I was talking to an Iranian friend the other day - and he told me he was driving his son to and from school everyday even though the boy wanted to walk. Why? Because the boy is newly arrived from Iran and my friend 'wanted to ensure he didn't develop a hatred of Britain'. Is our neighborhood so bad? No, that wasn't it. He was being indirect, rather cunning in fact. In other words, while the boy was still ignorant of Britain he wanted to make sure his experiences were largely positive. Once the boy was better at English and more familiar with school then he could face the further adventures of walking. I would never naturally think this way. Boy wants to walk, I don't want to drive: GREAT RESULT. However I'd be missing the bigger picture, the longer term, which is what the indirect approach deals with. This approach, the indirect one, is completely characteristic of what we call, for want of a better term, 'the east'. It's a default setting there to approach things indirectly. The western default setting is to go head on- ultra direct- and screw the consequences. Obviously there are exceptions (Britain's diplomats are, or were, famous for the their indirect approaches) but by and large this direct/indirect default setting seems to fall across the west/east divide. My friend runs a restaurant. He's a practical man not an intellectual- yet his approach to life seems far more considered - because of the cultural power of his default 'indirect' problem solving method. Our intelligence is never just 'us'. If one has the fortune to be born into a culture with useful default settings (think of Japanese stoicism, Egyptian humour) then one's ahead of the game through no fault of one's own. However it seems to me I ought to 'change the factory settings' and add 'indirect' as a new default alongside the natural bulldozer.
Yesterday we had the film festival section of the Wigtown literary festival. Shaun Bythell's masterful parallel remake of a 1930s film about Galloway opened proceedings. Wig's unique short film followed as well as a wonderfully humourous film about red versus grey squirrels. More films followed until things wound up in the small hours.
Stuart Kelly gave a fascinating and erudite talk at the impressive home of Ray and Marie - the Penningham centre- where healthy eating is also delicious- as we discovered as we ate a three course meal and heard Stuart tell us how Walter Scott invented the modern idea of Scotland.
I'm at Wigtown literary festival - I have been since thursday, and already I am taking vitamins, going for walks, making up for the intense program of festivities. There was the talent festival won by an amazing local girl- aged 14- and called Zoe, who, strangely had been in the class I had talked to earlier that day at Douglas Ewart school, Newton Stewart. John Paul Flintoff- the multi-talented writer and journalist who makes his own clothes devised a Noh slapstick comedy routine which worked suprisingly well for the talent show, the point of which is to seamlessly blend local and imported writerly talent. Martin Bell, Tom Hodgkinson of Idler fame and Sadakat Kadri have all given great performances. Later this week there will be the top crime writer Jason Webster- whose novels are set in Valencia Spain, Johnny West who penned the first book yet on the Arab Spring- Karama- Sarah Hall and Roger Moorhouse- the world's foremost historian of WW2 Berlin. There is also Blo-karting with Carole Anne Brown- blo-karting being land yachting at incredible speed using an ingenious piece of kit that folds down to a pack you can put in your car boot that weighs only 25 kg. The theme of the festival is the great outdoors. Today we went swimming at Rigg Bay- it was beautiful- sunny and not too cold. Accompanied by the polymathic Shaun Bythell- owner of Scotland's largest secondhand bookshop - we took the plunge without another beach tourist in sight. that's part of what makes Wigtown so special- it's far enough away to seem like a real adventure.
We all want to be superhuman from time to time. Why aim at being merely human when the megalomaniacal urge descends?. No one wants to be subhuman. How do we try to be superhuman? We set ourselves idealistic goals we cannot achieve, because we are, human after all. In some ways we use the word human to mean failing, not living up to high standards- yet these are areas where humanity is most easily shown. Animals don't keep their word. Animals aren't reliable. But animals do care for their young and sacrifice themselves for their offspring and even for the survival of the group. So public charitable work could be downgraded to subhuman even though lots of 'heroes' are considered superhuman. But when someone lets another down we say, "he's only human". One can aim for superhumanity in outperforming the average, or as Michael Phelps coach put it: Doing what the others could do, but won't do. Sometimes you need to find yourself in a group with higher aims than you had before to suddenly go up a level. If you want to be superhuman hang out with superhumans.
When I was sixteen i went climbing with the local mountaineering club. I spent time climbing with a professor of economics. He made economics sound fascinating. I changed to do economics at A level, did it a year early, and this probably helped me get in to Oxford to study Politics, philosophy and economics. Of course I dropped the economics after a year because I realised it wasn't that interesting after all...but still, as a result of a few conversations over a weekend I had changed my life.
I'm fascinated by people who have had a conversation, probably with a stranger, and then changed their lives as a result. If you have - let me know- comments are on for this one.