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Details of a small town: Harwich

The following is not a discussion about rurality nor a celebration of small is beautiful. Rather, it represents the reflections on my observations of life as it unfolds in a small coastal town in east England.

I cannot explain it nor wish to begin making conjectures about why it is the way it is but one thing is apparent about many of the residents in Harwich, Essex: they pay great attention to detail – not necessarily the material aspect of detail, although this too plays a role. It manifests itself as human connection, it is doing what you do in a way that matters – to you and for those for whom and with whom you do it:

The lady at the jewelry store, who neatly packed the set of silver studs and hoops into their respective little boxes – on a bed of black felt for the studs and on a bed of white fluffy cotton for the hoops. “Such care and attention to detail for a purchase of £11!” I thought to myself.

The mHarwich secret gardensan at the print shop, who neatly placed each printed document inside a plastic sleeve and then protected the entire order between two cardboard sheets symmetrically taped together. “Such care and dedication for a purchase of £9!” And the lady who elegantly wrapped the salami in patterned paper… It is the wholeheartedness betrayed by all the people who opened their gardens for the town fundraiser “Harwich secret gardens” – by opening their gardens they were also opening a door into their lives fostering an intimate connection with the visitors.

It might be criticised by the capital-oriented person who ‘value’ efficiency and productivity over human touch. For me, this attention to detail is about bringing out the best in ourselves, as Kahlil Gibran writes: doing work in this way “…is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit.

A little story sums it up for me:

The fisherman and the businessman

A business once sat by the beach in a small Brazilian village.

As he sat, he observed a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.

Impressed, the businessman asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?

The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”

Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.

This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.

The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?

Harwich low tide strollThe fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.

The businessman offered the fisherman some advice.

I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.

The fisherman continues, “And after that?

The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.

The fisherman asks, “And after that?

The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!

Perplexed, the fisherman asked, “But isn’t that what I am doing now?

Story adapted from Paolo Coelho’s blog.

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