Janus: of dogs, of men, of gods

My off-hand reference to the Roman god Janus at the turn of the year has had me thinking about looking backwards and forwards as fundamental human activities. Rear-view mirror Other species have memory, for sure, but deeper history, stories and cultural memory are (correct me if I’m wrong) unique to humankind. We live in the past as much as the…

The way forward (local maximum)

A local maximum is a high-point that’s lower than other peaks, like a small hill on the edge of a mountain range. At a local maximum “Onwards and upwards” no longer works as a strategy: you can go higher, but you’ll need to go downwards first. A dead-end in a maze might be a local maximum: you are the furthest…

Henri Nouwen on service, starting small and seeing clearly

At times, we might be involved in larger things – clothing the naked, sheltering the poor, helping the refugees, visiting the sick or imprisoned, but it is always small to begin with. It begins with small gestures. Being kind to your family and the people you work with, saying a patient word, writing a card, sending a flower. Be attentive.…

Not long ago, or Little by little (4): Dolly Parton on the scar on her toes

[For those who came in late… Start with Not long ago, or Little by little (1)] Not long ago, in a place not far away and directly connected to you, something like this was happening… Somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains c1950… Jad Abumrad: She told me one story about how one day, when she was about seven or eight, she…

More on old books: Mortimer Adler on permanent literature

The faster things change, the more important our reference points if we want to avoid motion sickness. The great books are always contemporary. In contrast, the books we call “contemporary,” because they are currently popular, last only for a year or two, or ten at the most. They soon become antiquated. You probably cannot recall the names of the bestsellers…

Not long ago, or Little by little (3): scarcity and subsistence in rural Suffolk

[For those who came in late… Start with Not long ago, or Little by little (1)] Not long ago, in a place not far away and directly connected to you, something like this was happening… A village in Suffolk [in the east of England], circa 1900: There were seven children at home and father’s wages had been reduced to 10…

Not long ago, or Little by little (2): Indoor plumbing

[Not long ago, or Little by little (1)] Not long ago, in a place not far away and directly connected to you, something like this was happening, little by little: It’s the Chinese city of Kunming in 1980: Li Kunwa and Phillipe Ôtié’s A Chinese Life is an amazing memoir – a lens into sixty years of struggle and upheaval…

Not long ago, or Little by little (1)

Not long ago, in a place not far away and directly connected to you, something like this was happening, little by little: It’s London in 1930. Ethel has left her work as a lady’s maid; Ernest is a milkman. Raymond Briggs’ Ethel and Ernest is a brilliant book – very funny, very poignant. I share it here as an example…

A somewhat reassuring thought

When your wariness about the future tips over into anxiety, when the world is not turning not only upside down but also inside out, and it looks like things might fall apart – it might be helpful to think of the best of times (either your own or some time when things were generally better) and then remind yourself that…

Overcoming barriers

With this in mind… How does what you offer reduce the barriers to people consuming something important to them? In other words, how do you make it easier (or even possible) for them to get the job done? How do you (dramatically) lower the price? How do you make it available in places where it hasn’t been before? How do…