Category Archives for "Philosophical"

Musings about the human condition, life and it’s mysteries. I’m intrigued by the passion of humans to hold onto beliefs, even when they seem apparently irrational. What makes us moral? How can we be better human beings.

August 19, 2013

Max

Max comes to visit

Max comes to visit

We have just experienced the interesting opportunity over the last three weeks, of hosting a young 16-year-old lad from Germany. Max, the nephew of a very good friend of mine, wanted to have a farm experience during his summer holidays. We planned it several months in advance.

Apart from enjoying having someone to look after for a little while (the tragic empty-nester syndrome) having Max in the house, whose first language is not English, has given me an opportunity to see my language and culture in a new light. Max’s English (currently B but he hopes to turn it into an A next year) is very good but of course we use many colloquialisms, not taught in the classroom, and we are totally unaware that we use them.

Max on the Bobcat

Max on the Bobcat

For example, we were out working on a fence. Max was busy putting on droppers, a task he had just learned how to do. I asked him “Are you getting the hang of it?” He didn’t answer. I reflected on my choice of words (as I’ve had to do often over the last few weeks). Why the hell do we use the word “hang” in that context? Weird. But there are lots of examples just like that. For example, we use “ridiculous” and “hilarious” in not quite the same way those words were originally intended. He had to adjust to “Hi” and “Righto”.
Another example is “Good on you!” What does that mean exactly? Funny when you stop to think about it.

Max building

Max building

All this has reinforced an appreciation of a definition of language I read some time ago while studying my Master of Arts. “Language is an agreement within a social group as to the meaning of a word” [Umberto Eco]. We take our language for granted in Australia, particularly, I think because we rarely hear any other languages day to day, especially in the bush. I realise this is maybe changing in the city.

Max also made me look at my own prejudice towards Aboriginals … a prejudice I would have denied vehemently that I held. But prejudices can be so deeply ingrained in our culture that it’s “normal”, and we don’t “see” them. It came about while watching a news program and a young aboriginal woman was exhorting other young aboriginal women to follow her example in joining the armed forces. I made a derogatory comment about her use of the English language when I heard her say “Other womens should get out there and have a go”. Max challenged me by pointing out that English is not her first language. My quick retort was, “Yes, but she was born in Australia.” I didn’t think much about it at the time, but my mind kept coming back to it. My self-reflection forced me to confront the intolerant and prejudicial nature of my retort which didn’t take into account the known disadvantages she likely encountered in her education (and life) … interesting how a visitor from another culture can make you confront attitudes.

So while we are looking forward to returning to our normal routine, Max shall be missed and he will leave me pondering the use of language, culture and world perspectives. We have certainly had some very interesting conversations!

Been MOOC’d Lately?

In making the leap from the corporate office to running a cattle property, I had to go through numerous adjustments … as you can imagine.

My Office Window

My Office Window

My work at Virgin Blue was implementing change at the corporate level. I was bumping heads with strong-willed general managers. It was extremely intellectually challenging to navigate their ambitions yet change their ways of working to help consolidate a young, fast growing company.

In coming to Spring Creek, I missed the fiery, stimulating intellectual debate my relationships at VB had afforded me. I’ve had to look for new avenues for intellectual stimulation.

It’s not that living in the bush isn’t intellectually challenging at times. You are more often than not drawn into significant problem solving – the dozer stuck in a dam, the fallen windmill that has to be re-erected … and these are more frequent occurrences than most would like.

But … it’s different.

Then I discovered MOOC’s (Massive Open On-line Courses)! They are brilliant. They are delivered over the internet, they’re free and they’re university standard.

Cute Jewish Professor

Cute Jewish Professor

I’ve just finished my first one: Neurons, Synapses and the Brain. I sat in my remote farm house, looking out across the paddock, listening to a cute Jewish professor instruct me on the intricacies of neuroscience – at the perfect level for my current understanding. Brilliant!

Discovering www.coursera.org has definitely filled a hole for me. I now understand the current thinking and research on the workings of the brain. Why do I want to know about that, you ask?

Of course it isn’t just for the pure fun of it … it’s research for my second book, Mind Minders.

The dendrites of a neuron

The dendrites of a neuron

But overall, I guess it’s about finding my way in a remote, isolated community. I still want to grow and develop and learn. I want to think along new lines and explore new avenues such as … do we really have free will or are our actions dictated by the neural networks in our brain? Now that’s an interesting debate and has sparked a few conversations.

Can’t wait for my next MOOC and to see where that will lead my thinking!

Mustering – is it Fun?

Is it fun because I’m burning around the paddock on my quad bike?

Courageous bounding logs and rocks and narrowly escaping stump holes,
Chasing reluctant cows and pestering inquisitive calves when it’s time to move them on?

Is it fun because of the great Aussie bush myth?
The romantic idea of the fearless cowboy … the muscle-bound jackaroo?
Is it a connection with our historical roots, the Aussie bush pioneer who shaped our nation?

Or is it fun because of our sense of dominion?
The cows exist at our behest, grown for the sizzling steak on the great Aussie barby.
We breed them, feed them, herd them, wielding our power hither and thither?

Is it fun when we force them into the yards?
They know what’s coming, their reluctance evident in their stubbornness,
The battle more and more difficult the closer we get (our uniquely engineered funnel doesn’t trick them anymore).

Is it fun when we yell and curse and crack the whip?
Nearly ramming their backsides in our persistence and shortening temper.
We push, we prod, we yell … but … we never give up.

Is it fun because we rule supreme?
Eventually their wills give way and they jostle and push through the gates.
Captured at last in the yards, waiting to endure the day’s work.
There is no escape now.

Is it fun because the muster home is always so much easier?
It’s almost too hard to keep up as they race away, eager to get back.
Except the Mum’s that have left behind their young.
They moo and turn and moo and turn.

Is it fun because it is that battle of wills?
Us and against them, human against beast, predator against prey.
Is it fun? I’m not sure, but when all’s said and done, I’ll be back on my bike to do it all again.

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