Category Archives: Questions

Would you like a selfie stick with that?

I can’t remember what it used to be.

I know that when I was in Europe a few years ago, there was something that everyone on the streets was hawking, the latest tourist must have, an item whose name became a cry that you would hear over and over as you walked past, as they tried to sell it to you.

I can’t remember what it used to be, but I know what it is now. Walking around heavy tourist traffic areas in cities like Rome, Lisbon, and Barcelona the last few weeks, there are two words that you hear on constant repeat, every few metres or so:

“Selfie Stick?” “Selfie Stick?”

It’s the street vendors’ current offering of choice, and therefore I assume the current tourist must-have. No matter where you are, for 5€, you can buy your very own phone holder on a stick so that you can more easily take photos of yourself in front of the various monuments and views to your heart’s content.

Walking inside busy sites like the Colosseum or St Peter’s Square, you only need to look in the air to see the results: hundreds of hands holding up hundreds of sticks with hundreds of phones attached.

The selfie sticks are everywhere. And I hate to be that person, but I have to say, I just don’t get it. Or maybe, I just don’t like it.

I think I’m allergic to selfies.*

Why do I think I’m allergic to selfies? There are a few reasons, to be sure. I don’t love many photos of myself at the best of times, so why would I want to take more of them? More to the point, I figure that I and my friends already know what I look like, so I want to get out of the way so that I can capture the amazing sites that I am privileged to be visiting and that I may not get to see again.

And being the kind of person I am, I also wonder what the seeming obsession with selfie sticks says about some bigger questions like why we take photos, and perhaps even why we travel.

If I take a photo of an ancient building, or a beautiful natural landscape, what is my intention? To capture the beauty of what I have seen? To preserve it? To remember it? To be able to show it to you so you can share in my wonder and admiration?

If I take a photo of the same monument or landscape with me in front of it, what is my intention? To have proof that I went there (and, perhaps, that you didn’t)?

When I share with you a photo I took of a beautiful city or an impressive work of art, I hope that I am inviting you to share my own sense of wonder and admiration, to see something of what I saw and to feel something of what I felt.

When I show you a photo of me in front of that same beauty, I don’t think I am communicating the same thing. Rather than “Look at this!” it appears to say “Look at me” or, “Look where I went!”

It seems to me that the focus has shifted from me inviting you to share an appreciation for what I saw, to me inviting you to appreciate me for having gone and seen it.

(There’s a reason selfie sticks have been dubbed “wands of Narcissus“.)

I’m also thinking that this can feed into a sense that travelling is about making sure you tick places off “the list” – that it’s about the fact of having been there and being able to say you went there, rather than about what you experience and learn while there.

Perhaps one reason this bothers me is because I do recognise that temptation within myself. Particularly when travelling somewhere like Europe where there are so many beautiful places and so many famous sites, it is all too easy to slip into the ‘tick off the list’ mentality. To lose the wonder and joy at being there in the moment, to miss out on what there might be to learn from what is being seen and experienced.

I know that I am incredibly privileged to be able to do the travel I have done. And I don’t want to take that for granted, nor allow it to become merely some kind of symbol of status or accomplishment. I travel because I want to take in beauty and history and art and culture, and I want to be changed by it and have my life and work shaped by it. I love knowing that the world is a big place, a diverse place, and that I am but one tiny part of it. I love being challenged, provoked, and stretched by experiencing more of the world and its people and I pray that that is what I can share with others – whether through stories, insights, or photos. But, no thank you, Mr. Street Vendor, I don’t think I need a selfie stick to do that.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre: aren't you glad my head isn't blocking that beautiful view?
Vernazza, Cinque Terre: aren’t you glad my head isn’t blocking that incredible view?

* Caveat: Okay, I do think that selfies can have a place. Particularly when they are used to capture a shared memory between a group of people who experience an event or place together. I have a handful of selfies from my recent trip and all but one of them are of me with people I met on the trip, which is a lovely way to record and remember our interactions. The other one? It’s of me looking up in an art gallery: taken when I was aiming to capture the beautifully painted ceiling and accidentally turned the iphone camera around!

 

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What do you do when you realise you’re not living out what you say you value?

My friend Sarah wrote a great post last week called “When the exceptions to your routines become the rule” and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s well worth a read!

Her key point is that our lives can change and without realising it we find there is a disconnect between our ideas about the way we routinely live and the reality. And it has challenged me to consider where this might be true in my own life.

For example, I think of myself as a person who is always on time to things. But my life is currently a whole lot busier than it has been in previous years, and that perspective I have of myself is no longer entirely true. My Book Club friends could attest to this as for some reason they bear the brunt of it – I’m nearly always late (although come to think of so are many of them – perhaps we should change our meeting time!)

More significantly, I like to think of myself as a person who responds to communication from others promptly. I value good communication highly and try to work towards “inbox zero”. But between juggling four email addresses, text messages, and Facebook messages, I have to admit that things fall through the cracks sometimes. The reality is that I am not always as on top of my communications as I would like to think I am. And this means that other people probably don’t see me the same way I see myself.

Apparently my brother-in-law believes emails should responded to within the day. If that is the  expectation then I fail it regularly, particularly when it’s a reply that will take more than a minute or two. And when I mentioned this whole issue to one of my closest friends this week, she said, “Yes, you take ages to respond to text messages.” Ouch! But thanks for the reality check.

So what do we do when we recognise that we are not meeting our own expectations? Do we adjust our expectations or our reality?

Do I need to admit to myself that although I would like to be a person who is on time and replies to others in a timely manner, I’m just not? Or do I need to ask myself whether (and why) I still value promptness and then think about how I can re-establish it in my daily practices?

Sarah’s advice is this:

“A deliberate life that honours what matters to us most means constant recalibration of our routines.”

When I slow down and think about it, I have to say that I do value promptness. Not for its own sake, but because I value the people to whom I show it. I value their time, their commitment, their engagement with me. And it’s when I lose sight of that and focus more on myself (how busy I am or how stressed I am) that I overlook the message I am sending to them by my behaviour.

So perhaps this post functions as a confession. I do not live up to my own desire to be a person who demonstrates how much I value others in the way I respond to them.

It also functions as an apology. Friends, I’m sorry if I have dishonoured you or undervalued your time by not responding to you as you needed me to. Please forgive me.

It also functions as an attempt to make myself more accountable. I recognise that I need friends who are willing to call me out and remind me when I’m not living out what I say I value.

And maybe this post can also function as a reminder to some of you, that busyness can be one of the biggest hindrances to good relationships and true community.  And that it’s worth letting someone challenge you to rethink your own practices and habits so that you might be honest with yourself and make sure that you haven’t overlooked what you truly value due to a false sense of your own experience.

 

Tribalism and the tone of current political debate

It’s commonly accepted that US politics has been polarised for quite a while. People openly identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats; most people tend to associate with those who share their political opinions; media outlets appear to be divided along partisan lines so that people can catch up with what is going on in the world from a perspective that already aligns with their own.

And so it seems that the temptation to disagree with someone simply because they belong to the other side, or to support someone simply because they belong to your side, is becoming harder and harder to avoid.

Using words like ‘left’ or ‘right’, ‘conservative’ or ‘progressive’, as the sole basis for dismissing another person’s point of view is essentially saying that you disagree with them because they are on the other side to you. That you don’t even need to listen or take into account their perspective because you have already decided that it is opposed to where you stand. That the world can be neatly divided into two opposite and opposing perspectives, one of which is completely right and one of which is completely wrong.

It’s tribalism.

And it’s often marked not by the language of debate, but by the language of war.

The end result of this, I fear, is what we’ve been seeing more and more in the lead up to this year’s presidential election. It is particularly exemplified in the farcical (but not funny) situation where we see people attempting to defend the behaviour and views of their political party’s candidate no matter how far he strays from what they have previously stated to be their core values. It doesn’t seem to matter how terrible he acts or sounds, the fact that he is on their ‘side’ overrides everything else. From the outside looking in, it’s almost impossible to understand.

Obviously there is much more I could say about the trainwreck that is Trump v Clinton, but for now I want to confine myself to this one idea and the question I have about its impact going forward from here. What will the fact that this tribalism and deep division between two sides, with little room for nuance between them, is being played out in such a public and global way mean for our future public interactions?

What is the pattern being set for how civic debate is to be conducted?

While here in Australia it is still quite rare for the average person to identify themselves day to day by which political party they vote for, the same kind of tribalistic language does seem to be creeping in. I’m certainly seeing words like ‘leftist’ and ‘right-wing’ increasingly used to dismiss an opinion in place of reasoned responses to coherent and valid points of discussion. And these kinds of words are almost always used in an attempt to shut the debate down. To dismiss the other point of view for the sole reason that it is perceived to be the ‘other’ point of view.

It bothers me greatly and to be honest it generally makes me want to disengage. We are talking about the exchange of ideas in a free society, people putting forward their views on what they genuinely believe it best for all of us. But as soon as we start using the language of warfare and tribalism, when we put one another into two simple boxes and stop listening to those who are not in the same box as us, then it seems to me that we have all lost.

How can we find ways to move beyond the simplistic categories of ‘left’ and ‘right’, ‘us’ and ‘them’?

How can we recognise that good ideas can come from both sides of the political aisle, and that when we listen to one another we might even find middle ground? How can we change the tone from one of war to one of genuine engagement, accepting that we can all learn something from one another, even from those with whom we disagree, if we will really take time to listen?

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