Inequality

This post was inspired by a writing prompt on Tipsy Lit.

There are so many people striving for equal rights, vocal and strident in their fight to be granted the same opportunities as others. Except we are not all the same, we are not born equal.

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Children pick up on this from an early age. Primary schools and sports clubs appear reluctant to reward youngster’s achievements, yet the children themselves are well aware of who amongst them is the best at running, football, gymnastics, maths. By rewarding all or rewarding none, hard won accomplishments go unrecognised. By trying to avoid labelling children winners and losers, none reap the benefits.

Inequality exists. Being fair does not necessarily mean demanding equality.

Should we instead be striving for an unbiased meritocracy? Allow the fastest, the strongest, the brightest to be selected for roles that require these attributes. Do not try to open up to all challenging disciplines that are unsuitable for an individual’s abilities.

Discrimination based on gender, skin colour or sexual orientation makes no sense; discrimination based on talent, strengths or ability, in certain circumstances, does.

But what of the opportunities to explore where talents may lie in order to allow them to be nurtured? The inequalities created by wealth distribution can be the hardest to overcome. In a world of stiff competition and scarce resources  it can be hard to offer opportunities for all from an early age.

It is inevitable that some who may have been great will slip through the net, but can we do better at offering opportunity to the most able based on merit rather than background and upbringing? How do we change a natural inclination to choose what is seen as a good fit when we are naturally drawn to prefer those who reflect back our own personal preferences?

Look around at your friends, those you have chosen to spend time with. Do they share your general views, opinions, interests, lifestyle or abilities? Do you enjoy their company because you have much in common and can share, laugh and commiserate with ease?

It may not matter that the talented surgeon who can return the sick to health is the antithesis of all you hold to be important, so long as he is willing and able to do his job to the best of his ability. Would you be able to look beyond what to you are repugnant views when selecting him for a job though? If you had to choose between him and another who was capable if not quite as brilliant, would you be inclined to select he who you simply liked better, who appeared more acceptable based on your own prejudices?

There are the obvious inequalities that we can all fight to eradicate because they are nonsensical, but perhaps the more insidious and equally damaging discriminations should be vying for our attention too. If we are to offer the best opportunities to the best people then selection cannot rely on the personal preferences of an homogeneous selection board. We would need to find a way of shaking up established practices and accepting those who are the most capable, even if they did not conform to an accepted type.

If we choose to strive for equality of opportunity based on defined achievements then we step into an unknown where we may be the ones who no longer fit.

Invisibility

Another post as part of Zebra Garden and The Waiting‘s Blog Hop. This week’s theme, The Pool.
RTT Blog Hop

The all girls grammar school that I attended had two mobile classrooms by the entrance gate which were used as sixth form common rooms. These days a school’s sixth form centre is often a slick, purpose built collection of classrooms and study areas. We had damp and cold huts, one for lower sixth and one for upper sixth. They contained sagging sofa’s and uncomfortable chairs, pulled up against the barely functioning storage heater. Their main, redeeming feature was the kettle; lack of sleep could be treated with numerous cups of strong coffee.

On the wall by the door was a notice board on which I one day spotted a letter inviting applications for a scholarship to the University of Western Australia. A bequest existed that would fund a student from Britain to study at this exotic establishment. With my desperation to escape the restrictions of my teenage life bubbling ever closer to the surface, I decided to apply.

I have no idea how many other students I was up against, but was surprised and pleased to be invited to London for an interview with the Board of Trustees. My mother insisted that my older sister accompany me on the trip; I was irritated by this forced intrusion but, in the event, pleased to have her along for support. We travelled overnight by boat and train to the big city and stayed for one night in the Brixton YMCA (it was cheap). I had never seen so many people of colour and associated this neighbourhood with the riots that I had seen on the television news. We kept a very low profile.

Not knowing anything about interview technique or expected behaviour, I chatted openly and confidently about my interests and aspirations. I gave the performance of my life and was offered the scholarship, conditional on achieving good enough grades in my exams. I spent the next few months dreaming of life on a campus by the beach surrounded by tanned and beautiful people. In the days before the internet my view of places was largely dictated by television imagery and my mental picture of life in Australia was based on soap operas.

My mother blamed the number of parties I attended; I suspect I had bitten off more than I could chew in subject choices; whatever the reasons, I did not achieve the grades that I needed in my exams and was rejected by the university. The bitterness of my failure was all the more acute because I felt that I had let the Trustees of the scholarship down.

I managed to get into my local university and settled into another few years of living under the restrictions imposed by my parents. Many of my friends went away to study while those who stayed made new friends and got on with their lives. I felt as though mine was on hold.

I discovered the campus sports centre and began to go to the pool each day. There I would swim length after length, slowly up and down using my inadequate breast stroke. I found it relaxing, therapeutic, a chance to switch off from the turmoils in my head. I believed that, in this environment, I was invisible.

When I discovered that my regular swims had been noticed by other students, who found out my name through discussions with mutual friends, the pleasure of my lengthy swims was removed. Unknown to me, these boys had been mocking my arduous progress through the water, racing each other alongside my steady lengths to see how many they could achieve with their slick freestyle in the time it took me to get from one end of the pool to the other.

The benefits of my regular swims had been taken from me and I stopped going to the pool. With my invisibility removed the tranquillity  had been tarnished. I was often lonely at university but never more so than when I was noticed and regarded as odd.

Thirty years later I was offered the opportunity to join a local gym with a small pool attached. Once again I started swimming regularly, length after length covered with my slow and graceless breast stroke; I can still use this activity to switch off and relax. Sometimes other users comment on the distance I travel or the time I spend in the water, but these days I do not care. This is how I choose to spend my time. If others wish to measure their own achievements against my slow progress then let them.

I have a friend who introduced me to the  Aquatic Ape Hypothesis; a theory that ancient man evolved as he did due to his relationship with water rather than the land (some reading on this is suggested in this post Sadness and science | E.J.Kay’s blog). I am no expert, but do find it interesting that so many people gain comfort from proximity to large bodies of water; picturesque locations by lakes, rivers or the sea are sought out for holidays or homes. Perhaps the benefits I gain from my therapeutic swims are built into my humanity.

I enjoy my regular often solitary swims a great deal, but see no reason to improve my technique. My visits to the pool are selfish undertakings, never designed to impress others. I enjoy watching the variety of visitors, guests and members who also use the facility, although I also relish the rare occasions when I have the pool to myself. I swim for pleasure, but still yearn for invisibility.

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The pressure of official celebrations

I enjoy a good family celebration. Since my children stopped asking for big birthday parties and started telling me precisely what they wanted as regards presents, I have found organising their special day to be a pleasure. With just the five of us involved it is fun and relaxed. We do what the birthday child has asked for in terms of activity, food and cake; and can all share in the excitement and pleasure of the gift giving.

I find my husband’s birthday a little trickier as he rarely needs anything and cannot always think of a gift he would want that he is happy for me or our children to choose. Some years he is given very little, which seems a bit mean, but he prefers that to being bought stuff he neither wants nor needs. We usually go out for a meal which he enjoys so the occasion is marked. Likewise for our wedding anniversary, a special meal out will generally suffice.

We take pleasure from these occasions; there is no pressure to conform to anyone else’s ideal. The same cannot be said for officially sanctioned celebrations. I am not good at these as my natural inclination is to ignore them. I do not wish to be forced by the media or commercial marketing into declaring my love for anyone on a certain day. Those I love do, I hope, know that I care throughout the year.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day represent occasions when I must decide whether I capitulate to the demands of the card and gift manufacturers or follow my instincts. I have no wish to offend those I love, but I do object to being harassed into behaving in a certain way.

Yesterday I left it up to my children to choose if they wished to do anything for their dad. As far as I am aware, no mention was made of it being Father’s Day by anyone, including my husband who was out for much of the day anyway. We did go out for a meal the night before, but that was because it suited us to do so for other reasons. I much prefer spending time enjoying each other’s company when we wish to rather than when some marketing campaign demands.

Within our little family this suits us well; we lay no great store by these commercial events. Knowing how to deal with the wider family is a trickier situation. My mother has expressed displeasure at my lack of acknowledgement of certain occasions so I always try to remember to send her a gift,  flowers or a card on particular days. For me, the regular letters that I write to keep her updated with what we are doing as a family express my love more sincerely, but I have no wish for her to feel neglected.

If my father were on line then a quick message could have been sent yesterday, but I don’t believe he would feel the need for a card. Neither of us talks comfortably on the telephone and I had written a lengthy letter just the week before so had no news to pass on. The day came and went with no acknowledgement; we love each other just the same.

I do try hard to remember to send birthday cards to close friends and wider family. Children will be given a small contribution to funds but I rarely buy gifts for adults; I have no idea what they may want or like. If an occasion is to be marked then I wish it to be done freely and joyfully, not under pressure to provide a token that the recipient is unlikely to need. I am not good at buying presents for anyone other than those I am really close to.

Does this attitude make me miserly or neglectful? I suspect that there are those who would think so, but they probably have a low opinion of me anyway. I have come to accept that there are some people I will never be able to please.

There are as many special occasions in life as we choose to celebrate. I would never berate anyone for opting to mark a day, whether official or not, in whatever way suits them. Plenty of fathers will have enjoyed spending time with their children yesterday and this is good. What I object to is being pressurised into acting in a certain way; being made to feel guilty for not conforming to some ideal standard. When others try to impose their wishes and values, discomfort ensues; a celebration is not joyful when participation is forced.

I love my family very much and I show that throughout the year in the way I treat them and the time I spend with them. They show that their love for me is genuine and freely given when they help and support me, not by giving me a card on a stipulated Sunday in March.

The biggest, most ostentatious occasions have the dubious reputation of being times of heightened stress and subsequent bad feeling. I prefer my celebrations to be small and relaxed, spent only with those I am closest to, at times and for reasons that suit us.

There are many who enjoy big parties and get togethers, or gatherings to mark a particular day. They should be free to enjoy and celebrate as they choose, without criticism. I would appreciate being granted the same consideration.

Gifts

Whatever turns you on

A Facebook friend, who lives in America, recently attended an event at her young child’s school. Like me, it would appear that she does not enjoy school events. I derive my feelings of awkwardness from concern about showing my kids up by not blending in enough with the other mothers, and thereby embarrassing my offspring; an invisibility cloak would be useful to ensure that I am not noticed. My friend did not comment on the children so much as the parents and, in particular, the Trophy Mums who she described as follows.

‘A trophy mom is in tiptop physical shape and dresses in the latest fashions for an elementary school open house/end of year pageant. She wears three to five inch heels even though she is walking on dirt and has a perfect pedicure to match her outfit. Even though it’s in the high eighties, her hair is perfectly highlighted, coifed, and worn down, mirroring the style of Jennifer Aniston or the Duchess of Cambridge. She wears large sunglasses and carries a designer bag. When she recognizes others of her kind, which she always does, she is impelled to join them in a small cluster during which they discuss shopping, Pilates and Chick Lit.’

This made me smile as I recognised the exaggerated description from my own experiences. There are many types of mothers, but it is the particular groupings that are the most noticeable at the school gate. When my children were at primary school, I felt most intimidated by the Organising Mums.

These ladies sit on the committees, sell raffle tickets and ensure that all volunteer run events happen as they should. Despite the demands this puts on their time, they manage to take their kids, who often excel in various sports, to the endless training sessions and competitions that need to be attended. They somehow find the energy to organise their meetings, produce baked goods to sell, drive the kids around and socialise together whilst feeding their families and the many extra children who they regularly look after (often children of other organising mums) wholesome and nutritious food. These whirlwinds of activity never ceased to make me feel incompetent as I struggled to achieve half of the tasks that they seemed to take in their stride. My baked goods were a regular disaster.

As well as the groups of mothers there were the solitary, Professional Mums. Although rarely seen locally, they would appear at the most important school events and performances dressed in expensively tailored suits, often arriving just as the show began, to sit alone and take photographs of their progeny. The final applause would barely have died down before they would slip quietly away with perhaps a nod of acknowledgement to the head teacher. These elusive beings rarely stayed at the school long as the demands of their Very Important Jobs would require regular house moves. They remained an individual curiosity rather than a feature of school life. I rarely learnt their first names.

Throughout the years when I couldn’t avoid turning up at the school gate on a daily basis, I observed: the Creative Mums with their individual but still carefully put together style of dress; the Sporty Mums who came straight from a visit to the gym that they had managed to squeeze in before school pick up and their evening run; the Stressed Mums who, although looking fine outwardly,  talked endlessly of their health and family problems. As a keen observer of human behaviour I would try to understand the priorities of these ladies, and be amazed at the number of activities that they all seemed to fit into their lives while I struggled to keep on top of the comparatively undemanding requirements of my home and family.

In different ways I admired all of these ladies. Whether they derived satisfaction from their jobs, appearance, level of fitness or community work, they all came across as belonging in the niche that they had chosen. Most were friendly towards me and I could enjoy their occasional company even when I felt an outsider. However, my personal interests seemed esoteric compared to theirs; I would struggle to find topics of mutual interest beyond our children.

In most social situations I have difficulty keeping up the flow of small talk. My predilection for intelligent debate (I am something of a sapiophile) means that I have little interest in looks, popular entertainments or social achievement. I want an incisive, inquisitive, insightful, irreverent mind; I want philosophical discussion with someone who sometimes makes me go ouch due to their wit and evil sense of humour. My problem, I guess, is that I am not one of these admirable beings. Much as I enjoy their company, I am as much an outsider to this grouping as to any other.

The feeling of never quite belonging would be difficult to cope with if I were not accepted as I am by my own family. Within the confines of our home I can be myself and know that this is okay. I can look out on the world and wonder at the ease with which so many seem to cope in society. It is an act that I can only achieve with effort; it is an effort that I am currently struggling to find the impetus to make.

I would not wish to live in a homogeneous society. The wealth and variety of individuals attitudes and behaviours contribute colour to our life experiences and allow us to grow. It is natural to be drawn towards those who live and think as we do, but we also benefit from understanding differing points of view and accepting these as interesting alternatives rather than flaws. We do not need to be like anyone else. We should not condemn others for failing to live up to our personal ideals.

Chick Lit

Social and cultural competence

My daughter’s prom last night was a success. She and her friends all looked gorgeous and seem to have had a great time. With their fabulous dresses, a touch more make up than usual and hair styled to suit, they posed and laughed and smiled for the cameras before heading out to mingle, admire and make the most of a fun night out.

The photos that I have seen of the event are fascinating but not surprising. The sporty crowd with their athletic, toned bodies looked naturally gorgeous; the media influenced, popular kids looked groomed to within an inch of their lives. Most of the crowd seemed to be enjoying the chance to dress up and go out to play; hair and gowns of every colour, style and size making it hard to pick out the effort that will have gone into each individual’s preparation.

As my daughter talked about the event, I realised that we have reached another milestone in her life. Despite her social predilections, she is competent in a crowd. I have known for some time that she is capable of coping in most situations; it would seem that she can also enjoy herself despite the social pressures that some of her peers may try to enforce. I felt very proud of her last night.

Social competence is such a useful skill but is one that is difficult to teach; each of us must find our own way, learning what works best for us as we go along. There are some who do not seem to need to try; others who appear to be trying too hard. Striking the balance between adapting to a situation and becoming a chameleon can be hard; fitting in without selling out can be a challenge.

When I dropped my daughter off at the house where she was meeting up with her friends, I was the only parent not to go in and wait for their transport to leave. I am grateful that she was offered the welcoming glass of champagne (she came home rather thirsty as this was the only drink that she accepted all evening) and that photos of the group were taken with her camera as requested. I just couldn’t face all the other parents waiting around, even though I know several of them from previous events. I find these social get togethers increasingly hard to deal with, so am particularly pleased that my daughter has developed an ability to enjoy such a gathering. I recognise that it is cowardice on my part, but the prospect of standing around awkwardly trying to make conversation fills me with dread.

In many ways I find keeping up with my children culturally rather than socially so much easier. When they take an interest in the latest film or TV show, I find myself wanting to understand the attraction. I feel very much one of the older generation as I try to interpret their language and form of expression; even the appeal of some of  the content that they discuss is beyond me. I can, however, become competent enough to be a casual bystander in their lives. If I cannot join in for fear of appearing ridiculous then I can at least observe and enjoy.

As we have not received broadcast television within the children’s memory their general knowledge has often been lacking. They have overcome this by becoming experts in their fields of interest. Doctor Who, Sherlock, Supernatural and Marvel’s Avengers are current favourites; where my peers discuss The Apprentice or Strictly Come Dancing, I am listening to debates about Eleven, Johnlock, Destiel and Loki. My children have become culturally competent amongst those with whom they choose to socialise; I have become able to understand what they are talking about.

Cultural competence is, of course, as much about being able to hold a conversation with a stranger at a gathering as it is about fitting in with chosen friends. My lack of interest in the entertainments that are popular amongst my age group, but which I find so false and bland, has undoubtedly hampered my ability to interact; my interests in more controversial news topics do not lend themselves to small talk. Whilst my daughter has been displaying her ability to spread her wings a little, I have found myself limiting my socialising to the few people with whom I can truly relax. I am comfortable interacting with others from a distance, although it sometimes feels as if I am allowing the internet to swallow me up as I allow myself to become more and more of a hermit.

I suspect that this is just another stage in my life. When my children were very young I knew few people socially and had neither the energy nor the inclination to go out much. I then went through a stage of both hosting and attending regular parties and dinners for a lovely group of local friends. As this group has moved on with their lives I have allowed myself to become more isolated again. In time I expect the tide will turn and I will regain the ability to seek out and enjoy the company of a convivial crowd.

In the meantime, I will enjoy watching my children blossom and grow. For all the times that I have been blamed directly or indirectly for parenting misdemeanours, occasions such as last night prove that my children have survived. I cannot have done too bad a job when I have managed to produce the fabulous young lady who did herself and her mother so proud at her prom.

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The pursuit of beauty

I have been following a number of discussions on the various social media to which I subscribe about the latest Dove advertisement. It has got me thinking about society’s attitude to beauty. There are the obvious stereotypes of the women who seem to spend their lives trying to maintain a youthful visage at whatever cost. There are also those who enjoy looking their best but do it for themselves rather than in an attempt to become what they perceive to be pleasing to others. Can wishing to be outwardly beautiful make one less admirable to others?

I have a lovely friend who works on a beauty counter for an expensive, French cosmetics company. I was once out with her and a group of mutual friends who were discussing skin moisturisers. She was shocked that one of the group did not moisturise her face every day (I kept very quiet during the discussion). This was, apparently, very important if premature ageing was to be avoided. I was intrigued. Surely we all age at the same rate? I was under the impression that skin condition depended more on what we consumed and how well we slept than on what we slathered over our epidermis. I concede that my friend does look younger than me but then she is younger than me by quite a few years. This is as it should be.

Another friend told me that she no longer enjoyed going shopping with her teenage daughter as it made her feel old. Whereas my friend would struggle to find a single item of clothing that made her feel good, her daughter could throw on any old thing and look fabulous. This time it was my turn to be shocked. I find exactly the same thing with my teenage daughter but derive great pleasure from this. I love having such a beautiful, intelligent and sassy daughter. I only wish that she could see herself through my eyes and realise her worth. Teenagers can be so hard on themselves in so many ways.

A little over a year ago I managed to lose a significant amount of weight and was delighted with the way that this made me both look and feel. I no longer felt the need to dress to hide the lumps and bumps and had so much more energy. I also discovered that being thinner did not make me beautiful; it just made it easier for me to buy clothes that I liked. I felt better about myself being normal sized rather than overweight, but I was still me and that was okay. The extra energy was a bigger bonus than the smaller size.

I am very lazy when it comes to outward appearance. My good looking friends tend to be well groomed, well dressed and carefully presented. I spend far too much of my time in trackies and t shirts with my hair tied up and out of the way. Make up is a rarity and, I admit it, although I swim in that skin drying, chlorinated water several times a week, I moisturise only when I remember. I have a very bad memory and should probably look twice my actual age. Perhaps I do, but I have more important things to concern myself with.

It is not that I do not care at all about how I look but more that it is not high up on my list of priorities. I worry more about what people think of what I say or do, of how I am perceived as a person, than about how I am viewed as an object. I would prefer to be commended on my erudite remarks than on my choice of costume and how it hangs on my body. Sadly, I have yet to enjoy any such acclaim.

How we present ourselves to the world can matter in certain situations; first impressions made at a job interview make preparing for an occasion such as this a nerve wracking experience; it would be impolite to go to an upmarket wedding dressed in beachwear. However, a great many companies make a great deal of money by feeding insecurities and emphasising the importance of always being perfectly presented. Those who believe this message then struggle to achieve an often unobtainable goal, condemning themselves to a life of unfulfilled longing for an ideal that should be of no significant consequence. Those who are beautiful people within will shine through the masses of marketers mannequins whatever they look like outwardly.

I am reluctant to condemn those who strive to change the way they look. I who strive to improve my knowledge and understanding am also trying to change myself; in trying to authenticate my thinking by discussing my views with others I am looking for validation; is this so very different to looking for admiration of bodily presentation?

There are many good people in the world who are not deep thinkers; indeed some of the most questioning people that I know are also amongst the most selfish. Striving to attain a look that is considered beautiful does not make one an airhead any more than a great knowledge of books and current affairs makes one sensible.

We may reprehend the companies who encourage a popular view of beauty being a path to wealth, happiness and fulfilment, but I will not reprehend the individuals who choose to strive for a particular look for their own satisfaction. We may admonish those who try to force others to follow their line of thinking, but not those who argue a cause with cogency and compassion.

Let us accept the differences in priority that exist and strive for self improvement without condemnation. My lack of care in my appearance is nothing to be proud of because it betrays laziness. That is as much a character trait to be suppressed as any attempts at aesthetic improvement made purely to conform to another’s ideal.

Cosmetics

What to think

Following on from some of the comments that I have received about my recent posts on my religious beliefs I have been thinking about why I hold the opinions that I do. I have strong views on a number of issues but most of these have evolved over time. As I try to stay open to other people’s arguments, particularly when we disagree, this is not really a surprise. It is often not the new facts that I may learn that will cause my opinion to shift a little, but rather being shown a different way of looking at a situation and the subsequent impact on those it affects directly. I am wary of telling someone else how to live their life or of declaring a lifestyle undesirable just because it would not suit me.

Growing up I would tend to follow rather than lead when it came to forming a view. If I had a high regard for someone then I would take note of what they thought and give that serious consideration. As a young person’s world is often confined to both a narrow geographical area and a narrow sample of humanity the views that I was exposed to did not vary greatly. Differences of opinion would be on points of detail rather than across the available spectrum of ideas.

The way we live as children depends largely on our parents, peers and community. Young children rarely question their way of life and opinions are copied from those they are exposed to in much the same way as they develop habits. It is only as that exposure is broadened and they start to notice that not everyone is like them that alternatives are considered. Even then the old habits, views and ideas can be hard to leave behind. Children can often be heard confidently condemning a type of person or behaviour just because they have heard their parents do so.

An example at the simplest level would be my attitude to what we eat. My mother was very concerned about sticking to a healthy diet long before this became popular. Growing up I would be offered fruit and yoghurt as a pudding rather than the sweet confections and carbohydrate rich staples associated with the nursery years. My sister and I were given a small allocation of sweets each week but were also expected to eat a piece of fruit each day. Dinners would always have generous portions of vegetables or salad.

When I moved away from the family home I loved having the freedom to eat as I pleased. If I wished to then I could skip dinner and eat an entire packet of biscuits in front of the television. I could eat chocolate cake rather than apples or oranges and have croissants for breakfast rather than oats or bran. These small rebellions did not last long as the novelty soon wore off and I experienced for myself how what we eat affects mood and a general sense of well being. I quickly returned to the healthy eating that I had been raised on and have taken a similar line with my own children.

In so many areas, though, the right way to think or act is not so obvious. My political views are constantly changing as I learn more about the background and repercussions of supporting one policy or another. I have friends from all shades of the political spectrum so I am exposed to a plethora of views and opinions. It amazes me that some people can think as they do when they support schemes that seem so impractical to me. Power corrupts even the best intentioned and we learn from history that certain political ideals just do not work in practice. Other friends seem worryingly blinkered despite appearing intelligent and articulate in other areas of their lives. Their fixed ideas and easy condemnations run counter to their normally empathetic lifestyles.

When I relied on the mainstream media for my news I would often be carried along by whatever propaganda was being preached; I would believe what I was being told. Having had my eyes opened to how ‘news’ is produced I will now do a lot more research before forming an opinion on current affairs. It can still be next to impossible to find unbiased reporting, but opinions tend to be presented in a more measured and obvious way outside of the traditional news outlets. Knowing the writers sympathies and having access to source material allows considered views to be formed rather than following populist opinion.

It can still be difficult to change a long held view even if it does look as if it may actually be wrong. Throughout history humans have feared what they see as different; feared a change that will impact their way of life. In trying to embrace what looks like a good idea it can be difficult to avoid repercussions that may not appear immediately obvious. So often those who wish to push something through will have hidden agendas that are hard to uncover and do not become obvious until after the event.

I also believe that it is important not to become too cynical. Realism and honesty may take a back seat when someone is pushing for their pet project to be adopted or to have their take on an issue accepted, but we should not approach all change with suspicion. The end may not justify the means so we should ask questions before offering support, but should also be willing to accept that a change we may not feel totally comfortable with now may have little if any effect on us but a huge benefit for others.

Whenever I am considering an issue it can be so satisfying to find writers who can express my thoughts on the matter clearly and succinctly. I am aware that I need to read alternative views as well. I believe that we all need to guard against reading and discussing issues only with those who think as we do. Comforting though it may be to have our reasoning corroborated by those we trust and admire we may learn more from considering why equally intelligent individuals think quite differently.

Opinion is not fact and most controversial issues are not clear cut. We are more likely to persuade others to see things from our point of view if we can be clear in our own mind why we think as we do. If more people could reason and consider rather than following the most skillful orator we may have fewer people condemning others for no reason other than a vague view that what they are thinking or doing is wrong.

Just because a way of life was accepted before does not mean that it is right now. We should not be fearful of change, or of changing our minds. We should not allow a wrong to be perpetuated just because others are comfortable with the status quo. When we have considered the options and mindfully formed a view we should be willing to stand up for that cause. Some changes need to be allowed to happen for humanity to progress and flourish.

‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’

Reason

Heroes and favourites

I do not have a favourite colour. Neither do I have a favourite song, film nor actor. I could provide lists of my likes but not a best of the best. Given the number of times in my life when I have been asked to specify a favourite and struggled to answer, I wonder if this vagueness is odd.

Growing up a large number of my peers had posters of the famous on their bedroom walls. David Cassidy, Donny Osmond and the Bay City Rollers featured early on. Later I would notice the large, smiling faces of George Michael or Simon Le Bon looking down on me with pelvises thrust forward (I am really showing my age here!). I never understood why the girls I knew seemed to adore these pretty boys who they had little hope of ever meeting let alone befriending. I just didn’t get the whole fan thing. I listened to the music, even liked some of it for a short time, but the performers were of little interest other than to provide light entertainment.

The female singers annoyed me even then with their insistence on barely there outfits designed to titillate. If a boy of my age wished me to despise him then all he had to do was make suggestive comments about a scantily clad woman. To me this showed weakness and shallow thinking (it still does). I remember first taking notice of the band Beautiful South purely because the female vocalist performed on Top of the Pops fully covered and singing rather than gyrating. In allowing her music to take precedence over her personal appearance she got my attention.

In films and TV shows I would often be drawn to the underdog. The handsome hero would have some flaw or be tempted into some misdemeanour which, with a little sense and strength of will, could have been avoided. To my younger self this made him stupid. I would observe in real life the supposedly good looking guys flitting from girlfriend to girlfriend breaking hearts along the way. I developed the opinion that the best looking people were foolish and could not be trusted. I found their inflated egos, polished chat up and subsequent boorishness contemptible. It was quite some time before I understood the term arm candy and saw that it could matter to either sex.

Looking back at the boys that I was attracted to they had certain traits that I must have been looking for although I couldn’t have specified it at the time. It would seem that they had to be taller than me, more academically able, quick and confident in their one to one talk, and able to offer me some new experiences. I do believe that, without realising it, I wished to bask in the shadow of their achievements. As I considered myself a feminist I would not have been impressed with that analysis.

The manner in which a fan may express their adoration has changed. Posters can still adorn bedroom walls but the fan clubs have moved onto the internet where they can interact and share their love directly with like minded strangers. Tumblr with it’s gifs, witty notes, ships and clever cartoons offers instant access to photographs and updates from around the world. I was amused to be told yesterday that the makers of the much anticipated series three of the Sherlock TV show have had to ask fans to stay away because so many were turning up on location that shooting was impossible. The fanatical Cumberbitches may not be able to help themselves.

I am still wary of the famous; how can I like somebody that I do not know? I am drawn to the fictional characters that they play more than to them as a person. Thus I would admire Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor but did not notice him as Magnus Martinsson in Wallander. I enjoy watching Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock but I have admired Sherlock since I first read the books at primary school. I will make time to review work done by Kenneth Branagh or Kevin Spacey but know little of them as people. David Tennant made an amusing Doctor Who, and I admired him more as an actor having seen him play other roles equally well, but tales of his private life in the media bring him down in my estimation. I am sure that it is possible for a famous face to be nice underneath but this is rarely portrayed in the papers.

Although I can form an opinion about the people who entertain me I have no particular desire to get to know them. I would still have greater respect for those who excell in other fields. Just as I was wary of the pretty boys at school who gained attention for their looks, so I am wary of those who make their living from an adoring audience. I would rather talk with the writers and thinkers, the scientists and academics than those who take to the stage. I do not see how one may stay grounded when the fans and cameras follow your every move.

Of course, the scientists and writers whose abilities I admire may also have struggled to be decent human beings. In order to achieve they may well have sacrificed the needs of those around them. Perhaps it is the characters that they play in the public’s perception that I admire more than the person behind the famous name. Academic ability and success do not make a person good. I suspect that fame of any kind may have an insidious, opposite effect.

What drew me to the underdog in the films of my childhood was the way in which they would pick up the discarded loved one and put her back on her feet without taking advantage of her feelings of rejection; they would be kind without requiring reciprocation or notice; they would value those who gave without feeling the need to take. Perhaps these are the traits that I look for in my heroes.

The heroic deed is often brash and attention seeking. I am drawn to those who are quietly kind, trustworthy, reliable and who value me as I am. I see no need for this to be obvious to others. It does still help that my hero is taller than me, more academically able, quick and confident in his talk, and able to offer me new experiences. Perhaps I should now add to this list a willingness to listen. I may still wish to bask in the shadow of his achievements but I am no longer willing to do this quite so quietly. I may not kneel in the presence of his greatness, but I will still iron his shirts.

sherlock

Media manipulation

Events that are reported in the mainstream media are rarely uplifting. We are informed about weddings and births amongst the so called celebrities of our time; there may be a sporting achievement of note that a nation is encouraged to celebrate, but most events deemed worthy of coverage are reported to inspire outrage, shock or despair. These negative emotions will colour our views of the world and the people around us. We are being manipulated by those in power to think as they want or not at all; to tune in and condemn or tune out and turn away. We are encouraged to live a life where fluffy news matters and reasons are not explained. In much the same way as our schools are now run, we are being taught to answer the questions without asking why.

There is no doubt that a lot of bad things are happening in the world. This week I have been following a number of stories that have demonstrated just how base and inconsiderate so many people are. Google for Steubenville, Adria Richards or Lucy Meadows and you will find a plethora of reports, responses, comments and tweets that support and condemn in equal measure the protagonists and the victims of the events discussed. Whatever views may be held it is the vehemence of the personal attacks on people that most will not have heard of before that I find so depressing. Whatever happened to rational debate and considered opinions? It would appear that general attitudes and actions cannot be discussed without character assassination.

The tacit acceptance of objectionable behaviour allows it to persist and I have been left feeling despondent that so many people think as they do. Perhaps what we should be addressing is why this is the case. Alongside the shocking stories published in the mainstream media for our delectation we have the promotion of the rich and famous living lives where the grotesque has become acceptable. We are encouraged to admire behaviour that is perverse and to aspire to a lifestyle that is known for it’s transient nature and self-seeking disciplines. Too many people are starting to believe whatever they are being told.

For now there are still free thinkers around but even they seem to be losing the ability to listen dispassionately to views which do not match their own. They do not seek to persuade with well thought through arguments backed up by facts but rather to brow beat and bully, to put down and shame those who do not agree. It is as if they cannot see, do not want to see, that there may be a case for an alternative view. They cannot seem to comprehend that they may be wrong.

In politics and sociology the policy of divide and rule has long been recognised as a powerful strategy in managing opposition. By emphasising differences in seemingly similar opinions small groups may be made to work against each other rather than coming together to challenge the status quo. All may agree that things need to change but by ensuring that none can agree on the exact change to be fought for the fight remains fragmented and therefore not a significant threat. Distractions of detail can derail even the most ardent of opponents.

If our world is to improve then we need to start that change by being better people ourselves. We need to stop blaming others for our situation and  work to improve our own lives. We need to stop accepting that behaviours which make us uncomfortable are okay because everyone does it and that is the way it is – challenge that behaviour and let it be known that it makes us uncomfortable; ask for it to stop. We need to speak out for how we want our world to be even if it is scary to voice an opinion that may go against the crowd. This is our world and it can only be changed from within. Do not give space in your life to hate and prejudice; question what you are told and act as you feel is right.

The people that I know are good and kind to those with whom they are familiar. Perhaps if we could all get to know more about the people whom the media would have us condemn we could offer more kindness to them. I would like to see a lot less acceptance of the manipulation to which we are subjected in every news broadcast. If we could all think for ourselves and speak as we feel rather than as vassals of spurious popular opinion then perhaps we could make the powerful listen. As things stand, there is no incentive for them to do so. If we do not rebel then we are conforming to their ideologies.

Mainstream Media Hard at Work

If it is wrong don’t accept it as inevitable

School finished yesterday for the Easter holidays; a two week break from routine that we all welcome. I worry about the constant pressure that today’s children are put under with their coursework deadlines, controlled assessments and exam preparation. It sometimes seems that if they take time out to have some fun then they start to fall behind at school.

I have had some interesting conversations with other local mothers recently regarding how their children spend the free time that they make for themselves. Some of these kids worry their parents because they only seem to socialise in school. At home it is all home work, television and computer games; the X box seems to be the current gaming machine of choice, I guess the fighting and the racing offers a release. Other kids do go out to socialise with friends but frequent the regular, massive parties where drink, sex and, increasingly, drugs are prevalent. Most of these kids are still legally underage. They go because they want to be seen to be in with the crowd. They want to be accepted and to be seen to be cool.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been reading a lot this week about the Steubenville rape trial. This morning I read this post and it made me feel uncomfortable Confronting Rape Culture in Our Own Backyard | Rant Against the Random. I have been trying to process my discomfort and I think it is because I am guilty of just accepting as normal some of the stuff that is being discussed here. I will say that again; I am guilty of accepting rape culture as normal.

When other mothers tell me about the teenage parties that are regular occurrences I am guilty of showing interest in the gossip but not expressing any disapprobation. I am allowing myself to feel arrogantly smug that my own children do not attend such events. I am accepting that this sort of thing happens and not showing basic compassion for the kids who feel that this is the best way to have fun. I am not considering how my tacit acceptance of the normality of this situation makes me complicit in it’s perpetuation.

I have no wish to try to grab some arbitrary moral high ground here. I am not trying to say that what most of these kids are doing is evil, or that parents are dreadful for allowing it to happen. I know that a good number of the young people are going out, having fun, maybe drinking a bit too much, and I am not trying to condemn them. What I am uncomfortable with is the idea that after the drink and maybe the drugs there is an expectation amongst a section of this crowd that sex follows and that this is okay; that this is part of the fun. Are we raising our boys to consider girls as some sort of sex toy and allowing our girls to just accept this?

I have tried to raise my children in an environment where they can feel able to talk to me about anything without fear of retribution. I wonder if I have avoided expressing my dismay at some of their peers actions for fear of being seen as an old fuddy duddy. I know that I seem ancient to them already, but I want them to feel that I can empathise with at least some of the issues that they must square up to daily. Teenagers will often feel that they know best and that adults do not understand their lives. I do not want to appear so out of touch that they consider talking things through with me to be a waste of time.

Child rearing can only truly be learnt from experience and parents must learn as they go along what works best for their kids. There will always be plenty of people who will be only too willing to offer what they see as a solution. Given the hate filled, name calling, bile that has appeared in some of the commentary on Steubenville this week I am wary of other people’s opinions. I do, however, want to discuss this with my children. I think it is such an important issue that we shouldn’t just be taking an interest and then moving on as we do with so many news stories.

This post raised a lot of good points that I think are worth discussing  Don’t Shut Up About Rape Culture | The Grumpy Giraffe. I baulk at the idea of a discussion with my children on this subject but if I am to take responsibility (and it is my responsibility) then I need to try.

We need to be telling our children that they should not be making assumptions based on what they think society and their peers expect. They will know when the girl or boy they are with wants sex when that person tells them that they want sex (if they are incapable of responding coherently then help them to get home or to a safe place). If our kids think that they are old enough for sex then they are old enough to ask the question. And, most importantly, it is okay for either party to answer that question with a no.

75/365  -  [i am guilty]