Open Thinkering


Tag: stories

A bit of family history

I spent part of today at my parents’ house with my daughter, their grandchild. She had an English assignment from school which involved find out about relatives who were involved in either of the World Wars.

This led to a fascinating conversation with my parents, which she recorded using an app which gave her a transcription. My parents, either because I’d never asked, or because they’d done some preparation, told her things they’d never told me.

My paternal grandparents

The above is a photograph of my paternal grandparents taken in July 1948 in Blackpool. My grandfather was in the Royal Medical Corps during the Second World War but was a baker by trade. He started smoking due to the war due to the stench of dead and injured bodies. My dad also told me how he’d been strafed by a Messerschmitt despite driving a van with prominent medical ‘red cross’ markings. He only survived because he had a bit of a premonition of what was going to happen and so dived out of the van into a ditch.

My grandfather died of angina in the mid-1980s, meaning I never really knew him. My grandmother, however, lived into her nineties, dying only a few years ago. She was a very matriarchal figure.

I don’t have a photo of him, but my dad also told us about his grandfather, who fought during the Great War. He was on the big artillery guns so wasn’t near the front line, and the only injury he received was to his thumb after getting it jammed in the breech. Apparently his thumbnail grew ‘weirdly’ after that. Having only been around my son’s age when he signed up (17) he was still only in his early forties when the Second World War broke out. However, he was a miner by that point which was deemed an essential service.

My maternal grandfather

My maternal grandfather is pictured above. He had some significant mental health issues after having what my mum described as a ‘difficult childhood’ and being conscripted as a firefighter during the Blitz. We don’t know a lot about him, but he died of emphysema before I was born. He was in his fifties, and my maternal grandmother was forty when they had my mum, which was extremely unusual in those days.

Although I’d always meant to do it, apparently my sister did actually talk to my paternal grandmother before she died about her family tree. I’m really glad, as although both my parents were only children, their parents and grandparents had plenty of siblings! Some emigrated to Canada, and others to New Zealand. My mother has been in touch with some over the years, but many have passed away.

I found the conversation really interesting and I’m glad my daughter had this assignment. I’m looking forward to following it up at some point in the future.

More on the (fragile) nature of reality.

Captured & Sequestered

One of the wonderful things about getting involved in a new venture like Purpos/ed is the connections that you make to people and organizations you’ve never heard of before. One such person is Dougald Hine, who’s been involved in a myriad of projects. This post centres around The Dark Mountain Project, something  Dougald co-founded.

What struck me upon reading the manifesto was, as I was discussing recently, the assumption behind most of what we do that business will continue as normal and that ‘reality’ is a stable, coherent, objective concept. In fact, what we term ‘reality’ is merely a “bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion” (William James) of competing narratives and stories. It’s the reason we often talk past one another: what some may dismiss as ‘semantics’ hide very real phenomenological difference in the way individuals are using terms to descibe things and ideas.

I urge you to read the whole of The Dark Mountain manifesto, but certainly the part quoted below (and definitely the last bit which I’ve emphasised in unmissable bold):

If we are indeed teetering on the edge of a massive change in how we live, in how human society itself is constructed, and in how we relate to the rest of the world, then we were led to this point by the stories we have told ourselves —above all, by the story of civilisation.

What makes this story so dangerous is that, for the most part, we have forgotten that it is a story. It has been told so many times by those who see themselves as rationalists, even scientists; heirs to the Enlightenment’s legacy —a legacy which includes the denial of the role of stories in making the world.

Yet as the myth of civilisation deepened its grip on our thinking, borrowing the guise of science and reason, we began to deny the role of stories, to dismiss their power as something primitive, childish, outgrown. The old tales by which generations had made sense of life’s subtleties and strangenesses were bowdlerised and packed off to the nursery… It is hard, today, to imagine that the word of a poet was once feared by a king.

Yet for all this, our world is still shaped by stories. Through television, ?lm, novels and video games, we may be more thoroughly bombarded narrative material than any people that ever lived. What is peculiar, however, is the carelessness with which these stories are channelled at us — as entertainment, a distraction from daily life, something to hold our attention to the other side of the ad break. There is little sense that these things make up the equipment by which we navigate reality. On the other hand, there are the serious stories told by economists, politicians, geneticists and corporate leaders. These are not presented as stories at all, but as direct accounts of how the world is. Choose between competing versions, then ?ght with those who chose differently. The ensuing con?icts play out on early morning radio, in afternoon debates and late night television pundit wars. And yet, for all the noise, what is striking is how much the opposing sides agree on: all their stories are only variants of the larger storyof human centrality, of our ever-expanding control over ‘nature’, our right to perpetual economic growth, our ability to transcend all limits.

As you’d expect from reading the above, Andy and I have separate reasons for starting Purpos/ed. One of mine certainly centres around creating space(s) to encourage and enable people to air their own stories and powerful ideas. Collaboration and transparency are key. As the maxim goes, light is the best disinfectant and, as Paul Mason explains in the if-you-haven’t-read-it-yet-you-really-should Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere, now (more than ever) ideas can acquire memetic status within hours rather than years and decades. We live in exciting, confusing but ultimately liberating times.

If we choose to, that is.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Jason A. Samfield