimate this is 75% of the entire account. Imagine putting a tender together or applying for a job, and filling all the spaces availed to allow you to shine, and just presenting the case for how bad the other candidates may be. Who is not able to make these judgements themselves? I understand the sentiment but to me this takes up far too much of the word count, and denies the opportunity to show a better behaviour, one capable and willing to mend broken bridges with the electorate. A surprisingly shallow argument is presented as a result.

One example that stood out for me was after the most extended volley of assaults was concluded. Page 21, even having acknowledged past criticism for Labour spending too long looking in the rear view mirror, almost the next sentence is revisiting the inspirational days of 1945. Then countered by “but forward focused on new settlement between government, business, and working people” (page 21).  This then returns another attack on where we are, but little of what we change to, other than pithy sentiment of “a contribution society” (page 22).

Past reflections, starting at page 8, are unfettered in their focus on political team colours.  The good deeds of Labour, the self-serving nature of Conservatives.  Lessons held up as his team’s mistakes of old in being retrospectively focused, but still reflecting upon the good of these retrospective days.  Presenting the ideology of the right as having failed in recent past, and addressed in three periods as follows (all page 10). I outline these for selfish reasons. They happen to list as a v | b | t in their own categorisations:

  1. The era of the Global Financial Crisis, depicted as a period of poor visibility “a smokescreen for rolling back the state”;
  2. The era of patriotic nationalism, depicted as complacent behaviour “a lazy, complacent veer from patriotism to nationalism” which covered a period from Brexit to the current Afghanistan.
  3. A trend towards emboldening a division of interests.  This I read as intended divided trust, “import of American-style divisions on social, cultural, and sometimes national lines”

With no intended irony, Starmer then proceeds to present the divide across this same social landscape (pages10-13), citing David Cameron’s “We’re all in this together”, to then highlight subsequent regional disparity of wealth and health, age related stereotypes, and a country held back by a lack of ambition.  Nearly five pages of these sentiments that are taken deep into page 15.

As a considered position on behaviour therefore, this seemed unnecessarily focused on the other. Just as I despaired at Boris Johnson’s lack of clear ability to stand tall, stand accountable, and stand for us all. So I find this focus by Keir Starmer as reflecting a blame ready tool box of excuses in waiting, and a weakness to commit to anything at all. I was hoping for a little more spirited and applied daring-do. There seems little to choose between Boris Johnson’s demonstrating a lack of service, and Keir Starmer offering much of what is wrong but little of how to put it right.

What then, is this offering as a better form of trust?

v | b | trust

Starmer’s reflections are empathetic.  Perhaps intended to demonstrate being in touch with the reality of difficult times.  The working class divide, and the hardship and unfairness.  There is a reflection upon humble beginnings.  Prior experience of Public Service, Director of Public Prosecutions in 2008, represented as leadership acknowledged with knighthood in 2014 (page 7). From my earlier blogs on leadership, this equates to the titles held, and the medals won. Like any CV, this would read much better as a means to reflect upon how these experiences can deliver what is intended to be. How to serve us better.

What of trust in finding a way forward? It is not going to come from demonstrating who has caused what in the here and now. The significant detail of past discretions in this essay is not reflected in the same detail of what is to come. There is a lack of meaningful data in all future examples offered. Leadership is not about spreadsheets, but the quality of case study here seemed rather lacking in the authority of equivalent board level understanding. By example, page 16 offers a glimpse of private sector collaboration.  A single case study of a manufacturing opportunity for wind-turbines in Glasgow.  A case study that quickly becomes a swipe at the lack of strategic planning by the other side.   Page 17 “Fixing the fundamentals” presents insecurity and inequality central to a fix.  A hypothetical case-study of two students and the vastly different opportunities presented due to societal difference.  Security and lack of housing and employment opportunity reflected through page 18, introducing a link to liberal democracy, reintroduction of society over individualism, and landing back onto the safe labour platform of card-carrying membership before returning to what Conservatives have failed to do. This makes room for extending the criticisms towards the SNP under the shared Nationalistic intentions, albeit separate flags in mind (page 19-20). I struggle to find much encouragement or clarity towards a better way with the lack of depth here.

The detail of priorities is similarly vague. A new deal for business and working people.  A government backing both business and the working conditions of all.  Long term planning to the benefit of both (page 22), setting high standards and favouring British firms for contracts with public sector (page 23); increasing the minimum wage, sick pay, parental leave and flexible working and removing fire and rehire practices; replacing universal credit; making low paid better off with better work-life balance.  Investing heavily in green recovery, with more homegrown electric car production, wind turbine, clean steel for schools, hospitals, and railways (page 23 and 24).  The essay then moves back to pre-existing inequality and the need for more localised decision autonomy, and more transparency on freedom of government spending by department.  It then outlines how more resource is to be moved towards physical and mental health (page 25); better starts to life for all with better access to modern schools, soft-skill development, and with greater sense of self-worth.  Safer streets with more Police and stricter laws against antisocial behaviour (page 28-29). Notwithstanding the headline nature of each aim here, how can all these promises be priority number one? This comes back to my project analogy. What is to be prioritised, what is sacrificial, what is ambition number one? What is supporting the target of all these mandates? And why?

What truth do we learn, here?

It is perhaps self-evident that I struggled to contain my irritations here. The essay form I truly wish to become more adept at writing, is in my opinion not reflected here. In masterful hands it is a form of elegance and clarity, that can hold truth for all time. One that in days past, and I believe days to come, can and will hold timeless visions of a way to be. The great and the good of history can still be engaged by their past words. In contemporary context perhaps that is as much truth as we need. A vision, a set of behaviours, and reflection of what change could be, is almost never offered by those who wish to serve us all. What confidence, what trust, should we feel obliged to therefore afford?

I found the v | b | t and project language I am developing of some use in framing this critique. Even if it was simply to conclude that I find myself no closer to a holder of better truth.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Francis Bacon saw through it

With a few days yet before I rely upon my academic betters to once more guide my learning, I find myself seeking passages from older text that I doubt my psychology syllabus will stretch to. Here are a few lines from one of the stalwarts of applied learning, Francis Bacon. Like all sciences before it, psychology as a science spawned from Philosophy, these passages a case in point. In reminding myself how the essay was once the command of all thought, this author was one of the best.

Nature is often hidden; sometimes overcome; seldom extinguished…bend nature, as a wand…let not a man trust his victory over his nature, too far, for nature will lay buried a great time, and yet revive, upon occasion or temptation…

they are happy men, whose nature’s sort with their vocations…

whatsoever a man commandeth upon himself, let him set hours for it, but whatsoever is agreeable to his nature, let him take no care for any set times; for his thoughts will fly to it, of themselves; so as the spaces of other business, or studies, will suffice…

A man’s nature, runs either to herb or weeds; therefore let him seasonably water the one; and destroy the other.

Francis Bacon 1561-1626, extracts from his essay “Of nature of men”

Just as our respect for all nature begins with our understanding of its will, so too must we understand ourselves if we are to harness our best and manage our worst. There is stoic resolve here, but also hedonistic understanding. To know yourself is to perhaps find both stoic indifference but to also have a quiet peace if doing what your nature has you do best, with least effort. On those rarefied occasions we are blessed enough to choose.

These sage words also remind me of Jungian shadow, those repressed parts of our psyche that we dare to override but reappear unannounced all the same. Psychological impact of denial of what we are. That we do well not to repress, but to understand, integrate, and respect. Thereby finding means to improve. And then make good nourishment from those unwanted weeds.

These are the projects within each of us. Of which psychology can aid us better intend change, rather than simply react to it. This too will become a place for my evaluation of what connects all projects. Increased visibility as leading to our understanding, enabling us to better address our behaviours, and therein trust ourselves more. The more of ourselves we can acknowledge the more consistent our truth to ourselves. All of which I contend myself with thinking Francis Bacon knew quite some centuries before…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

We cannot talk about that!

Something from the weekend, Sir?

This is from my weekend LinkedIn observations. The Danish Government showing themselves able to be authoritative and present, by increasing their visibility, behaving in an accountable way, acknowledging low levels of trust and extending the trust they assume.

Full article from Bloomberg {here}. “Doctor Who Espoused Sex Helped Denmark Weather Covid Storm”. My LinkedIn post {here} and comments from some Danish friends confirming the positive impact of the honesty underlying the actions of Soren Brostrom.

In my opinion this is one more example of a project | within a project, this time at National scale. I also observe this as an attempt to create a singular truth of this project despite the information gaps in place. The metrics of visibility | behaviour | trust positing a useful backdrop to frame my rant.

Danish example

How to behave as a decision-maker in highly uncertain situations. Acknowledge the uncertainty, make brave decisions that are transparent in their reasoning, and actively manage the low trust otherwise present. All motivated by a higher underlying trust in the electorate.

Result: a greater confidence that the project is one that is shared

British example

Continued behaviours reflecting power aimed at deflecting blame. Defensive decision-making. Hidden reasoning intent on managing the science not being open to its wider opinions. All based on the same low level of trust by the electorate, but reciprocated as something to be managed not improved.

Result: reinforced distrust, split agendas.

What I am presenting here is the range of intended change these comparisons are offering. This is an ongoing enquiry and test of this idea.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

A seeker of truth

A short story of an early truth bearer, one of my Sunday best. A piece from my journal.

Classical truth

The air is heavy, acrid, and still.  Dust hanging heavy and unmoving, resisting the pull of yet undiscovered gravity, held defiant by the raising heat from classical sunshine in this typical Greek summers’ day.  A little chaff from a nearby cornfield catches in the throat of our first truth seeker.  Both the chaff and this chastened man are dried-up remnants of their best days.
Our vagabond figure, clings to the edges of his robes.  A tunic of questionable colour long faded in summers long past.  Frayed cloth edges grabbing fresh dust as they sway back and forth to the cadence of stoic, hardened bare feet.
This is the outskirts of Athens, in 400BC.  The long, curly, grey-white beard of this anti-sophisticate are well known to us now.  As is the thinning hair atop his head.  But the Zeus like features, seen upon modern day depictions of this man, are perhaps a little generous.  For this face is politely described as characterful; the nose robust; eyes a little big, or perhaps sockets a little small.  Features better suited to a battlefield than a play.
And this face has seen battle.  And fared well.  Bravery.  Courage.  Discipline.  All terms he proved demonstrable in his youth - in later life undefinable against his wit.  His was a reputation long standing for calm in chaos, to which even Spartans had given ground.  A resilience to hardship.  On long marches with empty stomach, seemingly impervious to winter bite, or summer heat.  All it would seem, completely in keeping with these latter-day choices to roam free, without burden of duty or possessions.  This tunic of questionable colour then, hiding enough, but reflecting all.
These are times none of us in this modern era can really know.  They have been romanticised, and sanitised, over some two thousand four hundred years.  A reflection of their significance, and of much of what we take for granted, but at this moment, on this road, still raw and real.  As are many of the stings this man of words has dealt.  Stings to many with long memory, thick veins of vanity, strong influence, and thin skin.  It is a meeting with these 500 or so wounded peers, to whom this dusty road leads.  The likes of Plato and Xephonese capturing all.
Indeed, it will not even be written by this wisest of souls.  For nothing of this man’s great mind was captured directly by his own hand.
This simple life and the wisdom within it, needs a little context.  For these are times when the norms of life, had different meaning to those we would contemplate today.  Society has been crafted, redrafted, redefined, many times, and would be many more.  In Egypt for example, these Athenians and Spartans are little more than a curiosity.  But in all comparison of civilisations of this time, all forms of hierarchy of government stem from authority of the few.  Egyptian theocracy, Athenian democracy and  oligarchy, outside tribalism masquerading as aristocracy, all retain a tyrannical edge.  Settlement by force.  A powerbase and peace kept and broken by spear.
Not that most people in Athens or anywhere else on earth would really have had much to say of comparison between one tyranny or the next.  For most of the world’s people, that had ever been, served no purpose of their own making.  One master may determine the relative misery of those beneath, with much greater variance than the higher authority they depend.  In spending life in service of another, seeing little more than the dirt in front of your face, and on the faces of those closest in kinship.  It matters little who is holding the whip, beyond how keenly they deem it of use.  For in these times, and all that had gone before, the great majority of peoples lived, or suffered, as slaves.  Born into slavery, traded into slavery, or commuted there by their conquerors – the ones with better spears.  If not slaves, then labourers, or craftsmen, or traders, or soldiers, or all.  But all at the mercy of the next spear.
This is perhaps what makes this man on the road the most remarkable of all the truth seekers that will follow.  At least in the west.  This man of wisdom, who asked why and probed for better answers.  Took on all-comers in discourse.  He defiantly sought for better definitions from men of influence, stripping bare self-interest, revealing false piety, knocking at hollow argument and empty head.  This man lived a free life, defiant of all subjugates, and all faith.  At a time that none had seen need to outline life in such terms.
And what truth do we learn from this greatest of all rebels?  First amongst the philosopher class to ask much but to answer question with another question.  We learn that wisdom is found in knowing that you do not know.  And that truth is found from within.  From your reason and your divine spirit.  And as such your truth, is perhaps yours alone.  But that it cannot therefore just be taught or administered.  And always it should be questioned.  For this is the Socratic way.

Warren 24th January 2021

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Case Study 1 – PPP and me

Truth:

via visibility, behaviour, and trust.

Late August 2021

A year ago, almost to the day, I stumbled across something rather interesting. At the height of the data analytics stage of my MSc dissertation, a final piece of a jigsaw revealed itself. Truth.

Having spent two solid weeks reviewing, categorising, and connecting interview text, this single axial category seemed to connect it all. A suggestion of the one factor that summed up all other categories I had found. Was it the “truth” of a project that alludes us all, and thereby causes us to fail? In reverse, it seems so obvious as to be self-evident. As such I was, and remain, suspicious of a self-fulling prophecy. Finding nothing more than an answer I had steered my enquiry towards, and thereby subconsciously hidden with an intention to find.

By some quirk of research serendipity, two ongoing enquiries in my headspace collided. First was my dissertation. It very nearly de-railed at this point. The analytics of Grounded Theory is a powerful weapon of qualitative analytics. I had self taught it, and I had not accounted for the mental summersaults it can demand. My fragile brain, and compulsive tendencies, had taken me close to my abyss. This reflects my second enquiry. My diagnosed exogenous depression and suicidal moments were only 13 months in memory (July 2019). Yet my mood at this moment was different. On London Bridge, I was emotionally flat-lining. Whereas now, I was emotionally high. This was over-stimulation, the less obvious opposite to life’s depressive pointlessness in my thoughts. Stimulation is a positive, but this was prolonged flow, and it was close to spiralling out of control.

My wife, and my therapist, were necessarily availed. By coincidence, they are both called Angela. And I needed both my angels to intervene. My project was consuming me, and outside assistance presented perspectives on my behaviour that I was too close to see. With less trust in myself, I instigated some changes:

  • My wife, Angela (one) was to watch me more closely.
  • More candid in communication from me i.e., critical attention towards my overzealous moods.
  • I was to report in more regularly with my therapist, Angela (two).
  • I was to report my dissertation findings to my supervisor, just to sense check all was well.
  • I was to report into my business associate and friend, to get an independent sense of my sense.

Being truthful to myself required a temporary change. The framework of my working environment, within which my dissertation project was housed, proved to be inadequate. Proof based upon the new information received, of external factors not accounted for or even known to exist. These resultant actions are intentionally categorise here as follows:

  • Visibility. Necessarily increased visibility of my emotional state by me; and additional assurance i.e., other assessments (in this case, of my behaviour).
  • Behaviours. A new governance framework to contain my behaviours better, which included the relinquish of a modicum of self-authorisation.
  • Trust. Deteriorating trust based upon past events. Regained by the proactive and open dialogue, and reinforced via adjustments to controls of visibility and behaviour.

I can describe this episode in such terms now. They are my three variables. My truth bearers. I now use them in determining the protection of the most fragile commodity in any project. Singular truth.

These actions enabled me to complete my MSc dissertation. Subconsciously, it seems self-evidence this experience offered insight in these terms described. But more than that, my dissertation was about this very subject, and these same categories had emerged from the Grounded Theory (GT) that had knocked me over. [GT is used to seek axial categories (code) to explain the variables of a phenomena. You are required to keep pushing until one category explains all others found]. Since my graduation with distinction (81% in my dissertation) in October 2020, I have been academically reading and professional consulting with this framework of project thinking to hand.

I continue to extensively sense-check the validity of the phenomenon I now hypothesise. That this same dynamic of visibility, behaviour, and trust, can be equated to any project truth. That everything we do as human beings can be described as a project, and critical project controls evaluated by these terms. With caution I also pose one more question. Could it be possible to assess a project’s likelihood of success, based upon the appropriateness of the control framework within which each project sits?

This is how “Projects | Within Projects” began. And an insight into how my life meaning now sits more at ease.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: