Posted in Learning, Life, Writing

An answer

Tyson Yunkaporta’s book Sand talk: How Indigenous thinking can save the world has answered a big question for me. One I’ve been seeking an answer to for years. The way he answered the question was humbling, but it was an answer nevertheless and I was instantly calmed by it.

It made sense.

Existential crises are nothing new for me. My first memory of said crisis was in Year 7 (first year of high school – called first form back then). High school was big and scary and I was introverted (called shy back then) and felt bewildered. So many people, so much movement and action and interaction and confusion. So much talk, so much noise filling my head. Finding my way and fitting in. Or not.

A steel door slamming shut in my mind. The familiar refrain ‘so what? so what? so what?’ bouncing around the walls of my newly closed mind.

It was a refrain that ran through my adolescence. And beyond.

From the outside, it might have seemed like an attitude of not caring, but it masked a deep desire for meaning. For understanding the experiences of high school. For understanding myself and my place there, and how I fitted in. Or not.

So what?

It’s a fundamental question that can tie you in knots if you linger on it; if you seek an answer that has meaning for you and for your life to this point and for your life into the future.

It’s a question I ask a lot. I try not to because of the damage it can do, but it pops into my mind stealthily, when I least expect it.

We’re born, we live, we die.

So what?

Far beyond high school the question continued to plague me. There were times when I’d bounce from one existential crisis to another. None would bring any answers, or at least none that I was happy with. None of the usual answers made sense to me.

meaning of life

I tried Googling it. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t help.

But then I read Sand Talk and that did help. Enormously.

Yunkaporta says “Some new cultures keep asking, ‘Why are we here?’. It’s easy. This is why we’re here. We look after things on the earth and in the sky and the places in between” (p. 109).

We’re custodians. Of things in the places between earth and sky: People. Animals. Ourselves. Each other. Knowledge. Ideas. The processes through which we generate and share knowledge and ideas.

Humans, according to Yunkaporta, are a “custodial species” (p. 102). It’s a slightly different rendering of the ‘man has dominion over …’ we learnt in Sunday school; it has a different quality. A nurturing quality. A caring quality. A quality that works against exploitation.

The idea of being a custodian is a powerful one for me. It makes sense as no other response to the ‘so what?’ question ever has.

There are many other insights in this book that have made sense to me in ways nothing I’ve read or heard have done before. For me, it’s an important work that helps make sense of my thinking – not necessarily what I think, but most certainly how I think.

‘I have previously talked about civilised cultures losing collective memory and having to struggle for thousands of years to gain full maturity and knowledge again, unless they have assistance. But that assistance does not take the form of somebody passing on cultural content and ecological wisdom. The assistance I’m talking about comes from sharing patterns of knowledge and ways of thinking that will help trigger the ancestral knowledge hidden inside. The assistance people need is not in learning about Aboriginal Knowledge but in remembering their own’ (Yunkaporta, 2019, p. 163).

Perhaps this book has helped trigger [my] ancestral knowledge. Whether that’s the case, it’s certainly making a lot of sense for me.

Sand Talk

Source: Booktopia

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Learning, Life, Melbourne

Is that a light I see before me?

It’s been a tough few months. Not anything health related I hasten to add.

Thankfully.

Although before I venture into the toughness, I’ll give a brief update.

If you’ve been following my journey, you’ll know that around a year ago I found a lump in my breast. It was cancer. I had it removed in January and then in February through March had radiotherapy. It wasn’t pleasant and I’m still feeling the after effects. Last week I had a checkup with my medical oncologist. My breast tissue is still swollen and still very tender. Of course I already knew that as I feel it every day. What I didn’t know is that it’ll continue for another year or so – both the swelling and the tenderness.

Other than that, everything is fine. I still get days of exhaustion – I went to work on Tuesday last week, worked for an hour or so, went to attend a meeting and just couldn’t. Instead, I went home and spent the day in bed. And that might have had to do with the toughness than any lingering after effects of radiotherapy.

So, to the toughness.

Tim started a new job in late June and in the time between jobs we spent a week in Tasmania, touring around to places we’d been before and places we hadn’t. It was cold and wonderful and punctuated with moments of family just to make it even better.

When I got back to work, I was asked to work on an undergrad ethics unit for financial professionals.

You’re right. I know nothing about financial professionals, but had taught ethics some years before and so knew some of the basics.

‘Work on’ initially meant working with the unit chair to develop materials to ensure students were more active in their learning during the seminars. I’m very familiar with the principles of active learning and with unit design and so this was something that spoke to my skillset.

Not so the unit chair.

He struggled.

He couldn’t fathom why you’d want to teach in any other way than through lecture.

He couldn’t fathom how you’d teach in any other way than through lecture.

He quit.

I became unit chair.

And learning designer. And developer of the materials – both online and for the on-campus seminars. And the builder of the online site.

I had help of course. A colleague would send me ‘content’ which equated to discipline-specific information on things like fraud and tax evasion and fiduciary duties.

I asked lots of questions (beyond the obvious: ‘what’s a fiduciary duty?’).

The question I asked most often was ‘what are students going to do with this information?’ Providing students with information is important. Learning doesn’t happen in the absence of information, but there are ways and ways of presenting information, some more effective for learning than others. And then there’s how students start to make that information real for them – for their personal and professional lives.

We’ve recently had a Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry in Australia. It identified a lot of unethical – and illegal – conduct. It was a gold mine in terms exploring ethical issues, but it was outside the range of interest/thinking/relevance for many of the 662 second-year students in the unit, many of whom were international students.

So making ethics personal before we thought about professional ethical responsibilities was important to me. We started with a case study on ‘what she makes’ – a campaign involving comedian Sammy J and Kmart. He asked, through the medium of comic song, what the women who make the garmets Kmart sells make. Are they paid a living wage and was it ethical if they weren’t? We moved on from there. Some students couldn’t see the point of it and struggled from the start. These are, after all, mostly accounting students.

I’m not quite sure what I’m saying there, but I think my point is around the idea that they’ve been trained in a particular way to think about how university learning is done, and this wasn’t it. Some said it was ‘nonsensical’.

This work took all of my time, all of my energy, all of my intellectual capacity. I had to learn about the finance profession, about governance structures, executive and non-executive directors and organisational culture, the differences between tax minimisation, tax avoidance and tax evasion (which ones of those are il/legal and which are legal but unethical; which one is a tax agent obligated to do?); I had to learn about the ethical hierarchy and the AAA decision-making model, Baird’s four ethical lenses (apparently I sit squarely between the responsibilities lens and the results lens meaning I get the best of both of them, but also the worst), how deontology and teleology relate to ethical decisions in the finance sector; I learnt about APES110 and Chapter 7 of the Corporations Act, and I now have a much better understanding of the role ASIC and APRA play in regulating the finance sector.

And so much more.

SO much more.

I designed seminars the nine male tutors baulked at. This isn’t teaching. Where’s the lecture? Where’s the space for me to talk to students – to tell them what I know? Our students don’t/won’t work/learn this way.

It felt like a fight the whole time. A fight to get the materials up in time, a fight to wrestle some sense out of the information I was given, a fight to record videos and to see myself on the screen without wanting to get a professional makeup artist in to turn this old woman into someone others could stand to watch. It was a fight against time, against my own ignorance, against others’. It was 14 hour days and most of each weekend. It was responding to students’ requests for extensions – when there are 662 students, there tend to be a lot of extension requests. It was finding markers to mark student assignments and providing markers with ideas for giving feedback that was empathic and supportive rather than punitive. It was students coming to see me to ask about how to do a mind map (something I’d mentioned as a potentially useful tool for determining the links between the various bits of information they were engaging with). It was students emailing me to say they couldn’t see the point in what they were doing and ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to be learning’. It was emails asking if [this] was going to be on the exam, even after I’d written in the unit materials that everything was going to be on the exam.

And then there was Charles.

Charles, a 24 year old international student, came to see me late one afternoon. He was struggling, not only with the unit but with life in general. He sat down, started to tell me his story and cried. His business had gone badly, he owed an eye-wateringly large sum of money, his girlfriend had dumped him. He felt that life wasn’t worth living. I sat and listened and thought, I don’t know how to help this young man, but it seemed all he needed was someone to listen. I could do that. He came to my office regularly after that, always just as I was packing up and we’d sit and he’d talk and cry. Over time, his voice began to change – there was more energy and more life in it. He’s back in China now and still writes to me. Life is still tough for him but he says I made a difference.

And then there was Rohit.

Rohit, a 22 year old international student, asked lots of questions in the online seminar. So many that another student asked him if he’d even engaged with the materials. He asked more questions via email. Eventually, I asked him to come and see me. He burst into my office, full of energy, and just as full of questions as he’d been online. He told me, quite proudly, that he was ‘immature’. I asked him how that was working out for him. That question stopped him in his tracks. He wrote that question down, and said how it was an important question for him to consider. He showed me a photo of his mother, who he loves dearly. I asked what he does to make her proud. He wrote that down too. He told me that the exam was on his birthday and so I sent him a happy birthday email the morning of the exam. He came to my office one day last week to give me a box of chocolates. He said that I had had a profound impact on him and that he felt blessed by God to have had a teacher like me.

Before the end of the trimester, when I was still trying to finish the ethics unit, under mounting pressure as the days ticked down to get the work completed but feeling like I was getting close to the end of the tunnel, I was asked to work on another ethics unit. This one was for those who are financial advisers. Sharon, you’ll be academic lead on a unit, taught in two different ways (so, effectively two different units). Please work with the learning designer and the subject matter expert to complete the work by the end of October.

The learning designer and subject matter expert did very little. My workload, which had been easing slightly (I was only working 12 hour days and fewer hours on weekends), skyrocketed again.

But it’s come to the end of November – or close to – and I can start to see a little light at the end of what’s felt like a long tunnel. I only have a few rubrics to write now, and some development work to do on one of the units – and I have my unit chair duties to do, but they don’t take too much time.

Was it worth it? Spending all my time and energy working on the development of the ethics units?

No.

And that’s not being as blunt as I could be about it. I’ve enjoyed some parts of it, don’t get me wrong. I had a great day on Thursday for instance. I had no meetings and sat at my computer and put together resources on the ethics involved in organisational culture and whistle blowing, and that felt satisfying.

But I haven’t been to Tasmania since June – unless you count the day I went down for Emma’s birthday in October. I did manage to get to my 40 year high school reunion and spend the weekend with my 40-year friend Michelle. I also managed to fit in a quick trip to Deb’s. But I haven’t seen Byron since he was a week old and now he’s just over 6 months. I haven’t seen Mum since July. I haven’t been north to see my sons and grandkids since April.

I haven’t written a blog post since August. I haven’t taken a photo of a flower in months. I haven’t been enjoying the little bits of photography I have been doing, and I wouldn’t have been doing any except that I’m doing a part-time photography course and that requires me to take some photographs.

I’m tired. All the time.

ALL the time.

It’s been a tough few months.

Bring on the light.

 

Posted in Life

Un/scrambled

You  might think this is a post about eggs.

It isn’t.

It’s a post about ideas … or maybe not ideas so much as thoughts.

Or threads, but not of the clothes variety.

As an introvert I have a very quiet outer world – I’m not the ‘greeter’ – you know the one, the person who exuberantly says hello to everyone in the office each morning, or the one who bounces up to each person at a party to welcome them even if they aren’t the host.

I’m going out on a limb there you realise. I’m such an introvert that I don’t go to parties – apart from the one I’m going to today. But that’s different because that’s my eldest granddaughter’s birthday party and the only other people there will be my children and grandchildren. Maybe an odd friend or extended family member as well, but ostensibly a family party.

Family parties, when everyone there is an introvert, are interesting, particularly when there’s so much family.

Only three of my five children will be there, but between the three of them they have 10 children, plus four steps. It makes for a lot of people – who, yes, are all related, but who have more conversations going on in their heads than from their mouths.

I’m making it sound as though we stand aroung not talking, and that’s not the case at all. We talk non-stop. We’re just all so worn out at the end of it from talking so much that we need alone time to recharge.

But I digress.

Scrambled.

Thoughts.

Threads.

My sister wrote a comment on my previous blog post along the lines of ‘you have so many ideas’ and she also wrote, in her own blog, ‘I might look like I’m doing nothing, but in my head I’m very busy!’

I completly resonate with that sentiment – it’s a hallmark of an introvert – the quiet on the outside but busy on the inside thing.

And that called to mind this image I saw on social media a while ago. 

unnamed

I love those opportunities to have deep conversation with someone in which the scramble of thoughts/threads gets unscrambled.

I usually pay for those conversations, but that’s okay because the person I’m paying knows how to take the tangle and unravel it a little. Or maybe it’s because they listen so that I do the untangling myself, just by getting the threads out of my head and therefore out of the ravel.

[If you can unravel something, does that mean you can ravel it?]

When my students didn’t know where to begin in writing a university assignment, I’d tell them to just start, to put something down on the page and keep tugging gently at the idea/thought/thread through writing, so that eventually there are lots of ideas on the page and you can re-arrange them as required, throw some out, develop some further, add new ones, so that eventually you have a piece of writing that is as clear and unscrambled as you’d want a university assignment to be.

[Unlike that paragraph, which had too many ‘so that eventuallys’ in it. I could edit it but I like the forceful movement forward it implies.]

Deb’s right. I do have lots of ideas/thoughts and I’m getting much better at recognising when they’re in a tangle and knowing how I might go about untangling them.

I talk.

It’s exhausting. But ultimately far less exhausting than having the thoughts continually scrambling around my mind.

If you want some clarity – talk to someone trained to listen.

An unscrambled mind is so much less exhausting and far less heavy to carry around.

 

Posted in Learning, Life

Confluence

I click on the ‘add new post’ button and a blank page opens, with the blinking cursor sitting in the ‘Title’ box.

The word ‘confluence’ pops into my mind, so I type it in, then quickly check the dictionary definition to make sure it’s the right word for what I want to say.

A title is important. It helps synthesise our ideas in a way that suggests there’s a core idea the author wants to communicate and the author knows, at the start of the writing process, what that idea is.

Sometimes when I start writing a blog post I have no idea of the core idea I want to communicate, and so I leave the title blank. The act of writing helps distill my idea and it’s at that point a title emerges.

But not this time. In this moment, as I sit writing, I know the core idea I want to communicate and so the title is easy. Plus, I’ve been thinking about this for over a week now and that thinking has acted as a distillery.

Over a week ago I saw this on my Facebook feed.

we-only-live-once-snoopy-wrong-we-only-die-once-43819656

I remember being struck by the sentiment because we mostly hear ‘you only live once’ as an exhortation to make the most of things.

I’m currently, with lots of support from others, developing an ethics unit and am constantly on the lookout for case studies, resources, stories of ethical misconduct in the financial services sector (which is not hard to find at the moment), but when you search online for something, you enter into a rabbit warren of ideas and perspectives and views and things the internet believes you might be interested in.

One of those things was an interview Charles Wooley did earlier this year for 60 Minutes. I don’t ever watch 60 Minutes, but on this occasion, when the video was in my ‘Up next’ menu in YouTube,  I decided to watch it because I was interested in who Charles Wooley was interviewing: Ricky Gervais.

The interview opened with them both walking through a cemetery and at one point, Gervais says something like, “you don’t exist for billions of years, and then for 70 or 80 years you do, and then you don’t”.

It’s a cosmic view of life – a long-range look – one that perhaps brings a different perspective to our lives.

And as I sat thinking about his comment, Carl Sagan’s video ‘Pale Blue Dot’ sprang into my mind.

Consider that dot … on it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives … on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. ~ Carl Sagan

I could feel the confluence starting – ideas beginning to merge.

The idea that we don’t only live once, we live every day of our lives.

The idea that we’re here for such a small part of all time.

The idea that we’re all together, on this one tiny planet.

How am I living each day? How am I making the most of the opportunities my being here allows? How am I caring for others and for the only planet we can currently call home?

I don’t have answers; I rarely do.

But the questions are a starting point.

A confluence has to start somewhere and it may as well be here, as I sit, musing from the cold.

Posted in Nature, Photography

048

I generally don’t take landscape images, but when there’s a lake and it’s sunset and the water is still and the reflections are sharp, I figured … why not?

P6120003