The tao of Dog the Bounty Hunter

I’ve just watched a programme on TV that has taught me more about human behaviour than anything else I have seen in quite some time. It wasn’t a posh drama or a high-brow documentary, but rather a sort of reality show on one of the less popular channels on the box. It was called ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ and was, unsurprisingly, about a bounty hunter called Dog.

As far as I could tell, Dog and his family run a bail bond business in Hawaii, loaning people charged with a crime the money that they need to post bail while awaiting a court date. If they don’t show up at court or if they otherwise break the terms of their bail, then Dog and his team find them, capture them and deliver them to the court. They also, presumably, try to get their money back.

The first thing I learned from Dog and his clan was the importance of mutual trust within a team. Dog worked as a unit with his wife, his brother, his son and his nephew – and they all clearly trusted each other 100%. They had complete confidence in their own and in each others’ abilities. They knew that they could rely on each other, no matter what happened.

The second thing was the value of compassion. Whenever Dog was pursuing a fugitive, he looked for the best in them. He recognised, it seemed, that there are no intrinsically ‘bad’ people, but only people who do ‘bad’ things. Despite knowing that he was dealing, in many cases, with hardened criminals, he treated them all politely, fairly and with respect. He showed that we are all human beings and that we all deserve to be treated as such, no matter what we have done.

The third thing was faith. Not in the religious sense, although Dog and his family were clearly quite Christian in their values, but faith that he was doing the right thing and that he was helping to make the world a better place. Faith in his family and friends. Faith in himself. And if you don’t have faith in yourself, I suspect Dog would argue, how can you expect others to have faith in you?

That, in essence, seems to be the way of the Dog the Bounty Hunter. I wouldn’t usually even admit to watching TV programmes like this, let alone write about them, but in this case I felt I had to make an exception. It just shows that you can learn the most profound things in the most unlikely of places. Another lesson from the Dog.

How not to run a museum

When I was in Germany a couple of weeks back, my wife and I took an hour or so away from our family duties and paid a quick visit to the Römisch-Germanisches Museum (Romano-Germanic Museum, or all about the Romans while they were in Germany) in the centre of Cologne. The city was a major Roman settlement and every time someone tries to build something – or even just dig a hole – more of its history comes to light. Given this amazing potential, we had high hopes for the museum and its exhibits.

In the museum

If you build it, they will come. Er, no.

To say that the museum fails completely to do justice to the city and its historic past, however, is to be polite. True, it does have some fantastic pieces, such as a huge Roman mosaic and a spectacular array of statues. But in this electronic, hands-on age, to simply line everything up and label it shows a distinct lack of effort. Cologne’s history is truly amazing, but the museum seemed more like a musty old storeroom than a celebration of the city’s past, present and future.

Some Roman coins

Boooooring!

Now, I may not be an expert when it comes to museums. But I have been to quite a few over the years and I know what gets me engaged and what just turns me off. So here are my top six Römisch-Germanische improvements, just in case someone rings me up tomorrow and says ‘OK, Herr Smarty Pants. You think you can do better? So why don’t you just get back over here and show us what you’ve got, my friend?’

1. Make it welcoming. When we wandered in through the museum’s front door, we were faced with a miserable looking lady sat at a desk in the corner. Once she had (grudgingly) sold us two tickets, these were checked by a surly security guard before we were allowed into the exhibits themselves. Everything about it screamed ‘what do you think you’re doing here, pond scum?’ Not a great first impression. Let’s replace the desk with a counter front and centre, get the lady to smile, greet visitors with a ‘welcome to the museum’ and replace the security guard with someone in a ‘Civus Romanus sum’ T-shirt.

2. Ditch the uniforms. Patrolling the exhibits were a team of uniformed staff, whose purpose seemed very much to be making sure that we didn’t cause any trouble, steal anything or enjoy ourselves in any way. I didn’t see them interact with any of the visitors, though their eyes followed us around the room throughout our visit. What’s that all about? I’d swap the official-looking uniforms for something less formal and task these people (who are all perfectly pleasant, if the lady I approach to ask if it was OK to take photos is anything to go by) with making sure that everyone was enjoying the museum and getting the most from their visit.

3. Introduce some interactivity. Lining up exhibits in glass cases with little labels is sooooo last century. Rather than just looking at little Roman lamps, lets get some replicas that we can play with. Same with the coins, jewellery and cooking implements. And while we’re at it, perhaps we could get some drama students to dress up as Romans and give people a bit more insight into the history of the people behind the objects by telling stories, giving demonstrations and getting visitors involved. Why just read about weaving when you could have a go at it yourself?

4. Make some noise. Even though there were quite a few people wandering around the exhibits while we were there, the museum was as silent as the tomb that it clearly wants to be. People stared silently at the statues and spoke in hushed whispers, if at all. This is nuts. Lets get hold of some Roman music to get an atmosphere going, perhaps even some live musicians at weekends and Roman holidays. And why aren’t there sound effects for any of the exhibits? Or audio-visual presentations to accompany some of the major pieces? It’s really not that difficult, people.

Statues

Interactive? Not so much.

5. Open a cafe. This must have been the first museum that I’ve been to that doesn’t have a cafe or restaurant. Once you’ve looked around the exhibits, you leave. That’s it. It’s almost criminal, in my view, that there’s nowhere to sit and mull over what you’ve seen while you down an espresso or tuck into some hearty soup. It’s also a great waste of a potential revenue stream. Especially because there’s an open air courtyard on the top floor that’s just crying out for a coffee bar and some patio chairs.

6. Open a decent shop. While there is a sort-of shop in the foyer area, it’s basically a shelf with a few dusty books on it. If this is going to be a family attraction (and it should be), then we need things that adults and families alike can purchase to commemorate their visit and to help them to learn more about the city’s history. While a few scholarly texts are fine, how about something a little more exciting for anyone who doesn’t happen to be a professor of ancient history?

There we go. Nothing too Earth-shattering, but a few simple ideas for making the Römisch-Germanisches Museum less like a mausoleum and more like the celebration that it should be. I’m sorry to go on about this. But history is incredibly interesting and provides real insight into our present and future as well as our past. Museums that make history out to be something inaccessible that should be revered in silence do a disservice to us all.

Competitive, moi?

I’m not exactly what you could call a prolific blogger. I mean, I read quite a few people’s blogs, click some ‘likes’ and leave a comment here and there. I like messing around with my own blog, too, and try – and sometimes even succeed – to post a couple of times a week. But recently, things have got a bit more serious.

I set up my blog in October 2010 and then proceeded to do very little with it. I sort of liked the idea of having a blog, but things were fairly hectic and I just didn’t get around to writing anything. This was, unsurprisingly, reflected in a complete lack of readers, visits and page views – as you can probably see from the diagram below.

I started to make a bit more of an effort in August last year, when I decided to try a little harder to be a decent, well-rounded human being. (Read my very first post.) This is when people actually started to read my blog, which was all extremely exciting. And when I got my first ‘like’ (thanks http://princesayasmine.wordpress.com/, by the way), I was almost beside myself. My first comment, a couple of months later, provoked similar jubilations.

Wordpress Stats

You’ll notice, though, that I experienced a further bump in views (if going from 50 views a month to about 150 can really be called a ‘bump’ in the big scheme of things) in January this year. So what’s that all about? Well, it shames me to admit this, but this is when my wife started her blog, and I was darned if she was going to have a more popular blog than me. You know all that drivel you read about the male of the species being insecure, egotistical, shallow and pitifully competitive? Yup, it’s true.

So I tried hard to up my blogging game. I read more of other people’s blogs. I wrote more posts of my own. I wrote about what I was doing, thinking, reading, eating, growing and shouting at. I used tags properly so that people could find my blog. And it was great. I’m not saying that I have millions of readers or anything like that, because that’s clearly not true, but I have started to build up a little community of people like me across the world.

So at least a couple of evenings a week, Natalie and I come home from work, walk the dog, have tea and then settle down on the sofa for a couple of hours of blogging*. We catch up with the blogs we follow, we share things that have caught our eye and we write some posts of our own. Far from being a solitary pursuit, like so many people would seem to have us believe, blogging for my lovely wife and me has become a bit of a communal activity. And, thank goodness, I still have more views, ‘likes’ and subscribers than she does.

* This is not a euphemism. I really do mean blogging. Please don’t write in.

A morning walk

My dog and I have just got back from our morning walk through the fields on the edge of the small town where we live. We have a very pleasant morning walk, in which we meander along the side of a long valley, which leads from Bristol right down to the sea. And when it is sunny like today, our walk is a particular pleasure.

The valley near our house

Valley of the hounds

As we reached the mid-point of our wander, we passed two small terriers playing on the edge of a field. Molly greeted them in her usual enthusiastic manner and, after a brief interlude in which the three dogs took turns to chase each other in a sweeping circle through the freshly-cut grass, we continued on our way.

About five minutes later, we heard one of the terriers let out a colossal woof. Not a ‘look what I’ve found’ woof or a ‘help, a tiger’s got me’ woof, but one that says simply ‘hello world, I’m here’. In the dewy morning air, the woof echoed slowly down the valley, as if all the world’s terriers were joining in. Our new friend was evidently surprised by this response, as he woofed again. And again.

One by one, other dogs in the fields and hamlets down the valley joined in, until the place was alive with a riotous symphony of canine communication, multiplied a hundred-fold by the steep hills on either side. My own dog, needless to say, sat silently, taking this all in with her usual quizzical expression. And then, suddenly, and with the sad inevitably of all things ephemeral, the moment was over and the dogs fell silent. Molly and I looked at each other and continued on our way.

Walk more, drive less

I went to a workshop earlier today on Green Marketing, held by Bristol’s Think Future Now and presented by green marketing guru John Grant. John showed us this video about a project developed in China to convince people to walk more and drive less. It’s a great example of how art can be used to convey a powerful message. I really like it and it’s given me loads of ideas for things we could do here in the UK.

The idea won the Grand Prix at the Green Awards in London back in 2010. According to the China Environmental Protection Foundation, the campaign reached an impressive 3.9 million people and increased general public awareness about the environment by 86%. Not bad for a few pieces of paper and some paint.

Communication, communication, communication

I gave a short talk to a local community group last week, where I spoke about autism and the work of the National Autistic Society. I’m a volunteer speaker for the Society, so I give some of these talks every now and then, to raise awareness of autism and of the work that the Society does for people with autism and their families.

I arrived at the evening’s venue, a local golf club, and was met by the president of the organisation that I was speaking to. He was a friendly chap, probably in his late sixties or early seventies, and he bought me a drink at the bar before showing me where I’d be giving my talk. And then he asked me whether I’d need time to set up my laptop and projector.

This came as a bit of a surprise, as I’d come armed with little more than a good mood and a vague idea of what I wanted people to learn before they went away. And so, rather than try to dazzle my audience with graphics or subdue them with bullet points of text, I just talked to them for twenty five minutes or so. I told them some of the facts, asked about their own experiences, included a few stories of my own, and then responded to their questions until it was time to wrap up.

And it was really good. I enjoyed speaking to them, I think they enjoyed listening to me, and we all left knowing a little bit more than when we arrived. Which, from my point of view, is a success.

But it made me think about how we so often put up barriers to effective communication. How we frequently fail to get our message across. Sometimes we get so tied up in how we deliver the message, that we forget about the substance. Other times we use our own technical language rather than words that our audience will understand. And on occasion we deliberately obfuscate because we don’t actually have anything to say at all.

My dad liked out point out that if you didn’t have anything useful to say, then you shouldn’t say anything*. And, in this, I agree with him. Sometimes we try to communicate too much, and we end up saying nothing at all. We have so much communications technology at our fingertips, we forget that the message is what matters. So here’s to just sitting down and talking with people.

* He put it slightly more colourfully, as anyone who knew my father will be able to imagine.