Setting the fire

It’s pretty chilly right now in our part of the world. Not like, tundra, kind of chilly, but a little too cool to sit for extended periods without generating much body heat. Even with multiple layers; hat, scarf, fingerless gloves, blanket and hot water bottle the air turns as blue as the thermometer by lunchtime as the effect of the heating wears off.

So, to act to cause change. I plan an experiment. The high ceilinged, double windowed, Victorian room we are working in at the moment has a lovely old cast iron fireplace set in an grand seven foot fire surround. Why, I wonder haven’t I lit a fire?! It is functional and we have the fuel from our chiminea.

My bright idea turns to sparks around 10:30am after hoovering the cobwebs from the fire guard. By 10:40am we are congratulating ourselves as the flames build and an inkling of warmth spreads forth. Our pleased with ourselvesness comes to a head at around 11:00am as we decided that the fire was comforting as well as warming. Experiment proving conclusive so far.

Hmm. But not so fast. We’d missed a trick. A check in the other, adjacent room, and we see a layer of smoke willowing wilfully three foot from the floor. We’d neglected to get the fire in that room going at the same time. By 12:00 noon we started to taste something unpleasant on the air. Oh yes, we were somewhat warmer than last week but at a cost. Smokey, oiley air that gets into the airways and fills every space possible. There was a reason Victorians had very high rates of respiratory disease.

I recalled, with some regret, but not a little mirth, that I had tried this experiment a few years ago. And I’d forgotten. Time had faded the event and the results. The temptation of being warm with such apparent ease had overwritten the memory of why we don’t use the fire and why the fire guard was covered in cobwebs.

Cumulative vs circular

Easy to do and a useful point brought forth so the experiment may not be wasted.

Some knowledge is cumulative and some is circular.

In this instance, I myself was the setting for a circular knowledge event. A previous me knew that the fire would cause intolerable discomfort to breathing that tips the balance in the favour of not using it. The present me forgot that and had to learn it again the hard way. While circular knowledge and relearning things once known is often talked about in the context of generations it is clearly something that can affect each of us as individuals and groups. Leaders, friends and so on.

Cumulative knowledge is passed down, originally through the oral tradition and then the written tradition and nowadays, well, some of everything and who knows how people are learning? This is how we have built our scientific understanding. One piece on top of another and so on. Gifted to those who come after if they care to look and absorb, so they can start from a slightly different and hopefully better place than their forebears.

Circular knowledge is a little different. While there may well be instances in which this kind of knowledge is passed down it often isn’t. Think how to behave around money and conflict. Then think about relationship and romantic love as an example. One of the most profound areas of our experience and we barley touch upon it with our children surrendering to embarrassment or having little advice to offer ourselves in turn. Now, you can’t teach love but perhaps you can provide some context to help.

What aren’t you learning?

I won’t be lighting the fire again anytime soon. At least not this year and perhaps for a couple. In fact I’m going to make a note, in the special place I make notes of this sort, that this particular fire, in this particular place, with this particular fuel is not worth it. Of course I could get a log burner which would help. I might. I might not.

There may well be areas of your life and your work as creators or doers or however else your days go, that could benefit from the light of looking and a little exploration.

What are you not learning that is causing you to repeat unhelpful behaviour?

How would your life be if you adjusted that behaviour (less smokey in my case)?

Who is it that you aren’t sharing with, that might benefit from what you have learnt?

How can you spot and dissolve barriers that are getting in the way?

If you can break the cycle of the circle and fan the flames as you grow what might happen?

Whether personal or profession this kind of work can serve to help reassure you that you are going in a good direction or provide course adjustments to find your bearings again.