Blind Spots


Nowadays it’s widely accepted, in our rapidly shrinking global village, that we need to learn to work together – learn to live together.

And yet we resist it.

We insist on concentrating on the differences between us.

Colour, race, nationality, religion, politics, culture, gender, age, status, beliefs, thoughts.

Sure we’re different.

There’s no doubt about it.

But how about the ways we are the same?

Why don’t we really concentrate on what we share instead of what separates us?

I really mean that as a question – why don’t we?

What stops us trying to work together?

What are the obstacles to our seeing our similarities?

Can we talk about that?

Love And Protection


Given all the controversy in recent times about social action via social media, here is a very interesting initiative.

It seems like a great idea to me –

Especially as this is the response –

Here is an interesting newspaper article about this phenomenon –

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/iran-blog/2012/mar/26/message-israel-iran-love-you?newsfeed=true

And many thanks to Talesfromthelou for posting this in the first place –

http://talesfromthelou.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/we-love-you-iran-and-israel-real-people-movement/

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Armour


Life is a difficult place.

For everyone.

It requires deft navigation and some sort of protection .

Mostly we get hurt and as a consequence build defences so high and so strong and so completely that not only do we keep others out, we also keep ourselves in.  Hidden and afraid.  Cut off from real contact outside ourselves, we offer our masked face composed from person-coloured armour to the world.

Is this the price we pay for safety?

Is it too high? 

Open.

Chatter in.

Chatter on.

Chafing on my skin and brain and heart.

Not your fault.  Not even my fault.

But true.

Need spiders.

(Mary Jane Kennedy)

The Fruits of their Labour


I’ve talked about this before (ages ago) but it strikes me as worth talking about again as it is such a good example of how it is always worth doing what you believe to be right, even when everyone is telling you it won’t change anything.

In July, 1984, a 21 year old cashier in an Irish supermarket – Dunnes Stores- refused to handle two Outspan grapefruit at her checkout. She did this because her union had decided to protest against apartheid in South Africa by not handling South African produce.  The cashier’s name was Mary Manning and she was suspended for her actions.  Ten of her colleagues went on strike to protest  against her treatment and so began a strike that lasted almost three years.

Eventually though, the Dunnes Stores workers prevailed and the Irish government agreed to ban the importing of South African fruit and vegetables until the apartheid regime was dismantled.

Today in Johannesburg, a street is named after Mary Manning and she and her colleagues have been personally commended by Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki.

As Margaret Mead, the well-known anthropologist said –

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Every single thing that every single one of us does all of the time matters in the overall scheme of things.  There is no such thing as a deed – good or bad –that doesn’t have some effect somewhere.

Scary?  Maybe.

But heartening too when you think about it.


The View From the Top of Death Hill


I cannot guarantee much in life but I can absolutely guarantee that the vast majority of people alive at this moment will be dead before the next century arrives.

Including me.

We all think we understand this but do we? Or do we just put it out of our heads as if it isn’t likely to happen at all?

Ignoring death – for whatever reason – is a mistake –  because knowing – really knowing – that we will most definitely die – gives us perspective on living.

It’s as if death is a vantage point from which we can get the best view of our lives.

None of us know the day or the hour, the how or the why or the way of our death.

But we do know it is inevitable.

So maybe we should take off our blinkers and look around from the top of Death Hill and, seeing the vista of our lives, choose our paths?

This is what I have been thinking about lately.  Life.  Death.  Suffering.  But it’s hard to think about these things in a truly comprehensive way because they are so big.  I’ve always found that a useful thought experiment with the huge and indefinable is to imagine it smaller and easier to see.

So I made a list – not a very exciting list – a pretty boring Five Years and I’m a Memory list, in fact.  But while the items on the list were pretty unspectacular, the fact that the obstacle to every single thing on my list is the same, jumped off the page and mugged me a bit.

It sounds too simplistic to be true – but it is true.

It seems like a coincidence that it reminds me of Brené Brown’s TED talk on shame that I watched – and wrote about – last week – but it does.

According to my list, the single obstacle in the path of my life is what she describes as shame.  The big, fat, blood-sucking parasite of shame, tinged with fear and humiliation.  It turns out that I may well be waiting to be perfect and bullet-proof before acting in many ways. And that I am caught – like a demented insect – in the ‘I’m not good enough’/’Who do you think you are?’ bind.

Which is a bit of a shocker for me as if there’s one thing I would have thought I’d learned, that was to try.   I know that the lack of money or time or expertise or opportunity may influence my chances of success but none of those things can stop me from trying.

If you don’t make it you can’t sell it.

If you don’t try to fix it, it’ll stay broken.

If you don’t try to invent it, it’ll remain uninvented.

If you try, you may or may not succeed but if you don’t even attempt what you want to do/create/fix/dream then success is absolutely impossible.  And that’s a guarantee.  Like death.

Turns out I wasn’t applying that philosophy to everything in my life, which leaves me with lots to think about as I sit here atop Death Hill and survey the terrain.

If you’d like to think about death – and therefore really think about life – you might find this talk interesting –

Baby Talk (or how I discovered my children weren’t me)


The final story in the trilogy of how I have accidentally learned some life lessons from my children involves my youngest son – Three-of-Three.  He was seven or eight at the time. In this story, the parent (me) and the kids were all snuggled up in bed having a ‘tell-me-stories-about-when-I-was-a-baby’ session.  I was obliging with funny stories about babies eating worms and being afraid of garden hoses and leaves and cacti and somehow it came up that when I was pregnant with Three-of-Three, due to a pregnancy complication (placenta praevia), I had to stay in bed for two full months.  The conversation that ensued went something like this –

Three-of-Three: “But did you stay in bed all the time?”

Me: “I did.”

Three-of-Three: “Every single day for two whole months?”

Me: “Every single minute of every single day.”

Three-of-Three: “But why did you do that?”

Me: “Because if I didn’t you wouldn’t have been able to grow in my tummy.”

Three-of-Three: “Would I have died?”

Me: “Probably.”

Three-of-Three sat up in bed, looked at me very seriously and didn’t say anything for a few seconds, he was obviously thinking about this new information.  Finally, once he’d digested it, with a very solemn expression on his small face he said – “Thanks, Mom.”

I was completely taken aback.  I had always seen that time when I was pregnant with him as being about me.  My experience.  My pregnancy.  My fear.  My worry.  My potential loss.  I saw my two months of being consigned to bed as something I did for myself.

He saw it differently.  He saw himself as a person in his own right, not an extension of me, or even a ‘product’ of me but a whole, distinct other person.

And for the first time, I really realised that that was true.  Not that I hadn’t given lip-service to that idea before – I had.  There was just something about his heart-felt expression of thanks that showed me not only that was he grateful but also that he really wasn’t me.

Which got me to thinking that our children, as well as being born of and influenced (for better or worse) by us are also complete human beings in their own right (also for better or worse).

Which means so are we.  We are products of certain people and certain times and certain environments but that’s not all we are – we are also uniquely ourselves.

Just like Three-of-Three.

The Truth Smarts…


Continuing the theme of lessons we accidentally learn via having children – this story is about my second son. I have three so this makes him ‘the disadvantaged middle child’.  As he always felt free to complain about the fact that he was suffering from this syndrome, I figured he wasn’t quite as disadvantaged by his position in the family as he made out. Anyway, always a perceptive child he also taught me quite a lot.

The pivotal conversation with this child – let’s call him Two-of-Three – happened in the aftermath of him getting into trouble for something or other. This was not a rare occurrence, he was a bit of a crazy boy when he was a kid and common words out of my mouth to him were often along the lines of – “Seriously?” and, “What were you thinking!” and “Please think before you act…” – he was maybe nine or ten at the time of this incident and it went something like this –

Two-of-Three – “I don’t think it’s fair that you punish me twice when I do something wrong.”

Me – “I never do that.”

Two-of-Three – “Yes you do.  You always do that.”

Me – “No.  You know that’s not true – you know you shouldn’t have done x, y or z and now you’re grounded and that’s just one punishment.” (N.B. – I’m pretty sure this is historically accurate and that he was grounded no matter what his transgression as it was my go-to sanction)

Two-of-Three – “No – you’re mad at me as well and that means you’re not as friendly as you are the rest of the time – that’s two punishments.”

Me – ………..deafening silence……………

The truth has that effect on me sometimes – especially when it comes out of the mouth of babes – even badly behaved ones.

He was right.  I was nothing as forgiving and straightforward as I believed myself to be.

So this is what I said when I recovered –

“Sorry.”

He was nicer than me and therefore didn’t punish me twice.

Green Eggs or Ham?


When my eldest son was little, I’d pick him up from play-group and we’d walked happily home discussing what had happened that  day, what we were going to do or where we were going to go or the many adventures of Superman.

Mother and small boy happy and glad to see each other – until…

“OK – so, what would you like for lunch?”

He’d have a think before he answered and then he might say – “I’d like chips”, or “I’d like potatoes and chicken,” or “I’d like ice-cream.”

So, I’d say – “No, no – you can’t have ice-cream or chips for lunch, you need to have something that’s healthy.”

“Like potatoes and chicken?”

“OK, like potatoes and chicken – you can have that later.  Not for lunch.”

“But I want it for lunch!”

“Well, you can’t have it for lunch – choose something else – how about beans on toast or a cheese sandwich?”

“But I don’t want that!  I want chicken and potatoes or ice-cream…”

Anyway, you get the picture – he’d be angry and upset and I’d be angry and upset and both of us would be full of self-righteous indignation as we stomped home.

And then, one day I finally realised what was happening.

He was answering the question I’d asked.

Which would have been fine except that I was actually asking a different question than the one I was forming with my words.

I was asking him what he wanted to eat for lunch and, as he was a small child, he was taking me at my word and answering the question.

The fact was, though, what I was really asking him was, “What you would like for lunch from  a) the food at present in our house and b) food present which also satisfies my criteria for what constitutes a healthy lunch.”

So, I changed my questions.

“OK – what could you like for lunch – eggs, or cheese or bananas?”

“Ham sandwich or peanut butter?”

“Chicken noodle soup or cheese on toast?”

And because he was as reasonable as all small children, he immediately adapting by answering the question and choosing between the options I presented.

Problem solved.  Happy walking home for mother and boy after that.  Back to talking about important things like Superman instead of bickering about lunch.

As adults we ask – and answer – questions and unconsciously try to interpret the background nuances and circumstances and expect others to do the same.

We rely on other people to do some of our thinking without our ever stating what we really think – “I can’t believe she asked me to do that!”

We rely on others to make it alright for us – “How could he accept that second cup of tea I offered – didn’t he know I was tired?”

To second guess our needs – “I know I offered but…”

Maybe we should try being more accurate when we express ourselves?

Would it prevent more misunderstandings?

First, though, we’d have to know what we want to say ourselves – and maybe that’s the really difficult part?

What do we truly want to say?

Is This What Really Frightens Us?


“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt – “Citizenship in a Republic,”Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

This is a very interesting talk.  It’s funny.  It’s sad.  It answered some of my questions about why we do – or don’t do – what we do (or don’t do).

See what you think yourself.