The sound of inspiration

Tears down Van Jones’ cheek, then his words , “It is easier to be a parent this morning …” Easier to talk to your kids about character, about how character matters..

The enthusiasm of Kamala Harris and her break out smiles, her intelligence and hope.

The solid hard won wisdom of Joe Biden that we heard deep in our hearts – hearts in need of relief from all the yelling and the rhetoric of division.

That night, we heard not the sheer breathlessness, the iconic oratory of Obama but the soulful repeating of age old truths – by a man whose tenacity is an inspiration. When he finished speaking, I thought he looked a little lost – his family were in the wings and he wanted them close – because family is never to be taken for granted. Joe Biden brought his country and our world a great deal closer tonight.

Who creates change?

Watching the US election numbers turn over – peacefully and, as President Elect Joe Biden said at one point, ‘numbingly’ – I am as always inspired by the power of people’s movements. Democracy is surely one of its best expressions – formalised, organised and at its best when entrenched in the life of a nation and protected.

In other places and under different systems, people power has to take on other forms to create change on the small or the larger scale. Online social change is a case in point.

I have spent decades living inside democracies, taking part in creating change, at times spanning one election cycle but generally spanning over many. Pursuing reconciliation; social justice reform; addressing systemic racism and disadvantage take many cycles.

I have learnt that it takes at least a decade for change to enter the public consciousness and begin to take hold (though social media has sped it up thankfully); that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and you need to prepare for that. I learned that to plan and sustain a change in social attitudes you need to aim for 15% of the population, then just over 20%. After 30% you will be on track for long term momentum.

I also know that you need collaborators in every sector – not just within your own. In May 2000, close to one million people walked across bridges in Australia for Aboriginal reconciliation. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was an amazing sight. The momentum was building for decades. It accelerated when a concerted effort was made to bring all sectors and every part of society on board. Everyone took responsibility for action wherever they were – at work, at home and in the community. That energy hasn’t stopped – but it does need to be reignited – entrenched disadvantage and systemic racism remains in Australia and it must be called out.

I have a memory of justice reform occurring in Victoria at a time when there was an alignment of people in the right places at the same time: the Premier; Attorney-General; Police Commissioner; Justice Department Head and Court Justices. This doesn’t always happen. When it does, the synergy must be harnessed.

What creates change? Patience and impatience possibly in equal measure. And who? People, lots of them, well informed and committed. Plus a system that is open and free, that embraces and protects the very process of change. Our community, our world, our future deserves nothing less.

Leadership – the not so easy choices

While leadership sounds like a noun, it is actually experienced as a verb. Leadership involves actions, delivered in the moment, and built up over time. It is a marathon. A set of decisions you act out day after day. And your goal is to build goodwill and engagement, rather than angst or disenchantment. This of course will depend on the style of leadership you choose. Your style is, in effect, the ‘go to’ strategy you are using in response to the demand of the immediate and the needs of the long term.

And there are many choices. There are theories and frameworks; styles and preferences. There are principles and values; approaches and skills. There are simple exhortations – like, ‘build trust’ – or ten or more steps outlined in 200+ page books. You can podcast; YouTube; Zoom or webinar leadership.

I would also suggest, that a good night’s sleep, a healthy sense of scepticism mixed with humour, and ample time for reflection, is another formula to add to the mix.

Because it is a mix. Leading a team, an organisation or a country is increasingly complex in a world that has turned ‘normal operating procedure’ on its head. Differing styles of national leadership, and their consequences, are on full display from the Donald Trump end to the Jacinda Ardern end of the spectrum. These styles also play out at every level in all other work and community environments.

We are developing our new normal, in a world that is running at a fast pace. Our leadership choices reflect our values, our health and our current stress. As leaders we are bringing our understanding of what we need, in the small spaces and the big places, to get through these times, stronger, wiser and more resilient.

As a community, here is the call for us to respond, wherever we are and in whatever role we play, with wisdom and compassion.

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Leaning In

Last night I realised once again – you see I had forgotten – how wonderful it is to have conversations with women who also work long hours in high pressured senior roles. It also helped that we met over dinner, curated beautifully by our hostess, Veronica. We were physically leaning in to each other, over the table, pulling apart the very meaning of the term. Stories, anecdotes, pep talk and advice. Laughter, horror, ‘me too’, sadness, anger and inspiration. It was all there. No ego, honest sharing, equal playing field. There needs to be more of it – in every workplace, in every environment. The journey to that is a long one and I was reminded that, thankfully, there are fellow warriors along the way. Today I feel the warmth of gratitude and appreciation. I can and will carry on.

On loving vignettes

Why vignettes, you ask? It is the brilliance of the word as you say it – vignette. It is hard to pronounce the first time, if you are not au fait with French, but then you fall in love with the word. Vignettes are mysterious – they could be anything – something wine related? Definitely something exotic.

But it is simply life wrapped up in a small number of words – captured as a moment in time. Like a poem, a glimpse, an insight. They do not only need words. Memories are the soul’s version of the vignette and good photography is a vignette of colour and light.

I suspect I love the idea of them as they distil essence. You see, I am impatient and I prefer writing vignettes to prose that goes on and on. I get bored. And I like testing myself. I want to see if something as complex as life can be put down in a dash whilst not losing a shred of meaning. That’s not to say they are easy – they are not. Vignettes demand discipline and a keen eye. They are not flabby. They do not wander off.

They are the snack of the literary world. Or better still, the hors d’ouvres!

Enough, I am now pushing my luck but I think you get the gist.

On writing a novel

Words, dreams, voices, places, personalities and ideas. This has been a decade of bringing it all together. Not so much a labour of love as a call to action. This story had no choice. I’ve carried it for what seems like forever. Gathered in one place, dispatched and thrown out into the world, ‘Leila’ I wish you well.

An ebook? What a crazy idea that would have sounded when I sat with a lead pencil and a government issued school exercise book so very long ago. So long ago, that I am not sure that anyone would believe me if I told them that lead pencils and exercise books were provided free in the 50s and 60s.

I loved those books, especially the pleasure of opening that first page, so fresh and clean. I loved bending back the crimson soft cover and seeing the rounded edge of those pages folded into the staples. Was it 36pp? 48pp? With every passing school year, the space between the lines was pressed tighter together. We slowly graduated to 64pp. Being chosen as a class monitor was a highlight. We had the task of filling the shelves in the class storeroom with supplies that we knew as treasure.

And now, my writing is solitary and pounded out on a treasured Mac. I’m not sure I could sustain long hand for more than a paragraph before it would start to unravel.

Are all first novels places where you weave in yourself, your friends and family, someone you met on a train and someone who sits in your head? Where you hope to better understand all your experiences to date and let the Freudian slips do the work for you?

I suspect it does not matter, it is just good to have it done, and to know that your new extra title of author is only six letters away. Interested in a book of global adventures that celebrates love and friendship? Go to http://www.amazon.com and type in Dimity Fifer.

Sadness is a feeling

A marathon of an emotion, one not easy to endure. It certainly is not my favourite. I do a great happy, relatively OK fear and anger is my energiser. Sad I try to avoid. I just go flat and want to hide. I have no idea of sad’s purpose, it is unfathomable in its uselessness!

Maybe grey skies do affect me – I thought they were just a nice break from constant blue. A different backdrop as it were. Homesickness, yes I get that. I need to call home or find a touch of home wherever I am at that time. And yes, COVIID-sadness is a thing. It comes in waves. COVID tears spill out. They are laced with hopelessness and despair.

I need to reframe sad. Sad as sweet like Eeyore. Sad as power, like the impact of every minor chord I’ve ever heard. Sad as loss – a fallen leaf, an old skin, a relationship broken away, a death in the family. Sad like watching a healing wound, wondering if its scar will ever heal. Sad that cares and whispers, call a friend, go out, buy food. Sad that is soft. That is a quiet voice and not a raging inferno of noise. Sad that says keep going, there is light at the end of this tunnel. Accept, just be, this is a feeling and not a sentence. This too will pass. Take time, hold on slow, watch for the small things. Feel your beauty, know that you are enough.

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