Open Thinkering

Menu

Tag: 2020

My two biggest insights from last year

Last year, the pandemic was more ‘annoying’ to me and my family than damaging to our health or finances. So, if there’s one thing that 2020 showed me, it was my privilege.

I turned 40 in December, which means I’m now inescapably middle-aged. I’m also a straight, white, male. Thankfully, somewhat unrelated to the pandemic, I also spent 2020 learning a bunch of things about myself and how I relate to others. This happened primarily through CBT, research and learning around the Black Lives Matter movement, and doing some work around Nonviolent Communication.

My two biggest takeaways from the above were:

  1. I don’t need to have an opinion about everything. As Marcus Aurelius said, “We have the power to hold no opinion about a thing and to not let it upset our state of mind—for things have no natural power to shape our judgments.”
  2. I should stick to only discussing my own experiences and context. I have no idea of the internal world of others, and how things which seem major/minor to me might be minor/major to them.

I guess this is a lo-fi version of Hume’s fork. In other words, there are statements that can be made about ideas (which are either true or false by definition) and statements that can be made about the world (which are true or false based on experience).

Over the last six months, I feel that there’s been a shift in my writing here since starting the #100DaysToOffload challenge. This has been incredibly useful in weaning me off assertions meant to provoke a response from others towards more introspection and self-documentation.


This post is Day 80 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com.

My favourite posts of 2020

Every December I update the Start here page on this blog with the five most popular posts from that year. In 2020, I haven’t been gathering stats as much, as part of a drive to ensure I’m my authentic self.

So what to do? Stop the tradition, which dates back to 2006? I don’t want to do that, so, instead, I’m going to share my favourite posts from this year. These are the ones that have meant to the most to me and I’ll share 10 here and to five, as usual, on my Start here page.

Without further ado…

  1. Letting go of my pre-pandemic self — the pandemic, coupled with the therapy I’ve undertaken, and reflections on my undergraduate Philosophy days, made me realise that I don’t need to be the same person I used to be.
  2. 3 advantages of consent-based decision making — Outlandish, a co-operative I worked with during the latter half of this year, use consent-based decision making. Here’s why it’s so useful.
  3. The auto-suggested life is not worth living — this year in particular has seen a rise in products and services prompting us with responses. As humans, we shouldn’t be aiming for full rationality.
  4. Remaining unmanaged — I’ve always had an anti-authoritarian streak, and that’s only increased as I’ve matured. Working with, but outside, regular organisations seems to suit me best.
  5. What I do when I don’t know what to do — I don’t find myself in this position often, but when I do, here’s the three steps I take to get back on track.
  6. Practice what you preach — this year I switched theme on this blog to one that is much lighter and less resource-intensive. The stimulus to this was a realisation that, while I personally use a bunch of browser plugins to block trackers, I’d been subjecting others to tracking via the WordPress plugins I had installed.
  7. Slow down or I’ll do it for you — through migraines, my body (quite rightly) protects me from my latent desire to work at 100% all of the time.
  8. The cash value of truth — I’m a ‘Pragmatist’ (big ‘P’). Here’s what that means, ontologically and epistemologically-speaking.
  9. Herd immunity for privacy — I wonder whether functional privacy is ever possible without changing the practices of those around you?
  10. What do we mean by ‘the economy’? — as I quote Chenjerai Kumanyika as saying, talk of ‘the economy’ is just another way of referencing the preferences of concerns of rich people.

I’ll do a separate roundup for Thought Shrapnel, but just to round things off hereI think it’s also worth pointing to three other posts I wrote elsewhere:


This post is Day 76 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com.

5 things I’ve learned this (work) year

I downed tools on 2020 today, deciding to stop working for the last three weeks of the year so I can rest and recharge.

It’s been an incredible year in every sense of the word; there’s been the good, the bad, and the ugly. While I don’t particularly want to rake through the negatives, I thought it might be worth sharing five things I’ve learned.

1. Don’t expect things to be easy

The man who does not attempt easy tasks but wants what he attempts to be easy, is often baffled in his wishes

Seneca

There’s no point in spending your life doing easy things. For me, these are things that have been done the same way before. Instead, I want to do the difficult thing and stuff that challenges me. The problem is when I’m tired I just want things to get easier for a bit. That’s not the way it works, unfortunately.

2. Money can’t buy me love

To be clever enough to get all that money, one must be stupid enough to want it

G.K. Chesterton

My biggest problems this year have been caused by interactions with those who have different approaches to money than me. I see numbers on a spreadsheet as a means to an end. To others, it’s seemingly a yardstick by which they measure their self-worth.

3. Keep something in reserve

There is no need to show your ability before everyone.

Baltasar Gracián

I think one of my biggest traps before starting therapy last year was the need to be seen as a ‘good’ person and talented at what I do. While I still prefer people to think well of me, I’m now very aware that I cannot control other people’s perceptions. Which is quite liberating.

4. Stand up for what I believe in

Respect is often paid in proportion as it is claimed.

Dr Johnson

I’ve often said to my kids that people can only treat you the way you allow them to. I’m pleased to say that this year I’ve stood up against racism, bullying, and gaslighting. Hopefully that’s earned me some respect, but it’s generated plenty of self-respect.

5. We’re all in this together

Whatever you may be sure of, be sure of this: that you are dreadfully like other people.

James Russell Lowell

It’s perhaps a funny thing for someone to write who’s approaching the midpoint of his life, but it’s only this year that I’ve really felt that I’m similar to other people. I’m not a special snowflake, other than in the sense that we all are.


I’d like to thank the good people at Outlandish for allowing me to work with then during the second half of this year. It’s been an eye-opening experience to work with a well-run tech cooperative that goes out of its way to be inclusive, transparent, and emotionally mature.

Right now, I’m not sure where 2021 will take me. I’ve got some work to dive into immediately in the new year, but beyond that I’ll follow my values and interests.


This post is Day 75 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com.

Who are you without the doing?

A podcast I listened to recently took the structure of a Q&A hosted by Jocelyn K. Glei. The theme was ‘tender discipline’ and another episode was referenced where she asks the question someone once asked her: who are you without the doing?


Earlier this week, I wrote a personal email to my wife for the first time in a a long time. While we live together and are in constant communication either verbally or via a Telegram backchannel, sometimes things (kids, events, stuff) get in the way of having important conversations.

I kept the email short, saying that I’ve been talking for years about taking December off work. I told her that I’m done with 2020, that I don’t want to put any more energy into this year of all years.

As a result, we’ve worked out that Team Belshaw will be OK if I finish up my work next week and take three weeks off to stop… doing. That’s such a relief! I’ve spent the last couple of days checking with others that my gently downing tools won’t affect them too much.

The funny thing is that I’ll probably still end up doing things that look a bit like ‘work’. I’ll no doubt still head over to my office to do some writing. There’s a bunch of work-related reading I want to do. I’ll probably occasionally check in on the multiple Slack instances of which I’m a member. But mainly I’ll walk and think and just be.

I need to recharge, and realise that I’m privileged to be able to decide when to pick up and put down my work. Nevertheless, effective care for others starts with caring for ourselves. So I’m looking forward to spending more time with myself without the… doing.


This post is Day 71 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

Weeknote 01/2020

Many years ago, when I was very small, I can remember talking to my maternal grandmother about an article she’d seen in the newspaper. It was about an eclipse which was predicted to take place on 11th August 1999, and would be the first to be visible in the UK since 1927.

At the time it seemed like such a long way into the future. Who could imagine being 18 years of age? When the time came, I ended up driving the length of the country with some friends to see the eclipse in its full glory. My grandmother, sadly, had passed away peacefully some months before.

To a great extent, I feel like I’m living in the future. It’s easy to use the conceptual shorthand of ‘flying cars’ to represent what we were expecting technologically at this point in time, but I’m not sure I would have been massively surprised if, when I was younger, you’d described the world as it currently stands.

I don’t think we live in ‘unprecedented’ times. Human beings are human beings, at the end of the day. It’s just that we’ve got some more technology which extends our reach and increases our impact, for better or worse (usually worse).


I posted my 2019 retrospective on Christmas Eve after returning from a short family holiday to Iceland. It’s a magical place, particularly just before Christmas and we had a wonderful time.

What did threaten to put a slight dampener on things was when I managed to lose the keys to our rental car in the snow somewhere near Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. Note to self: zip keys in pocket next time!

Other than that, we stayed in three different places, and experienced wonderful places, vistas, sunsets, and people. We’re definitely going to have to go back.

While I was there, I started reading Independent People by Halldór Laxness. What a novel! It really helps you understand how brutally difficult life in Iceland was before electricity and modern conveniences.


This week, I’ve been trying to get back to some kind of decent routine. It hasn’t stopped me snaffling mince pies and eating festive leftovers, but I have, on the whole, eaten more healthily, and done more exercise.

The stimulus to this was tipping 90kg for the first time just after Christmas. It’s amazingly easy to drift into a less-healthy routine and convince yourself you haven’t changed that much.


I worked two days this week for Moodle, continuing to lead the MoodleNet project. Next week will be the first where I’m splitting my work differently: three days for MoodleNet, and two days working with We Are Open Co-op.

The rest of the MoodleNet team are mostly back on Monday, so I spent my time catching up and planning. I’ve moved all of our day-to-day issues to GitLab, because I think that these should be next to our codebase. Also, because Jira.


I’m back to writing and recording for Thought Shrapnel. This week I’ve posted a microcast on Anarchy, Federation, and the IndieWeb, as well as an (extended) link round-up. I’ll be back to article writing on Monday.

At Discours.es this week I’ve collected a bunch of quotations from my morning reading, with perhaps my favourite being:

One of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to go about unlabelled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog, not under proper control.

T.H. Huxley

New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet, although we did all go into Newcastle to see the fireworks at 6pm. It feels a bit more wasteful every year as the displays go on longer and longer, to be honest. I can’t quite believe that Sydney went ahead with their display in the midst of the bushfires ravaging Australia.

On New Year’s Day we went for a bracing walk in the Simonside Hills near Rothbury. We always enjoy that, and the views were amazing given the light. The whole world and their dog was there, though, obviously.


I re-start CBT next week which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ll also be doing more MoodleNet planning, as well as finalising the pre-conference AMICAL workshop I’m delivering on digital literacies the following week!

As ever, but even more so now I’ve got a bit more capacity, if you know of an organsiation that could do with our help, please let me know!


Photo taken on a New Year’s Day walk in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland

css.php