John Sellwood  
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Telling Lives

By John Sellwood 05 Jun, 2017

When Bishop Victoria Matthews, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church in Canterbury, announced we would have to wait until a meeting of the church’s synod in September for a final decision on the fate of Christchurch Cathedral, there was both condemnation and exasperation. Many, including local politicians, business leaders, developers and media commentators expressed barely concealed fury at yet another delay, accusing the Bishop of placing the central city rebuild in jeopardy.

It would have been easy to join what is a loud and increasing strident chorus condemning the church’s lack of progress. After all, the partially ruined cathedral has indeed become a symbol of civic disunity and stagnation at a time when the city is finally embracing optimism and renewal. 

But that does not mean the Bishop’s decision was wrong, in fact her decision is more likely courageous, responsibility for the outcome is now spread amongst many, and given the level of animosity, that's probably a good thing. The future of the Cathedral can either be decided on issues of stone and mortar, money and time or it can be determined by something more spiritual.

Despite the huge amount of energy and angst that has been channeled into questions of money and ownership, new build or restore, I don’t believe any of those matters actually go to the crux of the issue,  we seem to be talking from polar opposites, the sacred and profane.

I haven't spoken to the Bishop and I'm certainly not privy the the inner workings of the Church Property Trust, but clearly for the Anglican church the cathedral is its spiritual centre at heart of the city, a place to gather and worship. Yes, it also has historic significance, a legacy of early Canterbury settlement and the first four ships, a place that connects Christchurch to its colonial past. And for some it’s the architecture and history that matters, for others of course, it’s now just another shoddy old building; a derelict nod to the past well overdue for demolition. 

By John Sellwood 15 May, 2017
My mum has dementia and no longer recalls a full life rich with adventure and stories. My dad, well he died a few years back, but if I try hard I reckon I can still hear his voice and conjure his face within my mind's eye. I imagine him whistling  as he walks briskly down the street and tailing behind there's a little boy almost running to keep up with his father;  a man who at that time seemed to embody all that was safe and good in the world.

Yes, I have the photos, and my parents did a great job researching the family history and genealogy. But what I miss is the essence of connection I can still sit with mum and hold her hand and tell her I love her, but it's now a one way conversation. We all have our allotted time but before it runs out I wish we did more to encourage each other to make a permanent  record of our memories and life experiences. If you like a digital legacy of what mattered and why.  

Despite having been a journalist most of my working life,  I didn't ever think to interview my dad before he died, something I greatly regret - just to have a record of him chatting,  sharing his love of music and the influences that shaped his life would have been a wonderful thing; a reminder of someone who mattered for family and the next generation, who would never know him in person.

About a year later I made the exactly the same mistake with my mother, I was always too busy or distracted by work and then one day it was too late, before any of us realised the dementia had taken hold.

By John Sellwood 05 Apr, 2017
This blog was first posted a few days before United Airlines showed how caring it was towards paying passengers, when overbooked. The P.R. disaster that has followed seems so apposite that not to edit, update and repost would be waste of what will surely become a classic example of why the old ways of pr and spin don't work in modern crisis management.

Brand power does not rest with your company or it's image makers or communicators. Your customers own your 'brand perception' and thanks to social media and the web they have a previously unimaginable power to exact a price when you screw with their values by using unacceptable tactics or fail to acknowledge your mistakes.
By John Sellwood 06 Mar, 2017
I accidentally discovered the Lincoln Wetlands while test flying my new Mavic Pro over the weekend. Who would have thought storm water treatment ponds could be so darn beautiful? 130 thousand natives were planted just five years ago, they've now taken hold and transformed the drainage area into a wetland sanctuary that performs an important function for the resident's of Lincoln township,  while at the same time providing a new protected habitat for local birdlife. It's a win - win! Pictured in the background you'll see the Port Hills which suffered so badly during the recent fires, yes very different terrain and ecosystems, but we should take heart because what has been lost can be replanted and will eventually regenerate thanks to the help and hard work of such wonderful groups as Trees for Canterbury, the  Summit Road Society , The Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust ,  and of course the local City council and other government agencies. Much has been lost but perhaps there is a silver lining, a growing sense of shared responsibility for the future protection and regeneration of what remains of our bush. It's reported that 90 percent of what was destroyed was privately owned land, including reserves.

By John Sellwood 19 Feb, 2017

Port Hills Fire evacuee Grant Poultney says it's unbelievable! We watched on Wednesday as the flames surrounded his house, believing their home would be destroyed Grant turned his back and drove away unable to watch. But today he and the family can't believe their luck, thanks to the skill of the fire fighters and chopper pilots, the flames were stopped within a metre of their house. There have been lucky stories and sad stories from the fires, but we believe the Poultney's story is just downright incredible! Watch, share and enjoy a great outcome for a family who thought they had lost everything.

By John Sellwood 15 Feb, 2017

There was a wind shift on the Port Hills and then the roar of flames as the fire swept across the valley forcing residents to flee. Grant watched on from  Worsley Road as the blaze tore into the plantation trees behind his house. With the flames threatening to engulf their home, Grant and his wife turned to leave; it was simply to awful to watch. I was ordered ordered to evacuate a short time later. I don't know what happened to Grant's home, all I know is a number of houses have been destroyed.

By John Sellwood 10 Feb, 2017

Do you respect my truth and the same laws and values? Is respect freely given or is it something your status and ego demand? What does respect for others actually mean? does everyone deserve respect?

How often have you heard the words ‘I respect you’ or ‘I respect your view’-  really? Are you sure or are you perhaps just saying that because it’s kind of polite and courteous or maybe the correct thing to say to avoid conflict and remain in favour? Being a fair minded individual you may actually believe every ones’ ideas and views are equally valid and should therefore be honoured with the same amount of ‘respect’ or perhaps you’re willing to say ‘no I don’t respect your views, but I’m willing to fight for your right to hold them’. Whatever your personal position, it’s clear the word ‘respect’ means different things to different people. That’s because respect and disrespect are personal judgement calls based on our own values and beliefs; they are in the eye of the beholder and therefore subjective.

“None of us can or should respect everything and everybody equally. To do so would be to surrender our powers of discernment, of evaluating the quality of one person’s views and actions as cleaner or better than another’s.  Jeremy E Sherman Ph.D.

Surely our ability to agree to disagree, without losing respect, is the foundation of the democratic process and a civil society. Our laws and government are based on an adversarial approach where a dialectic process is used to test and refine ideas and judgements and where agreed protocols and procedures attempt to focus debate on the best outcome, regardless of competing views.

“I Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.”   Bertrand Russell.

Disagreement and dissent are not in themselves disrespectful and yet we so often make that judgement i.e. if you disagree with me you’re actually disrespecting me, which is bad. But if you agree with me that is a good thing and you have my respect. The end result is compliance without thought, passive agreement without the refinement of constructive criticism.

That's why for the foreseeable future, I’m ditching respect in favour of 'compassionate candour'. Candour is not a judgement it’s an action; a way of behaving with frankness, openness, honesty and truthfulness. But it needs to be tempered with concern for others an awareness that kindness means having sympathy for another position and viewpoint. Candour without compassion runs the risk becoming of becoming a weapon to bludgeon others.

Compassionate candour requires we speak our truth with kindness and understanding. Not easy,  but a preferable alternative to the current misuse of the word 'respect', in some circles, where conflict and polarising views have become more important than objective facts.

By John Sellwood 28 Nov, 2016

They wear different uniforms and share different areas of expertise, but when a devastating earthquake struck New Zealand's North Canterbury coast, they responded as they always do, giving their absolute all to relieve the suffering of those in need.

Whether they're first responders from Police, Fire and Ambulance, Defence Force personnel, or the civilian volunteers from rescue and relief agencies, these men and women all have one thing in common; they are serving their country. In return, we owe these dedicated Kiwis a duty of care by   looking after those who look after us. 

The unpalatable truth is this - the very people we send into danger to help others are more likely to suffer stress related illness because of the extreme situations they face. We're not talking something that happens immediately for many first responders PTSD is the result of repeated exposure to traumatic events. There is no one size fits all for the symptoms of stress related injury but the checklist below provides a good starting point.


Whether you're being exposed to traumatic situations on a daily basis as a first responder or you're on deployment overseas with the military, those who serve, need a greater awareness of stress risks involved in their jobs and the strategies to help them cope. Steve Shamy, from Rannerdale Veterans' Care in Christchurch, heads the Australasian Care Services Network, which has been pooling international expertise to deal with the issue.  Mr Shamy says while post Traumatic stress amongst military veterans' has received a lot of media attention, the problem amongst first responders has gone largely unnoticed. 

An international meta-analysis of PTSD in emergency services reviewed 28 studies involving more than 20 thousand personnel and found that 10 percent of current workers exhibit the condition, with ambulance officers and paramedics the most afflicted. 
Source:  ASCN communique, 2015.  

Based on Australian sampling up to 1 in 5 police officers are at risk of PTSD .

The need to broaden the scope of discussion around PTSD and stress related injuries was touched on by New Zealand Veterans' Affairs Minister Craig Foss, at the recent of opening of the new Jacinda Baker hospital Wing.

By John Sellwood 25 Nov, 2016

We live in a world where social media influences billions and traditional or legacy media is no longer the only valid source of news nor the only watchdog that barks. There is however legitimate concern and uncertainty over the reliability and veracity of emerging alternatives. When you stray from mainstream media sources it would be nice to know you can trust what's been said and that you're not being duped or mislead. The problems caused by  fake news  postings on social media are now so significant that social media giants like facebook and google are said to be murmuring about possible action.  

Clarity around who controls coverage and who pays the bills would certainly help. But it’s also about providing context so the public can identify any potential bias and weigh the information accordingly. Fake news has no place masquerading as fact, satire provides no excuse for lies that manipulate or mislead. It's a cop out to blame people for being gullible, as human beings we survive on trust, some of us just happen to be more distrustful than others.

We need a system that can identify the contaminates that might poison our news judgement, we demand safety declarations about what's in the food we eat so why shouldn’t we demand the same assurances for the news we consume?  Perhaps some form of electronic labelling where anyone claiming to produce factual 'news' content would make a declaration regarding the type of information being provided. Does it claim to be factual news, advocacy news, brand news, satire or fiction.   

By John Sellwood 05 Sep, 2016
They meet once a month in Christchurch, New Zealand. Its starts with a few beers, a meal and some banter about their latest finds, and then they descend on mass to the nearest park; for a night time treasure hunt! Their latest foray was into the heart of suburban Spreydon, where locals were left wondering about the strange bobbing lights in Barrington Park.
John Sellwood went to investigate.
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