Dominionist Marxists and Punching Basil in the Face

I’ve had a couple of strange things happen to me over the last couple of days.  After having read one of my previous posts someone accused me of being a Dominionist (or at least a thinly disguised Dominionist) and yet another person hurled Marxist in my direction. Well, how interesting. gop-jesus

So, here’s the almost ubiquitous anecdote.  When I was young, say about 16, and living in Manchester in the UK I met a guy playing guitar in the local park.  He was perhaps a couple of years older than me, he was Jamaican and had the most impressive dreads I’d ever seen.  We got talking, and he was a very easy, chilled person to talk to. We met up another couple of times over the following week or so and on one of those occasions Basil* walked me home.  We got to my front door and I discovered I’d forgotten my key, so naturally I rang the doorbell.  My dad** came to answer it.  He opened the door, took one look at Basil and punched him in the face, swiftly grabbed me, pulled me into the hallway and slammed the door shut.

I couldn’t really say exactly why he reacted that way.  Never a one to discuss his reasons he simply strode out to his shed, and seconds later the sound of hammering drifted into the house. (He spent a lot of time in the shed wielding tools).  Whether it was racism in action or another equally unacceptable motive that led my dad to behave like that will be forever a mystery.  What is certain though, is that punching that total stranger in the face was completely wrong, unprovoked and plainly downright weird.

It’s years since I first heard the mildly amusing quote “When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me” that is attributed to Oscar Wilde.  In my dad’s case, he often made a complete ass out of himself.  I’m pretty certain that so much assery was used for himself that there was little left for anyone else.  He had some pretty unconstructed views and opinions and never allowed facts or explanations to get in the way of his conclusion jumping.  I could say I learned an awful lot from my dad, but not in the way that he intended. Bottom

It seems that to my dad, and to many other people too, life was like one great big Rorschach Test and what he saw in the great big inkblot of life was much more a reflection of his own darkness than an analysis of the actual situation, person or event.

And so to the present day:  I don’t suppose that we should be too surprised to find that the practice of assumption-making is still alive and well and making asses on a daily basis.  Sometimes it seems to come from people’s desire to categorise – to place things and people and opinions in neat little boxes – that they fail to look at what is before them in a careful manner, instead, going for the brief glance, referral to previous experience or accepted pattern, quickly followed by dodgy conclusion. I suppose in some way it makes sense – like Pareidolia  – to quickly ascertain whether or not something or someone poses a threat to you by weighing up the “evidence” as you perceive it, comparing it to previous knowledge and responding accordingly.

In my case the experiences I had as a child, growing up with an Olympian of the conclusion-jumping world, led me to believe that careful examination in any situation is a very good idea.  It’s amazing how much you can find out and as a consequence, how much more enlightened you can be with a bit of probing, prodding and weighing up.  I don’t claim to be a genius researcher nor more naturally insightful than anyone else, but I feel that this particular “Protocol” has at least minimised my Bottom moments.

marx

PS Just as a clarification:  I say no to Dominionism for many reasons, not least because it involves a deity; also I say no to Marxism because I don’t like his beard.  If you can find an existing box to put me in, please let me know the shape of it in “Comments”.

*This is a made up name since my memory has failed me.

** My ADOPTIVE dad – no actual genetic relation!!

 

 

You’re Wrong Stephen Fry and the Marvellous Twerking Fascists

I wish it were true Stephen, truly I do.  So many of my wonderful left liberal friends say the same as you do, Mr Fry.  I have often thought one of the faults of the members of the well-meaning, well-heeled chattering classes is their inability to imagine what it is to be an ordinary mortal.  It seems, Stephen, that you make the same fundamental error as many have before and, no doubt, will make again.  You are quoted often, Stephen, but here is the particular “nugget” to which I refer.

Stephen Fry

“’For years mankind has been told what to think and what to believe by shamans, priests and ideologues. There is an alternative: free thought, trusting our ability to find out, investigate, question, and test according to repeatable, reliable evidence.”

Well here’s the thing: I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, a time that was socially unrecognisable from the first half of that century.  During my lifetime freedoms that would have once been considered controversial, if not dangerous, have become, quite rightly,  the norm.  In many ways I believe, at least as a British citizen, I have enjoyed a level of freedom completely unknown in recent human history. As for free thought, I have never once in my entire life been restricted in any way as regards to what I may or may not think.  Indeed I have also enjoyed an almost unrestricted right to speak freely too.  Aside from the “incitement” and “hate speech” laws I’m pretty much able to open my mouth, charge my quill or key my device and say pretty much what I damn well like.

I tell you Stephen – we already have the alternative you seem to feel is lacking.  Free thought? Trusting our ability to find out?  Of course, and of course again.  Both great ideas, and ones of which I have availed myself many a happy time. I have never been barred from entering a library back in the dark ages before the web and I have never been disallowed from searching freely on the internet; to question, to test and to look at reliable evidence has been a pleasure that has never diminished for me.

But here’s the rub: If you look at the top searches in the West, as reported by the giant Google, over the last several years you will see Miley Cyrus and twerking topping the list in many regions, with the top tens across our free world almost exclusively occupied by sports people and celebrities.  Seems to me, Stephen, that in the absence of religion and the like, vast swathes of the general Joe and Joanna are looking for someone to tell them what to do, how to dress, what to buy and what to think and are turning to the famous for guidance and to fill the gap that the now distrusted shamans, priests and ideologues may be leaving behind.  Personally I’m happy for the priests in all their manifestations to leave – they’ve had their chance and they blew it and often blew it up.

Miley

I think that is no accident that there seems to be a deep dissatisfaction simmering below the surface in the West and no amount of consumption is going to cure it, nor greater freedoms.  That is not to say that there are no tweaks (not twerks) that are still necessary to our laws and customs to completely ensure rights for all, but largely, from where I’m sitting in the glorious, democratic West, the view is pretty much unencumbered – not perfect, I know, but I see no oppressors on my horizon ready to shut down my thoughts, my investigations nor my questions.

I think that it is also no accident that great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi and Mandela are still held in such high regard. Were they ideologues? Certainly, the word “ideologue” has been used by you, Stephen, as a negative, but in fact, if you look at the absolute certainty these heroes of our modern age displayed in their beliefs, I think they may very well be described as such. To steadfastly defend an ideology in itself should not, in my opinion, be a cause for criticism, yet the term has frequently been used in both politics and general social commentary as a derogatory term.  Surely it is the content of the ideology that must be scrutinised and brought to account, and not the passion of its proponent or the force of its delivery. The meteoric rise of the far right in Europe in the last decade suggests to me that strong leadership is highly favoured by the public at large.  In France, where the popularity of the far right Marine le Pen is greater, at the moment, than any other politician running for election in 2017 gives a clear indication of what many political pundits already know. Content isn’t that important to the voting population at large.  Charisma, strength of delivery and apparent clear conviction wins the day.

For you Stephen, the idea of “forcing” your opinion on anyone, I am sure would be anathema.  So many of my wonderful, left liberal friends would feel the same, I’m willing to bet.  Whilst hoping to free us all, to send us into the world with our minds unfettered by the old guard, by religion and by the “bad” ideologues, you may simply be allowing the space to be filled by the vacuous and the hateful.

Personally, I yearn for the “good” ideologue- one whose ideals stem from a deep respect for humanity, common sense, science and ecology.  Please, Stephen, do not ask us all to do our own thinking.  We’ll probably give up too easily and simply turn to those who care not one jot about the morality of their ideals or about forcing their nasty, useless and often dangerous ideas upon us.

If you, the intelligent, the kind, the liberal, the charismatic idealists, abandon us in the name of “freeing our minds”, I fear we may soon all be marvellous twerking fascists.

Wimbledon, Welsh Neighbours and Large Silicon Breasts

We’d been living very happily in Cornwall for a number of years, making money writing music and supplementing that by cleaning holiday cottages.  We had a great view of the sea, lots of fun times and were surrounded by a friendly community.  Then there came a startling revelation.  At the time, there was a butter and beef mountain in Europe and as an act of largesse, the top knobs at the EU decided to distribute it amongst the poor.

Graham, being at that time on the parish council was asked to assess, by applying a rather long list of criteria, which the lucky recipients were to be.  Lo and behold! It included us.  We were so astonished that we went through all the criteria again, scrupulously applying them and found, yes, we were amongst the poor of the parish.  It appeared that we were considered, by this simplified calculation to be below the relative poverty line as defined at that time in Europe. It seems we were labouring under “social exclusion”, and showed “deprivation indicators”. Wow! And there was me thinking we were rich.

It really made me think about how we measure ourselves and how we measure status. I don’t think there can be any doubt at all that we humans are competitive by nature and that we are inclined to compare ourselves with others; we are after all social animals just like wolves, whales and meer cats and the like, who in order to fit in smell the same, sing the same or howl the same, whilst it’s still true that the fanciest feathers, the fiercest fighters or the most melodious tune gets the girl or to rule the roost.

As for we humans, you only have to look at the frenzy surrounding the World Cup or the slightly more restrained excitement around my own personal favourite the Wimbledon Tennis Championships to see how much we love competition. We love the gold, silver and bronze of it all.  Whilst we Brits are very fond of the underdog – and sportsmanship of course also means fair play – we love a winner too. As for comparison it is only too obvious how much we crave acceptance and being part of the group by looking at our buying habits especially in fashion and home decorating.

djorcovic wins wimbledon

All this isn’t in the least surprising since, back on the plains of Africa, we would have used certain indications, such as dress and manners, to indicate we belonged and were part of the group and to strengthen our social bonds, thus avoiding having a well sharpened stick or stone aimed at our suspiciously clad frames as we approached wearing a strangely draped loincloth.  Equally, being good at something, like running after antelope, wrestling wildebeest to the ground or gathering berries like a person possessed would earn us status and make us valuable to the rest of the tribe.

I read an article about happiness recently that advocated stopping comparing yourself to others, stating simply that trying to keep up with the Joneses – those ubiquitous Welsh neighbours to be found throughout the English-speaking world – would only lead to feeling discontented.  I cannot entirely agree.

First of all, I think that asking anybody to stop comparing yourself to others is like asking us to stop our pupils dilating when we see a picture of Channing Tatum in his swimming cozzie (is there a female equivalent? Imagine your own image, as appropriate).  We might not mean to do it, but it just happens, since those pupils have a mind of their own.  Whilst trying to keep up with the Joneses may be an endless and futile task if said Welsh neighbours are engaged in winning the consumerist’s rat race, checking how we are doing against some standards isn’t an altogether bad thing – as long as we first carefully choose which standards to use as a personal yardstick.

polyp_cartoon_Rat_Race

Can you imagine what a fantastic world it would be if we were competitively compassionate for example, checking ourselves against Mother Theresa and trying to go one better, or, instead of wearing an expensive watch to show the rest of the world how successful we are, we gave time to our local community.

I’d have no problem seeing people wearing T-shirts indicating the number of hours they’d spent helping others; it’s much more impressive than the gold Louis Moinet Meteoris.  How about some competitive life greening?  Rather than showing off how big your car is, how about shouting about how efficient it is?  Of course, to anyone who has read my blog before you’ll already know about my love of the bean-eaters.  Big, overflowing buffet?  Half a dead cow on a barbecue? How passé!

As Paul Simon said, back in the days of the dinosaurs “Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts”, and how we love to have celebrities to compare ourselves to.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see Beyoncé sporting an upcycled, organic cotton frock rather than a pair of silicon knockers?

beyonce breasts

To go back to the beef in the strange, plainly labelled tins – our gift from Europe; we had (quite rightly) been looking outside our geographical place, regional societal norms and perhaps outside our own era for comparison – using our own criteria make a judgement.

The forms we filled in said “You are poor”.  The forms were wrong.  (And the beef was fatty).

Magic Beans – that’s no Fairy Story and the China Syndrome

It’s 33 degrees today and I’ve had to abandon tying in tomatoes in the greenhouse.  On the way back to the relative cool of the house I stopped to admire my beans.  I love beans.  In fact I love pretty much all the legumes – but beans in particular – and not just for the fact that, as a veggie gardener, you can just leave them to climb away on a handy support all by themselves. Low maintenance indeed.  Fonda China Bean

I could say that beans play a big role in my happiness.  Really?  Yes, absolutely.  If you don’t mind applying a little bit of misty logic – which is by no means as naughty as muddy logic – you might say that beans and their cousins have helped me solve many of my ethical questions. 

If I had to list the things that concern me most I think the top four would look like this,

  • Environment, including all the sub-topics like habitat loss, acidification and all the well-known rest of it.
  • Ethical farming – or the lack of it
  • My physical health, and that of my family
  • My peace of mind aka mental health

but not necessarily in that order, since all those things are equally important to me.

You have probably gathered from reading my blog that I’m not the sort of person to hide my opinions under a bushel (partly because I don’t know what a bushel is) and so, any visitors to my place tend to get at least one of those “both barrels” if I see an opportunity to get out my soap box (And who doesn’t love a mixed metaphor?).  I should imagine that there have been at least a hundred occasions that I’ve had conversations around these subjects over the years, and probably almost as many occasions when someone has said to me something along the lines of “There’s not much I can do about it” seemingly because the problems seem so incredibly big.  Many times I have given people my opinion about that – often long-winded and fulsome as you like – and although I might have persuaded one or two I’m not sure how many of those missiles really hit the target.

So, here’s the anecdote (every good post should have one, probably).  I was talking to a young American woman who was staying at our place.  She was here to learn something about permaculture whilst touring around Europe.  During one conversation about climate change she brought in the “There’s not much I, as one little person in the great big world, can do about it”. (She also invoked what might be called the China Syndrome – but I’ll get to that in a minute!)

“Au contraire ma chere*” I said – we are after all in France.  All you have to do is eat more beans.  You’re done. You are completely covered. And everyone can do it.

*I didn’t actually say that, I’m using poetic licence.

I am not going to suggest that bringing on the beans would solve all the problems of the world, but I truly believe they can make a really substantial difference.beans mixed   

I’m going back to my top four and starting with the environment and all of that.  There is no doubt that the production of meat for human consumption has a severely detrimental effect on the environment – the stats are clear and undoubted (links for more info at the bottom of this post).  I see the problem right in front of my house.  Our lovely French neighbours raise organic cattle for beef and in order to feed them, use a substantial amount of their farm to grow the feed.  Organic we like, but to see the vast acres of field beans (yes beans!!) grown alongside the wheat to feed his lovely herd is a very sobering sight indeed.  The beans in this instance have a dual purpose; to feed the cattle and to fix nitrogen in the soil to help fertilise the it for the wheat.   

I like our neighbours and I think they like us, although he did look at me as if I was bonkers when I asked why he didn’t just eat the beans himself and cut out the middle-man (or perhaps I should say middle-cow).  By doing this you are getting your protein whilst reducing your environmental impact.  I’m not a vegetarian, but I am a “low animal product consumer”.  Eating more beans (and other legumes), which are much cheaper than meat means that I can now afford to buy free-range ethically farmed animals, just by eating less of it.  In fact, being lucky enough to raise chickens and tilapia myself I hardly buy any animal products at all. So there’s the second bullet point neatly sorted by the bean.

Although different research comes up with slightly different results it doesn’t seem to me to be at all surprising that the highest levels of cancer in men is to be found in France – http://www.wcrf.org/cancer_statistics/cancer_frequency.php  – since the French on average eat a staggering 100 kilos of meat each per year.  Although there is a lot of research still to be done it seems that there is most definitely a causal link between eating meat and well-being, particularly where certain cancers are concerned.  The richer the developing world gets, the more meat its population eats. Wealthy doesn’t have to mean unhealthy –taking the lazy option of demonstrating your success by the size of your steak might well mean you pay a high price for showing off.   (Links for more info at the bottom of this post).  Personally, I’m not going to bother waiting until all the data is collected and analysed, all the experiments are finished, all the peer reviewing is done. I’m eating more beans. 

To address my final bullet point – I am empowered by knowing I CAN and AM doing something to change the world.  However small that change may be, it is nonetheless a change for the better. Eating beans helps me to feel good about myself. I know I’m not eating a plateful of misery, the product from a life in captivity.  When I do eat meat I know I’ve helped support farmers who are committed to high welfare standards.  And when I eat one of my legendary bean burgers (legend in our house, anyway) I know I’m doing my body and mind a favour.  You don’t even have to be a brilliant cook to do it, Linda McCartney may very well be a long time gone, but her legacy lives on in many a supermarket aisle. 

Of course, for beans to be their most magic of all, growing them yourself is the best. I could say that the humble bean, along with all the other yummy veg, gets me outside in the sunshine for a gentle workout too.

As for the dreaded China Syndrome** ; I can’t tell you how many people seem to think it is useless doing anything about climate change because the Chinese are apparently building 4 million coal fired power stations every second.  We’ve all heard people say this, haven’t we?  That’s like saying, in a village that shares a water source, that if the bloke up the road is pouring poison in the water, you might as well pour some in yourself. Pah! Get the beans, grow the beans, eat the beans. Done.

** A medical condition whereby a person uses illogic to excuse inaction

https://woods.stanford.edu/environmental-venture-projects/consequences-increased-global-meat-consumption-global-environment

http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/meat-wastes-natural-resources/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/meat-and-environment/

http://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/diet-cancer/facts/meat-consumption-and-cancer-risk

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/03/04/the-protein-puzzle-meat-and-dairy-may-significantly-increase-cancer-risk/

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/806573 

 

Advertising and More from the Back-room Boys

I’m thinking about what I already know. And I’m pretty sure all of us in the western world know too.  I’ve spent this morning looking at research into happiness and the consumer society– anyone who has read my previous posts will already be aware that I’ve been thinking about this topic for about 25 years, but still, I like to have a look every now and then at what new research is saying. buy more shit

Thing is, it’s still saying the same things it was saying in the late 80s.  It’s still actually saying the same things we all already know.  We know these things by applying common sense, intuition and looking at the data.  We know.

I like simple answers, I really do, especially when it comes to finding solutions to very complex difficulties.  I well remember liking the concept (although I don’t remember the method) of rationalising an equation.  I might even have the idea wrong and have invented my own definition, but the idea of finding simple answers to life’s problems has great appeal.  For me, it’s about removing all the extraneous stuff (literally and metaphorically), that includes the doubting voices, the lame excuses and most particularly the bad influences and coming up with simple, achievable “protocols” that I believe enhance my life.

You know I like anecdotes, so here’s one.  I was talking recently to someone who has a lot of personal debt and a lot of personal possessions.  She’s depressed about it, and frankly, not on her own.  According to her own assessment her life seems to be dominated by buying things, storing things, paying mounting credit card bills, and feeling guilty.  It’s such a familiar story and really sad.  It’s not surprising that many people who pursue material prosperity often find themselves feeling, if not unhappy, not as happy as they had hoped.

Apparently, according to research, the least happy group of people in the west are aged 46, with men in that group being slightly less happy than women. If you want to read about this in depth, Google “happiness” and you will find thousands of articles and reports about and around this subject.  Interestingly, unlike many other “big” questions in life, almost everyone from psychologists to economists and back again agree that wealth and possessions, above a certain level do not make you happier.  It seems by the time we reach 46 our level of disillusionment has reached its zenith.  We in the west are likely to be at our most economically potent in early middle-age and yet it is at this point that we are unable to avoid the realisation that all our efforts have not led to Nirvana.   In fact, I would go so far as to say that we are fiddling while Rome burns – in other words, no matter how hard we try and ignore the mounting evidence that excess consumerism is literally killing us (our health and that of the environment) – perhaps by this age our inner doubts are too loud to ignore.

Of course there are the climate change deniers who tell us that we are not responsible for environmental damage, but surely the only people who believe the deniers are those who have a more sophisticated personal anti-guilt mechanism than that of the average consumer.  So, not only does buying and having (and throwing away) loads of “stuff” not lead to happy, I think it also makes us feel guilty. But you knew this already.  The young woman with a houseful of clothes and gadgets and expensive handbags knew this already, too.

I really believe in choice.  The trouble is that our consumerist world is built on a “choice” contradiction.  Back in the 50s when consumerism as we know it really took a hold we were led to believe that a free market, full of shiny new things, meant that we would have greater choice, and I can only assume that choice was meant to confer greater happiness on those who had it.  Advertising is a gazillion dollar industry, there to tell us exactly what our “choices” are.  There are banner ads, infomercials, native ads, embedded ads, fliers, hoardings and on and on and on all vying to get our attention.  It is the white noise that is the soundtrack to everyday life.

So we come to something else we all already know.  Advertisers use dissatisfaction to get you to buy things.  Happy people don’t buy as much as dissatisfied ones.  (Google advertising techniques if you want to get the detail – scary).

One voice that is quiet, if not entirely absent, in the clamour of voices shouting “you need me to be happy” and “buy me” and so on is our own voice; the one that says “I don’t need all this stuff to be happy”.  Adverts carry that much authority; enough to close down our own common sense voice.

Of course, back in the day there were a few hippy, brown rice and sandals types who opted out – I’ve sort of done it myself, although I’m more mung bean and flip-flops – and nowadays sustainable living, upcycling and recycling and repurposing is enjoying a revival – but for the most part we, as a society, have started on the road of consumerism and just kept on going, listening, even when we didn’t know we were listening, to the voice of authority that comes from the ads.

So, as I said, I believe in choice.  I want to choose what I buy.  I trust myself to know when I need something and I trust myself to know what it is. I don’t want or need anyone else telling me what’s wrong with my life, whilst applying the emotional thumbscrews.  I choose the authority of my own common sense over the psychological manipulations of advertising.  Filling our heads full of pre-packaged, pre-chosen “wants” and the anxiety of trying to get them, only means we obscure our real needs and goals and desires. I know we can’t avoid seeing ads in a world full to brimming with them, but we can train ourselves to see them as an unwanted intrusion simply designed to make us dissatisfied.  I don’t want to be dissatisfied.

When I see an ad of any kind these days my well trained mental back-room boys pipe up “Doesn’t apply to me”.  I already know what I want. That’s my rationalised equation.

Fascist Friends, Socialist Fist Shakers and the Angry Die Young

Fascists are good at propaganda.  You don’t have to dig too deeply to see that these old skills have been revived to very good effect recently. A quick glance at this years European election results tells all.

“I can’t believe my friends are “liking” and sharing stuff from “Britain First””  a friend of mine said a couple of days ago.  Unfortunately, I can (believe it, that is).  I think it’s pretty easy to make people scared and angry.

For more about Britain First go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britain_First)

I suppose, back in the day when we were roaming the plains of Africa, being suspicious of strangers was a good strategy.  They might be about to steal our food, our tools or even our women. I suppose back then, encounters with strangers would have been few and far between and so these stressful situations would be limited.  No so now.  There are 7 billion of us on the planet, many of us clustered together in towns and cities and so, obviously, as I ‘m sure you’ve already worked out, we’re going to see strangers pretty much all of the time.  I’m using stranger here as a catch-all term and not simply to denote someone we don’t already know.  I mean people who speak a different language, different nationality, different sexual orientation, different religion, colour, race, culture or gender.

Given that we humans are more mobile and much more numerous than ever, I think there are two obvious ways we can handle frequently encountering difference.  Join a Fascist party and try by various (any) means to keep the “strangers” at bay or decide to enjoy, embrace and benefit from diversity. Although my intuition tells me that enjoying, embracing and benefitting sound better than being suspicious, hateful and angry, this approach when encountering diversity doesn’t just get the nod and automatically become a GLP.  That would be like reading something on Facebook, liking it and sharing it without giving it any thought. Just not good enough.  So here’s the common sense and science behind the GLP Avoid Being Angry and therefore Enjoy, Embrace and Benefit from Diversity.

Angry and Scared = Greater Control? NoHulking out

It’s a great trick used by political parties.  While your head is full of “Grrrrrrr” and righteous indignation you are much less likely to think things through clearly and much more likely to accept an argument without question.  Everyone gets angry from time to time and it’s a really easy (and sometimes enjoyable) emotion to feel.

Although used to great effect by Far Right organisations it is by no means only those on that side of the political spectrum that are prepared to recruit this way.  There are plenty of Socialist fist shakers, amongst others, who regularly spit fury and invite us to join in. All this scary, angry stuff pushes us towards feeling out of control of our own lives and that can easily lead us to losing control of our emotions just to make matters worse.

It’s no surprise to me that deep thinkers and effective activists across thousands of years have said no to anger. I like a quote as much as the next person and so here are a couple:

Plato “There are two things a person should never be angry at, what they can help, and what they cannot.”

Martin Luther King Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Mahatma Ghandi “Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding”.

It’s not just these philosophical worthies that believe that anger has drawbacks.  The world of science is chock-a-block with studies detailing how anger impacts on our health and wellbeing and the following are just a few.

  • A Harvard Medical School Study of 1,623 heart attack survivors found that when subjects habitually became angry during emotional conflicts, their risk of subsequent heart attacks was more than double that of those that remained calm.
  • Men who complain of high anxiety are up to six times more likely than calmer men to suffer sudden cardiac death.
  • A 20-year study of over 1,700 older men by the Harvard School of Public Health found that worry about social conditions significantly increased the risk of coronary heart disease.
  • An international study of 2,829 people between the ages of 55 and 85 found that individuals who reported the highest levels feelings of control over life events—had a nearly 60% lower risk of death compared with those who felt relatively helpless in the face of life’s challenges.
  • Several studies have found that optimism leads to greater happiness and longevity. Researchers at the Pittsburgh School of Medicine did a study on post-menopausal women and found that they were healthier and longer-lived than their pessimistic counterparts.
  • Three 10-year studies concluded that emotional stress was more predictive of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease than smoking; people who were unable to effectively manage their stress had a 40% higher death rate than non-stressed individuals.
  • In a study of over 5000 middle-aged people, those with the highest ability to emotionally self-regulate were over 50 times more likely to be alive and without chronic disease 15 years later than those with the lowest self-regulation scores.

For more on these studies go to http://www.shift.is/2013/11/state-mind-affecting-well/

So it seems that getting angry and feeling all those other negative emotions are not the best thing to do if you want to live a long and healthy life.

Ignore the injustices, bury your head and smile? No!

There is a great book by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan called “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict”. http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-15682-0/why-civil-resistance-works  it’s a long title and a long and pretty dense read, but in a nutshell the authors conclude that non-violent resistance, over the last hundred years or so has had much better and more durable results than those which were violent.  Whatever we deem the problems of modern society to be, militaristic, aggressive action it seems, is not the way to go about change.

So when our Fascist friends and the Socialist fist shakers pop up on our newsfeeds peddling anger, fear, mistrust and intolerance how about this? Keep calm, think straight, and if you can, state your case. Being angry isn’t going to change the world, only your health and the enjoyment of your life.

So… Avoid Being Angry and therefore Enjoy, Embrace and Benefit from Diversity seems to me to have passed muster as a GLP.

 

 

Carpet Burns and Yoda and Just Saying No (or Yes)

After one particularly drunken evening I woke up the next morning with some pretty nasty carpet burns on my back.  I was 24, newly separated from my first husband and living in a small flat in Manchester, UK with my then 2 year old daughter Jessica.  This was the Wednesday morning after my regular Tuesday night out – my parents used to have Jessica to stay every Tuesday – and I had to get ready for work.  If you’ve ever spent the day in a warm office, wearing a clingy blouse that is sticking painfully to your skinned shoulder blades, you’ll know that it isn’t a pleasant experience.

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I couldn’t remember how I had come by such accusatory injuries, but I was worldly enough to make a fair guess; nonetheless, the details of that evening’s events will forever remain a mystery.  By the time I had Jessica tucked up in her bed that Wednesday night, I knew something had to change.  It wasn’t the first time I’d been out for a night and ended up with gaps in my memory, but this time the whole thing just left me feeling depressed and guilty.  Not a good way to feel.

I chatted about it with some co-workers who largely seemed to dismiss my concerns with platitudes like “Everyone does that” or “don’t beat yourself up about it”, and I didn’t feel any better about it at all.  There was a glaringly simple answer staring me right in the face.  Never drink more than one drink in a 24 hour period.  So that’s what I decided to do.

Having previously been a bit of a party girl (probably a good way down the road to a serious alcohol problem), many of my friends were a little sceptical when I announced my plan.  I wasn’t actually seeking approval by telling my friends.  I just thought that if I made it public it somehow made the plan more real and harder to go back on.

My Good Life Protocol idea was a good few years in the future at this point, but I did have another secret weapon. Yoda! Yep, Yoda.  There’s a great quote from the 1980 film, The Empire Strikes Back that had really struck a chord with me.  Never a snob about where my principles come from, every time from then on, that I was offered, or was tempted to buy, a second drink I thought of Yoda.

“No! Try not. Do. Or do not!! There is no try….”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_tYQRP4QWM

In actual fact I spent the next 12 months completely teetotal – and in the process amazed myself – and have only fallen off my self-made wagon twice in the last 30 years.

“There is no try” I think makes a pretty good foundation for one of the GLPs.  Just because something is a social norm doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.  We all know that eating a poor diet, drinking too much, disliking others because they are different (to name a very few) are bad ideas and yet are all pretty normal in our society.  “Don’t beat yourself up about it” is all very well and a very good idea, as is “be kind to yourself”.  I have found that it’s much easier to be kind to yourself and to avoid feeling guilty by applying a few principles to the choices I make.

  • Listen to your feelings
  • Research the facts
  • Look unflinchingly at the pros and cons
  • Don’t put off making a decision
  • Once the decision is made, apply it immediately, or as soon as possible
  • In case of dithering, call in Yoda

In this way I think it is much easier to take control of your life.  You are less likely to have to “look the other way” when it comes to some of the things you do, and indeed the things you believe in. Advertisers want you to buy, eat, drink and pretend to be merry and many political and religious organisations want you to be scared.  Between wanting to fit in and fearing the unknown we can end up with pretty miserable, unhealthy lives, making very poor choices into the bargain.  If we let them, these influences can blur our vision, but I believe that many, if not most, of us really know the difference between a good idea and a bad one.  Trust your judgement, be decisive and then call in Yoda.

 

Possessed by your own possessions? GLP on owning all that stuff

Anecdotal evidence just isn’t enough when it comes to getting on my GLP list, but I can’t resist a little warm up before getting to the main event. Image

Our departure from London to Cornwall (as mentioned previously in “Let’s get personal etc.…) may have seemed impulsive even precipitous to a casual observer – one minute we’re living in yuppiedom and the next hotfooting it to Cornwall, doing a downsize, and in the process shedding lots and lots of our possessions.  In retrospect, I realise that my mental “back-room boys” had been making a few observations and coming to some conclusions all on their own.  I do remember thinking that the people who lived in the great big houses in Wimbledon, and for whom we often did renovation work, didn’t seem any happier than the woman who lived in a council flat and came in to do my ironing.  I know very well I’m not going to get any prizes for making that observation.  We’ve all heard “Money can’t buy you happiness” along with “The best things in life are free” countless times, but in our modern lives we are constantly bombarded with the opposite message and, as we know, many of us opt to take the advertisers word for it and ignore the folk wisdom.

So can we put “Have fewer things” on the GLP list?  It would be tempting to let that one slip through without further examination but that would be cheating.  Remember the aforementioned criteria?  Science, common sense, intuition.  I think I could safely say that my intuition does, and did, tell me that curtailing my materialism would be a good idea and so it would seem that the idea passes at least one of the criteria.  That’s not enough to get this on the list though. GLPs do not exist by intuition alone.

So what does the science say?  There have been a great many studies relating to materialism over the years, the conclusions of which have led materialism to become a bit of a dirty word.  There is an interesting study, carried out in 2003 by Profs Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich which concludes that people who spend their money on experiences (I am assuming that means holidays, days out, activities and so on) are more likely to be happy than those who spend their money on material goods.  (For more on this, go to http://www.spring.org.uk/2008/01/experiences-beat-possessions-why.php)

According to Dr Steve Taylor, Senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University, in relation to materialism in the developed world “Our appetite for wealth and material goods isn’t driven by hardship, but by our own inner discontent.”  I don’t want to flood this blog with borrowed quotes, but I don’t think I could say this better so I’m quoting Taylor again. “We look to external things to try to alleviate our inner discontent. Materialism certainly can give us a kind of happiness – the temporary thrill of buying something new, and the ego-inflating thrill of owning it afterwards. And we use this kind of happiness to try to override – or compensate for – the fundamental unhappiness inside us.” For more – http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-darkness/201203/the-madness-materialism

It is hard to find any research that suggests that owning more things equals more happiness.  Of course, that only covers the science as it relates to the individual.  There is a whole other side to owning less that is perhaps more important still.  Let’s not forget our groaning environment.  Even if you don’t consider yourself an environmentalist, it is very hard to argue that consuming more resources than the earth can replenish is a good idea.  There are thousands of articles, blogs, scientific papers and more that say, in a nutshell, we’re using too much stuff and we need to stop that NOW.  So “Have fewer things” ticks another box.

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As for the common sense arguments for minimising our possessions, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that, left unchecked, the pursuit of happiness through the acquisition of material possessions leads to a never ending cycle of buy, little boost, big come down.  We haven’t even addressed the issue of debt (there’s a GLP lurking, surely?).

I’ve always liked the quote from William Morris “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” and I’ve used that as a yardstick by which I measure the ebb and flow of the material objects about our home and a handy way to live with this particular GLP.

If you think that paring down the things you have in your home and the way you approach buying is difficult, I recommend reading the brilliant blog by Joshua Becker – http://www.becomingminimalist.com/becoming-minimalist-start-here/

So here are my final words for today.  I think we’ve pretty much got the science, the common sense and the intuition covered but there is one other thing that needs to be mentioned here. It’s simple – Clearing all the unnecessary stuff out of my life has truly made me more contented, and happier, and less stressed.  It has left me more space to think not of what I want to buy next, but what I want to do, and even more, what I want to be.  So “putting to one side the ethical and environmental considerations….” it makes for a nicer life. (Oh, and the dusting is easier too).

How the “Win, win , win and then, and then and then” GLP criteria works

So I knew that I couldn’t just put any old random “rules” in the GLP list just because I liked the sound of them.  So many times these days I see people posting stuff on Facebook, – you know the posts I mean, coloured boxes with philosophical content – and doing it pretty much in bulk.  You read the snippet and, without thinking, find yourself nodding in agreement without really thinking properly about what that little nugget really means.  It works on the “knee jerk” as opposed to the “brain work” principle. 

For me, for any ideas to be incorporated into my life they have to fulfil several criteria, not least the aforementioned “win, win, win and then and then etc.” rule.  I remember years ago, when my children were little, having a rather disconcerting conversation with another mother at the school gate.  Her child was rather small and bespectacled and was being bullied by the other kids.  “I’ve told him to just hit them back” she said, and went on to tell me that that was the way she had been brought up. “Yay! Good idea.  Teach those bullies a lesson.  Stand up for yourself”.  Really?

These days we could put “just hit them back” in a coloured box with an image of a little boy whacking a bully and post it on Facebook and I’m pretty sure it’d get likes and shares.  Trouble is, it doesn’t really pass the WWWATATAT test does it?  In fact, give that idea a few seconds thought and it starts to look like a dismal bit of advice to give a child in that situation.  Just a quick “and then” check and the whole idea starts to look a little off.  One result might be that you turn a child with a naturally peaceful disposition into a reluctantly violent one, or that the much bigger bully just goes for a second bigger punch, or that the whole situation just escalates into an ugly schoolyard brawl.  No-one wins. We all know that, in simple terms, this sort of principle has led in the past to many a devastating war involving millions of casualties.   It’s a bad idea, but like many bad ideas can sound pretty good unless you apply a bit of critical thinking. 

Our society is full of bad ideas touted as good and, in my opinion, come in the main from all-pervasive advertising and from religion not to mention the societal norms that are the mutant lovechildren between these two strange parents (and I think that Hollywood schmaltz might be the uncle).  Personally, I take “You are not normal” as a compliment.  A big one. 

If you’ve read any of my previous posts you have probably noticed that, thus far, I may have seemed reluctant to reveal exactly what my GLPs are.  Well here comes a little reveal.  Don’t be disappointed.  The following GLP might seem so prosaic as to be not worth mentioning but please stick with me for a moment as it makes a good illustrator.  

Here’s the little preparatory story…. As a child in the 1960s I was brought up to believe that wasting food was a very bad thing.  We weren’t allowed to leave food on our plates and my mum planned meals on a weekly basis so that shopping had to be carried out with military precision. On one particular occasion, when I was about 8 or 9, at a family celebration, I remember seeing a very alarming sight.  There was a paper plate on the table that contained two half eaten sandwiches (ham and piccalilli) a lump of cake icing and a cigarette butt carelessly ground out in the centre,  the whole thing topped off with a sprinkling of ash.  

To say I was deeply disturbed is no exaggeration.  I only had one reference to go by at that age – don’t waste food – and so I just couldn’t understand what I was seeing.  I had to go and talk to a higher authority and that was my Nana.  Ever to be relied upon for a simple and clear explanation she told me that “people don’t like to seem mean” and also “people sometimes get carried away if something is on offer free of charge”.   This occasion was the earliest time I can remember seeing in action the human tendency to allow social normalcy to override common sense.  So strong is the desire to “fit in” with group that even the most obviously good behaviours and choices are ignored.  I don’t say I thought about this in quite these terms; I was only 8 years old after all, but nonetheless the paper plate image and what it represented played some part in one of my most basic GLPs.  Don’t waste food.

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There are lots of “and then”s  attached to this one.  I’m pretty sure we all know them already.  You waste food and then:

  • You waste money
  • You add to landfill
  • You feel guilty
  • You require more land to be used to service your foody needs
  • You set a bad example if you have children

There are more, but you get the idea.  As for the wins, they are pretty obvious too and are pretty much the opposite of the list above.  All win in fact.

If you happen to be invited to my house to eat you can be pretty certain that I won’t be thinking “I don’t want to look mean”.  I don’t care even slightly about that. I don’t always get it absolutely right and the brown banana has occasionally been my downfall.  As for social normalcy – in this case, I laugh in your face and apply my longstanding GLP.

 

So, let’s get personal and “Funding would be no problem”

This will be my third post and so it’s obvious that I’m pretty much new to this blogging lark.  I’ve got a great in-house critic fortunately and that’s my partner Graham.  He read the first two of my “offerings” and then he said “It doesn’t say much about who you are – people like it if you make it personal” followed by, perhaps an even more important observation, “you’ve not really said exactly what The Good Life Protocol is”. So in this post I’m going to “get personal” and also explain what I mean by GLP. Image

Back in the 1980s we were making quite a lot of money.  We lived in London where we had a shop, a tiling business, a maisonette in Wimbledon, two children, a dog, a nanny, a cleaner and a gas-guzzling car. I was in my 20s and had loads of energy and making money didn’t seem that hard. One afternoon our bank manager – Mr Pinney – turned up at the shop (yes, that really used to happen in those days!) and explained that he’d come to see me because the shop next door had become vacant and as he put it “funding would be no problem if we wanted to expand”.  Instead of feeling pleased or excited, I suddenly felt as if an elephant had just sat down on my chest.

The journey from hippy-dippy teenager to fully fledged business woman had happened by accident and to be honest, I didn’t even plan any of it.  Opportunities and ideas had presented themselves and we had just taken what seemed like the obvious next steps.  At the time and still now, I knew that that visit from Mr Pinney was pivotal.  It caused me to rethink. The effect was immediate and profound.  All I could think, regarding his kind offer of further debt, was that we would be chaining ourselves even more firmly to a life I didn’t really even like that much.  That is not to say that I was unhappy.  I quite liked making deals, doing some legal ducking and diving and even liked doing the books.  It sounds as corny as hell, but I knew there was much more to life.  That same week we put our home, shop and business on the market then took out a map of the British Isles and stuck a pin in it whilst blindfolded.  That’s how we ended up living in Cornwall in a house in a tiny hamlet with a stunning view of the Atlantic.

Anyone who lives in the far West of Cornwall knows that making money down there is pretty hard.  We took a 90% drop in income when we moved from London to Cornwall and I can honestly say it made no difference at all to how happy we were or how easy or difficult our lives were to manage. One thing that move did change was the amount of time we had to think. 

I found that when you are confronted with all that space you seem also to have to confront yourself.  My day to day life was wonderful – I had much more time with my daughters, I could mess about like Felicity Kendal in the 70s sitcom, we could be creative, breathe fresh air and belong to a community.  It was all pretty good. So here is the “but”. There was the “what’s it all about” background hum ever present in my life.  If I were a “born-again” this is where I’d start to talk about hearing god. I didn’t hear god.  God had died for me when I was teenager and there were no holy resurrections for me.

To cut a very long story short I decided that I had to put together my own set of rules to live by.  It was not without humour that I called it the Good Life Protocol.  Though the name has humour I was deadly serious about trying to find a set of values that might help quieten that inner voice and fill the vacuum, and give my life more meaning.  I wanted each idea to fulfil certain criteria.  Although I no longer have the bits of paper, nor the dot matrix print-outs from that dinosaur of a word processor I remember pretty well the spirit, if not the actual list of criteria. 

Science of the day, common sense and intuition each played a large part in the construction of those early values.  It gave me a cohesive set of personal “commandments” to live by and certainly helped me to navigate life more easily and with a better sense of purpose whilst hopefully being a useful member of the human race.  But there is always the danger of becoming smug. I can’t ignore the fact that the sum of human knowledge has increased and changed.  The pressures of life have changed.  Perhaps it’s time to fire up and rethink.