The Power of Travelling

“The world is a book, and those who do no travel read only one page.”

Living in the 21st century the opportunity to see the world has never been greater. A quick search now tells me that the furthest city from my home town of Edinburgh is Dunedin, New Zealand. For less than £1000 I could go. Not that I have a spare grand lying around, but it’s very much saveable. For that price I would be able to see the full influence of travel in the world with Dunedin taking its name by the old name for Edinburgh and actually being modelled on Scotland’s capital. The perfect opportunity to see the real influence of human adventure over the years. Around 60’000 years ago humans first ventured out of Africa to all corners of the globe. With this brought visible changes to the world and the start of how we can change our planet; for good and for bad. Since then we have seen the rise and fall of many, many empires and changes in power and religion but this is all done by the natural human impulse to travel and explore.

Working for Tree of Knowledge allows me the opportunity to see parts of my country I would have never seen before. Couple with my personal travels, I am now lucky enough to have visited places like Laurencekirk and Los Angeles, Dunblane and Durban, Shettleston and the Shetlands or even Bradford and Bangkok. The incredible thing about this is that no matter where I venture, these places go back to how they were after the briefest of moments in each other’s company.

Or do they? I’ve always been a believer that places and travelling changes who we are but we also change the places we go. Seeing the extreme poverties in a South African township allowed me to experience a level of empathy previously unknown. The affluent Orange County in California afforded me a heightened, and slightly materialistic, ambition usually out of character for me. These places have undoubtedly changed me but they’re just places. Some of them have long lasting cultures, all weird and wonderful in their own way but you just have to look at Dubai over the last 20 years to see the massive impact humans continue to have on the world. So instead of this idea of going through life to try and ‘find yourself’, why not go through life and build who you are? Allow yourself to take small parts of the places you go to learn and grow. Leave your mark and take from it what you can.

Beyond this, remember that you shape the places you visit too, so think about how you do this and the effect this has on the next visitor. Above all, don’t litter.

 

Stuart Fenwick (@StuFenwick7)

Motivational Speaker at Tree of Knowledge (tree_of)

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Anti-Fragility

My favourite villain is probably The Joker from Batman. Specifically, Heath Ledger’s famous performance in The Dark Knight. There is just something captivating about his obsession with chaos, disorder, and anarchy.

That positive impression of disorder is very much limited to the movie. Outside of that, most of us will agree that we prefer a more straightforward, ‘normal’ life.

This is mainly because when some sort of shock happens to an object or a person there are various paths it can take. If someone manages to come through an impactful event as strong as they were before, this is called resilient. And it is praised.

But we can also grow weaker due to a shock and this is what we would label fragility. However, there was (until recently) no terminology for something that benefits from shocks; to thrive from volatility.

Whilst there is a lot to be taken from resilience, there is no doubt that growing stronger is better than staying the same. So, we needed a word for it.

Various things happened on November 27th 2012. Micky Baker, the American guitarist, passed away. I turned 24 (and definitely felt fragile the next day). And Nassim Nicholas Taleb released a book titled ‘Antifragile: Things that gain from Disorder.’

 

“…a property of systems that increase in capability, resilience of robustness as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks of failures.”

 

The official definition above represents Taleb’s background in the financial trading industry. A lot of his previous work tore up many of the automatically accepted beliefs of the world of money and stocks. He was the Little Red Riding Hood to the big, bad wolves of Wall Street.

This work was a continuation of his previous books, but this time with an excellent crossover with life outside of the financial world. It represented a philosophy we could apply to everyday life. Although he does not see himself as a philosopher or as a poet he describes economics as a tragedy.

There are many examples of anti-fragility throughout history. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Thomas Edison claimed he didn’t invent the light bulb straight away. Instead he found ‘10’000 ways that don’t work.’ After 30 rejections, Stephen King threw the manuscript of his first novel in the bin. It was his wife’s retrieval that gave us Carrie.

If you want more feel free to search for stories about Elvis Presley, Vincent van Gogh, Oprah Wimphrey, Fred Astaire, Albert Einstein… The list goes on.

It’s an old cliché to talk about bouncing back from failure and demonstrating resilience. However, staying the same isn’t enough for a lot of us who really want to achieve something in life. Even after a big event in life, we want to move forward.

Bad exam results, not getting into university, failing to get a promotion, or ending a relationship can all seem upsetting at the time. With enough determination and the proper attitude, we can genuinely turn these things on their head. It’s a step beyond resilience. Resilience 2.0 if you like.

As manager of the English football club Crystal Palace, Iain Dowie was once ridiculed for using the word ‘bouncebackability’ to praise his players’ staging a dramatic comeback. There was a campaign launched to get the word added to the dictionary resulting in a lot of laughs from football fans. Little did Dowie realise that the concept he was eluding to was one of great significance.

Life can be difficult, throwing up various obstacles along the way. There’s no reason we can’t run faster after jumping a hurdle.

And yes, yes, I’m well aware Little Red Riding Hood didn’t actually beat the wolf. It was the woodsman. However, having read the story for the first time since childhood recently, it’s really quite gruesome. Fortunately for me, despite the impact of the story, I was able to get over it and come out stronger afterwards.

 

Stuart Fenwick (@StuFenwick7)

Motivational Speaker at Tree of Knowledge (@tree_of)

Choosing your mood

‘Why can’t you be in a good mood? How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood and then be in a good mood once in a while?’

Lloyd Dobler, Say Anything…, 1989.

 

I first heard this quote in a Scroobius Pip song (not my usual music taste but he’s good). Pip references the character of Lloyd Dobler, played by John Cusack in 1989’s Say Anything, as someone he interacts with whilst on a dream-based journey. Along the way he meets several people who lay some life truths on him. I’ve always found most of his lyrics incredibly thought provoking and somewhat philosophical, but this one just about floored me as it’s something I’d always had a rather guilty view of myself.

I always felt guilty believing that people can just choose to be happy. We live in a world where mental health issues have reached epidemic level; I understand for a lot of people it isn’t a choice. I guess my argument isn’t for overall life happiness but maybe isolated incidents?

Scroobius Pip’s ‘Angles’ album, featuring Dan Le Sac, was released in 2008 and instantly had a huge impact on me. It deals with some major issues such as perception of others, personal philosophies and even suicide. It’s incredible. His work is probably often categorised as British rap, but it’s more like spoken word or poetry to a beat. Quite often he is literally just speaking but it’s the words and the power behind them.

 

‘Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say…”In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.’

Elwood P. Dowd, Harvey, 1950

 

The first character Pip meets is Elwood P. Dowd, lifted from the 1950 movie ‘Harvey’ featuring James Stewart. The great thing about Pip’s track is that he manages to merge the movie quote into his lyrics as if they are his own.

 

In this life you can be oh-so-smart or oh-so-pleasant, For years I was smart; I recommend pleasant, Being smart can make you rich and bring respect and reverence, But the rewards of being pleasant are far more incandescent.’

 

I can’t think of too many rappers who deal with the issue of what makes you happy in life beyond ‘bling’ and other things that require aster*sks (see West, Kanye). I’m a firm believer that the world needs to get nicer before it gets smarter. We have managed to make tremendous advancements in science, medicine, engineering, technology and many other fields but we are yet to come up with a plan for peace.  Perhaps a shift in perception and focus can literally save lives.

After this, Pip even offers some advice on how to choose your mood and be more pleasant. He does this not through quoting a movie character, but this time another stranger (Billy Brown) paraphrasing some off Scroobius Pip’s other work;

 

‘If you can’t forgive and forget, how’s this? Forget forgiving and just accept that that’s it.’, See that’s how it’s gotta be, Then you can fall in love, get on with your life, and be free.’

 

Quite often in life we are guilty of allowing moments from our past sit inside and rot away. This does nothing good for us. It just prevents us from repairing relationships with those we have had trouble with, whilst also creating a more belligerent version of ourselves and creating more and more rifts in our life. The last word ‘free’ seems ambitious and fanciful but truth be told that’s exactly what would happen; we would be free from resent.

There is finally a verse where your new favourite rapper (Pip) has his last interaction. This time a gentleman named Walter Neff attempts to take the wind out our sales. Riding high on the epiphanic journey throughout the song Neff (a murdering insurance salesman from Double Indemnity, 1944) suggests that no matter the nature of the man on this planet, there is some evil within us;

 

‘Whether it be greed, lust, or just plain vindictiveness, There’s a level of malevolence inside of all of us.’

 

It took a few times listening and reading, but I think the way this is twisted towards the end is that whilst it is great to ride the crest of this positive wave, it is important we stay on board long term. The choice to be happy, pleasant and forgiving is for life. We continue to be defined by our actions until the last breath and we need to make sure we continue to be what Neff is not.

The scene and sound of Pip’s music is very unbefitting of the poetic yarns that he weaves. The truth is I could recommend any number of his songs with some sort of significant message within them but I’ve always felt a special resonance with the teachings of ‘Waiting for the beat to kick in’. My original intention with this blog was to discuss the psychology and philosophy behind choosing your mood but I couldn’t help but head down this road of some sort of life philosophy/song review hybrid. So what better way to finish off the article with the continuation of the first quote I referenced;

 

‘That’s all I have to say ’cause it’s a straight up fact, You control your emotions, it’s as simple as that’

 

Stuart Fenwick (@StuFenwick7)

Motivational Speaker at Tree of Knowledge (@tree_of)

 

(Song – Scroobius Pip vs Dan le Sac – Waiting for the beat to kick in,

Album Scroobius Pip vs Dan le Sac – Angles,

Movies – Say Anything…, Harvey, Double Indemnity)

The Power of Laughter

Imagine I told you I had a new medicine that could help you do the following:

  • Lose weight
  • Boost metabolism
  • Relieve depression
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decrease stress hormones
  • Increase immune cells
  • Increase infection fighting antibodies
  • Improve resistance to disease
  • Increase productivity
  • Release endorphins
  • Improve overall sense of wellbeing
  • Temporarily remove or ease pain
  • Improve social life

You’d be quite impressed. The less moral amongst us may see a money-making opportunity in the pharmaceutical market (the mark up on such a product would be incredible!) In fact, I bet some of you would say this sounds like the best medicine ever.

And you’d be right; ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’

Ask almost anyone and they will tell you that laughing is absolutely one of the best feelings in the world. Scientifically speaking, the release of endorphins is the main cause of this and it’s no wonder. Assuming you have an equal dosage of both chemicals, endorphins have a more powerful effect than morphine.

Have you ever laughed so much that your stomach muscles were in pain? It feels like you’re laughing your way to a six-pack, doesn’t it? That’s because you are! Laughing 100 times a day has the same effect as a 10-minute blast on the rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike.

This is a particularly difficult piece to write as an adult male given our apparent reluctance to laugh. Women laugh 125% more than men which may be partly due to the psychological desire of males to make females laugh. Particularly startling for both genders is the decrease as we get older.

As children, we laugh on average 400 times per day. How many times do you think we laugh on average as an adult? It’s certainly not 400. 200? Nope. 100? Nope. 50? 20? …It’s 17…

That’s no laughing matter. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that those who laugh the least and those who have the lower life expectancy rate are the male population.

It may seem extreme to suggest laughter can prolong life (although it can) and there are many other factors that play a part, but I genuinely believe it can give a purpose in life.

There are those who take meaning from their children, their job, religion and elsewhere. However, I assure you as an adult, male, childless atheist with previous jobs I didn’t enjoy a great deal, sometimes a good chuckle was the thing I looked forward to and cherished in life.

Whether it was watching a comedian on television, having a random memory pop into my head or quite simply spending time with friends telling stories and jokes there really is no substitute for laughter.

One day that sticks in my head is the day at university I realised I no longer wanted to be a PE teacher. Being three years into a four year course named ‘PE teaching’ that was a bit of an issue. Another issue was telling my PE teacher mother having to find out the news.

As I sat in my living room feeling pretty down I was comforted by my favourite show coming on, Scrubs. There are 169 good episodes of Scrubs (the 13 in season 9 will not be acknowledged) and of all the episodes to play…

Season 4 Episode 17 (‘My Life in Four Cameras’) revolves around the treatment of former ‘Cheers’ writer Charles James (fictional, based on the real writers’ surnames). Cleverly mimicking the traditional American sitcom format throughout the episode, several issues are very conveniently resolved by the end.

In a tragic snap back to reality, things actually don’t work out well including the death of Mr. James. Despite all the things getting to the main character, the episode closes with him finding solace and comfort in the laughter from an episode of Cheers.

Sitting watching this, the irony was not lost on me and it is a lesson that has stuck ever since; ‘What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.’

Make laughter a bigger part of your day, make it a bigger priority. Next time you make a to-do list for your day write down laughter, and it doesn’t get ticked off until you reach at least 100 laughs, giggles or snorts.

Please help yourself to the free medicine. Prescribe it to others. Let the cure itself become an epidemic.

 

Stuart Fenwick (@StuFenwick7)

Motivational Speaker at Tree of Knowledge (@tree_of)