Introducing ‘The List’ by Michael Harris

In April last year, I published a blog post titled, “Things I saw this week and loved”. It was a space where I could list links to written pieces, images and videos I had seen around recently online, where I had found particular resonance. From November I started adding new editions of these posts.

Today I have upgraded this series to have a dedicated section on my site. New links will be published there all on the one list, sorted by Volume. I don’t have a pre-defined schedule, but will post new editions as they emerge.

Whilst the original name still makes me smile, (and will continue to be the heading), I have also simplified the title to being ‘The List’. I think this is easier for everyone.

The only thing left to do now is head on over to the page and marvel at all things awesome.

It’s okay to be who you are by Michael Harris

There is an unusual tension in what society tells us: we switch from being too young to suddenly being too old. There is a mythical age when things are meant to work out, to get that big break, or where that picture in our minds will spontaneously spring to life. The thing is, there is no magic line. Too young or too old is irrelevant. All that we ever have is the time right in front of us, and what we are doing with it right now.

Opportunity knocks randomly. If we are worried we are missing something, we probably already have – not because we did miss it, but because we choose to fear it and miss out.

Most people are scared of doing anything different, and this traps them into the world they know and see. The beauty of age is that it belongs to us, and only us. Don’t hand over the meaning and relevance of who we are to anyone else. Only you are you.

Embrace your age. Face it. Young or old or somewhere in the middle: enjoy who you are and where you are. See what you can do with it. Every part of the journey so far has made you exactly who you are.

Who you are is okay, so just be yourself.

Travel only has value if you let it change you by Michael Harris

One of my favourite things in life is travel. I have been very fortunate to have travelled quite a lot one thing I have noticed though, is that not all travel is equal. Some experiences have a greater impact than others. Sometimes this is just the rhythm of travel, but at other times it is because I let some experiences be more meaningful, and seek to be open to how the experience can change me.

It is (relatively speaking) easy to travel somewhere and see only the city lights. You can end up at restaurants that mainly serve tourists, take pretty pictures of the same vistas as everyone else, get stamps in the passport, and leave. That isn’t my idea of travel, and one that I don’t see as having particularly more value than just staying home.

The deeper, richer experiences come when we stop and allow ourselves to absorb the context of the place around us. The colours, the smells, the patterns in the walls. Noticing where people gather, and where they do not. What if we allowed these places to change us, to open our eyes and shift our perspective on the way things are?

I believe the value of travel comes when we stop and open our eyes. Intentionally. Actively demolish pre-conceived ideas, and allow ourselves to be surprised and moved by what we see. Be prepared to wander away from the city centre.

There is one more thing to keep in mind when talking about travel: this concept works at home just as effectively as abroad.

Open your eyes and discover what the world has to teach us. Value comes when we open ourselves to change. The value of travel is in letting it change you.

Quality trumps quantity by Michael Harris

My Year 7 English Teacher, Miss Fryer, taught me something that has stayed with me more than almost any other lesson I have learned: quality is more important than quantity. It is a catch-phrase that society repeats to us frequently, but one that I feel people don’t really grasp the value of: banding the words around in a shallow and almost ironic way.

True quality is a much deeper and more profound concept that takes discipline to live out in our lives. It requires us to have/create/consume intentionally less. Simply limiting quantity does not automatically evoke quality – we must strive for it, yearn for it, seek it out repeatedly; turning up and doing the required work repeatedly to pare back and start again when needed. Quality insists on doing the hard emotional labour day after day.

The lesson I was essentially taught was that it is okay to bring thoughtfully less. The value of one exceptional paragraph far out-weighs the value of many paragraphs that meet quotas, but waffle on without saying much at all. It is better to be concise and make it count. Re-write it one more time.

The future belongs to those who can see it by Michael Harris

In the shade of an oak tree somewhere down the road, a cardboard box sits upside-down. It is being prepped for departure to the moon, helmed by children squealing with delight, consumed by the world they have created in their minds. They are busily wielding hand-drawn controls, performing last minute fuel checks, and honing their “whooshing” sounds for take-off. For all intents and purposes, they are on their way to the moon, and no one could convince them otherwise.

How is it that as adults, we have relegated our cardboard boxes to moving day. Our imaginations may as well be stored in attics, slid under stairs – discarded, abandoned, ignored. It may seem for some that their imaginations have as much hope of being used as cardboard boxes have of space-flight.

A question has been stirring inside me lately: how did we come to misplace our imaginations?

One of my favourite XKCD cartoons [] has two people in an apartment overflowing with playpen balls, with one of them asking “what happened?”. The reply: “we’re grown-ups now, and it’s our turn to decide what that means.”

Imagination isn’t simply about living in a make-believe world, or escaping struggles and pain. Imagination is the ability to see that which is not immediately in front of us – to see things differently. I do not believe that we should so quickly relinquish imagination to childhood. We must continue to fight for and protect our ability to see things differently. 

The difference post-childhood is in our ability to pair imagination with understanding. That is where the power lies. We must juxtapose the world in front of us with the world as it could be – not living in a dreamland, but firmly understanding the world as it is and then seeing how it could change.

If we live life not daring to picture the world even a little differently to the way it is, then we are being held prisoner to someone else’s vision. For some people, that is fine – and that is their choice. But I do not accept this for myself. I see how the world can be different, better, more just, more creative. Imagine, if you will, what would happen if we infuse our imaginations with action. All sorts of new possibilities will emerge where there previously wasn’t a way forward. The clincher: we have to take action.

If you are struggling to take action, not sure why seeing things differently is important, or even see change as a possibility, consider this: imagination is fuel for courage. Seeing bring clarity; clarity brings resolve; resolve brings strength; strength brings courage; courage brings change; change brings freedom.

The future belongs to those who can see it, and it’s our turn to decide what that means.

2013: celebrating a new year by Michael Harris

Earlier this week, I found myself in Berlin, Germany on New Year’s Eve, witnessing a fireworks experience unlike anything I have seen before. Everyone has fireworks, and they are set off from everywhere – from rooftops, in streets, in courtyards, out of windows. Standing last night on a sixth floor rooftop terrace, there were fireworks in every direction for the full 360 degrees around us, as near and as far away as I could see. They went off across the evening, starting slowly, steadily building as midnight approached. At 12:30 I went back inside with no signs of the celebration stopping.

The overall effect was one of widespread celebration – of joy and delight (mixed with a little terror). The rooftops all around were crowded with people, somewhat akin to an end-of-the-world movie scene. The evening was spent with new friends around a shared meal, in the home of a family I had just met – a memorable and wonderful way to welcome in the new year.

Wherever you are, I hope you found the new year to be full of hope, joy and strength as you look towards tomorrow.