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Viewing entries tagged with 'unique experience'

Conversation with a Knight

Posted by Philip Patston on 19 December 2008, 12:00 pm in , , ,

[caption id="attachment_560" align="alignright" width="160" caption="Sir Ken Robinson"]Sir Ken Robinson[/caption]

About 18 months ago I saw an online video of Sir Ken Robinson addressing the TED conference in San Francisco. This morning I interviewed him via webconference.

Here's an earlier blog post...

I was instantly impressed by his warmth, articulateness and wit and, by the end of his 20 minute argument that schools kill creativity, I was a fan. I spent the next week playing the clip to all and sundry and, during one of the repeated playbacks I noticed that he had a limp. At the time I was beginning to organise Momentum'09, an international symposium on creative diversity and, at that moment, decided that Sir Ken had to be part of the speaker line up. What followed was six months of negotiation with Sir Ken's agent which resulted in a video-conference from Los Angeles where Sir Ken lives.

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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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Rounding off

Posted by Philip Patston on 19 April 2008, 9:43 pm in , ,

It's been a while since I blogged properly and those who have been following are probably wondering where I've been. Quite a bit has happened in the last three weeks –let me do a bit of a plotted history and I'll wind up with a reflective summary of my overseas learning.

31 March - 5 April: Manchester
I blogged about the Bodyworlds exhibition, but of course that wasn't my reason for being in Manchester. I spent a day with disability arts organisation Full Circle Arts, as keynote at Fayre eXchange, a networking and development day for artists. The audience ranged wider than Newcastle, both in age and experience. The day was packed with different activities - keynotes, panel discussions, workshops and networking - and could well have been relaxed over two days. I was left with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction at having not arranged to work longer with the artists I met, particularly with the younger people who were obviously enjoying and benefiting from the experience of being immersed in an environment of mutual support and inspiration. Once again I was also inspired by the experience of hanging out with artists with unique experience and my resolve to organise a network of artists in Auckland (and perhaps NZ) was strengthened.

5 - 9 April: Devon (Cullompton, Exeter)
My brief for The South West was to engage with cultural and emerging entrepreneurs as part of an "Entrepreneurs In Conversation" series sponsored by the Cultural Leadership Programme. A small group gathered at Exeter University and – catalysed by my exploration of experiential diversity – a satisfying discussion began about context, culture and identity. Once again, though, with a mere two hours, the dialogue had a chance only to germinate and I was left frustrated at having to leave the group with the conversation at such an embryonic stage.

While in Devon I had the pleasure of spending time with my friend and mentor Moya Harris, ex-Director of Equata (now Kaleido) in the beautiful Cullompton district. Sadly, however, during our stay we received word of not only the admittance to hospital of Mahinarangi Tocker, but also the death of my travelling companion Claire's aunt, to whom she was very close. Given this additional stress we decided to cut our trip short and return to NZ without visiting Hawaii to attend the Pacific Rim Conference.

We arrived back on Saturday 12 April and the last week has just been a blur of jet lag, early morning waking and grief over Mahinarangi's death (compounded by the Mangatepopo River school trip tragedy).

So, here are the gems that I have taken from the trip:

  1. I am an international thought leader: The highlight of the trip was certainly the conceptual breakthrough of Constructive Experiential Diversity (CED), moving on from Constructive Functional Diversity's impairment/disability focus to a framework that reframes and explores marginalisation on all fronts. I received repeated feedback that I am leading this way of thinking internationally – it is new and cutting edge, and I need to share it more widely. I see a clear role for WISE SPECIES™ as the structure that explores the diversity of individual and group experience in more depth, transforming it into constructive and creative expression.

  2. I need to bundle theory with application: Another clear realisation is that I need to bundle speaking about the theory of CED with its practical application through WISE SPECIES™. I left people wanting more in the UK, which is good up to a point, but I need to start negotiating a longer engagement with clients in order to deliver value for money and return on investment.

  3. I want to promote all aspects of social change as innovation: It was fantastic to be able to speak to people involved in social change and draw parallels to other areas of business innovation. I think activists, artists and frontline welfare workers need to be thinking of what they are doing in terms of innovation and see the response they receive as a natural reaction to innovation. For example, disabled artists who come across market resistance to their work need to stop thinking of this as discrimination and look at how to market their innovation better. Similarly, social workers and counsellors could inject creativity and passion into their work (for themselves and their clients) by seeing their role as supporting people to innovate their lives and promoting it as such, while understanding the innate resistance to new ideas that humans have, especially about themselves.

  4. I am buoyed by the belief that NZ is served and limited by scale: It is interesting, I think, that the social, environmental and resource issues we face in NZ are both compounded and alleviated by our population size. We have the same range of issues, but if that range of issues were a piece of string, our string is much shorter than most other societies. So the (negative) impact is therefore less extreme than other populations, but so also is the (positive) opportunity to make change. Given this dichotomy, the challenge is to leverage the limited impact while accommodating the limited opportunity. Inverted, this means celebrating the relative harmony of our society while innovating cost effective ways to address inequity.

  5. It may sound glib, but I believe that creativity and play need to lead the way: At the risk of generalising, I think we take society's ills far to seriously. At one end of the spectrum the general public have a tendency to over-catastrophise situations, which often compounds them (eg. boy racers, challenges to religious traditions), yet there is another equal inclination towards trivialising issues (eg. social attitudes to disabled people, the impact of economic and political hypocracy). I believe that employing principles of creativity (design, organic development and lateral thinking) and play (lightness, exploration and fascination) is key to improving our social and environmental future.

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The Herald explains...

Posted by Philip Patston on 19 April 2008, 8:45 pm in

On 18/04/2008, at 12:54 PM, darren.bevan@... wrote:

Good afternoon Philip
Thanks for your query.
I can assure you it was a genuine mistake in the processing area and we are sorry about it.
It was actually a technical error and I will explain how that happens. We moderate all comments and a large number of words are highlighted automatically when they come in in case the comments around them could be defamatory etc such as racist terms. The word lesbian is one of them highlighted as we have a number of comments through claiming a certain high profile person is gay and that person has warned that they would take legal action is that statement is ever published as she says it is not true.
So your use of the word lesbian was highlighted but also accidentally omitted.
Our original story on Ms Tocker which triggered the comment thread on Ms Tocker made it clear Mahinarangi was a proud member of the gay community.
I can assure you there was no intention to omit that fact and on our busiest day of the year (also handling hundreds of tribute comments on the school trip tragedy) the technical change got the better of us.
Again our apologies.
Darren Bevan
Online Content Moderator
APN Online

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Homophobic Herald

Posted by Philip Patston on 16 April 2008, 8:46 am in

I'm flabbergasted - the Herald censored my tribute to Mahinarangi Tocker.

In my original post I wrote: "...my gay, disabled, vegetarian comedian status could never beat her place as a Maori, lesbian, crazy (her words) musician."

I just reread it - they deleted "lesbian" before they published it, reducing her to a Maori, crazy musician. She so wasn't.

How homophobic. How insulting to both of us. I'm lost for words.

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Skoll World Forum - see what we saw

Posted by Philip Patston on 29 March 2008, 9:18 pm in , ,

To get a feel of the Forum as we experienced it, check out the coverage at www.socialedge.org

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Thirteen questions

Posted by Philip Patston on 28 March 2008, 10:41 pm in , ,

I took time out from my UK tour to answer some probing questions from BBC Ouch...

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Changing the past - Part 2

Posted by Philip Patston on 28 March 2008, 10:10 pm in , ,

I've been asked for more information about the result of my meeting with Skoll management about wheelchair access: "What action has been taken and is everybody at the conference now educated from that moment of opportunity and enlightenment? Or was it a one to one hushed apology on the sidelines and we’re now all buddy buddy?"

Well no, a public announcement was not made and in the circumstances I personally would not have wanted that to happen. The issue was one of communication more than lack of access. In both venues there was access provision made - the problem was lack of communication among staff that this existed and a lack of "logistics training" should it be needed. Management acknowledged this oversight and have undertaken to create a process to address this next year. I think further public humiliation (over and above ours that evening) would not have been constructive.

The action taken in the short term was a concerted effort to ensure ease of access into and around the offending environments. This was done professionally and courteously. I have trust that I've built a relationship with management that is appropriate to revisit the extreme access issues as well as raise other issues of ease and comfort not yet canvassed.

So there, I'm getting moderate and conciliatory in my old age!

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Depressed, hopeless, purposeless...but it's ok, I've been here before.

Posted by Philip Patston on 28 March 2008, 3:08 pm in , ,

Having just emerged from the Closing Plenary of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, I feel a sense of depression and hopelessness that I've not felt for many years. I'm left questioning my own purpose and motivation, even the value of the work I do. I'm struck with an incredible sense of irony and, despite all this, I have an overwhelming trust that everything will be ok - for me at least; after Al Gore's rousing address at the plenary, I can't vouch for the planet.

Where to start? Purpose is something Gore angled towards in his tale of doom and gloom about global warming and environmental sustainability. He urged all social entrepreneurs not to see the green lobby as competing for airspace. Rather he asked that all efforts to alleviate social injustice - whether poverty, disease or cultural stigma - be reframed as an act of purpose towards saving the planet. Although I can see the merit of his argument, I fear he may be slightly missing the point.

Dr Paul Farmer
, who spoke before Gore, came closer to my own beliefs on the issue. In a warning against becoming too self important, he posed the classic conference challenge to our group of socially moral heroes sitting among the hallowed halls of Oxford: Where are all the poor people? Where are all the people with AIDS? Where are all the people that this stuff is actually about. I and others certainly resonated with this - from my own perspective, the last three days has confirmed my silent doubt that high level social entrepreneurs would be any more comfortable than anyone else with the evidence of disability so obviously within their midsts; it's been a long time since I've elicited so many averted gazes.

So, Farmer said bring it home, make it about you, not them. Begin your quest to change the world's terrain with a damn good look at your own back yard before you start messing with gardens across the street. A claim that, perhaps, he could justify more strongly than Gore as he let it drop that he was heading back to Rwanda in the morning (Gore was swanning off to France).

Despite some witty, self-effacing repartee between the two journeying heroes, I felt uncomfortable and am now searching for answers to questions in which even I am implicated:

- How big is Al Gore's carbon footprint as he flies around the world promoting his agenda of global warming? How much have I added to the demise of the planet with my own self-important journey of social enterprise?

- At a world forum at which environmental issues and poverty are identified as the leading concerns, why was not more effort put in to using technology to bring presenters and delegates together by video/satellite conferencing? Could I have done what I've done via webcam from my desk in NZ? Indeed, what kind of viable conferencing system could I have invested in with the thousands I have poured into travel and currency conversions?

- Why are philanthropists and entrepreneurs more interested in engineering acclaimed systems for fighting social issues than in just sharing wealth with those in need? If enough of the world's wealthiest people (some of whom, perhaps, were involved in putting this Forum together) collectively agreed to pool their resources, how much change could they effect through a simple philanthropic act as opposed to a complex enterprise? But then, what are my own (sub)conscious, empire-building motivations for the work I do?

These are the questions I left the Forum asking myself (and others). They may sound like the scathing skepticism of a cynic (and maybe they are in part), but I prefer to think of them as "honesty propositions" - I need to constantly question myself to ensure my integrity and I encourage others to do the same.

But back to global warming and, hell, all social issues for that matter. To cut to the chase, I think the current environmental crisis has far more to do with human beings than the planet. I think the issue we need to grasp is our relationship with ourselves and each other, not our relationship with the Earth. Until we value, respect, and love ourselves and each other so much that we would never do anything, either in the short- or long-term that would hurt anyone, I fear we will never eradicate environmental harm. I suspect that only when we recognise and truly believe that we are completely and utterly connected to every living thing on, of and around this planet, will social, environmental and economic change really happen.

If social innovation were a Hollywood movie, here's how I might describe it: Reversing global warming is fashionable. Fighting poverty is romantic. Combating HIV and AIDS is, dare I say, kind of sexy. Alleviating famine and disease is downright cool. These issues get funding, media, notoriety, even status. But other issues aren't as groovy. Disability isn't sexy (other than my Orange Programme session I'm not sure it got a mention, other than in the context of impairment prevention, as mentioned by Jimmy Carter). Truly challenging the accumulation of individual wealth is not hip (what if, instead of rhetoric about the gap between rich and poor, we began proposing that governments outlaw the accumulation of individual fortunes beyond a certain percentage of the global GDP?). Certainly exploring notions of self-love, self-acceptance and the love and acceptance of others' experience is not, how you say, de rigeur.

Why not? In the pursuit of a short script, I'll summarise a complex storyline: the fashionable/sexy/cool issues are external, out there, separate from ourselves. The others require a more intimate examination of self. The former is far safer, emotionally and existentially, than the latter.

My work on Constructive Experiential Diversity challenges notions of empathy and understanding of others, replacing it with the exploration and awareness of self. Also required is the complete acceptance of others in an environment where everyone has not only self knowledge, but the knowledge that harmful thoughts, words and especially actions harm other life as well as our own, because of our connection.

This is the simple yet intriguingly complex plot facing humanity at the moment, by my reckoning.

Yet this screenplay (ok, enough of the metaphor) is the source of my angst. Up against the glamour of global warming, the romance of the rich divorcing the poor, the outrage of AIDS, famine, terrorism and disease, not to mention the woes of water supply, my humble thesis seems trivial, perhaps even as pathetic as I suspect some of my more lofty colleagues considered me (as a disabled person) in the last three days.

Perhaps I'm getting above my station - I'm no former vice-President. Perhaps these are the ravings of a lunatic. Or perhaps I'm as right as Al Gore was when officials laughed at his early writings on the environment. If so, how do I promote my treacherous, unchartered terrain next to the secure, established landscape of the mainstream?

The only way I know how - the same way I always have.

"When we are no longer able to change a situation... we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Victor Frankl
Man's Search for Meaning

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