30 April 2012

Obama demonstrates how to time your slides with what you're saying


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Many PowerPoint presentations fail because the speaker can't wait to press the button to bring up a new slide - usually because they haven't a clue what to say next until they can see what's there on the screen.

That's why I recommend the motto "later rather than sooner" -because the audience has to wait for whatever newsworthy or surprise element a slide might have in store for them and gets
the impression that the speaker is in full control and knows
exactly what's coming next.

I illustrated and discussed the point a while back, with video
clips of Steve Jobs getting it wrong and getting it right (HERE).

In his recent speech at the White House Correspondents dinner (above), President Obama demonstrated that he too knows that pressing the
button (or getting someone else to press the
button) "later rather than sooner" is an effective way to
time when to reveal each next slide.





It was also a marked improvement on his use of visual aids
than was to be seen in the slide-pack used in the 'enhanced'
version of his State of the Union Address earlier this year.

24 April 2012

The language 'surfacing' from James Murdoch at today's Leveson Inquiry


At about 1.00 p.m. today, I was asked by a leading Scottish newspaper to write a 400 word piece on James Murdoch's performance at today's Leveson Inquiry - deadline 6.00 p.m. 

Tight though this was compared with the usual deadlines I work to, I agreed. Then, at about 4.30 p.m. just as I'd finished the first draft, another phone call from them: the revelations about Alex Salmond's involvement with the Murdoch family had wiped everything off tomorrows front pages so they wouldn't be able to use my contribution after all.

Not unusual in my experience with the media but, with a blog where I can post unfinished stuff, not much of a disaster either:

As one who spends most of his working life helping business people to communicate more effectively, I should have known better than to tune in to James Murdoch’s evidence to the Leveson Inquiry today. But I can never resist the chance to collect examples of how and how not to do it.

Having heard Mr Murdoch in action before, I knew that he had a tendency to use management-speak to get his points across. What I now know is that he’s one of the most extreme cases I’ve ever come across.

He spoke about “negotiating some of the detail going forward”, an “undertaking in lieu”, of someone who had “gotten what they’d professed to want”, about “a case about whether or not there was an insufficiency with respect to…”; he “recalled concurring with that view” and “believed (he) would have appreciated assurances that the process would be handled objectively in the future.”

He had much to say about “our rationale for the transaction and our analysis of the plurality concerns” and even threatened to “take plurality off the table.”

Nothing (he) said to Mr Osborne would have been inconsistent with our public advocacy on the subject."

And he was lucky enough to have “a management board where senior executives … had ample opportunity to be able to discuss these issues and surface them.”

As his flat mid-Atlantic drawl droned on, it was like listening to paint dry. As for what it all meant to your average native speaker of English, much of it was anyone’s guess. And that, presumably, is the point. Why else would so many business people become so addicted to the language of jargon and management-speak.

After all, the more long words of Latin origin you use, the more obscure your message is likely to be. Better still, saying that you “concur with that view” rather than “agreeing with it” implies a degree of neutrality and detachment. As an added bonus, if your audience is trying to work out what your words actually meant while, at the same time, trying to listen to whatever you say next, they’re less likely to be able to understand that either.

Anyone in search of data for a treatise on the obscurantism of contemporary business language need look no further than James Murdoch – who also provides us with a variation on a famous quotation from George Bernard Shaw: he who can communicate communicates; he who can’t owns the media of communication...


P.S. Data for further research
Video and full transcripts of proceedings from the Leveson Inquiry become available shortly after each session at 'Hearings' on the Leveson website HERE. They hadn't been posted at the time of writing the above, but they have now. So, if you've the stamina for more management-speak, you can gorge yourself on gems from James Murdoch like the following:


"Well, I think this is a formal letter about the process, which is something that we would have -- I mean, again, most of these emails in here, as we continue to go through them, are really about the process and our concern that the appropriate things were being considered, that they were being considered in the appropriate way and that our legal arguments were heard around the place. I mean, this is a large-scale transaction that was in the hands, with respect to the decision-making process, of the department of culture, media and sport. We're going to get into, in a minute, the undertakings in lieu that were extracted, the concession, the remedy, if you will, and it was entirely reasonable to try to communicate with the relevant policy-makers about the merits of what we were proposing."

"… you point out rightly it's a very difficult question and it is a balance and I wouldn't presume to have the answer. However, perhaps I would just -- I would just say that the things that may be weighed up with respect to when you're considering up would be both a question of clarity around defence, really around criminal defence, and it may be a question of a stronger enshrining of speech rights on the one hand, coupled with a stronger set of consequences and either a self-regulating body or a statutory body that includes the press but also individuals that are not part of the working press today, so that just as one of the great learnings for us as a business has been not to allow an operating company to investigate itself without absolute transparency to the corporate centre, which I think is one of the learnings from the failure in 2006 and 2007 for News Corporation to get to the bottom of this, I also think it's difficult to allow an industry in and of itself to control itself on a voluntary basis, given the concerns that we obviously all have, and I think balancing a strengthening on both sides may be one way to think about it."



23 April 2012

Are parents of young children fit to run the country?


A 43 year old father of two teenagers recently got me thinking about the age of our our leading politicians' children: "I really don't think that all these blokes with young children are in any position to govern effectively."

The point he was getting at will be familiar enough to all parents, and especially those where both partners are working (or have have worked) in demanding jobs. He was taking about the time-consuming nature of bringing up a family and the dedication, distractions and compromises it inevitably involves.

Many of us, of course, have already raised doubts about the growing dominance of contemporary British politics by MPs in their 40s, whose main work experience has been as former aides to older politicians.

But it hadn't really dawned on me that the age of their children might also be a powerful new factor in the lives they're all trying to lead. If nothing else, it must put a tremendous strain on them when it comes to maintaining a satisfactory balance between home and work (I do, however, remember wondering if one of Gordon Brown's more notorious gaffes - "We've already saved the world - er saved the banks" - partly derived from his being tired from nights disturbed by very young children HERE).

Youngsters with young children
Consider the ages of the current prime minister, deputy prime minister, leader of the opposition, chancellor and shadow chancellor and their 13 children, whose average age is just over 7 (all ages in brackets):

Cameron (45): 3 children (2, 6, 8)
Clegg (45): 3 children (3, 7, 10)
Miliband (42): 2 children (2, 3)
Osborne (41): 2 children (9, 11)
Balls (45): 3 children (7, 11, 13)

How are you doing/did you do?
Now consider what you job were doing (or are doing now) while bringing up children aged between 2 and 13. Then ask yourself the following: 
  • How well did you (or do you) cope? 
  • How many commitments at work, home or school have you had to miss out on? 
  • What impact has your missing work commitments had on your family life (and vice-versa)?
How are they doing?
In his Wikipedia entry, Nick Clegg is quoted as saying "The most important things in my life are my three young children: I'm besotted with them" (HERE) - which presumably (and understandably) makes them more important than his job in government as deputy prime minister.

Elsewhere, in the run-up to the most recent Labour leadership contest Mrs Ed Balls (Yvette Cooper) wrote candidly on why her mention of her young children didn't mean that she was letting women down by not standing for the leadership (HERE). 

And, as I was writing this, news came through on Twitter that David Cameron had shown he is aware of the problem on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this very morning when he said "It's got to be possible to be a decent husband, a decent father as well as prime minister."

Should we worry?
So, going back to the question raised by my 43 year old informant's point: how worried should we be about being governed by people whose lives must be distracted by trying to run private lives with children who are so very much younger than those of most previous generations of leading politicians?

P.S. Tweeted Reactions
Although I may have hinted at what I think about this, I deliberately left it as an open question - which makes it all the more gratifying that, since posting it a few hours ago, it's attracted quite a lot of interest on Twitter, for which thanks to all of those who've taken the trouble to respond.

As the comments haven't been entered under 'Comments' below, you might like to see a selection of what people have been saying:

  • 'Possibly something in this!...Yawn' @benatipsosmori 
  • 'This is the kind of thinking that keeps women from putting themselves forward for power. ' @karinjr
  • 'We ask too much of our leaders if we ask them not to want children and family lives.' @karinjr
  • 'You are inviting me to make a sweeping generalisation! You should know this is the HQ of mushy equivocation.' @JohnRentoul 
  • 'Don't Cameron et al all have professional child care/nannies?!' @PolProfSteve
  • 'A lot of good sense here!' @DillyTalk 
  • 'Women are harder on themselves. Have you seen the recent research showing women believe themselves less qualified for office?' @karinjr
  • 'Not having kids, I can't speak for how hard it is (crazy hard I bet) but I think women more likely than men to doubt themselves' @karinjr
  • 'I realise this is a tangent from the "politicians with kids" question, but...' HERE @karinjr
  • 'We need a broad reflection of society for govts to work properly - gender, race, background, income, kids ages etc.' @lochlomondhol 
  • 'Agreed, but my worry is sheer tiredness + work/life balance. Constant try to get clients to manage this better' @DillyTalk
  • 'A very good point. I've often thought about it - particularly the sleep deprivation, which knocks about 20 points off your IQ.' @MASieghart 
  • 'Also, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, this business of peaking at 40 makes it even harder for women with children to compete.' @MASieghart 
  • 'Women have argued for many years for provision of adequate, affordable childcare. Won't stop sleepless ngts tho!' @DillyTalk 

21 April 2012

Evidence that I would not have played cricket for Yorkshire

A while back, I posted news of how I might have played cricket for Yorkshire if only I'd known at the time that I needed spectacles - and that, had I done so, I might have had the miserable experience of spending a career opening the batting with Geoffrey Boycott (HERE).

However, now that some cine film of my youthful batting has been become available in digital format, the empirical evidence suggests it was a fantasy (even though I was summoned to the nets at Headingley twice for inspection - see HERE for 'professional coaching' experience).

 It may not be too bad for a 12/13 year old facing up to his (very) big and intimidating brother, but too much right hand resulted in a tendency to scoop up rather easy catches to mid-off or mid-on:

World exclusive: vintage video of famous cricketers from the 1950s

video

Thanks to my brother (@dsa99uk), who's just had some 16mm cine film taken by our late mother converted to DVD, here's a chance to see how many cricketing celebrities you can spot (and watch some action) at the Scarborough cricket week during the 1950s.

The players had to walk across the ground from the pavilion to the tea tent, which provided better opportunities for film-makers than it did for autograph hunters - because some, like Trevor Bailey, would never sign during the day but would sit in their car at close of play and oblige however many there were of us.

In this film, look out for: Denis Compton, Brian Close (still with a bit of hair?), Frank Tyson, Brian Statham, Godfrey Evans, Peter Loader, Willie Watson, Johnny Wardle, Fred Truman and Richie Benaud - and, if you can identify any of the others, let me know.

I'm not sure if the first fast bowler (from the right) is Frank Tyson or Brian Statham, but the one bowling from the left must surely be Fred Truman...

P.S. Thanks to Jonathan Calder (otherwise known as @lordbonkers) via Twitter for confidently confirming that the mystery bowler is Frank Tyson.


20 April 2012

Tony Blair on masterful form in Newsnight interview with Paxman

I've been frustrated all this week by the BBC website's erratic policy on deciding which of their video clips can be embedded on other sites and which ones cannot.

The clip I've been unable to post here - of Tony Blair's Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman on Monday night - will be available for a few more days on iPlayer.

If you didn't see it, I'd strongly recommend that you act quickly and watch it before it disappears (from HERE) , as it's an fascinating reminder of just how effectively he can (still) perform, even in an interview - and of how much he must be envied by his successors and their supporters.

Had I not wasted so much time looking for an 'embeddable' version, I might have been able to add an analytic comment or two, but that will have to wait until it becomes more readily available.

If any readers did make a video of it and/or stored it on their Sky box, you'd be doing a public service, at least for me, by posting it on YouTube, ASAP....

16 April 2012

The strange sound of North Korean music


Apart from being intrigued by yesterday's first public speech by North Korea's new supreme leader, I was fascinated by the sound of the marching music, brief snippets of which could be heard on the video clips (HERE) - so much so that I looked on YouTube for some more specimens (e.g. above, which is also well worth watching for its commentary and finely coordinated non-verbal behaviour).

Although I know nothing about North Korean music, what surprised me was its similarity to marching music from the corrupt capitalist world.

Looking beyond marching music, I came across the following reminders of the Red Army Choir, which perhaps explains why North Koreans feel at home with Russian music that was once acceptable Stalinist music:





But the following extraordinary performance sounds as though the North Koreans may have been influenced by Welsh choral music too:



Nor is it clear to me what makes this, from a group of accordianists (already enjoyed by 1,701,000 YouTube viewers in the past four months), sound particularly 'North Korean Style':


And, if piano accordians make you think of France, so too might this rebranding of Edith Piaf's Milord (about 45 seconds in) as a 'Russian Gypsy Song':


Eventually, I did come across something that sounded (to my amateur ears) a bit more like music from the far East, but such exhibits are far outnumbered on YouTube by the earlier much more Western-sounding examples:


Comments welcome, especially from anyone who knows about the North Korean party line on music...

15 April 2012

Breaking News: Kim Jong-un can read and speak


Unlike his father, who apparently only ever made one speech during his 17 year rule of of North Korea, Kim Jong-un is game to give it a go.

The commentator introduces him as "rarely looking up from his prepared statement", but I suppose it's a good sign that the youngster has learnt to read at all, even though he still has quite a lot to learn about how to make an effective public speech.

More on his speech and its implications can be read HERE and HERE.


12 April 2012

Militant verb-avoidance in Miliband's latest speech

In the internet age, we can often can read a speech, free from any 'embargo', before it's actually been given - as with one we'll be hearing from Ed Miliband later today (posted on Politics Home at 9.53 a.m. this morning).

One thing that struck me about it was that there were rather a lot of sequences without any verbs, a practice pioneered in some of Tony Blair's early leader's speeches to the Labour Party Conference. But I'm no more convinced by it now than I was then.

Reading Miliband's forthcoming speech also reminded me that verblessnes is not something I recommend in my speechwriting courses either.

It also made me realise that I'm not quite sure why I don't and wonder whether I should.

Maybe it's because all these verbless phrases and isolated participles come across as disembodied lists that make it sound like the speaker's reading out the blobs/bullet points on a PowerPoint slide.

Or maybe I'm just an old fogey who's too preoccupied with the conventions of grammar to have noticed that the language of public speaking has changed.

If it has, I'd welcome your advice on whether you think it's a change for the better.

In the following sequences from the speech, the few sentences with verbs in them are singled out in italics:

Nobody will be in any doubt that change is necessary for our country.

Unemployment rising.

1 million young people out of work.

Living standards squeezed for all but a few at the top.

Irresponsibility still being rewarded in huge pay rises and bank bonuses.

And there are problems that go beyond one government.

Long hours.

Wages not going up.

Costs rising.

Strains on families.

Worries about the future.

An economy not working for working people.

I have changed where we stand.

Equality of sacrifice and fairness of reward matter.

To me.

To Labour.

To Britain.


For too many years, some of the most powerful in society thought no-one could stand up to them even if they were ripping people off.

Energy companies.

Train companies.

Banks.

Even media companies.

I have changed where we stand.

No company is too powerful to challenge.

Standing with people in tough times is what counts.

To me.

To Labour.

To Britain.

That we are the party for the tougher times not just the easier times.

I have changed where we stand.

Changing our economy with:

Better quality jobs.

A living wage.

Making sure that businesses can get the money they need to grow

This matters.

To me.

To Labour.

To Britain.


And I am proud to lead a party affiliated to three million working people through our link to the trade unions:

The nurses who look after the sick.

The teaching assistants who teach our kids.

The shopworkers, the engineers, the bus drivers.

But I know we can do more.


We do it by making promises we know we can keep.

Not image over substance.

Not fake change.

But by offering a different direction for the country

That is where I stand.

That is where Labour stands.

With you, on your side in these tough times.

That's what we're fighting for in these local elections.

9 April 2012

Rowan Williams: Emperor, Archbishop or Cambridge academic with no clothes?

Regular readers will know that I've found the communication skills of the Archbishop of Canterbury an occasional source of bewilderment and amusement:
Now he's decided to pack the job in to become master of a Cambridge college, you might think that he'd see his final Easter sermon as a wonderful chance to go out with a bang and/or leave a lasting mark on the Anglican communion.

But it was not to be either of these.

Archbishop Rowan apparently saw it as a golden opportunity to demonstrate his academic credentials to his eagerly awaiting colleagues in Cambridge and to show off his intellectual superiority over the ignorant masses (including any potential converts who might have been trying to make sense of his carefully chosen words for the day).

He may not have matched his record of a 147 word sentence (see above), but he did manage one that went on for 87 words and averaged 45 words per sentence in this early paragraph from the sermon (the full text of which is reproduced below):

"Two new books on the economic crisis, one by the American Michael Sandel, the other by Robert and Edward Skidelsky, both rather surprisingly float the idea that without some input from religious thinking our ludicrous and destructive economic habits are more likely to go unchecked (45 words).

"And, notoriously, Alain de Botton's recent book on how to hold on to the best bits of religion without the embarrassing beliefs that go with it created quite a public stir (31 words).

"If it doesn't exactly amount to a religious revival, it does suggest that a tide may be turning in how serious and liberal-minded commentators think about faith: no longer seen as a brainless and oppressive enemy, it is recognized as a potential ally in challenging a model of human activity and social existence that increasingly feels insane, a model in which unlimited material growth and individual acquisition still seem to trump every other argument about social coherence, international justice and realism in the face of limited resources (87 words).

"We may groan in spirit at the reports of how few young people in our country know the Lord's Prayer, but there is plenty to suggest that younger people, while still statistically deeply unlikely to be churchgoers, don't have the hostility to faith that one might expect, but at least share some of the Sandel/Skidelsky/de Botton sense that there is something here to take seriously – when they have a chance to learn about it (75 words).

"It is about the worst possible moment to downgrade the status and professional excellence of religious education in secondary schools – but that's another sermon..." (25 words).

Leaving aside the fact that the average length of sentence in speeches by effective speakers is 16 words, one has to ask whatever happened to the first step in preparing any speech or presentation (or sermon), namely analyse your audience (Lend Me your Ears, pp. 280-86).

Just who did he think was out there in the congregation at Canterbury cathedral yesterday, let alone among the millions who might have caught a glimpse of him on television?

What was the key message he was trying to get across to such a huge audience on the most important day in the calendar of his church?

Has anyone the faintest idea what he was talking about or what nugget he wanted us to take away from it?

Papal plot revisited?
The more I've seen of Williams in action, the more I'm drawn to two theories about him. One came from a friend of mine, on which I've blogged before:

'... it was no coincidence that Tony Blair was thinking about converting to Roman Catholicism when he elevated Rowan Williams to the top Anglican job, and that his selection of such a hopeless communicator was proof that Blair was serving as a secret agent for the Pope with a view to bringing the Church of England into disrepute.

'At the time, I thought it rather a good joke, but the more I've seen of the Archbishop's communication skills since then, the more I'm beginning to wonder whether there might be more than a grain of truth to the theory.'

Then there's the Oxbridge version of

'The emperor has no clothes'
Having once been a fellow of an Oxford college, I'm depressingly aware that the Cambridge college that's taken the risk of giving him a job will provide a vary safe and comfortable haven for Dr Williams.

He reminds me of certain dons I knew in Oxford who, whether writing or speaking, specialised in inarticulate obscurantism. Whenever I dared to confess to colleagues that I couldn't understand a word they said or wrote, the standard reply was "Nor do I, but he really is terribly bright you know."

How they knew was a mystery to me and will, I suspect, remain a mystery to the fellows of Magdalene College, Cambridge who have, for reasons best known to themselves, elected the outgoing Archbishop to be their Master...


Full text as posted on the Archbishop of Canterbury's website:

Easter Sermon

Archbishop Rowan Williams
Canterbury Cathedral
Sunday 8th April 2012

It just might be the case that the high watermark of aggressive polemic against religious faith has been passed. Recent years have seen so many high-profile assaults on the alleged evils of religion that we've almost become used to them; we sigh and pass on, wishing that we could have a bit more of a sensible debate and a bit less hysteria. But there are a few signs that the climate is shifting ever so slightly – not towards a mass return to faith but at least towards a reluctant recognition that religion can't be blamed for everything – indeed that it has made and still makes positive contributions to our common life.

Two new books on the economic crisis, one by the American Michael Sandel, the other by Robert and Edward Skidelsky, both rather surprisingly float the idea that without some input from religious thinking our ludicrous and destructive economic habits are more likely to go unchecked. And, notoriously, Alain de Botton's recent book on how to hold on to the best bits of religion without the embarrassing beliefs that go with it created quite a public stir. If it doesn't exactly amount to a religious revival, it does suggest that a tide may be turning in how serious and liberal-minded commentators think about faith: no longer seen as a brainless and oppressive enemy, it is recognized as a potential ally in challenging a model of human activity and social existence that increasingly feels insane, a model in which unlimited material growth and individual acquisition still seem to trump every other argument about social coherence, international justice and realism in the face of limited resources. We may groan in spirit at the reports of how few young people in our country know the Lord's Prayer, but there is plenty to suggest that younger people, while still statistically deeply unlikely to be churchgoers, don't have the hostility to faith that one might expect, but at least share some of the Sandel/Skidelsky/de Botton sense that there is something here to take seriously – when they have a chance to learn about it. It is about the worst possible moment to downgrade the status and professional excellence of religious education in secondary schools – but that's another sermon...

So we have reason to feel thankful that things appear to be moving on from a pointless stalemate. Yet, granted all this, and given all the appropriate expression of relief Christians may allow themselves, Easter raises an extra question, uncomfortable and unavoidable: perhaps 'religion' is more useful than the passing generation of gurus thought; but is it true? Easter makes a claim not just about a potentially illuminating set of human activities but about an event in history and its relation to the action of God. Very simply, in the words of this morning's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that 'God raised Jesus to life.'

We are not told that Jesus 'survived death'; we are not told that the story of the empty tomb is a beautiful imaginative creation that offers inspiration to all sorts of people; we are not told that the message of Jesus lives on. We are told that God did something – that is, that this bit of the human record, the things that Peter and John and Mary Magdalene witnessed on Easter morning, is a moment when, to borrow an image from the 20th century Catholic writer Ronald Knox, the wall turns into a window. In this moment we see through to the ultimate energy behind and within all things. When the universe began, prompted by the will and act of God and maintained in being at every moment by the same will and action, God made it to be a universe in which on a particular Sunday morning in AD33 this will and action would come through the fabric of things and open up an unprecedented possibility – for Jesus and for all of us with him: the possibility of a human life together in which the pouring out of God's Holy Spirit makes possible a degree of reconciled love between us that could not have been imagined.

It is that reconciled love, and the whole picture of human destiny that goes with it, that attracts those outside the household of faith and even persuades them that the presence of religion in the social order may not be either toxic or irrelevant after all. But for the Christian, the basic fact is that this compelling vision is there only because God raised Jesus. It is not an idea conceived by the spiritual genius of the apostles, those horribly familiar characters with all their blundering and mediocrity, so like us. It is, as the gospel reading insists, a shocking novelty, something done for and to us, not by us. How do we know that it is true? Not by some final knock-down would-be scientific proof, but by the way it works in us through the long story of a whole life and the longer story of the life of the community that believes it. We learn and assimilate its truth by the risk of living it; to those on the edge of it, looking respectfully and wistfully at what it might offer, we can only say, 'you'll learn nothing more by looking; at some point you have to decide whether you want to try to live with it and in it.'

And what's the difference it makes? If God exists and is active, if his will and action truly raised Jesus from the dead, then what we think and do and achieve as human beings is not the only thing that the world's future depends on. We do all we can; we bring our best intelligence and energy to labour for reconciliation and for justice; but the future of reconciliation and justice doesn't depend only on us. To say this doesn't take away one jot of our responsibility or allow us to sit back; as Pascal said, we cannot sleep while Jesus is still in agony, and the continuing sufferings of the world are an image of that agony. But to believe that everything doesn't depend on us delivers us from two potentially deadly temptations. We may be tempted to do something, anything, just because we can't bear it if we aren't making some visible difference; but to act for the sake of acting is futile or worse. Or we may be consumed with anxiety that we haven't done enough, so consumed that we never have time to be ourselves, to give God thanks for his love and grace and beauty. We may present a face to the world that is so frantic with fear that we have left something undone that we make justice and reconciliation deeply unattractive. We never acquire the grace and freedom to give God thanks for the small moments of joy, the little triumphs of sense and kindness.

And these things may be of real importance when we look at what seem to be the most completely intractable problems of our day. At Easter we cannot help but think about the land that Jesus knew and the city outside whose walls he was crucified. These last months have seen a phase of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians yet again stalling, staggering and delivering little or nothing for those who most need signs of hope. Everything seems to be presented as a zero-sum game. And all who love both the Israeli and the Palestinian communities and long for their security will feel more desperate than ever. A visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, will convince you why the state of Israel exists and must go on existing. A visit to any border checkpoint will convince you that the daily harassment and humiliation of Palestinians of all ages and backgrounds cannot be a justifiable or even sustainable price to pay for security. Listening to a rabbi talking about what it is like to witness the gathering up of body parts after a terrorist attack is something that can't be forgotten; neither is listening to a Palestinian whose parent or child has been killed in front of their eyes in a mortar bombing.

So how do we respond? By turning up the volume of partisanship, by searching for new diplomatic initiatives, by pretending it isn't as bad as all that after all? If we believe in a God who acts, we have to go beyond this. We have to put immense energy into supporting those on the ground who show that they believe in a God who acts – those who continue, through networks like One Voice and the Bereaved Families Forum, to bring together people from both sides and challenge them to discover empathy and mutual commitment – what Stephen Cherry of Durham in a wonderful book on forgiveness has called 'distasteful empathy', a feeling for the other or the enemy that we'd rather not have to develop. Small moments of recognition and kindness. We have to prod and nag and encourage the religious leadership in the Holy Land on all sides to speak as if they believed in a God who acts, not only a God who endorses their version of reality. We have to pray, to pray for wisdom and strength and endurance for all who are hungry for peace and justice, pray that people will go on looking for a truly shared future. And we Christians in particular have to look for ways of practically supporting our brothers and sisters there through agencies like the Friends of the Holy Land or the Jerusalem and Middle East Church Association – to help them stay in a context where they feel more and more unwelcome, yet where so many of them remain because they want to play a full part in creating this unimaginable shared future – because they believe in a God who acts. These are the priorities that all Christian leaders would want to flag up this Easter in our concern for what many call 'the land of the Holy One'.

One situation among many – but how can it not be on our minds and hearts at this time of the Christian year, this central moment of hope? Such situations can so readily draw us towards despair – including the despair of hyper-activism and unfocused anger. To believe in a God who raises Jesus from the dead is never an alibi, letting us do less than we thought we would have to. But it is a way of allowing in our own thoughts and actions some space for God to emerge as a God who creates a future. Someone once remarked that resurrection was never something you could plan for. But what we can do is to make the space, the silence, for the act of God to come through. When all's said and done about the newly acknowledged social value of religion, we mustn't forget that what we ultimately have to speak about isn't this but God: the God who raised Jesus and, as St Paul repeatedly says, will raise us also with him. Even if every commentator in the country expressed generous appreciation of the Church (and we probably needn't hold our breath...), we'd still be bound to say, 'Thank you – but what matters isn't our usefulness or niceness or whatever: it's God, purposive and active, even – especially – when we are at the end of our resources. It's the moment when the wall becomes a window.'

© Rowan Williams 2012