Tag Archives | making a difference


Recently there has been a lot of news about artificial intelligence – robots. It made me think about the essential differences between artificial intelligence, and us as humans, no matter how it develops: we have a heart. By this I mean that we have an emotional reaction and connection, as well as an intellectual one. And this emotional reaction is important to our well-being and personal growth.

I’m not denying the usefulness of computer intelligence – it makes our everyday lives easier. We can go to an ATM and it will recognise our id code, and the amount we want to withdraw, and within moments the transaction is complete. We can dial a phone number and be connected to anyone in the world accurately and quickly. The important distinction is that these are transactions: I take an action which produces a reaction and the result is achieved. It gives us quick results, but there is no emotional exchange at all, so nothing to delight or upset us (unless it doesn’t work, in which case we get angry at the machine!)

However when we are dealing with human beings as opposed to machines, it’s a different story. Think of times when you have been treated like a machine: no hello’s or good mornings; no eye contact; straight to a question or something to be handed over. It makes you feel un-noticed, mistreated somehow. It also affects how you view the other person in a negative way. And that transaction has a negative effect on your mood, and your behaviour with that person in the future. Don’t do this to anyone – it’s not how humans naturally behave.

As human beings we are hard-wired to make an emotional connection with other human beings. This doesn’t have to be a major effort – we are not trying to make everyone fall in love with us! It’s about remembering that friendliness can bring a smile to the grumpiest face, that what we call ‘common courtesy’ – greeting people, saying please and thank you – is so-called because it is acknowledging and recognising the other person’s active part in your exchange.

A moment or two acknowledging the individual you are dealing with can enhance the day for both of you, and will gently build a relationship where you both feel respected and comfortable with each other. It is time well-spent, because it leaves us all feeling better.

So next time you are about to expect someone to do something, connect with that individual first, whether they are a work colleague or shop assistant, and save the transactions for machines – otherwise we all lose out.

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I love this phrase! It’s a quote from Russell Brand, and perfectly describes how we all get pulled back into the way things are, rather than the way we want them to be. We are used to our existing conditions, we have adapted ourselves to handle them, and we have habits formed around them, so we go with the familiar attitudes and behaviours, even when we don’t like them or feel right with them.

It’s no wonder that we find it hard to change things, because we have to re-consider more than the simple change itself. Think about it: if you decide to enhance your physical fitness, you have to revise your attitude to exercise and your diet, you have to find the right form of exercise for you, the different foods, and then you need to find time to put it into effect – and all that in the middle of an already busy life!

Even if you succeed in doing all this, you then have to deal with others questioning what you’re doing: why are you going swimming twice a week instead of coming out for a drink with us? You could skip it this once. Why don’t you want a curry? You used to like that every week. So it’s not just your habits that pull you back, it’s also the expectations of others, who know you as you were, and try to keep you in the place they understand and are familiar with. This applies even more if you are making a change to something which is not the norm in our culture, because then the pressure to return to the norm comes form everywhere, not just family and friends.

So how do we break the magnetism of existing conditions?

  1. We identify what we’re aiming for. Before we start to implement any change, we write down what it is and how we will benefit from it when we achieve it. We can then refer back to this to remind ourselves why we’re doing it, when it feels a bit hard.
  2. We become aware of when the magnetism is at work.

We recognise that we will tend to go back to default habits, and that others will also pull us back to what’s familiar for them

  1. We use what we already have.

We notice anything we already do that fits with how we want to be, and build on that. Fro example, if you leave work at 6 pm instead of 7 pm on Fridays already, you could leave at 6 pm on one other day of the week.

  1. We adopt a gentle approach to changing things.

We take simple steps towards what we want: we take 5 minutes in the morning to meditate; we walk upstairs instead of taking the lift; we only answer emails in the afternoon.

  1. We find allies.

We actively seek out people who will support and encourage us in the change we’re making – friends, work colleagues, people who are doing something similar.

  1. We have another go!

It is normal to slip back into old habits, to ‘fail’. We don’t progress and develop lineally, and we do have to deal with that magnetism! So don’t give up, dust yourself off, and have another go.

Over the years, you have successfully adopted new ways of thinking and behaving. It happens naturally to us as human beings – so you know you can. As a child, we do it all the time, but not consciously, by active choice. Now we’re grown-up, we can make conscious choices to improve our lives in ways that work for us. It’s not necessary to either have to fight to make a change, or to have to give up because it’s too hard. Just use the natural way that we have as children, and gradually break that magnetism. Go on, make that first step now!

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Have you noticed how much of our lives tend to slip away in routine? Some of it consists of habits and customs we develop to allow us to live on automatic pilot.  Other parts are accepted norms of behaviour that we don’t question. Examples include what we eat and when we eat it, where we sit, in our home and in meetings, what we say to people as a greeting – the list goes on!

There is a usefulness to routine – it allows us to think about something else, or not think at all!  But it can also close down our creativity, our curiosity and even our consciousness of being truly alive.

We all tend to enjoy a break from routine, such as a holiday, and re-find our sense of fun, our vitality.  My question is, why wait?  Every day we have an opportunity to do something different, to take a break from routine, and re-vitalise ourselves.  Sometimes it may be on a grand scale: a friend of mine recently decided to take two of those days in lieu that often accumulate at short notice, and just got in the car and went somewhere she had never been to before, with nothing booked or planned. It was a lovely adventure that gave her back her energy. Or it may be on a small scale: yesterday I cooked a recipe I have never tried before, and it was delicious!

And what about at work? How many routine reactions do you have? What do you ignore that makes you uncomfortable? What do you accept that you really find unacceptable?

Just imagine how much better workplaces would be if only we challenged more, asked for proper explanations, as our routine, instead of simply thinking that it had to be that way. If we didn’t simply accept the status quo, we would feel better and the world would be a better place.

When we do something different, we wake ourselves up again, remind ourselves that life is an exploration, and we are here to learn, to be creative, to make things better, and to have fun.  We revitalise ourselves and tap back into our inner child, who thought life was meant to be good, and always getting better. Don’t let life slip by – do something different today!!

  1. Suggest a better way of doing something at work today
  2. Make one change in your routine today and notice what effect it has on you.
  3. Do something different in one of your ‘routine’ interactions – smile at someone you usually frown at, talk to someone you usually ignore, give a different response next time someone says, “how are you?” – and notice the effect on you and the other person.
  4. Plan to do something really different – go somewhere you’ve never been, experience something you’ve never tried.


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How many of you have been affected by some undefined virus this year? Something that makes you feel bad, miserable, under the weather… and then there are the numerous non-medical viruses that we hear about every day:

  • The virus of deceit and half-truth which our politicians seem to be so infected with
  • The virus of greed which brought down our economic system
  • And the never-ending virus of fear which is fed by the above, as well as terrorism, enemies, threats, lack of work, etc.

Aren’t you tired of all these viruses? I certainly am, and I believe the best medicine to counteract them may be to start spreading a different sort of virus, as actively as we can. I remember when people first began to realize that we could use viral marketing through the internet including services like media buying company, through the media, to spread a message from a few influential sources. Let’s use this to the good!

My suggestions for useful viruses would be:

The virus of love

Let’s counteract the fear virus by being actively loving and kind towards others – our family, our work colleagues, and even complete strangers! It is easy to be kind in simple ways – let that car in to the queue, bring a coffee for a workmate, give someone a hug. And we all know that it is infectious…

The virus of hope

Let’s look for the reasons to be cheerful, to believe that life can be good. Let’s sign those petitions for a better world – it only takes a minute. Let’s encourage others to find a new job, to spot the sunshine in amongst the clouds.

The virus of integrity

Let’s be truthful, and stick to our principles. Let’s stand up for the right things, and let’s at least be honest in our own expenses claims!

The virus of abundance

Let’s delight in what we have rather than worry about what we don’t have or might lose. And let’s share what we have, and assume there will be enough to go round. There are many who have no roof over their head, who don’t know where their next meal is coming from – we are lucky!

You may be feeling powerless in the face of the viruses which are receiving so much publicity at the moment. Yet you have the power to infect the people you know and meet with these viruses every day, and add to the spreading of a different message. For goodness’ sake, do what you can do and let’s change the story between us – we can make the difference!

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I sat down the other evening, mulling over what my day had been filled with and what tomorrow would hold. The T.V. was on in the background and the local news reader was reporting on the day in the region I live in.

It dawned on me that almost everything that was being reported was either filled with dread or contained a negative slant of some kind.

It was also at that point that my head did its usual thing of wandering off to find a nicer place to sit!

While it was there in “Better Place”, it picked up a paper that had been left on a bench.

At the top of the front page of the paper was the name of the paper – THE SUN.

But this was a different paper, no red top banner; instead it had a big circular sun in bright yellow. Inside the big yellow circle was a smiley face.

The slogan next to the big yellow sun was “The happy people’s paper”.

At first glance the front page story looked like any other National Paper – a picture of a person crying. On closer inspection, the story headline explained the tears; “With a little help from my friends”.

The story on the front page of this paper was about a lady who had lost her job due to the economic cutbacks being faced by everybody across the country.

Not one to sit around, she decided to use the time she now had to do something she had always wanted to do – Gardening.

Starting with her own garden, she transformed what was a neat, tidy garden into a horticultural masterpiece. This prompted words of amazement and wonder from her neighbours. This quickly spread to the rest of the street and further across the town she lived in.

Soon, there were knocks on her door, people from surrounding towns wanting to see this now well publicised garden. It turned out that the people of this town had spread the word. It was their way of letting people know that this woman was valued in their community and needed a little help. As part of their story, they had told of her plight, that she had lost her job but had used the time she had to make something beautiful rather than just slip away, not be seen and become a statistic.

Going back to the front page picture on the paper, the reason for the tears was that one of the people that knocked on her door happened to be the owner of a landscape gardening business and was so impressed with the lady’s efforts, they offered her a job! – Tears of Joy!

Now she has a job again, doing something she truly loves and all because the people that live around her rallied round someone when they were having a hard time trying to cope with all the bad stuff.

Of course, my head came back to sit in “This World” and thought about where it had just been in comparison to where it was now.

We have many different mediums for communicating news these days. Technology has expanded this into almost every home in the country. But nothing has ever come close to creating the impact that human behaviour can.

No newspaper or news programme can ever be more powerful than the human spirit either. When we combine to “do good”, we create magic – And you can’t deny just how good it makes you feel when you have been part of something good!

Whether it’s a donation of money or time to your favourite charity, or popping over the road to see if a neighbour is okay or just wants a chat and a cuppa, let’s create a better newspaper to pick up each morning –

We can do it with a little help from our friends/neighbours/colleagues etc, etc…


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I know this is a strange topic for me to choose – anyone who knows me will know that I am not very technology-minded!  Yet I have been thinking about how powerfully technology can actually help us make a difference, prompted in part by the book ‘Here Comes Everybody’ (see review).

At the same time as email seems to be giving people at work more and more to do and respond to urgently, it is also enabling us to keep easy contact with friends and family who live at a distance.  At the same time as social networking technology enables people to express their trivia to the world, it also enables social movements to build quickly and influence world affairs.

And, on a simpler level, the technology of digital cameras means that my grand-daughter can have a wonderful time taking as many photos as she likes, and practising how to take really good ones, because we can just save the best ones.

I often bemoan the fact that technology makes us its servant, but am reminded again that, when it is technology that is the servant, when we use it well, it can transform our world.

So every time we use technology to easily and quickly lift another’s spirits with our communication, every time we use technology to express our desire for justice, peace, human rights, every time we use technology to bring joy in some form, let’s celebrate it!

And whenever we use technology without good purpose, let’s question it, and ask what else we could do, so that it served us better.

This will reach you through the internet, the world-wide web, which was deliberately established to be an open and free means of global communication.  The original intention was to allow anyone and everyone to have access and to be able to express themselves and communicate with others.  This was based on a belief that, when given that possibility, the best of human behaviour would shine through.  Let’s prove that right!!


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There is something about the movie, ‘Love Actually’ that catches most of us – I wonder if it is just that it portrays some of the many ways in which love can come into and ‘disrupt’ our normal lives. Yet there is more to love than the romantic version, it has an even greater depth.

I was sitting looking at the photos on my windowsill this morning and smiling. Every day they remind me of people and places that I love, and every day they make me smile. These people and places are not linked to romance for me: they are linked to that heart-full love that comes with long-standing close relationships with family and dear friends.

And then I thought about the kitten who is coming to join my family next weekend. I don’t even know him yet, and I love him already. What is that about?

I believe that love is a fundamental part of being human. We need to love and be loved, not just in special cases, but all the time, in our everyday lives. Love is the emotion that brings our hearts into play and keeps them and us healthy and active. It is not meant to be kept locked away for special occasions, special people. It is meant to be the driving force of our everyday activity.

And we all know we want to be loved, yet we can’t demand it form others. What is within our control is the giving of love. We can choose to come from our hearts in the way we are with others. We can choose to open our hearts to the delight of things around us. And when we do, we renew the flow of love so that we can allow love to come back to us as well.

So, just for today:

  • Tell 3 people in your life that you love them
  • Approach 3 people you work with or encounter in your day with love in your heart
  • Look for 3 other reasons to activate the love code: notice the beauty of the spring flowers, your favourite piece of furniture, music that brings it out in you…


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Every 2 months I receive a newspaper called Positive News. In it, there is news about peace initiatives, ecological breakthroughs and good practice, ethical businesses – the opposite of what is generally called news!

I find that it helps me to keep the depressing ‘reality’ in perspective, and reminds me that it is not that there is nothing good going on in the world, but that we have forgotten how, as a culture to delight in the good news, because we mostly don’t hear about it.

Once upon a time, news was community-based. The village or small town would know primarily what was happening in its own locality. Then, there would be the mixture of good news and bad, and people would both delight in the good and feel sad or cross about the bad. This type of communication still exists in some places, as well as the global awareness. For example, when my partner left, several people in the village spoke sympathetically of my situation to me. And when I sold my house very quickly and easily, several people made the effort to stop me and congratulate me.

This balanced awareness of what’s happening is useful to all of us, and it is not beyond our reach. Within the worlds we work in, we can ensure that both good news and bad is communicated and reacted to. I don’t think that we need to work on the spreading of bad news – that seems to be endemic! So let’s balance it, by actively promoting the good news – celebrating personal and organisational successes, and reminding ourselves that much of life and much of human behaviour is good news!


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There have been several TV programmes recently that have prompted me to think about understanding. What they have had in common is the theme of really getting to know others and how they think, work, live, and the result of that, which is inevitably a greater sympathy and understanding of their world and the way it works or doesn’t for them.

We talk about understanding something as if it is an intellectual exercise, but the word originally means to stand in their place, and experience it. True understanding will expand our awareness of the possibilities in the world, and will touch us emotionally as well as intellectually.

There have been lovely examples of this in the series called ‘The Secret Millionaire’. Every one of the people who have been giving away money in this series has gone to live in the community for a while, experiencing first-hand the way the community works and the way people live their lives there. And every one has had a change of heart, an emotional experience, a change of attitude – they have also all been moved to tears and seen their experience as a gain for themselves, and not just for those to whom they have given money.

Most of the time, we live in our heads, not because that is natural to us, but because that is what we have learnt to do. As small children, we cannot help but react from our hearts first, but we are good learners, and we soon realise that adults don’t do that. As children, we are also fascinated by other people’s worlds, yet we learn to judge them from our own perspective, and close down to the possibility of learning from them and truly understanding them.

So I have a suggestion: How about finding people whom we have a judgement about and seeing if we can really understand them. These could be our children, our parents, our work colleagues, or a category of people we don’t know at all.

All it requires is being prepared to spend time asking people to talk about their world, and listening with curiosity rather than judgement. Then to really imagine what it would be like to live in that world, and how you would feel if that were your world. For example, many years ago, I was prompted by one of my teachers to ask people begging on the street to tell me their story. It only took a few of those stories to make me realise that it could have happened to me, and that I would probably be an alcoholic or drug addict if it had. It took away my judgement of them, and made me very grateful for my own good fortune in having friends and family that supported me in tough times in my life.

If all of us were just to increase our understanding a little, I think we would change the way the world works!


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The Importance of Touch

A few years ago, Meta decided to support Comic Relief in a different way, by offering almost free hugs in Worcester city centre, in return for a donation to Comic Relief.

It was one of the most wonderful days I have spent, just hugging people! It was a moving, warm, joyous experience, and the way people reacted really made us realise how non-tactile our society has become. Every age and type of person did decide that they would have a hug for charity, some with absolute certainty, some more hesitantly. Many parents sent their children to have the hug, but were quite pleased when we offered them one too. Even those who found the whole idea just too embarrassing or ‘out there’ tended to walk past with a smile on their faces.

Of those who did have hugs, there were some who really moved us: the pensioners who hadn’t had a hug for months, even years; the teenagers who kept coming back with another few coins for another hug – does no-one ever hug teenage boys?!; and the little children who just snuggled in because to them it was the most natural thing in the world. We collected a lot of money for Comic Relief, which was great, but maybe more important than that, we had the delight of hugging and being hugged by many many people.

What the whole experience made me realise was how deprived we have become of human physical contact. It is necessary for our mental and physical well-being – proven by scientists studying those who are not cuddled as babies – yet we have so many ‘rules’ about touch that many of us have become afraid to reach out and hug another person.

So please, hug your family, your friends, your colleagues, and ask for hugs from them. At the very least, hold a hand, put your arm around a shoulder, touch someone’s arm. It can provide more reassurance than a thousand words, and is a simple way of saying that you care.


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