The best things in life are audacious

The best thing that has ever happened to me, has just happened to me.

In the spirit of rejection therapy, I left the house with the intention of sitting out on the clifftops and writing my newsletter with a nice cup of tea.

What’s this got to do with rejection therapy? Well, I didn’t take any money with me.

And yet, here I am, sitting out on the clifftops, writing my newsletter with a nice cup of tea.

There was no queue at the beach kiosk, but I still had to stand and wait while the kiosk guy faffed with the bins, head down. Pop music was playing loudly from an old speaker.

I was just wondering whether I should make some customer-like noise or take this golden opportunity to run away and save my embarrassment, when the kiosk guy lifted his head.

‘What can I do for you, buddy?’

Here we go: ‘This is an absolutely outrageous request, but I’ve come out with no money – I couldn’t have a tea, could I?’

He didn’t answer, just smiled a wry smile, and went to the machine.

‘That’s so kind, thank you. If you give me a receipt, I’ll come back and pay another time.’

‘No, no. I’m not going to make a fuss over a bit of hot water and a teabag – it’s nothing.’

What a legend. I mean, he’s not wrong: a bit of hot water and a teabag is nothing. But still! He didn’t have to do that.

As I walked away, I thought to myself – actually, I said out loud to no one but the gulls, ‘This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.’

Then I sat down on the clifftops and took a satisfied sip.

Do you think kiosk guy would mind if I went back and asked for one with no milk? No, no – forget it.

On audacity and entitlement

There is a fine line between audacity and entitlement. The distinction, I think, is in the emotions attached.

An audacious move expects rejection. As a result, rejection doesn’t lead to resentment, and acceptance gives you such a buzz of gratitude.

Audacity, somehow, brings people closer together. If you asked me right now, I’d probably give that kiosk guy my spare kidney.

Entitlement, by contrast, leaves both sides cold. Entitlement expects acceptance – or at least acquiescence. The entitled feel no such buzz of gratitude – because they’re only getting the bare minimum they reckon they’re owed by the universe.

Meanwhile, the victim of entitlement can only feel resentment that they have been plonked onto a lower station in the social hierarchy, and exploited. Were the victim to stand up against entitlement, they will face aggression, passive or explicit.

Audacity is the world as an open game of negotiation, engagement, and possibility. Entitlement, by contrast, is the world as a closed system of rules, privacy and hierarchy.

Do you dare to eat a peach?

Hot last weekend, wasn’t it?

Families were streaming to the beach in their thousands. As we pulled up to the cliffs car park, a family were relaxing in deck chairs around their camper, polishing off a barbecue lunch.

Hanging from the night before, one of our party made an audacious move: ‘Smells great, guys. Any chance you’ve got a burger going spare?’

Of course they have. The materfamilias takes delight in splitting a roll and filling it with charred meat and oleaginous relish: but who would dare ask? Who would squeeze the universe into a ball, to roll it toward some overwhelming question?

Do you dare to eat a peach?

Rebellion begins with audacity

Clearly, a burger and a cup of tea are pretty small fry. But you can’t begin by asking for the earth. Not even when you are asking for the earth.

Extinction Rebellion didn’t begin with a blockade of London. I imagine it began the same way as the US civil rights movement, the South African rebellion against Apartheid, the revolution in Egypt, and the English Civil War: with an invitation to a meeting in a small room in a flat.

But the modesty of that first meeting doesn’t mask the audacity of the agenda.

Rebellions begin with audacity. In fact, all change – large and small, public and personal – begins with audacity: the audacity to imagine an alternative.

Asking your future partner out for a coffee for the first time. Negotiating for a job, or a raise. Dropping everything to travel overland to Australia – or buying a £550 Nissan Micra to drive to Siberia (never mind that the interior is carpeted entirely in greengrocer’s astroturf). Replacing commercial advertising billboards with more honest messages. Typing the first words into an empty script.

They say that the best things in life are free; I wouldn’t argue with that. But I think it’s more accurate to say that the best things in life are audacious.

Training audacity

My audacity at the kiosk was contrived: I knew before I left the flat that I was going to ask for a free tea. I could instead have come out with my wallet and paid for a tea that I can easily afford.

Other people don’t have it so easy. Do you think the kiosk guy would’ve been so generous to a dishevelled man who carries all his worldly goods in two stuffed plastic bags? Maybe, maybe not.

But this was never a test of my privilege. This was a test of my mettle, training my audacity for greater challenges ahead.

By asking for a tea that I didn’t really need, I tested my courage to engage and negotiate so that when I do really need audacity, I have reserves of confidence to call upon.

There are three stages to a rejection therapy challenge:

  1. Aim for rejection. Expect the answer ‘no’, but ask anyway. Don’t worry that the challenge isn’t big or clever enough – if you think you’ll be rejected, that’s plenty big and clever.
  2. Failure is success. You’ve found your limits – for now. Try the same challenge again, with different people, and different approaches.
  3. Success is failure. A cup of tea – as the kiosk guy pointed out – is nothing. Next time, be bolder, push yourself further.

Above all, if other people are involved, be charming. Smile. Be frank about the fact you’re asking something ridiculous and weird. Have a laugh about it and you might just find yourself a co-conspirator.

And when you are rejected – congratulations! – smile again, say thank you, and walk away with the deep satisfaction that you’ve pushed against your horizon of audacity, and – for now – found its limit.

What about you? Is this concept of audacity useful? How could you be more audacious right now?


By the way, the smug photo of me with my free tea was taken by an Iranian MBA student I met on the clifftops.

As well as my wallet, I came out without my camera, so I walked up to this woman and asked if she could take one on her phone and email it to me.

She took four.

She was the third person I asked.

Empathy, society, and a nice cup of tea…

I never drank tea until I went to China when I was 18. There, I had no option. Green tea was served by default at all meals, and there was always a flask by your bedside in guesthouses and hotels.

Ubiquitous doesn’t really do full justice to the omnipresence of tea in China. Although the Chinese only drink something more than a quarter of the quantity that we do in Britain, they are by far and away the largest producers of the precious plant, responsible for a third of global production.

Only after my visit did I fully comprehend the staggering contempt implied by the saying, ‘Not for all the tea in China’.

Clearly not tea, but some sort of paddy field in Yangshuo County, China. As seen from behind a Fujifilm camera in 2001.

My Chinese education explains why I take my tea with neither milk nor sugar.

I dread to imagine the state of my teeth had I starting drinking tea just a few weeks before, when I was in Egypt. In the Nile Valley, the default is tiny glasses of black tea filled halfway with white sugar and, perhaps, a sprig of mint.

It’s got more in common with a Magnum ice cream than the restorative brew I found in China.

I digress.

The point is that, since 2001, I have rarely been without tea. Often green, occasionally black if I need the astringent caffeine hit.

Just as often, though, I’ll have what the French would call a tisane, or what the more pretentious English would call a herbal infusion – a redbush, a chamomile, a peppermint, or some other preparation of dried organic matter.

For me, the point is not the caffeine or even the flavour, but the psychological comfort of having something to do with my hands (behave yourself) between essays at the keyboard.

In days past, writers smoked cigarettes, cigars or cigarillos; many still use alcohol. I used to chew gum and eat biscuits. But tea, I find, offers something else.

Bob Dylan: listlessly creative with a pot of tea (milk, sugar). SOURCE: Famous People Drinking Tea

I’m preaching to the choir, of course. All of my friends, bar one, drink tea in copious quantities. So why bring this up today?

Last weekend, after a day spent working on Foiled, Beth and I went dancing. On the way home, I can’t remember why, Beth was holding forth on the subject of morning tea.

She told me that, whenever she stays over at her parents’ place, her mum creeps up to her room in the morning with a fresh brew. She knocks softly on Beth’s door, lays the tea (milk, no sugar) down on her bedside table, and gently whispers: ‘There’s a tea there if you want it.’

Her mum does this all so lightly that there’s no chance of Beth waking from a deep sleep, but if she’s already drifting to the surface of consciousness, then – lo and behold – the greatest start to a morning imaginable.

How to prepare the perfect morning cuppa, according to the first page, no less, of The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse.

This vignette led to a discussion on the role of empathy in relationships.

The Golden Rule exhorts us to treat others as we would wish ourselves to be treated. It’s good enough so far as it goes, but in my opinion the Golden Rule does not go even nearly far enough.

Most of us, let’s be honest, treat ourselves like shit. We have such a low opinion of ourselves, that we would never in our wildest dreams imagine anyone else would ever make us a cup of tea in the morning.

If we were to follow the mere Golden Rule for our behaviour, we would likewise never think of making a morning tea for anyone else. And – lo and behold – this is how many relationships pan out.

Yesterday, the same topic came up with another friend – let’s call her Ariadne for no reason whatsoever – who lives with a couple. Ariadne told me how annoyed she was that the boyfriend would never make a morning cuppa for his girlfriend.

‘He’s up at the same time as me. I’m always in a rush; he never is. And yet he never makes her a cup of tea; I do.’

Sometimes Ariadne brings the girlfriend tea when the boyfriend is in bed kissing her goodbye. ‘You’re just shit-stirring now,’ he says.

And of course she is. But if he swallowed his pride for one second and saw how happy that morning tea made his girlfriend, then he’d see that the cognitive cost of doing something for someone else is, quelle horreur!, outweighed a hundred times over by the closer relationships we earn.

Science has shown this. Give someone a warm drink and they feel more warmly towards you – and not just metaphorically:

participants who briefly held a cup of hot (versus iced) coffee judged a target person as having a “warmer” personality (generous, caring)
Source // Guardian write-up

We need a new rule. Perhaps we can baptise it the Astatine Rule, after the rarest naturally-occurring element on earth.

The Astatine Rule says that we should treat others as we would ourselves wish to be treated in our wildest fantasies of existence (behave yourself!).

This second part is crucial: unless your life has been an endless waterfall of rainbows and unicorns then there is no point merely repeating the behaviour you’ve learnt thus far.

Imagining a peak existence (or anything) greater than you’ve ever experienced is really hard; that’s why relationships all too often settle down to baseline.

We need inspiration more extraordinarily creative to set our empathic imaginations free and kick start a virtuous cycle of kindness (and cups of tea). Stories help.

The morning after our dance, I woke up before Beth. I crept into the kitchen, past where she was sleeping in the living room, and put the kettle on the hob. I caught the boil just before it whistled, loaded up her mug with black tea and milk, and stirred until it was the colour of caramel chocolate.

Then I tiptoed into the living room and laid the mug down by her bedside. ‘There’s a tea there if you want it,’ I whispered.