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As a half-involved, half-detached observer I have been watching the continuous rise of religious feeling in Russia over the past two decades.

I have reason to be half-involved – my own cousin has gone deeply religious. So much that she, after having earned a degree in chemistry and biology, has now done a batchelors degree in theology swiftly followed by a masters degree in the same (the atheist in me would much prefer to call these degrees the “so-called” degrees). And over the last years, I have been witnessing her deepening mistrust towards all things associated with, in her eyes, a lack of christian and godly morality. It’s put quite a strain on our relationship, and of course some areas of conversation have become a zone where both of us feel like we tread on eggshells. But this subject continues to fascinate me. Especially since her faith is a heady mix with a parallel belief in astrology, which surely is a “pagan” area – and in any case, not a science after all?

The search for god in Russia is hardly surprising – in its days, communism acted as a form of belief system, faithfully adopted by some and forced onto many other unwilling ones. The collapse of communism, the appallingly shameful and horrible information about the bloody wrongdoings of the past leaders that was finally disclosed in the wake of that collapse, and the extreme economic hardships of the nineties left a vast emptiness in the lives of many and caused them to look for alternatives to run to. Anything went in those days – all things occult flourished, astrology enjoyed (and continues to enjoy) a huge following, whole families crowded before TV screens watching some charlatans waving their hands about on prime time telly promising to “charge up”  water bottles dutifully held by viewers – waiting for all their illnesses being cured overnight.

Then, by the mid-nineties, and after decades of communist suppression, religious community leaders came out of the shadows and all churches started enjoying a revival. And it feels like it’s really taking hold of Russians by now. How much of it is a fashion thing and how much of it a true faith? It is probably a mixture – and this raises some interesting questions. Those people who only two decades ago professed to be atheists could not have been so, and certainly fear of being in trouble for being religious had a big part to play. But are they truly religious now? What makes them so sure of their faith? What makes a person look for god? How many of these people truly think and examine their position, and how many are ready to run for any sort of “shelter” as soon as things are tough?

I am also fascinated by some faith-related problems that my cousin seems to be not seeing at all. For instance, I asked her about the position of orthodox christians on catholics and protestants. Are the latter two supposed to be “deviant faiths” in the eyes of her church? Are they wrong in how they worship and will they go to hell for that? – Don’t laugh, as this is what catholics have surely been taught in the past about protestants, I have heard many references to that. Anyway, my cousin opined that the orthodox church has no agreed position on this. No agreed position!! And no view! How can a church not have a view on this major split between its key branches – apart from calling it “wrong”?

Certainly the current intention of educating younger people in the christian faith is to go out and seek like-minded faithful ones. These groups go on pilgrimages all over Russia, seeking out other people belonging to their sect and establishing contact (my cousin does not belong to mainstream russian orthodox church – they actually disapprove of one another and the followers are not welcome in each other’s places of worship). And perhaps that’s a good thing – it’s their own business how they spend their own free time provided this keeps them out of trouble? But of course they also want to convert young minds to their belief system. The view is that the current levels of morality have sunk so low – the lowest ever in the history of humankind – that there is nowhere left to go but to god. It’s interesting that most generations (since the Romans, I believe) also think that the next generation will bring about the end of the human race due to their total moral decline – so far we are still standing.

I want to finish this essay by briefly turning to the question of “why people might turn to god”. It is really difficult to comprehend why people believe – there are no facts to base one’s faith on, is one problem of many that atheists would point out. But this summer I came across a fanstastic science-fiction novel called “The Roadside Picnic” writted by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky in 1971. I was re-reading it again, and one passage struck me as so very relevant to the question that has been puzzling me for so long. Here it is:

“…Man, as opposed to animals, is a creature with an undefinable need for knowledge. But the whole problem with that is that the average man … very easily manages to overcome this need for knowledge. I don’t believe that need even exists. There is a need to understand, and you don’t need knowledge for that. The hypothesis of God, for instance, gives an incomparably absolute opportunity to understand everything and know absolutely nothing. Give man an extremely simplified system of the world and explain every phenomenon away on the basis of that system. An approach like that doesn’t require any knowledge. Just a few memorized formulas pins so-called intuition and so-called common sense.”

 

Copyright 2009 by CuriouslyInspired

 

It’s pretty frightening to think that 2 months have whizzed past just like that. And to anyone who might have been aware of the existence of this blog, it will justifiably seem like CuriouslyInspired has vanished for ever.

Well, it is not quite the case. Only I have been so busy with our business stuff that I literally don’t know where the time goes, and blogging has unfortunately not been a priority.

I have recently been working on dragging our company into the 21st century communications-and marketing-wise. Hopefully that is all that we have been lacking, as since we are independent software vendors, we are in the 21st century already! So, a few weeks ago, we appeared on Twitter – and we are now setting up new blogs on Blogger. Those latter blogs will be far more personal in the future – I see no reason to hide behind a pseudonym anymore for myself. I will run my own blog focusing on project management. Still, CuriouslyInspired is not dead – I enjoyed the experience and the whole experiment, as this is how it started for me – it’s just that I never truly defined my own niche to make my own and to write about. Well, having had a break from writing, and having missed it, I would like to try again. 

So if any of my old readers are still out there, so am I….

Best,

CuriouslyInspired

My other half and I been pondering this very question recently, so it’s quite funny that today the BBC site has an article on this very subject. Our own thoughts on this matter are that yes, it is selfish and not socially responsible given existing pressures on this planet’s resources.

Read the rest of this entry »

My other half and I have recently started a small IT consultancy business. Earlier this week, I went on a 3 day business start-up course to recap on fundamentals of law, marketing, finance and accounting. The course was organised by a UK organisation called Business Link. Its objective is to provide free advice and coaching to new start-ups.

I was a bit sceptical of how useful the course was going to be, but I have to say it was quite good. I feel that it has left me feeling inspired to go out there and make money. They say that at least 50% of small business fail – it must be more than that though – and it’s not difficult to see why this is so. Our tutor said that we as attendees maximised our chances of being in the successful 50% by coming on this course. Judging by the responses of fellow students I am inclined to believe him.

People set up on their own for all sorts of reasons, but it seems the desire for independence and flexibility is one of the biggest drivers. However many are ill-prepared. The students on this course were full of enthusiasm and great ideas. Unfortunately a few were in for a rude shock when it came to the basics of accounting and finance. For example, as we were doing a cash flow forecasting exercise, there was a sharp intake of breath from one lady. She looked around shocked and announced that she just realised she could not implement her business idea for at least another year – she forgot about the costs of buying or leasing a van and other key equipment. And she already printed labels and logos for her products! She is lucky that she realised the problem now and not after investing even more into her start-up. But many more would not have a clue and launch straight in.

Granted, it is scary to make this step at the start of a recession however well-prepared one might be. The people I know – my ex-colleagues – are keeping their heads down and holding onto their corporate jobs for dear life. I really hope there would be no going back for me. I spent so many years dreaming about working for myself that making a U-turn now and running for the relative safety of full time employment is the last thing that I want to do.

It’s all in the mindset, it seems. Over the years, I have lost count of the “final straws” in my last job with my old employer, but I never thought I’d actually do it. Watching myself getting progressively more miserable has eventually tipped the scales in favour of drastic action. So here I am facing the unknown and the daunting ahead, trying to contain my excitement.

Doing a basic SWOT (Strenghts, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis on any new start-up is showing that Recession is a threat. However I firmly believe that it should also teach us rigorous cost control, discipline and focus, which will give us an edge in future years. Running a business with few frills but delivering a fantastic product or level of service to a customer is a very very worthwhile objective to achieve at any time of the economic cycle.

Wish us luck – and if you, my reader, need an IT project manager, maybe we should talk? 🙂

I want to tell you about an awesome story I came across this weekend.

Ray Edwards, a British guy, had successfully defeated cancer in the eighties, but this left him with a weakened immune system. He became critically ill with blood poisoning after cutting his hand at work on a building site. As the result, to prevent gangrene, doctors had to amputate all his limbs.

Having survived the shock of losing both his arms and legs, Ray nevertheless rebuilt his life, learnt to drive a car post his amputations, to ski, and is now learning to fly a plane. He is now working as a chieft executive of the Limbless Association and has his own company, “Ray Inspires”, the title and remit of which should speak for itself.

Ray’s left arm is a high-tech prosthetic which recognises muscle impulses. It has five fingers, all of which move separately. The rest of his prostherics are standard.

Ray said that he used to think that if he had known he would lose his limbs in the future, he will not have wanted to live. However now that he knows he has gone through it all and come through to the other end and rebuilt his life, he is happy.

“The amputations were carried out on Friday 13th and at the time I just felt like giving up and lost the will to live. Now I see that day as the day my life was saved.”

“I wish when I had gone through my amputations there had been someone there to tell me there was hope. I hope people hear what I have done and realise there is always hope. You can get through it.”

You can find a photo of Ray on this link.

 

Copyright 2008 by CuriouslyInspired

Today I feel like I am reaching my own personal point of saturation with bad news relating to the Big Financial Meltdown.

Not that I am about to panic, no way. It’s just that there is so much of it, and it is coming through so fast, that I feel that the initial “edge” has been taken off it. It does not seem quite so appalling anymore. I am coming to terms with it.

I am familiar with this feeling. A long time ago the country I have strong ties with started opening up its archives and started sharing details of its horrible past with its citizens. And we gorged ourselves on the gory details of mass murders, betrayals, poverty and the limitless lust for power of our leaders until we could take no more bad news. We felt low and worthless as a people, and every trouble that was coming to us was just and fair because we deserved no better. People competed in painting their own nation in the blackest colours possible – this became a sick national obsession for a while. Then the information we learnt about our past became part of the everyday life and either faded away, or caused a backlash in aggressive patriotic feeling which is still rife.

So, the Credit Crunch. The Big Meltdown. It’s easy to get obsessive with it. It’s easy to look for someone to take the blame and then kick them. I’ll offer this thought for your consideration: we are all responsible to some extent. Sure enough, many of our governments fanned the fires of irresponsible lending with abandon. Bankers greedily chased quick profits and drove their own employers’ firms into the ground in the process – and I would love to see them in court and their assets confiscated. And regulators failed miserably to spot the rot. Sure, the trust in “government bodies” has gone and might not return for a long time, if ever.

But we all gorged ourselves on consumer credit, plunged our money into investments that were bound to go up-up-up and never-ever stop, buy ever bigger houses etc. We all lost our heads. And no-one really thought that it looked too good to be true and would end. Perhaps we should have. We might all have been, to some extent, part of the problem.

We are where we are and life carries on. So however the meltdown crisis impacts us personally, and I am sure it can be bad and it might get worse, we need to accept it, get on with it and make do as best we can. I’ve read some wonderful thoughts in other blogs putting the current calamity in perspective by considering how people survived the Great Depression. Something similar might yet come – but people lived to tell the tale. We will as well.

And one day future students will be tasked to write an essay “The 2008 Global Financial Meltdown. Discuss the relative merit of available solutions in 2000 words“.

 

Copyright 2008 by CuriouslyInspired

It’s pretty scary out there in the world of finance right now. Apocalyptic predictions of further meltdowns are rife and, to be honest, even if we ignore the scariest over-the-top forecasts we know that we are in for a tough ride.

I was getting carried away 2 weeks ago commenting on the events in the banking world as they were unfolding, but taking several days off temporarily cured me of this obsessive watching and recording of the crisis. I might come back to that in due course, but meantime I wanted to refocus instead on my own perspective of events, which really is the purpose of this blog – in this case to talk about bad staff management techniques I have seen in the banking industry.

I spent 10 years working in banking in various support roles, most recently in project management and IT. It was great around 2000 – money was abundant and life was fairly easy. Maybe not 9 to 5, but looking back it feels like we got paid quite well for doing an average job and not straining ourselves beyond sensible limits. To be honest there seemed to be a fair number of people around who were getting away with not doing anything much and still got paid. What we did was a skilled job, of course, requiring knowledge of finance, accountancy, or IT, and there was of course a degree of stress attached to delivering things correctly and on time, but generally it was a time of plenty – of money, bonuses, opportunity, and jobs all easy to come by. But then it got a great deal harder. Read the rest of this entry »

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