As the plane descended I flicked towards the end of my book. Nervous and excited for what lay in store at the Nuffield international Contemporary scholars conference. Just as I was about to put the book away the author quoted George Bernard Shaw,
The lines were
“this is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognised as yourself as a mighty one, being a true force of nature instead of a feverish clod of ailments and grievances complaining the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it to future generations.
When the plane touched down in Schiphol airport I had read these words multiples of times. They got me thinking and so began a remarkable week.
My Nuffield scholarship is indeed a great honour but only this last week have I truly realised the depth and ability of the organisation itself.
Ill blog again about the experience but for now I want to capture my top ten learnings for the week.
What an unusual place to start! I hadn’t felt fear like this in so long though. That fear of being beyond my depth, feeling like a fraud even, surrounded by so many incredibly talented people. It can be paralysing because it makes you behave in limited ways not allowing you to immerse yourself in any situation. Its an emotion I’ve learned to master and turn to my advantage.
I know when I’m feeling it, I’m moving beyond my comfort zone and usually about to learn and grow. The calibre of people I was meeting was quiet intimidating only because of my fear that caused a momentary lapse in self believe.
As the first two days progressed and stories flowed I realised I was amongst friends and wasn’t the only one who felt that fear.
It makes me continually revisit my relationship with fear and how I react to it!
Going beyond fear there can be real growth, it’s always better to run with people faster than you.
I’m not a great listener (never was) but I try hard to improve all the time. From the very beginning of the conference we were told to be ‘more interested than interesting’. The top brass were right. The stories of the other scholars will be with me and inspire me for many long years ahead.
Sometimes it is a good idea to shut up and listen, really listen.
There was two types of stories that resonated with me, those of the people I’d met and the stories of the businesses we saw. The agribusinesses that were thriving had all great stories and revolved around the people in them and their ability to convey them. There was also the powerful human stories of my fellow scholars, not afraid to show weakness and bare all.
Never be afraid to tell your story, be honest because even what you perceive as a weakness, can help give others strength.
- Social media
For the last 6 month I’ve pondered a lot about social media. Using it to convey my messages and connect it has been a powerful ally. Alas I reflect on its impact on my thinking (or lack thereof). I now limit its use and my time on it. I wonder what it is doing to our attention, ability to be present and to our basic communication skills which will be ever so important in the robotic years head. IQ may no longer be needed with so many machines but EQ or emotional intelligence will be a key skill.
It’s good to switch it off (ironic as I send this blog out on it), it might not be very social!!!
- Haste, Humility and hugs
There was many profound moments in the week. One of those unfolded as a story in itself. It started with a misjudgement or a moment of haste by someone. Then an act of humility in response to that mistake.
I was lucky to be in the company of that person after this during the week. I had boxed them up in the stereotype I presumed they belonged. How wrong I was when they told me about their family “hug factor”. A crude yet considered measure (frequency of hugs) of how happy and caring they are. This was only scratching the surface of this amazing person! I hugged him after this every time I met him (believe me we were an unlikely pair to be hugging).
When you hug someone you bestow emotion far beyond simple words.
Never be afraid to hug someone and definitely be slow at the speed at which you judge someone.
As we sat around our apartment table Freddy from Tanzania spoke his local prayer softly before the meal we helped cook together. Blessing the nine nationalities gathered around the table and our families. Yes nine people and nine different nationalities cooking together (that is Nuffield). Each person having a remarkable story and a longing for the greater good. These cultural environments can be slow to evolve. This of course was not my first rodeo though. I have long since learned that music can tear down social awkwardness and liberate human expression. So I sang the first song (an Irish ballad). What followed was a magical few hours of music and laughter. Even still I’m astonished by the night we had. We parted with warm hugs…
Songs and music can break down borders and cross continents.
The agricultural industry takes a hammering sometimes (actually feels like a lot of the time). All around me I was overwhelmed by the shear passion that scholars and dutch farms we had visited had for agriculture. Of course ag isn’t perfect but for 10 days I felt like most problems were surmountable and the energy required to fix some were in the room around me.
At one instant it hit me like a bolt of lightning, the survival of humanity depends on agriculture and I feel like a large majority of the world has forgotten that.
In our hands the faith of humanity may lie, food, water and the environment is the glue that knits our very existence together.
Maybe farmers need to feel the pride again and get the recognition they deserve. They can only do this by sharing the emotion and passion for their trade?
All around us people have challenges and most tend to dwell on them. This group (scholars) and Nuffield encourages you to recognise them but also equips you to focus more on the solutions. Everyone’s situation can be perceived as shitty it’s how you react that will define you.
Your attitude and those of the people around you most often times determines the outcomes.
I’m a vet with a quest or longing to understand maybe even define my happiness and those around me. I am slowly learning that the people who are happiest are those intent on growing. That can mean different things to different people, but it means moving forward and always evolving into a better version of yourself.
Last week I was surrounded by people who wanted to grow, this was quiet invigorating. The usual parameters of wealth in the material since didn’t apply. It’s not that they didn’t matter but a greater meaning was put on growth.
I should stop trying to define happiness and focus on my longing for growth.
- Life is short
I so often echo these three words. In fact the quote from George Bernard Shaw at the start said this more eloquently than I ever could. In this short life few things matter but family. Two stories that were shared with me this last week highlighted this so pointedly.
It’s an area where I fail most often. I am too often not present and miss the mark. Focused far beyond the horizon or way back in the past. By biggest reflection is that family matters more than anything.
I must live these words and not just speak them.
So these are some of my take home messages. I wasn’t even sure I should share them and what relevance they might have to others. However I do feel a renewed since of greater purpose after my week with Nuffield and not afraid to think differently.
To many new friends and scholars I wish you luck. To quote a vegan if I may………
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”