Pardoned - By Alex Willmott, Chief Features Writer
On 26 April 1999, TV favourite Jill Dando was fatally shot outside her Fulham home in London. I was 15 years, and I remember feeling a sense of shock, shared by anyone who watched UK television at the time. A little over a year later, local man Barry George was arrested and charged with the murder. A murder he would be found guilty of and subsequently handed a life sentence for. Eight years into the sentence, the Old Bailey would clear Barry of the horrific crime.
I caught up with Barry’s sister Michelle Diskin Bates, who recalled her experience for Sorted magazine.
Michelle, what were your initial feelings and how on earth did you process it all?
My world went into a tailspin in May of 2000, when my brother was arrested for one of the highest-profile crimes in Britain in recent years, the murder of Jill Dando, much-loved BBC presenter. My mum didn’t tell me because she thought it would all blow over and I wouldn’t need to be bothered with it; after all, it was a mistake. So, I heard it on the radio as I was getting ready to go to a ladies’ Bible study, and my life as I knew it fell apart. Nothing … could have prepared me for such a trauma. My nice peaceful life was replaced by a nightmare.
At each stage of the legal process we expected the judges to say there was no case to answer, though Michael Mansfield had said it would take a brave judge indeed to throw this case out. The profile of the victim meant they would probably go all the way. Then, on Monday 2 July, Barry was inexplicably found guilty and life took another downward spiral.
What was the first year like with your brother in prison, and did you have any hope that the legal system would rectify the situation? How did you try to support him from the outside?
I was totally overwhelmed and had no idea how to go forward; we’d been certain he would not be, could not be, convicted. There was nothing linking him to the crime. Our whole family, those in the UK and my husband and children in Cork, Ireland were dazed. How could we fight the might of the whole British justice system? We were just little people, we couldn’t fight a colossus. Then a feeling rose up from inside me… we couldn’t do this but God could.
It was Paddy Hill, one of the so-called Birmingham Six, who started us on our way to campaigning for Barry’s freedom. He had set up an organisation, MOJO, to help the wrongly convicted after his own exoneration and release from prison. Without their help I could never have navigated the maze that is our appeals system.
Eight years is a very long time. How did these years affect Barry, yourself and your family?
That first year was fraught with emotions as we supported Barry through one failed appeal, and when the House of Lords also rejected his appeal, refusing him the right to mount any further appeals. It was MOJO who wrote the submission for me, and together we took it to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).
They knew this was the only route open to Barry if he lost those appeals. The difficulty was that Barry told me not to work with MOJO, he didn’t understand that other wrongly convicted people would give their eye teeth to have MOJO helping them. I decided to go against his wishes and I have never regretted that decision. The CCRC took up his case, but it was to be five more years before we heard any positive news from them.
Mum visited Barry as often as she could, often weekly. I was living in Cork and it wasn’t so easy for me. I would have to leave my three children in order to visit, and that was agonising, more so when Barry would say we weren’t doing what we should be doing. The cost of airfares and the heartache of leaving my home made this a very difficult time. Obviously, Barry had no concept of what life was like for us on the outside, but I’m only human and my patience was thin at times. If I could have split myself in two I could have lived in both of my lives, simultaneously, that was how it felt.
What were your emotions when you heard the sentence had been overturned?
This double life continued until 2007, when we received the news that Barry was to get a new appeal. The CCRC were sending his case back because the main plank of the prosecution’s case, a single particle of firearms discharge residue, was neutral. It could not show he was guilty, neither could it show he was innocent.
We were approaching resolution at last. Then disaster struck. My husband of 25 years died, after a short illness. We were devastated. This was totally unexpected. … I considered stepping aside from helping Barry to be with my children in their grief.
“No, Mum, we have each other,” my youngest daughter insisted. “Barry only has you. You must continue.”
Barry won this appeal and was remanded for retrial. On 2 August 2008 Barry was, unanimously, found not guilty. Many would think that was the end of the story, but it was only the beginning of a new level of legal battles for justice, and persecution by the media. Barry is still fighting for justice; he has been told he will never receive compensation for his years as a wrongly convicted man. Basically, he is not innocent enough; he didn’t prove his innocence beyond reasonable doubt.
Tell us about the organisations that you work for now and why.
I have kept up my contact and friendships with MOJO, and am a supporter of their campaigns as they fight injustice for the wrongfully convicted. They, and others, are mounting campaigns and taking judicial reviews to have this ‘not innocent enough’ finding overturned because it undermines the presumption of innocence, a core legal precept.
Many others have been handed this decision since Barry’s case, but there is no legal avenue to prove one’s innocence beyond reasonable doubt, no court one can apply to with one’s evidence. Not guilty means not guilty, it doesn’t mean almost.
Recently I was honoured to be asked if I would become a patron for United Against Injustice (UAI). This organisation does not take on individuals’ cases, instead they run workshop to inform families and would-be campaigners how best to tackle a wrongful conviction. I have been a speaker at many conferences for both UAI and MOJO, also for others, including universities and women’s groups. This is a responsibility I take seriously.
It is my heartfelt belief that there is no fence to sit on when it comes to injustice. One either stands against injustice or one colludes with it. Justice is never served by the conviction of the innocent.
Michael W. Smith In Tune with the Realities of Success - By Peter Wooding
With a career spanning more than three decades, platinum-selling singer/songwriter and musician, Michael W. Smith is no stranger to the radical highs and lows that come with fame and fortune.
Since the early 1980s the 61-year-old American has won numerous awards including three Grammys, and counts Bono and George W. Bush as some of his closest friends. He performed at the Billy Graham memorial service earlier this year.
However, a number of challenges in his life almost caused him to throw in the towel last year after 35 years in the music business:
“I talked with my team at the beginning of 2017 and told them I’m not going to do another record unless I can write some stuff that really excites me. I was still grieving over my father who died in 2015 after suffering from dementia. The landscape changed in my life and I couldn’t write anything.
“I thought it would be two or three more years before I did any recording at all if I ever did record ever again.”
Fortunately, that writer’s block only lasted two weeks after he felt challenged to respond to the divisions in his country during the time of the US elections:
“It really wasn’t so much about the election. It was how mean and awful people were on both sides. It honestly made me angry. And the Church was at fault as well. That inspired me to start writing again.
“And then I also started writing about the teen suicide rate and drug epidemic in America. Two weeks later I got 26 songs on my computer. Then the floodgates opened up and I had 50 ideas. I literally ended up releasing two records in February that year, A Million Lights came out on 16 February, and then a worship record Surrounded came out just a week later which is completely insane on many levels. But I pulled it off because I felt that was what God wanted me to do.”
Michael’s passion for gospel music began in his church in Kenova in West Virginia where he grew up. He learned to play the piano at a very early age, sang in the church choir and wrote his first song when he was just five. Then as a ten-year-old he had an intense spiritual experience when he decided to become a Christian.
But after graduating from high school and feeling isolated from his friends who went away to college, he started to battle with drug abuse which led to a near-death experience:
“I just thought I could play with the fire and not get burned. It all came to a head in 1979, when I had a meltdown and nearly died from a drug overdose. I knew at that point that if something didn’t change I was going to lose my life. But thanks to the prayers of my parents and the support of so many people, my life was turned around.
“When you’re doing the things I was doing, it’s just a nightmare; you can’t think clearly and you’re hanging out with the wrong people. But from that day forward I said, ‘God, I need another rescue today, I need another rescue tomorrow,’ and all of a sudden, all these positive things started happening. God provided a way out of this mess that I was in and I was nurtured back to health for the next eight months.”
Then Michael met two people in the early 80s who would play a pivotal part in his life:
“In 1981 I met this sweet little 100-pound 5’ 3” woman called Debbie from Nashville; and we just celebrated 37 years of marriage. She is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.“Then, I started writing songs and all of a sudden I’m musical director for well-known Christian recording artist Amy Grant and I’m cutting my first record and I’m her opening act in 1982.”
Not long after this, his own solo career started to take off. His biggest success in mainstream music came in 1991 when “Place in this World” hit number six on the American Billboard Hot 100 and in 2009 he was inducted in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Over the course of his career, he has gone on to sell more than 18 million albums.
Through all this success it was his wife, Debbie, and his church prayer group, who helped Michael as he struggled to deal with the trappings of fame in those early days:
“I was enamoured by all the success and attention I was receiving. I was always concerned by how many shows we’d sold out and how many people had bought my albums. I was young and growing in my faith. But my wife was always straightening my head. She’d say great and she’d remind me who I was; and that all this was a gift. This is the goodness of God. Now when it comes to the awards, I couldn’t care less if I get another one.
“We’ve had a prayer group together for almost 30 years. I remember if I got a number one song on the pop chart I’d get puffed up and they’d say ‘It’s not about you.’ My pastor, Don Pinto who’s now 88 has really been my mentor all these years. He has always been really good at deflating my head when it got bigger than it should have.”
Now Michael and his wife have five children and 11 grandchildren and he says whenever he’s away touring he can’t wait to return to their family farm home near Nashville:
“When we had all these kids my greatest joy in life was not being a celebrity, my greatest joy was being a dad and being a husband. So that really . . . would point me in the right direction. After all the attention and the fame and whatever, I just wanted to go home and be dad and be with Deb. So, the whole family thing has just been a life-giver for me.
“When I’m touring, I give it 120 per cent but then I come home and I can’t wait to be with my family, but I’m exhausted. So it takes a few days to weave back into what reality is. I remember Bono telling me one time when he would do big tours his wife, Ali would make him go to a hotel for two weeks to wind down before coming home. I think that’s true I think I did hear that. But family’s always been the most important thing in my life.”
Michael explains how he’s managed to continue writing and recording so many profound songs for more than three decades:
“I write out of what I feel and what I experience. Sometimes I have a hard time finding the words to express what I feel, so the best way for me to process this is for me to write songs. “In 1999 I went to Littleton, Colorado to sing ‘Friends’ at the Columbine Memorial Service and it was a day that impacted me greatly. It was so overwhelming emotionally that I just had to find a way to cope with it and digest it all, so I found myself at the keyboard writing music. Meeting Cassie Bernall’s family inspired me. Cassie claimed she believed in God and lost her life for it. Inspired by . . . her story I wrote a song called ‘This is Your Time’ which is a challenge for us all to recognise through Cassie’s life, that now is out time to stand up and live life unabashedly for God.
“I try to stay current and to stay ahead of the curve. I surround myself with young people in the studio which helps me to be relevant to what’s going on today. Even though I’m old enough to be their dad.
“The challenge is to be yourself and not try to be Bono or Chris Martin or anybody – there’s already one of those. I’ve not always succeeded on every level. I push myself, I like adventure, I like to take risks and even if I fail, the journey has been awesome. I’m not one to play it safe.”
So what advice would Michael give to other men dealing with issues of pride that he experienced?
“Especially for guys we think we can do it on our own, we think we can solve every problem. We always want to win, we always want to be successful and be on top. And you know what when you look at what the Bible says “he opposes the proud [but] gives grace to the humble” [James 4:6, ESV].
“I think there’s a way that you can be clothed in humility and be a servant and absolutely just serve people for the rest of your life and be strong. Strong in character and strong in being a friend or being involved in your church. I think there’s a way to do that I know there is. At the end of the day, you have to surrender and God has a destiny, a future and a hope; and that future and that hope is beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I challenge you to surrender to that because if you do, your best days are ahead.”
Michael concluded by sharing one of the highlights of his career when someone told him how one of his songs literally helped to save their life:
“This lady came up to me and she said I was driving down the freeway and . . . had every intention of taking [her] own life; desperate, she was 19. She said [she was] driving down the freeway, [had] a pop radio station on and [my] song ‘Place in this World’ [came] on and she pulled over to the side of the road and just began to weep. And she gave her heart to the Lord, had an encounter with Jesus. Everything changed . . . And I just think it’s remarkable that a three-and-a-half-minute song can completely change someone’s life. That’s the power of music. So that’s the story I really remember.”
Michael Bublé Loves - By Samantha Fraser
Michael Bublé faced every parent’s worst nightmare when his son was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. The Canadian singer put his career on hold as he and his wife Luisana Lopilato cared for their sick boy, who was suffering from a rare form of liver cancer called hepatoblastoma. Two traumatic years later and five-year-old Noah is said to be responding well to treatment and Michael feels able to face the world again with his music.
His new album is quite aptly called Love and features a brand-new version of ‘When I Fall in Love’, made famous by Nat King Cole. Other tracks include new versions of standards ‘My Funny Valentine’, ‘When You’re Smiling’, ‘Unforgettable’, ‘La Vie en Rose’ and ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’. It also includes the self-penned original song ‘Forever Now’, plus a collaboration with Charlie Puth on ‘Love You Anymore’.
Michael and his wife recently welcomed their third child, daughter Vida. Alongside Noah, the couple have another boy, two-year-old Elias.
So how are you doing, Michael?
Good, thank you. Better every day. Just trying to live the new normal, whatever that is. It depends on the day and today is a good day.
You’ve called your new album Love – that’s as good a name as you can get?
Love. You know what? I really struggled with the name. Because obviously I’ve been through a lot … listen, this album like every album represents the snapshot of my life and where I’ve been and who I am. And so I [was] so focused on the theme of this record, on the seriousness of my interpretations of these songs. And the first name I had was actually My Romance and the reason I had called it that [was] because I felt like it was my romance rekindled with the music, my romance with the songs, my romance with the public, my romance with my persona, my work, my romance with my family, my romance with all of it. And someone was kind enough to say to me, “Listen, that’s a lovely sentiment but unless you can tell every single journalist in the world this and they can spread the word for you then people might misunderstand.” Because the truth is I didn’t think the word ‘romance’ adequately described what this record is. And what this record is, is a group of short stories that are my theory of love and the complicated varied, layered emotion.
This word, it is so many things. Love isn’t romantic always, you know, love carries many connotations. It carries sometimes violence and jealously and hatred and, you know, I can say that to you and sell it to you [as] “love means all these different things” but if I go through track by track, I can tell you that each one of them is a different kind of study of this emotion. I can start with ‘When I Fall in Love’, people say to me, “What a romantic song.” I see it, yes, as a romantic song, but a very sad song. It’s a very lonely song. … When I became the character of the song, I found myself bitterly sitting in a bar after six drinks wishing that I had what that man had with this woman, wishing that I could find someone who loved me too. And knowing that one day if I’m ever lucky enough to find that, OK I’m going to hold on to it, but for now, it’s only a dream, it’s only an apparition. And so, I find it almost depressing but beautiful in that way.
The next song, ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ has a sense of focus on that, almost the physical, at the beginning of romance, when the physical matters so much more than the mental. As in this person is everything to you and you could have a million things happening around you, but you see nothing else. And that is romantic love.
If I go down to the next ‘Love You Anymore’ the [Charlie] Puth song to me is a really complicated song because you’d assume when you hear it, it’s about a couple but it’s not, their romance is over. And it’s, I think, the lover looking at his significant other and … trying to say all the right things: “Well, just because I have your picture on my phone, just because when I hear our song my heart breaks, just because I would change everything if you would just take me back – well, that doesn’t mean I love you any more.” Well, I think he’s lying, he’s a liar, he can’t be honest with himself because he’s so in love with her that he might die of a broken heart if he admits to himself that he has lost the greatest thing.
Love is the most beautiful feeling, but it can also devastate?
Completely. But every song, every arrangement, I had a clear cinematic concept. ‘Love You Anymore’ was my [An] American in Paris. It’s me having two cultures, very much like my wife and I. Two cultures coming together and me walking as the ugly American down the street in Paris with this young, beautiful woman and speaking English to her. And I’ve written a counter melody so that she could reply to me in French and then we turn and now she starts to sing to me in French and I start to reply to her in English. And then within the solo we have this wonderful dance and we make love and we come out and all of a sudden, I’ve assimilated, I’ve completely taken her culture on and now we sing together in French.
And then we get to something like ‘Such a Night’ where I feel that that relationship has ended, and she has gone but I have great reverie because it was the hottest, sexiest, most wonderful night of my life and I’ll never forget the electricity. You know? It continues to go on.
And then I think the best for me personally, the one that has the greatest sense of what I’m talking about is ‘My Funny Valentine’ because this song in one song counterbalances this beautiful dark, romantic melody, where you’re telling this person that you absolutely love them, their imperfections are what make them so perfect to you and please don’t go, never leave me. And then on the other hand you’re saying to her, “Is your figure less than Greek, are you ugly? Is your mouth a little weak, when you open it to speak are you smart?” You’re questioning her intelligence here. It’s just mean, it’s downright cruel. Who would say that to someone? And in the relationship that is love. This song comes with all of this love and then almost hatred. What’s the word I’m looking for? Almost aggressive, not even passive-aggressive. But [an] aggressive kind of resentment towards this person.
I can continue, I can go down every song, but I had like a small movie in my head and I do that when I arrange, but I don’t think I’d ever had it come together as completely and as emotional[ly] as I did for this.
You’re talking big arrangements, big emotions – would you say this is your most grown-up album?
Well, after what I’ve gone through – yeah. I don’t think I knew how else to do it. You know? I think I took all of my fear and my gratitude and my pain and I just wrote and arranged, and I don’t know. I’m better now at this, like I feel like I’m complete as an artist, that I have come to a point where … my voice is the best that it’s ever been, I’m able to walk into the song and now become the characters because I understand the emotion involved, and … I don’t know if I was ever able to do that as well because I don’t think I … ever understood the level of pain or how to access that. But I wish that this was a ****** record and I wish that I didn’t have any of that. … I would never have traded this for that. It’s hard. I don’t explain it very well. … I know we have to acknowledge it because it’s impossible not to have context because how could it not … But I wish that I was light-hearted again because I will never be in my life. And that’s OK because that’s just what it is to be human and that’s part of life.
Have you changed a lot over these past few years in the way that you look at your career?
Yeah, you know, it’s funny. I think I didn’t want to let people know, but I wasn’t good. … I think I lost my love of all of it. I’m just talking about a sense of the profession. I had lost my perspective … I don’t know how to say it, I was having no fun. None. Zero. … My decisions artistically whether they worked or not has nothing to do with it, but were based on fear, the fear of losing it, the fear that it was going to go away, that it wasn’t going to be as big … I cared about what people thought, what they were saying, what the internet was saying, what the critic was saying and I just kind of lost my way a bit. … I think I was headed for a great downfall.
You were having your own career crisis and then your shock family news came along?
Yeah, and can I tell you what happened? As I was having this crisis, the diagnosis came and all of a sudden … I was sitting in like another dimension and this crisis I was feeling all of a sudden, this film that I had over me just popped. And this clarity, I was like, “What are you worried about …? You’re worried about this? What the internet said? … Or how many tickets or if the song is number two or number four on the chart?” And it embarrassed me. Sitting on my own in a hospital I was embarrassed and in that moment, I said, I knew, I didn’t say it, I’ll never go on social media again, I will never look at a critic, I will never read my name. I know it sounds strange. But from that day, which was Halloween day, I never again read my name in print. I never will. I never ever post. I mean they asked me to do something, holding the camera, “Hey the record is coming out”, never, no more, none of it. That day I understood, I thought, “Wow, I thought this mattered to me.”
It’s funny, the Christmas record, I had stopped doing my Christmas special and, you know, I stopped doing it because I was worried that people were saying I was a Christmas guy. And in that moment too I thought, “What’s wrong with you, Mike? This worried you that people were bringing you in to this beautiful, personal vacation time of family and love and faith and what? You were worried because there was a … meme of you on the internet.”
You’ve always come across so cool and relaxed about things.
No. I was a liar. … I was cool and relaxed and then I wasn’t. And people around me were worried about me. At the end they could see me starting to … there was no more joy. None of this. None of the light feeling … because the things that should be important, you know, it’s the journey, to share, to love and it just became all about, “What do you mean, the cover of Time magazine? What about People? I’m not on that.” This crazy … thing. I don’t know.
In “Forever Now” you sing “I’m always going to lift you up” – who lifted you up during this period?
You [the people]. You did. My faith, honestly, I’ve said this, so it feels like it’s weird when I repeat it, the love that we got from the people all over the world. The way that we were treated by the media gave us faith in humanity. It’s very easy to look at everything cynically and, my wife and I, there were days when there were people, we just knew they were praying for us and we knew that they were showing us this kindness and compassion, honestly. Because I never looked any more, I refused to ever look at myself in the paper, but I would have to go to a grocery store and buy stuff and I would see the way that it was covered with such class and dignity. People got us through more than they’ll ever know. And part of my reason for even having this record was that I wanted to be able to say thank you in a small … way and I wanted to be able to put together something beautiful and loving and peaceful and put it out to a world going through difficult times.
There is so much hate in the world these days…
Yeah, and for me it was my way of saying thank you. I kept saying it over and over again. My mantra was … I kept even to my co-producers David [Foster] and Jochen [Van der Saag], when they asked me what my idea was, I said that the concept was love, the concept was for this music to help people, I hope, the way that they helped me. And even though it’s anonymous and I’ll never know how it changes someone’s life, they’ll never know how they changed mine. So there was that and I kept saying, “And I want it to be bliss. I don’t want to work hard. I want us to have integrity and care, but every day should be just joy.! I don’t have room for anything else.
Did you keep your optimism throughout the tragic times?
No, I did not. No. I think that life changes for all of us when we face our own mortality, or when we face the mortality of someone that we love so much. … That’s just me, I can’t speak for other people. But, for me, I ask myself so many times and still, “What’s it all about?” Because you lose the importance, the things that you used to list as things that were so important to you. All of a sudden…
Family has always been important to you, though?
Oh, of course. Always. Absolutely. I always had that. I think what I meant was that I think you just get to this point where you … I think more philosophically; I don’t mean, “What’s it all about and what’s important? Family or this?” But, “Is it just pain?” It made my faith stronger. I thought, “How can we suffer so much? There must be something more than this, this cannot just be suffering and ashes to ashes, dust to dust. There must be a greater reason, what is the reason?” I still, I mean, we all ask this question, don’t we? This is the question. Where are we from? Where do we go? What is this? And I think that’s more what I meant. But the positivity I have is knowing how important it is to be grateful, and that gratitude in the moment, and to really remember that when something doesn’t go your way or you have a disappointment in your plan or your business, that you can hit yourself and say, “Hey, remember when it was really bad? Well, this isn’t so bad.” And I think that’s been a positive.
Is “Forever Now” a song you wrote about your wife?
Yeah. No, you know, of course I couldn’t help but write it about the experience … that I was going through but, you know, every song I’ve ever written, I have deeply wanted to leave something open-ended enough where your interpretation [is] it’s your song. It’s for you. And this song I thought, “Man, I would love for people to relate to this on the level of parenthood, of loving and taking care and being responsible” and not just for a child but for an animal, for a pet. Some people don’t have children and their dog and their cat or their lizard is … they feel as much love and as much pain and loss and all of that. And for me, I loved writing a song and it’s funny. Every time … I [got] stuck lyrically, [my co-writer Tom Jackson would] say to me, “But what are we looking for?” Over and over I kept explaining that this song was about time, I kept saying, “No it’s about time, Tom. It’s about time. It’s about how quickly time comes. It’s about this cycle of this life we live where we all suffer the loss and the fear, but we also celebrate this love that we have but we all have our time. Time runs out for all of us.” And it was funny, the hardest part of the song that I had was the lyric, “It wasn’t so long ago, we walked together, and you held my hand but now you’re getting too big to want to and I hope you’ll always understand.” But the original words were, “Remember when you were little…” and I hated it. They were these words that I’d sung quickly. Tom is such a wonderful lyricist that he helped me to sort of tell the story. I remember just over and over I kept saying, “This is about time. In this song I must have a way to express the journey that we’re going through and how quickly it all goes.”
Talking of time, it was Noah’s fifth birthday recently?
I know, it’s crazy.
What did you do?
Oh well, we had two birthday parties. He had one two weeks earlier because all of our relatives from Argentina were in Vancouver. So, we went to an indoor trampoline place. And on his birthday, we went and rented a pirate ship and we all became pirates and we sang, “Yo ho ho a pirate’s life for me” about 87 times.
You’ve also had a daughter recently. How is she doing?
She’s beautiful. My wife is so happy. My wife is in love. It’s really nice and really beautiful. Her name [Vida] obviously was purposeful because we felt like it was kind of a miracle for us. Out of something so hard, something so beautiful. And we were well aware because we had enough people tell us, I can’t remember, someone told me that 92 per cent of couples divorce and I understand why, because it’s too much. So we’re happy that we didn’t get divorced. [laughs]
Not only that you had another baby?
It’s funny. One of the oncologists said it to us, talking about that. He had said, “Listen, most … sadly it ends and then for some reason those few others have babies.” I remember at the beginning we looked at him and said, “Oh … sure.”
Did it all bring you closer together?
Closer yes, but, you know, I think you find out who people are when the **** hits the fan and you find out a lot about yourself and the other person, and I fell very deeply in love with my wife as a human being, as a mother. …
And if you can get through that, you can get through anything?
Listen, I don’t have another plan. I don’t ever want to have to … go on a date with another person in my life. Ever. She’s my best friend. I’m very lucky. I got very lucky. I married a great woman.
Are you going back on tour? Are you itching to get back out on stage?
Yeah. I’m not itching. I mean, I love it. I’m doing it, but I’ve already created a calendar that allows me to do what I have to do … but not to be away. The longest time away in the next two years is three weeks and that’s long. Nothing else ever passes that.
You moved to a new house as well?
Yeah, we just moved in. It’s nice.
And you have an ice hockey rink in the basement?
I’m the MC Hammer of jazz music. [laughs]
Was that like a dream come true, you were almost pro, right?
Totally. I love it. I hate going to the gym but when you skate, it’s exercise, it’s just a lot more fun.
Are your kids following in your musical footsteps?
The other day he got in the truck … and he started to sing, and out of the blue he wrote a song.
Noah. He said [singing], “Pappy, pappy sings but he can’t touch the piano like Alan” – that’s my co-writer. [Singing] “Uncle Alan plays a better piano, Daddy stinks.” He knows my limitations. [laughs]
Men On A Mission
Tony Sharp provides an update on the Who Let The Dads Out? Initiative.
The battles are still being fought, snipers are still taking shots on the fringes, but surely the war is effectively over. In 21st-century Britain, men now know that it’s good to be seen caring for their infant child, that sporting a papoose in the style of Daniel Craig is as OK as emerging, bronzed and buff, from an azure sea.
Of course, die-hards remain, along with the odd self-publicist, who will always hark back to more gender-specific roles. But our world is changing, and fathers and father figures could change with it, to navigate the confusing landscape of how to parent a child and how to stay together as family. It can be scary, but it can be an exciting roller coaster of a ride too.
The Who Let The Dads Out? movement is part of this changing landscape, and is led by Mark Chester and myself, but with the support of many volunteers and partners. We are ‘men on a mission’, working as a catalyst for change, but also adapting our own vision, attitudes and ways of working. In this article I’ll explain what Who Let The Dads Out? is, how it all began and where it is now heading.
The story starts 15 years ago in Hoole, a small suburb of the city of Chester in north-west England. And it starts with a church responding to a perceived need in the local community it serves, like so many other acts of human kindness. In this case, mothers at the parent and toddler group were concerned by the lack of engagement by their partners in the parenting of their newborn and infant children. This was threatening to break families apart right at that time when they are at their most vulnerable.1
The response was to create a time and place where fathers (and father figures) could come, meet other men, and experience spending a bit of quality time with their children. And amazingly they came: some 20 dads plus assorted infants on that first occasion in March 2003. Many had no idea why they were there, just that their partners told them they were going and dutifully they came. And the experiment continued, moving from a one-off to a monthly Saturday morning session, replete with strong filter coffee and bacon butties (and, of course, copies of Sorted) to sustain the men as they heroically bore their childcare responsibilities for a couple of hours.
What could two hours a month really expect to achieve? One possible answer may be found in some verses within the Bible. The prophet Malachi (see Malachi 4:6) talks of “[turning] the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (ESV). Read back in the book of Malachi and it becomes clear that this action is God’s approach to addressing problems of family break-ups. Fast forward 400 years and the angel Gabriel appears to foretell the birth of John the Baptist, declaring that he too will ‘turn the hearts of the fathers to the children … to make ready for the Lord a people prepared’ (Luke 1:17, ESV). If such a gathering of fathers and father figures strengthens the bond between them and their children, then maybe if can also strengthen families, and perhaps create opportunities for faith to be passed down through the generations?
But rather than solely rely on one interpretation of a few words written more than 2,000 years ago, let’s test this further against the latest research. Research such as that reported by The Guardian newspaper in September, highlighting that fathers who took sole charge of their babies for periods before they turned one were as much as 40 per cent less likely to subsequently break up with their partners.2
In a nutshell, Who Let The Dads Out? hopes to turn the hearts of fathers and children to one another so as to strengthen families.
But what started as one church’s project with a catchy title has grown into an initiative to encourage others to consider what it might look like to reach out to fathers in their communities; to be intentional and specific. While our aim is to support families by supporting fathers specifically, the realisation of this aim is achieved by inspiring and equipping church leaders, workers and volunteers to think about the opportunities, the benefits and the social need into which support can be offered. And let’s be clear, a Saturday morning group for fathers, father figures and infant children is just one way that organisations might respond.
How successful are we being in our mission? That’s such a good question, and one that is not easily answered. But to give it a go, let me describe three ways in which we might measure success.
1.Diversity of ideas – as we aspire to share best practice, here are some examples we can highlight:
The name that churches give their mission is itself a testament to the diversity of ideas – I imagine you can guess which of the home nations lays claim to ‘Boys, Bairns and Blether’, or the preferred viewing of the guys who set up ‘Men Behaving Dadly’.
The number of permutations of age range for the children that groups seek to accommodate is truly staggering and reflects a desire to support fathers through all stages of their parenting journey.
As one would hope, churches are hugely compassionate, and this is reflected in how they respond to the diverse needs of families in the communities they serve. There are groups specifically designed to support fathers caring for children with special needs, groups paying special attention to supporting single dads, and our experience is that all groups are welcoming to families of any faith or none.
The depth of engagement with families often extends beyond the initial contact established with fathers through a monthly group, and might include social events, parenting programmes, sporting endeavours, discussion groups, fundraising events and one-to-one mentoring/support.
2. What do the numbers tell us – how many families are impacted?
We currently have over 270 registered groups in the UK across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, plus overseas church groups registered in New Zealand, Australia, USA, South Africa, Denmark and Ireland.
Around 30 volunteers represent Who Let The Dads Out? in different regions of the UK.
Over 9,000 dads, father figures and children get involved every month.
100,000 bacon or breakfast butties are consumed every year at Who Let The Dads Out? Groups.
Around 50 per cent of dads report that they have a better relationship with their children through attending a group, and feel better supported to be a dad or father figure as a result.
Thousands of copies of the Who Let The Dads Out Soul Man? resource have been distributed to military chaplains and are being used with the serving personnel in our armed forces.
- Tales to tell – and here are some of the stories behind the numbers, in people’s own words
“In August my wife and I separated. She moved out of London with my son, a two-hour drive away, making it impossible to take him to the places we used to visit together. After a number of visits to the zoo and other outings, I was aware that we hadn’t had enough ‘normal’ time together, just playing trains and hanging out. I started to take him to different Who Let The Dads Out? groups each time I had a Saturday with him and they gave us that space I was looking for. Since November I have had him every other weekend. We visit a group for a morning together before driving home during his nap. Each group we’ve visited has given us a warm welcome. These groups have made a big difference to our time together.”
“I love the fact that family is given a lot of emphasis in Christian life. As well as the church family, which provides great love and support, I’ve tried to focus on changes I can make to my family at home. I used to think I was very patient and unselfish but I’ve realised that I was sometimes being selfish with my time. Therefore, I’ve made sure I put my family before me wherever possible and give my boys especially as much time and focus I can. This has led to those relationships becoming even closer and more rewarding for all of us. I would like to end by giving praise to Who Let The Dads Out?. It was this that got me into a church and started me on the path to faith.”
“It is the volunteers that make Who Let The Dads Out? such a special, safe and rewarding place to come. I have made good friends here and although I am not a regular church attendee on Sunday, this church and Who Let The Dads Out? are very much at the heart of us as a family – for family, community and friendship.”
“We baptised our first Who Let The Dads Out? dad on Sunday, it was brilliant. If you run a group, be encouraged, God is at work in the hearts of men.”
As our society encourages fathers to be fully involved in the lives of their children from day one, and increasingly provides the specific and targeted support that fathers (and likewise mothers) need, then are we approaching the completion of our particular mission? This is a question we routinely ask ourselves.
Our current view is “not yet”. We must conclude that it’s still a small fraction of the UK Church (let alone worldwide) that is able to implement or support a ministry to fathers. It’s in this context that Who Let The Dads Out? has recently been incorporated into Care for the Family. Care for the Family’s aim is to promote strong family relationships and to help those who face family difficulties, and is motivated by Christian compassion, with resources and support available to everyone, of any faith or none. Hopefully the synergy between us is self-evident.
Within Care for the Family we expect that the core elements that we offer will continue to be developed, and that our reach will be extended. For example, we are excited that we can further increase our involvement with the Playtime network which supports parent and toddler groups throughout the UK. We hear many stories of how our directory helps new families to find a group close to them that dads and father figures can connect into, and also of it helping families to settle into a new area after a move. We will continue to share the ideas, resources, stories and best practice that we gather from our groups and partner organisations. And we are looking to expand our volunteer team who are committed to supporting those local to them.
- One in three couples split up within three years of their first child being born, according to a research study by parenting website Netmums and reported by The Daily Telegraph, 18 April 2012.
- Guardian article reporting on Does Fathers’ Involvement in Childcare and Housework Affect Couples’ Relationship Stability? Helen Norman, Mark Elliot, Colette Fagan, University of Manchester, published in Social Science Quarterly, 2018.
On The Up - By Josh Senior
I’m going to be totally honest from the get-go and say I’m a competitive athlete and in the modern world of social media, your media presence is everything when it comes to achieving support or sponsorship. While I love sharing my story and believe it has the potential to inspire, motivate and encourage people, I’m also shamelessly seeking good publicity!
So, a quick overview of my story.
I’m 30 years old and an international competition climber on the GB paraclimbing team.
In August of 2010 I had an accident, a 35ft fall, which led to me breaking my back in two places, and dramatically smashing up my ankle. Following six months in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, a couple of eight hour-plus spinal operations and various other ops and procedures, I had reached a point where I shuffled around a bit on crutches but predominantly I was a wheelchair-user. With huge amounts of dedication, continued physiotherapy and gym work I reached a point where I was walking fairly effectively (however painfully), but as I walked better the damage to my ankle (which had been irrelevant in a wheelchair) became more apparent. Cut a long story short, a few ops later and lots of opinions considered I opted to have my leg amputated below the knee in 2013 and I’ve not looked back since.
Prior to my accident I was a keen rock climber and an outdoor instructor and I’ve returned to climbing in a big way. In 2016 I competed in three out of the four national paraclimbing series and reached a podium position in each leaving me in third position for the overall series. I was then invited to join the GB paraclimbing team and have had my first season of competing internationally. It was an exceptionally steep learning curve and the competition pressure alone was something I have had to learn to adjust to, but I managed to hold my own. Honestly, I don’t believe I’ve even scratched the surface of what I could yet achieve. I’m currently training like a bit of a madman both at the wall and at the gym, determined to get lighter, stronger and more powerful. Following this year’s national series, I am currently ranked second in the UK, and I am determined to be a serious contender at international competitions this year and beyond.
In addition, almost more importantly, I also want to position myself so that I can do some big expeditions and push the boundaries of what it means to be ‘disabled’.
Alongside the competitive rock climbing I also want to do some big wall climbing around the world in the future. I’m a keen kayaker and lover of adventure and exploring. I really believe I will get to some interesting places; it would be wonderful to have the backing to really push the boundaries of disability.
My current goal list consists of:
Compete at the next world championships.
To one day achieve V10 grades.
To lead 8a climbs. This and the goal above refer to climbing grades which are exceptionally hard grades for anyone, let alone someone with injuries. These goals will push me incredibly hard.
White-water kayak grade 4 rivers.
Run more obstacle course races.
Alongside all of this, my ambition is to be an ambassador for sport in general, show its life-changing powers for people, both mentally and physically, and I want to be an example. By that I mean I want to be an example of good sportsmanship, I want to be an example of what hard work looks like, an example of the power of positivity and an example to my boys to never give up on their goals.
My faith has been a huge part of getting through my initial injuries, rehabilitation, surgeries and recovery. I don’t know how I would have handled anything in that time without God pulling me through on one side and my wife pushing me through from the other.
Don’t know if this is helpful or not, but a friend made a short documentary as a university project. It might give you a feel for who I am: youtube.com/watch?v=GyTMUp8DD8Q&list =UUAYyYLlk8tdq1ob4RC3juQg
You could also get a feel for who I am through Instagram, too, @josh_senior and I have recently started my own YouTube channel which is very much in its infancy but I’m excited to see where it goes – https://www.youtube.com/user/jts107
So that’s who I am. If you are interested in doing something, let me know.
Thanks so much for reading.
Into the Lions’ Lair - with Gary Spicer
The Lions were created a number of years ago by Gary Spicer and a travelling companion out of what Gary calls a minister’s frustration to release an entrepreneurial spirit in the Church in the UK. Gary kept asking himself, “How can we connect with that for the kingdom?” The conception came at Geneva Airport of all places, as a springboard to launch and pioneer the idea of a type of Dragons’ Den with the three Cs, Community, Church, Commerce at its heart to create a social impact and to release all the dreamers.
Initially accepting between 60 and 90 applicants, the candidates are whittled down to 15, for a six-weekend experience with people who have been ‘successful’ in their chosen fields, the “good, the bad, and the ugly” as Gary puts it, in the Belfry Hotel in the Midlands. There, they discuss things like the concept of their pitch, case studies of things that have gone wrong and those that have gone right, business plans, team dynamics, legal aspects of what they are doing and how to build good teams. This culminates in an elevator pitch exercise where the applicants have two minutes to pitch to each other. That cuts out the waffle and fantasy and makes them focus on faith and purpose.
The sixth week sees them enter the Lions’ Lair, where they have ten minutes to make their presentation and then face a further ten minutes of questioning to check that the plan is sustainable. If they can convince the Lions, the successful applicants are accepted for the second year.
During that second year, intimate close and purposeful coaching, not lecturing, is where the focus is on creating a structure and sustainability to the dream. They encourage dreamers, but there is a clear difference between a dream and a fantasy. Encouraging and nurturing the dream with faith provides the right foundation to flourish, no matter what their vision is for.
The first year is paid for by the participants, although it can be subsidised, and for those successful to progress, the second year, which sees the applicants again reduce in number to four to six people, is free.
They can look forward to boardroom presentations to previous participants and other second years, and a great deal of support and resources. This is where the Lions is vastly different to television’s Dragons’ Den. There is no profit made by the Lions. They are financed by contributions from businesses, entrepreneurial businessmen to promote an entrepreneurial spirit in Church and ultimately the kingdom. Unlike the Dragons, the Lions don’t lend money with the expectation of a capital return of investment, they give a grant, seed money, with the question: “What is the kingdom aspect of this?” Success is defined not purely by financial return but the impact the venture has on the kingdom.
I asked if there any success stories that really stand out for Gary. There’s a number. The first that sprang to mind was Gemma Francis who founded community choirs, which started as a small choir that grew into big town choirs, getting the community together through singing. This evolved into the BIG Sing™ with more than 15 choirs of around 12,000 people going into prisons, schools, hospitals, old people’s homes, and corporate events and television.
Others include a 24-year-old businessman who has built up an incredible network and property portfolio which has created a financial freedom that he sows back into the kingdom. His branches of Christian businessmen networking together, training others, and above all encouraging others is an example of the ‘domino effect’ of the Lions.
Another success story is the Be Strong project, founded by a “rough diamond” who had been through the prison system and came out with a dream to help other former prisoners. Among the great work the charity does is helping former prisoners find a home, teaching them skills and helping them into a job. Initially, this great dream wasn’t managing to flourish, it wasn’t financially sustainable, but with help from the Lions’ experienced mentors and networks, the coaching and assistance they were able to provide have helped make it a financially sustainable organisation.
I asked Gary where he felt they had the biggest success rate, and he felt that it was probably in the world of business and that creatives were a little more difficult, but they had many growing success stories in the arts and theatres, citing a theatre company in Oxford. Tough messages, variety celebrate
Next March sees the Forward 19 conference, a one-day conference in Coleshill where leaders with a heart for the three Cs have the opportunity to feed into new ideas, and gain coaching and networking with people who have also had a dream and have found a way to make it happen. It’s the tapestry that connects arts, commerce and the Church.
Are you a dreamer, a budding entrepreneur, or someone with a big idea that can’t seem to get off the ground? Maybe the Lions are the link that can get your venture on the road to success.
11 Signs You Lack Emotional Intelligence
Nick Keith discusses the key to understanding feelings, plus strategies for seeing them more clearly and dealing with them through emotional intelligence (EQ)
The good thing about emotional intelligence (EQ) is that we can acquire it with practice. Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and editor who was educated and taught at Harvard, declared that IQ (intelligence quotient) was not enough to achieve success, in his best-selling book Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ(Bloomsbury, 1996).
For Dr Goleman, 80 per cent of a person’s success is down to EQ and 20% per cent to IQ. While IQ elicits a score for your intellectual ability, EQ provides a masterplan for success in life by helping to recognise and channel those troublesome emotions, intelligently.
And what of IQ? That first surfaced just over 100 years ago when William Stern, a German psychologist, coined the term in a book. It has been used as a way to measure intelligence through specific tests, many of them now online at websites such as mensa.org. They are used to judge peoples’ capabilities for jobs, and in education and in measuring disability.
However, intelligence on its own seems a narrow way to “measure people’s capabilities”.
“IQ and emotional intelligence are not opposing competencies, but rather separate ones”, he writes. “We all mix intellect and emotional acuity … Indeed, there is a slight correlation between IQ and some aspects of emotional intelligence – though small enough to make clear these are largely independent entities … of the two, emotional intelligence has far more of the qualities that makes us more fully human.”
First let’s deal with some blocks to emotional intelligence, which are linked, and which may cramp your development of other life skills.
- Confrontation – you run away from challenges. While simple survival is a primary instinct of a primate, including man, when threatened, there is a basic instinct within us to meet the challenge (to fight) or to flee for safety (flight). The third option is to keep absolutely still, which is advised when facing some wild animals. All three forms of defence can be positive and allow us to survive. But to thrive we need to take action and embrace the challenge.
- Lies – being economical with the truth, or lying, tends to work against you. In this case, the block is that you can’t speak your own truth, i.e. stand up for what you believe in.
- Poor judgement – you aren’t confident in your judgement. Your perceptions and verdicts on life, people and events do not make sense to you.
- Shirking an issue – you can’t always avoid the heart of a matter if you are to remove blocks. Heart is equivalent to courage (from the French coeur or heart), and you need to be brave to get to the heart of things.
- Conventional catches – in a fast-changing world, it is very difficult to solve the problems of today by using the methods of yesterday. Einstein said something like this: “You can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking.” So, embrace innovation and new things because sometimes you need to consider them and try them to get on in life.
- Challenges – (similar to 1). But a challenge does not have to be confrontational if you approach it with confidence, awareness and the aim to succeed.
- Vague values – if you don’t defend your own ideas and values, it’s hard to develop a coherent sense of purpose.
- Surrendering softly – to succeed in life you need persistence, patience and the motivation to keep on keeping on. Giving up easily is a major block.
- Being risk averse – to take risks requires confidence, good judgement and self-belief.
- Lack of self-worth – if you question your ability and lack self-belief, you will struggle with your emotions. See the findings of researcher Brené Brown below.
- Sense of powerlessness– you don’t have the mental and emotional strength to meet challenges, speak your truth, defend your ideas, try new things or get to the heart of the matter. This is an overarching concern.
Note that many of the signals are about avoiding an issue. Goleman’s answers to changing these habits and achieving EQ competency are five-fold:
Awareness: This is the essential trait to meet all emotional challenges. It means staying in the present and being watchful when emotions are triggered (usually by the memory of some incident in childhood, which may have been small, and is probably forgotten).
Self-regulation and self-control: This ability helps to channel your nervous energy into a positive force.
Social skills in relationships: The main skills in relationship are communication. That in turn allows you to maintain a clear and honest dialogue where you listen to the other person or persons in your life, with care, as much as you talk.
Empathy: Take account of other people’s feelings. (Sympathy is completely different. That is when you are sorry for someone and take pity on them.)
Motivation: The desire to succeed for the sake of it.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines emotion as “any agitation or disturbance of the mind; a vehement or excited mental state”. Goleman adds: “There are hundreds of emotions along with blends, mutations and nuances … Researchers continue to argue over which emotions can be considered primary.”
Competencies help people come to terms with what Goleman describes as the primary emotions: anger, sadness, fear, enjoyment, love, surprise, disgust and shame. In this list ‘surprise’ seems to be the surprise, but it is simply a big unexpected event or challenge. Also missing is jealousy, which Goleman describes as a “variant of anger that also melds sadness and fear”.
For Goleman, the dangers for people who lack emotional intelligence include: becoming aggressive and bullying, feeling lonely and depressed, dependency on drink and drugs, and eating disorders. Since his book was published, other experts have shed more light on our emotions and how we can recognise them and channel them.
Awareness and self-control are two of the hardest emotional skills to acquire. But they go together. Dr Joan Rosenberg, an American psychologist gave a TED talk about dealing with unpleasant feelings and getting on top of your emotions. “If you can experience and move through eight unpleasant feelings you will achieve emotional mastery.”
Dr Rosenberg identifies her eight unpleasant feelings as sadness, anger, shame, helplessness, vulnerability, embarrassment, disappointment and frustration. She describes how neuroscientists have established that emotions are a biochemical release which floods through the body like a wave, bringing feelings which are unpleasant or uncomfortable.
For example, a feeling of grief involves wave on wave, multiple waves, but they will always subside. One spontaneous memory of grief will launch the same wave of emotion again and again.
“What we feel emotionally is first felt in the body as physical sensation,” she says. “The wave is triggered by a memory which dates back to childhood, an incident, possibly quite small, which your childish perception has labelled as ‘bad’ and retained. That’s what we want to flee from or be distracted from,” she adds. “We are afraid that they will be too intense, and we will lose control.”
As with Goleman, her remedy is awareness. “Make the choice to stay present, fully present. It’s about awareness not avoidance.” The feelings last about 90 seconds, so “ride the wave” she adds. “Feelings are temporary. The waves come up spontaneously and they will always subside.”
Another TED talk by British neuroscientist Dr Alan Watkins in 2015 outlined his version of “Why you feel what you feel”. Infant children usually become aware of their bodies by the age of one, he says, and emotionally aware within another year. Between the ages of three and six they develop a conscious sense of ID, an awareness of the ‘conceptual self’. From six to nine they learn that there are rules – a ‘concrete consciousness’.
Dr Watkins declares that most of us get stuck at the age of nine in terms of emotional development. And, like Goleman, he insists that there are thousands of emotions – in his case, 34,000.
He says that in teenage years, people challenge the rules. But, when they become adults, they learn to follow rules (sometimes unknown or unwritten) to become good citizens, socially and at work. In mid-life they start to question the rules again, often called a mid-life crisis. And the coping strategy of many mid-lifers will either be anaesthetic (alcohol or drugs) or distraction (work, exercise, sex or material things like shopping).
He differentiates between emotions and feelings. Emotions are the energy which activates our feelings (indeed the original meaning of emotion was “moving away”. Compare this with Dr Rosenberg’s view where waves of feelings move through us as part of a biochemical reaction to a memory).
The way to come to terms with emotions in Dr Watkins’ view is similar to other experts cited – straight-thinking, awareness and control. The pressure and challenges of life create chaos and stop awareness and the ability to think straight. “We are designed that way,” Dr Watkins says. “It’s about survival. Your brain has to become unsophisticated and binary – fight or flight (or play dead). We have some old software and we haven’t upgraded.
“How well you think at any one time will depend on your biology. You have to change the context and the emotional state from which your thoughts emerge. Then you can change the quality of the thought and the thought itself. Until you take control of this physiology, anyone or anything can make you look like an idiot.”
He suggests the trick is to retain and regain conscious control of your breathing through special deep and rhythmic exercise. Focus on the heart, which he says is the seat of emotions, and “learn to regulate your emotions”. He adds: “The prime predictors of success are passion (which comes from the heart, as we know), determination and focus.”
Value of vulnerability
The result of EQ and being aware may mean that initially we feel more open and vulnerable. Here we find solace in the wise writings and TED talks of Brené Brown, a self-styled storyteller and social researcher. Her witty and wonderful TED talk about the power of vulnerability has been watched my more that 35 million people.
In a massive piece of research on connection she found that people she interviewed all too often felt a deep sense of disconnection, heartbreak and sense of worthlessness. This resulted from “shame, underpinned by vulnerability”.
However, she concluded that people with a strong sense of belonging:
Were wholehearted and open
Had the courage to be imperfect
Could let go of what they should be to achieve connection
In her book Daring Greatly (Penguin Random House, 2015), Brené Brown writes:
“To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.
“The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage. In me, it’s weakness.”
So, now we know the source of, and have seen some solutions to, our emotional upheavals, we have to remove the blocks and achieve EQ by practising awareness, empathy, openness and vulnerability. They say practise makes perfect, but it may be preferable to remember BrenéBrown’s maxim: “Have the courage to be imperfect”.
Sorted Issue 67
In the our latest Issue 66, read about turning from a life of crime to a life living for God, 007 and walking 1,000 miles. We also have many more brilliant articles from our great team of columnists. Don’t miss this limited edition magazine.
And Gadgets, Entertainment, Motoring, Movies, Technology
Plus, the greatest team of Christian writers ever assembled.
The Rise of the Nice Guy Leader - by Andy Cope
The three Rs of leadership
As 9-5 morphs into 24/7, it brings mounting pressures and new rules. Your life is full-on, relentless and exhausting and worse still, it’s zipping by in a blur. It’s easy to end up careering from one crisis to another, buzzed up on sugar and coffee, existing from one holiday to the next.
The quickening pace applies to all aspects of life, but nowhere more so than the workplace. Too many emails, customers and back-to-back meetings.
The leader’s job is to squeeze more from less. You can’t work any harder. And if we tell you to work smarter, you’ll want to knee us in the groin. You’ve thought inside the box. Outside the box. You’ve even removed the box. So, where next?
You deserve a break. We believe leaders need to be challenged in an entertaining and humane way so enter, centre stage, Leadership: The Multiplier Effect, a rip-roaring tour through the essentials of leadership as it needs to be RIGHT NOW.
We’ve always been a bit jealous of education and its three Rs, so in a mind-blowing explosion of simplicity, we’ve supplanted the Rs to leadership – relationships, relationships and relationships.
The more crises that come our way, the more we can be excused for throwing ourselves headlong at the problem(s). I mean, after all, when everyone around you is sinking, the right thing to do is roll up your sleeves and muck in, right?
Maybe? It’s certainly easy to get sucked into helping out at the coalface. Jumping in, superhero-like, is sometimes absolutely the right thing to do.
However, step back and consider that not all superheroes wear capes. Some might wear a headset, a hard hat, tabard, overalls or a tool belt. Transport-wise, while a Batmobile might be ultra-cool, it’s more likely your superheroes will drive a van, a lorry or turn up at work in an ordinary car. Incredibly, some superheroes actually cycle to work. And while the movies might have you believe in a lasso of truth or invisibility cloak, your real-life superheroes might wield a mop and bucket, a spanner, keyboard, spreadsheet or ordinary-looking briefcase.
So superhero lesson #1: just because your team members look normal, doesn’t mean there’s not a superhero inside, itching to get out.
Secondly, spotting them is the easy part. Getting your Diana Princes and Peter Parkers to reveal themselves to the world is not always as easy as it seems. Remember, they might not actually know. Or they simply forgot they were amazing. Recall the first Harry Potter movie. Our speccy hero was living in cramped conditions underneath the stairs. He had no idea that he was a wizard. Indeed, it took a while for him to start believing in himself.
Thirdly, if points 1 and 2 are about reminding you that leadership isn’t about being a superhero, it’s about creating them, there must be a more subtle leadership point underpinning everything we’re saying, and it’s probably this; superhero lesson #3: however much you like the feeling of cape, tight lycra and pants on the outside, continuing to haul your team out of the mire won’t help in the long run.
So, what’s the real answer? If you’re being an inspirational leader, the best version of you, what should you be focusing on? Should you be making a passionate authentic speech from the balcony? Should you be explaining the intricacies of your magnificent vision, telling the stories that help them make meaning of it? Should you be leading the charge with your sabre in the air?
Ordinary on the outside
In the summer we saw the rise of a new breed of leadership superhero, a waistcoated one, the rise of the ‘nice guy leader’ – step forward England gaffer Gareth Southgate.
In time, Southgate will write an autobiography (I’m guessing Sartorial Leadership) and we’ll find out what really happened behind the scenes.
Our great leader seems to have pulled off the near-remarkable feat of getting to the semi-final without upsetting a single soul. No burning effigies. No turnip-headed headlines. We love him. The press loves him. His players love him. Even the ones who didn’t get a game love him.
How the heck did he manage that? The answer lies in chickens, science and the All-Blacks.
Free range leadership
First up, chickens. Even when times are hard I can’t possibly ever buy eggs from battery farms. I once watched a TV documentary where they went undercover in a chicken farm. They filmed awful conditions and it was all very inhumane. The hens were worked around the clock with minimal appreciation and zero love. The girls were, literally, worked to death. Oh, and the eggs are rubbish.
So, I spend a few pence more and get ‘free range’ because these chooks have been allowed some leeway to stretch their legs, take in some fresh air and feel appreciated.
The farmer loves them. Oh, and the eggs are great.
We think there’s a leadership message in there somewhere?
Happiness is your competitive advantage
Secondly, the science of connection. I’ve spent 15 years researching employee engagement. I’ve interviewed happy staff and, guess what, I’ve found out a whole load of stuff that falls into the category of ‘common sense’. Just like the hens, employees are more productive when they feel happy. And in workplaces where they feel respected, listened to, consulted and involved, they are more likely to work harder, and less likely to take a sickie. Happy staff are good for business.
No way. Really?
So why is it that so many staff are unhappy? You can take your pick of the studies. A survey of 32,000 employees found that 43 per cent were detached or actively disengaged, with 22 per cent feeling unsupported. In short, they’d really rather not be there. Another suggests that a paltry 19 per cent of employees are actually engaged in their work.
Southgate is a clever chap. He knows that ‘connection’ is massively important. A couple of decades ago, England was blessed with a ‘golden generation’ of world beaters who failed to get out of their World Cup group.
There’s a classic Muhammad Ali YouTube clip in which the champ is addressing the Harvard graduates of 1975. Ali was known for coming up with clever poems, so an audience member asked him to recite one and at a length of exactly two words, what followed may very well be the shortest poem in recorded history.
Ali said: ‘Me, We.’
It’s a pithy reminder of the importance of connection and empathy, the ability to tune into yourself and to get on someone else’s wavelength. Introspection only gets you so far. We need some ‘outrospection’ to really live good lives.
And finally, a point often missed in other leadership books, the workplace secret sauce is camaraderie with your work colleagues. High-quality connections are important sources of happiness and energy for employees, with research reporting that individuals who have a bestie at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job.
Hence Southgate adopted the All-Blacks recruitment tactic of ‘no d****heads’. Some world-class Kiwis have never worn the black jersey because they weren’t the right fit. Southgate chose 22 players who he knew would gel as a unit.
Famously, the All-Blacks have a policy of ‘sweeping the sheds’, meaning that they clean their own dressing room. They take mops, buckets and brushes on tour and leave their dressing room in pristine condition. I don’t think Gareth and the lads went that far but we, the viewers, got a sense of humility. For the first time in living memory, the players seemed to enjoy each other’s company and wore their shirts with honour and pride.
As did Southgate, with his waistcoat.
Put together the chickens, science and All-Blacks and what have you got? We think it boils down to this: It’s about creating the right culture. In high-performance teams, the players feel loved. They’re there because they want to be there. They aren’t just committed to the success of the team, they are also committed to the success of each other.
Separated by Violence, Reunited by Faith - by Simon Pinchbeck
The story of Renton Baker and Simon Pinchbeck
“When the lord takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them.” (Proverbs 16:7, NIV)
Its 2 May 1982 at Arsenal’s Highbury football stadium. More than 20,000 fans crowd into the North Bank terrace for the Arsenal vs West Ham United game. On one side is Renton Baker, aka ‘Chopper’, an infamous Arsenal football hooligan, on the other Simon Pinchbeck, aka ‘The Walrus’, a renowned Metropolitan Police officer.
The West Ham hooligans, known throughout the UK as the ICF, or Inter City Firm, had surrounded the Arsenal boys, known as The Herd. They had let off a huge red smoke bomb, and vicious fighting ensued across the terraces of the North Bank. The game was stopped as the crowd spilled onto the pitch. In the middle of the smoke, Renton was fighting against the ICF thugs, and Simon was fighting hard to separate both sets of fans, and bring order so that the game could take place. Outside the ground, a young Arsenal fan lost his life after he was stabbed to death.
Renton and Simon were sworn enemies – Renton and his hardcore hooligan mates trying to outfox the police, and causing havoc at every Arsenal home game, and Simon and the Metropolitan Police attempting to catch them in the act. There were no CCTV or camera phones in those days, so the battles often took place inside the grounds, with the police stuck in the middle.
Out of control
As the years passed, violence was still a way of life for Renton, who had built up a vicious reputation in his hometown of Luton. Twice he had planned to take someone’s life, the second time stepping over his injured son, who was lying on the floor bleeding, so that he could take revenge on the guy that had assaulted him. Renton was married, with three boys. This was his way of protecting his family because it was all about him and his reputation. He was an incredibly selfish man.
As for Simon, he was still serving in the police; he too was married, with two boys, but also very selfish. In fact, so selfish that he left his wife and children at a time when his wife’s mother was terminally ill with cancer.
One time, Simon had a fight in a nightclub with an off-duty police officer, knocking his teeth out, and ended up on a serious assault charge. Some 18 months later he received a not guilty verdict at Woolwich Crown Court; his violent actions were attributed to the PTSD he suffered at the football match mentioned above. He then left the police and embarked on a career of a very different kind – as a criminal.
Meanwhile, Renton Baker’s violence was in danger of spiralling out of control. He was having to become increasingly more vicious just to keep up his reputation. He would fill a lemon squeezy bottle with ammonia and spray it in people’s faces before attacking them.
It was at this time that his wife became a Christian. Her grandfather was a great man of faith, and at his funeral, Renton was challenged by the minister to accept Jesus. He felt like a finger was pointing right at him. He rejected this offer very rudely, but a few days later went to see this guy, confessing all he had done, and accepted Jesus into his life.
On a roll…?
Renton’s old enemy, Simon, had left the police, and had started training with a group of villains in a local gym. He had been searching all his life to feel complete, and he thought that money and material things were the way. He started out doing some low-level debt collecting, then he and his new colleagues would smash into places and take lumps of cash. He could now buy big SUV cars, have expensive holidays and designer clothes, but he found out that this did not satisfy him. He wanted more and more money. In the end, his greed saw him ripped off for a large amount of cash he had put into a ‘get rich quick’ scheme initiated by his new mates. He went over to Spain to get it back, but it had gone. He couldn’t argue with these guys, as they would come after him and his loved ones. So he was left feeling that he was caught between the police, who were following him, and the villains who did not trust him. In fact, Simon believed he was going to end up in a shallow grave or doing a very heavy prison sentence.
Renton, however, was on a roll with his new Christian faith, leading Christianity Explored courses. He also went to Tanzania building houses, and would tell everyone on the building sites where he worked about Jesus. Then one night, one of his boys was in serious trouble in a local pub with a guy that owed him money. Renton rushed to help, but as he did so the old Renton returned. Entering the pub armed with a large kitchen knife, he set eyes on his intended victim, who was being escorted by two men dressed in black. Renton attacked the guy in the middle, only to find out that the other two were plain clothes police officers. He was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of a police officer.
Simon was, by now, an angry man, plotting and planning how he was going totake revenge on the people who had taken his money. But God was about to throw him a lifeline.
As he stormed out of a gym one Saturday afternoon, he saw a guy on a running machine; this man had been very violent, a feared man in his day, but he had turned his life around through his faith in Jesus Christ. There was a peace in this man, and Simon realised that he needed to know more about that.
They went for a few breakfasts, and Simon discovered that this guy was also an Arsenal football thug in the 1980s – and he remembered Simon as The Walrus.This man took Simon to his church, Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), where Simon said a prayer with vicar Nicky Gumbel, and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.
Simon’s faith was greatly helped by the Alpha course at HTB. He got back with his wife, and learned about forgiveness and a relationship with God through Jesus. Simon then joined a group of guys called Tough Talk; men who lifted weights and told people their life stories.
Renton was bailed to appear at court to answer the attempted murder charge. He was looking at three to five years in prison. Then, while on bail, he was invited to a men’s curry night at a local church, where he met one of his Arsenal mates, who in turn invited him to a Christian men’s breakfast where Tough Talk were speaking. There, his Arsenal tattoo became a talking point with Simon. Hearing Simon’s testimony, Renton realised he was The Walrus, and there was an immediate bond between the two former enemies through their shared faith.
Renton received a two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years, and people started to ask Simon and Renton to share their amazing stories, so they started to go into prisons.
Two visits stand out for Simon and Renton. One was at Lincoln Prison, where guys refused to take their tea break to hear what God had done between these two, with many making a decision for Jesus. Then, at Rye Hill Prison, three young Muslim men from the East End sat, arms Folded, as the guys started to speak. But at the end they could not believe the change in Simon and Renton, asking many questions on faith, one saying, “I am going to shake this copper’s hand – something I thought I would never do in my life.”
Working at an event with Christian Vision for Men in Plymouth, there were more than 20 responses to the call to accept Jesus, and a local church leader said, “That was the best outreach that I have been to in nearly 30 years of being a minister.”
At Luton Christian Fellowship, an ex-Arsenal hooligan came, expecting to see them make fools of themselves. He left in tears, giving his life to the Lord.
Life can still be a struggle for these two very changed men; they both still have pride and anger issues, and struggle with stuff around their families – but now they don’t struggle alone; they have each other to do life with. Most of all, they have Jesus.
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