A quick reflection on where I’m at so far, and generic advice to others

In 2012 I decided to change career from large scale IT project management to war prevention.  I have made progress in doing so.

  • I’ve nearly finished my ‘Peace Studies’ Open Degree.  In the next few months I’ll be putting in applications for doing a Peace Studies Masters Degree starting in 2018.
  • I’ve a few years experience at volunteering in the sector, giving me work experience to talk about.  I also have and have had director-level voluntary posts in the sector, giving me kudos and credibility.
  • I read everything I can so can hold meaningful conversations with interested people about peace work.  I think I can just about cover a stand at a conference or exhibition on my own (having just done so under tuition and supervision of an expert) although I need more practice.
  • I am working for an employer who advertises roles I would like.

That is in accordance with the plan I had in 2012.  I have not done everything in the plan as some has not worked out – I was too optimistic about being able to change the world quickly.  But I am getting there.

My ‘how to change career’ plan came from books I read about 5 years ago, and the generic advice boils down to this:

You need three things: relevant qualifications (to get your CV through the tick-box checklist); work experience (nobody wants to give training or risk taking on someone who may be unable to do the job); to know the culture (so you can get through the interview).

To get these three things:

1. Volunteer for anything in the same sector or doing the same kind of work. This gives you knowledge of the culture and starts your people networking. Volunteering is way to get work experience.
2. Make sure your study is appropriate for what you want to do. I am doing an Open Degree because the OU doesn’t do a Peace Studies degree. Check the careers information on government and academic resources for what qualifications are expected and decide if you need anything else. Sometimes free courses through MOOCs can be a good enough substitute
depending on what you want to do.
3. Read everything you can about your desired role / sector. Wikipedia, text books, online articles, journals, e-journals, blogs. Get to know how things are done, what is the jargon, who are the big names.

Also, networking is essential these days.  See who is doing the job you want on LinkedIn and try to join the same groups as them to see what is being discussed and what is important. Also, try to make connections with them.

Getting a job doing what you do now in an organisation which also does the job you want, and then moving sideways, can be much easier than trying to get the job you want straight away.

I would also suggest self-advertising.  Blog about what you are doing and how you are getting on. Create a web site about it. Have business cards describing you in your new role. Give them out and tell people what you are doing: strangers like to help and offer advice and there can be gems in that free advice.

That is what I have been doing, so I do follow my own advice.  🙂

Work experience request

I have asked the lobbying organisation Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War if I may do a couple of weeks work experience next summer.

This is my formal request:

Dear Mr Dolan,

I am seeking the opportunity to gain work experience in the peace sector next summer and hope Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War would be able to provide that for me.

By 11th June 2018 I will have finished my undergraduate degree which covers social science, history, philosophy and psychology aspects regarding peace and war. I hope to start a post-graduate Master’s Degree in Peace Studies in October 2018. My academic experience to date has covered the ethics of war, 20th century European political history, how society is controlled by the state, the use of violence by states as a management tool and why people act and think how they do even when it is illogical. This has included use of online databases, independent research and producing reports and analyses of existing academic writing.

I can offer a week full-time on site and should appreciate the opportunity to shadow you as Campaigns and Communications Manager and/or your experienced peace worker volunteers. Although I should like to invest longer than a week on site, personal finances, accommodation requirements and my wife’s leave constraints will prevent that. So, if you can think of a specific project, possibly research, possibly writing something up, that could take another week or so that I could subsequently do at home, that would be excellent for me.

If I could end the summer having done a work experience ‘project’ with something tangible to show for it, it would be good for my CV and future study. If that would be of benefit to Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War, so much the better!

I should appreciate it if you would consider my application and identify a useful project I could undertake for you.

I look forward to hearing your decision.

Simon.

I’m feeling optimistic!

Civil Service Fast Stream

In today’s Civil Service News bulletin email, there was reference to the Civil Service Fast Stream.  This I took to be the Civil Service’s new graduate recruitment and fast progression scheme, intended for young people just leaving university.  It seems I thought wrong:


Fast Stream opportunities to advance your career

Did you know you don’t have to be a graduate to join the Civil Service Fast Stream, the development programme for our future leaders? And you can apply from within the Civil Service. Applications for the 2018 intake are open now.
Find out what’s new in the Fast Stream


So I had a butcher’s and saw I can apply now for entry in the scheme in 2018 when I have completed my degree.  I can also apply now as a Civil Servant, regardless of having a degree.  Any Civil Servant can.  Link.

There are apprenticeships – no, thanks – internships – no, thanks – and the various schemes organised by government function.  Having gone through the schemes, one says:

Safeguarding the UK’s national security by…working to reduce conflict…
…prevent and resolve conflict; and build stability overseas.

That’s me that is!  That’s what I want to do!  Those items are listed under the responsibilities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office within the Diplomatic Service Fast Stream.

So I have started my application.  🙂

All I need to do is the two online questionnaire tests, the e-tray exercise, the video interview and see if I have passed.  Then the application form and see if I pass the sift.  Then attend the half day assessment at the assessment centre to such exercises as the leadership exercise, the group exercise and the analysis exercise and see if I pass that.  (I have done part of one of those days before some years ago and it went horribly wrong for me; they had the wrong exercises and, well, what do I know about being an HR Director?)  Then it is the final selection process will be an assessment at an assessment centre with specialist assessments to assess capability and motivations.  If assessed as successful, I presume one has jumped through the acceptance hoops.  Then it’ll just be probation, training, assessment, placements for 2 to 3 years, resulting in a potential salary of £28k circa 2021 but doing a job I passionately want to do.

If I don’t get accepted the first time – as many don’t – I can reapply a year later.  That will be after my Master’s Degree so is better anyway.

Found “This Evil Thing” in the priory

I needed to get away from my desk.  I wandered round to the Lancaster Priory and had a look around.  I had not appreciated it is a parish church, which explains the bell-ringing at funny times in the week: weddings!

I mostly studied the history of the place which is fascinating. But I also went through the notices and leaflets, as is my wont.  And amongst them I found something I had not seen in the Tourist Office or museum.  A show called This Evil Thing to be performed in Lancaster in a few days.

Poster for Michael Mears' play This Evil Thing

Poster for Michael Mears’ play This Evil Thing

It is a one-man play about conscientious objectors in The Great War.

But since I spent so much time sitting quietly in a pew, I think I needed some quiet, some solitude.  However, I intend to see this play.

The Kalashnikov assault rifle as “a sacred weapon”

I can understand why the Russians want statues to The Great Patriotic War, fought for survival against a treacherous Nazi Germany that was hugely important in the eventual end of World War 2 for the allies.

I can also understand the desire to recognise the tools of this victory, such as the remarkably effective T-34 medium tank.

But a statue to the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle seems a bit odd.  Firstly, because it was produced after WW2, but especially because of its history since then for unlicensed production, illicit black market trade and as the weapon of choice for revolutionaries, terrorists, drug cartels, pirates and criminals.  It made the BBC news because the statue’s designer put the wrong parts diagram on a plate on the statue.

What the BBC did not say was the statue is unpopular locally and the unveiling of the statue to the AK47’s inventor resulted in the arrest of the sole protestor,  link, proclaiming “a creator of weapons is a creator of death”.

But I am puzzled by the words of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin of the Russian Orthodox Church who describes it as “a sacred weapon.  What a strange Christian.  But then, he also endorses female genital mutilation, so his opinion is not that worthwhile.

Incidentally, the roughly estimated 100 million genuine and copied AK-47s in the world are responsible for about a quarter of a million killings every year.

Bias regarding fear of war allowing wars to happen

As creatures, we are very poor at assessing risk.  This knowledge was reinforced by what I learned in the Open University module DD210 Living psychology: from the everyday to the extraordinary.  I suspect that is one of the reasons we allow wars to happen.

On the same theme The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters by Robert Meyer and Howard Kunreuther may be a relevant and useful read.  It looks as though they consider why we allow things to happen.  They highlight six behaviours:

  1. Amnesia bias: only focussing on recent experience so we forget the experience of past wars.
  2. Optimism bias: we are optimistic by nature and although know wars happen, believe wars will not happen to us.
  3. Single action bias: it is enough to make one small act of protest thinking that will be enough to protect us.
  4. Myopia: only considering the short term, that war won’t happen soon so it will never happen.
  5. Inertia: it is too hard to face the problem and tackle it, when it might not even happen, thereby allowing it to happen.
  6. Herding: doing what we perceive everyone else to do, which is nothing, so nobody does anything.

But that list does not tell us what to do about them; perhaps the rest of their book does.

Are pacifists optimists or pessimists?

I was at a peace conference at the weekend.  A full-time peace worker said “Of course, you have to be an optimist to believe peace is possible“.  Puzzled, I disagreed, saying “In my experience, peace activists are pessimists and do what they do because they fear the worst will happen“.  Some discussion followed.

I have since worked out the difference: he was talking about employees and I was talking about volunteers.  He could not do his job if he was pessimistic and I would have no motivation if I was optimistic.

What you can do with that knowledge, I have no idea.

But what does it mean about me going from a peace-worker volunteer to becoming a peace sector employee?

“Religious” violence

My response agreeing with someone’s post on an Open University blog:

Every conflict which has escalated into terrorism has ultimately been resolved by listening.  “I think there has to be a political solution.  All wars have to end in some kind of political compromise.”  (Jeremy Corbyn)

I think you are right.  In this case it is not militant Islam that is the problem, that is the excuse.  It is the tool used by cowardly and genuinely evil people to get angry young men to commit murder and become suicide bombers.  It is the lazy branding used to explain the behaviour and ‘other’ those aligned with or sympathetic to their views.  But the claim that it is the cause or the causation is misinterpreting the situation; if it wasn’t religion making the divide it would be race or nationalism or political belief.

There were a lot of unhappy people in the Middle East cross with the Western world, united in a woolly concern about cultural imperialism or economics or tired of being sidelined or concerned about the future of the Middle East given an apparent bias in financial and political support to one particular country, or even a number of other things too.  And we weren’t listening, so the shouting got louder until a couple of buildings got destroyed in New York.  Given they were a global emblem of globalised capitalism I suspect we can take a guess at what the protest was about: cultural imperialism and the imposition of products, media output and values upon a number of closely-related societies who found those impositions increasingly intolerable.

And when protests are not heard, they get louder and louder until they go bang.

I am not aware of any great effort on the part of Western governments to say “Hmm.  There’s some unhappy people here.  Let’s find out what the problem is and come to an agreement.”  But there are many calling for airstrikes and selling weapons and destabilising governments and killing civilians.  And the protests are getting louder and more frequent.  The combined political view seems to be “The question is whether we can kill people who hate us at a faster rate than we make other people hate us by killing so many people.” (David Mitchell)

If there is a religion involved here, I fear it is the worship of Mammon or Plutus, or one of their many allies.

Why do otherwise sane people do this?

Do you mean the suicide bombers and murderers?  I think that is fairly easily answered; a lot has been researched and written in psychology and criminology about how people can be made to believe what our philosophy says is nonsense or wrong.

Do you mean those who recruit, indoctrinate, train, equip and despatch them?  The easiest ones to explain: power-hungry cowards who get a kick out of disruption.  ‘Psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ probably cover it.  Every terror group needs those, as does most nations I suspect – I bet there’s plenty work in the various secret services.  It’s just these ones are the baddies and ours are the goodies.

Or do you mean the government leaders who believe airstrikes really are accurate, that military intelligence from foreign agents is never unreliable, that killing people because they hold a different passport is morally good, that killing people will make the related survivors more friendly, that using their land for our proxy wars won’t upset anyone?  The sort of people who proudly proclaim they would conduct the first strike to start a nuclear conflict?

We need to UNDERSTAND violent, militant Islamism – and writing if off as a form of insanity is simply an admission that we don’t understand it.

I agree.  Coming to the realisation that you have no option left to make your voice heard other than kill yourself and take others with you, is a very sane act.  When done in our name we consider it the highest form of self-sacrifice and heroism.  And it is done to make a point, whether it is holding out one’s hand in the flames when being burned at the stake for religious freedom, dousing one’s self in petrol and self-immolating for national freedom or any of the people who have died on hunger strike in prison.  These people are not killing themselves and others because they are insane.  They are trying to make a point, to be heard, a final desperate act in the hope their life can mean something by throwing it away.  Or rather they are the poor unwitting victims of the militant section of a much larger unhappy group of people.  It is that larger group who need to be heard.

But I don’t think we know who that group are.  And I’m not sure we’re even asking the question.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Woken by the 6:00 news as usual. Just one story: an explosion in a Manchester night club; Police say it is a terrorist bomb; grandparent in hospital with shrapnel wounds; children killed; people running, screaming, panicking, crying; the election suspended by all parties.

Stupid: the media reporting it as terrorism before it is confirmed. Exaggerating the known facts to sell news. They make things worse when they do this.

Stupid: the reporting of screaming, crying and panicking. Mobile phone footage on the main story site taken by some bloke outside the venue running away showing other people running away. Rather outweighs the other footage taken inside of an orderly evacuation. But it’s a funny kind of panic where someone gets their phone out to record themselves running down the street. Not the most useful evidence for the facts. But it does help create the moral panic – well done BBC for playing into the hands of those who want chaos.

(It probably is just random that the stories next to the video of the explosion are “Muslim comedian who sat next to a Trump” – omigod how did Trump survive? – and “The mysterious case of the missing Briton”.)

Stupid: a quote from every major political party – provided between the night-time explosion and available for broadcast by 6a.m. to say they are suspending election activity because of the blast. Well done, you’ve done the terrorist’s work for them, even if it turns out not to be a terrorist attack. You’ve stopped the election activity. So the government has ceased, democracy has ceased, you’ve added to the moral panic and the terrorists just won.

Every party that has done this is not fit to run a multi-racial, multi-religion country with a history of empire and links to the rest of the world and that likes to think it can stand on the world stage giving opinions based on centuries of experience.

Whatever happened to “starve them of the oxygen of publicity”?

Yes, it probably was a terrorist attack. Yes, it is appalling. Yes, it is pathetic they targeted teenage girls. I get all that. But I do not get the response. When did we become so frightened?

So, having written this rant, I shall finish my cup of tea, get dressed and go to work. I shall continue to talk to people and, more importantly, listen to people who have different opinions from mine, then try to discuss them in an open and friendly fashion, exploring differences and celebrating the things we have in common. As a citizen, that is how to combat terrorism. Not falling for the media- and political-party inspired fear and division that serves their ends but makes life more miserable.

Go and make a new friend today. Or at least, reach out to someone and say “Hi!”. Or just give a stranger a smile.

Make tea, not trouble.

Keep calm and carry on.