Remembering Karla

They can be strange lands, the pathways of our memory.
Our recent discussions about animosity and forgiveness and letting go of disappointment and anger has provoked recollections of a case which I haven’t thought about for long time.

Lotus, Oregan House CA (photo by Peter Aranyi)

When I was a news reporter twenty years ago I covered the search for a young girl (13, I recall) who had gone missing on a bike ride to her local shops. The police organised door-to-door canvassing in her home suburb, and search and rescue professionals and volunteers from tramping clubs combed the bush and foreshore all around the valley and beaches within short driving distance of where she was last seen. I joined the bush search.

It was very easy for me to get caught up in the espirit de corps of the search and rescue group. With my woollen bush shirt, sturdy footwear, sunglasses and my new-fangled cell phone (about the size of a loaf of bread) I raced up and down bush tracks calling out and looking for any sign of the young girl.

The chill sets in

After a day or two of fruitless searching, the tone of the team changed. By the end of the third day a chill crept into all of us. Now, we realised, we were looking not for a lost girl, we weren’t calling out for someone waiting for us to find her. We were looking for a body. The dread was powerful. My mum, hearing one of my live voice reports on the radio during the day, called me at home that evening concerned about me. ‘Peter, you sounded so sad,’ she said. I told her I was. What an understatement.

We didn’t find her.

Continue reading →

“Do I believe in the forgiveness of sin?”

I heard this question in a BBC Heart & Soul documentary today about a family where the father had sexually abused his young daughter. The wife described how she had come to a place where the question, “Do I believe in the forgiveness of sin?” arose when considering her husband’s actions towards her daughter.

Her answer was, “Yes, I do.” and she forgave him. She did so with an unopened envelope in her hand — inside the envelope was his confession to the police, which she had not read until that point! Wow. That forgiveness was the start of another journey, but still, Wow.

One of the common promoted ‘benefits’ of forgiveness is a sort of self-preservation — we forgive others for own own sake, not theirs, necessarily. (The conditions, if any, we may seek to place on our forgiveness is another subject.)

graphic: Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate by Michael Henderson

graphic: Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate by Michael Henderson

We forgive, so the theory goes, to prevent ourselves carrying toxic bitterness, to counter an aspect of the ‘spiritual risk’ I referred to in my previous post on Animosity. It’s better, we’re encouraged, to ‘move on’, ‘let it go’, ‘get over it’, to not hold a grudge.

And generally, I would agree with that. But it doesn’t mean you forgetContinue reading →

The Paradox of Animosity

I’ve been thinking, prompted in part by a comment from Chowbok who said:

Hatred is the easiest of emotions to invoke.

Is it possible to be trenchantly, even violently opposed to what you perceive as wrongdoing without slipping into HATRED of the perpetrator?

If we agree (you and I) that bitterness of spirit is a dangerous and toxic thing, how do we keep a clear vision, maintain our standards (which implies rejecting some actions and behaviours as, at least, ‘inappropriate’) … without slipping into the slimy pool of ill-will?

However virtuous one’s starting point, it seems there is what some call ‘spiritual risk’ involved whenever we exercise discernment.

Like radioactivity pioneers Pierre and Marie Curie, who died of diseases caused by exposure to the very radiation they studied — can a ‘crusader for right’ become contaminated, or infected (even mutated?) by the object of their attention?

Choose your enemies carefully, for you will become like them.

Some call this proverb History’s most ironic lesson. Whatever you think of the ‘spiritual risk’ aspect, the truth of the proverb is, sadly, often borne out by the record of human history. Victims can, in turn, become victimisers. (Examples, anyone?)

A variation of the proverb is:

Choose your enemies carefully for they DEFINE you.

A song on rock band U2’s No Line On The Horizon album contains this:

Choose your enemies carefully, ’cause they will define you/
Make them interesting, because in some ways they will mind you/
They’re not there in the beginning, but when your story ends/
Gonna last longer with you than your friends.

— from Cedars of Lebanon

As we’ve seen, anyone who expresses an opinion or takes a principled stand against others’ actions is liable to stir up anger and hatred. (That’s why we resist doing so. Fear of that reaction. The bully, the liar, and the oppressor count on this fear.)
So, Question: Is it possible to take a stand without succumbing to strong negative feelings oneself? What if those strong feelings are needed to ‘motivate’ us?

Mahatma Ghandi‘s ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner‘ overstates it … but goes towards what I’m asking.

Bitterness, we agree is unhealthy.
So, surely, is unforgiveness. Continue reading →

Reflections on grief and mortality

A recent death in my family – the latest in what seems like a bad season for us – has provoked some musings about this haphazard procession of events we call Life.

Is there any novel thing one can say in response to the death of a loved one (whether parent, spouse, child or friend)?


Grief, it seems, is a path we must each tread.

Tributes and memorials from the pyramids to the Taj Mahal, from the Book of Psalms to WH Auden and Leonard Cohen have canvassed the territory of grief and remembrance. Yet still, it seems, the experience has to be borne to be truly known.

The wisest words I ever heard about grief were from a poet who’d lost his wife:  “The only thing grief can bear is companionship.” Continue reading →

How to have a FAIR argument

For a number of years I worked as a political reporter at Parliament Buildings in Wellington (New Zealand).
During my time in that highly competitive pressure-cooker environment I learned a lot about truth, perception, political ‘reality’, and human nature. I hope I also learned to be careful with what I say.

While I was in the Press Gallery and for a while afterwards I filed a regular ‘Politics’ column for the NZ Federated Farmers magazine Straight Furrow. Once, writing a column about some issue to do with how ‘maverick’ Winston Peters was functioning in the then Bolger government I made the comment “This man has lied to me before”. By saying it, I was alerting readers that Peters — who I still regard as arguably the most naturally talented politician of his generation — was a complex operator, and a man of many shades. Someone to watch.

Shortly after publication, Peters stormed into our office in the Press Gallery (he may have been clutching Straight Furrow or not, I don’t recall) and angrily demanded of me: ‘When have I lied to you?

I quickly gave him three examples each of which involved me personally and looked him in the eye. After two or three seconds, his trademark smile appeared and he calmed down. He said something like, ‘Oh. OK then’, muttered to himself, and left the office. He was a man about it.

As Kim Hill, who I worked with at Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report’, would say:

‘Which is it? Do you say I’m wrong? Or just that you don’t like me saying it?’

I’ve learned that there are two basic approaches to argument (and these can apply to me under pressure, just as much as the next person): Continue reading →

Heart warming

Pearl & I performed street theatre sketches with our friends and squirted our guests with water pistols at our wedding… these guys have the same spirit. Heart-warming!

Done anything this ‘crazy’ lately? – P

Daring — if there was no risk it wouldn’t take guts

Valkyrie movie poster

I like this image for two reasons:

One – the graphic design speaks to me.
Two – it kind of makes my point: ‘Many saw evil. They dared to stop it.’

I can’t tell you how many people will cheer from the safety of the sidelines, or grumble uselessly about something they perceive as not right, or (even) criticise the warrior who has somehow found the courage to confront Goliath. Sadly, often, fear rules.

But not always.

Moral courage — being willing to stand in scorn

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.

— Robert F Kennedy, quoted by his brother Edward at Bobby’s funeral 1968

Bobby Kennedy’s depiction of moral courage being a ‘rare commodity’ echoes his brother John F Kennedy’s admonition (which he wrongly ascribed to Dante, as it turned out):

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those
who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.

Taken in a pair, these expressions of sentiment (available at speak loudly to me about what motivates and galvanises heroic ‘outsiders’ and truth-tellers — and the whistle blowers or crusaders we’ve been thinking about recently.

It takes courage to be willing to bear the disapproval, the scorn, or the censure of others. Continue reading →

Is there a ‘whistle blower’ personality type?

AfterthePanic_cover_150It’s emerged that the latest book by economist Gareth Morgan After the Panic is being recalled because there’s “a mistake that must be corrected” (see notice from the publishers here PDF) … a new edition is being readied to replace the first edition (now a collectors’ edition?)
This self-styled “straight shooting” book was launched just last month with much fanfare along the lines of “Gareth Morgan roots out the crooks” (e.g. TV Close up Interview) and with an inspiring note in the acknowledgements:

So many books try to expose bad behaviour and even worse practice but stop short of presenting specific examples. Despite the mass destruction to New Zealanders’ wealth that the financial sector has wrought, the avenues of redress that ordinary folk have are so woefully inadequate that justice and accountability remain elusive. This reality is something our regulators should be ashamed of and it requires urgent redress if the individuals behind the offending companies are to be stopped from once again performing their tricks with impunity on another generation of Kiwi saving suckers.

These are laudable sentiments and aims, to be sure, so it’s a shame that something in the book appears to be ‘mistaken’. It seems likely the ‘victims’ of the ‘mistake’ have applied pressure to the publishers for this resolution, as this exercise is very expensive, and, in my experience, rarely triggered without good (legal) reasons.

That’s just a hazard of the tell-it-like-you-see-it approach, which, to my slight chagrin at times, I also tend to suffer from. Continue reading →

A day with the Rich Dad team

I had the luxury of spending time with the good-hearted folk heading up the Rich Dad franchise over the weekend. An old friend of mine Kelly Ritchie is the franchisor for Robert & Kim Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad company, and he was in New Zealand — briefly — to conduct a training for the local franchisees (Henry Lee and his team). I was a guest.

What a pleasure. I mean it.

Kelly is such an engaging and earnest teacher — very clear, concise with his language, totally evincing the values of the Rich Dad company and its “4 pillars”:
1) fun and entertaining, 2) entrepreneurial spirit, 3) forthright and contrarian (challenging conventional thinking) and 4) global, educational, transformational.

As a long time fan of Robert Kiyosaki (yes, fan — I’ve acknowledged him in two books for his profound effect on my own thinking) it was interesting for me to observe some of what Kelly has brought to the party. It was impressive. Continue reading →

Gulp. Surely they’re not talking about us …

from Nick Carr‘s ‘Roughtype’ blog (June 27, 2009) …

The sour Wikipedian

Forget altruism. Misanthropy and egotism are the fuel of online social production. That’s the conclusion suggested by a new study of the character traits of the contributors to Wikipedia. A team of Israeli research psychologists gave personality tests to 69 Wikipedians and 70 non-Wikipedians. They discovered that, as New Scientist puts it, Wikipedians are generally “grumpy,” “disagreeable,” and “closed to new ideas.”

In their report on the results of the study, the scholars paint a picture of Wikipedians as social maladapts who “feel more comfortable expressing themselves on the net than they do off-line” and who score poorly on measures of “agreeableness and openness.” Noting that the findings seem in conflict with public perceptions, the researchers suggest that “the prosocial behavior apparent in Wikipedia is primarily connected to egocentric motives … which are not associated with high levels of agreeableness.”

Read the rest here (if you dare!)

I have to say: some of the stuff that’s been thrown at me on discussion forums makes me think “high levels of disagreeableness” is a vast understatement! Funny how much of it is anonymous — posted by what I call cardboard cutouts and glove puppets.

That said, I have also been pretty scathing myself online about what I see as crooked or dodgy behaviour in the offline world. I’m sure I’ve offended some good decent people by highlighting some (in my view) poor, inconsistent or short-sighted decision-making, or someone ‘mishandling’ a conflict of interest. But I don’t ‘do’ anonymous. My name is right there. Continue reading →

Remembering the cyber world is not the real world

Keep in touch.

View from my study at Mellons Bay 10 July 2009

View from my study at Mellons Bay 10 July 2009

Today’s clear winter morning. Wow. It was refreshing to feel my eyes drawn from the computer screen to this view from my study.

Where’s the substance? – Cool ad.

A very clever bit of marketing with a serious message about ‘authenticity’ — one of my bugbears.

“Don’t focus on the scars, focus on the journey…”

Definitely speech of the day … Rev Al Sharpton Speech at Michael Jackson’s Funeral:

“…He out-sang his cynics. He out-danced his doubters. He out-performed the pessimists. Every time he got knocked down he got back up. Every time you counted him out he came back in. Michael never stopped…”

Wow. I was and am very moved by this powerful tribute to Michael Jackson and his impact … particularly breaking down racial/cultural barriers and inspiring possibilities, including the Obama presidency. – P

Getting a shoe-in

SOME PEOPLE (including some who’ve made a living peddling property to others) seem to be just learning, or didn’t appear to fully realise that a property slump is NOT a separate incident from a general economic slump. The reason property sales volumes and values fall isn’t because a hand on some big cosmic clock ticks over to ‘SLUMP’ — it’s all intimately related to the economic cycle… the world economic cycle. How does that affect commercial landlords? Well, bearing in mind I’m not an economist’s elbow, here goes:

As job losses and company closures occur (each redundancy and collapse heralded in the news), and investment finance firms collapse, funds get frozen and banks turn harsh and stoney-faced, people’s confidence fractures. As each hammer blow strikes, they hold back more and more on purchases, businesses retrench or delay expansion and hunker down. Less shopping translates into less business, which affects retailers, manufacturers, importers, and the various elements up and down the economic food chain — including commercial landlords.

Those landlords who have left it until now to sell their retail unit/warehouse/workshop you-name-it are, given the circumstances, probably willing to sell at a bit of discount. (In most cases, it’s a good bet that the desperate are driving the market.) OK, that’s a bit tough for them. But if things are spiraling down, and the bank is sending alarm signals and reaching for a fresh valuation to justify their loan ratios, well, you may be better to get out before it gets worse.

A friend of mine was in just that situation and sold his business and (until then) owner-occupied Continue reading →