New research tells us that those from the upper echelons of society are most likely to secure the top jobs in Britain’s leading legal and financial services firms. It’s outrageous, sure, and we should definitely do something about it. But what we really need to combat is the bizarre notion that only lawyers, bankers and accountants can achieve career success. Continue reading
It’s the question that I dread above all others. A conversation starter that stops me dead in my tracks. Four little words that confuse and conspire. An innocent enquiry that sends me spiralling into an abyss of self-doubt. I’m thirty seven years old and I’m still not able to answer that most simple of queries: ‘Where are you from?’
I want to say that I was born in Suffolk, that I grew up in Dorset and that I went to university in Staffordshire. That I have lived in England, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. That I currently reside in Somerset but have no idea how much longer I’ll be there. But all that comes out of my mouth is ‘Oh, all over, really.’ And what I mean is ‘I haven’t a clue’.
We all have many attributes that define us, from our gender and our physical appearance to our taste in music and our choice of career. But our geographical heritage lies at the heart of who we consider ourselves to be. Whether we’re a northerner, a southerner, Yorkshireman, Cornishman, Liverpudlian or Bristolian, these are still the ties that bind.
I can see why this was such a big thing in decades and centuries past, when people rarely moved more than a few miles from where they were born. But in this age of cheap travel, insecure employment and wide-eyed globalisation, what does it mean to ask someone where they are from? Do we mean where they were born? Or where they live now? Or where they have lived for the longest period of time? Can any of us, in fact, now even claim to be from anywhere at all?
I think we can. But it’s not as simple as it used to be. Some of us have a clear idea of where we are from. It might, for a privileged few, be the ancestral family home in Oxfordshire or the Scottish highlands. For others it is the house in which we grew up and where our parents still live. Indeed, I have several friends in their thirties, all with houses and families of their own, who still refer to visiting their parents as ‘going home’.
Others of us, meanwhile, lead a more nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place in response to the demands of family, career or simple curiosity. We collect addresses and residency permits like our childhood selves used to accumulate stamps or football cards. Some places pass fleetingly through our consciousness, but others leave an indelible impression on our soul. They become part of who we are.
I challenge anyone, for example, to spend time in the wilds of Scotland and not develop a sense of awe at the majesty of nature. Or in Russia and not learn to reflect on the darkness of the human condition. Or in rural Provence and not long for the simplicity of a life built by one’s own hands.
Just as scientists can tell from our bones, our hair and our teeth much about when, where and how we have lived, the places we have called home all make a difference to how we think, feel and behave. We absorb a tiny part of that place’s culture, traditions and values, adding them to the ever-growing repository of ideas and attitudes that we call ‘me’.
So if you want to learn what makes me tick, ask me about the things that have influenced me the most. Ask me about the people I have known, the things I have done and the places I have been. Ask me where I have lived, where I have loved and where I have felt most alive. Just don’t, please, ask me where I’m from.
As part of my drive to get fit and to be a bit more healthy, and as regular readers will already know, I’ve recently taken up running. When the sun’s out and I have nothing pressing on my to-do list, I like nothing more than to pull on my trainers and get out for a brisk jog through the countryside. But if the weather is bad or if I have lots of other things to do, my resolve tends to weaken a little.
This plays havoc with my training programme. Especially when I have taken the perhaps rather ill-advised step of signing up for a 10km rather hilly off-road race in just over a week’s time and, quite frankly, need all of the running practice that I can get. So while I started off with plenty of time to get in the desired mileage, with every missed run the amount of training I need to do before race day gets more and more. And the chance of me actually doing it becomes less and less.
For Red Dwarf fans, this will sound remarkably like Rimmer’s revision plan. When preparing for his astronavigation exam, holographic crew member Arnold Rimmer spends so much of the available time developing an elaborate revision timetable that he now has significantly less time for revision itself. As a result of which he develops a new, compressed revision schedule. Which means that he now has even less time. And so on. Needless to say, he fails the exam. Eleven times.
It also sounds very much like our current approach to combating climate change. We start by setting some impressive looking targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a point in the distant future. We then slump back in a chair and feel very pleased with ourselves, forgetting for the moment that setting targets is not the same as actually doing something.
So we make some plans. We analyse where our greenhouse gas emissions are coming from and who the main polluters are. We produce reports explaining what will need to change if we are to meet our new emissions targets. We even create depressing scenarios of what will happen if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But still concrete action remains elusive.
Rather than direct our efforts to things that reduce our carbon footprint, we devote our time to finding ways to look like we’re doing something without actually having to make any of the difficult decisions. We develop complex emissions trading schemes that allow us to do what we’ve always been doing. We export carbon intensive activities to other parts of the world. We encourage each other to ‘offset’ emissions rather than reduce them.
And we get mired in arguments about technicalities. We go to great lengths to explain why it’s OK to continue to burn fossil fuels, while dismissing the potential of renewable technologies. We quibble with the way greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric carbon dioxide are measured, as if the damage we are doing to our planet is but an artefact of the statistics we use. We wring our hands and question whether it’s even our fault at all.
Yet with each day that we do nothing, the challenges that lie before us become greater. We have more and more to do, but less and less time to do it. Our targets, once so full of promise, become a constant reminder of our inability to change our ways.
We cannot combat climate change by doing nothing. We cannot hide behind our spreadsheets, our statistical analyses and our economic forecasts. We need to make difficult decisions. We need to change what we do and how we do it. We need to be willing to make sacrifices in the short term, so that we can ensure our longer term survival.
Our grandfathers knew all about hard work and sacrifice. Our fathers taught us that nothing good comes without great effort. But today we live under the fatal assumption that we can live without diligence and endeavour. That our technological prowess insulates us from the consequences of our actions. That our mastery of our world is such that the rules under which we have lived for millennia no longer apply. Well, we are wrong.
Whether it’s running, revision or reducing greenhouse emissions, unless we actually make an effort and do something, we have no hope of achieving our goals. Success does not come to those who sit quietly and hope for the best. Rather, it comes to those who have a goal and who give their all to achieve it. If we really want to protect our planet – and ourselves – from the ravages of climate change, we must all take action. And we must take it now.