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The Proper Way of Doing Things

November 30th, 2011

Dear Romanian Friends,

This letter to you all is prompted partly by feeling that I am a long way from Romania at the
moment and that I want to send you greetings but also by some of the things I have observed and
heard said in your beautiful country.

Romania has no shortage of rules that make doing many things very complicated. I once spent a
very entertaining twenty minutes at the entrance to the Palace of Culture, listening to a Romanian
friend negotiate our entry. In the end, I was so amused at the absurdity I had to go outside so the
kindly Romanian lady, who was selling us what seemed like thirty different vouchers that each
needed a separate type of rubber stamp to validate them, wouldn't see me laughing.

I have heard the Vice Rector of your University, a man whom I admire and like a great deal, express
his frustration at people not working hard enough and not sticking to the rules and suggesting that
harder work and strict adherence to correct process would solve any and all problems I have
presented to him. You may hear some doubt in my voice. You're right.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a wonderful teacher called Kath Trotter. Kath is
from a tiny seaside village in the wildest and most beautiful county of England, Northumberland.
Winter there lasts about seven months and consists of sea spray, darkness, howling winds and more
darkness. Most of the people who stay in the village over the winter months, according to Kath, are
alcoholics, adulterers or hooked on prescription tranquilisers. It gives them something to do on the
long winter evenings, I suppose.

Kath is a woman of considerable personal courage and integrity. Growing up in one of the most
conservative places in Europe in the early 1960s, Kath realised that she was gay. She still owns a
house in the village. She and her partner are accepted members of the community on their own
terms. But they don't live there full time. Kath's journey took her to London, art school,
photography and, finally, teaching. Which is how we met, working together in the same college.
We were bound to become friends because of our mutual love of Northumberland and photography.
We often used to talk about creativity and how to foster it.

Kath saw her role at work as preventing the manufacture of clones. Students would come to her
convinced, in their first year of study, that there was a correct way to be a photographer and all they
needed to do was be told the process, follow it precisely, and greatness would certainly follow.
Kath's whole being revolted at the very idea of there being a 'correct way' and all her teaching
strategies were about something much more interesting helping the students discover and then
have faith in their way of doing something.

I want to give you an example of how I think this can lead to greatness, if you succeed. One of my
favourite records of all time is Hurt by Johnny Cash. If you search for it on You Tube you will
see Cash performing it. It is magnificent. And yet there are so many things 'wrong' with it. Cash
didn't compose the song himself, he plays and sings quite badly, he doesn't appear in most of the
video. The lyrics were originally a rather sour and self-indulgent diatribe about the misery of heroin
addiction. And yet, well, he was in his last few months of life (and he knew it) and he poured all
the pain, regret, sadness and majesty of dying into his performance and it really transcends its
limits. He is full of regret and acceptance, searing honesty and shining glory. He is, in his last
moments, a master of life, unafraid of death. And he does it all with just a few notes and a very
weak voice. I defy anyone to watch that video and not be moved and inspired.

So, my Romanian friends, what do I think this means for you? Well, sometimes, when I meet you I
see how the rules oppress you. I know enough about your country to know that, often, outward
conformity to them is a thin veil over corruption and failure. I know some of you well enough to
understand how much discomfort and pain this forced dishonesty can cost you in loss of self

So, what I would like you to do is consider all the truly great people you admire and ask yourself if
they were the masters of the rules or the followers.

Then, think about how you are going to make the rules your servants in the cause of deep learning
and inspiring healing in the years to come. This is something I believe you can all do and if you
succeed you will change your world beyond recognition.

Until we meet again, warmest regards from England.