Yesterday I found myself caught by a video posted by Richard Rudd, the brother of a friend. In the course of picking his kids up from school Richard had picked up something else. As I started to watch this video I thought it must be about finding your spirituality, the subject of Richard’s book. Then I realised it was about something else. It was about how Richard was taken at the school gates by the unexpected. Richard had found a real passion for something that was visible and present for him in the here and now.
It turned out that Richard had got talking to a mother whose own husband was out in a refugee camp at Idomeni in Northern Greece. By going to Greece and seeing for himself the horrific conditions in which people were trying to live, her husband had become utterly transformed. People had nowhere to shelter from the rain or to sleep so what they needed was a tent. A tent costs £370 so what he needed to do became clear. He and his wife bought ten tents on their credit card. In turn Richard did the same. Soon they set up a web page for donations and as I write they have raised £35,198. A tent houses four families so that is 95 tents and 380 families of four, nearly two thousand people, out of the wet so far. Richard is now out at Idomeni.
The reason for sharing this story is not to get more tents nor is it to make a point about the refugee crisis. It is about something else entirely. It is about what happens when people find where they truly belong and the incredible power that has. This is what I saw in Richard’s eyes. He had seen something and he was following it. That mission had a special beauty. Through his commitment to what he had found I knew Richard was finding his spirit. Out of respect for what I saw when I watched the video, I know that I can’t put Richard’s appeal into words here half as well as he does. To be fully felt this needs to come directly from Richard.
In Soft I call this out when I question where power really comes from. My contention is that we tend to misunderstand power and where it originates. It’s not an external thing but rather an internal thing that each of us hold as individuals. The problem is that we tend to give it up unwittingly to others. I see the process of realising this connection to where we truly belong to be an essential part of our developing what I call “Strong Core”.
As I wrote the book I was drawn at a key point to JK Rowling. There are many reasons why I could admire the successful author. Many are obvious and some, like being the writer whose books my wife choose to read to our son in infancy one by one, are not so obvious. None though are the reason though why I really respect Rowling nor why I write about her in Soft.
In June 2008 Rowling gave a Commencement Address to the graduating students at Harvard. In that speech this wizard storymaker, to my mind, not only shows us but also explains her strong core. She starts by admitting the weeks of fear and nausea that the thought of the speech has given her before embarking on a simple but compelling story to explain how she got from the depths of poverty to where we see her now.
In her speech to these rather privileged students, Rowling talks openly about her own graduation and the way in which she found herself to be a complete failure some seven years later. Rowling then talks about the incredible power this gave her. She first acknowledges this deprived state and the realisation of failure she held there as being her “rock bottom”. At this point Rowling felt a “stripping away of the inessential” to leave her, with her greatest fear realised, free to rebuild her life. Contrary to our expectations of failure, the “stripping away” of structure and expectation that came with it gave her inner security and taught her the true power that she actually had.
As Rowling points out, poverty is one thing but climbing out of poverty by your own efforts is something to pride yourself on. Rowling’s life story from then on self-illustrates this essential truth. Secure in her ability to survive, she was able to create. As Rowling puts it “had I really succeeded at anything else, I may never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged”.
This realisation of where we truly belong comes to each of us in different ways. Even in desperate situations such as poverty it is not always obvious to us what it is. Nobody told JK Rowling to be a writer or what to write. Nobody told Richard to make a video or to go to Greece. The insight into our belonging may visit us but we don’t always see it or follow it.
As Rowling points out success can also blind us. Being more secure and privileged in where we are right now can provide a surrogate comfort blanket. If we take sustenance from our position today that same sustenance can mislead us. This is the problem with external measures. In the end external things don’t matter but if we choose to build on them their falling away can leave us devastated. The comfort of position is much overestimated in its usefulness and can even be a prison. That is maybe why Rowling continues to be happy to use a pen name for her “adult” writing and in the early days to even submit under that name getting rejection letters. The only thing that does matter is that internal feeling of knowing where we belong and then following it, damning the consequences.
In this belonging lies our real power. In being true to that power we are being true to ourselves. In that truth lies the key to success; internal success. That in turn, drives the external.