Thankless Thinking

I’ve become aware recently there’s a phenomenon in our society that I call “thankless thinking”.

A couple of weeks back I’d been browsing through a shop and on impulse, as I was about to leave, I walked to the counter behind which the shop owner was sitting.

“Thank you!”, I said to her. “I’ve enjoyed looking around and love your window display.”

She looked up, apparently startled. There was a pause before she grinned broadly and said, “You know, I’ve had several people wander in today to look around but you’re the first person who has thanked me – for anything!”

We ended up chatting for a short time – passing from the strangeness of folk to the foibles of some customers, then through the story of her grand-daughter’s 21st birthday party to her plans for retirement.

As I left I found myself reflecting on how a simple thank you had led me into a warm conversation and a small piece of someone’s life story.

And I was reminded of an ‘experiment’ I conducted for myself many years ago, when I was travelling to and from school on a bus.

For several days in a row I counted how many people alighted from the bus during the trip – and the number of those who actually thanked the bus driver as they left. Fom memory the thankers were only 20% or so of the whole!

For that shopkeeper, a ‘thank you’ is probably the usual response (with some rare exceptions) when a transaction takes place and a customer actually buys something. And maybe bus drivers are thanked more often by passengers these days – at least I hope so.

But I’ve found myself wondering … [Read more…]



gemsI was going through some old files and came across a poem I wrote a number of years ago about the joy of chance encounters.

It was written after a touring holiday, during which we stopped in a small country town called Carcoar in New South Wales.

Intending to stop for just a short break – to stretch our legs and enjoy the scenery – we came across a wee art gallery. A ‘brief chat’ with the artist became a fascinating four hour conversation with him and a friend of his! [Read more…]


Dreaming of World Peace

worldpeaceWorld peace .. does that sometimes seem an impossible dream?


We’re all human. We get cranky and annoyed. People irritate us – their actions hurt or anger us. And certain events in our lives lead to feelings of devasting pain, grief or anger.

We’ve all seen the effects of these things, either in our own lives or those of others around us. Depression, illness, substance abuse, violence – the list goes on.

And on a larger scale, deep hurt and anger can infect a household, a community or a nation. The cost of this is immeasurable in terms of human suffering.

But imagine what it might be like if, individually, we could transcend those feelings? What if, one by one, we could somehow find our own peace? And follow that up by reaching out a helping hand to heal the hurt and anger of those around us?

[Read more…]


Dialogue as Art

This evening, thanks to my friend and colleague Natalie Shell, I learned the story of two Irish artists who have created an unusual work of art …

Here is the story in their own words:

In April 2009, we sent a personal, handwritten letter to each of the 467 households in the small Irish village of Cushendall. We hoped these unsolicited letters would prompt neighbourly discussion, spreading across the town, promoting community curiosity.

The art work consists solely of the discussion between the recipients about what on Earth these letters are, who sent them and why, etc.

Lenka Clayton & Michael Crowe

Owritingn their blog website, Mysterious Letters, you can watch a video news story about their venture and also see a number of the letters – in themselves also a work of art. :) You’ll need to be patient, because it’s a long page and will take some time to load – but it’s worth the wait!

A fascinating story that left me with many thoughts whirling around in my head tonight.

Encouraging folk to talk to one another as a form of art. I love that idea.

I imagined folk who previously hadn’t exchanged more than a word or two with one another finding themselves in longer conversations – connecting, speculating and wondering. I imagined a buzz of conversation filling the air across the village, helping folks make connection and find synergies with one another beyond their shared experience of the letters.  Like an electric current of energy travelling through a grid and lighting up the atmosphere.

But isn’t it kind of sad to hear some folk were ‘scared’ to receive a friendly letter because it was from someone they didn’t know?

I also find myself wondering how many of us actually know enough about our neighbours to personalise a letter to them – let alone to do so for over 400 people in our neighbourhood.

And how many of us take the time and trouble to hand-write anything these days?

But … creating curiosity, wonderment and conversation. From where I sit, that is indeed art.

How would you have reacted to such a letter?


I Don’t Know

I’ve been listening to a lovely song by Lisa Hannigan, called I Don’t Know.

I’m  inspired to reflect yet again on the importance of connecting with other people and listening to their stories.

When I meet you, I don’t know anything about you.

I don’t know what your special gifts are; I don’t know what challenges you most. I don’t know what you like or what you don’t like to do.

I don’t know what joys and pains have carved out your being. And I don’t know what makes your spirit soar.

I don’t know until I listen to your story. Until I bring open ears and an open heart to time spent with you. I don’t know until I ask. And, as Alan Alda once said:

The difference between listening and pretending to listen, I discovered, is enormous. … Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I’m willing to let them change me, something happens between us that’s more interesting than a pair of duelling monologues.

Here’s Lisa Hannigan singing I Don’t Know:

I also love the way that Lisa, as she sings, cuts paper to make a beautiful world out of the blank room in which she begins.

For me it was a reminder that listening to your story also helps me build my own world – because listening to your story helps me re-story my own.