Let’s do something together!

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Hello, I’m Julien. Strasbourg-born, Paris-trained, Italian-blooded, now based in Melbourne and working across Australia, Sweden and China, I am closely attuned to the many subtle ways that cultural and linguistic diversity translates as difference in perceptions, emotions, behaviours and value systems.

As a writer and educator, my work aims to discern and articulate the various manifestations of this diversity, invent better ways to realise that our worlds are different – and rejoice in the possibility to find common ground.

I currently share my time between three main activities:

  • I work as editor-in-chief with the Global Challenges Foundation, a Swedish philanthropic Foundation that aims to stimulate a better understanding of global catastrophic risk, and catalize new global governance models to address those risks.
  • I design and deliver new workshop models with the Marco Polo Project, a non-profit organisation exploring new models to develop cross-cultural understanding.
  •  I am enrolled in a PhD with Monash University, exploring the emerging digital ecosystem of Chinese language learning.

You can read some of my reflections here – or browse through my portfolio to look at my writing, film and curation work.

I offer coaching services, workshops, public speaking, and support for new projects. Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with a broad range of organisations on cutting-edge cross-cultural initiatives. I am always open to new projects and opportunities, and would love to discuss them with you.

Let’s do something together! You can reach me at Julien.leyre at gmail.com.

 

Fortitude – Week 4

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil. 

This week, I reflected on the connection between fortitude and focus.

The boundary between fortitude and prudence is not clear. For if fortitude demands that we stand up when required while, other times, we patiently wait, then we must be conscious of what evil we face. Every Sunday, I spend an hour planning the week ahead. This week, I went through three ways of doing so. First, I made a to-do list – a discrete set of tasks I intend to complete, with a clear end-goal for each. In parallel, I gave myself a list of activities, with a commitment to spend a certain time on each. Finally, I listed the various areas where I wanted to make change over the week, personal and professional – then, two by two and, went through the list and asked, if I was to be very sick and could only do one, which would it be, thus ranking them in order of priority.

I am an avid reader: I start many books, and, sometimes, lose track of them. On Monday, I went through my bookshelves, and took out all the books I had started and left there. I held them for a moment, Maria Konde style, asking if they brought me joy. If they didn’t, I put them on a pile to give away. If they did, I made a commitment to finish them before the end of the year. In total, by the end of Monday, I had taken out seventeen books to finish, totalling over 7000 pages. This archive I will clear; doing so will require patience.

Physical exercise – and meditation – involves a rhythmic alternation: sit-up, lie down; push-up, come down; breathe in, breathe out. Movement involves a  pivot, left, right, forward, backward. A certain set of muscles tense, then relax, while another set take over. Exercise is not ‘tension’ followed by nothingness. Rather, it is the coordinated and deliberate tension of certain muscles while others relax – and the capacity to precisely control which will do what.

When, on Monday, I committed to finishing all the books I have in progress, it was like throwing a stone in muddy water. Soon, I was overcome with a sense of mild panic. I quickly finished two books that only had a few pages left – but found two more that I had forgotten about; so the page count increased. All the stories and arguments of those 17 books twisted in my head when I looked at them in a pile. I found myself picking books one by one, read a few pages, then pick up another, overcome with a sense of impossibility – how does one read 7000 pages? Even if all I did was read, it would take me nine or ten entire days to complete the task. So, I cut it up. Eight works of fiction, nine essays, I grouped them in matching pairs (one threesome), estimating the time I would need for each step. The task, analysed and ordered in this manner, had become manageable. I picked up Ismael Kadare’s autobiography, which had been sitting unfinished on my bookshelves for over nine years, and started over. Page by page.

The plight of Australia: wealth without a plan. This is, roughly, what Philip Kingston articulated at an event on Thursday. The thing most lacking in our country today is not money, talent or resources – but a compelling narrative, and strength of conviction. We sit on a goldmine, but we don’t know where we’re going. This resonated again on Friday, as I worked further on better presenting the work of Marco Polo Project. What is the precise outcome of our programs? Martial arts, and music, train us not to develop greater strength and stamina, but rather, extreme precision of movement. The same is true for the rest of our lives: courage is not only readiness to die, or brute capacity to forge ahead, but a willingness and capacity to say precisely: this is what I want, this is what I refuse, here is the precise boundary. And bravely face the prospect of getting it wrong.

Exercise tally

Push-ups: 129

Sit-ups: 129

Squats: 129

Dog-cows: 129

Bird-dogs: 129

Back twists: 129

Qi-gong – 5-elements: 5 x 4 reps for each element

Meditation: 4 sessions of 30’

 

Fortitude – Week 3

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil. 

In this third week, I reflected on the relationship between fortitude, strength and confidence.

After two weeks of gradual build-up, I feel physically more able to go through the set of exercises I imposed on myself daily. I can better control their execution, both because the muscles have grown, and because my brain is more in tune with my body.

As I become more aware of my own capacity, I no longer think of those exercises as a chore, but a means to an end. On Monday, I did all of them first thing in the morning, so that I could benefit from the rush of creativity that follows physical exertion. As I did, I reflected on that very decision as a mark of fortitude. Rather than jump into the day mindlessly, guided by a sneaky sense of anxiety that if I didn’t start right there and then, I would never get everything done that I must, I took my time to prepare myself, which – in turn – would allow me to better execute, and faster. Thus, physical exercise became preparation for work – and delaying direct engagement with the task a form of patience and courage.

Training has a cumulative effect, and brings a sense of ease. On Tuesday, then again on Wednesday, I did all exercises in a row, right after waking up, fifteen then sixteen push ups in a sequence, followed by sit-ups, dog-birds, cow-dogs, back twists and squats. This brought a deep sense of pleasure: not only was I able to do that much, but I could save time and effort. Each decision we make has a cost, including each time we start something new. Three small work-out sessions therefore, at three different times in the day, is more demanding on the brain than a single chunk. If I know that I can tackle a larger task, I can mentally bundle smaller ones into the one, and save energy for more.

Part of my approach to fortitude is envisaging my own mortality by reflecting on my own sense of time – and the first step I chose to take for this was to clear my personal archives. I took a day off on Thursday, after submitting the final chapter draft for my coming PhD milestone. In the morning, I headed off to South Melbourne for a café stroll. I came back home in the mid-afternoon, and dived into the photographs on my computer. While sitting under the metal awnings on York Street, I read about courage as belief in your own strength. The prospect of sorting through the jpegs on my Mac exceeded my sense of possibility, but then I thought – at least I can start. I ordered ‘all my files’ by type, and calmly went through the pictures, from the beginning, clearing doubles and ordering them in folders – meanwhile playing a backlog of podcasts. After five hours, I was two thirds of the way through. I had an early start on Friday, finished work around 5, and by 6h30pm, I was done. In less than seven hours, I completed an impossible task.

Exercise tally for the week

Push-ups: 93

Sit-ups: 93

Squats: 93

Dog-cows: 93

Bird-dogs: 93

Back twists: 93

Meditation: 3 sessions of 30’

Fortitude – Week 2

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil. 

This week, I reflected on fortitude as ‘fitness’, or nurturing our readiness for action.

Fortitude requires vitality, and therefore, entails a measure of self-care. There was a minor controversy during the Melbourne Writers Festival: should self-care be considered an important part of activism? Yes, argued Laurie Penny from London – since without it, we lose the collective and personal capacity to move our ideas ahead.

On Monday, I sorted through the files of an old computer, which held copies of all the texts I have written since 2002: hundreds of documents, including an entire novel I had forgotten about, together with the text of a travel blog that I lost access too, and was taken off the Internet. I am unsure exactly what I will do with this fifteen-year portfolio, but arranging it felt like discovering a forgotten savings account from years ago, and realising, with pleasure, that accrued interest had meanwhile yielded a substantial sum – making more ambitious plans and projects a greater possibility.

Fortitude is preparation for death. To that extent, it closely relates with our own mortality, and our own sense of time. The two dimensions of fortitude reflect the two fundamental dimensions of time – chronos and kairos, or time as duration and time as critical moment. The virtue demands that we bear patiently with the resistance of the real, in the world and ourselves, resolutely building habits and accepting the need for sustained effort. The virtue demands – just as much – that we be ready for critical moments when decision action is required and, when the moment arrives, that we press ahead.

Temperance, as I discovered, was all about exploring pleasure, learning to derive satisfaction not from excess and gluttony, but a calm and moderate relationship with natural processes. In contrast, fortitude, at least in those early weeks, is entirely goal-driven. I experience the most profound boredom in conducting a daily routine of exercise, I resent the time required now and – as I project myself eleven weeks ahead – the time I will have to spend on self-strengthening, in line with my commitment, at the end of the season. Yet I stick with it, not for intrinsic enjoyment, but belief that the method is right, and the goal is worthy.

Over the season, I will systematically train mind and body. For this, I will do a daily set of 6 physical exercises, with particular focus on core muscles, adding 1 rep/day for each, execute a daily qi-gong routine based on the 5 elements, adding 1 rep/element every week, and practice meditation, adding 1 session of 30’ every week. This week’s exercise tally:

Push-ups: 57

Sit-ups: 57

Squats: 57

Back twists: 57

Dog-birds: 57

Cow-birds: 57

Qi-gong – 5-elements: 5 x 2 reps for each element

Meditation: 3 sessions of 30’ each. (I started only this week, and therefore caught up on a missed session from last week).

Fortitude – week 1

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil. 

Fortitude has two main components, which I reflected on through the week: a readiness to confront danger, and a firm resolution to persevere in spite of obstacles.

In the Christian tradition, the test of fortitude is martyrdom. More broadly, courage – a core element of fortitude – is a willingness to confront death. As I thought about the way that I would engage with fortitude, I thought of the virtue as preparation for death.

My initial approach, in the first month, was to put my affairs in order, so that, if I died, the living could make a decision to pick up the various things I am developing where I left them, or bury them with me. On Sunday, I swept across the house, gathering scattered bits of archives, papers, and USBs, bringing them all to the one room. There was less than I thought. Then, I started searching through my paper folders and, at least, ensure that things are in the right place, manuscript with manuscript and bank statement with bank statement. Now everything is ready for a larger sweep through.

In parallel to this engagement with the things I own and the various types of paper trails that make up my social self, I developed a routine to strengthen my physical body. Every day, I will do the following series of exercises: push up, sit up, squat, back twist, cow-dog, dog-bird, starting with one repetition on the first day, and adding one per day until the end of the season. I have never been to the gym and exercise little. Already by Monday, I started feeling nicely toned and – on Wednesday – had a pleasant feeling of physical tiredness come evening. This is not only preparation for death, but preparing for danger: should I need to, to the extent that it is in my power to train, I should not be prevented from action by lack of physical strength. Fitness is, in that sense, part of fortitude.

“What would you die for, then?” asked Peter on Tuesday, as I shared my approach to fortitude as preparation for death. I replied that, luckily, I was born in a position, at a time and in a society where the question is rather abstract – and therefore had no clear answer. “What would you willing to be damaged for, then?” he continued, but as I reflected, this is a very different proposition. “Either the matter is serious enough that it is worth dying for, and staking all we have is likely to carry more weight – in fact, it may be safer. But if it is not serious enough to warrant dying for, then risking damage is lack of prudence – for if we lose our capacity to react with full strength, then what shall we do when more serious evil arises?”

On Thursday, Philip had got us tickets to see Janet Mock at the Melbourne Writers Festival. Trans black activist, she spoke of her various challenges. One of them was this: “I have to be gracious,” she said, “or I will come across as an angry black woman, and nobody will pay attention.” Patience to bear stupidity with a smile was, in that case, the required form of fortitude, not bravely standing up to shout.

What is the different, I reflected on Friday, between courage and anger? There is a passion that fuels our desire to stand up, resist, fight, attack even – and we can harness it for good. Yet it is different from the virtue that, rather, demands a calm assessment of the circumstances and, on this basis, that we bravely move against evil, or bravely bear it with patience.

 

Justice – Week 13

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence and temperance, I now reflect on justice – or the capacity to give everybody their right due.

This week, the last I will engage frontally with Justice, I reflected on its relationship with birth, death, and merit.

The principle of meritocracy is that privilege and power should not be based on birth, wealth or strength, but merit, as measured by a set of agreed upon mechanisms. Meritocratic systems include the traditional Chinese imperial examinations, or the French ‘Concours des Grandes Ecoles’. After a period of preparation,  participants take the grand examination, following a prescribed set of steps to demonstrate their competence in a certain subject, which will be assessed anonymously, according to a set of reasonably transparent criteria. The selected few will be fast-tracked to positions of responsibility, benefiting from an outsized share of investment in their further education and training. This may seem like a good manner to compensate for inequalities at birth. But the cost of administering examinations, together with the considerable investment by students, families and the public in preparing for those exams, may be to the detriment of the community.

The dangers of meritocracy include the development of a class more keen on preserving its exam-based privilege than looking after the public welfare. On the basis of that one examination, people acquire a lifetime status. Innovation becomes a threat. Further, meritocratic systems operate within the boundaries of a nation – and therefore encourage not better global forms of collaboration, but competitive nationalism. Worse: each selection system relies on an illusion of intrinsic rationality. Hence a form of meritocratic xenophobia: the ruling class of another country was not selected according to the rules of reason, and therefore, their authorities should not be taken seriously.

On Tuesday, I attended a concert by the Takacs Quartet, a world-class chamber music ensemble from Hungary. What better representation of justice, I thought, than a well-executed string quartet. Each instrument, in turn, takes prominence or holds its own voice back, while, together, the four musicians engage in a rhythmic attempt at reaching musical perfection through concerted collaboration.

The final bulwark of sovereignty, wrote Nicolae Steinhart in ‘Le Journal de la Fecilite’, resides in constitutional judges’ willingness to die in order to uphold the constitution. Here, then, is the touching point of justice and fortitude: the courage of a judge is the condition for justice to manifest in this world. Justice finds its ultimate test in a readiness to die.

Corrupting judges may be the most harmful crime against the State – by the same token, judges’ personal capacity to stand firm may be the greatest ultimate rampart of justice. And so, strengthening the position of judges, from material benefits to social honours, is a pathway towards justice in the community.

Solving crimes, and assigning responsibilities for injustice, even after the perpetrators and victims are dead, is essential. Justice is indeed often called for when death occurs, whether it’s sharing inheritance or avenging murder. Detective novels and other thrillers place murders at the centre of their plot – but, often, then articulate this symbolic manifestation to more complex networks of white collar crime and corruption. Historians assess the justice of past decisions, and on this basis, determine the legitimate capacity for those in power to remain there – or, if not, give precious ammunition to those willing to fight and die so that justice will come to the world. Those, in turn, may form a ruling class based on a different type of legitimacy than scripted exams: the proven willingness to stand up for their idea of justice, and the proven capacity to bring  more justice to the world.

 

 

Justice – Week 12

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence and temperance, I now reflect on justice – or the capacity to give everybody their right due.

This week, I reflected on the relationships between justice as a set of balancing mechanisms and the blind effects of chaotic complexity – or, to use a more traditional word, fortune.

Price is a mechanism for establishing justice, say supporters of the free market: the sum total of private interests will end up in a fair price. Not so, say the supporters of regulation: intervention is required so that the random forces of the marketplace do not result in blatant inequalities, or incapacity for the poor to cover their basic needs – that is why we must set maximum prices for certain types of goods, a minimal income, and differentiated taxes.

The difference between those two positions on economic policy may, more fundamentally, reflect two very different belief systems. Is our world inherently good, but corrupted by our incapacity to let nature have its way – or is our world inherently flawed, and ethical behaviour a deliberate effort to counter the destructive effects of a fallen nature? Our answer to this question will determine the way that we think of justice and the role of the state.

I read the following in a piece that circulated on my Facebook stream: ‘massive corporate avoidance, which is just legitimised corruption.’ It is only possible for business ventures and collective entities to generate profits because a set of public goods make their activities possible – including rules and regulations, educated populations, and material infrastructure. It is, therefore, legitimate that private benefit should partly be redirected towards the maintenance of the very public goods that made them possible to start with. This is the principle of tax, and a matter of justice. Corruption occurs when private individuals benefiting from public infrastructure no longer bear their fair share of effort, but rather, direct excessive amounts of scarce resources towards their private accounts. Failing to pay the right share of tax is therefore, in logical terms, a clear form of theft. And yet, in too many circles, evading responsibility for supporting public goods is celebrated as a form of intelligence and the mark of a free spirit – or at least, tolerated as the way things are and have to be. Not so stealing from supermarkets, squatting an empty house, or – God forbid – claiming excessive unemployment benefits.

Justice is always about change. It forces us to question a certain state of affair, and make required adjustments. As we, humans, are biological creatures, interacting with other biological creatures, change is permanent, in us, and around us. Whenever we reach a state of balance, something occurs to quickly disturb it. Therefore, the work of justice is not a once-and-for-all attempt at establishing the right balance, but a continuous effort, that our very nature undermines, always.

Our lives are based on heritage: language, architecture, and the laws guiding our behaviour from a very young age are all remnants of the past, giving shape to the present. Meanwhile, the chaotic interactions of groups and individuals have unexpected effects, and unequal impact. A building permit will cause one to lose access to sunlight or an open view – while another will benefit from a new school or train station built around the corner. Some will experience this as a form of injustice, and fight a collective decision that they perceive as excessively detrimental to them. For others, a decision taken somewhere else, and affecting them positively, will be perceived as good fortune. Which of them has a wiser approach? When should we see the world in terms of justice, and actively question the way that a decision impacts on various parties – and when should we, rather, take things as a matter of fortune, rejoice in our own luck, or accept a negative turn with calm, as part of the way that things have to be?

 

 

Justice – Week 11

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence and temperance, I now reflect on justice – or the capacity to give everybody their right due.

This week, I reflected on the conditions that allow for the manifestation of justice.

“Plus on juge, moins on aime,” writes French moralist Chamfort. There is a tension between the virtues of justice and charity. Our duty to pursue neighbourly love could easily be replaced with harsh righteousness and acrimonious litigation. From another perspective, however, both virtues align. Whenever we pursue justice, we relieve others of the duty to forgive – nay, we create a more harmonious world for them – and could think of this as a form of charity. Yet, this holds only to the extent that the pursuit of justice leaves room in us for charity. Here again, though, we should be wary: when others fail to follow justice, and ask instead for charitable forgiveness, is it a matter of human frailty, or plain complacency?

Is it part of justice to promote emotional conditions conducive to its own manifestation? On Sunday night, I attended a concert by The Songkeepers, a group of indigenous women performing Lutheran hymns in their own language. Everybody cried, as these old women from an oppressed people came to the stage, and sang, celebrating the survival of their culture. This event, and similar ones, create a sense of emotional connection, and favour justice: these people are no longer abstract entities, but real human beings with a voice, a face, a body. Justice, then, would require two types of action. On the one hand, an act of fair judgement aiming to rebalance inequities; on the other, an explicit admission of our emotional bias, and a deliberate effort to create emotional conditions for fair judgement.

Justice does not only concern itself with relationships among individuals and between individuals and the community – but also between various communities. So what if they come in conflict? Recently, Melburnian developers illegally took down a heritage-listed pub in Carlton. The same are now suing the State for not granting an authorisation to build a high-rise tower on top of the site. This very possibility, that a convicted corporation sue the State, marks a characteristic of our justice system, genuine separation of power, and belief in the real possibility that an arm of the State – executive agencies in particular – might act unjustly towards individuals and groups. To go one step further, this acknowledges the right of citizens to be part of more than one collective. True, we must pay allegiance to the State – but also to family, city, region, the broader world, and a range of communities that we form. Our justice system must allow us to balance our allegiance to these various entities, particularly by acknowledging that the State is but one among many.

Unions are a form of collective organisation that aims to achieve greater justice. Their existence reveals a weakness of our adversarial system – that it requires an amount of power for justice to manifest itself. No worker on their own could stand up to the owners of a factory, the cost would be too high – but if structures back them up, it becomes possible. Thus, justice depends on a capacity for various parties to create the structures of emotional, financial and social support allowing them to pursue justice. And, therefore, organising and nurturing communities of mutual support, whether unions, clubs, municipalities, or even friendships groups and extended family networks, should be seen as an adjunct form of justice.

Change comes about when a system reaches a state of instability, followed by a restructure. It is always impossible to foresee precisely what the new state of affairs will be. The result may be catastrophic. Yet, justice typically takes the form of such a change, and therefore, it always carries with it the risk of a catastrophe. Therefore, those who benefit from a certain status quo will, more likely, stand against change. Not that they cannot acknowledge a failure of justice, but for fear that their own relative status change too much for the worse, or even that catastrophic change create excessive suffering beyond their own.

Considering this, some will be more structurally likely to resist justice: not only those who clearly benefit from the status quo, but those who built their lives on compromise with an existing system. Change would not only deprive them of status, but their whole personal history would appear under a new light. What if they were to fall victims to retrospective revenge, held accountable for all the violence incurred through the system that they propped us, whether compromise was prompted by greed, sloth or cowardice? It is, therefore, a requirement of justice that we do not let our own existence and sense of personal worth excessively depend on the structures of a corrupt system.