Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Say No More

A fitting title for what has been a lousy week for at least one person close to me while my own week has been up there as one of the happiest I've had in ages. Mostly this has been due to the positive experience of a UNISON Tackling Racism course, which has made me think a whole lot more on the subject.

The single biggest thing I took from the course is how much of the insitutional racism in today's educated world tends to be an unwitting and unintended side-effect of not thinking through policies and comments, rather than being due to direct prejudice. Of course, it would be foolish to think that such prejudices no longer existed and either way, the divisive outcome still needs to be tackled. However, I am hopeful that this is symptomatic of a cultural shift whereby the racism we do see is a product of thoughtlessness rather than malicious forethought. It is not yet the sea change that black and minority ethnic people deserve, but at least we can hope that things may be moving in the right direction.

The real topic of this entry is about talking. It might have been good to talk in BT adverts a few years ago, but recent experience teaches us that it might be even better to shut up. In the last ten days, we have seen Lord Triesman, head of the English Football Association and chair of the England 2018 World Cup bid stung by the Daily Mail into making unwise comments to Melissa Jacobs, a lady he considered to be a personal friend but who was actually armed with a tape recorder and a requisite amount of silver.

Triesman suggested the possibility that Russian referees at the forthcoming world cup in South Africa might make preferential decisions towards Spain in return for Latin American support in deciding the outcome of who would host the event in 2018. So far, so ill-advised - but Triesman was clear that this was a private opinion only, and that he had no evidence that supported the possibility. Regardless, the sting became front page news and Triesman duly resigned, sagely noting that he was foolish to entrust his opinions to a former colleague. The England bid team have worked hard to minimise the damage, while much of the fallout has been attached to the odious Daily Mail, who have already blotted their copybook by supporting the Nazis in the run-up to World War II. In fact, I love to tell that story so much, I've decided here and now that that will be the topic of a future entry. Watch this space.

In the same week, US waitress Ashley Johnson became briefly famous for being sacked by pizza chain Brixx. Her crime - posting a Facebook entry criticising customers for being lousy at tipping. She has joined the less-than-illustrious ranks of those to put jobs at jeopardy by not thinking through the consequences of their actions.

And as for me? Kettle, this is're black. One of the hardest lessons my career has taught me is that there is a time and a place for being honest and critical with opinions. It frustrates me sometimes when things are not done well and I know that they could be done much better. However, there is also a way to make this point and much to be said for leading by example, rather than being cynical or using that horrible phrase, 'I told you so.'

Would I criticise my employer in this blog if I felt that the criticism was justified? Yes, I have always struggled to lie and I suspect that my principles would win out in the end. However, I feel it is also important to acknowledge that I and my colleagues work very hard and are often underappreciated by the general public for the things that we do well. More than ever, it is something well worth remembering.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Hot Air

From blossom to balloons in the space of a week...

Hurrah for bank holidays. Whenever would I get my chores done if not on these spare Mondays? Of course, it's not a chore to update my blog, but then I've mostly been concentrating on R & R for the last few days and I'm off to London shortly...maybe I'll write a piece on Kew Gardens or sushi when I return.

I have been poring over the news and noted balloons featuring in three pieces on the BBC, so I thought I'd write a short piece about balloons. I've always wanted to take a hot air balloon ride, they seem such a simple, quiet alternative to modern aircraft, as though they were somehow an idea dreamt up from a children's book. Bristol and Thailand have both held balloon festivals recently, there are some wonderful pictures on the web and I encourage you to have a look if you get a spare minute. The Bristol fiesta is held annually, and will definitely be going in my diary for a time when I have some spare cash to enjoy.

Of course, balloons are about more than frivolous colours and soundless summer days in the sky. This week in South Korea, another country I would love to visit, a number of defectors from the North have been sending currency, external media and messages of hope over the border to their countrymen in the North. The giant balloons are rigged with timers so that they will burst at different times, meaning that the cargo will hopefully be distributed across the stricken country.

News that Chairman Kim Jong-il is rumoured to be in China seeking a financial package that will stabilise his country in the wake of last year's unsuccessful currency revaluation will lead some to hope that the isolationist nation can be brought back to the table for talks on nuclear disarmament. However, the unexplained sinking of a South Koran naval vessel earlier this year has led to high tension in the region while investigators continue to seek a cause.