It’s time to take our world back…

create a better world

In “Finding Our Way Home” I will talk about where modern, western, British culture has gone wrong, and make some suggestions as to how we can find the home of our hearts.

Human Scale

Here in Bristol (UK) a couple of years ago a new shopping area was built. It’s called Cabot Circus. It’s not my kind of place. I think it (like the Mall at Cribbs Causeway) is supposed to replicate an American shopping mall. Never having been to America, I have no way of judging that. What I can judge is that it is not human scale. It is an attempt at creating a cathedral to spending money, and wasting time in it’s worship.

Also recently I have had to visit Southmead Hospital, a recent building that again is not human scale.

It is another cathedral, but to which god I cannot fathom, and whoever thought that sick and scared people want to enter a large impersonal foyer has probably never been ill.

As I move around Bristol I am struck again and again, that the new buildings put up in the last 10-15 years owe little to practicality and intended use, and much to being “impressive”.

These buildings are not intended to give us comfortable, reassuring, safe space. They are to impress and intimidate us.

Even new housing owes little to what makes people feel at home and secure. It is much more about fashion. This has been the case with housing since it became big business rather than personal endeavour.

Most inhabitants of modern western cultures do not believe they have the skills they need to build their own homes. They do not know history where the home you could build in one day on common land is yours.

I would imagine a great deal of time was spent before hand stockpiling materials, and gathering friends and family to help out on the day. And we can see how homes grew room by room as need arose (and materials became available), leading to some fantastically quirky houses.

Modern houses are not built to meet human needs, they are built to fit a stereotype. They are built with a “one size fits all” mentality. But none of us is a stereotype and most of us struggle to make our homes work in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves.

And when you step outside? Do you feel uplifted? I can pretty much guarantee that, if you live in an urban area like me, you don’t. With grey and beige as the predominant colours, even with the unusually high proportion of green space in Bristol, much is depressing and demoralising.

The temporary escape to the local park is a lifeline, but all around is grey and noisy and the wrong scale. Cities are not human scale, people need open space to catch their thoughts and breath.

Further reading:

Small Is Beautiful – E F Schumacher

Human Scale – Kirkpatrick Sale

Permaculture Magazine (http://www.permaculture.co.uk/)

Transition Network (https://www.transitionnetwork.org/)

What is Home?

On a personal level we all think we know what home is. But home means many things, and for some people it is not a happy place. I believe that home should be a safe place where you can be totally at ease and comfortable.

There is an obvious flaw in this belief. Home is often a place you share with other people, and no one can can always get on with their house mates (family, or otherwise). So, however lovely the people you share your home with are, there will be moments of tension.

But some people live in a state of almost constant tension because of their house mates. This is not a happy or healthy way to live. I, for one, think that most people should be able to have happy and healthy homes.

So, what can we do to help people whose homes are neither. Well, I suppose we could expose them to the idea of a happy and healthy home. But, if we do this, it is important to not judge or put pressure on people who may already feel bad about themselves.

This is an area I have problems with, I have a tendency to be judgemental, and I sometimes forget that my answers might work for me, but they may well not work for other people.

Before I go any further I want to talk about living alone. Living alone is not a bad thing when it is your choice, when it gives you time and space to do things that feed you emotionally, when you still have contact with friends (and strangers who may become friends).

Living alone is a form of torture when it is a choice made from fear or the belief that you are unlovable. No one is unlovable, it is a matter of finding the right person to love you, who you can love back. Coming home to a house that is always empty can be dreadfully lonely, or it can be a haven.

It can be a really useful learning experience to live alone. It is an opportunity to learn about ones own priorities without outside influence. It is an experience that many people would benefit from, even if they only did it briefly.

When living with other people something to bear in mind is that each person experiences their home differently. You might find your home environment happy, warm and nourishing. You cannot be sure that it is the same for your house mate/s.

One person’s delight is another person’s torture. For example: some people like to have loud music playing from the moment they wake up; others like to sit in silence as they come to (of course this could be the same person on a different day).

When someone else in your household does something that you cannot avoid being part of it can either be an inclusive experience, or, a bloody annoyance. This is a frequent experience for parents, it is normal for children to assume your inclusion without seeing a need to check in with you about it’s appropriateness or desirability. Parents can hope that over time their children will learn some sensitivity to other people’s moods and needs.

But many of us struggle with being sensitive right into our adult years, either because we have isolated ourselves as much as possible; or, because the people we have lived with have not been honest with us about their feelings (some times because they are not honest with themselves).

Living happily with other people is partly about choosing the right people to live with, and partly about developing both tolerance of, and sensitivity to, their moods and behaviours. Sensitivity to know when to approach (or not), and also, how to approach. Tolerance, to understand that their behaviour is for a reason, and that reason may have nothing to do with their current situation. And in the hope that they will be tolerant of us.

Wishing happy homes to everyone!

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.

Balance, ah, balance

Gandhi said that we should be the change that we want to see. It’s a wonderful sentiment. I love Gandhi for his strength and his gentleness. But it asks a lot of a person to live up to his pronouncements. He is not offering any of us an easy life, and maybe that is part of his attraction. We know we aren’t really meant for an easy life. It makes us nervous and uncomfortable when that’s what we choose.

I’m not saying we all should have difficult lives, too many people have to struggle to survive awful situations. I’m just suggesting that maybe, as a risk taking, problem solving, species, we need a taste of risk, a grain of difficulty, to keep us feeling right with the world.

If you look at children who are brought up in risk free, sanitised homes, what do we find? Are these kids well adjusted, happy, great examples for their peers? I suspect not. We need many different forms of experience and stimulation to make us well rounded human beings. These children are deprived of some essential opportunities.

To grub around in the mud is a wonderful play time and learning experience for any small child. To meet people from different backgrounds can give huge insight and humility. To be exposed to normal human interaction, in (nearly) all it’s glories, helps us realise what is important and what is not. But we need a safe place to retreat to to analyse and absorb these lessons.

Our home should be that place. It’s very sad that it frequently is not. Too many people have children because they had sex, rather than because they thought about the risks and rewards of parenthood. Too many people have children because… they want to… with no thought of the responsibilities of parenthood. Too many people repeat what their parents did with no thought of the effect it had on them and their siblings.

No child asks to be born. If you did not choose to be a parent, you need to think about why you allowed yourself to become one. If you have chosen to be a parent you need to think about why. To my mind it is a privilege and a responsibility to be a parent, and once you have become one I think you should put your child’s needs first.

That’s a lot more difficult and complicated than it sounds. Your children will not be learning what you think you are teaching them. They will be learning something you do rather than what you say, so it’s important to be a role model as well as a parent. It’s important to think about just what your behaviour toward your children is really teaching them.

Privileged children learn that many things can be bought, but they struggle to learn the real value of anything. Parents who spend huge amounts of money on gifts for their children without spending time with them are teaching their children a variety of things, firstly that they think money is more important than spending time with people, that spending time making money is more important than relationships… do you see what I’m driving at?

It is our responsibility to give our children what they need, not what they want, not even what we think they want. What they need is our unconditional love, but NOT our unconditional indulgence. They need to be respected as individual human beings, but they also need to learn that we deserve some of that respect as well. It’s all about balance.

Life is all about balance, give and take, win and lose, being centred and happy with who we are without being self-satisfied and self-serving.

Ah, balance.