Category Archives: Community

Personal resilience or community resilience

I’ve been in a few situations now that were difficult for me and where people who meant well came in to try and help me improve my personal resilience. They had advice to give. They wanted me to see it from the other person’s perspective, they wanted me to be more understanding. What this also meant is that people who had acted inappropriately were left unchallenged. People who had wanted to use my time unfairly, people who had been sexist, or had gone on the offensive in inappropriate ways were not called out. It wasn’t about them – they were fine. As the person who had a problem with it, the pressure was on me to be more resilient.

I know my experience isn’t unique. ‘Resilience’ is what you have to do as an individual when people who could make changes to better accommodate you, won’t.

For me this is another area in which we talk about something as an individual issue not a community one and that needs to change. It really needs to be a community issue. A community is not resilient if some of its members are being sexist towards other members. Resilience means dealing with that to become something more inclusive and more robust. A resilient workforce is not one that is putting up with being worked to exhaustion, messed about by poor leadership, demoralised and generally ill treated. A resilient workforce is one that feels supported and encouraged and has the resources it needs to work well. Resilience makes a lot more sense as something we do together.

If we focus on personal resilience, we don’t have to change systems. We don’t have to challenge people who are causing the problems. If resilience is personal, we don’t have to ask about the economic context, or the fair distribution of resources. It’s easy to be persuaded that ‘helping you be more resilient’ is a good thing – when it may just be a way of making into a personal problem something that needed dealing with collectively.

There are plenty of spaces where it is considered necessary to be thick skinned, tough, macho, immune to attack and unlikely to care. What we get when we make participation dependent on such qualities, is a lot of people who can’t participate. We don’t prioritise skills, knowledge or experience in a setting that says you must be thick skinned to survive. And we can see exactly how well that serves us by looking at contemporary politics. Resilience for a community means supporting the best and most capable people so they can deploy their skills and expertise for the good of all. If you need them to be able to still do that while an incompetent boss shouts abuse at them… your priorities are all wrong.

Tone Policing and Justice

Tone policing is the unpleasant habit of making the way the message is delivered more important than the content. It tends to be undertaken by the person with the most privilege in a situation as a way to ignore, diminish, take down or silence someone who is distressed. It also tends to go with treating someone who is distressed as invalid – too emotional, unreasonable, childish, out of control – so as to feel like there’s no need to take them seriously.

If the hurt feelings of the person with power and privilege are the most important thing, then of course nothing is going to change. And yes, it can be really uncomfortable looking at the ways in which you benefit from a system that hurts other people. It can be disturbing and upsetting to be told you’re perpetrating harm when you thought you were ok. These are hard lessons to learn, and tone policing is not the answer, not in this context.

There are however, times for tone policing. We should be policing ourselves, especially in situations where we have power and advantage. Are we speaking kindly and respectfully? Are we talking over other people? Are we increasing the anger in a situation? Are we punching down? Are we shouting someone else down? If you’re the person with the emotional control in a situation, are you using the fact that it isn’t hurting you to run power over someone who is being hurt?

Consider policing the tone of people who share your privileges. Call them out – gently and politely – when you catch them putting their own hurt feelings ahead of the actual oppression of other people. Call out the people who use anger and aggression to dominate spaces. Call out the micro-aggressions and be prepared to explain – calmly – why this kind of thing isn’t ok.

One of the biggest indicators of who has power can be seen around who is allowed to be upset. People with power and privilege are allowed to be upset when children’s cartoons aren’t made for them. People without power and privilege are not allowed to be upset when people in their community are murdered. If we want justice, then this is an area of human interaction that really needs some work. It is complicated territory and tends not to bring out the best in people, but small acts around checking your own tone, policing the people closest to you if they mess up, and defending the right of people to be upset by actual oppression will add up.

Observations on coping

Like many people, I can generally focus in an emergency and get the needful things done. And then, as is usually the way of it, I’ll have a meltdown later at some point when it is safe to do so. We’ve probably evolved this way, and for a short term emergency, it’s fine.

One of the problems with modern, white, western culture is that it perpetually manufactures crises. Even without the pandemic, people are forced to work as though there’s an emergency. Exams are manufactured emergencies and I think testing very young people is an appallingly bad idea. High speed living, 24/7 culture, and all the rest of it puts us on high alert all the time. Adverts are designed to make us feel like there’s a problem we must urgently solve by purchasing their product. It’s relentless. Everything is dialled up to eleven all the time.

So when do you get to stop and feel safe enough to have the needful meltdown? You can’t be on high alert and obliged to treat every day like an emergency and expect to cope with that forever. Sooner or later, a mental health crisis is inevitable for anyone trying to live like this. For many of us, the pandemic has meant living in a state of emergency, and that’s taking a huge toll.

In terms of coping, there are three things I think are especially helpful. Firstly, is getting time off when you don’t have to cope so that you can process your feelings and aren’t saving up for your own crisis. Secondly, good information. I cope better when I know what I should be doing. Uncertainty makes any emergency more distressing and I think that was a widespread issue around the pandemic in the early part of this year. The third thing is community – people who care, who can help, or listen or otherwise connect with you can make a lot of odds. They don’t even need to be able to fix things, the feeling of not being on your own with whatever it is makes a lot of difference.

Wherever possible, don’t ask yourself or anyone else to tough it out in a situation that is challenging. If you’ve got to deal with something for more than a few hours, breaks are essential. We did not evolve to handle a perpetual state of crisis, and we need to avoid creating situations that feel like crisis. We need to reject ways of living that put us in permanently stressful situations, for ourselves, and for the people who have little power and are unable to resist.

Poverty Diets

I get intensely annoyed when I see middle class people online announcing on the basis of one cheap meal they made once, that not being able to feed your family cheaply is just the poor being crap. That it’s lousy budgeting, lack of cooking skills, laziness. Let me start by saying that it is possible to feed a family adequately for less than a pound per person per meal, but it is hard, and problematic.

I’m an intelligent, well educated person, I know about nutrition, I know how to cook, I know how to shop and how to budget. In this, I am better off than many people who end up in difficulty. I got into difficulty because I was dragged through the family courts for a couple of years and it was terrifyingly expensive. As is often the way, the flexibility in a budget is often around food.  This same budget also has to cover clothes, cleaning products and anything else you might need unexpectedly. As children tend to grow and require school uniforms, there are extra costs.

While it is possible to feed a family cheaply, it’s not possible to feed a family at no cost. If you’ve had your benefits sanctioned, or are in the long waiting period before they start, you may well have no money at all. Universal credit leaves many families with far too little money to begin with – I’ve seen this happen to others. It doesn’t matter how clever you are, you can’t buy food if you have no money.

To eat cheaply, you are going to make compromises. Cheap low nutrition starchy foods are good to fill up on and for avoiding hunger, so probably one of your meals each day will take this shape. It is really hard to do five portions of fruit and veg per day on a very tight budget. I usually managed three, and there wasn’t as much diversity as I wanted.  Carrots are indeed cheap, so you need to like carrots and be happy to eat them as part of many different meals. This is, frankly, hard on children who tend to suffer more with food boredom. Also it’s not actually that healthy – diversity matters in nutrition. Protein is expensive. Even if you do a fair bit of it through pulses, and you give up meat. Getting enough protein into people affordably is hard. Without enough protein, your brain struggles to make some of the happier chemicals, and your body will hurt when you active. I’ve done this and it sucks.

You have to pay attention all the time. You have to shop carefully, budget carefully, be super careful to use things before they go off. You probably won’t be able to afford to have snacks, and your meals may be smaller than is ideal. You will, at times, be hungry. Especially in the winter if you can’t afford to run extra heating and your body is trying to burn calories to keep you warm. Feeding a family on a tight budget is hard work and insufficient food is exhausting and this is a bloody awful combination.

Mistakes are expensive. Reduced to clear food that goes off is a disaster. You pick the mould off the bread and eat it anyway.  Mistakes can lead to debt, and once you’re servicing a debt your disposable income is reduced, pushing you closer to the edges.

Being poor is bloody hard work and there are no days off. It can be done adequately, but you won’t eat well, you won’t have a highly nutritious diet, you will never have treats, and it will make you feel like shit. What you can do as a one-off as a person with resources is not an indicator of what it’s like dealing with this stuff every day.  It is not possible to be clever, frugal or skilled enough to make food out of thin air, and I wish more people understood that.

Free Ebooks

As of now, my self-published books are going onto Ko-fi (which has just started an online shop facility.

You can pick up any of those ebooks for free. There is a pay what you like option should anyone feel so moved. It’s totally fine not to – if money is in short supply, have these with my blessings. I’m in a workable place economically, so if you aren’t, please take the freebie option.

If you are more comfortable, please consider chucking a few pennies in the hat. It means I get more time to work on this sort of thing and have to spend less time chasing paying gigs for other people. I don’t talk much about what I do for cash so sometimes people assume I’m just swanning about living the authoring dream. I do a monthly community newsletter and run multiple Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for regular work. When we’re allowed to have events, I do front of house work. I proof read and do book promotion. At one point a couple of years ago I was working 7 different jobs and it was tough. This is fairly normal for people trying to do creative work.

If everyone who subscribed to the blog threw a dollar a year my way, the impact on my life would be huge. If everyone threw me a dollar a month, I’d be able to afford to get a mortgage and buy a large house. The flat is small and doubles as a workspace and has no garden, and I dream of being able to have a garden. But there we go – it’s good to dream. It is worth bearing in mind if you are making small donations to, or purchases from creative people, it might not seem like much, but the impacts can be huge. As is always the way of it, enough people doing small things can change a great deal.

I give work away because I want to, and because I get things out of writing and blogging and being read. But, my energy is finite. I’m always going to do the best I can with the resources available to me, but that often isn’t as much as I want to be able to do.

Freedom of Speech

The idea of free speech is used to defend all kinds of unpleasantness. I think it’s important to talk about what free speech means, and also what it doesn’t mean. It is vitally important to uphold the idea that no-one should be assaulted, tortured or killed for anything they have said. That’s what the right to free speech really means – that and not being locked up for holding a different opinion to your government.

Freedom of speech does not entitle a person to cause harm. In much the same way that you aren’t entitled to use freedom of speech to lie about products, commit fraud against people, pretend to have qualifications you don’t have, or sell snake oil, freedom of speech is limited by certain responsibilities. Inciting violence and threatening others isn’t covered by the right to free speech. Conspiracy theories can fall into a bit of a grey area here – people are entitled to question mainstream and government narratives. However, when lines are crossed that put lives in danger – as with the anti-mask brigade, we shouldn’t let the idea of free speech detract from the way this is basically selling us snake oil.

Freedom of speech does not entitle you to a platform. No one is obliged to give you a space, invite you to their event, listen to you or read your stuff. No one owes you a hearing. We all have the right not to listen or engage, not to support things. Any business or organisation that feels it may be harmed by association with your message is entitled to remove you from its platform. Freedom of speech does not entitle you to be part of any particular conversation, or to be engaged in debate.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. If people don’t like what you say, they are entitled to act in any way that is legal. This can include not buying your stuff, not inviting you to things, blocking, banning and counter arguing. It is not an attack on freedom of speech for someone else to use their freedom of speech to say something isn’t acceptable and should be shut down.

It’s not even an attack on freedom of speech to say that you should be stopped from speaking at events, online and the such. You can still speak. It’s just that no one may want to hear you. You may have to find somewhere more sympathetic to your cause, to express your free speech, but you still have the freedom to say whatever you like, within certain parameters.

We are not obliged to listen, to host or to accept people we disagree with. That’s not an attack on their right to free speech. There is no right to inclusion in debate. There is no right to be given a platform. There is no right to make people listen to you.

For anyone whose politics is rooted in kindness and inclusion, the way free speech is often misrepresented can become deeply uncomfortable – feeling that you have to allow and include things you consider to be full of hate and harm. So, it’s important to keep saying this stuff – a person is entitled to safely air their opinions. They are not entitled to have anyone stay around to listen and the right to free speech includes the right to say that what someone else is saying isn’t acceptable.

Parenting reflections

Parenting is mostly guesswork. You may have theories, based on your experiences and observations. You might try and read a lot of books and articles. You may just unconsciously perpetuate whatever is normal in your family… and how that works in practice you likely won’t know for a lot of years.

This year has been tough for young humans in the UK. My son had his final school year disrupted, his A levels were a confusing, stressful time and he’s gone to university only to face isolation. He’s home now, to my great relief. I have been struck, repeatedly, by his maturity and resilience as he’s dealt with everything this year has thrown his way. I’m going to chalk this up as a great deal of parenting win, although much of it must be ascribed to his own nature, efforts and good thinking.

There are theories I had which, in hindsight, I think were a very good idea. I never did arbitrary authority – he was always entitled to question me and I was clear that he was always owed an explanation at the very least. His opinion always mattered – even if I couldn’t do anything with it, he was always heard and had a chance to comment on things. If I wanted to pull an ‘I know best’ I took the time to lay out my evidence and thinking. I never said ‘because I said so.’

I started on this as soon as he was talking. I answered any and all questions to the best of my ability with the most age-appropriate language I could find. I never lied to him. This wasn’t always easy. I’ve been open about having mental health problems and how best to navigate that. I’ve shared difficult emotions. He is one of the most emotionally resilient and open hearted people I know – so I feel that my emotional honesty has done him no harm at all. Likely the opposite.

Here we are, as he steps into his adult life. He trusts my judgement, and he knows he can query me on anything. He knows he can talk to me about anything and expect me to be honest with him. He knows he is heard and respected and that his opinion matters. He is going to be living with me as an adult for the foreseeable future, and that’s going to be fine, and there will be no great challenges because of the underpinnings we already have in place.

I’ve done a lot of things along the way that other people – including professionals around child wellbeing – have considered inappropriate. It is normal to lie to children and to tell them what to do, and I’ve been in some very odd situations over my refusal to do that. During the family court period, I dealt with a lot of disbelief around the idea that my son could have his own opinions that I respected, and that his opinions were not simply what I’d told him to think. What I’ve learned parenting is that if you treat children like they are people in their own right, this actually works well.

Community and identity

The person who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of them is on a trajectory that will likely result in them behaving in selfish and antisocial ways. The person whose sense of self is defined by what one person thinks of them is quite likely in an abusive situation. Somewhere in between these two points lies mental health and social functionality.

Humans are social creatures. We grow up in contexts that shape us, one way or another. We define ourselves through our work, family and social roles. We find out who we are in no small part because of how other people respond to us. The feedback we get will inform our sense of self worth and our sense of social identity and belonging – or not belonging.

How your identity relates to your community may have everything to do with finding the right spaces to be in. It is so important to have somewhere to fit, people to connect with and a sense of belonging and involvement. Life without that is lonely, and the absence of community connection can really undermine self esteem and a sense of self. Most of us do not do well as lone wolves. It’s worth noting that lone wolves do not tend to do well as lone wolves either.

On the other side there’s the question of how much we sacrifice to fit in. How much do we need to mute ourselves to be socially acceptable? How much must be cut off, compromised, hidden or denied so a person can have a place in a community? Arguably if this stops you from being a menace, it may be a good thing! But if what you have to hide is your authentic sexual identity, your not being neuro-typical, or some other vital and intrinsic thing, the price of community is high. Many spaces don’t even recognise the barriers they put up to prevent authentic engagement by people who are not ‘normal’.

What kind of spaces do we create and hold for other people? How much room do we give them? What pressures might we create to have other people stay in line with our beliefs and expectations? How much room is there for difference? What differences are genuinely intolerable? It’s worth asking of your Druid communities, your family spaces, work spaces and social spaces. It’s worth asking what we can do to actively include those who are unkindly excluded, and what we do to deal with people who do not fit in.

Lifting each other

We live in strange and challenging times, full of uncertainty and reasons for fear. It can be difficult to know what to do in face of such enormous challenges. My advice is, think small. It’s perhaps more obvious to think that you, personally should be doing something dramatic. To feel that you personally should be sorting out climate change, or fixing your country’s political system, or ending the pandemic or saving the rainforests… And, unable to see what you can even do on that scale, you may end up paralysed and doing very little.

Think small. Ask yourself what you can do today that might make the day a bit better for someone else. Maybe it’s a cat photo on Facebook. Maybe it’s amplifying a cause on Twitter. There is undoubtedly someone you can help in some small way. Do it. Do it every chance you get and use that focus to make sure you don’t end up overwhelmed, frozen and unable to do anything at all.

Ask how we might lift each other. Look for the projects, the activities and the opportunities that lift more people, create support or visibility, do something to make change. Again, you do not have to be engaging with a global crisis directly for this to be worth doing. Look for local projects that help people in your area. Look for local environmental and sustainability projects. Often there’s overlap – the project getting kids on bicycles will help with social issues and environmental issues at the same time. These things are all related, social justice and environmental care go together so start where you can and trust that it will help with wider issues too.

It is so easy to be pinned down by fear. It is so desperately easy to be persuaded of your own powerlessness. However, if everyone got stuck in and did whatever small things they could do, we would see rapid change. We can make significant cultural shifts out of people being kinder to each other – just that alone would do a tremendous amount of good and help push our societies in better directions. Think small, it can be a powerful, radical ambitious choice that gets a lot done.

How to have nice things

Over the weekend, I was involved with Stroud Theatre Festival – the 8th one, and a decidedly ambitious venture during a pandemic. It is a fine example of how we can have nice things. Over the weekend there were many live performances in front of audiences, and all of it within the current covid rules and handled in a way that will have kept everyone safe. It worked because everyone – organisers, performers, venues and audience – cooperated to make it work. That, in essence, is how we can have nice things.

There were challenges – the outdoors venues in October were always likely to be cold. But, there were no shortage of tickets sold for those and the actors braved the weather. There were challenges with only being allowed much smaller audiences in the indoors venues – but everyone dealt with that. People wore their masks indoors, queued thoughtfully, used the hand sanitiser, bought tickets in advance and were fabulously patient.

It was a really lovely event to be part of. I was on the door for one of the venues and I saw two plays. I found it really affecting the way people were cooperating to make good things happen.

Live performance is something that is essential for me. It’s not some sort of luxury add on, it’s a key part of how I stay emotionally functional. Getting by with no theatre and no live music during lockdown was really hard. I honestly don’t know how so many people seem not to need it in the first place. It does things that pre-recorded performance never can. There’s magic in the immediacy of it, in the engagement and the sharing of space. It has meant a lot to me to be able to have something of that back over the weekend.

It all felt very safe, and this in a context where local case numbers are rising. It was far less stressful than a busy supermarket or a crowded street. Especially the outdoors performances.

When we support each other, take care of each other and work together, we can have nice things. Cooperation makes room for more joy, delight and happiness. If we let it, this virus will destroy the arts. It will close down venues, and make music and theatre impossible, which in turn will put many people out of work. Not just the performers – all the technical and venue people, all the folk who work behind the scenes and go unnoticed. It’s a huge sector, and an emotionally valuable one as well as a commercial consideration. If people cooperate, we can have live performance safely.