A Man Fully Alive

Despite the considerable effort required and the almost constant rejection of my initial offerings, it appears to me that I feel most alive when I am found in opposition to other people’s tried and tested but nevertheless old and somewhat tired ideas. Most importantly, I have an ability to remain, ever optimistic in the face of others’ overwhelming fear and debilitating caution. In business parlance, I am clearly a natural ‘disruptor’. Weirdly, I like to disturb the peace and take pride in rocking everyone’s boat, pushing them overboard and out of their complacency. Not because I am a nasty person; simply because I want to see things work well, to see people achieve their full potential. I like to see progress. I like to see success. To quote Tony Robbins

“Most true disruptors aren’t setting out just to be disruptors. Like any other business owner, they’re trying to provide a product or service that adds real value for their customers. The best disruptors are those who are innovating constantly because they find meaning in their mission. Their business map is revealed, as disruptive only over time as they make their mark, often permanently changing an entire industry. They never really focus on the question “What is a disruption definition?” because they don’t care. Their priority is making a difference.”


In lockdown, I have been binge watching Bishop Robert Barron amongst other religious folk, the odd professor of religion and not a few atheists. The Bishop is a great fan of St Irenaeus of Gaul and I love the idea expressed in his commentaries from the second century AD - ‘GLORIA DEI EST VIVENS HOMO’ – the ‘GLORY OF GOD IS A MAN FULLY ALIVE’ which is to say, we will only be truly happy and fulfilled when we are who we are meant to be, and by implication when we are living entirely in line with the will of God. And there I rest my case for being the proverbial ‘pain in the arse’. I am for many, sadly convinced that I have been chosen as God’s ‘pain in the arse’- destined to roam the earth disrupting people’s plans for a quiet, insignificant life. It is not all bad though. I have numerous supporters, fans, family members and cheer leaders back at home egging me on, and telling me I have every right to be so.

It is also true that being a disruptor can send ones colleagues over the edge and I am well aware that disrupting your boss’s life in this manner can make one appear more like a troublemaker and a negative influence than an asset. Jill has compared my antics over the years with those of Inspector Clouseau, on his superior Dreyfuss. You remember the one who develops a progressive, uncontrollable twitch following each subsequent meeting. As with Clouseau, I always gets the job done – perhaps at a terrifying cost to Inspector Dreyfuss who usually ends up stark raving bonkers by the end of the film.


However, I have developed a more subtle and kinder metaphor to describe my approach; the Spaghetti-on-the-Wall test. Have you ever heard an Italian suggest throwing a string of spaghetti at the wall to confirm whether it is cooked to perfection or not – al dente? To the uninitiated, they will just see a string of spaghetti stuck to the wall; and a potential hygiene hazard left there by the careless host. To a perfectionist, adhesion to the wall will confirm and represent a job well done; a time to eat and to be merry.

Strangely enough, disruption does not have to happen fast. In my last job I realised nobody was listening to a word I had to say. I was the old guy sitting in the corner being outshone by the highly active and brilliantly minded millennial types. Out of touch and obsolete I found new ways of being heard. Like a series of hieroglyphs and ancient writings, I drew maps and diagrams littered with cryptic clues across my office white board and left it literally hanging in mid-air to be gradually and subliminally absorbed. Month by month as single ideas, carelessly discarded, came back into view I was able to refer to my white board and show an integrated plan and as the whole picture grew in individual minds the full tapestry gradual emerged into the light of day. Patience was of the essence.


This afternoon, I have an interview for a short-term position travelling the global as an advisor to NGO workers on possible responses to Covid19. It would be quite an undertaking for anyone, since knowledge of the virus and how it affects individual and community dynamics, beyond the physical symptoms of the disease is as yet, mostly unknown. Much research has to be done and disseminated and mistakes will be made, but in planning for the interview I have been thinking about my own approach. And not surprisingly Clouseau does have a plan! Firstly, I am taking a lead from Dr Michael J Ryan at the World Health Organisation who brilliantly stated;

“If you need to be right before you move – you will never win. Perfection is the enemy of the good when it comes to emergency management; speed trumps perfection. And the problem in society we have at the moment is everyone is afraid of making a mistake, everyone is afraid of the consequence of error, but the greatest error is not to move, the greatest error is to be paralysed by the fear of failure,….”


Secondly, I am one for simple maxims and currently I have two crackers in mind;

  • The KISS principle – we must ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ – most of what we have always done in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promoton (WaSH) sector has been very simple and basic and if we ever did managed to bring down morbidity rates it was because we took simple, understandable ideas and actions and made them replicable by families, mothers, children and communities. When most successful, we worked directly with communities to multiply the effect of our hygiene promotion and messaging. We should now fight hard to maintain this stance and avoid adding unnecessary complexity. We need courage in this regard since adding complexity is often a typical and natural response from professional types trying to protect their jobs and reputation in uncertain times. Reference Michael J. Ryan once more.
  • As Roosevelt once suggested in emergencies and times of need we should ‘do what we can, with what we have, where we are’. How relevant this is in these current times, as we face almost unprecedented conditions; shops are closed, workers have been laid off and furloughed, money is tight and families are in lockdown. Indeed, we now have few resources to work with and should therefore be focused on working with the things we already have in place. As Michael says we should avoid procrastination, avoid waiting for perfect conditions to arrive.


Returning back to another theme so succinctly stated by Michael (I almost feel like he is a mate now and close confidante) it is so important to listen and to include the widest range of people in ongoing discussions;

“You need to engage with communities very deeply; community acceptance is hugely important, you need to be co-ordinated, you need to be coherent, you need to look at the other sectoral impacts, schools, and security and economics…”

All reminiscent of Dr Robert Chambers and his desire to ‘put the last first’, an echo from the biblical text to be generous to those who suffer patiently waiting to be heard and received into the fold – Matthew – chapter 20.

I was hoping to hear and tell you today that I got the job, but alas God rarely works in that way and I am still anxiously waiting to hear the outcome of my interview. Nevertheless, it is my first day back at work (in my current job) after taking leave and even under lockdown conditions I feel just as alive as any other man!