Change Writer

be the change you want to see

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So Close

so close

Click.

I sat glued to my screen, hitting refresh, knowing that in 15 minutes time it would all be over.

The last time this happened to me was when we came to the end of our crowd funding campaign last year. We knew that the outcome of the campaign would determine our future: would we be moving to Jordan and studying Arabic after all?  

Click.

This time it was a good friend’s Kickstarter project for a new album they’ve been writing. It was to be their first in 8 years.

Click.

The way Kickstarter works is that you set a financial target, upload a video, share your plans as best you know how, then click ‘start’. Your campaign runs for a specific timeframe, during which you post updates. Friends pledge money towards your project, and you offer rewards for different amounts pledged.

If, at the end of your campaign, you have reached your financial target, you get all the money (minus Kickstarter’s %).

If you don’t reach your target, you get nothing.

Click.

My friend was trying to raise $10,000 for the recording of her album.

1 day before the campaign closed, she had $8,761.

With 2 hours to go, she had reached $8,996

At 50 seconds, she had $9,161.

Click.

And that’s the figure it stopped at.

$839 shy of her target, with $0 to show for it.

I was crushed.

How could the world be so unfair? 

Will this (unquestionably beautiful) album ever see the light of day?

And I got to thinking how often this must happen in the course of each day. People get so close but don’t quite make it across the line. And they end up with nothing to show for it. Nada.

Now I know this friend of mine well enough to know that this little setback isn’t going to stop her making music. In fact, she’ll probably take some valuable lessons from this experience and do something even better with it.

But I’m still a little pissed off with the process.

(Image credit: Tim Norris)

Links: While I’ve Been Away

I thought it might be nice to share some things that have caught my attention during the quiet few months preceding this one. In no particular order, here goes:

Fairphone 2

Fairphone
If you, like me, like the idea of owning a phone that hasn’t been made in the harsh conditions of much of today’s technology, the new Fairphone might be for you.

But before you buy one, you might want to read this: Why I Love the Fairphone — and Why I Won’t Buy One


The Myth of the Ethical Shopper

myth of ethical consumer
This is an eye opening read for those of us who really bought into the early energy of the Fairtrade movement. It’s a challenge to do much more than just buy the right brands…


The Guardian’s series of Short stories

From wonderful writers like Dave Eggers and David Sedaris, and others not called David.


Street Art With a Message of Hope

elSeed
Two artists from different backgrounds have been up to some interesting things recently:

elSeed, a French-Tunisian street artist has been painting quotes in beautiful arabic ‘calligraffiti’, in Europe, America, Africa and the Middle East. Check out his TED talk here.

Andrew Breitenberg, AKA Selah, has been painting messages of hope around Africa for a while, but is currently back home in the States working on The Parallel Bible, check out their Kickstarter for the Book of Mark here.


Build A House

Speaking of Kickstarter campaigns, my good friends Liana and Jason are working on Build a House, their first album in 8 years. Check out their campaign, and pre-order it here.

Reflections on my in/voluntary tech fast

Four months ago, just as I was getting into a regular rhythm of writing, my computer’s graphics card failed. When I took it to the Apple Store in Amman, I was told that although it’s covered under warranty in the rest of the world, they couldn’t repair it for free in Jordan*. So I decided to wait until I would be back in Europe.

technology addiction

I toyed with blogging via my phone using dictation, but couldn’t really get into it. Instead I decided to give myself a writing break, as well as some time away from technology. Here’s what I discovered:

1. I’m addicted to information. Instead of just doing everything via my phone, for the first month I decided to delete Twitter, Instagram and Facebook from there too. I figured this would give me more time to focus more on Real Life. After a couple of days I noticed that I had swapped the time I would usually be using Twitter for reading BBC News and Al Jazeera, as well as starting to restructure my Feedly account.

2. Sometimes the creative juices flow more freely when you’re not trying to think of something to write about. I found myself having several “must write” thoughts each day, that may have been stifled by feeling I should write.

3. Reading more, and broadly, is really enjoyable. I decided to take a break from Scandi Crime novels and instead focussed on things that would stimulate ideas. I read theology, history, old literature.

4. It’s easy to use technology as a comfort blanket. I endeavoured to press into the discomfort of living in a new culture. Instead of connecting regularly with far flung friends, I spent more time asking myself “who could I spend time with here?”

Even though I’m now very relieved to be back at the keyboard, I’m glad I didn’t let my first instinct – to be super frustrated – dominate the last four months.

* I was assured by the Apple Genius who served me in the UK that they were more than likely just trying to avoid extra paperwork.

(Image credit: Jake Stimpson)

Life Hacks for Successful Change

I’ve moved countries a few times in my life. First to Sweden, then South Africa, and now, just 6 months ago, to Jordan.

Change can be exhilarating, but it can also be a challenge, especially when the “honeymoon phase” begins wearing off.

home sickness

Here are a few things that have helped me to embrace change…

Decide to ignore the less appealing aspects of your new culture
Anyone can find things they don’t like in an unfamiliar culture. But if you take a closer look and step outside of your comfort zones, you can find beautiful things anywhere in the world.

Nest
One of the things that has helped me to feel more settled is to set up home in a place. Ask yourself: “would someone visiting my home when I’m not there know that I live there?” and work at making the answer “yes.”

Hang pictures. Grow plants. Do whatever it takes to make your house feel like a home.

Develop routines
It’s easy to feel at sea when you first arrive. Everything is new and unfamiliar and everyone except you has things to do and places to be.

Get into a rhythm.

For us this has been easy, because we have language school every day. Outside of language classes, we visit people for about 2 hours a day and we study our books and memorise vocabulary for at least another 2 hours a day.

Usually when you first arrive in a new place, life isn’t so structured. Do your best to build a routine.

Stay Thankful
I’ve blogged about this before, but make sure you notice the beautiful things about your host culture on a regular basis.

When I start to feel homesick I like to take a walk and look around at all the things that I don’t get to enjoy back home: falafel stands, friendly faces spontaneously inviting you to drink coffee, the way the city comes alive at night.

Make local friends
When faced with a foreign land, many people gravitate to those who share the same cultural background. This is definitely the easiest thing to do, but it’s not necessarily the one that will make you feel most at home. It’s important to make friends with local people as soon as you can.

To begin with, this might mean showing up on your neighbour’s doorstep with a plate of cookies, or making a bit more small talk than you usually would with a local shop owner.

How about you? What tips do you have for a successful transition into a new place?

(Image credit: Emile Krijgsman)

How To Handle Transition

We all go through times of transition, whether it’s changing jobs, moving cities or saying goodbye to friends. Here are some ways to handle transition well.

About a year ago I did a week-long debrief of my last 5 years.

One of the things I discovered from it was that I hadn’t done as good a job at handling change as I thought I had.

Instead of going through a healthy process of grieving loss and coming out the other side, I’d been avoiding it altogether.

This time, as we approached moving countries, and saying goodbye to a seriously amazing bunch of friends, I resolved to handle things differently.

Here’s how:

1. Plan
This time I sat down with my wife and we wrote a list of all of the people and places that we would miss and wanted to say goodbye to before we left. Then we planned out when to visit each of them.

2. Celebrate Friendships
In the past, it wasn’t until I would reach my new destination that I’d begin regretting the things I hadn’t told my friends. To transition well, it’s really important to make a point of doing this. If there were things that were hard to speak out, we wrote them down and gave them to our friends.

3. Express Emotions
Even though it might be culturally awkward, it’s really sad to be on your own when you begin to cry over the loss of a friendship. I made the point this time to be okay with crying in front of people, because I realised that I wanted them to see what they mean to me, and to be able to share the weight of the loss.

4. Tell Stories
My natural tendency is to focus on what’s next, but I’m learning the importance of looking at what has been. During our most recent transition, we reminded ourselves and those around us of the things we’ve experienced together. We told the story of our time there. We talked about what we learned and how we’d changed.

How You Can Stop Giving Forgettable Talks

Every teacher wants their students to remember what they’ve been taught. A recent study show’s that that’s rarely the case. Here’s how you can teach to be remembered…

6284181389_36af02b058_z
Photo by cybrarian77

I love that this blog is about change. Change is what humanises us.

Think about any narrative you have ever read, or watched. A truly captivating character is one that changes. At the the heart of every good story, whatever the surrounding circumstances, there is a person who changes.

And yet, despite being captivated by the idea of change, most of us feel the futility, or at least the slowness, of change in our own lives and those around us.

Forgetting is the norm

According to a recent study the highest performing pupils in the UK forget around 60% of the basic concepts taught in the months between taking the entrance exam and arriving to class.

I think this is the sign of a deep seated misunderstanding in our culture and our age about learning and knowledge.

Imagine this: the brightest doctors, teachers, government leaders and scientists of our next generation being taught to re-call information but not being given the skill of integrating that information into anything deeper than rote repetition.

In a culture obsessed with information, we are perpetually informed, but we have lost of virtue of allowing knowledge to transform us.

So how do you teach people in a way that they transcend being simply informed, to being transformed?

1) Make A Connection

Your paper qualifications are just that: pieces of paper. They might gather you a room full of people, but it takes true human emotion, relational connection, to truly impact people at the deepest of levels. Put simply, you have to be more than smart, you have to be likeable.

2) Listen To The Learner’s Need

Often teachers arrive with a pre-conceived notion of what the learner needs. Instead, start by assuming that the learner is the expert in her own scenario, and provide only the tools that assist her in fulfilling the need she has defined.

3) Encourage Participation

Inviting the learner to be part of the discovery, is the most transformative experience you can offer someone in a learning environment. That is why good science teachers don’t just tell you what happens when you throw potassium into water, they let you do it and watch the glass bowl explode! When we invite people into the experience of discovery we ignite their imaginations that the world is bigger than 2D concepts.

 If you want to be someone who teaches to be remembered, be sure to listen hard and engage your students’ imaginations in the learning process.

The Perspective of Travel

If you’re feeling stuck in the same old rut of desiring change, but not knowing how to get started, perhaps you need a change of scenery.

Movement gives us greater objectivity

I remember as a boy, pedalling up the closest, highest mountain I could find and looking down at Cardiff, the city I once called home.

As I watched the glimmering windows and faint strands of traffic, the flashing of the light at the top of the highest building, and even the shore of England in the distance, I felt liberated.

All my problems and frustrations and crises came dislodged.

I could focus on bigger things: ideas, theories, priorities and principles.

These bike rides helped me to learn what really matters to me, what makes me tick.

Somehow when our bodies start moving towards unfamiliar territory, and experiencing unfamiliar things, creativity gets unleashed.

It cultivates humility and open mindedness

When we get exposed to new people and new stories, those things shape us.

We realise that not everyone looks at the world the way we do.

Not everyone perceives our motives as purely as we do.

Some friends of ours live in a village in Zambia, situated alongside the great Zambezi, several kilometres from The Smoke That Thunders (the Zambian name for Victoria Falls).

When they first moved in, they noticed that every village had hollowed out concrete blocks that were being used as tables, benches or were just abandoned alongside the path.

On closer inspection they realised that these concrete blocks were water filtration systems. The water passes through sand, and in the process 98% of the bacteria is removed.

These filters offered a solution to the stomach aches and illnesses that the villagers caught from drinking straight from the Zambezi.

But the people already believed they knew what made them sick.

Their ancestors were unhappy with them.

The water wasn’t causing their sickness, so why would filtering it prevent it?

This taught our friends, who were working closely with the villagers, the need for slow change that is combined with transforming world views.

Instead of trying to solve the villager’s problems directly, they began by forming relationships of trust.

Through those relationships, they could offer new ways of looking at things.

Over time, the villagers themselves can initiate changes based on their new perspective.

It gives us appreciation for what we have

When I first travelled Europe, I Inter-railed with my friend Tim.

We travelled from the Czech Republic to Rome, often sleeping on trains to avoid the cost of hostels.

I would stuff my backpack into the bottom of my sleeping bag, and my passport into my pants to avoid the fate of the many travellers we’d heard about: stuck in an unfamiliar place, with no ID, no money and no way home.

I lived off bread and McDonalds milkshakes, to stretch my budget as far as it would go. And I cut the trip short in Rome because I was so homesick I felt compelled to get back to my Sister’s birthday.

(She later commented on how gaunt my face was from my meagre diet during those weeks.)

Although it was a chaotic trip, it gave me fresh perspective on myself. I realised that there was pain ahead. There would be goodbyes. I realised that I would be doing much more travelling, and because of that I’d better get used to change.

Moving gives perspective in a way that staying doesn’t.

You see your family and friends with greater fondness, your workplace with new compassion, and sights and sounds that have become mundane spring back to life.

As I prepare to leave South Africa, its beautiful people, life changing experiences, and awe-inspiring scenery, I eagerly anticipate the new perspectives that await me.

Why it’s good to read people you disagree with

If you want to cultivate and refine your understanding of your own worldview, it’s important to study the worldview of others.

Why you should read people you disagree with
Photo by Tarik Browne

I discovered this when I first began studying political philosophy. Reading the likes of John Locke, Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault I would ask myself: what similarities and what differences do we have in how we see the world?

I was surprised to find out that there was always something I could agree or empathise with in another person’s perspective (a lesson I learned from Atticus Finch, Mr Gove!).

There was usually an aspect of each perspective that troubled me or caused tension, and that tension helped me to develop a sense of what I believe in, who I really am.

For example, when I began looking at conservatism: the idea of the small state and political pragmatism, I could see glimmers of value in that point of view. Though I’m far from conservative, politically, being exposed to this worldview has enhanced and sharpened my thinking.

Today I find this practise invaluable. When I read the perspective of others, however different from my own, they help me to harness my focus, or remind me of blind spots I should pay more attention to.

In Writing and Music

This idea applies to any medium that is used to carry a message.

Another example for me is Douglas Coupland, the novelist and artist. I don’t see the world entirely as he does, but the way he weaves his love for the environment into many of his novels compels me not to forget its importance (see Generation A or Shampoo Planet).

I wouldn’t necessarily choose to back the same causes as Ani Difranco, but her songwriting stirs up inside me anger at the way women are often treated in this world.

Frans Kafka wrote:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to.

(via Brainpickings)

Writing that merely affirms our perspective of the world is meaningless.

If we want to be change makers, we need to hone our thinking and refine our ideas.

Exposure to conflicting and contrasting values helps us in this process.

It also helps us to avoid demonising people just because they have a different outlook on life.

It’s why I sometimes choose to read books I know I will find irritating, like The Fountainhead.

How about you? Are there people you read or listen to who you disagree with, but who help to refine your worldview?

6 Compelling Reasons to Get Yourself a Coach

A coach is someone who can act as a sounding board for your ideas, helping you stick to commitments and championing your progress as you pursue your goals.

6 Compelling Reasons to Get Yourself A Coach
Photo by Ed Uthman

Here are some reasons why you need a coach:

  1. They help you focus

    One of the things I love about meeting my coach is that he helps me refine my ideas and get down to the one or two practical things that I can begin taking action on.

  2. They hold you accountable

    A good coach will ask you how you’re doing with the targets you’ve set yourself. Living in a world full of distractions and voices competing for your attention, it’s so helpful to have someone helping you to stay on track.

  3. They give feedback

    Although the role of a coach isn’t to tell you what to do, they are listening to your process and can mirror back what they see. This can be key in identifying inconsistencies and blind spots.

  4. They help you carry your load

    Going after a dream is hard enough. Why would you choose to do it alone?
    Having one other person checking in with how you’re doing really helps to ease the load and prevent you feeling isolated, or like you’re the only person who cares about what you’re doing.

  5. They share their connections

    Most of the people who have coached me have connected me with resources or people who have helped me get unstuck from problems I’m having.

  6. They can track your long term progress

    Because your relationship has an element of commitment to it, you can be assured that your investment of time and energy explaining what’s going on in your life isn’t wasted. They’re invested in your journey, often more than friends will be.

So how do you go about getting a coach?

Many people out there pay to be coached by Strengths Coaches, or Life Coaches, or even Counsellors. These professionals are helpful, but if you don’t have the budget, don’t worry.

Look for someone who you respect and who you know is a good listener. Consider someone who has expertise in an area you wish to grow (although this isn’t essential).

Then ask them if they’d be willing to coach you, clearly defining your expectations (How often do you want to meet? What will your times together look like? What types of questions would you like them to ask?)

Have you been coached? Did you find the experience helpful?

How I Became More Thankful

Having a positive outlook on life is vital if you’re going to stir up change in the world around you.

I Didn’t Start Out Thankful

When I arrived in South Africa for the first time, I discovered I had some unrealistic expectations of what a change of location could do. I thought that moving would accelerate my growth process and turn me into the kind of person I dreamed of becoming: someone selfless, generous, open hearted and full of peace.

I’m a recovering millennial. It’s well documented that we don’t take naturally to discipline, focus or self-control. We’ve never had to suffer or work hard to shape our society. Our lives have been full of quick fixes to temporary lows as we sedate the inner disquiet.

After years of reading about people like Mother Theresa and Heidi Baker, I was under the impression that a change of location would bring about big change. I’d be overwhelmed with compassion when I walked around the townships, playing with children and showing love to people with AIDS. My heart’s natural tendency to love would come alive and I’d be a living example of Jesus for all to see.

So you’ll understand that I had a wake up call when I arrived and it was difficult. I was homesick, a long way away from my (then) girlfriend (now wife), and surrounded by people I didn’t know.

Instead of feeling the urge to self sacrifice, I was drawn inward, toward self preservation. I spent hours alone, focussed on home, ignoring my heart. I was always thinking about what’s next and how to get there with the least possible effort.

After a lot of wasted time moping and feeling misunderstood, I began to realise that I could do something about my feelings. My mind had been consistently drawn back to something that I envied Paul, from the Bible, for being able to write:

“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.”

This guy had been in and out of prison, beaten and almost drowned. How could he be so content when I was so unsettled?

An Experiment

Fast forward a couple of years and my wife is reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, in which the author describes undertaking an experiment in gratitude.

Each day she would make a list of things that she was thankful for. Over time she found that she was more content and appreciative of what she had, rather than being discontent with what she didn’t.

I was so inspired by this simple wisdom that I decided to spend the following year making daily lists of things I was thankful for. Each day I would add 5 things to my list.

As the year went on, I realised that I was feeling more content. My circumstances weren’t more stable, we didn’t have more money or a better quality of life (at least not materially), but my heart was thankful and that made a world of difference.

It had such a positive impact on my thinking that, after the year was over, I decided to continue with my daily list making indefinitely.

Have you tried a similar to experiment to this? How did it go for you?

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© 2014-2017 Jonathan Morgan