Thursday, 27 July 2017

Avoiding The Echo Chamber

Throughout the latter part of my life, I have found that I have learned an awful lot from people with whom I might disagree. By way of example, when I was an evangelical Christian I made a special effort to engage with atheists, with their most prominent voices, with a view to not only just fine tuning my own arguments, but in order to better understand theirs. You see, I was living in an echo chamber, surrounding myself with voices that agreed with me. This is no way to live. No fast track to growth. The outcome was that I rejected Christianity and set upon a path which resulted in me becoming a passionate critic of all religious ideas. Please note that i specifically use the word “ideas” rather than “people”. And this matters. Yet over the past decade I’ve noticed this really odd thing happening, a kind of entrenchment and protectionism from ideas that might hurt the feelings of others. This to me seems deranged. It seems a near perfect way to insulate one’s self from anything that might disrupt what a person already thinks. How does that equal growth? Another thing I’ve seen is a concerted effort on the part of some on the regressive left to actively seek to silence voices of dissent. Preventing certain persons from speaking at universities and college campuses. Aren’t these places meant to be seats of learning? Isn’t a university the perfect environment in which we can refine our views and test them against alternatives? Why would any fair minded person not want this, or actively seek to curtail certain voices of dissent? This phenomenon is particularly bad in the United States, but we see it here, too. And it worries me. The notion that we want to protect ourselves from having to think another way, to revise our knowledge, to change. God forbid. How does this happen?
Irrespective, we should pull the plug on this nonsense. Just a few short centuries back the great enlightenment thinkers, whom risked their very lives to open up new avenues of discourse, paved the way for great social change, and began what was a great movement in which new thinkers could safely revolutionise whole nations. And our freedoms are built upon their immense sacrifice. It worries me that we seem to be going in a different direction, and I doubt anything good can come from the balkanisation of our thoughts. Dear friends, colleagues, and strangers. Get out there and engage with those whom think a different way. Challenge what you think you know. See how it holds up to hostile voices. And if the evidence requires you to change then change you must. To do otherwise is a bit feeble minded, a bit cowardly. Growth can be painful, and disquieting, and traumatic. But stagnation to me seems worse. Nothing good comes from inertia.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

An Open Letter To My Daughter

I woke up at 0530 this morning. I went downstairs and looked out of the window. It had been raining but the sky was blue, the same kind of blue that I recall from this same time and day 16 years ago. I was stood somewhere different then. Outside the maternity wing of my local hospital. I was ashen faced, perhaps a little bewildered. And more than that, I was a freshly minted Dad. As I stood staring upwards into an azure blue sky, I knew with ever fibre of my being that henceforth, no matter what I achieved in life nothing would best this achievement. I mean, with a little help from my wife we'd made a new person. A little person. Actually an odd Phil Collins/Winston Churchill/Gollum lookalike. Those first moments after the birth are moving in a way I find hard to describe. Holly was placed on Joy's tummy, and you get to see millions of years of evolution played out real time as she rooted her way towards the breast. It's an incredible moment, an instance where new life and deep time seem to merge.
And now here I am 16 years later. Holly is finishing her GCSE's, and is an accomplished and creative and acutely self aware young lady. It's no small irony that later today we are going to see Wonder Woman at the cinema. She will always be a wonder to me, as will Lowenna, my gorgeously creative 12 year old. I could talk in cliche from this point on, wax lyrical about how I have made life, but isn't it the case that once you become a parent your kids actually begin to make you? They provide us with a daily choice as to the kind of people we want to be. Am I going to be a role model or a pressure point? A place of safety or something to fear? Well I'm on the liberal side of parenthood, and tend to give my girls room to breath and to discover who they are. I never want to crush them with expectation or scaremonger them. Whilst the world can be scary place it also remains a place of deep wonder. What a canvas they have in which to decide the kind of people they want to be. I encourage them to be brave, to be bold, to expect respect and good treatment from others. Working as I do in law and order I see destructive and corrosive relationships on a daily basis, and I try very hard to instil in both Holly and Lowenna a sense of self worth. And I hope I've taught them the value of laughter and of seeing the humour in life. Of course I cannot mention parenthood without doffing my cap to the other lady in my life, to one whom I affectionately refer to as "The Lady Of The House". She is an astonishing mother, passionate about giving our girls roots and wings, as the saying goes. She is the engine room, the one around which we orbit, and no words I venture could give sufficient credit. But as always I digress. Today is about Holly. 16 year old Holly. To her I say only this; you have been a wonder to me. I have seen you grow and change and fight all the battles that young adolescents have to. And your are winning. You are finding yourself. You have a quiet intellect that hints at a deep mind. You think about the world and your place in it. Be brave, young lady. Not quite fearless, because sometimes a little fear is productive. But never allow yourself to become discouraged by life's injustices and often unkindness. Forge a higher path; go high when others go low; look outward when the world looks in. Be inspired and inspire others. And know in your heart that you are loved and treasured and valued by your silly old Dad.

Friday, 2 June 2017

My Kind Of Britain

Over the last few weeks I have listened. I have pondered. I have struggled. Like many, I've tried to look beyond the rhetoric and the spin and the grandiose claims. There's statistics everywhere, claims and justifications and probably outright lies in some cases. So I'm doing a simple thing; I'm stripping it all back to the marrow and I will be voting based on the only principle I can get my head around. And that is simply to ask myself what kind of Britain do I want to inhabit?
A kind Britain. An outward looking Britain. A Britain that is not afraid to engage with itself and with others. More than than that, I want a country that has a heart, a soul, and a compassion for those needing it most. So this means I cannot vote for Theresa May. I just can't. I cannot support a party that seems unable to get that kindness must sit at the heart of the decision making process. One that sits aloof as so many feel the weight of oppression on their backs. Nor can I vote for Tim Fallon, whom seems to lack a certain something, be it core strength, or perhaps just the kind of personality that sweeps people forward. I just do not see leadership when I look at him, despite sensing that his basic values are good. All of which leaves Jeremy, whom I think is probably incorrect on a great many things. Foreign policy appears to ignore basic facts, and his accountancy skills strike me as more than a little awry. Yet what I do see is kindness, an essential respect for human decency, and a desire to improve the lives of, dare I say it, the many not the few. I think he is going to get a lot of things wrong, and in some cases make some decisions that I would not wish to endorse. But I see humanity. Flawed humanity. And at the end of the day that is a quality I can subscribe to. I have been terribly harsh on him, and I still have plenty left in the tank on this front. But he is a fighter, he is persistent, and he does appear to have the demeanour of a servant rather than a master. And in a world of Trump and Putin and so many other power crazed leaders I think we need this. So I am, and this will come as a surprise to many, going the vote Labour. And probably not for reasons that are intellectual or that are based on hard numbers. This world needs kindness and compassion and a bigger heart. These are human values. And we are human beings. And for once I am keeping it simple. Perhaps I am naive. Or ill informed. Or idealistic in foolish ways. I'm just tired of the cruelty, and of the chest beating, and of the fear. Make of this what you will. . .

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Ground On Which I Stand

My father was blue collar through and through. He was born into a very poor family that lived in the Oving / North Marston area of Buckinghamshire. His toes were badly deformed due to having to wear hand me down shoes. Nothing came easy for him or his brothers, one of whom served time at her Majesty’s pleasure, whilst the other succumbed to the bottle and found his life brought to an abrupt halt further to wandering drunk into the path of an oncoming train. My father was good with numbers, and had wanted to be an accountant. Yet his father would not let him, instead forcing him to continue to work as a painter and decorator, a career from which he never managed to escape. He had his faults, but he had an admirable work ethic. He worked long, hard, and over the course of many years lifted his family out of what could easily have become poverty. I say all the above because I want you to understand the ground on which I stand. Put simply, I’m from a world where nothing is taken for granted. I have no sense of entitlement. The universe owes me neither happiness or wealth or long life. If I want anything to happen I take the view that I have to make it so. If I fail I own the failure. If I succeed, likewise. I’m Buckinghamshire born and bred; the classic country boy in any meaningful sense. Thanks to my hard working Father I had a stable and well fed childhood; we never missed a meal and never went to school in rags. I owe him much. Now taking all the above into account you might think my political views err towards the traditional working class. I’ve got Labour stamped all over me. Yet truth be told I’m more blue than red, although I would not say I align with any fixed political ideal. I know only that I have to take responsibility for my life; I recognise that having had children it is my responsibility to raise them and care for them and instill into them a sense of self worth. I don’t want benefits, a hand out, and I do not assume the powers that be owe me a thing. For good or ill I shall take care of all that. Or at least as much as it is within my power. Next month the nation once again goes to the polls as we elect a new government. None of the major parties speak for me. I find myself happily alienated from the whole carnival. For the first time ever I’m seriously considering not voting. I have no desire to support Labour, with their inability to balance budgets and culture of entitlement. And the Conservatives just seem plain mean, subsidizing the wealthy on the back of the working class. There’s just no sensible centrist voice that I can subscribe to. Everybody wants to shout the other down. So I think I might just sit this one out, and just do my best to stand or fall by my own hands. I’m just a working class lad who wants to pay his taxes, raise his kids, love his wife and do a little bit to make my own sphere of influence positive. That’s it. That’s the master plan. So I’m going to sit back and watch social media, suddenly awash with political commentary, reduce to all heat and light. Abuse, ridicule, sound bites. I want none of it. I’m simply not playing this game. I’m bored with it.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Own it. Change it.

Retiring Judge Lindsey Kushner issued a carefully worded piece of advice towards women recently. She stated simply that women whom get drunk are putting themselves in danger of being targeted by rapists. She acknowledges that women are “Entitled to drink themselves into the ground”, but that their behaviour could put them in danger. She goes to great lengths to acknowledge that they remain victims, and that they would not be responsible for any subsequent attack. This to me is simple common sense, but of course a certain sub section of the regressive left will scream that she is victim shaming for having the temerity to suggest that they might want to consider mitigating risk.

Scenario; if I go out and get completely drunk, and end up passing out and incoherent, I have made a personal choice to do so. If, when I awaken I discover I have been the victim of a predatory sexual assault then I am of course the victim and in no way to blame. But could I really suggest that I couldn’t have done more to stay safe? Have I not made a choice to surrender my faculties? Would I have been targeted had I been just a bit more self controlled? I think not. And I think I would have to own that choice. This to me is simple common sense. Simple personal self responsibility. I have to own that. Which brings me to a wider concern. We seem to live in a society where we are very quick to project our failings onto others. I fear that sometimes we make excuses when we should perhaps take ownership. And I think that a person whom projects actually cripples themselves and abdicates control of their own destiny. There are many things in life over which I have no control, but there is much I can and should do to increase my chances of flourishing and learning from experience. Even if something isn’t my fault, I can still choose to learn from it. I can own the consequences even if I cannot change the elements which bought them about. As such, I choose to do so. I choose to own my life, to accept that I have a responsibility to turn every experience into a learning exercise. Why would I not want to do that? Why would I not want to take control of my own destiny? What do I gain if I choose not to do so? People who project are, in my view, people whom are less likely to change themselves for the better when faced with life’s slings and arrows. I can empathise with your difficulties, but I cannot endorse the choice not to take personal self control. Even when it is hard. Even when it hurts.
None of what I suggest here is victim shaming. In fact quite the opposite. It is a call to arms, a call to rise above that which would take the wind from our sails. I can see no obvious reason not to do so.

Monday, 27 February 2017

I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues

1st March tomorrow. It’s been a long time coming. Perhaps it’s just me, but as winter drags on I find the going harder and harder. I don’t know whether I get seasonal adjustment disorder, but I do know I love the feel of the sun on my face, the warmth, and being able to stand outside and stare into clear blue skies. I don’t expect I am alone in this, so today is a shout out to those who also struggle with the long dark evenings, the cold weather, the damp underfoot. Give me sunrise at 0440, and sunset at 2200. Give me spring growth, new life, the buds unfurling. I want the feel of the grass beneath my feet, scrunching and opening my toes. I want to feel that sense of new beginning. Unlike some I don’t think I have ever been clinically depressed, but come January and February I do really find myself struggling. I want to have the windows and the doors open, to sleep with a light duvet with my arms and legs hanging out. I want to walk downstairs stark naked at 0400 in the morning and get a funny look from the dog. No need to have the heating on, no need to go out with a coat. Is it me or is it just that bit easier to be spontaneous when you don’t have to think about layers and hats and gloves? I’m a person who needs to breathe, who needs to look up and see a sky arcing outward for miles. I feel alive, alert, less inclined to moan. I’m just a summer kind of guy.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

An Expectation Free Zone

I've come to accept that I am 100 percent responsible for my own happiness. I've come to accept, after a fairly long process, that to expect too much from others is unrealistic. Perhaps unfair, even. I've kind of even taken a zero expectation approach, because this at least removes the pressure from everyone else. You are not responsible for my happiness, my hopes, my psychological wellbeing. You are not responsible for my dreams, my ideals, my crazy tangents. You're off the hook. You're free. You owe me nothing. I wonder whether we sometimes lay excessive expectation at the feet of others, placing them in an impossible position? Perhaps we just expect too much from others in general? And when they "Let us down", we expose them to feelings of guilt and low self esteem? I wonder whether the kinder thing, the more realistic thing is simply to free others from all that? Its an open and unresolved question for me. The obvious risk is that we insulate ourselves from meaningful connections, perhaps shutting ourselves off from potential experiences that could make our lives richer? I can't honestly work out whether my perspective is born of cynicism or just the plain acceptance of the way the world is? I know that I do not want to guilt anybody into anything, or demand that they become something they are not. Perhaps there is no one answer? Could it be that much depends on the other person/person's within the equation?
Ultimately, I get to own my own experiences. I don't get to project my feelings. I'm responsible for dealing with my own issues. I'd be really interested in getting the thoughts of others on this. The waters muddy with me right now. I can't see so clearly.