Open Letters

Open letters began as a series of posts between two friends (Brian and me). Subsequently open letters became a useful way to “think aloud” and work in a transparent way. Open letters are now serving as “the next step” in various endeavours and collaborations. They are my reflections based on ongoing conversations with different people. By posting these reflections here, as I think them through, it is easy for anyone to catch up with how things are shaping up and what has gone before.

Brian and Pamela open letters 2 – A response

Hi Brian. Thank you for writing and starting our open letters experiment. (Brian and Pamela open letters – 1 “Are We Together?”)

I loved your anecdote about Slovenia, and the thoughts it raises of what can happen to ideas or suggestions after they’ve been left  behind. What a great outcome. Interesting that you might never have  known about it. How lovely that you do know and can carry the knowledge of that beneficial impact with you.

It’s a bit of a scary thought, that we have no idea which things we say or do might be making a difference (negative as well as positive). The thought of unexpected results reminded me of something I recently experienced. It’s on a rather different level to your experience of changing government policy, but you might enjoy it, especially if you met Andy of Focallocal when you were in London, which I think you may well have done.

Anyhow, Andy put a post on Facebook referring to a conversion we’d had which I’d forgotten. To my surprise he’d followed up on something I’d said and it had been helpful, so he was encouraging others to copy him. (Thinking about it – I should try it too.)

This is how it came about. We were chatting one evening and I shared an anecdote about me being handed something across a counter, and dropping it. It was careless of me (but no harm done). However in my surprise and embarrassment, instead of silently reprimanding myself in my own head, I accidentally blurted it out.

“Idiot!” I said vehemently (referring to myself of course). I didn’t even realise I was saying it out loud until I saw the look on the face of the man who’d handed it to me.

“Not you” I said “Me!”

I’m not good at reading meaningful expressions, but even I could see he obviously didn’t believe me, and  I was making things worse.

Andy and I explored the fact that we were both experts at telling ourselves off silently in our heads (well, usually it was silently) and we wouldn’t want anyone else listening in to what we were saying to ourselves (because it wasn’t always as mild as “Idiot!”).

I jokingly berated Andy. I expressed my mock horror at his shockingly bad behaviour in being so offensively critical and horrible to anyone. I was naturally especially incensed that he was critical of my friend Andy who, I pointed out, I hold in high regard – so I said he should stop. It seems he did, and it was for the better. Hence his post, months later, on Facebook.

Continuing on known and unknown outcomes, in Focallocal Andy sees obvious, immediate results of his actions by people unexpectedly coming across a Focallocal happening, joining in for free hugs, or a pillow fight or whatever, then carrying on with smiles on their faces. That’s impressive in its own right, but I’m starting to think about possible  knock-on effects as people go more happily on their way. I wonder if we’ll ever hear any stories about that.

Andy and Focallocal bring me back to another of your open letter themes.  It’s the one about  doing things that we’re passionate about, and we persist in doing, even though it doesn’t make financial sense (at least not yet, and maybe it never will) and we do it because it makes sense to  us. The whole thing about work, and reward, and meaning, and motivation, and enough money to pay the bills is something I’d like to explore more with you.

What we do and why we do it overlaps some ideas that were in my mind (though not expressed in those terms) back in February 2013 when I wrote Celebrating my crazy-sane friends and contacts. Revisiting that post I can see how it in turn overlaps some of the ideas of systems building.

I was interested, and pleased, that you took the systems building theme as the jumping off point for our open letters.  I was part way through writing another post on that theme when your open letter arrived. I decided to finished the systems building post ( Building what? You and whose army? ) before replying to you. Hmm – maybe you’d also like to do a mix of open letters and other posts. We can try all kinds of formats as we explore ways of bouncing thoughts off each other. I hope it will develop into a format you like and will want to pursue. I’m intrigued and hopeful about where it could lead us once we get the feeling for it.

There’s lots more in your open letter that I’d like to respond to, but I’ve decided this is probably a good place to stop. I don’t think the other themes will slip away. I expect we’ll find ourselves revisiting them.

I look forward to your reply.

Aug 31, 2015 by pamela | Categories: Open Letters

Brian and Pamela open letters – 1 “Are We Together?”

I’ll take the cue for my first open letter to Pamela McLean from the invitation she wrote near the beginning of her blog post, “Innovation and Collaboration – Are We Together?”

Perhaps you know the saying “To travel fast travel alone. To travel far travel together.” I invite you to read this as if we are both on a journey, and our paths have crossed, and we are wondering if we are travelling in a similar direction.

I’m going to go through a couple (for now) of the quotes she pulled from Mark Ventresca’s presentation on systems builders and consider whether they apply to me, making me a systems builder like Pamela. After hearing Pamela’s thoughts on my thoughts, I might reply to a few more of Ventresca’s quotes, or let our open-letter conversation take its own direction.

Here’s the first quote from Ventresca:

People who make things happen in the world are often passionate, persistent and, most importantly, they start with what they have at hand and turn it into something more. [emphasis is Pamela’s]

I’d like to think I’m a person who makes things happen in the world. But there are two points worth considering here. One is that I’ve often found myself doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. The other is that it is difficult for me to know whether I’ve made something happen.

An example of these two points is captured in the following anecdote. Last year I ran into a friend at an event in London after being out of contact for a number of years. “Do you remember that presentation you gave in Slovenia?” he said. Actually, I didn’t. But upon much thought I was able to recall a day, standing in a classroom talking to several seated individuals, that might have been the day in question. My friend filled me in on the content of the presentation–apparently I had given a talk on “mobile testing for HIV among men who have sex with men.” I had forgotten all about it, in part because I no longer work in public health (these days I’m a creative writer), and also because the presentation never seemed that important to me. I did it as a favor to my friend, who in turn paid for my ticket to Ljubljana.
“After your presentation the government changed its policy on HIV testing for men who have sex with men,” my friend said. “All the work that NGOs have been doing in this area these last five years, it’s because of you.”
A government changed its policy because of me? I was only giving the presentation to get a free ticket to Slovenia. And I had already given up on my career in public health, in part because I felt a disconnect between myself and the people I was trying to help. Now I hear I made a difference. Needless to say the experience moved me. So the challenge I’m throwing out to the reader is “making things happen” is not always easy to see, because our attention is often on things like “free tickets” or “how will this advance my career” rather than the actual “thing” we’re trying to make happen. Meanwhile when the thing actually does “happen,” we might have long moved on–in my case having changed careers from public health researcher to creative writer.
“Passionate and persistent”–the last two years I’ve been writing a satirical novel. No one pays me for this. I am unsure when I will finish or if anyone besides myself will think the novel any good. Yet I persist: I’m writing it not only because I enjoy writing, but because there’s something I’ve seen in the world that I believe others deserve to see, and I feel a satirical novel is the best way to help them see it. I’m also “starting with what I have at hand”: my own experiences about which I’ve been writing, and an ability I have to capture ambiguous situations and render them cuttingly and humorously with words. Nobody is paying me for this effort, but I have a pleasant “day job” that doesn’t tax my brain and pays my rent and meals while leaving me sufficient time to write. I trust to the reader to judge whether I do so with passion.
Will my novel “make things happen”? It already has, just in my undertaking it. I received an email a while back from a friend who had disappeared from my life. I was pleased to hear from him, and asked him “Where have you been? What happened?” He had quit his job and moved home to his father’s house–where he had resumed work on his own novel. “Inspired by your brave example,” he said. So I haven’t even finished my novel yet, and already it’s making things happen. If once it’s actually finished more things happen–that’ll be even better. There’s also the possibility my friend will finish his novel, making another chain of things happen. Or one of us will finish and the other won’t, but we’ll each take pride in the other’s achievement, because we supported each other as friends.
Here’s the second quote from Ventresca:

The formulation and dissemination of interesting interpretations of reality form the basis for constructive, creative action.

I share Pamela’s “funny way of looking things,” as she calls it (another way of saying “interesting interpretations of reality”). I have a good eye for incongruities, spotting not just what people do, but the way two things the same person (or organization, or country) does don’t agree with each other. Other people when they spot such incongruities shout, “Social injustice!” or “All men are liars!” I snicker to myself and think, “That would make a really good story.”

Then I write such stories. Do they form the basis for constructive, creative action? Only if I finish them. But even then, much of the “action” created by being a humorist (as I call myself) is in helping other people to know which parts of their life and the world don’t need action. All men are liars–let’s laugh about it! And put our constructive energy into things like showing mercy to the poor and downtrodden.
So there’s my open letter. So far I’d say Pamela and I are traveling in the same direction, in as much as we are passionate and persistent; start with what we have at hand; have interesting interpretations of reality that form the basis for constructive, creative action (or at least knowing which things deserve action and which ones laughter); and we trust that by our actions we make things happen, even if the things that happen aren’t exactly what we expected–like my satirical novel changing a friend’s life before he’s even read it.
(This open letter was posted on behalf of Brian C Griffin)

Aug 27, 2015 by pamela | Categories: Open Letters

1 10 11 12