They say don’t trust experts.
DO trust experts
But we live in shifty times,
so it’s important to investigate,
to consult widely from different
sources of information,
And then to trust ourselves.
It was a rare treat to London, and my mother suddenly spotted a Kardomah Café across the street. “Come on,” she said. “We’re going to have Kunzle Cakes!” We settled in the café, and she ordered these famous little cakes she remembered from her childhood in the 1930s. We children enjoyed the chocolate shell with cake and light butter cream inside, but she was clearly puzzled and disappointed. They weren’t as delicious as she remembered them.
It’s easy to explain away such experiences, together with endless sunny summers, skating in winter and roaring open fires as rose-coloured childhood memories. We usually lack proof that things were as different as we imagine they were. But change for the worse does happen, as well as for the better, and all too often it happens quietly and secretly. That roast pork of my school Christmas dinner – did it really taste better than the supermarket pork of today? Well, yes it almost certainly did. Then, pigs were animals that lived outside and rooted and snuffled: now they are product subjected to growth hormones and antibiotics and often fed on same-animal waste and worse.
Or maybe I look at a newspaper that has always been highly respected, confident in the title, and ignore the fact that since the latest billionaire buy-out it is much less to be trusted. It looks the same, the subjects covered are similar, but there’s a fundamental attitude shift that’s well-disguised at first. It’s easy to miss.
In the shifting sands of our current time, it’s especially wise to be on the lookout for creeping change.
Climate and environmental change are the big ones of course. It’s 50 years since the Stanford Research Institute delivered a report warning of the devastating effects on the planet of burning fossil fuels. But who noticed? Change in those 50 years has happened one lost tree, one lost bird species, one fire, one flood, one cancer at a time. By the time we do notice, it’s too late to save everything.
They say a frog doesn’t notice it’s being boiled in a pot if you increase the temperature slowly enough. Maybe not true, but as a metaphor spot on.
Professor Diane Vaughan of Columbia University describes a process of “social normalization of deviance” where people within an organisation gradually become accustomed to increasingly deviant behaviour until it becomes the norm. Many different negative situations from institutionalised racism and inappropriate sexual attitudes to homeless people on the streets and abuse in care homes take hold through such creeping normalisation. The situation might strike someone new to the system as abhorrent, but to those inside the system it has become normal.
We are seeing a lot of “creeping change” these days. Look at how many ways we talk about it: change blindness, slippery slope, shifting baseline, moving the goalposts, salami tactics, tyranny of small decisions, …
There is one way this happens that’s particularly insidious, and that is through abstract language. Theresa May’s oft-repeated mantra, “Brexit means Brexit” is an excellent example. Abstract words have no clarity until you add descriptors. Remaining undefined, Brexit could mean whatever people wanted it to mean for the particular axe they wanted to grind, and this allowed creeping redefinition of the word. Lewis Carroll was prescient:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
from Alice Through the Looking Glass
All those Orwellian descriptors of our day! Crisis Pregnancy Centers strongly anti-abortion; The European Research Group vehemently against Britain’s membership of the EU; the American Global Climate Information Project representing the interests of producers of fossil fuels against the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions … you can easily find more examples.
The biggest and easiest trick in the book for those who engage in public debate is to argue with dexterity and flair without defining terms. It’s a skill well honed in the ancient education establishments of Britain. Freedom, fairness, economic success – here come the abstracts! Yes, yes! But freedom in what way and for whom? Economic success for whom? Fairness how and to whom? Ah, those are the questions, Humpty Dumpty. We need to get better at these questions.
Maybe one of the most useful things we can do, living in democracies yet often feeling powerless within them, is to stay awake (stay woke?) to creeping change wherever it happens. Many bold souls are doing that already and speaking up. I admire them. It’s much easier to keep your head down inside your clan, like an emperor penguin huddling in the middle of its tightly-packed group to shelter itself from the intense winds of the Antarctic.
I’m not the bold soul, not really. I do see that I’ve lived my life with a comparatively passive experience of education, hierarchy and democracy until now. I want now to celebrate those who stand up to be counted, those who dare shine a light on injustice and silent cruelty, those who refuse to stay schtum.
It’s important too to realise that my own tightly packed group is not the universe (even if my group is not just any old penguins but Emperor penguins, you understand). It’s crucial to look beyond – stick my nose out into those intense winds of change and get the bigger picture from a wider range of information suppliers. It’s always a shock when you do: Whoa! Is this really happening? I didn’t see this coming!
“A fact is a fact because I say it is. This is a Kunzle cake.”
No it ain’t. Have a second look. Investigate further.
Let’s use our eyes and ears and, yes, our gut instinct.
Let’s trust ourselves.
The Art of Communication and REQUEST
If you’ve ever worked with me or attended any of my events and got something out of it and even if you haven’t, I think you’ll really enjoy my latest book.Find more information about the book here. It’s certainly the book most close to my thoughts and beliefs. Someone emailed me yesterday and said, “I recently read your book ‘The Art of Communication’ and found it very difficult to put down once I’d started. Your book has been a total awakening for me”. Find it here where it’s priced under £8 at the moment, probably the lowest it’ll ever be.
In my last newsletter, I promised to give you a link to my TEDx talk, “How Your Voice Touches Others”. I’ve been holding back this newsletter to be able to point you to it, but it’s taking longer than usual to appear on YouTube and TED.com because TED has been particularly busy with conferences this summer. I’m told it should be up in the next week or 10 days – have a look on YouTube under TEDx Norwich 2019 or Judy Apps.
Want a few tips at home?
Sign up for a free E-course to enjoy at home (I never share your email with anyone). You’re welcome to share this with friends.
Want some help moving forward?
Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential. Email me or call on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you. Coaching can take place face-to-face or via Skype/Zoom or phone.
And for voice coaching – it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource you have in your voice? How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body AND your breath. Self-consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.
My other books
Maybe time to put the holiday novels aside and dip into something different? How about:
The Art of Conversation
What an important topic! Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.
Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – offering 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.
Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.
Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.