Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Modelling Behaviour

Children copy what they experience – most especially what they see their adult primary carers doing. Patterns for behaviour, a sense of place in the world, ideas about self, family, community and life are absorbed unconsciously early on, and often taken in through that act of mimicry. However, there’s not an age at which this entirely goes away. We’re primates. Monkey see, monkey do.

Affirmation and a sense of belonging follows from doing the things we can see other people doing. It’s one of the reasons clothes fashions and counter culture clothing are so powerful – they identify us with our people. There’s no inherent reason why we see suits as smart and jeans as scruffy, that’s just a consensus to help us fit in with the company we’re keeping. If the convention was to wear jeans to the office and suits for lounging around in, we’d do it that way instead. Neither being that physically comfortable.

When people encounter expressions of anger, hatred, violence and prejudice, some will respond by wanting to repeat that behaviour. Obviously it has to tap into personal attitude, but the more visible it is, the more comfortable it feels to be part of it. When the majority are calm, pleasant, cooperative and friendly there’s real pressure on people who tend to hate to fit in with standard behaviour.

Many people aren’t comfortable with standing out from the crowd.

This is why, for those of us who can and will buck the trend, it’s important to keep modelling the kind of behaviour we want to see in the world. Be calm. Be reasonable. Avoid aggressive and abusive language. Avoid shouting back. Model something better. It has a real effect. On the other hand, if we’re lured into expressions of rage and violence, what we do is fuel the rage and violence that we were trying to oppose. There’s an allure in verbal and physical violence – it can make us feel powerful, it can allow us power over others, and if we feel self-righteous, knocking the ‘idiots’ down can feel exciting, and that’s a trap to avoid, because at that point, we’re just a bunch of people attacking each other and the values we thought we stood up for are likely lost in the mix.

Situations of self defence aside, the ‘fight’ here is first and foremost at a conceptual level, it’s about what kind of people we are and how we think people should be, and the best way to achieve this is to keep demonstrating it.


Come the revolution

You probably have one of these – the time when everything will change. Retirement is traditional and winning the lottery is popular. When the good thing happens. When there’s more money coming in than going out. It’s often a perfectly sensible imagined point when we get to start living well. Of course what some of us do is then move the goalposts quietly. We never quite get there. This is never the year to stop striving and start living. And the years go by, and sometimes we run out of time before we get round to all the things we were going to do when it was a good time to do them.

The truth is that cutting back on the striving to make room for more living only happens when a person chooses to do it. We’ll find lots of reasons why we can’t actually just go for it now – money being the main one. I think it can be about the fear of living. What if living isn’t as good as you thought it was going to be? What if it’s better to live for an imagined future rather than dealing with trying to make things good in the present?

All of this keys into our ideas about sufficiency. When will we have earned enough, bought a big enough house, saved enough money, stockpiled enough things? What do we think we need to be happy? And if we’ve been beaten about the head with work ethics then we may feel we’re not entitled to be happy unless we can somehow do that alongside working ourselves to the bone.

Last year I was obliged to slow down. To do it, I had to question my stories about money and sufficiency, entitlement and need. I had to recognise that body and mind could not take what was being asked of them. I had to keep telling myself that it was safe to slow down a bit, that I wouldn’t be leaving us wide open to financial disaster. I had to deliberately choose having more of a life with more joy in it.

It’s easy to imagine that joy will turn up naturally at the appointed, magic hour without us having to do anything else. That’s not how it goes, but as we wait for the magic hour, opportunities for happiness pass us by. The only way is to jump in and make it happen, to choose it, make time for it, and do it now, not at some never-never point in the future when it falls spontaneously into our laps, because that fairy tale keeps us where we are, and stops us from living.


Stories about fat

Trigger warnings: weight, diet, body shape. And I’m starting with a trigger warning because this is a subject that puts some people in a very bad place indeed. Like most people my age, I grew up ‘understanding’ that being fat was the simple consequence of eating too much fat. That’s not how it works, and while more information is out there all the time, it doesn’t always filter through. The default is to blame and shame fat, still, which is bloody unhelpful.

It looks increasingly like sugar and refined carbohydrate are a far bigger issue than fat in the diet, and that the sugar industry has led the demonising of fat.

Sleep deprivation encourages us to retain fat. We live in a sleep deprived culture. I don’t know whether it’s because lack of sleep denies us processes that would have helped, or because lack of sleep is a crisis, and in a crisis, some of us store fat. Which leads me to stress – which tells our bodies there’s an emergency going on. For some of us, routinely trying to starve yourself thin can create and emergency that the body responds to by frantically storing everything it can. This was me in my teens, often only eating one meal a day, retaining weight, malnourished and miserable. Stress, and most especially work induced stress, and poverty induced stress are recognised things, but under-explored. There is also a known correlation between poverty and obesity, but no public debate about whether the stress of poverty, contributes alongside poor nutrition, to weight gain. If there were, we’d have to look differently at workplace responsibilities and government policies.

Thyroid function, and water retention and probably a whole heap of other medical conditions I’m not up to speed on can go unnoticed if we obsess over fat in relation to diet. If ‘get more exercise and lose weight’ is the only diagnosis available for the more padded person, other medical conditions – conditions that might well be causing or adding to weight gain – go unnoticed and unchecked. It happens.

Yo-yo dieting is a thing, and a lot of people get trapped in it. Brief attempts at wonder diets that cause weight loss in the shorter term, and then don’t work. This is in part because diets don’t deal with lifestyle as a whole. Wonder diets are often faddy, under-researched and won’t work for everyone, our bodies are different. It’s not just about how we eat, but about what we do with our bodies, how much we move, sleep, rest, and stress is all part of the mix. A happier life may make weight loss very easy, dieting misery can move us towards weight gain. Unhappiness leads to comfort eating, it can make us less active, and adds stresses to life that can help convince our bodies there’s a crisis we need to stock up calories to get through.

I’ve spent much of my life hating and resenting my body shape. I’ve starved myself as a form of punishment for being so disgusting – this is how I’ve felt about myself. Followed by the inevitable binges and the self-loathing those create, leading to a cycle of misery and excess weight. It’s really tough to break out of that self-perpetuating loop. I’ve done so by keeping the focus on doing things that make me happy. I’ve paid attention to how my body responds to foods, and altered my eating to do what feels good. I eat with a view to powering my body for whatever activities I have in mind, not with reference to my stomach size. I feel better about myself. I’ve got out of the punishment cycles and into a process that is about wellbeing and feeling good, and that has made a lot of odds.

 


Life with a body

It’s only in the last year or so that I started questioning what my body is for. It’s taken me until now to realise that I was unconsciously holding a belief that the important things revolve being either use or ornament. I’ve spent my life to date treating my body as something that exists to please or appease other people, not as something that is mine.

There’s a lot of pressure on women to focus on looking the part. We’ve been taught that thin matters – not fit, not healthy, certainly not muscular because muscles are all too often deemed ugly on women. We should paint our faces, blocking our pores, we should wear shoes we can barely walk in that will ultimately deform our feet, we should alter ourselves with surgery, botox, pull out most of our hair and so on. None of this is about being well, feeling good or being happy, it’s about being held up to impossible and unnatural standards.

My body is here to serve – and that’s an idea that I’ve had to wrestle with considerably. Notions of wife and mother cast us as giving to the point of self sacrifice. Too many workplaces would use our bodies to the point of sickness and exhaustion. We’re poisoning ourselves with car fumes.

I can’t speak to the male experience, or any non-binary experiences. While I don’t emotionally identify with being female, I’ve realised that expectations around what happens with my apparently-female body have had a huge impact on me.

What if the point of a body isn’t to look good for other people? What if the point is to live, feel, do…? What if the person who should most benefit from my body is in fact me? What if I’m not here to be used, not obliged to give whenever asked? It opens up worlds of possibilities.

I spent a lot of years trying, and failing to be thin. I’ve always been odd looking, smearing makeup on this face doesn’t change me into something conventional. I’ve been used, and been complicit in being used because I never thought there was more than that. Years of living in a space where it’s not about use and ornament and I get to be a person, has really opened things up for me. I start to ask what this body needs, what would feel good, what I would enjoy… these are the keys to an as yet undiscovered country.


How to be an activist

With the world as it is right now, we need as many people as possible involved in activism, but we also need to do it well. Badly handled activism can put people off a cause. Worse, it can emotionally undermine people so they feel powerless and unable to keep contributing. Activism done well lifts and inspires people so that they want to get involved, and stay involved, and know that they can make real change.

Shock tactics may grab attention, but after a while they create apathy. There’s only so many abuse images a person can take, and the kind of activism that shows ghastly suffering – human and animal – can desensitise. It is tempting to use powerful images to get an important issue across, but the cumulative effect is that we all end up tuning stuff out just to cope, or pulling away to protect ourselves. Show me a live, happy dolphin and tell me it needs my help and I’ll go sign the petition. Tell me in words what the problem is, and keep those words bearable.

It’s also easy to fall into habits of blaming and shaming, trying to induce guilt to make people act. This can have a short term impact but over the longer term it demoralises people. The worst thing to do is take people who showed up wanting to help, and have picking holes in their choices be the main focus of the activism. Allies you don’t perfectly agree with are far more valuable than no allies, and infinitely more useful than enemies. Willingness to work with people who are not like us can be key – it was, after all, the otter hunters who first raised the issue of dwindling otter numbers in the UK some decades ago.

One of the reasons I love volunteering for The Woodland Trust, is that it’s all about soft activism and encouraging people. I’ve been a member for many years. They regularly send me news about their work, photos of landscapes they’ve bought and saved, and requests for funds for the next projects. I find it uplifting. We don’t win everything, we don’t save everything, but by focusing most on the better news, it’s easier to stay engaged. I know that my support for them makes a difference, so rather than getting ground down by what’s wrong, I get uplifted by the wins.

Activism needs to be underpinned by the idea that we can make a difference – because we can, but if we don’t believe that we’re not going to get very far. We need to stay hopeful, stay inspired, stay energised, and morale is key here. There will be lots of times when we have to talk about bloody awful things, but the focus has to be on what can be done, and how, rather than just hand wringing. We can change everything, if we help each other to do it.


How to start the day

Back in the summer of 2016, I was ill. More ill than usual, and ill enough to be worried about it. Yet another round of burnout had left me plummeting into depression, but alongside this were increasing signs that my body just couldn’t take the strain any more. I realised that if I didn’t make some radical changes, I could get into serious trouble.

One of the things I did as part of a radical life shift, was to start walking first thing in the morning. Previously I’d been working at the computer by seven am most days. Instead, after the lad left the establishment for school I’d put in a half an hour walk, and hit the keyboard somewhere after eight. It soon became obvious that I was rolling in to work with a clearer head and better concentration, and that some of my ever longer hours had been down to the snail’s pace I’d previously been reduced to.

I promised myself that days would be less than ten hours and weeks would have 2 day weekends, and mostly I’ve stuck to that, and it has helped me enormously.

Walking first thing gets me outside and connected with the natural world. It gets the blood moving, and with my often-sluggish circulation, that’s a real plus. It means I don’t move from bed to workspace of a morning, but get something else in the mix.

It’s really hard, on the days when energy is in short supply, to prioritise walking. Going out first thing knowing I may be compromising my ability to work into the afternoon, is a challenge. Using the time on something for me goes against the grain a bit. But then, how I think about myself is one of the things I’ve had to change to enable me to make progress towards being more well. I had to stop being a resource for others to use, and start being a person. Through this process, I’ve put down a lot of unpaid work, and I’ve changed policy on that. I won’t run round after people who aren’t being nice to me. It’s amazing how much extra time and energy that move has liberated.

During the darkest part of the year, I stopped walking first thing – I hate getting up in the dark, I’m even less keen on going out then. However, there’s now predawn light at the right point in the day, and I’ve gone back to it. I feel good about the early morning walking. I’ll need a more cunning plan for next winter, but I’ve plenty of time to figure that out.


Father Christmas and the Pagan Child

Becoming a parent, back in 2002, the issue of what to do with Christmas soon raised its head for me. Of course for the first couple of rounds the lad was too young to have any clue. He grew up without a television so I largely got away with it until he was about three, and then of course other people started asking him what Father Christmas would be bringing. I left wrapped gifts by his bed that year, he was confused about them, but the joy of unwrapping soon wiped that away.

By the time he was four, I was really uneasy. I didn’t want to lie to him about the existence of a mythic figure who would come down the chimney and leave gifts. I wanted to be able to talk to him about myth and magic, wonder and possibility in a way that would open up his world, and enable him to trust me.

I think it was the year that the boy was 5, that we debunked Father Christmas. His school were collecting for children who had little or nothing, and I watched his growing concern and distress. As a bright lad with a tendency to think about things, he was starting to notice that the magical spirit of Christmas always gave the most to the richest children and seemed happy to leave starving children to starve, and deprived children with little or nothing. He had a sense of fair play from early on, and the wisdom to know this wasn’t it. When I sat him down and explained, he was relieved.

I remember the same year another mother on the playground saying that her son had announced he couldn’t possibly be happy at Christmas unless Father Christmas brought him a gold Dalek. They cost about fifty pounds, and she couldn’t afford it. Where do you even start?

I like the idea of a spirit of generosity at Christmas. However, the idea of Santa rewarding the good children leads to the reinforcing of the idea that money and goodness are one and the same thing. The good children all have rich parents. Poor children will get a very different experience of Christmas, and the super expensive must have, highly advertised Christmas toys are not available to them.

Bring back Krampus!


Scarcity, abundance and sufficiency

We live in an age that creates an impression of scarcity and often creates a reality of scarcity, to keep us hooked on buying more stuff and working more hours. We don’t have enough time. There’s not enough money to take care of our homeless or help refugees from war zones (there is money for weapons). We are encouraged to fear others, who may use resources, we are encouraged to accept environmental degradation for the sake of there being ‘more’.

The truth is that many of us have an abundance of good things, some of us have excess, but we can’t always see it. I blame the corrosive effect of advertising. The best way to deal with the issues of scarcity in your life, is to look for abundance, and practice gratitude. Let me be clear, if you do not have enough food, if you can’t heat your home, this is not going to be of much direct help to you. But, having been through some harsh times myself, I do think that recognising whatever you have, however small it is, helps with dignity and a sense of wellbeing. Poverty causes considerable stress, alleviating the stress will help you.

It’s easy to get trapped in obsessing over what we haven’t got. If you are missing essential things, this is an issue that can never be that far from your mind. However, for many people, the sense of scarcity and threat has more to do with fear than it does with life. Take the time to find whatever small goods there are in your life. What makes you happy? What do you have enough of? More than enough? What can you share?

If you are keeping things for the sake of it, give some of it away. It’s a liberating feeling, but nothing will help you feel abundant more than recognising that you had something you didn’t need, and passing it along to someone who could use it. Whatever time off you get, look at how you use it, for your own sense of wellbeing and to contribute to other people’s. You might have little money, but a time rich person has all kinds of opportunities. It may be that you are a compassionate person, and that care is the abundance you can share with others. If you have a car, your abundance might mean giving lifts to those who don’t. You might give away excess produce. Write a blog and share your ideas. There are many other ways of doing this, too.

A person doesn’t have to go a long way out of their way to feel a bit abundant, a bit generous. Of course, in sharing your abundance, however small, you are making life better for someone else. You are alleviating their sense of scarcity and showing them how to share whatever abundance they can find. Imagine the possible knock-on effects. Imagine what could be alleviated.

We can use our feelings of abundance to tackle feelings of scarcity, and by doing this, we can move towards a sense of sufficiency, of recognising when we have enough. This in turn would reduce overall consumption. We can help reduce the scarcity experienced by others. If abundance means sharing, then hording would be less acceptable. It would be a hefty cultural revolution, but it is thinkable.


A rant against Commercialmass

Let me start by saying that if you are celebrating a festival over the winter, as a spiritual festival, then I take no issue with it. If you are, in a more communal way, celebrating family, and friendship and planning things that will make people happy – yourself included – I take no issue with it. All power to you. Winters are gloomy, often depressing times and a bit of warmth and good cheer goes a long way.

Commercialmass is none of those things.

Commercialmass is about spending money you don’t have on things you don’t need – quite possibly to appease people you don’t even like. Commercialmass is false jollity powered by spending and guilt. It’s the pressure to make a big day, even if you are tired, and worn and could do with a rest. It’s the time honoured tradition of pulling threads out of people who were already threadbare. It’s the season of overeating and over-drinking (or feeling the misery of poverty more keenly because you can’t), blotting out the things you want to avoid with a glut neither wallet nor waistline can afford. Festive is an advert on the TV, or the hope of what Amazon Prime can bring, and something has gone horribly wrong.

Commercialmass exists because retailers can get us to spend a lot of extra money on things no one really needs. The guilt of time we don’t spend with people, the anxieties, and insecurities we feel can all be assuaged for just a little while by the power of our spending. This is a lie, but the tinsel goes up at the start of December, the relentless Christmas adverts started in November. If your house isn’t lit, decorated and as gift laden as the ones you keep seeing in the ads, of course it’s easy to feel inadequate. We are meant to feel inadequate. That way, we spend more.

If what you celebrate in the darkest part of the year lifts your spirits, and lifts the spirits of those around you, then you’re doing it right. You’re doing something you can afford, that enriches life. The rest is just detail. If the prospect of midwinter depresses you, if you feel overstretched and financially compromised, if you fear debt, and fear looking like a failure, if you dread the work to be done on the day and the people you’ll be obliged to interact with, then you are one of the many people celebrating Commercialmass.

You don’t have to go through with it. A person can say ‘no’ to any and all aspects of the business. You do not have a moral obligation to create profits for other people. The season of goodwill to all shareholders is not something you have to engage with. Do it on your terms.


Abusing your tolerance

There are four standard ways of turning a tolerant person’s tolerance against them. This is how they are presented:

Method 1) You have to tolerate my intolerance or your tolerance is a lie. Hate speech is freedom of speech, silencing hate is dictatorial, oppressive and intolerant.

Method 2) Your tolerance is allowing terrible people to do terrible things. Most typically at the moment, if you are tolerant of Muslims, you are tolerating anything that can be pinned to a Muslim criminal, if not actively encouraging and endorsing it. It’s because of people like you that a Muslim gang was able to sexually abuse white teenagers in the north of the UK.

Method 3) Your tolerance is, in a round about way, causing people to do terrible things. People becoming fascists, perpetrating hate crimes and voting for psychopaths is basically a reaction against your dangerous, oppressive tolerance.

Method 4 ) Your tolerance is oppressing me. I want to celebrate Christmas, but your tolerance means it’s not politically correct for me to be straight, white, Christian, affluent, safe. Your tolerance is not really tolerance, your tolerance is a means of oppressing innocent majorities.

I see these go by regularly online, and I think it’s important to publically flay their dodgy hides off. These statements are used to silence and confuse people who are tolerant, inclusive, compassionate and generally decent human beings. It fails to recognise that what we want to do is extend those basics of human decency to anyone who is quietly minding their own business and not doing any harm. Tolerance doesn’t embrace violence, criminality or hate, regardless of who is doing it. That would be apathy. Tolerance doesn’t stop people from going about their own harmless business – tyranny does that.

Genuinely tolerant, inclusive people aren’t afraid of not ‘being PC’ if a person is acting dreadfully. We might want to talk about the context, but understanding the reasons is a whole separate issue. Being told you can’t do things because they aren’t PC, actually tends to come from people who are not PC. Like the whole celebrating Christmas thing – the idea there’s even a problem here comes from the anti-PC brigade and seems to be a self perpetuating myth.

The idea that inclusive people who don’t need everyone else to conform to their preferences are in some way the cause of people becoming Nazis, is one of the most curious bits of double think I’ve seen in a while. It recognises that the Nazi bit really isn’t good, or desirable, but rather than blame the Nazis amongst us, is blames the people who are doing most to try and resist that very thing. At this point I can only shake my head in confusion and point you towards my recent post on gaslighting.

This isn’t about logic, or reason, it’s about forcing other people to shut up. The kind of people who attack tolerance and inclusivity don’t, I suspect, really care if the logic holds up. It’s not about the logic, it’s about the winning – which is why arguing and reasoning is likely to be a waste of your energy. Tolerance is not obliged to embrace the intolerant in order to still count as tolerant. It’s not a freedom of speech issue. It’s not a question of oppression. It’s a matter of drawing a line, and saying that violence, the call to violence, and harming people for no other reason than your own hate, isn’t acceptable. An it harm none, do what thou will. Go round trying to cause harm, and there should be no room to demand the tolerance you would deny to others.