Monthly Archives: December 2011

Confidentiality – the enemy of trust?

Working in some of the major global organisations, I have noticed how highly confidentiality is prized.  The stated aim is to protect people so that they will not be hurt.  When I was working at Ernst & Young I was always uncomfortable with this approach to confidentiality.  My own background was that I had been trained by my teacher Chrissy in an environment where everyone’s most intimate problems and difficulties were actively shared with others as learning.  I noticed that while this was difficult at times, it created the opposite effect from that which the proponents of confidentiality suggested.  We were very open with each other because we had nothing to hide, since we already knew each others most intimate secrets.  Somehow this lack of confidentiality created more trust not less.  Since everyone knew everything there was little to mistrust each other over (it came up at times of course but then it was shared and resolved very openly with everyone knowing about it!).

I work as a coach in business and in this environment, most coaches put forward confidentiality as essential, and indeed something fundamentally critical to their role and to the relationships they build. Indeed they see it as a positive virtue.  When I worked at Ernst & Young as part of the Human Resources function, confidentiality was seen as very important for the HR function.  Yet a curious phenomenon took place.  Since HR people were by their nature very curious and interested in people, it was almost impossible for them not to share the fascinating information they were privy to.  I also began to notice that the more confidential things were kept (to protect people and prevent harmful gossip) the more gossip and harmful speculation there was.  Confidentiality was achieving the opposite of its stated aim.  My own approach in coaching people within the organisation was to be clear that I would not keep the conversations with them confidential since it was more valuable for me to discuss with other people and get their perspective on the challenges the individual faced.  I did, however, tell them that they could trust me completely to have their best interests at heart and to be sensitive.  When it came to 360 degree feedback I was expecting to score poorly for confidentiality but everyone had scored me 5 out of 5.  I knew I wasn’t at all confidential in my approach but everyone thought I was.

I started as a governor of Wynstones school some 13 years ago amid a regime of absolute confidentiality.  The reason given for this was that it was imperative in order for the staff to trust the governors.  Yet the odd thing was that this had been in place for some time and there was the opposite; a climate of mistrust.  The other major problem the school faced was the terrible car park gossip.  Various bans and prohibitions on gossip had been put out but with little impact, indeed it had been exacerbated.  Given this, I set about trying to eradicate the roots of gossip and to talk to everyone openly about the real issues and crises that were taking place in the school, particularly the sensitive issues.  What I noticed was that where people did not know something they naturally were intrigued and they naturally speculated to try to fill the gap.  Some people were horrified and I came in for some flack, but as we persevered the gossip cleared up and the level of trust between the governors and staff improved significantly to the point now where there is an atmosphere of phenomenal mutual trust.

I have noticed the same phenomenon in my coaching work.  I have come in for some flack at times but I realise that the confidential information people want to prevent others knowing, they generally know anyway and that often the judgements and speculation where it isn’t known are worse than the truth.  In my own circle, I am conscious that everyone, including the individual involved, is more comfortable when the truth is on the table, no matter how unpalatable.  What seems to be worse is the paranoia that we experience in trying to control and prevent this.  I have also noticed that this information is far less charged when you don’t try to prevent it being known.  On programmes, all good trainers/facilitators say that “Chatham House Rules” or “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” applies and no-one must share anything outside the programme.  Whenever I hear this, it strikes me that there is a trade off between confidentiality and learning.  The greater the confidentiality the lower the learning because nothing of any real depth or value can be shared with others.  On my programmes I start the other way round with the premise that everything is open but I give people the option to let others know if something is sensitive and they would like people to be careful in how they share it.  Having run progammes for eight years, I notice there has never been an issue and what’s more I can think of only a handful of examples where people have requested the sensitivity of others.

What is interesting for me here is that trust is really about openness.  Sadly you can’t get to trust through witholding information it only breeds further distrust.  What we all really want in our hearts is to be completely free and open (the relationships where we can be are the ones we value most).  We want to be accepted for who we really are, not having to keep up a front.  Yet we do not yet seem to realise that the way to do this is to be free and open.  I suspect that the real issue is power not trust.  I think coaches and psychologists love to focus on confidentiality as a great virtue because it is a front for power.  Only they know or can be trusted, but of course they trap the individual by re-inforcing the sense that the personal information they are sharing is dangerous and can only be shared carefully in certain circumstances with certain people thus fostering the very paranoia and mistrust which the individual is often caught by.  Once you hear that everyone else fears the same things as you; their inadequacies, their paranoia, their normal dysfunctional personalities, it loses all its power and people feel released and relieved and laugh together.  Of course, the other paradox is that if we are free and open and we know everyone will hear what we say, we have to choose our words much more carefully.  When people are gossiping (having held the other to secrecy) they are often unbelievably callous and judgemental.  Can we learn this one and apply it collectively?  I wonder what the media and MI6 would look like if we did?


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I think the universe might be listening or perhaps we are?

In August I was at our favourite chalet in the Alps near Annecy.  For many years I have harboured a dream of owning a place in France.  My family take it in turns to drag me away from immobiliers and give short shrift to my musings and desire to go and explore and view beautiful old chalets.  Somehow, I never quite seemed to find the right place or the right time to buy.  I was lying in bed reflecting on this at the chalet and I said to Life, “what I would like is something like this, a beautiful old chalet in it’s own secluded spot, which is a bit difficult to access but which has been looked after and worked on so beautifully”.  As we left we were chatting to the french owner.  I thanked him for letting us stay in his beautiful chalet.
“If you like it so much, you can buy it” he informed me.  Assuming he was joking I laughed, but he assured me he was serious and that the chalet was for sale at a price which was a stretch but we might be able to afford.  This threw me into a black hole as I was faced with the reality of my beautiful mind picture; did I really want the reality of the responsibility and owning two places?  I consulted my heart and realised, reluctantly that I did not!  Good learning if somewhat disappointing.

This was not an unusual experience for me.  I realised in my twenties with a sense of wonder that the universe was listening to us and delivering on our casual mind chatter.  Often, the result was that people did not like the reality or life would deliver it with a twist.  Most people seemed to entirely forget or miss that they had asked for it.  I thought people would be amazed to discover that life was working this way; it felt like finding the keys to the universe.  I quickly realised this was an inaccurate picture! People did not necessarily want to hear that they were complicit in and indeed responsible for their fate.

However, I was struck again today by the precision of the universe.  I was on the train heading into London when I suddenly thought that my mother in law might not have insurance for our holiday on Friday; it was prompted by sorting out car insurance.  Within minutes my daughter was ringing me to say that my mother in law wanted to talk to me urgently about holiday insurance – something I have never spoken to my mother in law about in my life.  This got me thinking, who is playing whom?

On Friday I resigned from my position as Chair of the Steiner school that I have been chair of for ten years.  As I explained my decision at the meeting, I found myself thinking that I did still want to be involved with a charity and education and that I wondered what the next step in terms of the school of the future I wrote about would be.  I had begun to think there might not be one.  Tonight my wife rang and was describing the first running of an idea that she had had about a toddler group being run for children to come and be with the horses at our centre (  It was a great success and it turned out that the parents already had formed a group to self-educate, employing a teacher once a week.  They were intrigued by our idea of the school of the future and wanted to know more about it.  I saw that we needed to invest in our barn to make a venue for teaching.  This in turn had answered another question which I had been pondering.  I earn very well compared to most people but in watching the news the other evening I was concerned at the protests in America and across Europe about corporate wealth and greed.  Since I work in the corporate sector as a coach, I know I am complicit in this and I didn’t want to feel “I am alright jack” since I know it is all “us” and if some of us are suffering then it is all of our problem.  I have assuaged this by putting much of my money into the stables we run for adults, children and increasingly autistic children and this runs largely at a loss but provides something wonderful for those who would otherwise not be able to be involved with animals or have the space and help.  I was thinking that it was in my nature and my fate to earn well but I didn’t want to pour my money into money making schemes for my retirement.  I am not against making money, it is the flow of the universe, but I am increasingly asking myself, what for? (This is a whole topic I am going to think about and expand on in another blog).  My question this time is are we the creative force thinking these thoughts and programming the game of the universe or is it perhaps programming us?  Are we in fact puppets whose strings are being pulled or are we masters of our own virtual reality game, which we are unwittingly programming and creating.  Perhaps it is even a mixture of the two?  What is clear to me is that universe is alive and we are involved in an interactive dialogue with a phenomenal learning facilitator.

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What might the economic crisis be teaching us?

As further shock waves permeate the banking system and the Eurozone in particular, what should we be learning from the current economic crisis?  The I-Ching in the hexagram Shock says:

“The shock of continuing thunder brings fear and trembling.  The superior man is always filled with reverence at the manifestation of God; he sets his life in order and searches his heart, lest it harbour any secret opposition to the will of God.”
So if the continuing thunder of the economic crisis is the manifestation of God and it is prompting us to set  our lives in order and search our heart lest it harbour any secret opposition to the will of God, what are we to infer is the will of God?  Firstly, if we understand that life is perfect (ie. paradoxically that being so imperfect it challenges us constantly to learn and evolve and in this is perfect), then this crisis is no mistake, it is exactly the black hole (cf. One Way of Looking at Man by MC Philp) we need to learn something important.  As astrologers it is easy to see the archetypes involved; the crises have followed the Pluto-Uranus square with Saturn and Mars thrown in for spice at various points over the last few years.
What seems to be happening is that we are in the death throes of the dominance of Europe as an economic and political power.  Economic power is shifting to the East.  Humbling it may be for the European economies but not surprising given the population demographics.  What are the lessons for Europe?  Firstly there is a degree of letting go and acceptance that our time is passing.  It also seems to be particularly affecting the Eurozone.  The experiment of Europe was to create a European super state which could continue to be a potent force in the world even if the individual countries might be losing their individual power and influence.  Yet the reality has been more like a parent with a collection of unruly children.  The promise of Europe was to divert funds to underdeveloped parts of the Union in order to promote growth and development across the Union.  This is laudable but like any idealistic notion it harbours the danger of “opposition to the will of God” and in typically taoist fashion, when we try to consciously impose our vision on the world, the world usually creates the opposite.  The reality of European projects has been that it has encouraged countries to spend beyond their means in order to attract European funding.  Outdated agricultural systems are propped up, unnecessary motorways and buildings built.  The result has been that like children with indulgent parents the individual member states have been spoilt and rather than benefiting they have been left in crisis.  Europe has become the parent to whom everyone turns to “put it right” and bail them out.
Having a son who is 18 I am entering on the journey of trying to help him set sail on his voyage of becoming independent.  I recognise that if I am too ruthless, he will lose confidence in himself and it could precipitate a collapse; also it might leave him with a bitterness that when I could have helped him, I did not. On the other hand if I am too supportive and indulgent and he is not given the responsibility for himself, he cannot learn and grow.  It is a difficult balance to get right – I sympathise with Europe.  Like any crisis though, it is really a prompt to growth.  We need to be in crisis for us to take the situation seriously and “set” our “life in order”.  What if our idealistic notion of Europe is itself the secret opposition to the will of God?  “Do not make false idols” the Bible tell us.  My own learning has been that it is not worth entering into a power battle with Life (a more neutral term since God has many connotations and I don’t really know what God is).  If Life wants something to collapse it is going to do so.  I suspect it may be the Euro currency in the same way that the previous Exchange Rate Mechanism  fell apart.  Perhaps it is a phase of learning for Europe on how to work together collectively. Or perhaps the very notion of Europe is exclusive and needs to go; since the whole world is “us” why do we need any boundaries between us, why identify with Europe more than with being human and why exclude or put up barriers to other countries?  I have always had a discomfort with clubs and religions which cause people to identify with them rather than with humanity (what Transactional Analysis calls the “I’m ok, you’re ok, they’re not game”).  Perhaps we have simply become too attached to the notion that material objects will make us happy and we need this to lever us out of that notion?
Perhaps this is also part of the preparation, or clearing of the ground, for the new age?  Since the new age is the age of Aquarius-Leo (cf. The Golden City by MC Philp), it is something to do with the collective (Aquarius) and with identification (Leo).  I notice that in recent years it has become fashionable to talk about cultural differences between countries and how we cannot understand each other unless we are aware of these cultural differences.  I have been lucky enough in my job to work all over the world and my experience has been very different to this.  What it has confirmed to me is that culture is simply one level, like being tall, or thin but beneath that we are all human.  I notice that when people identify with cultures they separate themselves from others and create “us and them”, when we identify with being a fellow human being all this drops away and we see, as the I-Ching describes it, that we are “all one in our hearts”.
Certainly, we seem to be moving towards one language (English) and with the internet we are breaking down physical barriers between us.  Ironically business has been a force for good in this.  We have been beautifully manipulated by our desire to make money into breaking down barriers and becoming globally interdependent.  Our technology in terms of the internet has re-inforced this.  Perhaps our approach to the material now needs to shift and our clinging to power in Europe be conceded gracefully in letting go?

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School of the future

Prompted by my daughter’s recalcitrance, I have been considering what the school of the future might look like.  In his address to the RSA Sir Ken Robinson was pointing out that the current educational model was devised to satisfy the needs of the Industrial Revolution with a curriculum designed by age of enlightenment academic thinkers.  Indeed having read further on this, Seth Godin points out that the genesis for schools was to persuade factory workers to employ adults rather than child labour with the incentive that schools would turn out productive factory workers.  This is evident in the education of large classes of children of the same age (“batches”) in rooms set out in formal lines of desks with a great emphasis on discipline and conformity.  My wife who was a state school teacher for some years was advised in her first year of teaching not to smile before Easter.  The primary focus is control.  Thus, sadly, teachers are often those who are skilled at control and value conformity.

In our current environment where there is such a wide range of new technology and jobs and where factory style jobs are increasingly automated, this mode of education looks increasingly outmoded.  Our children have access to so many creative stimuli and it seems time to move away from this conformist model to an approach to education which is centred on the child.  As I reflect, my own job as a coach in business did not exist when I was at school and my wife’s as an equine therapist following natural horsemanship has only become a possibility in the last few years.  Having been the chairman of governors at a Steiner school for over ten years it is clear to me that, of schools, Steiner schools come closest to genuinely fostering an approach based on the child and believing in their potential.

Much of my own experience in career terms has been concerned with dispelling the myth, which is currently so dominant in education, that there is a boat and you can miss it.  This pervasive fear has created a system based on measuring achievement on a very narrow academic set of criteria and leaves the majority of children, who do not make it to the academic pinnacle of university professorships, feeling that they have in some way failed.  The Steiner schools seem to focus on loving children and on a belief in the inherent potential of children, everyone is special and valuable not just those few who get A grades.  The focus is not on finding a place in the world of work but rather on growing as a person with a belief this will allow the child to contribute most fully to the world and find their truest expression in it.  Critically, the Steiner schools also differentiate the children by the 4 humours or temperaments (Choleric, Phlegmatic, Sanguine and Melancholic) and so expect children to behave and learn differently.

All this is fine, but it nevertheless leaves the institution of school untouched and even the Steiner schools persist with a largely conformist model where adults know best and where discipline and the institution are both fundamental.  My daughter was a catalyst for me, because whilst my son had been blissfully happy at a Steiner school my daughter was not.  Indeed she had no desire to go to school and felt she was wasting her time.  As astrologers we had insight into her personality.  With the Sun conjunct Mars in Gemini on the descendant opposite Pluto in Sagittarius rising this was not a child who was going to tolerate having someone else having power over how she learnt.  With Chiron in the 11th house she did not like being part of a group either.  This was definitely a problem.  We had a child who was not motivated by school but was very motivated by being with horses (my wife runs an equine centre working with a wide range of autistic children and those with behavioural problems as well as adults and children who want to learn to ride).  We struggled for many years with every strategy we could think of but nothing seemed to work.  In the end my daughter said she wanted to move schools, we were open to this but warned it might not change anything.  Then my wife suggested the option of being home educated and my daughter leapt at it.  I was very nervous, I had some prejudices about home education and the social isolation.  However, since my daughter was now determined to do it, we decided to follow her and we agreed to do a half-term trial.  We knew of a tutor who could teach her French and on the advice of my friend Mario, who knew all about tutors, we decided to employ kids who had just finished school to cover other subjects.  Returning from our week’s half-term holiday my wife commented that she was going to have work hard on motivating our daughter.  I was nervous about this – I did not want to replicate the role her teachers had played in trying to make her learn so I asked my wife to give it to me and said I would take responsibility.  My wife was sceptical but she agreed.  I thought about it and said to my daughter that she could design her own curriculum.  I told her it could be whatever she wanted and suddenly I began to see something I had been wrestling with since listening to Ken Robinson’s talk.  At the time I had tried to envisage what a new school, a school of the future, would look like but I could not envisage it.  As I have learnt from the I-Ching, I had put it on hold to wait for further input and suddenly here it was.  As I described to my daughter that she could design her own curriculum, I suddenly saw the scope.  I realised she could do anything; dressage lessons with her horse, trips to equine centres, cooking, emotional intelligence, the I-Ching, Astrology etc. etc.  The scope was almost limitless.  My daughter went straight off and worked solidly for 45 mins, full of enthusiasm, only coming back to ask me the odd question and by the end of the time she had designed her own curriculum.  I told her to show it to her mum who was amazed that she could think of nothing to add or change.  It confirmed my belief that children are amazingly responsible if you give them responsibility.  Most of our systems assume that they are just children and we know what is best for them.

What I realised was that the obstacle to the school of the future was the institution of school itself.  If you took away school the whole thing shifted (what adult would agree to being incarcerated in an institution for at least 11 years of their life which they were legally obliged to attend, being put together in a large group of peers not of their choosing who could only be the same age and having adults who had complete power over them, capped off by having to learn what they were told to learn?).   You could allow children to build their own curriculum and share it with children across the region or country who shared their interest.  You could organise trips for kids who shared similar interests and lessons could be as long or short as you liked.  You could also have lessons with kids of different ages based on interest.  This would allow for enormous variation and creativity and could be organised on a regional basis (or whatever basis you chose – from very local to national or even international).  My friends challenged me – how would you pay for this, how would you organise it?  On the payment front, I realised that the cost of school buildings and infrastructure is a huge proportion of the cost for education.  If lessons instead took place in people’s homes and in community spaces you could be far more flexible and it made children and learning far less separated from the rest of the community.  You could also put the money you saved back into providing community spaces.  It also solved a particular problem that I saw in schools, namely that the needs of the institution dominated and they unwittingly began to serve the needs of teachers rather than children.  Also, teachers become institutionalised; this way teachers served children rather than dominating them.

Others started to contribute to the idea, my friend Chrissy suggested that people in the community who were brilliant in their area could give up some time to offer to teach others about their speciality.  I realised that farms, equine centres like my wife’s, cafes, businesses, community projects could become focal points.  For those children who loved to be with others in larger groups they could be with others who loved to do that, for those who wanted to dip in and out they could etc.  My friend Steve set me thinking about adults; what would be to stop there being a cross-over with adults learning together with children? I thought we could have brilliant facilitators with emotional intelligence who would help children design their curriculum and work with parents; they could also help resolve conflicts between the children and teachers and even between parents and children.

At the same time we discovered an astrology programme which gave scores against 25 headings for charts.  We all scored ourselves and the results were fascinating.  The average score was between 75 and 125 with scores 125 -150 being high and above 150 very high and scores between 50 and 75 being low and below 50 very low.  My son, who had loved his time at school scored just under 150 for his need to be part of an organisation, company or club or contribute to a group effort.  My daughter scored 1!  Not only that but she scored 138 on her need for solitude, quiet and retreat and 161 on intensity of bonding.  This was a child that did not want to be part of a large group but wanted a more intense relationship and some peace and quite.  This was great as it provided insight into what individual children might need.

This was all very exciting but how to start?  I met with my friend Mario to decide how to set this in motion.  Mario is brilliant at structuring and organisation and he questioned how we would organise it.  Thinking about this I realised that we couldn’t and also I realised that that was what was backwards about school.  People had creative ideas for schools and they created these institutions and then they tried to find and fit in the kids.  So I suggested we go the other way and start with the children and let it emerge (my training with the I-Ching and my friend Chrissy had taught me not to lead but to follow).  On this basis I decided to start with the one child I had and let it build child by child.  Over the summer, a friend of ours was telling me she did not know what to do with her daughter who was a close friend of our daughter.  She did not want to go to school and stayed at home whenever she could.  She was popular and bright but did not want to be at school.  I told her about my idea for a school of the future and the school doubled to two!  We have just finished our first week as a school of two.  They are being taught by teachers who are mostly eighteen years old and full of enthusiasm – they love this but the range goes through teachers in their 30s, 40s and 60s!  The two of them are like different children.  It is very early in the project and it may only be for the benefit of my daughter and her friend – who knows?  But it has already been worth it and we will see where it goes.

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Climate Change – what is really going on?

Recent developments in technology see us now getting to the point where we are enhancing the capability of the human body. We have stem cell therapy allowing us to improve on the body’s ability to heal itself and bionic hands allowing some improvements over “normal” function. With pacemakers we can extend the capability of the heart and so on. It is interesting to note what has brought all this about. Without pain and suffering would we have been prompted to be so creative? Indeed, for life in general, pain and suffering has played a key role in evolution. If something hurts sufficiently, either physically or mentally, it prompts us to creativity. The larger the discomfort the greater the motivation to change or adapt. So if this pain and suffering is leading us to evolve where is it taking us?

If we are to move beyond the confines of the earth, it seems clear that we will need enhancements to the human body to allow it to survive in new environments. This is laudable but would we devote huge resources and energy to it? The great value of pain, suffering and failure is it is universally motivating. Our history shows what a remarkable prompt it has been to the global development of life. But are we now starting to play a bigger game?

What if we are part of a large laboratory experiment or even field test (much as Douglas Adams in his prescient Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy described Earth as being). If this is true, then climate change takes on a different complexion. It becomes our beautifully motivated field experiment to develop our ability to learn how to adapt new environments for successful human habitation. We are going to need this if, or as, we move beyond the earth to colonise new worlds.

When you look through this lens we appear to be being orchestrated beautifully to play this game of evolution.  Since our personal neuroses and our collective ones seem to be the key (Chiron for astrologers) to evolution, perhaps we can now evolve away from blame and dividing the world into good and bad and instead play the game more consciously  This would allow us to be less scared of change (like climate change) and not seek to blame people and get stuck in cataclysmic negativity but rather recognise it as a prompt to evolve.

In mythological or astrological terms, it is interesting to note that as we move into the age of Aquarius the climate change concerns of the old age of Pisces (and it’s Virgo counterpart) with the body and the immediate environment are moving to more global concerns.  Perhaps with the age of Aquarius-Leo we are at the seed point of being able to play this game (Leo) with greater collective consciousness (Aquarius).

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Keeping your heart and mind open

Keeping your heart and mind open seems to be key to spirituality.  This is paradoxical for me, since many think of spirituality as being about those moments we experience when our heart and mind are fully open and we experience that wonderful flow of life.  All the rest; the difficult people, situations, ugliness in the world feels to them like the things that are getting in the way of them being spiritual – the things they want to get away from.  My experience has been the reverse, that keeping my heart and mind open is hard work, that the real spiritual work is how to respond to the people and situations we find difficult.  These people and situations are our teachers, or “worthy opponents” as Don Juan would refer to them in the Carlos Castaneda books.  They are the very things that are going to frustrate and hurt us but they are also the key (Chiron for astrologers) to how we grow and learn.  If they did not exist, we would have to invent them in order to develop.  Mostly they are teaching us where we are attached to a fixed picture of how the world should be which has closed our heart down.  Since our brains are more receivers than generators, it is our role to keep them clean so they can be good receivers.  A closed mind or heart interferes with the universal flow – love.  I have to concede my indebtedness to Chrissy Philp (One Way of Looking at Man) for teaching me much of this and for those interested in enlightenment there can be few books as insightful.

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Cosmic Mind

This is a post to share thoughts and insights on life.  I am new to blogging so don’t know how this will work but I am currently doing distracting activities as a creative way to give my mind time to contemplate a piece of work on change that I should be getting on with!  I am assuming that my subconscious is not ready yet or at least needs time.  Since I am an advocate of wu wei (not doing) this is part of my not doing for today and I am going to do it with no expectations and see what transpires.

A short interlude as I received a text, one of which was from my bank and what has transpired is that we have spent a huge amount of money in just 2 weeks.  I can’t help noticing that Life seems to have it’s own agenda when it comes to money.  It always ensures it flows out and if you try too hard to accumulate or hoard it, it finds ways to ensure it is spent.  You never seem to have it as such, it is a flow.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take responsibility for your actions but like most other areas of life, it is not worth kidding yourself that you are in control of it.  It clearly belongs to the universe which is deciding how much you should have.

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