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Viewing entries tagged with 'thinking'

The "C" word – crass or creative?

Posted by Philip Patston on 1 March 2009, 10:29 am in , ,

Please note: This post contains offensive language.

Here's is an interesting story about language, art and morality.

AdelaideNow... Genital posters 'degrade women'.

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Double negative

Posted by Philip Patston on 6 January 2009, 9:51 am in

A friend who was visiting the other night had a card for a cab company. It boasted that they offer fares up to 45% cheaper than other companies and along the bottom it read:

"You can't afford not to catch us."

If that had been my marketing company, I'd have fired them for three reasons: Firstly because they chose such a clumsy double negative as a tag line. Secondly because, in using the negative, they affirmed their customers' poverty. And thirdly because they missed an opportunity to make a very positive statement about the company:

"You can afford to catch us."

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Future or fantasy?

Posted by Philip Patston on 29 August 2008, 4:02 am in , ,

Today I attended a workshop run by AnewNZ on what matters most for NZers. One of the exercises was to write a personal vision for NZ. This was mine:

"My vision is that everything anyone does is done with the realisation that their action has an effect on their and everyone/thing else's being. That people's sense of connection paralyses them - for seconds, minutes, hours, days, even a lifetime - while they consider the impact of their action on the entirety of life and make a conscious decision that that impact promotes constructive progress more than anything else. And that, when there is doubt, it is seen as the opportunity to explore the nature of human beingness."

Other thoughts that surfaced for me through the day:

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Revenge of the fat, pink Americans?

Posted by Philip Patston on 4 June 2008, 9:40 am in , ,

[Image: www.tv3.co.nz]

While mainstream New Zealand agonises over whether pink "Tagger" jackets will suggest taggers are gay, I wonder what the choice of colours conveys about the cop who chose it and, by proxy, all cops – all heterosexual men for that matter. I mean, subconsciously, what was he thinking? Skater boys with spray cans wearing caps and baggy shorts, clad in pink. Sounds like a secret little homoerotic fantasy, if you ask me.

Meanwhile, America is about to make a gay-looking black man President - what does that say about Americans? They've come a long way, haven't they? Now, if Obama turns out to be a female-to-male transsexual, I'll eat my hat.

And apparently two thirds of New Zealanders are fat and offended by the stating of the fact. Well, I'm sick of being told I'm too thin, too.

So. Interesting times.

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From Whinger to Wise Man

Posted by Philip Patston on 7 May 2008, 12:00 pm in , , , , , ,

Presentations by Philip Patston in Newcastle, Oxford, Manchester and Exeter, UK | March/April 2008

Kia Ora - that's hello from New Zealand and it's great to be here and greetings from one of your colonies.

I've titled this presentation ‘From Whinger to Wise Man’, which is just blatant self-promotion really but it does summarise what I want to share with you. It took about an hour and a half usually to do this in Oxford so there will be bits that I gloss over and say “that's not important”. I'm not self deprecating, I'm just trying to keep to time!

So just to give you a sense of where I come from, this is a picture of an oak tree with a lovely blue sky and a bit of cloud, which is typical for Auckland in New Zealand. We have 4 seasons in one day. The oak tree is what I look out on in my home - which is also my office - and I'm really grateful to be in such a lovely part of the world. It's great.

This is me when I was 5, growing up as a boy. The photo gives me a nice warm feeling deep down inside and it feels like I may have at that point in my life been thinking about what the world held and how could I create the world for myself.

So let me tell you a bit about who I am. First of all I'm a gay disabled white man and I have always found that being of those 4 groups in society is quite interesting. As a white man I'm the absolute privileged top end of people in society and as a gay disabled person I'm in the bottom end - so I don't know whether to be a callous bastard or just simply look ‘interesting’! It gives me a sense of the world and a unique experience of the world and that gives flavour to how I see things.

All through my life I have played a lot of roles and here's just some photos. I won't describe them all because we'll be here all day but suffice to say I've played a lot of roles in my life. Here is a new role - my drag role - Philly del Phia - that I sometimes play on stage. I'm also recovering social worker (!); I've been a Counsellor; a human rights campaigner; a consultant; business owner; columnist; actor; leader; amateur designer; entrepreneur. I've been crowned ‘Queer of the Year’ in 1999 whilst I was playing the boyfriend of a woman on a soap opera, and I won the Billy T James comedy award in 1999 and, when you're a comedian in New Zealand, you are basically washed up after that!

I'm trained in counselling, community and social work, and in 1992 I was a Winston Churchill Fellow. I worked at the NZ Human Rights Commission for 4 years, got bored and did a comedy course! So I ended up on stage thinking “What the hell do you think you are doing?” but everyone laughed and suddenly this whole new career began as a comedian. I went from doing open mic nights to doing professional nights on the comedy circuit in New Zealand then ended up on TV programme that ran for 8 years - a stand-up comedy series called Pulp Comedy.

Around 2001 I began getting involved in the Global Disability Arts Movement and started performing around the world. First ‘kickstART!’ Vancouver, Canada (where I first met Moya); ‘High Beam’ in Adelaide, Australia; Moya’s ‘Above and Beyond’ in Cheltenham UK, and ‘Art of Difference’ in Melbourne. During that time I began a dialogue with disabled artists around the world, but the connections made would end when the festivals finished and we’d come together again a year or so later and have to start the conversations over. So I set up the International Guild of Disabled Artists and Performers.

I also directed ‘Giant Leap’, New Zealand’s Disability Arts Festival and it was fabulous beyond our wildest dreams in terms of audience - we got 800 people through the door over a week, and in Auckland it’s quite difficult to get people out of their houses, we are a slovenly lot! I’ll quickly show you the photos.

My next creative destination is to run Momentum ’09, an international disability arts symposium at Auckland University next March. Moya wrote the Development Plan and Programme for that – we now refer to it as the ‘Bible’! The idea of the symposium is to embrace and engage in the dialogue over 4 days and come out looking forward and moving into another realm internationally around disability arts.

Lastly, I'm working on a project I devised called The Diversity Challenge which is a programme in schools, looking at creative ways of expressing diversity and also am about to create a web site which will help disabled people manage their support more creatively.

So when people ask “what do you do?” I spend 5 minutes reeling off a string of roles; I never quite know what to call myself. If you say one thing you kind of lose everything else and people pop you in a box as consultant or performer. So I came up with a new description of myself about 6 to 8 months ago – ‘creative philanthropist’. The interesting thing about philanthropy is most people think it’s about giving money but it's actually about having a genuine concern for humanity. When I looked at all the roles that I play, most of them have some connection to the concern that I have about people and the way the world is progressing. And what I ‘throw at it’ is my creativity. So it seemed to me a way to begin a dialogue with those people who ask me what I do – I say “I'm a creative philanthropist” - and they go “Wow!” They haven't got a clue what I mean but it opens the door to a conversation about who I am!

Ten years ago I set up a business called Diversityworks and it's become a philosophy, a brand. It's about looking at similarity and difference, acknowledging the contradiction that they are opposites but they exist together. It looks at the natural variety of people and the synergy you get when you put all that together and make it work. Personally, I think that is what we often miss with diversity - we get a whole lot of people together but often that creates conflict because we don't look for the synergy and we don't look for the way to make it work.

Over the years Diversityworks has grown in to a business and a Trust. This slide shows a picture of the kind of work we do – contracts for strategic advice, support and training; workshops; speaking; gigs and projects resourced by government and philanthropic funding.

So that's what I've been doing for the last 10 years but I want to now tell you a bit about what I've been thinking and hope it presents new challenges for you. At the moment I'm a New Zealand Social Entrepreneur Fellow as well as part of a creative entrepreneur programme. That means I network with 25 people who are involved in a range of social issues & creative endeavours. It's been very interesting for me to have a peer group of people that are working in very different areas than the ones that I've been involved in. What I've realised is that, as disabled artist s, we are both entrepreneurs and innovators. The stuff that we do is different. The barriers we may come up against are less about disability than about entrepreneurial focus and when we start thinking about that wider theme of innovation we begin to think about things differently.

Edward de Bono points out that we don't get taught how to think we get taught what to think. So how might this reflect on how we think about disability? I want to suggest to you a way of thinking that might move us on a bit. To show how thinking about things differently can change our perception - or maybe it's the other way round: that changing our perception makes us think differently. Here's a picture of me in Kew Gardens in 2005 going up a hill, resting on a tree, I jump out of my wheelchair and lean on the tree. But actually when you look you see that the tree was leaning on me! That’s different take on the world. And whereas me might describe me as 'not normal' because I don't stand straight, we'd probably describe the tree as 'interesting' or 'unique' for not standing straight. So my thinking is about moving beyond marginalisation thinking about disability. I don't want to say this is what we have to do or should do, but the great thing about thinking is that it creates a dialogue, it creates other ideas that we might not have thought about had we not thought about the original idea. We may disagree completely with the original idea but, even by disagreeing, we create new ideas.

So the statement, ‘Impairment, disability or marginalisation limits experience' is one perception, while ‘Impairment, disability or marginalisation creates purpose’ is another. The interesting thing about the statements is that they are both true but depending on which one you believe, your view of the world will be very different. I feel it's really important to reflect on what we believe about our situation because it can change the way that we experience the world.

When I work with groups in workshops, I ask them to imagine they've woken up tomorrow to a number of scenarios and ask them how they would react to each scenario if it happened, based on a scale from ‘hatred', fear’, ‘not sure’, to ‘peace’ or ‘love’. So if you woke up tomorrow with different coloured hair how would you react. Or what would be your reaction to waking up rich and famous, or having become the opposite gender. Or maybe waking up to find you have the opposite sexual preference, or you are from another race or culture. People are generally good humoured and laugh, talking about what they might lose and what they might gain.

But when I ask them to imagine if they woke up and had 50% of their physical, intellectual or emotional capacity, suddenly the room gets really quiet - people get very serious and stop laughing. They talk about what they would lose but they don't talk about what they might gain on the other hand and I think that's very interesting. It seems to me that the reason that there is such a difference in response is because losing function is actually the one thing that is most likely to happen to people. You're going to have to work very hard to wake up tomorrow with a different gender or different coloured hair or rich – unless you happen to dye your hair or win the lottery. But anyone could have a stroke or get hit by a bus, without chosing it. So people fear this possibility or probability. They think they would feel self doubt or trapped or dependent if they lost function. But what I think people are really scared of is that they wouldn't be able to adapt to that change. We all doubt our ability to adapt to change and that hatred or fear of disability is around our doubt of our ability to adapt.

What we forget is that human beings are infinitely adaptable. We adapt to situations really, really well so it's a groundless fear but we assume it readily. I call that ‘dysfunctionphobia’ and dysfunctionphobia is something that we don't talk about. We talk about homophobia; we say to individual people it's not okay to treat other gay people badly just because you're scared of it; xenophobia – it's not okay to treat people of other races badly just because you're scared about difference in culture and race and beliefs. But we do not say, ‘if you're scared about having to use a wheelchair or if you're scared about losing some intellectual capacity, it's not okay to treat other disabled people badly’. We let people off the hook.

I think some of this affects how we feel and think about ourselves and part of my inspiration around the thinking has been my own experience about what I call incongruent identity. I see that identity has two parts. The first part of identity is how we recognise our self - who we are from our internal point of view. The second part of identity is how other people recognise us - who we are from others' point of view. What I have noticed in my life is that, at different points in time, those identities have been really different. So how I think about myself and how I'm recognised by others don't have a lot of resemblance. If I'm feeling really good about myself and I go out and somebody treats me like a total idiot, then suddenly I'm competing with myself and thinking, ‘Well, who am I? Am I the person that I thought I was half an hour ago? Or am I who that other person just reflected back to me?’ The truth is that I am both. So the question becomes, 'How do I get the other person to recognise who I know I am?' I'll come back to that.

Another inspiration for me was the movie, 'What the Bleep Do We Know', which is about quantum physics. The energy we create in our minds and the energy that makes up this table is all the same energy, it's just a different speed of a vibration. It talks about how our thoughts create our material reality. We are completely unaware how efficient we are at changing thought in to solid matter. Another movie that's worth a look, 'The Secret', is about the law of attraction which is a similar concept - what you put out into the universe or what you are thinking about the world, about yourself, about everything, comes back from the universe, which is like a genie that says, 'Your wish is my command.'

So this is how we see the world at the moment and this is how we see ourselves as disabled people. This diagram shows two boxes. In New Zealand roughly 20% of people are disabled (the left box) and we're thinking about those people as being disabled and they are thinking about themselves as disabled. Then the right box is the 80% who are non-disabled people and we're thinking about them as non-disabled and they are thinking about themselves as non-disabled. The 80% are probably thinking, ‘God I really don't want to move in to that other box of disabled people’, and they are feeling really scared about that possibility, both consciously or unconsciously because of all the negative crap that we hear about being in that box.

But that's only one way of looking at things – it's pretty simplistic and, in my estimation, inaccurate. I think it's more useful to see things like this: we are all in one box but we all function differently - physically, emotionally, cognitively, sexually you name it. Within all the different ways we function, we are moving in and out of ‘common function’ - which is how most people function - and ‘unique function’ - which is not how most people function most of the time. But some days, even people who function commonly most of the time, function uniquely. Anyone who has woken up with a hang knows they have some pretty unique cognitive and biological functioning going on, but that changes and becomes less unique as the day goes on, hopefully. Other people function physically uniquely over a lifetime and that might stay quite steady. It’s just a matter of degrees.

When I presented this in Newcastle people didn't like the word ‘function’ as it was too medical or clinical. So I said ‘fair enough – the good thing about this thinking stuff is that it can change overnight.' I thought about changing the word ‘function’ and realised that if I subsituted the word 'experience' it could include any marginalisation – not just disability but also racial, sexual, wealth or any other social marginalisation. We then begin to talk about common and unique experience on a wide scale.

Interesting that the dictionary description of the word ‘unique’ is ‘different in a way worthy of note’. So when I say ‘I have unique experience of the world’, that's a very different energy that I’m putting out there to the world than saying, ‘I'm disabled’ or 'I'm poor'. Try it yourself if it’s relevant to you - how does it change the way that you feel about yourself and the world?

So, this is Constructive Experiential Diversity. It’s about accepting our variance rather than comparing ourselves to something that we're not. So in disability we have the Medical Model which is about how we can change people; how we can make people more normal. Or the Social Model which is about how we can change society? Well it's really difficult to change society - we know that because we've been trying to do it for 30, 40, God knows how many years. Just last week at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, I couldn't get in to the opening reception because there was no access! The organisers hadn't thought about a wheelchair-user turning up - and that’s in a world meeting of leading innovators in the social field! That told me a lot about where the world is. So I don't know whether the social model is working or not. If only the organisers had been thinking about unique experience and thinking about what they would do if they used a wheelchair, rather than being terrified of the thought that they might one day need a wheelchair and so denying everything about it.

I’m not the first or only person to think this way. Chilean Economist, Manfred Max Neef, says,

“I have reached the conclusion that I lack the power to change the world. I only have the power to change myself, and there is no force in the world that can prevent me. And if I change myself something may happen as a consequence that may lead to a little change in the world.”

So what would happen if we all changed the way we think about ourselves - could it create a progressive change in the world?

Jewish writings say,

"We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.” (The Talmud)

And on the side of an arts centre in Newcastle – this:

‘Improving the world doesn't mean improving me. I want a better world, I want a better me’. (The Baltic Arts Centre, Gateshead, UK)

So I've designed a tool for individual and social change called ‘WISE SPECIES™’. WISE stands for Wisdom, Identity, Synergy and Expression. SPECIES stands for seven ways we express ourselves. It’s an exploration tool to make the first three things more congruent and consistent through the last.

We don't want who we are to become invisible because of bad access or fear of impairment; we need to keep our uniqueness shining. But if we want to create a world where that uniqueness can be valued as much as common experience, we need to start changing language. When we call ourselves disabled artists, what are we thinking about ourselves? What are we putting out to the world and what is coming back to us from the world? What if we used different language, like the ‘art of unique experience’ or ‘art of experiential diversity’? I don't know exactly what the language should be, but let's start thinking about it so that we can move forward.

Anyway, it’s time for a break and but thank you for having me here. In New Zealand we have the same word for thank you as hello, so it's very easy. Kia Ora! I look forward to taking your questions after the break.


Q: What or who has been important to you in your career? Did something happen that made a real impact or change in where your career was going?

PP: I think my connections with others involved in the disability arts movement internationally - people like yourself Moya, Julie McNamara, Mat Fraser, Victoria Maxwell (Canada) and David Roche (USA) - really inspired me to get out there and do things bigger & better. I'm a bit of a high flier in NZ and so being able to see the quality and scale of people's work overseas raised the bar for me - gave me something to aspire to.

Q: Looking back, can you think of any missed opportunities which might have helped you achieve your goals earlier or differently? Why do you think you missed the opportunity?

PP: I think there are so many opportunities, especially these days, that you can't possibly take up every one. I live my life with the intent that everything I do moves me closer to my life purpose in the best way. So I think, yes, things could have been different but they would only have been that - different.

Q: Are there times when you’ve thought that particular people or organisations have missed out on using your skills; that you’d have been just the person they needed? Why do you think that is?

PP: Absolutely, I couldn't count the number of times that I know some event organiser or producer has assumed that I wouldn't be right for the event or audience. But I know from feedback I receive from people in the street that they enjoy my difference - the quirky edginess that it brings. So, there's only so much you can do about others' short-sightedness. I try my best to focus on the work I do get.

Q: Were there training courses or development opportunities you would have liked to undertaken but for some reason, couldn’t? What were the main reasons? Do you think your career development was affected by this?

PP: I'm an experiential learner and I learn best by creating situations for myself that put me out of my depth. So a lot of what I do I've never done before and I learn by finding out what I need to do. Trial and error, making mistakes, observing others who have done similar things. I think that my lack of conventional training has fostered my entrepreneurial and innovative qualities.

Q: Who is or has been your Leadership role model? What qualities do they have that makes them a good leader?

PP: I've always had a bit of a problem with the concept of 'role model' - personally I've always strived to be a bad influence more than a role model! I read a business article years ago on being a leader of leaders by Warren Bennis, which I've used as a model for myself and others. In a nutshell, Bennis defines the task of a leader as having a strong vision, incorporating it into daily life, selling it to others, taking risks with it and, finally, involving others with meaning in achieving and, I'd add, extending the vision. I think it's a great summary of leadership that works in the community and arts sectors as well as business.

© 2007-2008 Diversity NZ Ltd, Philip Patston. All rights reserved

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Can children healthily support disabled parents?

Posted by Philip Patston on 4 May 2008, 3:30 am in , ,

Recently I had a great discussion about the dangers of children assuming supportive roles with their disabled parents. As a disabled non-parent (as opposed to a non-disabled parent, hehe!), I've witnessed many disabled friends parent children who have contributed differing levels of support. I think there are a couple of issues that are important to explore.

Firstly, I think problems occur when a child feels a sense of duty to support their parent(s). This expectation limits a child's freedom to be a child and reverses the duty of care between a parent and child.

But giving a child a managed sense of responsibility may be extremely beneficial. I have seen children of disabled friends grow up with some great life skills as a result of being coached by their parents to do things other kids normally wouldn't. It seems to me that the tipping point is when kids go from feeling parented to relied upon by their parent. That emotional dynamic needs to be monitored.

As long as kids feel loved, safe and protected, I think they have huge capacity to grow up doing practical things to support themselves and others. As an uncle of four littlies, I can't wait until, in a few years, "Uncle Pip" can "borrow" his nieces and nephews in the weekends and holidays to help out!!

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Creative diversity at its best!

Posted by Philip Patston on 24 April 2008, 8:25 am in , ,


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Jet lag and the Japanese leg

Posted by Philip Patston on 16 March 2008, 6:45 pm in , ,

Newcastle, 7:00pm Sunday
It's funny how the brain condenses memory. About 36 hours ago (it's hard to be sure after traveling through 12 time zones) we were in Osaka, Japan for 18 hours, marveling at the culture, the people and the orderly way airports and hotels work. Now it seems just a blip in an ever growing landscape of travel stories.
To add perspective, we were only in the Hotel Nikko, about 5 minutes walk from Kansai Airport, so we could hardly say we were immersed in Japanese culture. But compared to its western counterparts, the experience was one of if not the best I've had in my travel history. We were escorted from airport to hotel and back again by airport and hotel staff - and such was the respect and dignity afforded us, we wanted to cancel the rest of the trip and stay. Well, nearly. The only drawback was that only single rooms were accessible and, at ¥25,000, we only wanted one. But wait, there's more! Even though they assume disabled people have no friends, partners, etc, when they found one who did, they went the extra mile - check out these funky bath adaptations:

Air NZ's new premium economy class seems to be code for: "the place you pay a bit more to sit and watch people in business class, wishing you had enough to pay for it." That said, it didn't take us long to get used to being watched. The new business layout takes a bit more getting used to - particularly sitting across the aisle from ones traveling companion but having the reclined feet of the stranger sitting behind you at your fingertips - but again, once that became five minutes old, we were free to sit back and enjoy the luxury we paid for.
And finally, before I pass out at 8:45pm after one glass of wine and a car ride from Manchester (our one night stopover opposite the United football grounds), we are now in Newcastle, our first official stop. For me, work starts Tuesday. More then.

Claire in Manchester hotel lobby

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The remote control of leadership

Posted by Philip Patston on 22 January 2008, 4:31 am in , , ,


"The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already."
- John Buchan

Like wisdom, leadership is often mistaken as a quality that only some people possess. When we look for leaders to lead others, we look for particular developed skills and attributes - perhaps extreme competence in a certain area like sport or a technical skill, confidence or charisma.

But leadership is a quality that everyone is capable of and displays at some point in their lives. When was the last time someone you wouldn't think of as a leader suggested seeing a movie, having coffee or dinner with friends, or doing something, however small, differently at work? That's them displaying leadership qualities.

Even deciding to change the tv channel is leadership.

The 5 tasks of leaders are to:

  • develop a positive future vision (dream) - "I want to watch a different programme."
  • incorporate the vision into daily life (think) - "I need the remote."
  • sell the vision to others (talk) - "Hey you guys, you'll really enjoy this programme."
  • take calculated risks with the vision (do) - "Let's just watch it for five minutes." Click!
  • involve others with meaning (share) - "Hey, isn't this a great show?"
Adapted from “Becoming a Leader of Leaders” by Warren Bennis

So next time you're looking for someone to fulfill a leadership role, you might seek to put faith in a burgeoning couch potato and see what potential you find beyond the remote control...

If you'd like to know more about leadership and potential, contact us at Diversityworks.

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The tyranny of success?

Posted by Philip Patston on 19 January 2008, 11:08 pm in ,

"The philosopher George Santayana (I think) once said that if you do not learn from the mistakes of the past you are doomed to repeat them. This is true but so also is the following:

If you learn from the successes of the past you are doomed to be trapped by them.

Success always stops us thinking."
Edward de Bono (15 October 2007)

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