Adonis Diaries

Archive for February 17th, 2016

Is it anymore feasible to strike a work-life balance?

What I thought I would do is I would start with a simple request. I’d like all of you to pause for a moment, you wretched weaklings, and take stock of your miserable existence.

Nigel Marsh speech in Feb. 2011

00:29 Now that was the advice that St. Benedict gave his rather startled followers in the fifth century.

It was the advice that I decided to follow myself when I turned 40.

Up until that moment, I had been that classic corporate warrior — I was eating too much, I was drinking too much, I was working too hard and I was neglecting the family.

And I decided that I would try and turn my life around. In particular, I decided I would try to address the thorny issue of work-life balance.

So I stepped back from the workforce, and I spent a year at home with my wife and four young children. (Great when you can afford this sabbatical every now and then)

But all I learned about work-life balance from that year was that I found it quite easy to balance work and life when I didn’t have any work. (Laughter) Not a very useful skill, especially when the money runs out.

So I went back to work, and I’ve spent these seven years since struggling with, studying and writing about work-life balance.

And I have four observations I’d like to share with you today.

The first is: if society’s to make any progress on this issue, we need an honest debate. But the trouble is so many people talk so much rubbish about work-life balance. All the discussions about flexi-time or dress-down Fridays or paternity leave only serve to mask the core issue, which is that certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family.

Now the first step in solving any problem is acknowledging the reality of the situation you’re in. And the reality of the society that we’re in is there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like. 

It’s my contention that going to work on Friday in jeans and [a] T-shirt isn’t really getting to the nub of the issue.

The second observation I’d like to make is we need to face the truth that governments and corporations aren’t going to solve this issue for us. We should stop looking outside.

It’s up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility for the type of lives that we want to lead. (Adding more pressures on the individual in order to relieve the responsibilities of the governments and elite classes)

If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like their idea of balance. It’s particularly important — this isn’t on the World Wide Web, is it? I’m about to get fired — it’s particularly important that you never put the quality of your life in the hands of a commercial corporation.

Now I’m not talking here just about the bad companies — the “abattoirs of the human soul,” as I call them. I’m talking about all companies. Because commercial companies are inherently designed to get as much out of you [as] they can get away with.

It’s in their nature; it’s in their DNA; it’s what they do — even the good, well-intentioned companies.

On the one hand, putting childcare facilities in the workplace is wonderful and enlightened. On the other hand, it’s a nightmare — it just means you spend more time at the bloody office. We have to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that we want in our life.

The third observation is we have to be careful with the time frame that we choose upon which to judge our balance. Before I went back to work after my year at home, I sat down and I wrote out a detailed, step-by-step description of the ideal balanced day that I aspired to.

And it went like this: wake up well rested after a good night’s sleep. Have sex. Walk the dog. Have breakfast with my wife and children. Have sex again.  Drive the kids to school on the way to the office. Do three hours’ work. Play a sport with a friend at lunchtime. Do another three hours’ work. Meet some mates in the pub for an early evening drink. Drive home for dinner with my wife and kids. Meditate for half an hour. Have sex. Walk the dog. Have sex again. Go to bed.

How often do you think I have that day? (Laughter) We need to be realistic. You can’t do it all in one day. We need to elongate the time frame upon which we judge the balance in our life, but we need to elongate it without falling into the trap of the “I’ll have a life when I retire, when my kids have left home, when my wife has divorced me, my health is failing, I’ve got no mates or interests left.”

A day is too short; “after I retire” is too long. There’s got to be a middle way.

A fourth observation: We need to approach balance in a balanced way. A friend came to see me last year — and she doesn’t mind me telling this story —  and said, “Nigel, I’ve read your book. And I realize that my life is completely out of balance. It’s totally dominated by work. I work 10 hours a day; I commute two hours a day. All of my relationships have failed. There’s nothing in my life apart from my work. So I’ve decided to get a grip and sort it out. So I joined a gym.” (Laughter)

Now I don’t mean to mock, but being a fit 10-hour-a-day office rat isn’t more balanced; it’s more fit.  Lovely though physical exercise may be, there are other parts to life — there’s the intellectual side; there’s the emotional side; there’s the spiritual side. And to be balanced, I believe we have to attend to all of those areas — not just do 50 stomach crunches.

Now that can be daunting. Because people say, “Bloody hell mate, I haven’t got time to get fit. You want me to go to church and call my mother.” And I understand.

I truly understand how that can be daunting. But an incident that happened a couple of years ago gave me a new perspective. My wife, who is somewhere in the audience today, called me up at the office and said, “Nigel, you need to pick our youngest son” — Harry — “up from school.” Because she had to be somewhere else with the other three children for that evening.

So I left work an hour early that afternoon and picked Harry up at the school gates. We walked down to the local park, messed around on the swings, played some silly games. I then walked him up the hill to the local cafe, and we shared a pizza for two, then walked down the hill to our home, and I gave him his bath and put him in his Batman pajamas.

I then read him a chapter of Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach.” I then put him to bed, tucked him in, gave him a kiss on his forehead and said, “Goodnight, mate,” and walked out of his bedroom. As I was walking out of his bedroom, he said, “Dad?” I went, “Yes, mate?” He went, “Dad, this has been the best day of my life, ever.” I hadn’t done anything, hadn’t taken him to Disney World or bought him a Playstation.

09:04 Now my point is the small things matter.

Being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life.

 It can transform society. Because if enough people do it, we can change society’s definition of success away from the moronically simplistic notion that the person with the most money when he dies wins, to a more thoughtful and balanced definition of what a life well lived looks like. And that, I think, is an idea worth spreading.

Beirut Shoreline: Before and after Solidere catastrophic tampering

One of the great things about the internet is that there is just so much floating around out there–like all the plans for Beirut that seemed to have magically disappeared.

There was/is(?) a plan to re-create part of the old promenade of Beirut, the original corniche, which was known as Avenue des Francais:


Today’s seaside esplanade or corniche is an extension of this historic Avenue.

But the bay was filled in with garbage during the Lebanese war and according to Solidere (the private firm of Rafic Hariri holding that was created to rebuild central Beirut) the original coastline was “lost” and the plan was to use the garbage dump as a landfill and further extend the shoreline, thus creating hundreds of thousands more square meters of real estate property in the process.

For now, we won’t get into the controversy of how Solidere was formed and who profits from it (I’ve written about that extensively here and here).

Instead, let’s look at one of the many promises it made to the public to build green and publicly accessible space as part of its rebuilding narrative.

One of these projects is called Shoreline Walk, a series of interlinking gardens retracing the original coastal outline of the city as seen in the top photo of the Avenue.  It’s marked below by red lines.

We can also see how the large landfill created a new coastline enclosed by a new breakwater sea wall and yacht marina (which has also become a cash cow for Soldiere):


Designed by the London-based firm Gustafson Porter, The Shoreline Walk was meant to “restore the energy and vigour of the old Corniche promenade” with “green infrastructure” that aims to “re-establish east-west links and connect together a series of new public squares and gardens for the enjoyment of the community,” according to the firm’s website, which contains the images below:


The project was designed 14 years ago in 2002 and expected to be completed by 2010 at a cost of 5 million GBP (around $7.2 million) according to a company presentation.

So where is it now? I’ve been living in Lebanon for most of my life and I’ve never seen or heard of it.

Here is an image of the design from Gustafson:


It wasn’t easy to place the gardens on today’s Google map because so much has been constructed. So I resorted to an old aerial shot from the late 1990s to align the plots:

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 2.36.29 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 2.42.23 AM

And here it is with a rough overlay of where the “Shoreline Walk” should be:

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 2.42.23 AMadd

As compared to:


So where is it?

Conceived 14 years ago, it’s due date is nearly six years past, and beyond a few shrubs and a short row of sidewalk trees, the area remains largely baren and off limits to the public.

The only garden that is completed is Zaytouneh Square, on the lower left.

But in reality, this is a hardscape space with few trees or shade:

Source: Landscape Architects Network

A far cry from what seems a virtual rainforest in artist conceptions:



Indeed, Solidere’s overall “green spaces” map looks a lot more green on paper:

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 5.52.12 AM

…than it does in reality:

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 5.58.26 AM

On the other hand, the company seems to have had no trouble fulfilling its promise to construct blocks of high end towers for sale, with very few undeveloped plots remaining.

Yet Solidere’s green map is often touted in presentations and interviews with the press.

Soldiere’s urban planner recently told design students at a university conference that the city center contains “60 parks and public spaces.” Many students were probably left wondering where these are, as the presentation did not specify if these were existing or planned projects.

In fact, Solidere has plenty of parks and public projects on paper.

These include a range of archeological gardens, museums, fountain pools, even a large “central park” on the reclaimed new waterfront as seen above in the company map.

But 22 years after Solidere began excavations in 1994, few of these spaces have materialized.

And as seen by the example of the tiled Zaytouneh Square, the spaces that have been built often take the shape of sterile expanses with little seating that feel more like modern art to compliment private properties around them rather than inviting spaces for the general public to enjoy.

But is that even the goal? Would the general public, most of whom are poor, be invited to mingle amongst the high security multi-million dollar apartments and luxury shops of the city center?

The Shoreline Walk was celebrated in a piece published last year by a landscape magazine which described the completed phase– Zaytouneh Square– as “daring, unique and dramatic.”

It added: “The sleek, bold, ultra-modern look of the square matches the character of the surrounding buildings and gives us the impression of a more modern, edgy Beirut

Here’s another image of that space:

Source: Landscape Architects Network 

Personally, I have never seen more than a handful of people loitering around the area and many of them tend to be private security. But will this change when the other “gardens” are completed? Will they be more green than this?

Although the magazine article was published last year,  curiously it makes no reference to the 14 years that have passed since Shoreline Walk was announced, neither does it ask any questions about when it will be ready. Soldiere’s web page on the Shoreline Walk also provides no explanation for the delay or any revised completion dates.

Perhaps the firm will say that political turmoil has hurt progress. Yet why has the same political turmoil not affected the completion of residential towers, sprawling condominiums with hanging gardens, a yacht marina and high end seafront shopping center (Zaitunay Bay) that have all been completed over the last decade? Are glass and steel towers easier to build than minimalist landscaped gardens?

Or does the $8 billion firm prioritize real estate gains for its investors over public space for the community? Perhaps someone out there has the answer.


TRIBUNE « Terrorisme, une focalisation excessive » par Pascal Boniface

Pascal Boniface. 15/02/2016 

Pour Pascal Boniface, directeur de l’Iris (1), la menace terroriste ne saurait constituer le seul horizon de la réflexion stratégique et de l’action politique.

Car il existe bien d’autres causes de mortalité qui doivent aussi nous préoccuper.

TRIBUNE « Terrorisme, une focalisation excessive » par Pascal Boniface ZOOM


La menace terroriste est devenue le centre de l’horizon médiatique, politique et stratégique français. Pourrait-il en être autrement ?

Les attentats des 7 et 9 janvier 2015 et ses 15 morts, le plus grand nombre de victimes du terrorisme depuis cinquante ans sur le territoire français, avaient frappé la nation au plus profond. Elle avait fait face avec près de quatre millions de citoyens manifestant leur refus de céder à la peur.

Mais le 13 novembre, c’est 130 personnes qui perdirent la vie du fait d’attentats. Une escalade dans l’horreur, et dans les réactions qui ont suivi.

C’est devenu le sujet numéro un pour les médias qui ont vu leur nombre de téléspectateurs, auditeurs et lecteurs fortement augmenter et pour les responsables politiques qui doivent répondre à une demande de protection et de sécurité du public.

Dans l’ensemble, les Français ont réagi avec une très grande dignité à ces drames. (dignite? what’s that crap?)

Mais ils sont anxieux et ont besoin d’être rassurés.

Ne pas tomber dans le piège qui nous est tendu

On peut cependant se demander si, malgré l’intérêt marqué du public, on ne parle pas trop du terrorisme ?

Et si, ce faisant, on ne tombe pas dans le piège qui nous est tendu ?

Dès 1962, Raymond Aron écrivait que « les effets psychologiques du terrorisme étaient hors de proportion avec les résultats purement physiques ».

C’est encore plus vrai à l’heure des chaînes d’informations permanentes parce que c’est exactement ce que recherchent ceux qui ont frappé et veulent encore le faire : marquer les esprits et prendre le leadership sur l’agenda.

Ne risque-t-on pas alors de susciter un effet de galvanisation chez les terroristes, qui vont crier victoire au vu de l’ampleur des réactions qu’ils suscitent ? Cela leur permet de consolider leurs recrutements.

Ne crée-t-on pas un effet d’imitation ou d’entraînement pour des esprits faibles qui pourraient, par mimétisme, essayer à leur tour de tenter de commettre un attentat ?

Ne risque-t-on pas de nourrir un climat anxiogène qui pèse sur le moral de la nation et l’activité économique, à vivre dans l’angoisse de nouvelles frappes qui peuvent survenir à tout moment ? Et du coup de donner une victoire symbolique aux terroristes qui seront parvenus à marquer les esprits ?

La vigilance, pas la panique

Il ne s’agit pas de ne pas prendre en compte la menace. C’est indispensable. Mais faut-il en faire à ce point un élément du débat public ?

Ne pourrait-on pas agir avant et en parler moins ? Par ailleurs, à trop se focaliser sur le terrorisme, n’oublie-t-on pas de réfléchir aux grandes évolutions mondiales, à la place de la France dans le monde, à ses marges de manœuvres qui ne peuvent se résumer à la lutte contre le terrorisme ?

Il y a d’autres facteurs de mortalité qui ne suscitent pas la même mobilisation.

Il y a 130 personnes par jour qui meurent à cause de l’alcool.

L’an dernier, 412 personnes sont mortes de froid dans la rue et 3 500 autres ont été victimes de la route, certes par accident, mais en grande partie par la délinquance routière.

Chaque année, 150 personnes meurent de violences conjugales.

Deux enfants meurent chaque jour sous les coups de leurs parents. Ces morts ne suscitent pas la même mobilisation.

Sans doute parce que ces morts ne sont pas le fait d’une action politique volontaire qui veut s’attaquer aux bases de notre société. Il y a une acceptation sociale beaucoup plus grande pour ces types de violence qui pourtant font chaque année, et depuis des décennies, beaucoup plus de victimes.

Les terroristes peuvent frapper en tous lieux et à tout moment. Il faut non pas s’y résigner mais s’y préparer, vivre avec ce risque comme nous vivons avec d’autres (maladies, accidents, etc.) en étant vigilants mais pas paniqués. (And most importantly, stop bombing other countries in revenge and Not for a any viable cause)

J’habite et travaille dans le 11arrondissement de Paris, où ont eu lieu les attentats de novembre. J’ai plus peur pour mes enfants s’ils doivent faire de longs trajets de voiture que s’ils partent boire un verre dans le quartier.

Pour horribles qu’ils soient, ces attentats ne menacent notre société que si nous cédons à la peur.  (Only dead brain people would Not scared in their heart and mind)

Il est contre-productif de se focaliser de façon excessive sur ce défi stratégique, au risque d’occulter tous les autres. Cela reviendrait à céder au spectaculaire et à l’irrationnel et ne pas voir le structurel et le rationnel.

(1) Institut de relations internationales et stratégiques.




February 2016

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