Sound Foundations

Whatever we wish to construct, whether a garden, a building, a business or some other product of our creativity, nothing is more important than building the enterprise on sound foundations.

The foundations of The Knot Garden are the soil. As with other types of foundation, soil is largely invisible except in such areas as flower beds where only the surface can be examined without a spade. The Knot Garden recognises that what is unseen is often more important than what is in plain sight.

I was alarmed this morning to see an article in the Guardian reporting a warning by the environment secretary that the UK is 30 to 40 years away from “eradication of soil fertility”. The Knot Garden usually takes politicians’ statements with a pinch of salt but my curiosity compels me to look more deeply into the story so that I can discover what lies behind it.

The ominous assertion reminded me of a chapter entitled The World Below Our Feet in John Humphrys’s book The Great Food Gamble, in which he refers to “the least explored and least understood environment on the planet: the earth beneath our feet”. He goes on to describe the damage that mankind has done to the soil through intensive farming methods.

I have thought from time to time about the importance of soil quality but have not so far been able to spend time to understand the science of this complex and fascinating subject. Surely soon, especially given my unexploited interest in the closely related subject of geology, I will conduct some research into the ecology of soil and the factors that affect its quality. This is a fascinating domain, crucial to our existence, that appears to be widely overlooked.

One important function of The Knot Garden is the identification of areas of personal ignorance (in subjects that are important to me), creating awareness and opening the door to an exploration of key themes that are relevant to my belief system.

I am not prepared to take the MP’s statement at face value but I will certainly treat it as a sharp reminder that I need to improve my knowledge of the soil and develop an informed view of whether it truly is being degraded in a manner that is dangerous to humankind.

Combatting Noise With Noise

I seem to be far more sensitive to noise than the vast majority of people. This is particularly apparent when I travel by coach, especially when going to work in the morning. I treat the two and a half hour journey to Victoria as a period for meditation, contemplation and creative thought. Interruptions are by no means welcome.

When the passenger sitting nearby thoughtlessly plays a video on their smart phone without using earphones, I have a weapon with which to retaliate. I have the means to produce sound at a much higher level of volume than that which is rudely intruding into my inner world of calm. Rather than confronting the inconsiderate traveller, I choose to combat sound with sound.

I’m not surprised that Beethoven was deaf. Have you heard his symphonies? What a noise! In certain parts one has the impression of a solid, impenetrable wall of sound. Then there is the marked use of dissonance in passages that waver between chromatic brilliance and the borders of cacophony.

In case you think me unreasonable in resorting to the use of superior decibels to counteract a rather muted but nevertheless annoying noise, let me assure you that the sound from my iPad is directed not at my fellow passengers but into my own ears. In fact, to make sure that I do not disturb others, I wear high quality headphones.

With the volume turned up high, the puny sound from across the aisle stands no chance of getting through. And oddly, with the magnificent music of the incomparable Beethoven battering my ears, I am able to remain relaxed and focused in my reverie.

The Knot Garden approves of the use of carefully weighed confrontation when no alternatives exist but urges us to consider other solutions first.

The Enemy Within

We are told, with some justification, that in order to win our battles we must exploit the weaknesses of our adversaries. But what of those conflicts in which our enemy is not some corporeal antagonist but oneself?

We often have a tendency to accept¬† our own weaknesses too readily, proclaiming in a matter of fact sort of way that “I am not really much of a something-or-other” and believing that who we are – and therefore to some extent our destiny too – is determined entirely by our genetic make-up. We think that our nature was fixed at some early stage in our existence and that we cannot change ourselves.

The Knot Garden believes that our capacity for self-transformation is far greater than people generally imagine.

Naturally, any programme of change that we decide to undertake must begin with an examination of our weaknesses. The problem is that we often suffer from weaknesses¬† that are hidden from our view. I speak from experience here. I discovered recently, when reading Chris Voss’s excellent book Never Split The Difference, that I have lived my entire life without understanding the importance of being an accomplished negotiator.

I have since learned that empathy-based negotiation is a critically important skill to all of us save those who live as hermits in caves, avoiding contact with other humans.

The Knot Garden exhorts us to search within ourselves to find our key areas of weakness and then work on turning them into valuable assets. Only in this way can we hope to become truly strong.