Peace on earth and good will to all?

Good heavens, it’s December — where in the name of all that’s holy did 2018 go? It seems like only yesterday I was decking my metaphorical halls and boggling about the speed at which 2017 was evaporating. Does any one else experience December a bit like an annualised Grounhog DayA month when everything seems to repeat itself bringing a sense of  déjà vu and some difficulty in separating one year end from another?

It’s the time of year of dementedly cramming in everything that needs to be done in the count down to Christmas. The lure of the holidays beckons like a Siren call and you start to feel a bit over it all. As the weather hots up and the time runs out, it’s so easy to get a bit tetchy and lose sight of age old seasonal calls for peace on earth and good will to all. These become more compelling every year given our current reality and the scary future outlook we’re facing on many counts. Whatever religion or spiritual philosophy you embrace, surely the prospect of peace on earth and goodwill to all should be front and centre of everything we do if we are to leave any sort of joy to the world of our children and grand-children?

But, sometimes it all feels overwhelming. What can any individual do in the context of so much dysfunction? Well, lots actually. There are so many examples of incredible individuals who have changed the world through their inspiring lives. Clearly there’s the holy trinity of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi and their ilk. Amazing as these Titan’s of human rights were, the heroic and very much less travelled paths they walked fell a bit beyond most of us. But there are many less known others throughout history who have shown what can be achieved with vision and compassion. People like Henry Dunant who found the Red Cross in 1863 and whose humanitarian ideas gave rise to The Geneva Conventionin 1864.  People like The Tank Man, who stood in front of a column of tanks from the People’s Liberation Army in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 armed only with his shopping bags. This unknown hero became an ionic image from Chinese pro-democracy protests which were brutally suppressed through weeks of clashes between with government forces in which thousands of people were thougtht to have been killed.

For sure, not everyone has it in them to show bravery like The Tank Man, but little things matter too and the ripple in the pond effect cannot be under-estimated. I’d say it would be wonderful to inspire those “I want what she’s on” responses and to infuse random strangers with our positive energy. As I said in my previous blog, I am a big fan of the kindness movement and the possibility of step change through benevolent influence. However, in the same vein, it’s the little things that can also be the most irritating and potentially destructive causing a chain re-actions of negativity and aggression, sometimes leading to violence.

I was sharply reminded a few days ago as I was walking briskly along the pavement (or sidewalk depending on where you live), enjoying the sunshine and day dreaming happily about the summer holidays. God was most definitely in his heaven and all right with my world. Then it wasn’t! What is it about people in groups? Do they forget that their group is simply a subset of the rest of humanity? Apparently so! Imagine my irritation when a clump of ‘yoof’ ambled towards me oblivious to my presence, or right of equal passage on the public footpath, forcing me to step into the road to be able to get past them. How inconsiderate I thought. How rude! Channelling Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high”, I swallowed the “screw you” (or other expletive) that was begging to be lobbed at their retreating backs and strode on trying to get my dander levels under control!

I haven’t often felt pavement rage like this since I lived in London. In those years, we used to talk about aggressive walking – i.e. elbows and handbags as weapons being fair game to get through the milling, chaotic melees that were Regent and Oxford Streets in the lead up to Christmas. In bustling metropolitan places like Central London or New York where the populations are in the multi-millions, it’s often impossible to do as you would be done by pavement wise. In places like New Zealand’s capital of Wellington with its paltry 450,000 (and that’s the whole region, not just the city itself), not so much. There really is no excuse for pavement hogging here because we don’t have the rivers of people to contend with and it’s doubly annoying because there’s generally no need for it.

In the busiest places however, necessity is the mother of invention. There is a sort of acknowledged pavement etiquette which is applied by most people for the sake of everyone’s sanity and wellbeing. This is particularly true during the twice daily king tides of people flooding out of the underground stations in the morning and then receding back into them in the evening. Minor decisions about people flow are made intuitively and constantly whilst navigating these human tsunamis. Situational awareness is a critical survival skill.

It’s not just inconsiderate people that cause problems. Artless tourists are another source of rage to locals. When I started sifting around, I was quite entertained to find that there are studies about the walking speeds of locals versus tourists and workers versus shoppers. There are even groups lobbying for the introduction of fast and slow lanes and texting lanes on pavements that are colour-coded to achieve directional flow. Trouble with any sort of pavement regulatory system — voluntary or imposed — is that not everyone’s going in the same direction and you might want to cut across the flow to get into a shop. This can be life threatening at peak times — you’d have more success crossing the Spey River in full spate after the sprint melt.

In summary, when we take to the pavements, forget good will to all, simple good manners, courtesy and politeness all too often disappear faster than you can say Donald Trump. Oops did I mention the ‘T’ word? It seems a shame that the concept of good manners is ow so very much equated with a stiffling colonial past. There’s been a lot of talk over the last months of ‘incivility’ in the political arena. Taking it outside of politics, perhaps incivility is the contemporary articulation of the ancient proverb ‘manners maketh man’? (For man, read men, women, LGBTs and children). Whatever name you give it, I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing almost a soulful longing for a kinder, more considerate society and world. And where better to start than in the way we interact with our fellow humans on a daily basis?

The earliest known reference to the proverb “manners taketh man” was in the writings of William Horman, who lived between 1440 and 1535 and was headmaster of the very famous English schools Eton and then Winchester. Horman’s book ‘Vulgaria’ (translates from Latin into something like ‘everyday sayings’ or ‘common sayings’) is a collection of proverbs that were in common use, so it may have been around for many years, even centuries before Horman’s time. The proverb’s meaning has come to be that your mannerisms and characteristics make you who you are. That people are judged by their manners and conduct. But in its earliest use, it likely had a broader meaning – that manners make us human —  that politeness and etiquette are what prevent us from falling into savagery.

Well, it certainly feels pretty savage when a phalanx of people fail to give way on a pavement forcing you to walk on the street. It’s also quite savage when someone crowds you at a check out or tail-gates you in a place where they have no possibility of overtaking. Those shouted cell phone conversations some people insist on having in public that disturb the peace — a legal offence in many countries and most definitely savage. Ditto people who talk through movies or concerts. Call me old fashioned but I’m still a big fan of those very under rated ‘magic words’, please and thank you . And would it really hurt for drivers to acknowledge my courtesy with a wave? So many of them don’t. Barging in front of me in a queue is not a winner either! And please don’t sit at my dinner table texting or checking your social media conversations — I believe that’s called excessive virtual socialising.

I don’t want to go through my days having spasms of irritation and being a victim of these every day acts of thoughtlessness that spoil my buzz. I’d say manners are still a fundamental need of a civilised society. We just need an updated version for our current reality in which we struggle to deal with over-population and resort to smart devices as the universal panacea. Manners might not cure all the evils of the world, but what a different place the world would be if we really could extend goodwill to all — we might even succeed with achieving peace on earth. Amen to that.

 

 

Riding the kindness wave

Don’t know about you, but I’m sick of the barrage of negativity that bombards us from all the news channels. I want to feel uplifted not besmirched when I think about our species and what we’re capable of. That doesn’t mean I’m for buying my head in the sand — I’m not hermit material, nor do I want to retire to an ashram and … er … I’m not actually an ostrich. In any case, as part of the ‘global village’ it’s my duty to be at least a bit informed about current events and geopolitics and form opinions and be part of the whole thing.

Yet there is just so much vileness, violence and vitriol splattered around these days, it’s easy to get cynical and despairing. Caring detachment is apparently the answer. But it’s hard to stay above the tantalising awfulising that vomits forth from so many channels. It’s all so ‘dialled up’ and following every sensational utterance of the Trumps of the world has become a new sport, if not religion. All that’s needed is an internet connection and a screen of some sort and hey presto, you’re plugged in and the ‘interwebs’ pedalling the good, bad and the ugly is your oyster. Lies, damn lies and fake news abound. We get trapped in our echo-chambers. For us liberals, it’s hard to ignore feeling that the barbarians are at the gates and our legacy to future generations could all too easily be a burned-out world with a broken eco-system.

So what can an individual do that really makes a difference worth a damn … other than vote of course! Well, lots to be honest. The possibilities are endless, but one option that’s really taken off is the concept of creating waves of energy to achieve positive reinforcement. Literally, spreading good vibes. Think about it — we plant trees to offset carbon emissions. Why not apply that thinking to offset hate, bigotry, misogyny, racism and all the other isms that have re-reared their ugly heads so forcefully around the world in this era of uncivility? The idea is that kindness — appreciation and caring for one another — in deed, in word, in thought or intent  — changes individual lives. Collectively, it can transform the world.

Clearly, orchestrated action is not a new concept. We apply it in all sorts of practical ways like several people lifting a heavy object on the count of three.. A rapidly growing number of people believe that this type of concerted approach can lift the world. Waves of Kindness is a movement where people take a moment at 8am and 8pm daily to form a complete and tangible wave ring around the world coming from a conscious state of unified kindness.

If that all sounds a bit ‘woo woo’ then perhaps a more accessible option is World Kindness Day that’s coming up on November 13. WKD aims to highlight good deeds in the community focusing on the positive power and the common thread of kindness which binds us. It’s intended to be a day that encourages individuals to overlook boundaries, race and religion and celebrate commonalities. Two thousand and eighteen is the movement’s 20th anniversary — it was initiated in 1998 by a coalition of kindness NGOs around the world and is now observed in a number of countries including Australia, Canada, Italy, India, Japan, Nigeria, UAE, Singapore and the UK.

Embarrassing that New Zealand isn’t yet on this list — shame on us! Having said that our inspiring Prime Minister Jacinda Adern included this sort of thinking in a speech at the UN a few weeks ago, and my home town  — NZ’s capital city Wellington — is celebrating its inaugural GKD this year. Better late than never!

People observe WKD in all sorts of ways. In Australia for example, it’s made it onto the school calendar of 9,000 schools and there are “It’s Cool To Be Kind Awards”. Activities include handing out kindness cards, staging flashmobs and concerts. WKD is also on the radar of individual non-profits such as Life Vest in the US and there’s clearly a big appetite for finding the international kindness taproot. Life Vest’s film Kindness Boomerang went viral, receiving more than 100 million views and coverage in serious media outlets such as TED, NBC, CBS and Adweek.

If you’re leaning towards joining the kindness wave, you might also consider becoming a Raktivist — the random acts of kindness movement might be more your thing. Much more of a JFDI individual approach without all the group hugging and collaborative stuff. According to the site, Raktivists are kindness ambassadors who live and breathe kindness, share knowledge and lead by example. Apparently you can tell where they’ve been because they leave a trail of ‘warm fuzzies’ in their wake.

I subscribe to a number of international media. One of them actually has a Week In Good News that you can sign up for and it’s great. Last week, from this and other sources, I learned that lavender is being mooted as providing a natural alternative to chemical anti-depressants, that Chinese workers has managed to save an old bear that had fallen into a reservoir and was close to drowning by scooping him out using an industrial digger, a woman who had been saved from a house fire by her cat and how a blind climber conquered Everest and went on to co-found a non profit to teach outdoor skills to others with physical challenges.

There are plenty of genuinely moving, uplifting, inspirational things going on every moment of every day, everywhere. I strongly believe positivity breeds positivity and the only way we’ll make change happen is if we believe we can and infect others in our orbit with this belief. Positive energy is infectious and it’s a virus we should be keen to share. Hope really can triumph over experience if we let it. Where we are now it seriously needs to! They used to say you need to be cruel to be kind. I’d say it’s more a case of you need to be kind to be kind.

 

 

A good man and true

My father died two months ago. He was 89, a sick old man and it wasn’t unexpected. In many ways our little family was glad he didn’t linger on because the last few weeks of his life were not the best of times. He was so very fragile and there was little left of our big proud Scotsman who always had a song in his heart. Despite this, when it comes down to that final good bye, I don’t think you’re ever really prepared. There’s really no way to pre-empt the emotions that are triggered when you realise one of the mainstays of your life is gone. I miss him deeply.

Dad died early on a Tuesday morning and we had the funeral three days later. It was small, intimate affair and a fitting tribute to the man. It truly was a celebration, full of joy and love and laughter. My sister and I gave the eulogies. Preparing these, we reviewed our family story at length and laughed and cried in equal measure while we pondered his life and what he’d meant to us. We discussed how lucky we were to be born to parents who gave us a wonderful and safe childhood. Parents who fed our ‘satiable curiosity’ and opened our minds to how much the world has to offer. They encouraged us to be the unique, creative individuals all human beings should be able to be. Most of all, they gave us the security to grow and experiment with our lives, knowing we could escape from whatever mess we could land ourselves in because there was always a safety net at home. We lived without the taint of violence or intimidation that is the awful reality for so many women and girls.

Of course, we had our ‘moments’ — what family doesn’t? It would also be misleading to sanctify his memory, he wasn’t’ a saint. But how many kids never experience the wonder of a kind, loving father who cares deeply for them and protects them? How many still live in terror as a drunken monster rampages round the house hitting out at anything or anyone who gets in his way? How many go hungry or have their lives and health ruined by their crack- or p-addicted parents? How many orphans simply don’t ever get to know their parents? How many have their dreams and confidence beaten out of them dashed on the rocks of ignorance and cruelty? How many kids are damaged beyond repair by toxic, Wars of the Roses style divorces?

My father was a man of high principles. An honest-to God, good man who loved and respected the women in his life and believed we could be anything we wanted to be.  In these #metoo times, we could do with more people like him. While we surely need to ‘out’ the bad apples and find ways of stopping the violence and inequality, it’s important to remember that there are lots of good guys like him around too.

Painting in feature image: William (Bill) Paterson by Joseph Guilford c 2016

 

Smile … an everlasting smile

I smile a lot. You might even say I’m a positive little joy germ … I’ve even been known to sing first thing in the morning. I see this as a great way to greet the day, others find it annoying. But I can’t help it, it’s just how I am. My rellies call me Tigger after the irrepressible bouncing tiger in the AA Milne’s wonderful Winnie the Pooh stories. Hopefully you get the picture? I’m one of nature’s smilers. Or at least I used to be. Life kind of got in the way for a while there and it felt as if Tigger had bounced up one tree too many and got stuck. Happily — smilingly — Tigger’s back bouncing around on the ground searching for adventure.

But my point? Other than smiling, walking is one of my great joys in life. When I walk I think, I process, I solve problems and dream up ideas. Some people smile while they dial. Me, I smile while I walk. Weird you might say, but why not? Walking makes me feel great, all I have to do is leave my house to do it. I usually walk in glorious places which make my heart sing and, even better, it’s usually free. What’s not to smile about? So what if I look like some scary humanoid version of the Cheshire Cat to the rest of the world?

But I think smiling’s great and an encounter I had a couple of weeks ago is a perfect example of why. Picture the scene. I was striding happily along the waterfront near my home, inhaling the beauty of a glorious day and enjoying the antics of the canines on parade. I’m wearing scabby old exercise clothes, but I figure glam shades, some violent red lippy make up for that … and the beaming smile. Of course, most people scuttle away when this apparition goes past. A few manage a muted ‘Hi’ in response to my breezy greeting — usually this comes with all the enthusiasm that you might put into acknowledging a slimy thing that’s just crawled out from under a stone. Sad … as he who should not be named would say.

Why are people so afraid? That a smile is the façade for an out of control lunatic? That they might somehow get caught up in my life if they smile back? That I’m on the make?Makes me think I need to carry a placard, “Really it’s OK. I’m smiling at you because I’m having a Zip-A-De-Doo-Dah day. I’m high on the sun, the sparkly sea, all those wonderful dogs, the way the rhythms of walking make my body feel and, by the way, I would like to share my joy with you.” Don’t other people feel the same?

Imagine my surprise  when I find a kindred spirit in amongst all the avoidance — another happy smiling face. I see her dog first. I love dogs (in case you missed that) but there are some breeds I particularly like and hers happens to be one of them. Patrocles (as I find out he’s called) is a liver spotted Dalmatian that would have given the leads in 101 Dalmationsa run for their money in terms of street appeal. I turn to compliment the women on the gorgeousness which is her dog and ask if I can pat him. That’s when I really clock her. She’s staring out over the water with a radiant smile that would make Julia Robert’s best look dim. I take it she’s as intoxicated by the day as I am. She turns to answer my question … our eyes meet … and we share a ‘moment’ as we acknowledge that we both get it. That whatever else is going on in our lives (and it’s not been a good year on a number of counts in mine) we’re smiling because right now, in this moment, the world is a wonderful place. Even Patrocles is smiling!

Anyway, after mouthing platitudes about dogs and the loveliness of the day, we have that conversation about why people look away when you smile at them. Then, a little reluctantly it has to be said, I walk on. But somehow, I can’t let the moment pass and turn back because I want to tell her she’s made my day with her beautiful energy. It’s the same for her she says. I pat the pooch again and continue on my walk feeling good at having had such a random and uplifting encounter.

It really did make my day and I’m still smiling thinking about it. Was such a good reminder of how much we can influence our world through the energy we bring and the simple gift of an open and genuine smile. So smile people, because nothing shakes the smiling heart and remember that happiness looks gorgeous on you. As Chris Hart said, “All the statistics in the world can’t measure the warmth of a smile.”

So get your smiley face on and dazzle everyone you meet. Tough shit if some people think you’re deranged. You’ll have a great day and hopefully also make those of of the people you cross paths with.

Happy World Smile Day!

(5 October 2018)

 

 

 

Thrift — the new black?

I read a great article the other day about a trending topic, ‘The Cult of Thrift’. The gods of this cult are minimalisation, debt-free living, frugality, decluttering and zero waste, gods I’ve been progressively bending the knee to over the last few months. In fact, it was so similar to my own experience, the article felt as if it had been written by a doppelgänger. Hadn’t realised I was part of a new wave — how advanced of me!

The main difference between us was that the writer has consciously embraced the thrift ethos whereas I’ve kind of blundered into it in a necessity being the mother of invention sort of way. In fact, after a couple of financially disappointing business investments, I’ve really had no option other than to pull my belt in big time. Thinking about it, said tightenign of belt was purely metaphorical. As the funds ran out like beer from a leaky barrel, epic levels of comfort eating kicked in meaning that I actually would have had to let out the  belt a few notches … if I’d wanted to wear one that is. During this nadir, I pretty much stopped wearing belts or any other clothes with shape given the results of all the snout in trough stuff. However, I’m sure you’ll be as uplifted as I am by the knowledge that not only have I started wearing belts again, I’ve actually clawed back one of the lost belt holes and have confidence a normal waistline is in sight!

So much for metaphor! In any case, what started out as necessity quite quickly morphed into choice and I appear to be well on my way to becoming a paid-up Thrifter and feeling more virtuous by the moment.

So what has given me the keys to the Thriftdom? Unsurprisingly, given the above, a fair amount of it revolves round food and eating habits. For starters, bargain food hunting has become an obsession, if not actually a new sport. This has led to the dark art of cooking proper meals again instead of giving in to the Siren call of endless takeaways after too many stressful and long days at work. Sometimes the new me even cooks a casserole or soup or similar at weekends to stretch over several weekday meals.

I finally get the joy of auction sites like eBay and Trademe although I continue to try and buy as ethically as possible. I can’t exactly claim that Upcycle has become my middle name, but I have looked at a few things and had an ‘aha moment’ about refurb rather than trash. ‘Pre-loved’ clothing shops are very much on my radar. Having moved into a much smaller apartment, I no longer get small space envy whenever I watch a George C Clarke TV programme and I feel positively virtuous for the level of de-cluttering that’s resulted. I can thoroughly recommend this tactic to wannabee Thrifties. When you have limited space, it makes you think long and hard about what stuff you actually want to shackle yourself to. Choices have to be made people! It won’t all fit! In the spirit of transparency, I have to fess up to the fact that I haven’t yet been able to get myself to offload the many boxes of books I’ve been trailing around as I’ve moved into successively smaller homes to a second-hand book seller or book fair, so my sister’s enormous garage is currently multi-tasking as my library.

Limited closet space is also a great incentive to apply some of the anti- clothes-hoarding rules. You know — if you  haven’t worn it in the last two years, it’s toast. If you buy a new garment, something must be consigned to the outer darkness of the clothing bin to make room for it. If it doesn’t work with something you’ve already got, put it back on the rack. And how many pairs of shoes does anyone not called Imelda need?

In all seriousness, after the initial trauma, de-cluttering is a very liberating activity. It’s not just stuff I’ve been getting rid of either. The thrift thing can be applied across all the facets of life. I’ve shed one business and stepped back from a couple of other professional involvements so I can concentrate fully on doing one role well. I’m also training myself to say no to all those ‘should dos’ that my inner crowd pleaser sees as obligatory.

Although thrifty has been a virtue since Adam was a boy (actually since around 1300 if you read dictionaries), the Thrift evangelists are out in numbers these days. You’d have to think that’s a direct result of the all the inconvenient truths we’re facing as a society and the fear the we might be going to Hell in a handbasket sometime soon if we can’t get the lid back on our contemporary Pandora’s box. Among the evils unleashed on the world when some fool opened it in this is the spend-thriftery (extravagant, irresponsible spending) that has come to define our consumerist western lifestyle.

But how could it be otherwise? We’re literally bombarded with subliminal and not-so-subliminal messaging carefully crafted to make us dissatisfied and want more, bigger and better everything. But don’t worry, if you can’t afford it, someone will lend you the money, up your credit card limit or provide ‘interest free credit’ so you can keep on consuming and owe a bit more of your soul to the company store. It’s unsustainable on so many levels — personal, community wide and for our equally stressed planet.

Actually, it’s obscene. Or at least in my rapidly de-cluttering life, it seems so. The concept of retail therapy — when the going gets tough the tough go shopping — sits at the centre of the problem. Particularly when the results are growing mountains of recycling that can’t (yet) be re-cycled, oceans stuffed with plastic and other toxic detritus and all the rest. Maybe we should create a new mantra; when the going gets tough, the tough go … on a peace march?

Shopping as our primary leisure time activity is particularly ironic given that we humans have so much innate creativity. Less time spent shopping leaves time for things that so often go on the back boiler. I love writing this blog as it helps me sort out my priorities, worldview and values. But when I get stressed and my life and mind get cluttered, I can’t write. There’s just no headspace to think about anything other than whatever is causing the stress, and I have sometimes gone for weeks without writing anything.

It has to be noted that the cult of thrift is not a judgement on the genuinely poor for whom thrift is not a virtue but potentially a life sentence. Rather, it is being held out as an alternative for people with means who want to get off the consumer treadmill and start living within them, taking responsibility for how their actions affect the present and future. It’s not about austerity, just changing our personal values and thinking more deeply about how we live.

Taking my own recent experiences, while I’m as keen to have the good things in life as the next person, I’ve found a lot of joy in appreciating what is instead of lusting after what isn’t. In this context, less is most definitely more. Getting my thrift on has become a highly creative and engaging new way operating which ironically becomes a much more sure-fired way of being able to afford to do the things I would like to. I feel up-lifted by the challenge not deprived. There’s certainly more time to smell the roses.