Articles Tagged Life & Society

Sep 22, 2019
To recognise yourself, look down

Customer: ‘I need a rope.’ Shopkeeper: ‘What’s it for?’ Customer: ‘Suicide.’ Shopkeeper: ‘That will be two hundred shillings.’ Customer: ‘What? That’s too much. I’ll buy it elsewhere.’ Shopkeeper: ‘What does it matter to you? You’re about to die anyway! That was a scene from a movie I watched decades ago. I laughed at the time, […]

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Sep 15, 2019
Why do people keep selecting bad leaders?

Let me tell you about a certain country. A century ago, this country was regarded as one of the most promising of the future. It was richly endowed with a very diverse trove of natural resources, and had a GDP per capita higher than that of France or Germany. It attracted immigrants from far and […]

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Sep 08, 2019
Give your brain a little workout today

How are you doing with my annual book-reading challenge? I found, somewhat to my surprise, that I have already clocked 50 books this year with a full four months left in the calendar. I’m not quite sure how this happened. Perhaps pushing all of you to read more books has spurred me on as well. […]

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Aug 25, 2019
Who owns your data? Do you care?

Photo by Rishi Deep on Unsplash You upload a photo from your holiday (click). You search for a product (click). You like someone’s post (click). You add a new friend on a social network (click). You make a purchase on a website (click). You receive an emailed receipt (click). You express your opinion in a […]

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Aug 18, 2019
Institutions don’t educate you; you educate yourself

A troubled young man came to see me recently. He had just completed his first year at a world-famous college, and was sorely disappointed. He recounted his many disappointments. Crowded lectures attended by many hundreds of students for the flagship courses. Classes also too big to provide any meaningful interactions. Aloof teachers paying little attention […]

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Aug 04, 2019
How many things do you take for granted?

Photo by Lee Scott on Unsplash A recent mishap with household plumbing brought home an oft-forgotten truth; it is only when you lose something that you realise how important it is to you. In this case, lugging buckets of heated water around brought home the value of being able to have a shower when you […]

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Jul 07, 2019
Don’t stay too long; it will end badly

The history of nations and organisations is replete with examples of leaders who just won’t let go. Even when their time is emphatically and visibly up, too many just can’t detach themselves from the habits and trappings of power. These stories usually end badly. I explained here last week: there is a time and a […]

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Jun 30, 2019
Knowing when to change your life

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay ‘To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…’ Ecclesiastes conveyed it so well in the Bible. But who is really paying attention? Do we […]

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Jun 16, 2019
Who is paid NOT to understand?

Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay Do you sometimes wonder why a perfectly reasonable position is often rejected by very intelligent people? You might lay an argument out, back it up with solid facts – and still encounter vehement opposition. Surprisingly, this resistance often comes not from the ignorant or the uneducated, but from those who […]

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Jun 09, 2019
The tyranny of exams and grades

Image by Pexels from Pixabay My son will be doing his ‘O’-level exams in the near future, and I was recently discussing his subject choices with him. I was trying to understand which subjects he enjoyed doing, and which ones he just had to get through. The aim was to pinpoint what his future might […]

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Jun 02, 2019
How to say no. Nicely

Last week I discussed JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out. You should live your life on your own terms, not caught up in the priorities of others. Many of you then asked me: but how do I say no so often? It can be considered rude to decline invitations. I may lose my friends […]

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May 26, 2019
Embrace the Joy of Missing Out

Image by Eak K. from Pixabay FOMO, we all know, is a thing. In the digital era the Fear of Missing Out is driving lots of behaviour. Social media allows us to keep looking at other people’s lives and activities, pretty much all the time if we wish to. This creates an insidious feeling: the […]

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May 12, 2019
Are you still sitting on your wallet?

When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to get my first wallet. A wallet was a sign that you had come of age; that you had some money on you; that you were someone of substance. Pulling out a wallet, rather than just crumpled banknotes, bestowed status on you. That wallet, of course, was […]

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Apr 14, 2019
So digital, so analogue

You approach a junction, and see some swish-looking traffic lights, complete with digital countdown timers. Nice, you think. Except no one is looking at the lights. There is a traffic policeman on duty guiding the vehicles, badly, even as the lights do their thing above his head. No matter how much was paid for those […]

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Mar 31, 2019
Who created the story your group believes?

For the past two weeks I’ve been discussing the stories of the mind on this page: the stories that our narrating self propagates and embellishes, in defiance of our experiencing self – the one that records facts and stays objective. The narrating self holds sway most of the time – and that makes us vulnerable […]

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Mar 24, 2019
The fictions we create about ourselves can imprison us

Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay Suppose you are a physically attractive person. You are known for your looks. You were the belle of the school ball, or the hunk on the sports team. Being attractive becomes your identity, your calling card, your unique position in life. It’s what gives you self-esteem. Looks don’t last, though. […]

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Mar 17, 2019
The person you call ‘I’ may be a fictional character

A few years ago I wrote here: watch out for the stories your mind is capable of spinning. You will easily believe lies are truth, and the truth is a lie. Consider the example I gave you then. You are deep in sleep, and immersed in a vivid dream. A sound from the outside world […]

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Mar 03, 2019
Are you living your life in denial of your own death?

As a young boy sitting in temples and community halls I would wonder why almost everything had some human’s name on it. A hall, a library, even the folding chairs. Someone’s name would be there, preceded by the words ‘donated by…’ or ‘in memory of…’ Anthropologist Ernest Becker wrote a remarkable book around the same […]

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Dec 30, 2018
Who’s waiting for your ‘funeral’?

As we close the year, here’s a thought for you: “Science advances one funeral at a time.” That was stated by Paul Samuelson, the man who taught me economics without my ever meeting him, through his landmark book. Samuelson was in turn paraphrasing the thoughts of the legendary physicist, Max Planck: “A new scientific truth […]

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Dec 16, 2018
The fallacy of grading humans

There are numbers attached to every human being, numbers that follow us around all our lives. These numbers – our exam grades, our performance appraisal results, our bank balances – purport to measure our achievements. But do they? Yuval Noah Harari is the author of the moment. This mild-mannered professor of history has become a […]

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Nov 25, 2018
Those were the days – or were they?

I tweeted a visual joke recently. It involved people making the connection between an audio-cassette tape and a pencil. Most people on Twitter, in these parts at least, are too young to get it. Heck, most are too young to know what a cassette is… Yes, young ones: once upon a time the most common […]

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Nov 18, 2018
A life where money is the tool, not the target

Last week I discussed why our relationship with money is so toxic: because it is ruled by fear and greed. We are driven to daftness by money because we are afraid of losing it or not having enough. But what if we could conquer those emotions? What if we could quell our fear and shackle […]

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Nov 11, 2018
What if you could change your relationship with money?

Photo by Lucas Favre on Unsplash Money deranges us. We never seem to think we have enough, and the pursuit of more distorts and damages our lives. Yet we persist in our madness. Steven Harrison wrote a remarkable book a few years ago. It was called Doing Nothing. As someone who wonders why most of […]

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Nov 04, 2018
Whose child do you choose to be?

Photo by Tim Wright on Unsplash I have just finished reading my 55th book of the year. So I am well ahead of schedule in my #50BooksIn2018 challenge. How are you doing? There is still time for a late burst. Allow me to give you another reason to keep reading books. Consider this remarkable wisdom […]

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Sep 23, 2018
How will you look back on your life?

Last week I wrote on this page about the importance of saying NO many times in life – of not chasing after every vaguely interesting thing; of setting your own priorities and agendas; of understanding the power of focus. It’s funny how serendipity works. A day or so after writing that column, I found myself […]

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Aug 26, 2018
What marks out the life well lived?

I have spent a lot of time in hospital lately, with a patient close to me. On one of the days I was walking up a staircase and stopped halfway up. At the top was the intensive care unit I was heading to; at the bottom was the maternity wing. Up there, faces were sombre […]

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Aug 19, 2018
Don’t buy – just subscribe?

Photo by Umberto Cofini on Unsplash If you’re a certain age, you probably have a whole bunch of music CDs lying around, gathering dust. (If you’re even older, you may have a pile of audio cassettes and LPs too – but we won’t go there.) Most of my music collection was once in the form […]

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Jul 29, 2018
The taxi driver with advice for presidents and prime ministers

Kamran is a taxi driver in Dubai. I met him on a recent trip and found him a little different from the norm. Despite doing a difficult and demanding job, and one that does not offer the best reward, he stays upbeat and positive. So much so that I engaged him exclusively on a daily […]

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