The word 'humility' is used from time to time in the press and usually stands for self-deprecating behaviour, agreeing with someone who criticises you, not being pushy. But actually you can be pushy, refuse to agree with personal criticism and even be rather boastful- and still be genuinely humble. Humility - as a useful term - simply means adopting an 'open' posture towards learning. The more open you are the greater your humility. A shy modest person who refuses to seriously consider any new information is the prideful one.
Aikido master Ueshiba sensei used to say that in his day a student had to steal a technique from the teacher, it wouldn't be given, let alone 'taught'...
This blog has 100s of articles covering a wide variety of subjects- the simple life, travel, self-help and writing being the main pillars of the project.
Much of it spins off from the 10 books I have written, all available at Amazon among other places. The latest two being:
Click on the below to see it at amazon:
This is available for kindles only. It's a very short book and is designed for people feeling a bit stressed by the mad modern world.
The other one is:
Sunday Times (May 19 2013) say: "Robert Twigger's ambitious biography of the Nile is an unexpected triumph...a scintillatingly colourful account of a river and a region Twigger knows intimately...an elegiac moving book...hugely entertaining...probably the author's magnum opus"
For a different take on exploration and new expeditions go to theexplorerschool.com
"No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit." Helen Keller.
Knowing the cause of something is not the same as being able to predict it. We know that the sea and excessive rainfall cause cliffs to collapse onto the beach. But we can't predict when that will happen. Local people may know when to take especial care- maybe after a period of severe rainfall- but they can't know for sure. Economists are good at knowing the causes- they have identified the sea and the hard rains- but they make fools of themselves when they try and predict a cliff fall. Likewise, saying that they'll never be another cliff fall is another risky strategy. However, maybe someone who walks the beach everyday, knows well the history of cliff falls, has seen a few in their time- maybe they would be good at predicting...something. But even they will probably get the severity of the fall wrong.
To become better at prediction than this you might need to access some inner talents, perhaps the ability to rise above, or sideline, all the outside emotional noise that binds us and seperates us from things.
In Bruce Chatwin’s marvellous book, The Songlines, we hardly notice that the author runs together hunter gatherer and nomadic peoples in his argument. He once or twice makes a nice point of saying all nomads are pastoral nomads but all that does is distract us from comparing the very different lifestyles of hunter gatherers and nomads. The real argument of his book concerns people who move around a lot versus people who don’t.
Movement confers advantages- some of the time. With settled agriculture nomads and settlers come into an uneasy truce. Chatwin assumes nomads are less warlike than settlers. I think they may be more warlike, but that doesn't mean they will be more destructive.
Recently some fascinating research using number crunching methods and ideas derived from evolutionary biology and virology have been applied to the study of language spread. The attraction is that their results coincide with suggestions made by archeologists that indo-european languages spread on the back of the invention of farming 8-9000 years ago in Anatolia.
It knocks out a suggestion that Indo-european was spread by Ukrainian nomads 5-6000 years later.
So what were those Turks doing inventing agriculture? Well, we know that forest gardening, wild agriculture so to speak, had been practised before then. Hunter gatherers very early on learnt to cultivate bushes that provided food they liked. These would be planted in places where they didn’t need tending but could be visited when the fruit was ripe.
You still get the remnant of this in parts of island Indonesia. All palm trees ‘belong’ to someone, even if you find one deep in a public forest.
The invention of agriculture that required staying in one place with everything nearby in fields is a step further. Gone is the wander around familiar bushes while looking out for game at the same time.
Someone somewhere started domesticating animals, growing wheat, staying in one place.
But not all environments can sustain year round living. Europe can, but not its mountains- where transhumance farming- nomadism took place. In places with poorer soil but suited to large herds- the steppes of Asia- then nomadism was a development of farming in one place- you went on a circuit farming in several places. You could say slash and burn farming is a kind of nomadism.
Non- slash and burn forest gardeners are probably more in alignment with their environment than any other group. What interests me though is that the invention of agriculture traded lifestyle and health for greater food production. We know that historically hunter gatherers have well developed bodies, are generally long lived if they survive the first five years and typically die with a full set of teeth. Agriculture brought RSI type defects to the physique through over work in a way that lacked variety. Monoculture and over dependence on grain brought tooth decay. Stores of food activated man’s acquisitiveness and allowed control to pass from the producers to the men with swords.
Battle success is about movement and firepower. Rommel has greater movement and beats the Maginot line with all its superior firepower. Men on horseback- nomads- are ideally placed to wreak vengeance on the men with swords who have captured the grain of early farmers.
The story as presented by Chatwin omits this aspect. That the warrior advantage of nomadism is crucial, that nomadism will initially attract warlike types. I am saying that warlike people adopt nomadism because it offers an evolutionary advantage not just a more pleasant lifestyle.
In Egypt, before the success of the militarist ruler Mohamed Ali in the early C19th. Bedouin tribes commanded a great deal of Egypt. They lived in a truce with the Nileside dwellers and extracted tribute from them. Mohamed Ali employed the organisation and firepower derived from Napoleon’s invasion. He massively reduced the Bedouin as military power in Egypt.
Warlike people match their acquisitiveness with bravery. Now you don’t have to be quite so brave to be a businessman for example. But you do need to be acquisitive, or driven by some ideology that spurs you to succeed, perhaps for the greater good or some other altruistic purpose.
Modern nomads- technomads, van people, perpetual travellers, live as they do to get ‘more’ for less. They want it all- and who can blame them? But isn't it a bit greedy to want better than everyone else? Live in a big city now and rich or poor you’ll be stuck in traffic jams from time to time. Rich or poor you’ll be breathing the same air and enduring the same weather. That's democracy of a kind. What constitutes enough in your mind?
The desire to predict the future is usually mixed with wanting to change the future. When we hear about people wanting to change the world, or even saying it ourselves, then they are desiring to change the future- as they predict it. The message is: without us, or our proposed change, the future will be worse, grimmer, less full of possibilities. So whenever we propose a change we are imagining a possible future world without it. We are pessimistic in a way. In fact the more changes you want to make the more you are saying that the current trajectory is rubbish.
Another position is that of the change-rider. He accepts that things change, he tries to spot them and either avoid them or ride them like a wave of good fortune. He doesn’t have any belief in his efficacy. He can’t, or doesn’t believe he ‘can make things happen.’ His self-identifying image is that of greater perception, more insight than the herd.
Your position can depend on what time scale you are operating on- 20 years ahead or maybe less, or maybe more. If you an insider in a company and know its plans its probably quite easy to predict three years ahead. I remember reading an interview with a Japanese businessman saying ‘we Japanese are thinking 200 years ahead’ whereas the Americans only think 2 years ahead. Yeah yeah- but what a great way to freak out your American competition! After the slow down in Japan and its twenty year slump you tend to hear less of this sort of thing- on a par with Western comments that the business cycle no longer applied owing to the amazing financial instruments we have invented.
Enter the Black Swan theory, which effectively brings a healthy measure of humility back to the process of futurology. (Black Swan events are rare events you can’t predict like Hurricanes over Britain, stock market melt downs and the Arab Spring). Nicholas Taleb, the inventor of the concept has the view that things pretty much stay the same, or ride gentle trends until a Black Swan comes along and upsets the apple cart. The winners are those who adapt fastest.
Which brings me to the better and bigger point of predicting people rather than events. Think about it- predicting an event is almost insane. Unless you have a habit of recording your dreams and discovering (as some indeed have) they prefigure disastrous events (dreams rarely provide greed related info sadly like the winner of the Derby two weeks in advance- it seems warning dreams are there to protect life rather than benefit a few with cash ), then trying to predict events in the future is kind of bonkers.
But people are easier. People operate- usually- on cycles. You know their cycle and you can predict the kind of thing they’ll be doing in the future. Some have ‘crash and burn’ etched like Cain’s mark into their persona- deep darkness and negativity obvious to most people who meet them. There are people who consistently gravitate towards others who will do them no good. I remember watching an elderly man, who, having shunned the innocuous company my friend and I offered, proceeded to interrupt what he saw as a better conversation with an (obviously) angry man who ended up threatening to punch him. A few people have behaviours that erode any good luck they may have. Others really seem plain unlucky. Or really lucky, often allied with good timing. Some people have great promise, you know they’ll succeed- and they do.
Action-Knowledge is the real stuff. It comes about from having digested experience. Digested means making something you’ve seen part of you. Is it different from just copying? Well imitation is the beginning of learning, but digestion implies a ‘becoming something new’. I guess if you imitate generosity it is mechanical. When you have digested the need for generosity your capacity to use it beneficially to all around including yourself, will have increased. There is nothing weird and mystical about digestion. It happens naturally after any experience, as long as you don’t block it by filling the ‘space’ otherwise occupied with mundane stimulation or a new stimulation to pile on top of it. Travel aids the digestion process, as does being in unfamiliar situations.
The West focuses on closing the gap between ignorance and knowledge. That’s why school, university and the media are held in such high esteem. We are taught to see this gap between ignorance and knowledge as vast, but it’s actually very narrow. An ignorant man can be well informed after reading a few books and listening to the radio 4 Today program. But will he ACT on his new knowledge/information? Probably not. Because the really huge gap is between knowledge and action.
We get closer by gaining action-knowledge, either in a general form- habits and principles that aid action, but even more usefully, by learning how to code information into action-knowledge.
The first step, though, is acknowledging the gap between just knowing stuff and actually doing things with it.
I knew smoking was bad for me when I was 21. I read a book at 22 that gave me the tools to give up. But I didn’t give up completely until I was 42. I had all the information, but no action-knowledge to kick me forward into effective behaviour.
You find action-knowledge when your desire is refined by sincerity of purpose- you’re either desperate or so pissed off with failure that you’ll do ‘anything’ to succeed.
If you can tune in to sincerity without having to be desperate it makes accessing action- knowledge a lot easier. Instead of being the lovable boxer who has to be taunted and abused before he’s ‘angry’ enough to fight you can dial up fighting power anytime, anyplace.
The chairman of the management committee of a local mental hospital was taking a nice stroll in the grounds of the hospital. He fell into conversation with a patient who was leaning on a gate. He asked the patient's name and then said, "Do you know who I am?" The patient said he did not. "I am the head of the hospital," said the Chairman. The patient, thinking the man was clearly delusional asked, "Which ward do you come from?" The chairman's expression can only be described as very disconcerted...
taken from Desmond Rochford's pamphlet Tales from Tone Vale Hospital