Wednesday, July 17, 2013

souvenirs angoumoisins

I spent the past week in Angoulême, the capital of the Charente department, in the French region of Poitou-Charentes.

I was there to attend a drawing workshop based on Betty Edwards' popular book, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain".  It was a lovely experience.  I learned a lot, and naturally, I drew a lot too.

After a day of drawing, I sometimes spent the evening exploring Angoulême, especially its historic center, appreciating the sights of a town famous for its annual Festival international de la bande dessinée (International Comics Festival).

The following are a few souvenirs from the exploration.

"La fille des remparts", Boulevard Pasteur

Eglise Saint-Martial

"Avec le temps", Rue des frères Lumière

"Un samedi à Malakoff", Avenue Gambetta

Below the pont de Saint-Cybard

Place Beaulieu

Eglise Saint-Ausone

View from le rempart du Midi

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre

Large grillon charentais, roasted camembert

Saturday, July 13, 2013

my new favorite philosopher

His name is Vincent Cespedes.

I discovered him thanks to my friend Mélodie, who sent me an e-mail last February about one of his conference-discussions at the Barrio Latino, in Paris.

I have never been big on philosophy, but I'll take Vincent since he talks ‒ at least in the video interview that Mélodie sent me ‒ about themes that matter to me: happiness, fears, self-work, optimism.

Check out the interview below.  Since it's in French, I have taken this opportunity to flex my translation muscles by providing you a transcript in English.  For free.

Interviewer 1: Hello Vincent Cespedes.

Vincent Cespedes: Hello.

Interviewer 1: Thank you for being with us this afternoon.  You are a philosopher, and the author of a book that is titled "Magique étude du Bonheur".  Let's talk about money and happiness.  Do you understand the sentiment of the French that say "Money, yes, it's true that it can help but it is not enough?"

Vincent Cespedes: Now that is a great lesson of philosophy.  We should not wait for a crisis to be able to rediscover it.  Money is a means, not an end in itself.  It is true that we live in a time where we tend to make money and celebrity existential objectives, goals in life. And that is a catastrophe in general.  Of course, you know the end of the adage: "Money does not buy happiness, but it contributes to happiness."  That means that it is very, very difficult to have a lack of money and of happiness because the absence of money is a factor of anxiety and of stress, and also, I would say, of bad health as well.  Money allows a certain mental health, but it's not an end in itself, that's for sure.

Interviewer 2: Is there, according to you, a recipe for happiness?  And if yes, what are the ingredients?  Tell us everything.

Vincent Cespedes: Well, as far as recipes, there is only one.  It's the recipe of two thousand years of philosophy, which essentially says: "You have fears in you, you have difficulties, mental blocks, you have to work on them."  It's about working on yourself.  And it is not simply that, it's also about working on society.  Because it is true that we can change our vision of the world by working on ourselves and this work on oneself, we have difficulty in doing it because we live hurried, simplistic lives, because we all run.  We are all hyperconnected, we forget this time of introspection, of reflection, of work on oneself.  But it's not simply like that we can be happy.  It's also by sensing that we are involved in the community, that we have an action in the world, that we connect to people.  You know, the classic test is to see elderly people at the end of their life and ask them the question: "So is life worth living, Grandpa, Grandma?"  And those who reply yes are those who say "I mingled with a lot of people.  I met some terrific people."  It is not "I got bonuses.  I got stock options."  It is really "I mingled with some terrific people."  That means that it is the human connection and the human mix that is the nourishment absolutely essential for happiness.  Of course, one must be capable of meeting people and getting out of community autism today of virtual communication ...

Interviewer 1: ... social networks.  You evoke the stress linked to our lives sometimes a little shaken up by the professional world in particular.  Do you have the sentiment precisely that the level of stress rises in people at work in particular?

Vincent Cespedes: Yes.  I intervene a lot in companies.  Philosophy in companies is more and more sought after.  And what is sure is that stress at work is an immense factor, I would say, of misfortune and sadness.  Stress is not a bad thing.  We should not criticize stress; it is the capacity to adapt to new situations.  But when the situations are new all the time and the necessity to adapt sollicits colossal energy resources on the part of individuals, we cannot create meaning, we cannot build relationships together.  Stress prevents the creation, I would say, of fraternal bonds.  And the sentiment of well-being at work comes from one's involvement in a team, the sentiment that one is useful.  It is valid also in school, with our youth in schools.  The happiness of going to study, the happiness of learning comes from the idea that I can do it, and that I am useful at that.  If we are in a school that is selective and rejects students with a note in red "Can do better", etc., well we have what is the opposite of happiness, not anxiety, but resignation.

Interviewer 2: Precisely, you mentioned that you are more and more sought after by companies.  What do you tell these employees?  What is the message that you pass to these employees, the employees that are stressed?

Vincent Cespedes: Well, I address bosses in general.  It is the bosses that ask in conferences.  First of all, my tic is to never betray my message.  I have convictions on capitalism, on politics, and what they ask is precisely on happiness.  They ask "How does one transform the well-being ‒ and I am talking about bosses ‒ how to transform the well-being at work into performance?  And does performance depend on happiness?"

Interviewer 2: So they want practical advice?

Vincent Cespedes: They want very practical advice but they want also a wide perspective, and the idea is that they must obviously trust their employees.  It's really about changing the work culture, about creating a culture at work where trust among people becomes a core value.  This notion of trust is essential.  We live in a complex world, and the great work notably of the philosopher is to transform complexity into trust.  It's the work of the 21st century.

Interviewer 1: A last word on the satisfaction index of the French.  It is often said that they are in low spirits and when we look at this study from INSEE, it appears that the French note at 6.8 on a scale of 10 their level of satisfaction.  It's not so bad.

Vincent Cespedes: It's not so bad, but it's not huge in a country, I would say, with consumer goods with easy reach.  It's not huge.  There are millions of poor people in France and above all, these surveys are obviously always skewed.  I am very wary of the polls because we can very well take anxiolytics day in, day out and say that we are perfectly happy.  But we are taking anxiolytics.  And we are a nation, you know, that consumes a lot of antidepressants.  These are less interesting figures, the consumption of antidepressants.  If we are a population of druggers who need to take drugs to feel better, we cannot say that existential satisfaction surveys linked to the ease of consumption are satisfactory.  I think that we should rediscover the contribution of the youth.  Spending time with the youth brings about happiness.  Spending time with children brings about happiness.  I think that we should reconcile ourselves with the youth.  And I think we should practice optimism.  That is, the idea that the future can offer us also better things.

Interviewer 1: That is a beautiful idea.  And to find out more, we will refer to your press conference.  A press conference that you will give shortly in Paris, at Barrio Latino.  It will be on January 29, a conference on optimism.  And that is a good plan.  Thank you very much Vincent Cespedes.

Vincent Cespedes: Thank you.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

bothering people

Say exactly what you believe & accept that you may offend on occasion over trying not to offend & risk no one knowing what you believe

‒ Simon Sinek

One early Sunday afternoon in late May, I was leaving my place to join my friends Aziz and Mélodie at the food market at Montreuil, a suburb of Paris.  I was taking the long route to the nearest metro station, and along the way I spotted a queue of about 12 people standing outside a boulangerie (bakery).  In the middle of this queue, I found an opening and instead of passing through, I occupied it.  Now I was queuing for some Sunday bread too.

At that very instant, the most daring run of Operation Original yet had been accomplished.  It had taken me months, not to mention several disappointments, before I pulled it off.

In all honesty, the run was not the success that I had imagined, since the guy in line behind me did nothing to let me know that I had taken his spot.  Actually, he did not react at all.  And since I was not there to buy bread, I ended up leaving the queue within a minute of waiting.

Later that day, I told my friend Christelle about my accomplishment at the boulangerie.  I found the whole thing amusing, but Christelle thought otherwise.  She felt that I was seeking to cause a confrontation with random people.

I could not deny her point of view since it was exactly the same point of view that had prevented me on different occasions from pulling off the feat in the past.  So after what Christelle said, I let my reflective self take over the matter.

I prefer to not bother people, not even for the slightest thing.  However, when traveling on a personal path of liberation, I think that the question of potentially bothering people or not ends up becoming secondary.  Important probably, nonetheless still secondary.

In this world that we live in, some people are often bored, depressed, or jaded.  They have beautiful ideas but lack the will to pursue them.  At the end of the day, they are stuck in a routine that does not help them.  So they search, consciously or not, for something new, something fresh.

Elsewhere in the same world are some other people.  They are more frequently energetic, excited, and enterprising.  They have beautiful ideas too, which they seek to realize at all costs.  To them, it is a matter of life and death.  Moreover, they think their ideas are beautiful because at the core of these ideas are people, as well as the opportunity to enrich the lives of people by giving them something new, something fresh.

Sounds like a match made in heaven, doesn’t it?

The consensus, it seems, is that people don’t like to be bothered.  That said, I think that there are some people that actually want to be bothered, albeit to an extent that varies depending on the person.  Some others do not mind being bothered a little.  Among these people are individuals that want to be seen, heard, or simply made to feel like they exist.  The more original the bother comes, the more likely some people will appreciate it.  And even if it is not pleasant, the bother will at least serve as a distraction from routine life.

Besides, what is bothering to some may be welcoming and even amusing to others.  There is no way to possibly know which the case is until the deed has been done.  Would it be worthwhile if we never took the risk?

On a more individual level, I actually think that it is primarily by taking the risk of bothering people ‒ as opposed to trying to hide from them ‒ that one can ultimately become free from the “Oh but what will they think of me?” questions that one often asks oneself.  I know that I don’t want to be dealing with these questions for much longer.

So bother people we will risk, when it is necessary, in order to become the free spirits we long to be.  We will do so with meaning, with style, with conscience, and with respect for others as well as for ourselves, to the best of our ability.

But bother people we will risk.