I met her once. We had been waiting expectantly for half an hour. She was late. When she finally entered the room, she surfed on a wave of power and authority – like the entrance of the Queen of Sheba without the music.
Calm, collected, nose in the air, she frowned with complete disdain for the cohort of journalists who were between us and the doorway. The flash-guns had fired like a set of uncoordinated fireworks as soon as the door had opened.
I remember vividly the soundman for the BBC camera crew who had a long, extended microphone covered in a sausage-shaped, fluffy sound muffler. He was lying on the floor to get out of the way of the cameras that were pointing at her. She virtually kicked him and made a comment (I can’t remember the exact words but it was something like) “that’s where you guys belong – on the floor”. She could easily have said “scumbag” – but I don’t think she did! It was all part of the drama.
She gave her short speech for the evening news and the twenty or so journalists were ushered out of the room with the sense of urgency that a hassled mistress of the house would want when letting her servants sweep the floor after a spill or a mess had been made by the dog.
She said “Are they all gone?” There was silence. A few nodded their heads to affirm they had all left. The atmosphere changed immediately. Less formal. Yet still quite tense. She was on a mission. She wanted answers to questions. She was impatient. Dennis just wanted a drink. He relaxed everyone by saying something like “Good, let’s have a drink”.
She was born the same year as my father, in another era, another age. What was important then is now no longer so important. What was pressing then is now, in hindsight, much less pressing – even trivial. Yet, at the time, she had the power. She had the authority. She had the sense of purpose. She got the attention and wanted change. Yet, for all the words, my longest-lasting memory was the feeling I had when she entered the room. Words cannot describe the electric presence she exuded. I’ve seldom had that feeling from anyone, man or woman, either before or since.
Last weekend, for many of us, the clocks went forward and we lost an hours sleep. Many in the West celebrated Easter – either by going to Church or gorging themselves on chocolate. Perhaps both. March ended and April began.
Today remained bitterly cold – and although some of our smaller daffodils are out, the larger ones are still tight in their spring green wraps. We seem to have been locked in a strange weather pattern in the UK for a year now – with March being the coldest on record for 40 years. Many forget that this time last year we had 18 months of drought. Whoever did the rain-dance this time last year sure did a good one!
In China and other countries in the East, it was a holiday – the Qingming Festival. This festival has various translations including: Pure Brightness Festival; Clear Bright Festival; Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day. Traditionally celebrated on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, it is a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime and to tend to the graves of their departed ancestors.
The festival’s origin is credited to the Tang Emporer Xuanzong in 732. Wealthy citizens in China were reportedly holding too many extravagant and ostentatiously expensive ceremonies in honor of their ancestors. Emperor Xuanzong, seeking to curb this practice, declared that respects could be formally paid at ancestors’ graves only on Qingming. The observance of Qingming found a firm place in Chinese culture and has continued to root itself in many other parts of Asia. Any excuse for a holiday!
The idea that we come out of the winter and into pure, clear brightness – and spring-clean the tombs of our ancestors does not really have an equivalent in the West. The Christian Church displaced many of these more pagan traditions for celebrating Spring by defining it as the most important festival of the Christian calendar: Easter. The chocolate companies partly displaced this with Easter Eggs and everything chocolate. We don’t really have an equivalent celebration or holiday to go and sorting out our ancestors’ graves on one particular day of the year. I suppose the closest we get is the idea of a “Spring Clean”.
Whatever your belief system, though, Spring is a magic time of the year (if is ever going to be allowed to break free from the cold clutches of winter this year). It is a time of hope. A time of renewed energy. A time for cleaning those parts of your life that need cleansing. A time for being positive and leaning forward.
Spring is sprung and the green shoots are surely going to break through soon! Happy Qingming Festival – and may your ancestors’ graves be much cleaner today than they were yesterday!
Source: Wikipedia, http://www.chinatouradvisors.com (picture) and my Garden
I was very privileged last year to submit evidence to the House of Lord’s Communications Committee on their report “Broadband for All”.
Below is The Earl of Selbourne’s summary of what needs to be done from his speech on Monday evening when the report was debated in the Lords:
The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I join others in thanking the chairman, my noble friend Lord Inglewood, for the way in which he chaired the committee and introduced the debate today. From the speeches that we have heard, it is clear without doubt that the future of our economy will depend to a large extent on our ability to connect to broadband throughout all communities and sections of the population. It is not just about wealth creation and social cohesion. The ability to participate in healthcare and whole tranches of public activity will depend on connectivity. The Government must have a policy, and the Government are right to have a policy, but perhaps, as we have said in our report, they have been preoccupied by one aspect, which is to try to be the leader in Europe on superfast broadband.
The first priority has to be to achieve connectivity. If you have excluded populations, you will have a social divide and a lack of social cohesion. The Government need not worry about speed. That will follow. There are not very often market failures when it comes to cities. I therefore agree with those who have said that to spend money on improving superfast provision in cities is not something that the Government need to worry about if the market can do it itself. But there will be market failure in remote areas, where the costs of pushing out the broadband structure are too great. There will be market failure where the incumbents have an advantage, which inhibits other incomers who can help to provide some of the very many solutions that will be required to get this connectivity to all parts of the population. That is something that we are failing to harness—the undoubted innovation and enthusiasm from local communities, small and start-up companies, all of which would have a contribution to make. We go into some detail in the report. It gets pretty dense, I admit, when we talk about things such as passive optical networks and physical infrastructure access. But this is the key to it.
At the moment, we have what my noble friend Lord Inglewood called “the only show in town” for many rural areas. Whether we like it or not, because it is in the very nature of broadband to have high fixed costs, low marginal costs and great economies of scale, inevitably the incumbents will have a strong advantage. I think that we should be proud of what BT has done. It has improved enormously, by technical innovations, the ability to provide broadband on the existing infrastructure. Of course, it is rolling out broadband at great speed. It says that it hopes to achieve 90% coverage by 2017, but that immediately begs the question as to whether in national terms that is a satisfactory objective. I would certainly say, particularly as I am from a rather remote corner of the rural community and likely to be one of the 10% left out, that it is not satisfactory. So let us see what we can do to achieve that connectivity well before 2017. I do not think that anyone has mentioned yet the 4G mobile broadband technology, which is very soon to be with us and will certainly provide greatly enhanced mobile internet access to areas within adequate connectivity.
There are many different contributions to be made. The case for government involvement and public funds to be deployed rests, as I say, on achieving this reduction of the digital divide. The long-term solution will, ultimately, be fibre to the premises and the home. As others have rightly said, the cost of rolling out fibre to the home is exorbitant. We have a temporary solution, and a good one—the BT solution of fibre to the cabinet. It achieves the objective of reducing dramatically the costs. Usually, you have copper or some other connection from that cabinet. But whether BT likes it or not—it is in something like denial over this—it has the disadvantage that it does not provide open access, as I would understand it. In other words, as a local access network provider, you cannot simply move in with a compatible bit of machinery, stick it in there and do what you are trying to achieve. It is not an open access hub, as we have tried to demonstrate. That is where you come back to the technology of the passive optical network, which is a bit of a fix, as those will know who have read the report with great care. It certainly does not achieve what some of those independent service providers would have hoped for.
I think that the Government should ask quite firmly that, for the next tranche of money, which we hear will come in 2015, there should be proper open access. It is not beyond the wit of man. Clearly, there is no great financial advantage to the incumbents to roll out proper open access, but that is what is needed. If it is what is required, that is what will happen. It must be future proofed. We know that the technology changes dramatically fast. We know that some of the existing solutions, including the cabinet, will not stand the test of time for very long, but the fibre-optic cable will. Ultimately, it will be able to handle this vast amount of information. Therefore, we must make sure that as we improve the broadband infrastructure, we have the ability to upgrade and upgrade. That is why I say that, frankly, the cabinets are not very easily upgraded. You have to go back to the exchanges and think again. That is why we should look on them only as a temporary expedient.
When public money is distributed to extend the commercial network, as is happening at the moment, the Government should insist on the long-term solution. We took evidence from a particularly impressive consultant, Mr Lorne Mitchell, who is setting up a community scheme in Goudhurst, Kent. I think he was the first to put it to me how important it was for local groups to be able to access the middle mile and to get the backhaul back into the infrastructure. He said that the key to the problem is the openness of the middle mile, which is the connection back to the internet. If this can be designed in a way that gives each community a chance to get to one of these community hubs, it would be a massive leap forward. That is precisely what the committee report has tried to promote. I think it makes a lot of sense. However, the government response simply quoted a report which said that it was unrealistically expensive to have hubs in every community, and so it would be if you were to launch it all overnight. However, ultimately, it would be no more expensive than the cabinets. It is the same technology but it is a question of making sure that when you roll out the hubs, you do what you are not doing at the moment with the cabinets, and that is making them available to all. To say that they will cost far in excess of the funds available to the Government at present, as the government response does, simply misses the point. If the Government can fund any hubs such as cabinets or exchanges, they should be accessible to the community and to other providers. This simply requires a change in specification, not a change in the scale of funding.
I hope the Minister will recognise that, however impressive BT’s record of rolling out broadband is—it has, indeed, been most impressive—the interests of the BT shareholder and of wider society, particularly the 10% in rural communities who will remain without adequate connectivity in 2017 if present policies are continued, are not always the same.
There is a much better and fairer way to make the UK’s telecoms infrastructure truly open and competitive – and also give much better value-for-money to the government’s interventions. The Lords highlighted the way – but the vested interests put a cloud over the path. Many assume because BT Openreach is called “open”, then it is open. It is not. Never has been. Never will be. Clever marketing.
In spite of many other schemes being “rolled-up” by the BDUK closed scheme where only BT can win, we are letting the Government and the English Counties inject the biggest single donation to BT’s balance sheet in a lifetime. Definitely not the best way to invest government money. Definitely not an open debate in the House of Commons on how to do it differently. Only in the House of Lords.
I am really pleased to say that we were told this week that the Goudhurst Broadband scheme that I presented to the Communications Committee is still going strong – with great support from Kent County Council and our Local Parish Council. You can find more at one of my other blogs: http://www.goudhurst.net I also blog about the final 10% (last point above) at http://www.finalninth.com – so for those who wondered what I do outside writing Thursday Thoughts – then this is some of it!
Let’s hope the Lords’ Report continues to be read and championed and that Monday was not the end of the work of trying to develop a new set of really good ideas for next generation internet access distribution for the UK.
I would be surprised if you had not heard about it. Yet we live in such a busy world, maybe you haven’t.
It was discovered in Manchester – and here is a short video describing some of its potential:
Graphne was discovered by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester – who subsequently went on to win the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010″for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”. The magic material could well create the next break-through in battery technology for mobile phones and electric cars – at a fraction of the cost of current technologies. That alone would be mind-blowing!
Yet it has so many other uses. It is cheap to manufacture . And as it is purely carbon – it is very environmentally friendly!
If you want to get into the science of graphene, then watch this video:
There are many more videos on YouTube and many more articles about graphene on the Internet.
Makes you think.
Makes you think about the other uses it could be put to in the future.
Makes you think about how you might get more involved in developing its potential.
Makes you think how it will change people’s lives in the next century.
As we hear the conflicting messages of the US and UK stock market reaching all-time highs, but the British Pound losing its creditworthiness and predictions of the currency on a long-term slide into goodness knows where, the uncertainties about the world trigger a search for a model that can understand what is going on – and what one should do about it. More importantly, it makes us think more about what is important in life so we can make the hard choices to navigate a fruitful future for ourselves and those who are important to us.
It was therefore a coincidence that yesterday, I turned to a set of cards of wise sayings that I was given a few years ago, The cards summarise the ideas of Abraham-Hicks (more details at the bottom of this post).
The text says:
Those who are
mostly observers thrive
in good times but suffer in bad
times because what they are observing
is already vibrating, and as they observe it,
they include it in their vibrational countenance;
and as they include it, the Universe accepts that as
their point of attraction – and gives them more
of the essence of it. So for an observer
the better it gets, the better it gets;
or the worse it gets, the worse
it gets. However, one who
is a visionary thrives
in all times.
For those new to Abraham-Hicks, words like “vibrational countenance” and “point of attraction” might seem a bit strange. But for me, having read deeper into their work for a few years, I have found the Abraham-Hicks way of looking at the world to be extraordinarily powerful, interesting and helpful.
A simple message, shines through the more esoteric phrases: have a vision and hold it through good times and bad and you will find it is easier to take the ups and downs in life than if you just sit back as an observer and let life happen around you.
Food for thought. I would love to hear from any readers who have thoughts on these ideas. Please post them below!
More information on the Abraham-Hicks publications at:
The older I get, the more I believe in coincidences. And one of the strange coincidences that I have recently discovered is that there are a set of stories that are told in slightly different forms all around the world – as if they all had their roots in one story told many thousands of years ago. A fine example is the Story of the Broken Pot:
Once upon a time there lived a woman called Truhana. Not being very rich, she had to go yearly to the market to sell honey, the precious product of her hive.
Along the road she went, carrying the jar of honey upon her head, calculating as she walked the money she would get for the honey. “First”, she thought, “I will sell it, and buy eggs. The eggs I shall set under my fat brown hens, and in time there will be plenty of little chicks. These, in turn, will become chickens, and from the sale of these, lambs could be bought.”
Truhana then began to imagine how she could become richer than her neighbors, and look forward to marrying well her sons and daughters.
Trudging along, in the hot sun, she could see her fine sons and daughters-in-law, and how the people would say that it was remarkable how rich she had become, who was once so poverty-stricken.
Under the influence of these pleasurable thoughts, she began to laugh heartily, and preen herself, when, suddenly, striking the jar with her hand, it fell from her head, and smashed on the ground. The honey became a sticky mess upon the ground.
Seeing this, she was cast down as she had been excited, on seeing all her dreams lost for illusion.
Idres Shah in his book “World Tales” (which is where this story came from) notes:
“The tale is called a number of things like – “The Girl and the Pitcher of Milk”. Professor Max muller remarks how the tale has survived the rise and fall of empires and the change of languages, and the perishing of works of art. He stresses the attraction whereby “this simple children’s tale should have lived on and maintained its place of honor and its undisputed sway in every schoolroom of the East and every nursery of the West.”
“In the Eastern versions, it is always a man who is the fantasist and whose hopes come to grief: in the West it is almost always a woman. The man generally imagines that he will marry and have a son, while the woman tends to think of riches and marriage.”
And so it was, last week, I was visiting Telefonica’s incubator (which they call an Academy) in London. There are 19 startups (or eggs) being hatched – each into what will hopefully be new chickens. However, given the statistic that over 65% of companies fail in their first two years, I could not but think the question as to which ones might be successful, and which ones not. Which ones would hatch and which ones would be eaten before hatching? Talking to the head guy there, he said that it was surprising that some of the start-ups that showed no hope four months ago are now doing really well – and others that showed great potential have somehow stumbled. Each of the eggs will be moved out from the Academy at the end of March – and I wish them all the best of luck in moving from the egg stage to the chicken stage!
Oh, and just to round off this Thursday Thought, I visited my own beehives on Monday to give them some sugar cake food. All was well – each of the six hives had bees! I just hope they will all survive through February and March. No honey in the pot yet, but I still dream that their stories will make me rich and famous one day!
I am going to be exploring the power coincidence in a lot more detail in the coming months. If you are on Twitter you can read the regular tweets and observations on coincidence and business by following my new Tweet stream @coinmark.
Story from: “World Tales” collected by Idries Shah published by the Octagon Press 1991 – page 27
Picture – Copyright iStockPhoto – I bought it and if you want to use it you should buy it too!
As we leave 2012, there are many things we may remember which, for those that live in the UK, can be summed up as a year of broken records:
The driest spring for 100 years followed by the wettest 9 months since records began
The summer Olympic and Paralympic games that smashed many World, Olympic and Paralympic records
The Diamond Jubilee celebrations with cheery faces, street parties and that magnificent pageant on the Thames. (Although the Queen did not break the record as the longest-serving British Monarch – she is in good health to take the record from Queen Victoria in three years time with 64 years on the throne).
The “broken record” of economic doom, debt mountains, fiscal cliffs, war, murder, hunger etc. etc.
…..and what should not be forgotten – our own personal records – whatever they might have been.
As we enter 2013, it is the time of year where we look back and look forward. Remember and try to stretch our minds to a New Year.
If there is one thing that I will remember, above all else, it was the power of the “Games Makers”.
Through economic gloom and despondency and the ever sharper and more graphic accounts of murder and mayhem around the world, the Games Makers surely showed us how to make a difference. Whatever is going on in the world, each individual can volunteer to create their own, brighter future. A powerful message for me from 2012 that I was not expecting to receive!
I hope all readers have an extraordinarily successful New Year and the best of luck with breaking your own records in 2013!
I took part of the afternoon off yesterday to sort out a friend’s beehive. He had started keeping bees earlier this year, having been given a new hive by his parents for his birthday. After two inspections he called for help for me to take them away. The bees had stung him so badly that he had dramatic side-effects. Last weekend, I took a new hive over and yesterday I went to put the bees into my hive. The bees were one of the most aggressive colonies I have ever opened – and it became clear that they were not the best colony for a beginner beekeeper to start with.
It got me thinking of a few visits that I have recently done to business incubators and business colonies around the country in the past few months.
The first was in London, near Kings Cross at the Centre for Creative Collaboration (C4CC). My good friend, Brian Condon, has just started a new phase of development by taking on a full-time role running the place. The C4CC is based near Kings Cross and funded by various parts of the University of London. The way that the centre attracts projects and develops ideas is outstanding. A particular success has been Pavegen – which creates paving slabs that generate electricity from footsteps. They started with the founder and a desk in C4CC two years ago and have now moved out to a local office employing about 30 people.
The second example was in Edinburgh, where I was shown around a new venture called “The Tech Cube” . The building used to be the home of the The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies until last year when the School moved to new purpose-built facility 7 miles to the south. The vision for the Tech Cube was impressive – though the building was still under refurbishment. What was interesting was the link between the Tech Cube and the University – with the idea of taking some of the young ideas that will be incubated on the top three floors of the Appleton Tower (part of the Informatics Department) about half a mile away and then to commercialise them further in the Cube. Again – a strong link between University and the commercial sector seems to be the trend.
I was also lucky enough to be shown around O2’s new Business Academy in London – part of a network of accelerators owned by Telefonica under the brand name “Wayra“. 19 start-ups in London (from a total of 171 worldwide) are each given about £40,000 as a loan by Telefonica to catapult them to the next level. They each spend 9 months in the accelerator in a cube on the edge of the building bounded by corner-less walls of black that can be written on by passers by.
There is an interesting map emerging – which is summarised on the TechBritain website:
All this got me thinking what the similarities were between my apiary and the successful custodianship of these new businesses accelerators / incubators around the country:
Projects and/or businesses are bounded physically (like a hive is within an apiary)
Each project has a leader. Some are more successful than others – depending on the leadership qualities of the boss (queen bee)
The organism depends on cross-fertilisation of ideas between the various colonies (a role performed by the drone in the bee world)
The workers of each project (hive) collect ideas (pollen and nectar) and enrich their organisation
Some incubators (like C4CC) have private rooms that projects can keep their Intellectual Property (honey stores) from the competition
Each building (apiary) needs a good leader (beekeeper) to ensure the right treatment is given to each project (hive) to ensure they flourish and survive
Each business (hive) has a different path, a different energy, a different future. Predicting which ones will win and which ones will fail can be difficult! Just as with bee hives.
Colonies of Artists are not a new thing (see previous post on the Cranbrook Colony. However, with all the mergers, acquisitions, outsourcing, offshoring and MBA-ification of our business fabric, I somehow think that the only way we can get the UK back on its feet is to get back to the level of the hive and re-learn the art of business within a colony, or business apiary.
This is backed-up by thinking from the Futurist, Thomas Frey, in his analysis of the future of work and how business colonies will become a growing force in the future of how work works.
This weekend I will move the hive from my friend’s garden to my out-apiary where I will have to decide what to do with it in the spring. Some colonies are just too angry for an amateur beekeeper to want to keep. Below is a rather quaint scene from the French Alps of an apiary that has probably not changed for a hundred years or more:
However, on the up-side, they are often one the most profitable hives for producing excess honey. After this appalling year of honey production, I might well encourage them to flourish next year. The again, it might be good to encourage them to swarm – so I lose the queen that produces such aggressive daughters. As in beekeeping, so as in Wayra’s motto: “The rules are not yet written!”
This week’s cease-fire in Gaza probably passed most people by – except for quick glimpses of rockets being fired back-and-forth and the commentary from safe television studios by those who try to collapse a whole history lesson into a few minutes of short, sharp sentences. I am sure we were all relieved that the war was halted by an equally abrupt ceasefire.
However, the news reminded me of a time when I was much smaller and of the 6 Day War of 1967 – and more particularly my father’s reaction to it. He had strong opinions about this part of the world having been posted to Palestine at the end of the Second World War. By luck, he was minutes away from the King David Hotel (1) when it blew up on 22 July 1946.
The bomb killed 91 and injured 46. The Irgun planted a bomb in the basement of the main building of the hotel, under the wing which housed the Mandate Secretariat and a few offices of the British Military headquarters. If my father had arrived a few minutes earlier, I would not have been born. Nor would my brother nor sister. A sobering thought (for my siblings and me, at least).
My father therefore had a very different perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict – and would merely say “remember what happened to the Palestinians.” This did not have anything like the meaning for me as it did for him. And for my children, it is probably just another history lesson in a country that they have not yet visited somewhere in the Middle East. In reaching a bit deeper into the subject, I came across a quote (2) by David Ben-Gurion (the first Prime Minister of Israel):
“I don’t understand your optimism,” Ben-Gurion declared. “Why should the Arabs make peace? If I were an Arableader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been antisemitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two generations’ time, but for the moment there is no chance. So, it’s simple: we have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army. Our whole policy is there. Otherwise the Arabs will wipe us out.”
What struck me by this quote was not so much that the Prime Minister of Israel was admitting to the fact that the Israelis had stolen “their” country from the Arabs, but more the idea that it takes one or two generations to accept; one or two generations to forgive; one or two generations to forget.
It reminded me of some research I did a few years ago on the famous Russian economist, Nikolai Kondratiev (3). Kondratiev came up with the theory of the long-wave economic cycle which takes about 50-60 years from peak to peak. Kontradiev’s views were so controversial in his country at the time that he was sent to the gulag and was executed in 1938 at the age of 46. It was Joseph Schumpeter who named the wave in Kondratiev’s name in 1939. I remember reading about long wave economic cycles about 20 years ago and wondered what might cause these types of patterns in history. I can’t remember exactly where I heard the theory at the time – but I remember hearing the idea that the 50-60 year cycle is natural because “it takes two generations to forget”. Given that a significant number of children are born to women between 25-30 (from(4) – see chart below), this is somehow quite an interesting idea.
If you take the theory and apply it to the cycle from the Wall Street Crash in 1929 (and the Great Depression of the 1930s) to the financial crisis of 2008 and our current post-crash turmoil, then 1929 to 2008 is about 80 years. Some of you might point out that the time between is not 50 or 60 years, so the theory does not hold. But perhaps this is due to the fact that we are now all living a bit longer? In any case, the underlying pattern of loosening financial controls within the international financial system seems clear – as is the pattern of forgetting the lessons learnt from the previous generation’s Grandparents. I’m not a qualified economist – but as an inquisitive observer, the theory somehow makes sense – even if it is not numerically accurate.
So we have wars, we have waves and we have history repeating itself and it got me thinking about the recent flooding that is currently taking place (again) across many parts of the UK. Over 5 million people in England and Wales live and work in properties that are at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea. (5) Yet there seems to be considerable political pressure on encouraging the building industry to “get building” so that we can kick-start the economy. In Kent, where I live, many of the new houses have been built on the flood plains around Ashford – and there is the famous story of the Vodfaone Headquarters building in Newbury being built on the old racecourse that was well-known for flooding.
And so it was that I came across a story (6) about the tsunami that struck Japan last year. Many people living by the sea lost their lives, but there was one village, apparently, in Aneyoshi that has a stone which reads:
“High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants.
Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis.
Do not build any homes below this point.”
Those who headed the warning (like the residents in Aneyoshi) were spared from the destruction of the recent tsunami. Other towns did not. Yuto Kimura, aged 12, from Aneyoshi said they studied about the markers in school, and when the tsunami came, his mother got him from school and the entire village climbed to higher ground.
And so it is. Maybe we are all cursed with the fact that it takes two generations to forget. But for the wise ones who read the markers that have been laid down from previous generations, it is worth teaching the next generation about the deeper lessons from history. It is worth encouraging them to take less time to accept, less time to forgive and more time to forget the important things in life.
Then again, we are all creatures of habit, so I expect the addage that “it takes two generations to forget” will last for many more generations to come!
I am always intrigued when I find a word in a foreign language that has no direct equivalent in the English language. When I come across one, I feel that I have somehow found a new way of looking at the world that most people who just speak English cannot see.
And so it was, in doing some research for a client earlier this week, I had a single idea – and I was looking for a word or a phrase in the English language to describe it. The phrase might describe the sort of contentment that a Zen Bhuddist Priest might have about life – all the time. Not seeking or being exploited. Just absorbing and giving back to the world sufficient energy, food, water, conversation that is appropriate in the moment.
On delving into Wikipedia the best phrase I could find was one from Swedish: “Lagom”. Roughly translated, it means “just the right amount”. No more. No less. There is a Swedish proverb: “Lagom är bäst” which translates as “the right amount is best”. AhHa! I thought. This is it! This is the word I have been looking for.
The word “lagom” (also spelled “lugum” or “lugom”) also exists in Norwegian. The connotations in Norwegian, however, are somewhat different from Swedish. In Norwegian the word has synonyms as “fitting, suitable, comfortable, nice, decent, well built/proportioned”. While some synonyms are somewhat similar in meaning (e.g. “suitable” and “reasonable”, “fitting” and “in balance”), many present in Swedish don’t exist in Norwegian and vice versa. The Norwegian words “passelig” and the more common “passe” are very similar, translating roughly as “fitting, adequate, suitable” in English. “Passe” can be used in every context where the Swedish “lagom” is used, e.g. “passe varm” (right temperature/adequately warm), “passe stor” (right size), etc.
The concept of ‘lagom’ is similar to Russian expression ‘normal’no’ (нормально, literally normally), which indicates a sufficient and sustainable state, for example of one’s livelihood. In Russian, the word is often used as answer to the question “how are you”. Comparable terms are found in some south Slavic languages, for example Serbian and Croatian umereno or umjereno.
Ιn ancient Greek, there was the infamous phrase of Cleobulus, ‘Métron áriston’ (μέτρον ἄριστον) i.e.: “Moderation is best”
Wikipedia further cites the origin of the term “Lagom” as “an archaic dative plural form of lag (“law”), in this case referring not necessarily to judicial law but common sense law. A translation of this could be “according to common sense”. A popular folk etymology claims that it is a contraction of “laget om” (“around the team”), a phrase used in Viking times to specify how much mead one should drink from the horn as it was passed around in order for everyone to receive a fair share.”
What a rich idea! What a joyous thought! Passing mead around the team to ensure everyone gets their fair share. It does not surprise me that the Scandanavian countries have enriched their language with this single word – when the rest of the English speaking world has no such idea in common parlance. It somehow goes with their culture.
Furthermore, as the English language has been manipulated by marketeers and journalists into visions and scripts designed to stimulate through sensational exaggerations, the idea of having just the right amount is no longer tolerated. Even the world “sustainable” now comes loaded with connotations and political nuance. The idea of having just the right amount is counter to the way the current consumerist (Western) economy works. If people stopped consuming, then the economy would come to a halt, surely?
So the tensions in the current world continue to need one thing and promote another. We have those who need to manipulate the public into buying more; into consuming more; into projecting a sense of needing and wanting more; grabbing attention in a world that is producing an ever-increasing amount of information. IBM recently published an astonishing piece of data: that “90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone”.
And yet we know the world needs something else. The thought that whatever you have is somehow just right requires a new way of thinking – perhaps triggered by a new word in the English Language. Perhaps Lagom is just the right word for what we need!