Common Sense?

As I said on facebook the other day, “common sense truly is the least common of all senses”. I feel honoured to have many friends who do possess it, but I am afraid we may be in a minority. I find it sad to see so many people are drawn to prejudice and discrimination, I think it is because they lack feelings of self confidence and self worth.

At the moment this world is a dreadful mess. There are so many unhappy people. People who should have no cause to be unhappy. I often feel I should be doing more, doing better, or at least doing different.
But I find every day is a struggle, as it is for most people. We all do the best we can, we don’t have the emotional, let alone financial, resources to do better.

When we look hard enough we can see that our governments keep us under pressure and isolate us as much as they can. It means we don’t have the resources to do anything about them or the systems they attempt to impose on us.
Currently our system seems to attempt to destroy self confidence and feelings of self worth, self respect etc. especially in the young. The education system is under constant pressure to under educate and undervalue the very people it should be supporting and building up.
The welfare system is designed in such a way that it is difficult for people to get the benefits they are entitled to. There is no automatic payment of entitlement, but a constant stream of hurdles and disruptions, that make survival all some people can manage (and others can’t even manage that).

This is all backed by a political system which doesn’t penalize those who deliberately misuse their power. They see their system as a fair entitlement, even though they have far greater resources at their disposal than the people they vilify and demonise. The slackers and the shirkers are not in the grass roots, they are at the “top”.

Added to a corrupt and self-serving government we have a media that has bought titillation over information. Over the last nearly one hundred years, since the inception of the BBC in the UK, the televisual media has moved further and further from it’s stated aims of informing and educating. Instead of revelling in the huge variety of audiences that are available to them, they have constantly focused more and more on the lowest common denominator. Instead of inspiring, TV is numbing. And they wonder why their popularity is waning.
We are immensely complex beings when we are allowed to be. For our mental health we need to indulge in a variety of activities and interests. We are multi-dimensional beings, not cogs in a big machine. But there is so little recognition of this that it is not surprising that many people feel they have no interest in the culture that they live in.

What we see from the people who should have our interests at heart is basic divide and rule philosophy. This is typical short term, short sighted thinking. We are all human and we are all in this boat together. Sometimes we need specific space to work through issues, but male, female, young, old, gay, straight, any skin colour, any physical or mental health problems (or lack of them), any religious affiliation (or not) we are on this beautiful planet together. and we need to see where we have shared interests in keeping both ourselves and our planet alive and thriving.

To counter all this negativity, all these attempts to drive us apart, all this pressure to conform to a more and more limited selection of stereotypes, we need to combine and subvert. We can do that. We will all benefit from doing that. And, we can do that with love and forgiveness in our hearts. Forgiveness for those who did not understand, did not see. They have problems and demons that make their lives too difficult to look up, to see the bigger picture.

Understanding will have to serve for those who did what they have done, who have been short sighted and selfish, with awareness and deliberation. And that understanding will give us a starting place to build our society so that such people can never hold positions of power again.

We can build a better, more loving world, we need to do that firstly by taking responsibility for ourselves. So many people seem not to be aware that only I am responsible for my actions, no one else is; I am not responsible for anyone else’s actions, they are.

In all honesty I can’t make you do anything you really don’t want to, and you can’t make me do anything. We can exert pressure on each other that may make us feel that we have to, but everyone has a sticking point, beyond which they will not be pushed.

If we talk to each other, if we are willing to see each other as valid human beings, we can learn new things, not by force, but by negotiation, mutual understanding, and, compromise (compromise is not a dirty word, unless you are talking about compromising your moral stand point).
Compromise is how humans (and many other animals) get on. It is meeting in the middle and everyone giving a little bit of ground, so that no one is standing on anyone else’s toes. Give and take, balance, mutual respect…

That has to be a good starting point. It seems like common sense.

Happy And Healthy

So, I’m thinking the question is “what does a human being really need in order to have a happy and healthy life?”.

I’m guessing most people would include different things. But let’s start with the real basics like access to enough food to maintain health, and preferably a shelter that would protect from the worst vagaries of the local weather.

The question is what else do we actually need? I think we need people around us, to love, support and challenge us. I think we also need activities to give us a sense of purpose and usefulness. We need self respect and a small dollop of self reliance. We also need beauty, maybe human made, maybe nature.

For me, that covers pretty much everything. The interesting bit is how we go about meeting those needs. At the moment, in most industrialised societies, not all of those needs are being met. People are increasingly isolated, they interact with others via computers, missing out on the joys and challenges of face to face interaction. And like many skills, the less you do it, the less confidence you have in your ability to do it, so the more you avoid it.

People are a challenge, and a delight. A hug from a good friend is more health giving than a bushel of veggies or fruit (fresh veggies and fruit are very good for you). But, in Britain, my generation are pretty much the first generation that have not grown any fruit or vegetables as a matter of course, to supplement that which we buy. We have already lost many of the skills that previous generations took for granted.

The health giving virtues of growing your own, are not just contained in the goodness of the food, they also stem from the confidence, self respect and self reliance that comes from having done it yourself.

Having the skills and ability to build your own shelter, is another great confidence boost. I’m not suggesting that any one person should have all of every skill, this is why we need communities. We all have strengths in different areas, we need a community of people we can rely on, who can rely on us. So that between us we have most possibilities covered.

No one skill is more important than another, they all have their place… we need thinkers and planners and doers and makers: cooks; washers; diggers; builders; carvers; knitters; needle workers; gardeners; dreamers; story tellers; weavers; negotiators; the list is very long. Some people will have more than one skill, that still doesn’t make them more valuable. Hierarchy is a nasty, divisive way of thinking.

Mutual respect is much healthier. It needs to be part of the new story we are all trying to write for the future. We need a healthier, happier future. One with fewer unnecessary distractions and divisions in it. One where each one of us is valued as a whole human being.

But I’m not going to let that stop me

I hate living in a city. It’s almost as if there is an inverse relationship between the population density and the friendliness of the people that you meet. Perhaps people feel overwhelmed by the number of potential friendship they could have and just shut down because they can’t cope. Perhaps this culture of envy and fear makes people afraid and hostile. Perhaps this culture that focuses on all the bad things and seldom even mentions the good things make people unhappy and shut off.

Anyway, whatever it is, I’m not having it! I know people don’t like it, but I’m going to smile at strangers; I’m going to talk to people I don’t know; I’m going to complement anyone I think deserves it. Tough.

I will not allow this world to twist me any more. It’s my life and I WILL smile, laugh and find beauty. Even when the media and political system make me both furious and sad. Even when personal tragedy hits I WILL work on the good memories.

There is always a primrose in flower, always a hint of blue sky, always a friend who will give you a hug when you need it. You might have to look for a good thing, you might have to wait an extra day, but it is there.

I’ve struggled ever since I came to the city. I’ve met some really nice people, but very few of them have been prepared to be friends. I lived in rural Cornwall before I came here and friendships just sort of grew, naturally.

I find the way some people won’t let friendship grow, peculiar. I find the way some people won’t even meet your eyes, offensive. I find the way some people pretend you didn’t just talk to them, infuriating.

But I’m not going to let that stop me.

Smile!

In this day of insanity, as so many days before, we need to hold fast to what we know to be right. We are all human beings first, even before the beliefs and experiences that lead us to feel we are different. We survived on this planet long before anyone invented money, and we will do so again, after money has faded away as a bad memory.

We have changed the way we live our lives to a point where we have little contact with the truths that previous generations understood deep in their bones. The reality that life is nasty, brutish and short, life is part of a cycle. In the midst of life we are in death. Tragic but unavoidable.

Last night I watch the faces of the people on their way home after work. There wasn’t a single smile. This is not what peoples lives should be. If you find you don’t smile on your way home, at least at the thought of what is waiting for you there, there is something fundamentally wrong with your life.

When you understand the truths of the natural world, you also understand that it is important to make your life as rich (not materially, but emotionally) as possible. To make sure you smile as often as possible; to be creative whenever you can; to be out in nature whenever possible; to often be with caring, interesting people; to be alone, at peace, when you can; to pursue things that interest you; to help others; to do mundane jobs when they need doing; to learn new things; this kind of variety all helps to make your life richer.

When I was a child I had little self confidence, I was also painfully shy. I had firstly to learn that I could stand on my own two feet, that I was capable of looking after, not just myself, but also others. That I was capable of at least as much as most other people.

Secondly, I learned that I didn’t need to be shy. Many people are only interested in themselves, they tend not to even see other people as real. People who are interested in you fall into two camps, those who are genuinely nice people, and those who need to use you to prop themselves up. The only ones whose opinion you need to care about are the genuinely nice people, and you don’t need to be shy with them, they’re not judging you.

We need to re-root ourselves both in nature and in genuine, caring relationships. We need to relearn that we are capable beings with abilities we would never have guessed if we hadn’t actually tried them.

We also need to step away from the awareness that there are so many people out there who know so much more than we do. All that awareness brings us is insecurity. We don’t need to be insecure. Insecurity is a wedge between people, it pushes us apart. It means that instead of valuing what we’ve got, we focus on what others have, or have achieved.

Each of us has a unique way of bringing things together, a unique way of looking at things, we can all create ripples, not tidal waves. But ripples can travel far and, if repeated often enough, create real change.

So, smile! You have much to smile about. Create ripples, the world needs to change, more now than for many generations. Be the change you want to see, and be joyful about it.

Responsible

I am responsible for my life, incontrovertible and undeniable. But once again, misleading. I am, as is everyone else, the product of the socialization I received when I was a child. Those early experiences and understandings have been modified and/or built on by later experiences.

I consider myself to have been very fortunate to have been in receipt of counselling for extended periods in my life. That process helped me to question some of the things I held to be true when I was younger, it helped me to evaluate my childhood coping strategies and decide whether they worked for me as an adult.

Counselling also gave me a much greater awareness of my responsibility for myself and my actions, as well as highlighting the things that are not my problems. I learned that I, and only I, am responsible for my actions. When I undertake and action I am not proud of, it is still my action, my responsibility, but if I work at understanding why I have done that thing I may firstly be able to forgive myself (to the same degree as I would forgive someone else), and secondly I might be able to work towards not repeating such an action.

As a young adult I frequently struggled with making my own decisions. I felt I should comply with parental pressure. I should do what my parents wanted, otherwise I was letting them down. It took me many years to realise that that isn’t the issue, the only person I should, at any time, worry about letting down is myself.

This does not mean other people are not important, of course they are, especially parents, but if we do not respect ourselves enough to take responsibility for our own choices and our own actions, if we do not respect ourselves enough to make our own choices and to act according to those choices, then our parents have not taught us the things they needed to.

They are not necessarily bad parents, they just didn’t teach us the level of self-respect or self-reliance we need (probably because of their own problems). The only person you can truly take care of is yourself, you can offer to look after other people, but they can reject that offer, it is their right. And if they do reject that offer it does not mean they are rejecting you. If they accept that offer, they will probably only accept it in part, and they will quite likely resent the fact that they have given you responsibility for something that is rightfully theirs.

Our culture has twisted so many things, it has told us that being responsible is boring. There is nothing boring about being responsible. Being responsible is part of being fully alive, it is part of engaging with life to the fullest possible extent. It is avoiding hiding behind other people, it is about learning how to be who you are, and liking it.

People are our lives

I have a small problem with one of my shoulders. It’s not serious, most of the time it’s little more than uncomfortable, occasionally it’s painful. The doctor and consultant both want me to have physiotherapy. The local hospital can do it, but I have to wait “up to 26 weeks” before they will send me a letter inviting me to contact them to make an appointment.

So if you were wondering about how meaningful targets on waiting times are, I think I can confidently say, they are completely meaningless.

Now, I’m not criticising the people who devised this wonderfully creative way of keeping them and their staff out of the shit, I know how creative one can get when backed into a corner, I’m criticising the nonsense way of approaching health care as if it is a business rather than a service.

I believe the main reason that the NHS and all the other services are struggling so much is because they have been shorn of their most valuable resource, staff.

Business theory is that employees are your greatest expense, and that if you can “downsize” your staff then you will make more profit. This only works in businesses where the staff are not committed to their work, where they do not work because they love what they are doing, but where they work because they “have to”. And even then it only works in a very limited way.

For a service where care of other people is the raison d’etre most staff work because they care, then when they are put under pressure to work as if it is a business they lose their will to do anything very much.

As in so many other areas, the problem is much more with government and management psychology rather than the service itself. So much of modern life revolves around the mistaken belief that money and economic theory (and it is only a theory) rather than the knowledge that people are important… There’s not a society, a family, only the rest of nature, without people.

People are our lives: community; care; consideration; sympathy; empathy; friendship; love; without these things, we are nothing.

Role Models – Episode 1

I am very lucky to have known a number of very lovely people through out my life. Generous, empathetic people. People who cared about others. Before I was born my parents took in a couple of youngsters who had problems at home. I know who they were, I know very few other details. I know my parents did the right thing for the right reasons.

My father cared about other people, he would cry (and I’m very proud of him for that) whenever he heard or saw anything about a child suffering. He was over-protective of his family, but we forgave him, because we knew he loved us.

He couldn’t bear to hear of any kind of injustice, and would get furiously angry about all sorts of things. But I can’t remember a single occasion when he got angry with me.

He was lovely, difficult, but lovely. He has been dead for 30 years now. I still miss him every day.

My first mother-in-law was also lovely. She was smart and generous and would always give people the benefit of the doubt. And if they proved they didn’t deserve it she wouldn’t bad mouth them, she just wouldn’t have anything to do with them.

She was good to me, she stood up for me when I left her son. She understood that I respected her for having made choices I couldn’t make, and I believe that she respected me for having made choices she couldn’t.

She had an understanding of human nature that more people should share. She was tolerant and that which should be tolerated (we’re none of us perfect) and angry at that which was wrong, though she was more likely to be angry at the behaviour than the person.

She’s been dead for 15 years now, and I still miss her too.

The other person I want to talk about was my great grand mother. She was 80 when I was born. She was bloody minded, awkward, and delightful.

My favourite memory of her, is visiting her with my mum when I was very small. She had a big, old fashioned, wooden, adjustable armchair. She was under 5 feet tall, she had a hunched back from osteoporosis, and she was quite frail. I can remember her picking up the wooden armchair, turning it through 90 degrees and collapsing into it. She then said to my mother “… dear, do you think you could make the tea? Because I don’t think I can manage it.”

She lived until she was 100 years old. She was always a sharp as a knife and knew her own mind. In her own way she was as tough as they come. I have many happy memories of her. I said when I was a child that if I was going to take after any member of my family I wanted to be like her.

I don’t dare ask… 🙂

Good to Talk

Some people bring out the best in us, some people bring out the worst. Some people build us up, others bring us down. Sometimes we get it wrong about who does what.

In recent years I have had a crash course in the effects that the wrong people can have on our mental and physical well being. Firstly directly, and then indirectly. There really are toxic people out there, they make you sick, some of them don’t even realize that they have that effect on the people around them.

Some people are born with their brain short-circuited so that they cannot interact with other people in a healthy way, other people are so damaged by the people that they grew up with that they cannot stop themselves from damaging others. These people leave a trail of pain and destruction in their wake.

They don’t necessarily mean to. They just don’t know how to operate in a healthy, positive way. Some even convince themselves and the people around them that they are ok, that they are healthy and helpful human beings. Let’s face it, if you convince yourself first, everyone else is a doddle.

These are people to be pitied, they are in pain even if they can’t acknowledge it. They are still to be avoided. They need professional help, well meaning amateurs will find they have been drawn in and are being manipulated (professionals will not necessarily be immune to the manipulation, but it is their job, and they should make sure they have a decent support network to counteract the problems they come across).

So, if someone tries to undermine your self-confidence, even by extremely subtle means, be wary. If you find that a lot of your friendships have fallen apart since you met a new person, question why. Is it that you were ready to move on from your old friends? Or is it that this new person is trying to isolate you so that you have no one to call on? If you’re not sure, what does that tell you?

What do you make of it if someone has a knack for saying two words that then upset you for the rest of the day? Is it you that has a problem, or is it them? And if you think you have a mental health problem, please, please, please, don’t be afraid to talk about it.

Many years ago my teenage daughter said to me “everyone is messed up, in one way or another”. She wasn’t far wrong, we all of us have faults and weaknesses. Some can be worked out with just some life experience and one or two really good friends. Others need years of struggle, some even need medication (though I would always hesitate to take medication, it often treats symptoms rather than causes).

Be careful of your mental health, at least as careful as you are of your physical health. Be as kind and gentle with yourself as you would be of anyone else. And if you’re not kind and gentle with anyone, ask yourself why not. What are you so hurt and angry about? Perhaps your life would be happier if you could lose some of that anger? Perhaps it would be good to talk?