Service, with Jo Tyndall

November 27, 2019 Kim Forrester Season 4 Episode 6
Service, with Jo Tyndall
Service, with Jo Tyndall
Nov 27, 2019 Season 4 Episode 6
Kim Forrester

Her Excellency Jo Tyndall is the New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore. Jo has a long and varied career in public service, including as New Zealand’s Climate Change Ambassador, where she led the New Zealand international negotiations team for the Paris Agreement. On this episode, Kim Forrester and Jo explore how our lives are enhanced when we are of service and when we choose to use our skills, talents and knowledge to lift, support and inspire others. 

Show Notes Transcript

Her Excellency Jo Tyndall is the New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore. Jo has a long and varied career in public service, including as New Zealand’s Climate Change Ambassador, where she led the New Zealand international negotiations team for the Paris Agreement. On this episode, Kim Forrester and Jo explore how our lives are enhanced when we are of service and when we choose to use our skills, talents and knowledge to lift, support and inspire others. 

Intro:   0:02
Welcome to Eudaemonia, the podcast that is all about flourishing. Plug in, relax and get ready for the goodness as we explore the traits and practises that can help you thrive in life ... with your host, Kim Forrester.  

Kim Forrester:   0:22
Research shows that we are literally happier people when we pursue meaningful activities that involve helping and connecting with others. Her Excellency Jo Tyndall is the New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore. Jo has a long and varied career in public service, including nearly nine years as New Zealand's Climate Change Ambassador, where she led the New Zealand international negotiations team for the Paris Agreement, and then co-chaired negotiations on the so-called rulebook, which underpins the agreement. It's my absolute honour to be connecting with Jo, today, to discuss how our lives are enhanced when we are of service and when we choose to use our skills, talents and knowledge to lift and inspire others. Jo Tyndall, it's just such an honour to be here with you today at the New Zealand High Commission here in Singapore. How are you?

Jo Tyndall:   1:17
I'm very well, and it's lovely to have you here too, today, Kim, overlooking beautiful Singapore Harbour.

Kim Forrester:   1:23
Indeed, I think being of service is an incredible part of a fulfilling life. And yet it's not something that people necessarily stop and think about. And it's certainly not necessarily something people stop and integrate into their lives. So I'm really grateful to you to have the opportunity to discuss that today. Let's get straight into it. You currently work in the diplomatic service for New Zealand, and for many years you've been doing diplomatic roles, government roles. If you were driven purely by financial reward, the reality is that the private sector would offer you more opportunities to fulfil that kind of purpose. What is it that draws you to public service?

Jo Tyndall:   2:08
Well, first of all, I just want to say I haven't thought of myself as somebody who has a life of service, if you see what I mean. But then, thinking a little bit further, I suppose, yes, anything to do with the public service, that's kind of implicit. But what has drawn me to the work I've done, and the roles I have done, has really been a strong belief in my country and the values that it espouses. And I've done quite very different things: in the film, television, broadcasting area from a policy perspective, through trade negotiations, through climate change. And it took me a while to think about what were the threads that pulled all of those desperate things together. And I think it is about wanting to have the opportunity to help shape policy, to make a difference in New Zealand and for New Zealand; to be focused on how we perceive ourselves as a country - as a people, as a community - and how others perceive us. And also in some of the, you know, in the diplomatic work, certainly, thinking of ways and operating in ways that ensure that, as a small country, we can nevertheless have some influence over global affairs.

Kim Forrester:   3:28
I did see just the other day that New Zealand's soft power, as they call it, is actually quite disproportionate to our population. We actually do have quite a bit of soft power.

Jo Tyndall:   3:37
Yeah, that was a really interesting index that came out, and it was good to see

Kim Forrester:   3:44
And obviously it's the work of the likes of yourself - I know you're humble - but it's the likes of the work of yourself and other public service representives around the world that have allowed that to occur. Your career, Jo, has been very much about supporting and enhancing the lives of others. Perhaps indirectly in many ways, but still supporting and enhancing the lives of others. That includes the future generations, certainly with your work with climate change. Do you find yourself being of service to others in your personal life as well? Or is that when you take time to focus more on yourself?

Jo Tyndall:   4:20
I have to say that, certainly for the nearly eight and a half years - nearly nine years - I was working on climate change, my life was in a permanent state of jet lag. Travelling around the world in different time zones; forever at meetings and so on. So, for me, it was hugely important to spend time with family, with friends, and with my little dog - who, I have to say, you know ... probably the affection wasn't as fully returned as I would have liked. He's not a super cuddly one, but very, very sweet. But spending that time, I think, was what I needed to really balance the enormous amount of time I was otherwise away from the country and away from that connection with family at home. What I would say, though, as I'm rapidly approaching thinking about retirement - not for a few years yet, but definitely thinking about it- is that a year or so ago, I visited my aunt, who lives in Sydney and has been there for many, many years. And she has spent her retirement doing an enormous amount of volunteer work in a variety of ways that kind of play to her interests and her abilities and so on. Whether that's cooking or gardening or whatever. And I found that to be quite an inspirational thing. So it started me thinking about, 'Well, what sort of thing might I do at that next phase of life, when I do finally decide I should stop working for a salary?'

Kim Forrester:   5:50
That raises two questions in my mind. Firstly, do you feel, personally, that it's important for us to prioritise ourselves when we're being of service to others? There are some people in this world who are constantly of service. They're constantly on the committees or volunteering for certain activities, to the point where they become burned out. Do you feel that prioritising self is important in this process as well?

Jo Tyndall:   6:16
Yeah, I think it is. It is. So two things there. One, I've kind of flagellated myself, not forgiven myself, for missing my son's 21st birthday because I was at a big two week long meeting in Geneva. And I never felt I kind of compensated for that. But the other thing, just last night I was watching an episode of Queer Eye on Netflix, and it was one of those classic situations where a person - the subject for the episode - had given of herself so much, to a point that she no longer cared about herself. She didn't even have a bed to sleep on because she'd sort of given up rooms in her house to others. But what that show sort of demonstrates is that, it is really important to value yourself is a human being; to put time into yourself as a person. And that can help, I think, to add more to what you are giving back, in whatever way you are giving back to the community or the world around you.

Kim Forrester:   7:23
The second question: you mentioned there that looking forward to retirement at some point in the future, you're already looking for ways to continue making a difference. You're already inspired by the idea of continuing to be of service. And it reminds me of my husband, who was in the New Zealand Army for nine years. And during that time, he had some incredible opportunities to be of service and support other communities. He was a peacekeeper in Cambodia. He went on vaccination trips to the Solomon Islands. He supported scientific research in Antarctica. And when he left the Army, I know that he struggled to find that sense of meaning and purpose in his everyday corporate role. For you, in your experience, does it make a difference when, in the act of being of service, you are actually pursuing something that is personally meaningful for you as well?

Jo Tyndall:   8:13
Yes, I think it does. It absolutely does. I think it would be a kind of very unrewarding and soul destroying to be doing something that isn't meaningful for you. But at the same time, I think - certainly, in my experience - that 'meaningfulness', if that's even a word, has grown as I've been doing the job. So when I came to do the climate change role,  it wasn't like I knew anything about climate change or had kind of been active in that area beforehand. I came in as, I guess, a seasoned negotiator. But it was as a consequence of taking that role that I really found, you know, an enormous amount of meaning in it. And in fact, of course, that meaningfulness has stayed even after I have finished doing the the role. But it was the same when I was running New Zealand On Air, the public funding broadcasting agency. I built and grew a real passion for ensuring that New Zealand identity and culture was a strong presence and valued by New Zealand audiences - whether they were watching television, or listening to radio, or going to movies in theatres.

Kim Forrester:   9:36
Also valued ... the work you did was of huge value to the performers in New Zealand, as well; those who are in the creative industries. I think that's really worth noting - as a creative myself. Jo, I imagine you've had times in your career where you've faced enormous challenges and obstacles. And I mean enormous challenges and obstacles, certainly with the climate change negotiations. How cognizant are you on those really tough days that what you were doing matters to, not just yourself, but to  - in our case - millions of other people? Is it an inspiration for you, or is it a burden?

Jo Tyndall:   10:10
That's a really interesting question. I think, on the day, you can't be cognizant of that. I think it would be potentially really overwhelming. And it's also super important to remember that, whoever you are or whatever you're doing in this realm, you're just a tiny, tiny cog in an enormous machine. You can have some small amount of influence, but there are so many other forces, so many other personalities, so many other political, well, there's political leaders, there's everybody out there. So I think it would potentially be easy to be a little bit overwhelmed. I did have ... one evening, I was invited to a dinner that was work related. And one of the guests at the dinner kind of said across the table to me that I, personally, was responsible for, you know, the deaths or poor situation of many thousands of people who were impacted by, or being impacted by, climate change. And that wrought me up. It was it was a very confrontational discussion. Other people around the table came to my rescue and aid, but it was kind of a horrific thought to be thinking, 'Well, do people really think that I have that much power over things; I could change them, myself, in a way that could stop these awful things happening in people's lives?'

Kim Forrester:   11:44
Really interesting insight there because I think we should all stop and reflect on this. It's very easy to point the finger at someone else - or to celebrate someone else for whatever happens in the world out there. You know, 'that' person made this wonderful thing happened, or 'this' person is to blame for something else happening. And yet I would say that every human on the planet has the same ... well ... most people in similar situations have the same amount of power for influence as others. Correct? So someone sitting at a table saying, 'Well, you are responsible for what's happening to the Pacific Islands', for instance. And I do wonder if they've stopped to reflect on what they're actually doing to be of service; to halt the climate crisis, for instance. And it's something may we should all be aware of. Instead of just pointing the finger, go, 'Well, how am I stepping up?'

Jo Tyndall:   12:37
Yeah, and you know, this person was very active and passionate about the climate cause, and I fully understand that. But I also think it's really important to understand how huge, and complex, and difficult it is to turn what is an enormous juggernaut around. And to do that at a political, at a policy, at a government, business, community and individual level - because it's kind of got to happen at all of those levels. And everything has to sort of better align. And, certainly for a number of years leading up to the Paris Agreement, things weren't aligned. They needed to come together, and they're still in the process of being aligned at all those different levels.

Kim Forrester:   13:27
Humanity is a team sport. It's as simple as that, isn't it? And it's something that we need to remember. Let's talk about dealing with others. When we're pursuing something that we believe is for the greater good, or when we're pursuing something just to be of service to others, I'm sure there are times when we'll have to work with others whose motives are not quite so pure - or not so aligned with our own values. In your experience, what's the best way to deal with, or negotiate around, these types of people?

Jo Tyndall:   13:54
In those international negotiations, I think it's really, really important to separate the personal from the professional. That's obviously the case in many, many situations. But you must always remember that other people are doing their job to promote, protect, defend a national position, which they may or may not subscribe to heavily themselves. But if you can do that, that's one way of, you know, helping to manage it. A second thing I think it's really important, is to get to know people. In international climate negotiations, quite often we saw more of our fellow negotiators than we did of our colleagues, and friends, and family back home. But equally we found ... I think part of the crucial components for success in Paris was that there were opportunities to get to know each other and understand who we were, not just from the point of view or whatever national position we were taking, but who we were as human beings. So during the years in the lead up to Paris, in 2015, we convened and I pulled together an annual dialogue - so-called dialogue - of some 20 to 25 of the lead negotiators on climate change from around the world. We took them to remote-ish rural places, just out outside of Auckland, for example. Kind of where they couldn't escape. But they were also there, in the New Zealand landscape. They were surrounded by, you know, beautiful New Zealand. And we spent a couple of days talking, but also doing sometimes quite creative and kind of ... things that took them out of their comfort zone a little bit. But also meant they got to know each other as people; could relate to each other as people. And when we had the conversations about the details of what became the Paris agreement, in an environment where they were relaxed and not sitting behind, you know, their country's flag, we made enormous amounts of progress. We found ways through some of the really sticky problems that were plaguing the negotiations in the big big rooms. So that I think, is a really important thing - to find ways of getting to know people that go a little bit beyond sitting in a formal room, across the table. 

Kim Forrester:   16:29
It could also translate into the school PTA, or ...

Jo Tyndall:   16:32
Just about anywhere. Yeah.

Kim Forrester:   16:34
You grew up in Christchurch. You spent many years there. And for me, the way that the residents of Christchurch came together after the 2011 earthquake is a great example of the importance of kaitiakitanga; that desire, the calling, to take care of one another. How important is it for us to nurture that kind of communal stewardship? You know, you've just talked about there about getting to know people. Do you feel that it is important for us, if we're going to be of service and help one another as a humanity, that we actually nourish a sense of guardianship for each other as well?

Jo Tyndall:   17:08
Yes, yes. Because I think ... Christchurch did personally affect me - not for myself, but for my parents, both of whom were still living there, separately. And who were quite vulnerable and, you know, were definitely affected by the earthquakes there in ways that did leave a lasting trauma. It's been hugely important, I think, to see how resilient that community has been and how close knit it has become to try and deal with the impact of the earthquakes there. As far as climate change is concerned, it's going to require an enormous shift in how people think about how they work, how they live, how they relate to each other, and to move much more towards a way of life that prioritises people on the planet, rather than simply economic growth as a way of measuring prosperity. So I do think that mind shift is more about thinking about each other as a community, and that kind of 'working together as a community', and aligning where it is we think we want to go over the long term. And thinking more about the planet as something over which we have guardianship rather than simply we're exploiting all its resources in anyway we can. One of the other things I've become involved with here, in Singapore, is a bit of a movement called Leadership with Kindness. And I do think that the events we've had in New Zealand have really demonstrated the importance and value of that as a concept; of leadership that is defined by respect for others, by compassion, by caring, by sort of helping others to thrive and do well in a bunch of different ways.

Kim Forrester:   19:14
Coming back to being of service to others rather than trying to figure out what we, as individuals, can get out of a situation. Leadership has been perceived, I think, across the world for a few centuries, as rising to the top and being the one in power. Whereas perhaps leadership could be more about ... 

Jo Tyndall:   19:34
Well, if you think about it, I think for everyone who is in a leadership role, there is another leader, and another leader, and another leader. So we are all leaders in different ways, whatever we're doing and wherever we are. And I think that's an important thing to recognise and for us all to be thinking about. 'Well, how do we kind of model ourselves each day? How do we behave?'

Kim Forrester:   19:57
Some of my listeners, I certainly hope, are thinking at this point, 'You know, there's something I'd love to become involved with. There is something greater than myself that I would love to inject my energy into. I'd love to be of service to others.' How would you advise that these listers go about finding something meaningful that suits their lifestyle and their skills?

Jo Tyndall:   20:17
Well, I'm probably the last person to give any advice on that, because the way I've sort of approached my, well, certainly my career has been pretty much one of serendipity rather than, sort of, very carefully mapped out and planned in advance. What I would always say is, it's really important to seize opportunities that are there. If there is something and if you can't seize an opportunity or find an open door to go through, then try to create one. But it's also really important to understand what it is that you have. I guess, what it is that presses your buttons or gets you excited, or motivates you to get up and out. So, when you're talking about things that suit your lifestyle or skills, it's having that self-awareness and understanding what those things might be. Because, I think, then you can start sort of understanding better, which areas you might want to knock on doors to see if you can get those doors to open for you.

Kim Forrester:   21:25
Jo, there are many people out there that are being of service in incredibly visible ways; being of service to the community, to humanity as a whole. How important is it that we, as individuals, do our part to support these leaders, these governmental or activist leaders? And how do we best do that?

Jo Tyndall:   21:46
I talked a little earlier about the idea of alignment and, you know, how necessary it is in climate change, if we are to tackle what is this big and increasingly urgent global challenge. If we are to do that, then we've all got to be, sort of, pulling in the same direction, as it were. If we're in the same canoe together, the same waka together, we've got to be, sort of, pulling on the oars in the same direction. So there are things that - whatever you're doing in your personal life, or in your professional life, or in your leisure time, whatever - can sort of align with those long-term overall objectives. And they can be quite small. When you're thinking about, as an individual, how you live your life. You know, what's your consumption of plastics or that sort of thing? How do you transport yourself to work or anywhere else? Can you do things in slightly different ways? Which is not about going back to the Dark Ages and sort of making your own candles out of bees wax, or whatever it might be. But it is thinking about how you, as an individual, might be able to contribute in some small way. Again, I don't make my own candles and I haven't become a vegan, but I am mindful of how I'm getting about and what I'm doing, and sort of work in that way. I think as a public servant, there is another responsibility. And, of course, as a public servant it's my job to serve the government of the day. So that means I have to know and understand what the policy agenda, what the objectives, of that government of the day might be. I have to be able to give free and frank advice to those I am accountable to, but also understand - and then understand - that I am not the decision maker. That, ultimately, it is for the government as a whole, and/or for the minister, to make the policy decisions on the basis of the advice that he or she has received from a public servant.

Kim Forrester:   24:05
That truly is being of service, when you look at it, because you ... the the government of, say, New Zealand works for the people of New Zealand. They have been duly elected and in those positions. And so you are their representative over here in Singapore at the moment. And so when you go about your business, you are actually literally working for the people of New Zealand, if we draw it back there. Is that how you see it?

Jo Tyndall:   24:27
Oh yes, absolutely. Absolutely. As a diplomat, the job is to promote and look after - to protect - New Zealand's national interests.

Kim Forrester:   24:38
Final question, Jo. It's one I ask every guest on the Eudaemonia podcast. Can you recommend a morning reminder - this could be a simple daily ritual or practice that perhaps you undertake - that can help my listeners recognise the opportunities they have in their daily lives to be of service?

Jo Tyndall:   24:56
Again, I don't know if I've got a ready answer for you, because I don't know if I've got a daily ritual. But I think a couple of things to think about might be ... one thing I kind of lived by, and I hope it's not too naive, is remembering that, by and large, people around you are doing things with the best of intentions. So you may not agree with the position they've taken, but usually their intentions are good. So I think that's an important thing to remember. And then, the other thing I would say is, that it's really important to give others the opportunities to shine; to do things they didn't think they were capable of. Because once they've done them and found they are capable of doing them, then it really gives them the confidence they can succeed. And they will go on to do great things.

Kim Forrester:   25:53
Those are two wonderful ways that we can lift and enhance the lives of others, and give them the confidence to perhaps step up and be of service to others, themselves. Jo Tyndall, it's been such an honour to be with you on this lovely, bright Singapore afternoon. Thank you so much for being part of the Eudaemonia podcast.

Jo Tyndall:   26:12
A pleasure. Thank you, Kim.

Kim Forrester:   26:14
According to Mahatma Gandhi, 'The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.' You've been listening to the Eudaemonia podcast. If you'd like to learn more about how to live a truly flourishing life, please subscribe and check out for more inspiring episodes. I'm Kim Forrester. Until next time, be well, be kind to yourself and enhance your happiness by being of service to others.