October 11, 2019

The Problem is… What We Think We Know

I could see her through the rain-streaked, stained glass of the old window.

There she was, striding from Covent Garden’s underground exit…
… coming towards our lively group, as we began to relax and chatter in the warmth of this pub.

Unbelievably she was accompanied by the same slim, uncertain, blonde friend I remembered from those many years ago.
Those distant, misty, emotion-choked decades ago.

And she would soon be here.
I would soon have to face her.

I felt a violent queasiness grasp me, taking the strength from my legs.


The girl I had hated with such venom at the age of 14.
The ugly names I had called her.
The poems I had concocted, and tried to spread, to ridicule her.
The sneering that had hissed from my lips.
When I was just 14.

Years later, I had understood why.

I had been frightened, you see.

My Mum had moved me from the familiar, strict, ‘gentlemanly’ surroundings of Borehamwood Grammar School, Hertfordshire.
And plonked me here in this massive Comprehensive Thing, on the wrong edge of Putney, London.

This place, seething with 2,000 teenage bodies.
Bodies accustomed to vicious fights in the playground; to romps on Putney Heath.
With my new friends having milk bottles smashed on their heads.
And gangs waiting to set upon ‘Paki’s’ at the school gates.

I wasn’t ready for London.
I wasn’t ready for vibrant, confident, popular teenagers like Maggie.
Particularly when every day for me was a labyrinth of fearful, new lessons and relationships.

So, I hated her.

Or I did, until I reached my 16th birthday.

it was then – when I too had become accepted, even slightly popular in my shyness – that I understood.
Understood that there are some people, even at tender ages…
Who radiate the vibrant joy of life.
Who are magnetic to those of us bumbling through our terrifying insecurities.

But, at age 16, I had no way of articulating that observation, did I?
And so – after our GCE’s – our lives took us our separate ways.

Until now. Until Here.
Joining us in our School Reunion.
Stepping through those doors.
Heading, unhesitating, towards us.
Her eyes piercingly directed towards me.

And my ugly words, muttered hundreds of years ago…
Echoed in my ears.
The guilt strangled my innards.

She stopped before me.
A question playing on her face.

Then her arms rose from her side.
And she threw herself at me.
Hugging me with one of those long-lost-friend hugs.
Squealing: “Oh my goodness! It’s Little Dave Scarlett!”

And she stood back and laughed.
A laugh of wonder and joy.
Then hugged me again.

What on earth…?!

What about my nasty teenage jibes?
What about my years of guilt, every time I travelled through Putney, Sarf London?

Well, she didn’t remember any of them, did she?
She just remembered “This gentle, frightened boy.”
This boy that she was “always fond of.”
”Why did you never ask me out on a date, silly?
I knew you liked me, for goodness sake!”

All those years.
All those years!
All those assumptions I had made.
All those memories I had harboured!
All those words that probably had never even left my lips.

They were all merely bouncing around in my tiny teenage head.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I meet this “I Know What People Will Think and Say” syndrome in business.
The absolute conviction that leaders of financial advisory businesses have about their clients and their teams.
None of it in any way true.
All of it bouncing around in their skulls.

“No. That approach won’t work here.
I know my clients, you see.
They won’t wear that way of doing things… saying things… advising things… delivering things.”

And I ask, gently.
”Oh right.
Could we spend a little time examining together the empirical evidence you’ve gathered to show that?
Perhaps review the survey you’ve commissioned to check what your clients/team really think?”

And of course… there is nothing.
Not a single shred of evidence.

Years of hard, hard work… all based on a sackful of Assumptions.

All the things that we “Absolutely Know to Be True”
Most of them completely groundless.
Much of them utter twaddle.

All of them guiding thousands of hours of gruelling work.
Our team’s.
Everybody connected with us.

It’s both humorous and tragic, isn’t it?
The things we think that we Know for Certain.

Our families spent a glorious Summer’s Day together.
Maggie’s and mine.
In beautiful Surrey.

For a brief moment, I saw her smile, and slowly shake her head.
And we laughed.
We laughed at how lives can be held hostage by – paralysed by – The Things That We Think We Absolutely Know.