I've found it difficult to write over the last week. Indeed, I'd admit that I've had some difficulty focusing in general, as many people would. Whilst much has been said and written about the tragic event that occurred in Bourke Street, Melbourne at 1:39pm on Friday 20th January, 2017, I realised that there are some things that I need to write in order to move on. The callousness, the lunch hour timing, the distance driven and therefore the multiple locations of those murdered and injured, has left the city I love the most shattered and saddest I have ever experienced.
The business I work for, RogenSi, is located at 460 Bourke Street, diagonally opposite the RACV Club, and in a stretch significantly impacted by the maroon Commodore's rampage along the southern footpath. Here are 5 key lessons I've learned personally from this inexplicable, senseless act of violence.
Lesson 1 - Terrorism is Not the Domain of Islam
And it never has been. Yet we have come to associate terrorism with religious or political fanaticism. We pour money into protecting our society against ISIS, Al Quaida, splinter groups or individuals who create terror within civilians in order to force change in western governments. So while we think about that, remember the USA is a country that has used its own brand of terrorism to change governments. Let's not kid ourselves - Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not military targets and it was never about Japanese surrender. It was about sending signals to Russia. (Hiroshima Nagasaki, Paul Ham.)
Whilst the Bourke Street massacre was not politically motivated, it used techniques developed by 'terrorists' in recent months to create fear in the population. And it has. The fact that Bourke Street was not politically or religiously motivated makes it no less terrifying for victims, survivors, families and witnesses.
Whilst we are right to protect our nation from externally motivated terrorism, we must look to protect society from within. Whether that relates to bail conditions, parole conditions, proper mental health and human services provisions, the system in Victoria failed us. It must be fixed.
Lesson 2 - No One is Immune
Melbourne takes pride in our standing as the world's most liveable city and as the nation's sporting capital, yet I believe most of our inhabitants have not seriously seen ourselves as a target. The Lindt Cafe in Sydney was a terrorist attack on a truly global city, yet without an ISIS flag it could have been any other person with a grievance that used violence as a means to an end. So in line with Lesson 1, the motive does not matter. We live in a society where violence against innocent people has become an unfortunate norm.
In Australia, all of our population centres are at risk, not just from 'mainstream' terrorism, but from those who seek to use harm as a method of highlighting their own plight. There is currently no mechanism in place to prevent another Bourke Street atrocity happening tomorrow - and I don't think there can ever be, short of shutting down our beautiful city. But right now, Melbourne lives in fear of home invasions, car jackings, breakouts from youth detention centres and our state government responds in a knee-jerk manner with rhetoric, not action.
Let's stop putting our heads in the sand. Do we accept this as society or not?
Lesson 3 - The Impacts of Violence are Far Reaching
On Wednesday evening, as I ate pizza in Hardware Lane, metres from Bourke Street, I broke down, uncontrollably. When the attack happened, I wasn't in our office, I had just returned from holiday and a colleague and close friend had let me know to turn on the news. Yet just 5 days after the tragedy, I was a mess, watching life go on around me just metres from where the deaths had occurred.
Violence like this resembles ripples created by water dripping into a trough. Of course, the closer you are to the violence, the more concentrated the ripples. Yet I was not physically close at all. In this case, I see the ripples as being dependant on your association with the location - or those within the police tape, and those outside it.
Those directly inside the tape are those most significantly impacted. The victims, the witnesses, the first responders. Then there are those indirectly inside the tape - the family and friends of those there physically. In most cases, the crime scene is small but in this case it stretched for more than 3 city blocks. There were many impacted inside the tape.
But in such a large crime scene, those outside the tape were impacted as well. My colleagues out for lunch who could not return, a close friend who turned right this day instead of left and ended up outside the tape. Those of us who work, who walk inside the tape each day but weren't there this day feel guilty that we weren't...
Like ripples in a pond, this violence spread wider than Bourke Street and further than we will ever know.
Lesson 5 - Love Will Prevail
The final and most important lesson. The heroism, the compassion, the love shown by ordinary Melbournians during this tragedy stands above the evil. Those inside the tape did not know if they were at the start of an attack, the middle of an attack, or whether it was all over.
In our office, and outside, calls were made, messages sent, head counts taken... And it continued through the weekend and beyond. Strangers stood together by floral memorials along 4 blocks of Bourke Street and ask each other if they were ok. Where were you? How are you doing? Can I help?
And that is what we must continue to do.
If there is any conclusion to this it is that life is unexpected and short. We cannot hope to fully control the evil that exists in this world, and we should not live in fear of it. We must rise above this, live our lives, live our dreams and whether it is politically, religiously, or just plain criminally motivated terrorism, we must continue to rise against it as a community, as a city, as a state, as a nation.
Melbourne has seen its share of violence, but not like this. We're grieving on many levels and we long for the hurt to be washed away. At some appropriate time, the floral tributes that honour the dead, the injured and their families will need to go so that we can all move forward.
We must not allow fear of any type to pervade our lives. We must live our lives to the fullest, daily. We must not miss a chance to tell those closest to us that we love them. We should live as if tomorrow will never come and hug our friends and loved ones in case it doesn't.
Love will prevail, but I long for a shower of rain to wash Bourke Street clean.
As my latest Japanese journey comes to an end, I've spent some time reflecting on why it is that I love coming to this amazing country. What sets it apart from the other places that I've visited, particularly around the Asia-Pacific region? I decided that a big part of what I enjoy so much is the Japanese culture.
I realised that the culture has been built on hundreds of years of history, yes some of it dark, and it seems to be ingrained. The Japanese are proud people, proud of their country, their heritage, their customs. They are incredibly respectful of each other, of visitors, of the elderly. Cleanliness, order, presentation are all so important - there is virtually no graffiti, no rubbish and few rubbish bins because they are respectful enough to take rubbish home.
So what is culture? Some people say "it's the way we do things round here". In fact, more to the point, it's what we do round here when no one is looking that is a closer definition of culture. To that end, culture is actually determined by the values we hold, whether we live those values, and what the consequences are if we stray from them.
You see our values represent our internal or moral GPS - they guide us in our decision making to get us where we want to go. A strong culture requires a strong set of values and an equally strong determination to set our course by them. In fact all of the qualities I love about Japan's culture are in fact their values on display; respect, national pride, order, interdependence on others and team work. All taught from the earliest of age, over generations.
Values are important at all levels. As individuals we have values (are you consciously aware of yours?), organisations have values (hung on the walls yet rarely lived) and countries have values, to name a few. Whether individually, as teams, organisations, or indeed nations, if we are to be successful we must determine our values, be aligned and agreed on them, passionately live them and use them to guide us to success. There must also be consequences for not living our values or they simply die a natural death.
Where we do not align in our values, or we have a values mismatch, we have conflict, as ultimately our values are on show via our behaviours. Misaligned values in couples may lead to break ups, employees whose personal values are not aligned with that of the organisation lead to conflicts within the workplace, countries that are not clear on their values or who do not respect the values of others may end up with political, social, civil, or religious unrest and even war.
So what are Australia's values? Freedom? Multiculturalism? A fair go, mate? If these are our values then why do we have asylum seekers locked up, why are we in fear of home invasions in Melbourne, why is there racism, why can't we live side by side with indigenous people and why is there no gay marriage?
If we don't know what we value, if we can't communicate our values clearly and if we can't align on them at least at some fundamental level, then no political party will be able to lead us successfully.
In your own life, in your business life and as a country, it's time we took the flashy values with their shiny pictures off the walls and put them into our lives.
Do you have your internal GPS switched on to guide you? What are your values? What should Australia value?
I don't have a bucket list.
And don't really know why though I suspect it's been all too hard to put together. I spend much of my time living in the now - not even in the moment - just looking to do what needs to be done right now. That's great sometimes, but it does mean that life has the potential to pass me by.
As a child, I loved trains. I had train sets that I played with and always loved travelling by train. I'm old enough to remember the 'red rattlers' in Melbourne, followed by the blue trains, and was always excited to spot the newest silver ones, which are now probably 40 years old and quite possibly still in service. I 'graduated' to the MTR in Hong Kong, the Intercity 125s in Britain, the TGV in France and the Chinese high speed trains being constructed frighteningly quickly between major cities.
There is, however, only one train that I really dreamed of going on from the moment I saw a picture of a Japanese Bullet Train, the famous Shinkansen, rocketing past Mt Fuji. I'd heard stories of their lightning fast speed and their punctuality. That dream is reality right now as I write this article. I'm aboard the Hikari 473, 13:03 super express Shinkansen, heading to Kyoto from Tokyo at around 300kmh. It's an amazing experience, my fourth now, and I sit in awe each time. At this speed, the Japanese country side rockets by, the electric motors scream their high pitched whine, the air rushes past, then suddenly a thud and slight rock as we pass another Shinkansen in the opposite direction. The ride is so smooth that my delicious bento box and can of Asahi don't move.
So if I had a bucket list, the Shinkansen ride would be ticked off. But in my mind, a bucket list is not about crossing off a place or activity on the list. It should be about truly experiencing each item and taking something away from it. Today, I lived the picture postcard I remember from my childhood. I saw Fuji-san, it's top covered in snow, savoured the flavours of the chicken, dumplings and rice in my bento box, enjoyed the maltiness of the beer, marvelled at the technology hurtling me down the track, felt genuine respect for the people of Japan who are courteous, polite and welcoming.
You see, bucket lists are important. If we want to live a fulfilled life, we must do more with ourselves and our minds than sitting behind a computer screen, phone screen or TV screen. As human beings, we grow through experience, we learn through adventure. Life passes us by as rapidly as the countryside outside the Shinkansen window, and we risk stagnating. Don't just have a bucket list to tick off places, to just take a photograph and move on; have one to drive the experiences you want to have, to feel the emotions you want to feel, in order that you grow and become who you want to be.
Walt Disney said "If you can dream it, you can do it." You simply have to take the first step towards whatever dream you have. And do it today.
Leave me a comment. What is on, or should be on, your bucket list? What have you ticked off and what did it mean to you?
I don't have a bucket list, but I certainly will now.
Live your dreams.
There is nothing I love more than hearing my kids laugh. Really laugh. Uncontrollable laughter that can only come when they're having fun and just living in the moment; absolutely carefree. I'm fortunate that I hear this quite a lot from Liam and Caitlyn, despite one being a teenager and the other not far off it.
As I ready myself for the year ahead, my task recently was to clear out the garage. Not something I'm well known for doing, and as I pottered about, Caitlyn buzzed around outside on her scooter, then began playing with a small basket ball. I stopped, walked outside and we began tossing the ball to each other. This turned into bounce passes, and then finally I began scooping the ball up in one hand then in the same motion slamming it down into the ground drawing fits of laughter from Caitlyn. This continued for a while, with smiles and laughter from both of us, before Caitlyn jumped on her scooter, and I returned to the tidying.
Something was different. I was happier. And more productive.
There is plenty of research that confirms the benefits of adult play, and Dr Stuart Brown M.D.'s work is nothing short of fascinating. Trained in general medicine, clinical research and psychiatry, Brown first recognised the importance of play by discovering its absence in the life stories of mass murderers. Deprivation of play hinders development of the brain, and Brown states "the opposite of play is not work - it is depression".
As the founder of the National Institute for Play, Brown uses evidentiary science to demonstrate that "Play + Science = Transformation".
His studies of animals as analogues to humans, shows we exhibit and pick up on states of play. In other words we observe in others a playful state which not only allows us to explore the possible, but when conflict arises, can override a 'differential in power' simply by using something that is natural to us - play.
By monitoring activity in the brain when we are in a state of joyful play, the right side of our brain - the creative side - lights up, hence creativity and problem solving is improved. Because of this, many organisations, such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, won't hire students who haven't demonstrated use of their hands to fix things as they are generally not good problem solvers.
So what is play? Dr Brown describes various forms: body play (leaping around - changing our physiology and therefore our state), object play (using your hands), curiosity and exploration, social play (enabling us to belong), rough and tumble play (prevalent in the animal world), spectator and ritual play (going to the footy), imaginative or solo play, and the internal narrative or story.
So to neoteny - the retention of immature qualities into adulthood. Of all creatures, human beings are the most neotenous, the most playful, and therefore creative and adaptable. Yet as we grow older, we suppress this natural instinct.
George Bernard Shaw said "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
In 2017, I'm going to make time to play, to be more neotenous, and I'm going to be more aware of taking the chance to play spontaneously as this can only enhance my creativity and adaptability in changing times, and reduce depressive thoughts.
What do you do for play? What's your most joyful, playful image as far back as you can remember? How will you incorporate play into the year ahead?
Leave a comment to start a conversation and don't forget to live your dreams.