Letter to the reader
Thank you for visiting Record of Hope.
The game has changed radically over the past two years, since the beginning of 2020. The terms of the fundamental debate, the primary question of what it means to be human, has gravitated from concerns around contingent issues, in themselves crucially important, towards universal principles that simply demand that a choice be made about how we want to show up in the world.
Record of Hope started out in 2018, on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as an interesting idea directly nurtured by humanitarian and environmental anxiety. It culminated in the production of the first Record, Calais at the Crossroads, which offers an activist’s first-hand account of volunteering in the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, Northern France.
After the initial impetus, however, the idea lay fallow for a time. Which is not to say that it ceased to exist: the open field remained, and I have never stopped caring about it. But now, towards the end of 2021, I see that its purpose is different from what was originally imagined.
The key change has been the following: when I started I was working primarily from good intentions, but without being able to say why things mattered to me in the way they did; now I have come to see that the right of determination and dissent are not arbitrary abstractions: they are core values, and the source of human dignity. As such, they are sacrosanct.
Above all else, throughout this period I began to see emerging from the confusion generated by socially mediated debate a sense of something pertaining to individual personhood, a glimmer of light that needed attention and understanding just simply because it was the path I had always known myself to be.
The Buddha purportedly said “Be a lamp unto thyself.” This may well be apocryphal, but it has been explained to me that the metaphor of the lamp in the Buddha’s teachings has to be understood as light in the context of darkness, which makes sense because, according to the teachings on emptiness, we are nothing if not in relationship with the world.
It is therefore not in the self that the person takes refuge, but in the network, the community, the sangha. Refuge here can be thought of as ‘ground’, ‘home’, or ‘base’.
The truth of this is our purpose-built cautionary tale: it is what allows us to do what we do and be what we are without losing sight of the true ground of our being, which is humbler than many would like to think, but at the same time more magnificent than many imagine.
In the UK, this relationship between the individual and the collective stands at the heart of parliamentary democracy: members of Parliament are elected to the House by local constituencies, whose interests they represent before the nation. Their very existence as MPs is predicated upon their ties with the communities they serve. Some of them choose to forget that; others honour and rejoice in the privilege of it; either way, this is the system that binds them together.
But there is more.
Psychologist, author, and public speaker, the great Dr Jordan Peterson, has said repeatedly that you cannot help someone who hasn’t in some sense already done most of the work themselves. In other words, speaking generally, a person needs to want to be helped, even if they don’t know they want it, in order to be helped.
The work here is the recognition of that glimmer of personhood, that first hesitant step towards a healthier and more meaningful state of being. In my experience, this holds true also for the Buddhist sangha: people usually join meditation groups after they have decided there is something in their life thats needs looking into.
This moment, this step, this spontaneous reorientation towards the light is an act of sovereign intelligence, and the freedom we have to consciously occupy that space is, or should be, our inalienable right. It is precisely what autocratic regimes fear: people deciding for themselves what is good for them. It is precisely what we now stand to lose.
The animating question behind Record of Hope is therefore what does it mean to be a sovereign human person, and how can we ensure we don’t lose sight of that?
The self may not be a refuge, but it is the locus of action in the world. Without it there can be no good or evil. On the assumption that the great cosmological miracle of existence is that there is something rather nothing, the great existential miracle of the human person is that there is an I and a You, rather than no one at all. That is what we have to work with.
What matters is how we walk the gauntlet of history. How we do that depends very much on how we hold in our hearts our ties to community and higher truth.
The theme of hope continues to run through this enterprise. I am genuinely interested in hope as a quintessentially human quality with extraordinary powers of defiance in the face of overwhelming odds, and a capacity for healing and conferring meaning that, like love, is essentially energetic. Like love, hope has the power of transformation.
Hope does not mix well with an oriental alchemy of the soul because in the eastern framework there is an emphasis on transcending the self. This sets me at odds with many who supported the initial iteration of this project, exceptional and compassionate individuals in the world of Engaged Dharma for whom the meditation served the activism.
We all need our mythological home where we can set out our stall and do business with the world. What matters to us as individuals lies submerged under the archetypal watertable of our being, and that is not something we can go shopping for. It finds us, somehow, in the end.
We will see where this leads, but for now I would like to thank you for visiting and taking the time to relate to what is presented here.
May the light guide your steps
May the light show you the way home
The purpose of this website is to open up dialogue with stories and reflections from the world around us and to try and piece together an understanding of what it means to be a sovereign human person.
Writing is the primary vehicle for the transmission of ideas and information, but not the only one. Video and voice also play their part, and if the opportunity presents itself, music too.
The aim is to participate, contribute, challenge, critique, highlight, story-tell, reflect, and ultimately to share the fruits of engagement with a view to promoting a primary love of inquiry for its own sake. It is also to explore a conception of human experience honouring the human person as a complex, non-definable work-in-progress that is free to seek stability in an idea, or to founder in the attempt; that is free to disagree, dissent, to change its mind, to question authority, and to find its own way of interpreting the social contract, within the bounds of core human laws, with an open and critical mind, but without judgement or intent to enforce change.
The aim is to counter the culture of hatred and resentment that distorts the freedoms of the World Wide Web, making dialogue impossible. It does not promote identities or issues: it promotes questions about sentient life on Earth, and moves from the assumption that all issues and identities meet in the essential experience of being human, which all humans share.
The aim, finally, is to uphold a celebratory view of human experience based on a fundamental appreciation of hope, but also to draw upon teachings and practices from East and West that can help the individual to clean up their act and tap into their potential for growth.
Hope is fieldcraft for spiritual survival, and we are looking here to those operating on the front-lines of the human condition for initiation into its secrets
In a dream I had to give a very important speech. No preparation, just stand and say what needs to be said. It was not about what I was able to say, but about what stands in the way of authentic action. Record of Hope is an attempt to address that question.
Born into a language-teaching family in Modena, Italy, where my parents established an English language school and Cambridge Exams centre in 1964, I studied Classics at high school, English Literature at Aberdeen University and General Linguistics and Comparative Philology at the University of Oxford. In 2003 I qualified as an English Language Teacher for Adults, and in 2006 I started working as a Cambridge Speaking Examiner.
Alongside teaching, I have wide-ranging interests and a wealth of life-experience. I have travelled and worked in various parts of Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, Southeast Asia, Australasia and the United States. In 2014, I completed a Permaculture Design Course in Vang Vieng, Laos, and I hold a second degree black belt in the Japanese art of aikido.
I am indebted to many teachers in the fields of philosophy, aikido and meditation, especially Vipassana meditation. Between 1999 and 2001, while an undergraduate at Aberdeen University, I had the privilege of lodging with and providing assistance to the late British analytical philosopher and Catholic theologian, David Braine, while he was working on his last major work. In 2018 I completed a Mindfulness Teacher Training Course at the Mangalam Meditation Centre in Germany.
When asked once to provide a blurb for a book on the philosophy of language, the question of how to describe me professionally had to be addressed. It was decided to describe me as an independent researcher, and this is more or less how I have viewed myself ever since.
I have been writing since I was a child, but I am not widely published. In 2014, I contributed an essay to the Permaculture Research Institute website, Revisiting Masanobu’s Fukuoka’s Revolutionary Agriculture . A recent long essay titled Inescapable Journeys: on integrating the dual and the non-dual appeared in a quarterly magazine, Pari Perspectives, bringing together ‘ideas in Science, the Arts, Spirit and Community,’ edited by the Pari Center for New Learning in Pari, Italy. Also this year I gave a talk hosted by the Pari Center on hope and delusion, and another essay is due to appear in the December issue of the magazine with the title Shapes in the Dark: a parable about fear.
I now live with my beloved wife and two cats in Zürich, Switzerland, and I divide my time between teaching English and writing.
Every person is a layperson, and life is a layperson’s game. Let’s start with that.Record of Hope