I gave a talk on Wednesday at ThoughtWorks for the Sydney Tester’s Meetup on those key principles I use in my training programme to train and place marginalized young people into high tech jobs. Jobs that usually go to University Graduates, not instead to those with no degrees and are considered the least in the community.
I want to share something it was said by David Mowaljarlai, Ngarinyin Lawman. (Australian Elder) I kept a transcript of his talk from some 20 years ago.
I hope it’s not dry or unrelated to you the reader. I think through the sharing of other cultures you will see more clearly your own, and how much the past is repeating today.
David’s people set up a Bush university in Australia for people to learn directly from them, these are the words he’s spoke introducing the school.
“We old people in the Law, there’s not many of us left now. We’re all dying off, or been killed off by alcohol and disease and heartbreak because we’re still not in our country, our proper place.
Our gift will give you your meaning, your belonging. We have to give it to your now before the time runs out. For a long, long time we have been trying to give our gift to you but we are always blocked.
We’re blocked by media because they don’t know how to talk to us. We’re blocked by university people because they lock up our knowledge. All our evidence has been locked up in universities and museums. Doctoral people write down our evidence in languages that are too hard for anybody to understand. They’ve written it up so that the meaning is lost. Our gift is not just systems on paper. It is the experience of life.
We’re blocked by politicians who are frightened we might lock them out of their power over us. Their fear stops them from listening to us properly, Lawmen to Lawmen.
We’re blocked by Gardia law because the rules of law shut up our mouths and only let us speak through Gardia lawyers in courtrooms in cities. Our gift is lost this way because lawyers have to obey Gardia thinking.
We’re blocked by Gardia economic development because their mineral wealth is in our country and they don’t want to be stopped from getting it out. And pastoralists who let their cattle run all over our sacred space, cutting up the country with their hooves, spoiling our sacred waters, killing off our animals, our totems, our identity. This cattle mob block us from our Law sites, our paintings, where we camp and do our ceremony. They take Gardia tourists to our sites without our permission – without knowing sacred meaning.
We old people want to tell you this. We want to give your our gift so you can belong properly in this country and not be afraid. We want you to fill up your emptiness with meaning so you can respect us and our country. We’ve been trying for a long time. This is what we want to before our time is up.
We want to teach our young people their meaning, their belonging so they stop getting lost to emptiness and alcohol. We want to teach Gardia young people so they stop killing themselves and getting lost too.
We want to teach all Australians about their belonging in this country so they stop destroying their meaning before it its too late. They’re ignorant of what they’re doing because they don’t know. They can’t understand how to relate to land, and how land looks after them if they don’t learn these things. We want to teach them that respect.
We want to leave you our heritage. Not in university papers that nobody reads or understands. We want to teach you in our country so you experience what we know.
We can’t do this while Gardia keep making laws and protests and arguments to keep us out of our proper place. They just run us out of time doing this. We know what we want to do, and we know we have to start our important work now before its too late and we’re dead gone. Everybody will suffer, really suffer if we die before we can give you our gift…….
We Ngarinyin have a vision for our country and it is our gift. Bush university is one of the big ideas we want to start.
Already we have filmed a lot of our sacred places and our ceremony so after we’re gone our children and you have that evidence. We have already started taking people from the cities and overseas into our country for them to get their meaning.
We want to develop our own communications station in our country so everybody can talk to us directly, not through somebody else. There are people in American, and Germany and Canada trying to contact us to learn from us. We want to teach them.
Our story is being written up in art. This is starting to go out to all the world. We’ve been broadcasting our radio for everyone to hear. We’re speaking at places where Gardia come to listen at seminars and conferences. We’re talking everywhere to tell people about Ngarinyin culture, Ngarinyin stories, Ngarinyin meaning. Gardia are really enjoying filling up with these stories.
We’re doing all this so we can start up our Bush University. White people are crying out to learn about our culture, and we cry because we’re blocked from teaching.
…The country is not going anywhere. The minerals are not going anywhere. The paintings are not going anywhere. There’s plenty of time left for them. Only we are going somewhere. Our time is running out. “
Context: Response made to a British white supremacist justifying genocide and theft of indigenous land.
The idea that all human beings were into conquering and killing is one of the things that White Supremacists have used to justify genocide, rape, and massive theft. And I’m guessing any supremacist of any colour would feel the same; saying that it’s human nature, I say; they say that to justify their own traits of greed and pride.
You can glory in the genocide of the millions of deaths that the British were responsible for, but much of the early deaths were due to the disease that he spread, often deliberately, more than his capability at war. At War the British when it came to the Maori were cowards.
Primarily the British went into battle with the Maori outnumbering them three to one. But they died usually 50 Brits to 1 Maori. It was a complete shock to their idea of White superiority.
Here are some of the causality lists as a result of battles between the British and Maori:
Battle of Puketekauere/Onukukaitara just outside Waitara Taranaki
Approx. 400 British troop’s v 130 Maori.
British losses = 60+ dead – Maori losses = 5 dead
Battle of Te Ngutu o Te Manu west of Normanby Taranaki
Approx. 360 British troops v 60 Maori
British losses = 50+ dead – Maori losses= 3 dead
Battle of Moturoa north of Wanganui
Approx. 400 British troops’ v 150 Maori
British losses 50+ dead – Maori 1 dead
Battle of Gate Pa just outside Tauranga
Approx. 1700 British troops’ v approx. 230 Maori
British losses over 100 dead – Maori losses believed to be 15 dead
The list of battles could go on and on with only a few occasions where the British fared better than Maori.
Maori beat those with ‘superior’ weaponry with smarter tactics, intelligence based on research and a greater understanding of the human nature at that time. Head-to-head, was the British ‘better at war’ against the Maori? Obviously not.
Am I suggesting the Maori are a ‘superior’ race? No, I’m not. There’s only one race; Human and Maori contain the flaws and virtues of the collective state of being human. Some Maori tribes like those in the South and Chatham islands are incredibly peaceful ready to die rather than shed human blood, some were once warlike but changed to become world trailblazers in peaceful movements like Parihaka (which later influenced Gandhi and King), some were incredibly brutal in war, some compassionate; feeding and caring for the British wounded even after the most bloody of battles and some tribes were led by land and glory seeking assholes.
But in your case, anyone HUMAN would not glory in the genocide of other humans as a badge of honour. That’s mainly about being an ignorant dickhead.
I came home yesterday and I was surprised and excited to see a small white package waiting for me, all the way from Canada. It was from Prodigy Pictures the producer of the Dark Matter science fiction show, that was shockingly canceled in Firefly fashion, well before it’s run was complete.
(Canada! Do you know how very far away that is? Really really far, so far they live one day in the past. That’s far!)
I had written a couple of letters to them, online and I’d sent hard copies by snail mail. Prodigy instead of trashing or selling props they were generously giving them away to fans. They sent me back a signed Dark Matter t-shirt, a medal off Six’s chest and this lovely letter.
It really came at the right time. In one of those letters was part of a song, I had written for an online friend Claire, I’d known for many years first meeting her on the paranormal board for the X-Files. Last week I had to make a sudden and unexpected trip to Alameda California, from Sydney, Australia where I live. Claire was on life-support, she was suffering complications from colon cancer and was expected to pass away at any time.
I made my first, last and only visit and was surprised that the family held off taking her off life support until I arrived. I was moved and humbled that no one questioned the depth of friendship we had formed over the years. I said my goodbyes stroking her hair until she passed away.
In one of the letters to Prodigy, I shared this verse, because Claire epitomized so many of the relationships of ‘unseen’ friends I’ve made online:
“Sometimes, I admit I wonder at the words upon the screen
How just mere words can bind us, with faces still unseen
But few we trust to share with, those words we will not say
So quiet in the night we write and give our hearts away.”
It’s been a week now and I’m past that first raw stage of grief, but my chest still hurts and I cry easily.
So when this gift arrived, a gift from that wonderful, silly, fun, creative joyous greater community of sci-fi geeks where I found Claire and so many other wonderful people. And I get a gift that’s being celebrated now by more online friends of another wonderful show, I don’t why…but for me, it just felt like a gift from the Universe.
How very wonderful it is to be part of a human community that forms wonderful connections through art, film, and writing.
#DarkMatter, #ProdigyPictures @ProdPics
This is a piece of silliness that went through my head, whilst I was lying stretched out on my bed this morning waiting for my armpits to dry from this new roll-on deodorant (Christmas present to myself, it’s expensive but it’s one of those rare deodorants that doesn’t contain cancer-forming aluminum.)
Here’s the first part of the thought; Why don’t all women get PSTD from childbirth?
I mean it’s friggin extreme pain? The experience can include; sadistic doctors hoisting your legs up in stirrups, which works fine for them, but intensifies pain for women and promotes back injury. A bunch of strangers looking at your privates. I’ve heard of women being slapped by nurses or doctors and yelled at for being ‘wimps’, ‘silly’ or ’emotional’. Lower abdomens being sliced and spread apart, induction that brings on rapid and violent birth. A lot of blood, poo, and pee. Plus pain that can go on for hours. So you know? Why don’t women get massive PSTD from childbirth?
Now I hear a lot of women have a much better go of it these days, depending on where they live than some of the experiences of above. Even some new-age type experiences that have put them on a cosmic connected high.
But still, for most, it doesn’t. Does it?
And if it doesn’t, the second part to my thought is; can we learn from the experiences of women who have had ugly birth experiences and not experienced PSTD and apply that lesson to other life circumstances?
I’ve made some deep friendships online with people over time. We’ve bonded over favorite Sci Fi shows; the X-Files, Farscape, World of Warcraft raiding, and long-term projects around the hidden histories of Native peoples, homeless housing or cats. Over time I’ve shared more with these friends, than with blood family. Many of these people I’ve never met in RL. My current love is; Dark Matter, I love the community that gathers around great storytelling.
I have a particular affection for the showrunner Joseph Mallozzi, his active engagement with fans; the behind scenes look at putting the show together, the sets, the arts, the process, the people who make up the project. It’s awesome not just for the show, but for anyone interested in any part of that, the insight into the inner workings is a small part of the total inspiration that makes this community so devoted and passionate. You’ll find his blog here: https://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/ Check it out.
I know a lot of people don’t get the depth of friendships, you can make online. There is I think even a stigma associated with online friendship, a persistent doubt that “real” intimacy can only be created via physical encounter, that these people are strangers. I don’t think that’s true. I often find it safer to share things you feel, things that others might judge as quirky, a tad weird, or things that you’re shy about, online.
People are amazing when they’re inspired. This is what makes great shows – great. That people are inspired by it to make art, share humour, start telling stories all out of passion. The experience of community and online friendship’s inspired me to write a song, (no experience, but I sang it to a group who said it didn’t suck). It’s my first attempt at song writing.
The key message is in this verse:
Sometimes, I admit I wonder at the words upon the screen
How just mere words can bind us, with faces still unseen
But few we trust to share with, those words we will not say
So quiet in the night we write and give our hearts away.
My most favourite heroes were in science fiction they’re usually misfits.
When I was growing up I patterned myself after characters in books and on TV. Stories raised me. I had gone through 30 plus homes by 14 or so, caregivers or approximations thereof came and went and I didn’t model myself after any of them.
The crew of the Raza’s like that, and it’s misfits that have become family. Their ‘real’ families, for the most part, were shit. Hateful stepmothers, that want to take your birthright, an experimentation tank of sadistic scientists, a slob pile of thieving cutthroats who killed a loving childhood, unintended abandonment by accidental parental death? Maybe only Six had a great upbringing. Or maybe Android, because she was created as an object of love and out of love or respect, given a chance to have her own existence. And she was wanted.
Those kinds of characters I can relate to. Those kind of characters are real to me.
When I was in my twenties I worked with street kids – ‘good homes’ loving parents all that kind of stuff, is PURE FANTASY. Home as a safe place? Is. Not. Real.
As an unprotected toddler to teen, the world is a dirty, lonely, sometimes breath-holding scary and dangerous place. And often the only freedom is getting lost in books, comics, TV, and film. Science fiction and fantasy create a safe place, even if it’s only a mental safe place.
I like that the crew of the Raza is trying to be better. Sometimes trying to be heroes. And they’re not good at it. I like that. It’s just how it is. You think you’re gonna stop a war and you blow a hole in the Universe and let the aliens in. It happens. I get it. If you’re on your own, or guidance is poor you make some howler mistakes. So…okay, pick yourself up, face it and move on.
Trying to be more than what people think, say or feel about you, is – so hard. I love the Android for that reason, she wants to be more than her programming. She wants to be human. In my culture’s ethos/religion the core of it revolves around one question:
“You ask me: What is the most important thing in the Universe?
I tell you, it is to be human, to be human, to be human.”
(In English it doesn’t translate, an emphasis on the different syllables for the Maori word ‘human’ changes the meaning each time; human; the full maturation of body and spirit, human; connection to an infinite now, human; connection to all things that are related to you -which is for us, like every single living thing there is or ever was.)
The scientific discussions lately about what makes us, ‘us’, is not a debate around nature versus nurture or even the interplay of nature and nurture. Lately, it’s that our deliberate acts, deliberate choices can rewire us. We can create ourselves.
That’s why Android is so cool. She’s creating herself. So can we.
When you’re young and come from a really shit place. You hope for the heroes that never come. When you’re older like now for me, you can BE the heroes – or at least a really good sort. A guide and pointer for people who are going through bad places and times that you’ve travelled through yourself and got all the way through.
I love Dark Matter it creates a family out of misfits and bad guys. They’re not perfect. They’re not Star Trek Next Gen’ squeaky clean. People aren’t, but they’re still worthy of love.
I love Dark Matter for the really good story it is, for Joe Mallozzi’s infectious enthusiasm and embrace of the fans. I love how a great story creates a community. I love, love, love the show.
I love how a great show creates a sense of family and for some of us in some important times of our life that really is the only sense of family we know.
Saturday I went with Fatima, to the land we are planning to have a little Eco-Village of Tiny Houses for Women Refuges and Homeless. The women come from all over, different cultures, places, ages and religions. They gather over a few days, get to know each other, share food, sleep and get to be around people going through the same things as they.
When they have a women’s retreat they go to this tree it’s called “The Meditation Tree’. They’ll sit around it and on it and meditate.
But it’s also called the “Resilience Tree”. Fatima pointed out the tree is broken, like many of the women. It was completely knocked flat. If you look closely you will see that much of the tree is dead, stricken and bare. But there are 3 big fat roots that hold onto and dig deep into the ground – and it still lives. The top branches have reached up again – this tree has been knocked over but she’s not out for the count! 🙂
The women gather round this tree to tell their stories, but it’s a place where they leave the bad feelings behind – broken or not. They get back up, they move on – and they live.
This is not the typical type of experience that I would share with the kind of people that make up the majority of my main twitter feed, most being developers and testers who I tend to think pride themselves as being scientific, rational and most seem agnostic or atheist in their beliefs. But still in the words of Nicole Kidman this experience ‘is what it is’. My attitude towards science is that it’s a subset of truth and that’s what I’m sharing here.
When I was seventeen or eighteen I spent a whole Saturday surrounded by books, magazines and essays (this was before the internet) sifting through them to find quotes and insights to use for my first speaking engagement. The topic was ‘the importance of education’. No biggie, it was just a church talk, but it was to be in front of a few hundred people and that kind of thing is scary.
So I wanted to nail it and besides, getting an education really was the most important thing for me at that time. I’d left home earlier than most and paid my own way through the last two years of high school. I was now working 30 plus hours a week, apart from a grant I had won, paying my own way through a full University year.
Education also was a topic I was conflicted over. A lot about school and University education system angered me, particularly how much of it I felt was irrelevant, various unfair flaws in the marking system, the disconnect between what I was learning and what I could see myself using. And the feeling you get from school that getting a C, B or A made you a “C”, “B, or “A” person.
I’m not surprised that the day probably influenced the dream I had that night. I dreamed I was walking through a church and a minister stopped me in the hall and said; “I want you to go on a mission”. Hello? He wanted me to go wandering around knocking at stranger’s doors interrupting their dinner time, wearing clothing that looked like it came out of the 50’s, live 24/7 with a perfect stranger and worse -stall a University education that I had invested so much in? Even though I was just dreaming, my chest felt heavy and my heart sank to the floor of my stomach. Whilst thinking more such thoughts, a calm voice spoke right in my dream ear and said; “The most important education in life, is the education of character and all other forms of education are towards this end, or secondary to it”.
It woke me up. And I lay quietly mulling that over for some time.
Now, here’s the interesting thing. Whilst I lay there, the dream started to replay while I was still awake. Literally it was like a slow screen flare that opened to display a 3d see-through movie image, right in front of my eyes and below the ceiling above me. I froze and I stayed very very still, stilled my breathing, stilled my body and thoughts, I didn’t allow myself to think or analyse what was happening. It was just the most curious thing and I didn’t want to spook it. When the hallway reformed, I heard again the same words, but this time the voice spoke not just in my ear, but clear and audible from all sides.
Throughout the years thereafter, whether teaching kids, mentoring young adults, coaching candidates for job roles or getting to know the number of people I’ve interviewed for high tech roles, I’ve seen how much character impacts on your ability to learn and grow. I’ve met quite a few PHDs who have worked more than 20 years in factories and a number of Bachelors, Masters and Doctors of Academia that live sour lives in low paid work far below their intellectual capability and their career expectations. In contrast others I’ve met who’ve succeeded without degree or other academic qualifcations.
In recent times, when I’ve explored in interviews the whys or wherefores of either group. I’ve seen or heard that their ability to have success, has depended more on traits like resilience, passion, courage, ethics rather than their formal education alone. Resilience to knock-backs & upsets. Passion, enthusiasm or curiousity that fuels ongoing learning and improvement. Courage to attempt at things that they could fail at, or courage to take a risk when problem solving requires it rather than be hand held through to a solution. Open mindedness to open themselves to ideas outside what their past which informs them on things they don’t actually know. Ethics; that gives a person a pride in producing quality work.. and so forth.
An academic education is a boon, but I’ve seen for myself that much of our capability to learn and grow is rooted in character.
I saw a picture of people in the community of Ferguson, standing in front of the doors of local businesses to turn looters away. Their resolute faces got me thinking about those who choose to commit crimes and those who don’t, even though they come from a similar environment. It reminded me of a social worker I met once, who wondered the same thing of me. She asked ‘why I didn’t go the way of many troubled kids she dealt with, given the similar kind of experiences of multiple homes, violence, molestation that kind of thing’. Why hadn’t I got into crime or trouble of any sort? I ignored her (nosey woman), but I remember that it was due to the impact of one small event.
When I was 3 nearly 4 years old I remember picking up a deflated balloon off the floor at Woolworths. It had fallen off the counter. And I put it in my pocket because it didn’t seem wrong if it was ‘rejected’ on the floor. I knew stealing was wrong. But this didn’t seem to be it. Later we’re in the old Humber driving the long way back home and I sitting in the backseat, brought it out of my pocket to play with. My grandmother was driving glanced at the car mirror and saw me.
Asked me where I got it, I told her, her face went resolute and she sharply turned the car around and drove alllllll the way back to return it. It cost less than a farthing (which is like less than half a cent today). It was a really long way back, or so it seemed to me as a child. But my grandmother’s logic was that it didn’t matter whether it was a farthing or $100.00 the taking of it would make me a thief.
That one thing totally stuck in my head, her absolute honesty, that this is something you just didn’t do. It imprinted on me and I think hardwired me from that point on – that there was no other way to behave than the example she set.
It’s a small thing, but it strikes me as I remember other small happenings – just how powerful a small action a person can take that it can completely hardwire you for the rest of your life.