Sunday, 23 June 2013

Thing 12 - There's Nothing Like Democracy

It's not quite the divine right of kings but we're a long way from democracy.

The UK government collect taxes from everyone who can afford it. Oh, except from those wealthy individuals and big corporations who don't feel obliged to contribute, only to gain.

The UK government then, like kings in days of old, give parcels of money to our devolved Scottish Government as if they were some minor noble who did the king a good turn on the battlefield.

The Scottish Government in turn, like some minor noble pretending to be king, doles out chunks of cash to the misnamed "local" authorities. These authorities can only collect around 20% of their income from council tax so are obliged to bow before the largesse of the Scottish Government.

So the feudal system still exists portrayed as a form of democracy. You might argue that we live in a system of representative democracy. I can think of two definitions of representative. One is based on re-presenting, where the elected member hears what his electorate want done and he re-presents this at parliament or in the local authority. There's not much evidence that this form of representative democracy happens much, unless one includes major business lobbyists as part of the electorate, in which case there are endless examples of elected member re-presenting lobbyists' views.

The second definition of representative is that the elected members are like us. That is, they live locally, have the same kind of upbringing, have done similar jobs. In fact most elected members are distinctive because they are so unlike us, and the higher one looks up the pyramid of power the less ordinary our masters become. This doesn't mean they aren't competent leaders but it certainly means they don't represent the ordinary man or woman on the street. Nor do they think or act like them.

Back to local democracy. My "local" authority covers the major towns of East Kilbride, Hamilton, Rutherglen, Cambuslang, Blantyre, Larkhall, Lanark, Strathaven, Bothwell and other communities. We live in an era where over forty percent of the population go to university, and we have record numbers going on to masters or doctorates. Of course university degrees and academic success are not necessarily predictors of good decision-making or even common sense but they are the most readily-available statistic on how potentially competent our local population is.

So allowing for age differences we could estimate that perhaps around a fifth to a quarter of the population in towns and villages across Scotland are in historic terms very highly educated. Certainly of a population of 60,000 the residents of Hamilton would have large numbers of people educated at the highest level in economics, health, medicine, education itself, nutrition, civil engineering, architecture. You name it, we'll have it. There will be several lawyers, doctors, accountants, managers, I.T. specialist on hand.

So why in our "democracy" does Hamilton not have its own town council, elected from its own people to work with the local people to determine what's best for our community? The same of course applies to the people of nearby Bothwell, Larkhall, and so on.

This is not about parochialism. It is about real democracy. People care about their own community and should feel part of the decision-making process. Moreover local people should be entrusted with raising most of their own income tax and other forms of revenue generation. Indeed I'd argue that all taxation should be locally raised then ceded as negotiated with the upper levels of government.

Until you treat people as adults and give them adult responsibilities they will be unaccountable on the one hand and feel marginalised on the other. The centralisation of power both at UK and Scottish Government levels is a disgrace to the word democracy and a huge impediment to practical progress in our society as a whole.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Thing 11 - Blind Lemon Jefferson

My two lovely children gave me the album Black Snake Moan by Blind Lemon Jefferson as part of my Father's Day gifts. I'm listening to it on my laptop right now and it is awesome.

Jefferson was born blind in Texas in 1893, the same year as my Polish grandfather, and died in 1929 aged only 36. Yet in that brief life he had written and recorded some hundred classic acoustic blues songs, most famously See That My Grave Is Kept Clean which was covered by Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead.

I love his lyrics, his unique emotional high-pitched singing style and his great guitar work. The songs seem to be played live in this room, like he's giving a concert to me as a one man audience for Father's Day. Along with Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell, Jefferson created the roots of the most common forms of music in history, and we're still listening today to new music based on their astonishing works.

Unlike many of the first recorded blues artists he was commercially successful and had a fairly prosperous life for the last few years of his brief life. He died of a heart attack so managed to avoid the stereotype stories of blues singers dying through heroin addiction or a pact with the devil.

The picture above is the only known photo of Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Happy Father's Day everyone.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Thing 10 - The Best of Family Business

I held my fifth focus group with family business leaders today, five in five weeks.

As with the other four it confirmed my view that family businesses are at the good end of the moral spectrum of business. As far as one can imagine from the repulsive stories we watch every night on the news about greed, deliberately misinforming customers, milking the business for all they can get out of it, and so on.

Three points stood out of the myriad thoughts and ideas that were shared today.

The first was that the education and training of their children was paramount. They wanted their children to understand the duties and responsibilities involved in owning or running a business. They didn't want their children to take on board something they didn't understand or want to do.

The second was the benefits of being and having a mentor, of sharing one's experiences with other families' next generation, and of learning from their peers.

The third and most powerful was a cry of frustration and anger about how business ethics in the corporate sector have collapsed into a repulsive amorality and sneering indifference. This was followed by a demand that Scotland's family businesses stand up and show that they are not the same as these monstrous entities. That the family businesses of Scotland have retained their ethos, their sense of belonging to society, and their conscience to do what is right and seen to be right.

It made me very proud to be part of the ethical majority of business leaders.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Thing 9 - Mindfulness Class

I teach my mindfulness class every Tuesday evening in Hamilton. I finished it about two hours ago.

I do it for free though people give donations.

It is a joy to see people calm down, relax, observe their own minds in real time.

They leave with insights about themselves and humanity, and this serves them to be happier and gain so much more from every precious moment.

There are managing directors there, managers, social workers, unemployed, retired, people trying to recover from depression, anxiety, stress. In other words all sorts of ordinary people.

And I gain doubly. I nurture my insights about my wayward mind and the minds of everyone I meet. And I gain from the sheer pleasure of helping local people find peace in a challenging world.

Thing 8 - Mis-selling now mis-handling of complaints about mis-selling

Lloyds Banking Group and Deloitte. Two of the biggest names in UK business. How did we get to this latest mess?

It beggars belief that a major bank could ever get into this situation. It appears that staff of their agent in this work, Deloitte, seemed to be putting obstacles in the way of customers registering complaints about mis-selling of PPIs.

The mis-selling was one of the major financial scandals of recent years.

It should have been management's priority to ensure that every person working on this brand-ruining matter handled complaints quickly, positively and politely.

Instead it appears that staff were trained to deliberately hinder customers making a complaint in the hope that the customer would give up trying to get redress.

This is a grotesque state of affairs. It seems somewhere in the culture of either Lloyds Banking Group or their supplier Deloitte or both is a cancer so deep it cannot be reached and cut out. Imagine even thinking of misleading the customer when they complain about having been misled by you in the past!

This type of activity destroys the very fabric of society and if not addressed firmly will not end well. When the rich and the powerful continually ignore the legitimate grievances of the mass of ordinary people eventually something gives.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Thing 7 - Iain Banks' Death

I was sad and sorry to learn of the death of the Scottish writer Iain Banks at the age of 59.

I tried to read some of his books over the years but didn't find them to my taste. I felt sad because he came across as such a pleasant, happy man. You don't have to like an artist's work to have a real sense of the importance of the creative, innovative work they do. In that sense it is not important what an artist creates but rather the plain reality that they create at all.

Here's to Iain Banks. A life fully led, a life happily experienced and explored. I feel lucky to have had him and the plethora of other Scottish artists who stimulate and challenge our lives every day.

Thing 6 - Entrepreneurs don't know the most likely thing that'll bring down their business

In almost every country in the world about 70-85% of all the businesses are family businesses.

Most of them didn't start that way. They evolved organically into one, sometimes without the owners realising it, sometimes even when the owners tried to prevent it from happening.

Moreover some of these become huge. Think IKEA, Mars, Fiat, BMW, William Grant & Sons...

This isn't just academic. Most family businesses fail because their owners don't know the predictable issues that are, if not unique to family businesses, then uniquely magnified and tortuous there.

The statistics are appalling. 70% of all successful family businesses implode and disappear because of family not business issues. New entrepreneurs need to understand this and learn in advance the lessons on how to avoid such catastrophes.

So all you people out there training, coaching and mentoring new starts and entrepreneurs, get this message across to them and tell them to start studying family business theory. One day it'll save them a heap of grief, pain and business loss. I speak from personal experience on this one sadly as well as long study of the subject and working to help hundreds of family businesses.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Thing 5 - Gruelling Polish Meeting Ends Well

I was asked to attend a meeting of the members of the Sikorski Polish Club in Glasgow. Two months ago at the AGM board members were elected as usual. This time though a whole raft of recently-joined members stood and were voted in much to the surprise and suspicions of long-term members

In the intervening two months mistrust has grown so the meeting today was an attempt by both sides to move forward. In classic Polish style grievances were aired on both sides, mostly cul-de-sacs and tangents. This made the process wearing, worsened by the fact that it was very hot in the room, and we were all missing the glorious sunshine outside the window

However three hours after the start of the meeting we had reached an amicable way forward. The new board members are highly intelligent, highly qualified professionals but maybe in a way that made them a bit blind to the need for understanding the current older, slower culture of the Club. The meeting was a real clash of cultures rather than an exciting blend of the best of the old and the new

But a constructive result was attained and there's the real possibility that we might yet achieve this combination of high level management and deep long-term culture and heritage. The Polish-Scots deserve an organisation which can serve them to the highest of qualities and which can bring and offer the best of Polish culture, art, food and drink. Let's hope we're getting there

Thing 4: Biking in the Early Morning

I went out on my bike at 07.10. It was 10 degrees centigrade, warm enough to feel comfortable, cool enough to feel fine. I haven't used my bike much since I got it last year to help me rebuild my leg muscles after I ruptured my Achilles tendon

I saw a yellowhammer for only the second time in my life. It's a beautiful little bird about the size of a sparrow with a bright yellow head and white parts on its tail. It landed on a hedge on the road to Quarter near Eddlewood in Hamilton. The only other time I have seen one was on the main drive into one of my favourite places, Chatelherault Country Park in Ferniegair just outside Hamilton. There it was on the grass

My bike run was from home along to Quarter up to Limekilnburn and back along the Strathaven Road to home. It's 4.9 miles in all so a fairly gentle morning ride at a very leisurely 8.1 miles per hour

I'm doing it for three related reasons:

1. to get gentle aerobic exercise. I'm not allowed to run or do heavy exercise because of a long-term very damaged knee.
2. to get outside more and enjoy being closer to nature
3. to spend some time relaxing in this way

The challenge for me is to make this a daily practice and to continue it in wet and cold weather later in the year

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Thing 3: The Beauty of Early Morning

It's 05.28 and I've been up for ten minutes

This happens in the summer, with the lovely early sunrise. The light must awaken in me the desire to join the day

Early morning is my favourite time of day. Before the working world begins there's a calmness, a sense of peace and stillness that slowly seeps into you so you start to feel that way too

Today is Sunday so the feeling is magnified. There won't be a rush to work for most people today so everything is at a slower more measured pace. A more human pace

The cats know. Mia is up and outside already. Our two rabbits are awake and looking at the world from their vantage point on top of their hutch inside the run. Big chunky Mr Pigeon was chomping at the sunflower hearts we put out onto the bird table. Who knows when they started to enjoy the day

My body is always quite stiff and creaky when I wake up. I don't like to do stretches straight away. It feels like it's too much strain on the system. So instead I just start to do the everyday things in life. Put on the kettle. Make a cup of green tea to start my day a healthy way. Walk around a little opening the blinds, feeding cats and rabbits, and birds if their food needs topped up. That movement starts to ease some of the tightness in my muscle groups in a natural way and makes them readier for stretching

Three main areas of my body are naturally tightest and most strained first thing. My neck and shoulders, my lower back, and my hamstrings. My hamstrings are the worst in terms of tightness, and because they are such big long muscles it seems to take a lot of gentle effort to enable them to slowly warm up and stretch out. But it's my neck and shoulders that feel worst. Knotted and tight, achy every morning, almost as if I'd been hibernating for six months.

But once I've walked a little then stretched my body begins to feel loose and relaxed and my day lightens accordingly.

Thing 2 - Beautiful Late Summer Daylight in Scotland

The time is 22.11

That means it is past my default bedtime of 22.00

I can feel my tiredness and I know I am at my worst when I am tired so I will go to bed when I have finished this post

Despite the hour it is still light outside. This is one of the beauties of living in Scotland. In the summer we have daylight from around 04.00 through to 23.00. The days seem to last and stretch like a gift from nature

My beautiful quiet little cat Toto is in the room with me. He is perching on the window ledge contentedly watch the street scene outside. It is peaceful and so is he

It is good to have work and projects and visions to achieve but it is equally good to just sit and enjoy life at peace

Thing 1 - A New Journal

This new blog is an experiment. It will be where I note in a simple style the array of responses I have to life. Hopefully they will be filtered through my mindfulness practices

I find writing therapeutic, mind-clearing. It helps me move on to the next thing when I am mentally stuck

I have made this a blog rather than a private notebook journal because I have learned that sometimes what a person writes can help a reader. The reader can be many thousands of miles away and can be someone completely unknown to the writer and yet deep connection is achieved

This happened with my poetry cycle For There is Hope. I kept them private for years then shared them online with some people who had similar situations to the theme of the poetry. They wrote to me saying how much my words helped and moved them. So I try to no longer keep my writings private.

The blog name The 10,000 Things refers to the ancient eastern philosophical term of that name which means everything in the universe