Podcast Episode: How do you find real lack and real passion?
Category: Social work (general)
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
RF - Dr Robert French
On 24th October 2016 at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Dr Robert French lead an Iriss workshop exploring how to negotiate a way through the complexities of our managed world, in order to do some of the worthwhile things we feel passionate about. In this talk he includes examples from his own experience of the school education system in England, the Poet John Keats and the text ‘Symposium’ by the Classical Greek philosopher, Plato.
RF So briefly, the four areas I want to talk about. The first one is about lack. Most of the time what is lacking, quickly gets skipped and instead of focusing on that we look for answers and solutions. So think, that’s my impression whether it’s your experience or not, I have no idea but in my past is that people have a bit of an experience of a lack but very quickly think we have got to do something, get it sorted and then the link between lack and passion and desire, that was in the title, so what is the link between them, don’t get concerned about being very philosophical, it’s not its very straight forward actually. I put nineteen sixty nine because I bought this book Plato Symposium in nineteen sixty nine and read it for the first time about six months ago. So forty five years on, I bought it before most of you were even born and quick look at little bits and ignored it and it’s really interesting, there is a really interesting bit, symposium about Eros. Then the question of leisure and how that relates to work and then finish up with negative capability, it’s an idea of Keats’s about how to live with the experience of fear, terror, voids, sense of death, disaster, all of that and whether that allows it possible to stay in touch with lack. So I would like to start with a story rather than talk about a theory. It’s about oscillation, shifting from one to another. I’m talking about a school and the oscillation between those two things. So this was the School I moved to in Bristol. So University taught for five years in London then moved to this big comprehensive in North Bristol which is on a working area, one of the biggest comprehensives at the time in Bristol and one of the first ones there. Really well linked, it’s on a working class, fairly tough area but also right on the edge of a very middle class area. So at that time as the comprehensive started there were a lot of middle class left wing parents/families who wanted their children to be in a comprehensive not in a selected school. Worked really well and the head who appointed me and then left. So appointed me in June and left before September was the guy who had set it up and he was quite authoritarian. He did various things, one was he liked to appoint teachers who would leave. So he wanted people who would come in full of ambition, trying things out, pushing things and then they would leave and become deputies/head’s elsewhere, worked really well. Some of them stayed and some did leave and became very good head teachers. The other thing was that he would not have allowed me to do what I’m doing now, which is talking without a tie and without a jacket. So no men, no women were allowed in trousers, they had to wear skirts, men were not allowed a beard, they had to wear a tie and they had to wear a jacket. So he really had some of these authoritarian things going on all the way through these decades, some of the head teachers hated it so he was good at lots of things but they wanted someone libertarian . So when he left they got this, a guy who was pretty upper middle class, Scotsman, Bain Jardine, so a famous, very well known in Scotland, educated here, then went to Oxbridge and then he shifted, he believed in comprehensive Schools. So he shifted in to those, worked at the School I was at then went away to be Deputy Head in other Schools and then got back to being the Head of this School and people were really looking forward to it because he was quite laid back, free, allow people to do things slightly differently and chose what they do. Really good, it was really interesting. He was kind of slow, tall bloke, large, didn’t rush around, he just sat and waited for things to happen, did things and the people who knew the other Heads grew to hate it, he was much to free, much to easy, he didn’t step in, he didn’t tell people what to do and he hated that. They thought he was far too libertarian, far too easy, never, when I was head of sixth form the head boy and head girl, said he was for them the absolute ideal headmaster, terrifying, terrifying and inspiring. The other teachers who liked the authoritarian head didn’t find him terrifying at all, so it was really confusing, so when he left they got a more authoritarian one and went back to that. This guy was a scientist, instead of being a large guy who sat around waiting for things to happen, he used run around the school. It had four/five buildings and if he was going somewhere you would see him running across the school playground, so quite different. After he had been there about two/three years, I left, then someone else replaced him, I don’t know who that was, at which point gradually the school had been going down, all the way through from the start, just gradually slipping until it all started to go wrong, went into (… unclear), The fourth head teacher had a breakdown. I was the head of a hundred and eighty sixth formers but the time I left, there was no sixth form anymore. So fantastic change, so what do you do when something is not working? How do you think about it? So we had these four first head teachers and gradually a serious breakdown. School in special measures, failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard, person responsible for leading managing, governing, not demonstrating capacity, etc, etc. It has recovered gradually, the problem was, something was lacking, so as time went by something was lacking but we were constantly looking for solutions instead. What do you look for, well new head teacher, there’s one of them, one of the solutions. Instead of the lack, well that’s what, you know there is a lack, so what do you need, a better head teacher, a new structure, so we changed the year structure. We had a low school with the first two classes, then a middle school with the third, fourth and fifth years came together, then the sixth form. When it wasn’t working they had all that changed, the departments changed and a new building, so it was a huge area, they put a new building in at one end of the playground, then knocked down the old building, sold it out as housing to make some money and got a new building. So these are the kind of the things which are to do with answers and solutions. What was missing was looking what was lacking. So here are some of the things. The scale changed, so the income, the intake dropped by one then two classes. The catchment changed because all over Bristol the catchment changed and therefore they reduced the middle class area, moved that in, and it was much more just working class. So the social mix changed, another school closed down, another boys school and then a girl school and they were in a really rough area in Bristol, lots of third/fourth generation unemployed families, lots of drugs, and all of those kind of problems, they hated the people in our school. Those two areas just fought each other but for practical reasons for the Local Authority they put the schools together. So all of a sudden you get those two groups together. Pupil intelligence certainly dropped, it doesn’t mean they were actually less intelligent, but their history, background the whole thing was not interested in intelligence and the staff didn’t change. So the staff were more or less the same. So for example, if I had stayed on, I left before the sixth form drop, but if I had been there for another four/five years then they would have had to look at me and say, what the lack, what am I lacking. I had come there, it had been successful, we had a good mix, we had some children from other areas of Bristol leaving their schools and coming into sixth form, it all seemed to work really well but what if there is no sixth form, what if it closed down. What would be lacking, so intelligence, educated, lots of experience, but I would have been hopeless for the school as it turned out. So the lack, the lack bit, didn’t really get looked at. At no point, so for example I took a year off and did a Masters in School Management, Management and Administration of Secondary Schools. So I left the School, did this, came back then. So can you imagine the contribution that made for one of the Head of sixth form studying management, getting ideas. How would you deal with that. I was back for a year and in that year nobody asked me once, ever, whether I learnt anything useful. I was never asked. In addition the main management group, which I had been in for the previous eight years, I was taken off. So I came back and was no longer on the management group and was not asked about it at all. In the end I decided I’ve actually got to do something with some of the obvious things that I thought needed changing so I called a meeting for the head, deputy, top people, had a meeting and it was completely blank, completely blank. So it was really to my mind, it was a really clear example of shifting to answers and solutions before really looking at the lack. I will give you a couple of quick examples. Does that actually mean anything, I have used medical superintendent. Do you know what that is? Cause my best friends Head who had been a teacher was until nineteen seventy two, I think, medical superintendent in Edinburgh and he was the Head of four hospitals, each one had matrons as well, who were very important but in terms of management, leadership, he was the one, there is one for the infirmary, who was Dr Biggar, he was in charge of the west and east and the northern and a school in Musselborough, I think, so one man ran four hospitals and to help that in terms of ministration he had two secretaries. So until nineteen seventy two that was it. That was the total administrative structure for four hospitals. It’s different isn’t it. When he retired, he was replaced by three or four people I think, rather than just the one but what a change then, what a shift. I mean how many people out there now, vast, aren’t they, the structures are enormous. I don’t know to what extent people looked at the lacks. I’m sure they did a bit, I’m sure that the hospital were getting bigger, getting more complex. How does it happen. You forget about the lack, there is not time to look at it, you know there is something wrong, but you got so hooked into solutions and answers that, let’s get on with that, we can’t start thinking about that, we can’t start thinking about those things, we have just got to get on. I mean I had to book for my prostate test another date in hospital in Bristol last week, I got a note saying twentieth December, two days later I got another one saying we have changed it twentieth November. So the timing was, twentieth November was too soon, there was no point. So I phoned on their number and it said you’re fifteenth on the list it will take eight minutes. I started at nine fifteen, in the end the nearest I got to an answer was just before eleven o’clock. So I tried the first one and it said four left it will be another minute, twenty minutes later I got through, spoke to the guy, I said what’s going on, and he didn’t know how to do it, so he said try this number, so I phoned that number, it rang for two minutes and then just died. So then I looked online and phoned the hospital department itself, took a long time to get through, they were more capable of doing it but said we can’t actually work it out, we will write to you. So I nearly didn’t get through because my phone was running out of energy. It had almost stopped before I got through. If I got on my bike and cycled to the hospital and spoke to someone it would have taken about thirty minutes. It’s an example of one of these things where it looks as though people know there has got to be a solution, you have got to sort out these things and they set it up without really looking back and saying what they like. Bristol and Avon quite a good example. Bristol was a city on its own then Avon was joined and bits of the area round about, bits of South Gloucestershire, North Somerset, Wiltshire, were joined as a bigger area, then we didn’t like it after sometime so it closed down again, Bristol became a County again but why? What was the actual lack, was there a lack causing either of them happening. I don’t think there was a lack in either direction, it was more to do with probably to do with Politics, how are we going to get Labour getting better vote or Conservative getting more likes. European Union is probably a good example so Britain decides to join and they then start thinking actually I think we should leave, so we will change that and leave. But what is the actual, how much are they looking at a lack, answer, probably not at all and of course then there is Scotland who see an opportunity of leaving the UK because they can stay in the European Union but what is the actual lack, where is there a genuine lack being looked at. Most of the time people wanted to push through a solution or an answer, we think it would be great for Scotland to be separate, so let’s push for that, here we have got a chance, suddenly this European Union thing is absolutely wonderful, cause we tried to be separate, didn’t work but now it really might work, so I think these are all examples of where lack tends to get lost, obscured by people trying to get something to happen. Just on a kind of distraction there is a linguistic thing between the word want and its meaning of lack, which happened in seventeen hundred made a difference. So original from about twelve hundred once didn’t mean desire at all, we say, “I want a cup of tea”, didn’t mean that at all. It meant there is something lacking. Probably the most well-known example would be the Psalm, the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want, meaning I shall not lack, a modern translation is the Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing. So it all meant to do with lack. There is, I don’t know whether this happens in Scotland, it doesn’t happen in England, it may still happen, which is one to four. Family, my father wasn’t perfect but we never wanted for anything, wanted four. Does that happen in Scottish, I don’t know, yeah, ok. Well in England it doesn’t really happen as much but in Scotland, I think I recognise because I knew it from my childhood. So in that case, want still means lack but in England it is very uncommon. What happened was from seventeen hundred it shifted, as a gradual shift through the twentieth century in particular where want no longer meant lack, it just meant desire, wish for, felt the need of something. So want now basically apart from that example, wants means desiring answers and solution and not lack. I think it’s part of the reason why lack has become less significant, it’s kind of faded, I don’t why I think that, but I think it is. So instead of lack and want, its lack, want, desire. So what’s happened is lack instead of being central has kind of faded I think and being replaced by, now I don’t know if it’s anything to do with the change in the word want but I think it’s the reality. Want kind of fades away, it goes into the fog or wherever it is, it becomes less important, it doesn’t take the time, because we need to find an object to desire, we need to find a solution. So wanting, desire, needing, that’s what I think tends to demonstrate most parts of work. It certainly was true when I was a school teacher, it certainly true when I was at university. What is lacking in school now, the school I was in, the university I was in, is all to do with finding the solution, what do we need, how can we sort it out. So that I think is the solution.
Now I would like to give another story, this is when, I cycle a lot in Bristol, if I get the chance I cycle rather than driving and I’m continuing cycling along and seeing cars ahead of me with a missing break light, at the lights of wherever. So what I tend to do is stop and say to the driver, don’t know if you know but your nearside, your offside break light is not working. So there’s me finding out whether they know. In most cases they don’t know, so it’s a lack, they don’t have the information. When I tell them they get the experience of want, they get the experience of something missing, some of them knew already, sometime they say, yeah I know, they are not interested, they just want to kind of shut it out, some of them get furious and the most common one is, I’ve just had my car serviced, I had it serviced yesterday and suddenly the day after they find that their breaks are not working and its usually quite rich language which would be inappropriate for me to use. Then there is another group who say, ah I didn’t now, thank you for letting me know. So that shift moves along, want in the middle, is where they get an experience. So something is missing, you get an experience that there is a lack and then the question is what object are we going to look for, what desire are we going to set up, what are we going to do. So there is blissful ignorance if we don’t know there is a lack or something missing that’s one level, second one is where the experience of lack shifts into the experience of want and very often there is a void in it or blaming it or doing something, so it can change, it can vary and if they take the experience of like seriously then we start to look for an answer or solution. Look for the object of desire. The only thing that I think is missing or wrong about fudel, I don’t know what the word fudel means but I think that’s what it is, is the set of arrows. There is something in it when there is a lack, wakes up to an experience of want then you can start looking for something but actually it more accurate like that at the bottom. So if the car break light is not working the obvious thing to do is to go and get it sorted. So the last time it was pointed out to me it was pointed out unfortunately by a policeman and that meant I had to get it mended then I had to go and take my driving licence to the police station, desire and lack need to be linked so it’s quite possible if you have got that with the car is to say, do we need two cars. So the lack and the want is not automatically to get the car mended there might be other questions about the car. So one of my colleagues at School, his question as not how do I get the car sorted and how do I get it mended, was why do I have a car, so even though he had two children, he got rid of his car, the family stopped, not because they had two, because he stopped having a car at all. So it does change things, it makes you think as though it’s a problem because you can’t just get in the car and go somewhere. What he found was it actually saved money, he hired a car and he got a taxi. So when he needed to do something, he paid for it and saved money, it cost him less. About the same time a lecture to the sixth form students I had heard something from Ivan (… unclear) and thought I must look this up and I worked it out for myself … and I found, I really couldn’t believe it, but when I took the amount I spent on the car, I compared that to the amount of money I earned at work, I found that I had three months of my income paying for the car. I found that if I took the number of hours that I was working to earn the money and added that to the travel then my average speed was four mph, it was walking. I could have got rid of the car and just walked. Stop working for three months, have three months off, take the whole summer out, I could have stopped at Easter and done no work at all and of course the pupils didn’t believe it, they literally did not believe that I was telling the truth. They refused to when I gave them the talk. I thought it would be quite interesting for you just to have a quick conversation and see whether you have a sense of lack. Whether you have any sense of the importance of lack, the approach, value, law, avoid of lack, rather than looking for a solution. My guess is, my hint would be that most of you are in fact aware of lacks, so you go to things like talks and lectures and go training because there are new things you want to do, you want to learn different things and that you are aware of lacks at work, either for yourself, could be you and your family, it could be your department, it could be your work that you aware, but in reality with most people there isn’t much time for it, there isn’t time really to sort out the lacks are.
So, the second one, the second bit is about Eros, lack and patient desire. So, the first one was more about lacking lost, just in shift to shift to answer and solution instead. Eros, slightly problem, because the books like this don’t use the word Eros because we get a bit confused if we use the word Eros, they tend not to use it, its translated as love, so it’s a story about Eros but they call it love and it makes lack and passionate desire completely inseparable. This is a group of half a dozen friend’s philosophers who sat down for a drink to talk about something. He said, “Isn’t it shocking that just about the only God that poets have failed to compose hymns about is love”. We are saying why is this happening, we don’t actually talk about love, we don’t talk about Eros for some reason, whatever that might be and the symposium which is the title, sounds more grand than it is, it means a drinks party so this group have got together so we have actually many have got a bit of hangover from yesterday so let’s not drink too much, so they decide how much to drink and then they decide what to talk about and they decided that Eros, love was going to be topic. Erotic in modern language basically means sexual, sexuality and that is not what’s true of this, it’s there, of course, but its more about love, so they have shifted, rather than using the Gods name we have used an English translation. Socrates was the fifth or sixth to talk, Socrates is the biggest name of philosophers and he said, “I’m going to talk about what this woman taught me, called Deatoma”. They are all men of course, there was a woman who taught him and he said, “she is an expert in love and she taught me the ways of love”. So, some of the things you talked about, lack gets lost at work. So, we tend to get on, find things to do, get a new method, like what happened at my school, get a new head, get a new department, etc and the actual lack gets lost. The other thing that gets lost amongst many of us in our work is passionate desire, what do we love, what do we feel passionate about our work, would we feel passionate about our job, what drives you in your work. I think one of the key effects most common effect is that we tend to lose that as well. The lack tends to begin to disappear, we are looking at getting things sorted and we also very often loose contact with passionate desire as well. Lack and passionate desire, what is the lac. in Education, where is the passionate desire for students. I think it depressing. I know that young children in primary school tend to get, everyone in School from beginning onwards just gets set in the national curriculum he gets to find. So, the people I have known who are going A Levels the main reason for doing A Levels is to get as high a grade as you can. There is not a great deal about passionate desire. Some people manage to stand for it, some people do manage to hang onto it. They tend very often not to do very well, but the main aim for schools is like, what we need is we need to get the highest number of A Level students who can get the highest number of their degrees and that just become the dominant of how things work. It’s very hard for students just to get passionate about some kind of study, desiring in particular things about life, what’s going on in their life’s, what do they see, what’s going on in World, what’s going on in Glasgow. It’s a very hard thing to do, so in schools I think both lack and passionate desire more or less disappear. Get blotted out. I think the environment is another good example. Lack and passionate desire. So, if we think for a moment that the North and South of the World are both melting, disappearing, and that at some points the centre of Glasgow may well get flooded, London certainly will, Bristol certainly will, Bristol has the second highest fall in the World, there is one in South America I think, Bristol is the second one, we have got, this week we had an eleven and a half metre tide raising. Clearly London is going to going, a lot Islands, Countries around the World if this thing goes on. So how much do we change. It’s fairly obvious for example that we should travel less, we should fly less, it’s very straight forward obvious solution and when I came up from Bristol this time I have never seen so many people. The airport has grown, they have changed the airport, its double, three times bigger than it used to be. We used to have holidays on the Isles of Scilly and that used to be a little mound of grass on the top of the hill, there was an old wooden hut and that was it and now there are two airports, runways in different directions and there is now the third size of the airport, massive great place. They have now changed the car parking as well. The whole thing is just grown enormously and it happened because, well what was the lack, I don’t think there was one, to be honest I don’t think there was a lack at all. What they realised was they could get money from Europe, there was a grant which they could get to get this new airport. They also got a new grant for their harbour. They could have a bigger harbour wall. That came from Europe as well. I don’t think it’s helped make it easier to bring the boat in, I have spoken to people this year and nobody has suggested it any better, couple of boats have crashed into the end of it because they weren’t expecting it. So, these are just little examples but the big ones of the environment if we actually stop for long enough to stay with the lack and the passionate desire we have to think well what is our passionate desire, what’s the lack in the earth and what is our passionate desire. Well Socrates says they belong together, they are always there together, the two exist, you can’t shut one off, they are both there all the time. So, whether it’s, I mean the environment is such a good example, it’s a clear example. It needs something pretty radical to stop, we need to stop driving all the time, we need flying, we need to reduce the amount travel, that is fairly straight forward but masses and masses of other things, depressing perhaps, you at your work, in the work you are doing or about your family or your career or your own future over the next weeks/years, do you have any passionate desire? Is it connected to lack, is there is lack between lack and passionate desire, which you might be able to think about.
What I would like to move on is whether there is something that can be helpful or just make it more difficult. It’s the third bit, I wondered if you know what the words schole means in, obviously the English word comes from School, any of you know what schole, any guesses? Any thoughts on what it might mean? I mean it’s an interesting one, because the same word, schole but the old one had the S still there. It’s pretty wide spread isn’t it. Its unusual to cross so many countries and find the same word, usually one that’s different, I mean even Gaelic, Welsh, Russian, Polish. I mean I haven’t checked the whole thing I just had a look around and found a whole lot. So, there is something really, there has got to be something important about what schole means and how significant it is for School. It means leisure. It’s the Greek word for Leisure. So, school, learning, developing society, developing the whole thing is to do with leisure. I mean it’s clearly no relation to school, there is no significance. So, the something, the fourth bit is to talk about work and relationship between work and leisure. So, the three bits so far, the first one we have got this relationship between lack and solutions, the lack can get lost, forgotten, disappear and we look at solutions. The second one is where again very often these two can be separated out, lack, passionate desire are not always kept together, that’s what Eros is about, that’s what love is about in terms of socreties suggestion, history and the third one is about leisure. What is the relationship between leisure and work. Are they related or are they separate? It doesn’t make sense to think that School, they are together does it. To what extent is a day at School an experience of leisure for teachers let alone for pupils. Is School run by leisure at all. The second question is if you want to do something about lack, if you want to try and keep in touch with them, can leisure help that at all. So, if you can see what I am, what I noticed, this would help. In my mind that’s what came across to me in each of these things was that in our society somehow has got into the habit of splitting things. Splitting important things out, lack and answers, forget about the lacks, ok we know there is a lack, we know what it is, decide very quickly, we know what the problem is, let’s get on with the solutions. Same with lack and passionate and desire, they are very often separated and leisure and work so we seem to have a habit of splitting things out. When they talked about environment we tend to split the things out so we can get people getting really quite upset, frightened, worry about what is happening to polar bears, they show films of polar bears, you have all seen them, as soon as you get a film about polar bears you find that because it is all melting they can no longer catch the food they need so they tend to move into Canadian, on the edge of Canadian cities, towns, so they come in and they eat stuff on rubbish dumps. So we are really concerned about what is happening to them, what is going to happen and we don’t say well yeah it’s not just polar bears, what we are talking about is all of the inuate for example. So, we tend to split things. Our society seems to me to devise things all the time.
Oh yes, I had a really nice conversation, she was called a primitive (…unclear) I don’t remember the history at all, it was a very brief conversation and the guy interview said, “how long do you work for” and she said “two or three hours”. That was the daily work for her and the rest of her society. He said “what do you do for the rest of the day” and she said “we make things”. I mean that sounds like work, doesn’t it? That sounds like we work all day. She said they work for two hours, maybe three and the rest of the time, we make things. So somewhere along the line, I found it really shocked by it and shaken by it to realise how work for me takes a certain length of time and what I do when I stop, well then, I do more leisurely things, I do different things. So big question is, are schools and workplaces, you work actually anti-leisure? There is a great one when I was working The Bristol Business School. So, business is obviously one thing and school means leisure. business means work, so the business school is all to do with me working, with my clients, lecturing, giving talks, marking, etc, etc and the students are there in order to learn about. So, we never really focused on that. Business Management somehow they can’t accept a focus on leisure. So, if you are talking about a manager or a leader at work I don’t believe the main focus for you and the way you are encouraged and the way the business tell you and working with your clients, with your colleagues, is to do with leisure. Now it is possible that there may be some place where you work, it can happen in little corners, it can sometimes work with colleagues, people you work with. It can happen that you work well with somebody and every day or every week you find the time where you have your break, you have coffee, you have a break but to have actually leisure as being a central thing, I think is quite different. At school, I don’t think leisure exited at all. So, I found, completely random a few days ago I looked up National Curriculum to see what it said and it said it sets out programmes of study and attainment of targets for all subjects at all key stages. So, it’s all about study, attainment, getting targets, reaching targets, all subjects at the four keys and the National Curriculum seems to have just built up more and more to define exactly what can be done, who is going to be done by, when it’s got to be achieved by and School means leisure. Now there is less time in Schools for leisure because Schools very often start a bit earlier in the day in Bristol, they start at eigth thirty rather than nine and they finish earlier and the lunch time is shorter. So the whole day has been rather pulled in together so there is less leisure time and the staff tend to just work. So a centre of leisure school is very much the opposite. What about in Greek and Roman, the truth is that leisure was an absolutely central fundamental value for western culture. Work was important, of course, everyone had to work but the words for work were all negatives, they were all created by a negative so for example schole means leisure and work meant ask schole. So the positive thing was leisure and not achieving leisure was a negative. The same was true in Latin. So otium was the word for leisure and work was where you removed it, neg otium and for us the great thing to do is negotiate, negotiation. So the English word, negotiation doesn’t seem like something negative, I don’t know whether you have ever thought of it as being a neg, a negative, a destruction, a removal of something so negotiation is an example of something which has shifted in English into something which is seen as something very positive. Let’s negotiate this needs to be negotiated and yet its originally origin both of these words work in both cultures were to do with something negative, the positive thing was leisure. What does leisure allow you to do if you didn’t have to do, if you just done enough work in order to being leisure what would you do, what would interest you, what could you study in your workplace. I mean I just mentioned the one at the Business School that is a very good example I think where now, when I pop back to see people, I have never seen more than five people in the corridor and it’s a corridor which must have twenty people and it used to be full. So something has happened which means that people do not come into the business school in order to meet each other, they have been told you can work at home, take your email home, take your computer, you can do it all at home on your own. When Aristotle defined it all he said, “we are un-leisurely in order to have leisure, so the purpose is to have leisure, we work in order to have leisure, leisure is the whole purpose, that’s the central thing, we occasionally need to have schole and that was the first time I ever came across it and realised how significant it was, it was a German philosopher who just survived himself and he wrote a book immediately after the Second World War and he started it right at the start by saying the post war years is not the time to talk about leisure, so he said I’m going to talk about leisure but what strikes me is for all of you reading it, its 1947 we have just finished the War we just need to focus on one thing which is to build our Society, get it sorted, get the houses, get the buildings, get the work sorted, re-build things, get it going, whereas what he was saying was the whole purpose of western culture, the whole structure of western culture, the Romans, the Latin into the middle ages culture was the key thing. So culture is the main thing whereas what he was saying is if most of you reading this now will say, forget about culture at the moment what we need to do is get on with work to get stuff sorted whereas what he was saying is, if we think about it what we could do is we could say, is the leisure the key thing and if we did it would be a different structure wouldn’t it. One of the ones that struck me just walking up the back of a bit of Glasgow was just realising the noise, the noise of traffic, I didn’t know what it was but then I found a motorway. There was a motorway going through Glasgow. I mean its mad isn’t it. It’s absolutely bonkers. What it does it means people can get in and out quickly and anyone who lives within, how close is it, three miles either side are just dominated by the noise of the traffic all day and all night. My wife’s first school that she taught in was near London Airport and they more or less had to stop talking every eighty seconds or something, when the wind was in a particular direction because it came over the plane and you couldn’t hear what you were saying. If you look at peoples experience of living near these airports it just destroys the structure. So, if you take leisure as being the key thing, then you have to start saying we don’t want to have a motorway around the city.
I’ve got the feeling there is too much today that I have been talking about, but it may not be, it may be too much for you and not for me and not for you, I’m find it hard to keep up with it. You have got the lack bit, you got lack separate from passionate desire and we got leisure split from work. So, what I’m talking about these things being split apart and it’s a difficult thing to do you have talked, several of you have talked about how difficult it is to stay in touch with the lack and not get it over dominated, get it taken out by the government or seek management. Leisure is now a big question, I think the place we as individuals and colleagues keep in touch with lack and what we would desire is to have some leisure space. Somehow stay in touch with leisure. What actually happened to leisure in our society is that it is a separate thing, isn’t it, we work but the leisure is not seen as part of work, the leisure is seen as part of recovering from it and leisure has become much more active so there are a lot more people who do triathlons, climbing, whatever it may be, getting out and doing things, doing activity in leisure rather that stopping … (… unclear) cafe, this cafe … maybe it become more so and more people who are sitting in cafe, sitting having chats with people and talking about what’s going on, but I think work and leisure are very separated things. Where I have seen it recovering a bit reminded me downstairs here, as you come into the building you release there is a little cafe and there are some seats and various things. Now that’s happened more in a lot of Universities, modern Universities and its beginning to happen in some workplaces where instead of everyone just being in an office there is one in Bristol in particular called, Aardman, Aardman have got this fantastic new building, what they have got is they have got a place where we can work but all over the centre there were lots of open spaces where you can just sit. So rather than just going into a meeting office people can sit with other friends and work and they have got such a clever design, they have used a system that you don’t hear people talking so even when they are sitting, three or four of them can be sitting at a meeting, something about the way they have designed it means that the sound gets absorbed so they can talk in open space and it makes a fantastic difference. People are much freer and of course it’s a very creative place, that’s what they are about, it’s all about creativity and finding new solutions and new ideas. So, the two things exist in difference places under different pressures. Certain how people put the pressure on, others allow it to happen. The whole idea is to do this question about splitting, the whole struck me in thinking about it and to get in the end on to the final bit, which is about Keat’s idea. The question from the leisure bit for me is whether you can somehow create leisure, exist with leisure, work with other people, keep some leisure space, for yourself, for your colleagues, find space leisure in relation to work, rather than just select, work finishes off we go. I think the traffic in Bristol is a good example of showing how they are separated so by Friday afternoon when everyone is finishing their weeks work by about two thirty, certainly three thirty the roads are absolutely jam packed. So, the end of Bristol is mayhem and I think it’s because work happens in Bristol and when you get to it you have a chance to get off and get some leisure.
So just a reminder of the first three bits, key elements about reality, somehow lack needs to be there before or with, we need to get hold of lack, lack and passionate desire somehow need to keep together in my mind and leisure needs to work somehow with work, not split from it. So rather than having these all split, but I think the problem is that they are really under a lot of pressure. I think the pressure from work makes those things hard to deal with and Keats came up with this idea of capability. I don’t know if you know Keats or how well you know him, I really don’t know him particularly well, I read some bits and I’ve read about his stuff, particularly it was negative capability that got me interested in finding out what he was doing. He was a young guy, died at the age of 24 and he was really keen to be a poet and find out what it was about. He also trained as a Surgeon. It’s fascinating to read, I didn’t realise, I tend to think of Keats as being a kind of very, a poet and bla bla bla, but he started off as being a fighter because of the way he worked at work, he was short, only 5 feet tall, used to fight people, he then trained in medicine, he was in London at Guys Hospital and they had to go and find out how to cut up old bodies so when people dug them up, brought them in, you would get many, many students finding out how to cut up old animals and lots of maggots in there and the stink was appalling and learning how they work. It’s just horrendous and then he would go and help people in an operation. So you would have a table with the operation, he would be there to help do all the very unpleasant things they had to do and then a crowd of people round about watching, cheering, encouraging them. So the whole thing is quite different from what I thought his childhood was like but what he wanted to do and gave up the medical stuff in order to become a poet, he was trying to work out what makes the difference, what is it that can keep us in reality and turn us into real poets. In particularly what he was interested in was fear, terror, lack, gap, voids, things that had gone wrong and what we tend to do is to get on with work and just get the best we can and not really think about the horror of what is working or how badly its going wrong, what’s happening to education, what’s happening to the environment, what’s going on with all these things. If people do not have a personal sense of negative capability and what it means then when the issues come up, when there is a void, they tend to avoid it or if there is a problem many many people deny it, so if things are not going on well at work then people switch off and deny it or cover up what’s going on. We haven’t got the time, when we know it’s not working particularly well but let’s just get on with it, let’s do the best we can or ignore. I’m just at a very simple example about what I said about cars where the brake lights not working, there were plenty of people that I spoke to and said, “do you know it’s not working” and they said “yeah”. I had no intention of changing it or whatever, so they just covered up the problem or denied it, avoided it. So, these things avoiding, denying, covering up, ignoring are quite a strong thing in most places at work. If I had seriously taken what was going at the university and asked about that, not ignored as most people do, it would have been really radical. How can it be working, are students just simply not turning up, they are not there, they are not learning, they are not asking questions.
So, what about his definition. So, this is a definition from one of his letters and he was looking at the quality that went to form a man of achievement. So, people who achieved, who actually achieved something, he was interested in that and he said, what they need is they need negative capability and it is what it is. Negative capability is a way of dealing with our emotions, our thinking, which makes it possible of being uncertainties, mysteries and doubts without switching those off and instead reaching after fact and reason, reaching solution. Now his main interest, one of his main people he focused on was Shakespeare, so how did Shakespeare, how was he such a great writer, how did he cope with it and he came up with this phrase, if you read his stuff, week after week after week when he is writing letters and talking to people about what he thinks is going on, maybe it’s this, maybe this is the way people work, this is how they do it and on this particular occasion he was living in Highgate, London and he went with his friend to the Theatre, now that sound. fairly straight forward but of course Highgate was not part of London, it was a separate place, he walked in with his friend, they went to the Theatre and then in the evening they walked back. So, you’re talking like it’s a five mile walk in the dark, because you are travelling out of London and you probably know what London was like, absolutely filthy and stinking and horse, so it’s a really unpleasant walk and they had a 5 hour, I mean nobody walks really, not many walks to Highgate now from the centre of London. There are other ways and while he was talking about it he came up with this idea of negative capability. So it’s when we are, any of us, at or working place and there are uncertainties, mysteries and doubts that we face and what it doesn’t do if you got negative capability it means you don’t just somehow find a solution instead. Find a solution. You are able to live with the uncertainty, mystery and doubt.
So, the difficulty with it, negative capability, is a negative, an empty space, it’s not a capability at all but it’s the absence of all capability, its let go of all capabilities. I don’t know what else to say really, it’s a tricky thought, in fact capability is a bit misleading. It’s not the word doesn’t mean ability, capability means capacity, so it’s the capacity that someone has which is negative. So, when you know something is going wrong, when there are uncertainties, mysteries, to solve, then you don’t have to move straight away into solutions you can sit with it, you can survive with negative capability. It’s kind of caught on with certain people, in particular the place I first came across it was the psychoanalysis. So, I was taken by a guy called Wilfred Beon who was a famous English psychoanalysis and what he realised and was analysts have realised is that you have to be able to sit with a patient as an analyst. The same can apply to a lot of other places whether you’re a teacher, whether you’re talking with patients, whether you’re talking others but for a psychoanalysis you have, so he had one patient for example who I think he saw this guy, three days a week, it might have been five days a week, it could have been five days and in the first year the patient didn’t speak at all, he came in everyday and an analyst had to try and work a way that he could understand what was going. So, he would arrive, he would see how he behaved obviously, see what he looked like, he would sit down or lie down, he would make noises I guess or fall asleep so somehow Beon had to take in with this guy and it was true of any other patient where the patient doesn’t know what’s wrong otherwise they wouldn’t be there and the analyst doesn’t know what’s wrong so nobody knows what’s wrong. If you really train as a psychoanalysis nobody knows what going on. What happens is you meet with your patient, that day and you hope that somehow something will happen. So, this negative capability became a very crucial idea from him and its used, it has come into the world of psychoanalysis.
There we are, done, I think negative capability is the ability not to know the answer, what’s going on, know there is something going wrong and to be able to still survive, remain open, remain ready to sit with it and if you can then sometimes something else can happen. Either because the people that you are with no longer have you telling them what to do, it can kind of loose things. I do think that’s what it’s about but that’s what makes it such a difficult thing is actually to hang on to the things you can see that are not working particularly, are not working the way they could be or should be and rather than jumping in straight away with some kind of solution and suggestion is to wait and see and I think somewhere along the line negative capabilities always to do with letting go in some way. Now for Keats it was a massive thing but even anywhere in work it can just be letting go of a certainty of some kind. Saying this is how we are doing it but I am not convinced this is the right thing to do. So, you can let go of something on the way through and to be able to do it can open out a bit of time for leisure or it can allow you to realise that something is missing, there is something lacking, I’m no quite sure what it is, so people can start to look at it.
Thank you very much.
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