Monday, May 02, 2011

My sunny optimism...

A speech I recently gave:

I can do anything.

I honestly believe that with a little education, a little time and quite some practice, I can do just about anything a human is capable of.

I am no super man. This is simply an attitude. An attitude that I have eventually realised to be both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because I have never had to rely on anyone one else when I need to get something done. I research, learn and just do it.

A curse, because I have never had to rely on anyone else when I need to get things done. So I have never had to learn the skill of motivating others – of getting them to help me achieve my goals.

I also have a deep desire to question and understand anything I use and play with.

For example, I can't just get into a car and drive it. I have to know that the wheels are connected to a drive shaft, that that's connected to a gear box, connected to a crank, moved by pistons. Powered by small explosions, created by a spark applied to a petrol and air mix, adjusted by pressure applied to the accelerator.

This need to question and understand is also both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because if anything goes wrong with the things I use and play with I can fix them.

A curse, because I find it hard to let others fix my broken toys.
“You want to charge how much to repair this? Never mind, I'll do it myself!”

I also spend an inordinate amount of time trying to understand how things work.

These are my dominant characteristics. Oh – I also talk to myself more than I should.

How did I grow to be this person?

I believe that, like an insect trapped in slowly hardening resin, we are largely defined by the family and culture that we grew up in.

Let me describe my formative years and you can get a better understanding of the forces that have shaped me.

I was born in colonial Africa. My father, a structural engineer, was building bridges for the empire!

When I was very young, worried about the changing world around him, my father moved the family to the apparent security of South Africa. In hindsight, I wish he had just kept right on moving!

As I grew my father used me as his cheap labour. Under his direction, I restored cupboards, built sheds. I mixed cement, I laid bricks. I painted, I cleared drains. When I was a teenager I helped to renovate the family home, from the bottom of the foundations to the top of the roof.

My father was a practising Hindu, my mother, a Scottish Presbyterian. They elected to bring me up as a Roman Catholic in a country ruled by Dutch Calvinists.

Once week my father would gather the family in the lounge, and we would discuss religion and philosophy. From this religious cacophony I learned that there was no one truth. That we should question everything. That nothing is as it might seem.

My mother made sure that I had a constant supply of wonderful magazines. "Eagle" - who could forget Dan Dare? “The World of Wonder” “Tell Me Why”, “Look and Learn”, “Speed and Power” - They served as an antidote to the philosophy, bringing certainty to my world, explaining, sometimes in great detail, how things were made, and how they worked. I read my way through all of them, greedily.

It was only natural that at University I received a degree in Physics and Computer Science. In physics we continually strive to understand by building models of the universe, and then try to destroy the models, to prove them wrong. I loved Physics, but wasn't very good at it, so I became a software developer on graduating.

The apartheid regime that I grew up under forced compulsory national service on all young “white” men and so I served two years in the army.
When I idly mentioned this to someone in New Zealand they looked at me, gasped and backed away with "You're a trained killing machine!”

“NO!”I started to tell him. “ That's not me...” when I realised that I may just have missed the point of national service.

During that national service I spent a year patrolling the Namibian bush, keeping it safe. During the day I walked. At night I slept under the stars. With no mattress. No laundry. Carrying all I needed on my back. Occasionally meeting at pre-arraigned points to pick up food and ammunition.

That's were I first started to talk to myself. To give myself company out in that vast, lonely, veldt.

So like this insect trapped, my formative resin has now turned to amber.

I have to question and understand the tools and toys that I use.

With that understanding, given enough time and practice, I believe that I can do almost anything a human is capable of.

And I know that this, my sunny optimism, is both a blessing and a curse.


richard said...

anybody can do anything, it is just far far quicker to use an expert.

Martin said...

Yeah: I agree.

Sadly, normally the experts hourly rate is far higher that my fixed salary divided up into hours.

So if I have time available it lands up mostly being cheaper for me to do it myself. Even if it does take longer :-(

However, in my old age I am learning to let others do things on my behalf: after all, it's all part of being able to do anything :-)