Tuesday, 21 May 2019

The Pursuit of Attention

In 2019, the pursuit of happiness has become a pursuit of attention. You may have food and clothes, a good health, a house with a garden and some security. If you feel like you don’t receive or ‘deserve’ attention, you will be unhappy. In this time of Beschleunigung and Social Web Addiction, when everybody chases his self-defined goals at 120 km/h and 10Mbit/s, attention has become the most pursued good, the holy grail of happiness.

In the world of politics and media, attention makes and breaks careers. In the world of work, companies no longer need hard-working people or smart people, they need people who spend all their attention to work and it has become a challenge to identify the ones who do. In education, the children have not become lazier or more rebellious, it just has become increasingly difficult to attract their attention, due to the thousands of stimuli and opportunities they need to process each day. We see a lot of kids that are of good will, but they are dropping out because of a lack of attention from their parents and their teachers.

Relationships between friends, partners, parents and children can only be nurtured through mutual attention. Attention is love and love is attention. But attention requires time and energy, so we have to get our priorities right! With this blog, I once again show I’m good in theory. Practice in family life however proves that “we” usually fail towards the ones we love most. It is rare that one regrets not having answered a remark from a remote Facebook friend. After answering a thousand remarks from remote Facebook friends however, we may regret not having paid attention to our partner, our children or our parents. And finally, it can even happen that we don’t pay enough attention to ourselves.

A special kind of paying attention is attentiveness, a very useful virtue in social life. I also refer to my blog: You are your Time

Picture: zijkant Beursgebouw Brussel ©Wim Lahaye

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

European Young Engineers

European Young Engineers is an association of young engineers associations of different European countries. It is based on a rotation system: every six month one member organisation or member state organises a meeting for European Young Engineers in its home country. The meetings usually consist of professional workshops, company visits, cultural excursions and social happenings. In this way, European Young Engineers get to know each other, and they learn about other countries' companies, technical innovation areas and cultural cities. EYE meetings can be lots of fun but they are also rather demanding on the organisers. Last weekend, I had the honour and the pleasure to speak at the EYE conference in Eindhoven (a great place to be for engineers!).

I was happy to be among the founding members when the Dutch Young Engineers took the initiative to meet the Flemish Young Engineers in Antwerp 25 years ago. Looking back in time, one can identify a number of things that changed since then. EYE was founded only five years after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. We can’t say this European scar has completely disappeared, but a long way has been gone already. We have an integrated market now, and a common European currency for a number of members states. On the technical level, the world has changed as well. The fax has been replaced by the Internet. We have now mobile phones that can do more than one call on a charged battery, and the mobile phone has become a smartphone. We have also seen the emergence of social media since then.

EYE is really a demonstration of positive forces (dunameis) in Europe. On the one hand, the engineering profession is perhaps the profession where international collaboration is most fertile, especially for young engineers. On the other hand, this collaboration is pleasant and it creates lasting relationships. Europe needs courageous vanguard movements like EYE. I’m so glad this initiative continues and flourishes. We had to do this because it was possible. What you can do, you also have to do. I refer to earlier blogs related to Europe.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Leonardo and his Creation

Today we remember Leonardo da Vinci who died on
2 May 1519, exactly 500 years ago. Leonardo remains the most famous example of a “homo universalis”, a versatile man and a man of creativity and passion. He could pass as the man most recognised in history for having developed his many talents.

Looking at today’s company culture, Leonardo could be a role model. Today’s adage is: follow your dreams and passions, develop yourself! I sometimes call this the Steve Jobs culture. Although I support like most people the idea of self-development, this Steve Jobs culture is based on a contemporary problem and a contemporary misconception. The contemporary problem is that in larger organisations, there are only a few people who can really make free choices of their own (such as Steve Jobs) and the other 99% needs to sweat to realise these nice ideas. Even worse, the biotope of knowledge workers is far from attractive in most cases and that is why all this Steve Jobs nonsense is spreading well on the social media. Larger companies will not support multiple Leonardos, at most a single one who pulls the ropes like Steve Jobs.

The misconception is the idea that creative people are people who are doing what they like. Wrong. Creative people have a clear vision of what they would like to realise and they do everything they can to realise it, including the activities they absolutely detest. In other words, creative people aim at a beautiful result of creativity, not at the creation work itself, which is usually hard. Passion means suffering and passionate people suffer a lot during their creation work; they only enjoy the beauty of the end result. A thing of beauty is a joy forever ... once it is ready. The joy of creation is not doing what you like, it is holding in your hand what you could only imagine for so long. Creativity can’t do without patience and diligence.

I refer to “Believe in Personal Progress” and “Ode to Curiosity” and to my Dutch blog: “Imaginatio”.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

On April 9th, 1945, today 74 years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed in concentration camp Flossenbürg, only two weeks before its liberation by the U.S. Army.

Some years ago, I bought this small booklet “Worte für jeden Tag”, with quotes and extracts from Bonhoeffer’s work. His writings bear witness to an enormous spiritual strength. It is amazing how a single man could show such individual resistance against a totalitarian system. To overcome the internal doubt and the fear and yet keep following the right path requires a huge faith.

We should not admire Bonhoeffer because of his forlorn fate; his enemies had determined this for him. We should admire him for his spirituality, for being consequent in his resistance against mainstream and his incredible persistence. Even if we can’t condemn people for not having had his strength at that time, the attitude of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the only real weapon against new successful types of barbarism.

Belonging to a protestant church himself, Bonhoeffer somehow unites Christians of all traditions. Many Catholics cherish his words and venerate him like a saint. Let us hope he will at least receive his deserved attention next year, when the end of the war will be 75 years behind us.

I refer to “The Siren Songs of Simplicity” and to my Dutch blogs: “Titus Brandsma” and “Hannah Arendt”.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Cycling in Flanders and beyond

In this first week of April, the whole of Flanders is getting ready for the cycling classics, such as the Tour of Flanders (also called “Flanders’ most beautiful”).  This is not just a yearly, extra-ordinary mobilisation of professionals. It really lives in the whole country, among supporters, amateur-cyclists and semi-professionals. In the first light of spring, you see hundreds of people on race bikes everywhere in the countryside and I am one of them.

Although Flanders no longer dominates this sports, it is still the epicentre of a lot of cycling activity. Actually Flanders managed to export its enthusiasm to other countries. The wonderful thing is: this is a sports that mobilises all classes in society. It is obviously good for the physical condition and it is a great way to explore and enjoy the various landscapes of a region. It is also a very ecological activity as it encourages the use of the bike for other purposes as well. The main drawback of this sports is the safety risk. It is not well compatible with car traffic and I regret to say the cycling infrastructure (cycling lanes) are still in a very poor condition in our country. We are saying this since decades now; we have not given up hope though.

Cycling really belongs to the soul of Flanders. But Flemish cycling fanatics are not only found in and around the Flemish Ardennes. You will also find them at the legendary challenges of the Tour de France, such as the Mont Ventoux. (We hope to write more about this later.)

I refer to my blogs: “Mens Sana in Corpore Sano” and “Bij de fietsenmaker”.

Picture: Kuurne, shutterstock.com

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The Legacy of Stephen Hawking

On March 14th, 2018, exactly one year ago, the world lost one of the most colourful scientists of the last 50 years. March 14 is also known as π –day and it happened to be the birthday of Albert Einstein.

I’m reading a Stephen Hawking book every decade since 30 years now. Stephen Hawking was not only popular because of the area in which he worked: black holes, theoretical physics and cosmology. He was also popular because he was the most remarkable example of how a man could overcome his handicap and become extremely successful. He also attracted media attention and become popular with the general public, even if few people could really understand his discoveries. Even after having studied the basics of thermodynamics, relativity and quantum mechanics, I have difficulty imagining what could be the meaning of the entropy of a black hole. The late professor ir. Theo Van der Waeteren at KU Leuven could have said: “How amazing the number π pops up in this equation!”. (His former students will understand.)

In his latest book, Stephen Hawking also writes about the great questions of the universe. He suggests the mathematical laws of the universe are such that the universe could have originated from  … nothing. In other words, science no longer needs a prima causa, a first little godly spark to ignite the big bang. Our universe would be some kind of natural unfolding of mathematical equations. He also addresses the future of mankind, such as the environmental problems, the need to travel through space and the emergence of artificial intelligence and genetic manipulation.

What a constructive contribution to society this is! Throughout the different books I have been reading, I could discern some evolution in this rich personality. Our world has become a little smarter and wiser through Stephen Hawking.

Ref: “De erfenis van Hawking” in Karakter 63 by Prof. Thomas Hertog. I also refer to my blogs "Making Science accessible to All" and “Finding Exoplanets”.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019


Dunameis or δυναμεις means 'forces', 'powers' or 'mighty works' in Ancient Greek. You may recognise the words dynamic and dynamics. Obviously forces exist in nature, and a scientific definition exists. But the word dunameis also has an old, spiritual meaning, one that I remember very well from secondary school. The dunameis were believed to be the underlying drivers of the long history of Salvation of Mankind, as described in the Bible. They were the good forces, including the miraculous works, which were a gift from God. Contrary to what you think, miraculous works happen more often today than in the past. They are now done on a daily basis by surgeons in university hospitals.

It still makes sense to think of the meaning of dunameis today. Everything we make and do as a living being, is somehow driven by our longing for a better life. The origin of every dynamism is always suffering, we are not pleased with the status quo and want to see things change. Leaving your ‘comfort zone’ is sometimes recommended, but I wonder what this comfort zone is, and whether I will ever live in one. It is clear that ‘living’ implies striving for some kind of salvation. The Biblical meaning of dunameis seems to correspond to the forces that are driving all living creatures in this world. Religions are just ancient ways of expressing the human condition and the human dunameis within us. Our society needs to understand this and give these expressions their righteous place in society. We tend to say we don’t believe in miracles but we could still stand in awe for the dunameis we observe within us and around us.

May the dunameis be with you! I refer to my blog “a Sea of Change”.