Motivation

Our house is on a hill at the edge of a rural village. From my bedroom window I look down over fields and woodland towards a river valley and distant railway line. This morning the valley is shrouded in a light mist. There is frost on the ground and the few remaining leaves on the trees are shades of green and gold and brown. The newly risen sun is trying to break through the light cloud. It is a beautiful morning.

For some time now I have been following a blog written by a young mother in America. I love the way she writes about her life challenges and her thoughts. She sounds like the sort of person I would enjoy getting to know outside of the internet. Our lives are very different in so many ways, yet we also have much in common. I think that we could make some good conversation given the chance.

Yesterday she asked the question, What’s Your Motivation for getting up in the morning? It has set off a whole tree load of thoughts in my head. It made me realise that, unlike my younger self, I look forward to getting up each day. I enjoy the early mornings, the silence and the peace of a sleeping house. There is rarely anything in particular about the day that I am looking forward to doing. When I look ahead, beyond the day that I am in, I feel anxious. When I relax where I am now I feel happy and calm.

I have friends who love to travel. Not for them the package holiday in the sun, where comfort is guaranteed and all their needs are catered for; they visit amazing places where they explore what lies beyond the standard tourist trail. As soon as they return from an adventure they plan the next one. They live their lives in eager anticipation.

I have other friends whose lives revolve around parties, concerts, outings to the theatre and to restaurants with family and friends. They enjoy the social whirl, the chance to dress up and get out. They are busy and active with their plans and full diaries, sleeping late to recover and prepare for the next big thing.

I have no wish to do these things. I can understand the attraction and enjoy hearing about their activities, seeing pictures of my friends having fun doing their thing. For me though I want the safety and security of home.

I get up in the morning, draw back the curtains and look down on the magnificent view outside my bedroom window. I feel grateful that I live here, at peace with the world. I spend my days reading, writing, making my home a more comfortable place for my family to enjoy. When I go out it is on foot or on my bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside or to visit the local gym and pool.

My days are full and satisfying. I am motivated to get up in the morning because I anticipate the pleasure I will find in this new day. If I think of what lies beyond then events that concern me come to mind: a need to drive my daughter to an unknown city for a conference, a dinner that I must cook for guests. When I look ahead I worry about all the things that could go wrong.

It is not that I fear the future, but more that I remember similar, specific events that caused me grief and wish to avoid the risk of repetition. I feel safe and secure in my day to day life where I can take pleasure in simple activities. Facing the unknown requires courage that I struggle to find.

Other readers of the blog that I linked to above commented that their motivation for getting up and on with their day was obligation. I wonder if I have grown selfish in setting aside the obligations that used to drive so many of my actions. It was these that caused my problems; removing them from my life was a means of self preservation.

It is that self word that concerns me though. I wonder what sort of a person I have become that I live so much for what is good for me rather than others. If I am to serve my family well then I must preserve my health and my sanity, but there is a wider world to consider.

Life has a habit of moving on and changing us as new experiences offer the opportunity to learn and grow. I am not the same person I was a year ago; I cannot know what I will become.

For now then I will allow myself to enjoy this period of solitude and calm. I will continue to drink in the beauty of my surroundings, remaining mindful that transition is inevitable. I am as much a part of this world as all that is about me; I will seek to act with the care and respect that it deserves.

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Autumn

Autumn is here. Today is a typical, October’s day here in England; it is dark, dreary, wet and windy. Having opened the windows a crack to air the house this morning, I now have a whistling draft disturbing my peace as the gusts of wind push their way around the house. I love this time of year when the weather is dry and I can go for long, sunny walks with crackling leaves underfoot and glorious colours to admire in the trees that surround our village. On a day like today though, I am tempted to stay snug, warm and dry indoors.

The BBC failed to forecast this weather on line last night. Younger son had arranged with a friend to cycle to school if the weather was dry and I was informed that it would be. The ground was wet but it was not yet raining when they set off in the dark this morning. I was unaware of the unpleasant conditions to come; I wonder if this will put them off repeating the exercise. I would like my children to cycle to school more often, but not in weather like this.

Younger son has developed a minor cold that he has been sharing with the rest of us. Sitting around in damp clothes is not going to improve his ailment. Perhaps it is as well that the teachers have arranged to go on strike tomorrow, giving the children an extra day’s holiday. A day of rest may help him to recover.

I have been struggling to keep the main living area of our house warm this last week. Temperatures have dropped significantly so we switched on the heating only to discover that part of the system is no longer working. A plumber should be calling with us today; I hope that he can quickly rectify the problem and return us to comfort throughout the house.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon baking which helped to warm things up. I have been doing my reading and writing wrapped up in a duvet to protect against the cold. My elder son is impatient at such necessities; when things stop working he cannot understand why I do not act immediately to get them fixed. I can give him no logical answer.

Yesterday I was required to stay in to sign for a parcel. I was impressed with the communication I received from the courier, reminding me the night before and on the day that I needed to be here. In the event, the parcel was delivered but left on our doorstep. There was no knock to inform me that it was there; I could have gone out after all. Yesterday would have been a fabulous day for a walk; today is not.

Despite the weather, despite the cold, I have maintained a more positive attitude to my life recently. I am still jittery; walking in sunlight but always on the edge of a dark void. Long, bony fingers reach out to try to pluck me down into the abyss; I glimpse them out of the corner of my eye but will not acknowledge their presence. If I keep moving forwards, pay them no attention, they will not get me.

There is talk of Christmas amongst some of my on line acquaintances; I am trying to avoid this spectre. Christmas was a bad time for me last year and I need to build up my strength to cope with whatever it may bring this time around. I lose control at Christmas. I am not good at dealing with expectations and demands; going with this type of flow erodes my well-being.

For now though we are approaching Halloween; a festivity that offers family fun with no need to interact with the world. My daughter has many plans for the holiday, some of which clash with my husband’s wishes but none of which seem insurmountable. I am looking forward to the break from routine.

I am discovering new ways to live in my world that challenge and excite me; new paths to walk that are mine. I like this feeling, that I am finding my own way without coercion. The newly discovered independence of thought and action wraps around me like a warm blanket. I wonder where I will find the armour that I need to protect it.

the tired old wizard & his dragon

Sunday Read

It rained on Sunday. I could hear the pitter patter on the window as I woke up. Although we have finally succumbed to the cold and turned the heating on, the boiler had not yet fired when I first became aware that my sleep was concluded. My bedroom was cold but I was snuggly warm under my duvet. The pitter patter of the rain on the window was comforting.

When my need for coffee became greater than my need to rest I wandered downstairs. A great advantage of parenting teenagers is the peace and quiet of the early mornings at weekends. I had time to appreciate the contents of a freshly set coffee pot, and to browse the news sites, before I was required to act with any sort of coherency.

The rain looked to have set in for the day. I decided to leave the family to cope as they so often claim they can. I retreated to my library with my coffee, selected a book that I have been saving for just such an occasion, settled in my armchair and gave myself up to the pleasures of another world.

Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors. I admire the way that she can write historical, contemporary and futuristic fiction with such depth and believability. On Sunday I read a book that had been favourably reviewed on the sites that I turn to when considering purchasing a book. ‘Cat’s Eye’ did not disappoint.

The book tells the story of the life of a painter. From the perspective of middle age, she looks back and tries to make sense of the moments and memories. From the first chapter I was gripped: ‘Time is not a line but a dimension… like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.’

The narrator reminisces about a life that is so different to mine, yet I could empathise with many of her thoughts. From the third chapter: ‘… everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.’

The plot covers the narrator’s relationships with her childhood peers and the adults who took care of them. The author manages to convey so many thoughts and feelings that I recognised from my own nine year old or thirteen year old self. She captures the insular fear and the impotence of youth, but also the irrelevance of adults. They exist but are not understood or considered. They are an alien species to be wary of.

I gain pleasure from thinking back over my life. If I am lucky and can maintain my good health then I will now be a mere half way through the time that I can reasonably ask to spend on this earth. I hope that there are many more memories to be made, but the one’s that have gone are precious to me. My own childhood and that of my children are my treasure, that I take out and polish with some regularity.

A book such as ‘Cat’s Eye’ reminds me that these memories have a tendency to be rose tinted. I remember a happy childhood, and I consider that I had one, but there were also times when I felt belittled or sidelined by my peers. There were times of rejection and loneliness, when I did not act the part required of me. Children are, too often, power hungry and ruthless in their play. I was never a leader; never cool.

Yet still, it is the friends from my youth that I seek out at every opportunity. I enjoy and value their company for the shared life we have led, that I look back on with fondness. In this book the narrator returned to her home town a success and was preoccupied with the thought of encountering a frenemy. Despite, or perhaps because of, the damage that the early acquaintance had inflicted she was constantly distracted by this possible rencounter. She recognised her flaws and sought answers from her history.

I enjoy many different genres but feel particularly satisfied with a book when I feel that I have got inside the head of a character and gained an understanding. People fascinate me.

On Sunday I spent much of my day avoiding social interaction. I put out food, prepared dinner, but did not seek out company. I was immersed in the world that I held between the pages of my book. Such escapism can be satisfying and enlightening but, for me, should be rationed. I find books so hard to put down. I need to know what happens to the new friends I have encountered between the pages; I feel bereft when I have read their story and must consign them to memory.

‘Cat’s Eye’ is not one of the books that I will rave about to those who will listen, but I would still recommend it. I will not start another book until I have had time to digest the many thoughts and feelings that it evoked. Reading it filled a day, and it was a day well spent.

Cover of "Cat's Eye"

Discovery and recovery

I learned a few things about myself this weekend. None were surprising, except perhaps the extent to which they impact my subsequent behaviour. I will endeavour to remember the lessons though. Being aware and acting to alleviate issues is important if I am to manage my life. I am responsible for my own well-being.

The first lesson was that I am not as physically capable as I once was. Having spent several days in a row carrying and shifting heavy items of furniture and their contents, cleaning up as I went along, the extra efforts put in over the weekend to complete the jobs that I had undertaken took me close to the limit of my capabilities. I had to make a concious effort not to take out my extreme tiredness on my family, who had been willingly helping me as best they could. It is not their fault that I am ageing yet am still demanding so much of myself.

When I eventually sat down to rest, late on Sunday evening, it took quite some time before the myriad of aching joints and muscles began to relax. A couple of glasses of wine helped, but I needed to consciously stretch out and think about relaxing each part of my body. I felt exhausted.

Perhaps it was because I was so very tired and achy but, when I eventually dragged myself upstairs to bed, I slept badly. The next day I made myself go through the normal tasks that are required of me before walking to my local swimming pool. I had hoped that a little gentle exercise would help, but I believe what I really needed was complete rest. Having slept better last night, that is what I am going to allow myself today. My body has given what it can and I need to allow it to recover.

As a stay at home mum I am sometimes asked what I do all day by those who hold down jobs or pursue active hobbies and social lives. It is hard not to consider and be influenced by other’s comments, often not unkindly meant, and I find that I am keenly aware of how I spend my time. For now my body is telling me that rest is needed and it is forcing me to listen. In my state of exhaustion over the weekend I was finding it hard to engage with my family. If I cannot muster the energy to involve myself in as much of their lives as they allow, to offer them my interest and support, then I must act. For now, that action is to indulge myself in a period of inaction.

The second lesson that I learned over the weekend is that my children are likely to be more accomplished than me academically. I have suspected this for some time but, as most mothers think that their children are amazing, have been reluctant to elucidate this thought, even in my own head. For me, the significance of this is that I am at risk of being considered an imbecile by my family unless I demonstrate my other capabilities. I am not so naive as to think that I will be able to impress my teenage children and sarcastic husband, but neither do I wish them to write my opinions off as unworthy of consideration just because I cannot display the in-depth knowledge of topics that interest them.

Unlike the rest of my family, I do not possess a detailed understanding of science, maths and IT. I have a grounding and an interest in these subjects but, when topics come up for discussion, I am rarely able to offer any useful contribution. More often than not, if I try I simply exhibit my ignorance. My elder son can be quite intense when he wishes to further his understanding on a topic. He can become impatient if I interject with some attempted witticism or contribution that is irrelevant to the point he is trying to debate.

I know that I have other skills. For the first time this weekend I found myself thinking that to myself and finding it a comfort. It is probably also true that the skills that I have are not those that my son will admire, but I do not require his admiration in order to gain self fulfilment. This was a light bulb moment for me; to realise that, however much I love my family, I can be satisfied that I am succeeding in something without their support. They are all so hard to impress, but I discovered that I do not need my family to admire my achievements in order to validate their worth. It feels as though a rope tethering my balloon to the ground has been cut and I have been set free to fly.

The final lesson that I learned over the weekend is how important my writing has become to my contentment. This is still a fairly new endeavour for me. Although I have been writing on and off since I was a teenager, it is only this year that I have started to give the thought and time needed to experiment with form, style and ideas. Apart from this blog, most of what I write is experimental and therefore private. However, just because I do not publish what I write does not mean that it is not worth the effort. I do not write for public acclamation but for my own satisfaction.

Over the weekend I was just too busy to sit down quietly and pour my thoughts into my electronic pensieve. It felt as though all the words that were building up in my head were fighting to get out, leaving me feeling tense and frustrated with no opportunity for release. I craved a little quiet time, yet the only moments of solitude that I could fit in were late in the day when I was too exhausted to consider coherent thought. I need energy and a clear head when I write as well as a peaceful and quiet environment.

Lessons learned are worthless if we do not then adopt better practice. After yesterday’s attempts to ease my aching body with light exercise, I have granted myself this morning to totally rest; and to write. Much of this weekend’s activity was required to complete the work that I have been doing around the house. My daughter’s bedroom is finished, new curtains have been hung in my bedroom, and our home library is stocked and in use. As I had hoped, this is a fabulous room for my favourite indulgences.

We have yet to turn the heating on in the house, despite the cooling days. Thus I am currently sitting at my desk, thick socks and slippers on my feet, wrapped in a duvet. I will write until all the words have been poured out of my head and I feel the now familiar, pleasurable release. My body and my spirit will recover, but only if I grant them the treatment needed to do so.

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The

Communication

As we do not have broadcast television in this house I pick up my news from the internet. Each morning I will browse the BBC News website along with a couple of free, on line, British newspapers (the Independent and the Guardian). I do not trust the media to give well researched, honest and unbiased reports. I wrote about my views on this in a previous post (The mainstream media and blogs). The media reports a lot of self promotional material that I ignore (I have no interest in Strictly Come Dancing or Big Brother). When I do come across something that I consider to be news I will research it. Occasionally I find something of interest.

As well as the newsworthy story that interests me, my research often pulls up related material alongside opinion pieces written from varying perspectives. Armed with this information I am then keen to discuss my thoughts. My children are now old enough to have their own views and I will relate what I have come across to them and canvas for their opinions. These discussions are interesting; young people are just as capable of considered thought as their elders. What they lack, though, is life experience.

My husband has strong views and reads very different on line sites to me. I love to discuss issues with him as this helps to sharpen my thinking and hone my debating skills (they still need a lot of honing). The problem is his availability. He works long hours and has numerous other calls on his time. As well as helping out with child taxi services, he plays hockey for a local team (along with our elder son), goes on runs, plays football and works on his fitness at the gym. When he is at home he sometimes just wants to relax, read a book, watch a film or listen to music. I cannot expect him to fire up on a topic just because it interests me.

There are always other things that I need to pass on to him anyway, the sort of home administration stuff that he will want or need to know. Perhaps the kids have plans or achievements that will interest him; there may be maintenance issues to discuss or decisions to be made that require his input. The kids themselves seek his advice on certain subjects; there is often little time left to burden him with more.

I find it very frustrating when it seems that my husband is the last to know about a discussion I have been having that may have generated a reaction. He misses out on the hows and whys, being presented with whatever comes after with no forewarning. His views are well thought through and worth having, but the demands on his time limit how involved he can become. Perhaps this is why some long married couples still go out on dates, just to ensure that they are keeping up with each other’s worlds.

Communication is vital to any relationship. When life gets too hectic I have been known to make lists of things that I need to say to my husband just to ensure that he is kept in the loop. I know how hurt I feel when he shares an anecdote with someone that I was not aware of; I do not wish him to ever feel that he is not important to me. I want to share my life with him, all of it, but I recognise that he needs to be allowed to live his life too. I cannot complain about the limited amount of time he spends with me when the majority of what he does away from me is for all of our benefit.

There are, of course, evenings when I need quiet time for myself. I may be engrossed in a good book or simply need an early night. The rare discussions that we do manage can only happen if we are both in the mood and have no distractions; little wonder they are so rare.

When I bemoan the fact that I find it difficult to find anyone who is eager to discuss challenging topics with me it is with the knowledge that I live with someone who fits the bill perfectly. I guess I need to extend the understanding I have of his reasons for rarely engaging with me to my other friends. If I insisted that they enter into heated debate every time we got together, I suspect my small group of friends would evaporate entirely.

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

Moments

I indulged in a moment of self pity last night. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that this is foolish and unjustified. I lead a very cushy life surrounded by comfort and love; by any reasoned measure I already have more than most can hope for.

My moment was probably triggered by tiredness more than dissatisfaction; a good night’s sleep has succeeded in restoring balance to my perspective. It has made me think though, of the impression we make on those whose lives we touch with our interactions. As an avid sharer of the minutiae of my life these moments have the potential to colour views and feed prejudices. What was a fleeting dip in my mood can too easily become how others choose to see me.

I know so many people who present to the world only a carefully edited version of their lives. They wish to be seen in a certain light and will keep private and hidden any aspects of their thoughts and experiences that do not conform to this image. My choice to be open about what I think and feel may appear to be more honest but, as only fragmented segments can be offered, these can come across in a very different way than was intended. How I see myself from the inside, knowing the reasons and driving forces behind actions, will not be how I am seen by others, however much I share.

Perceptions can be tricky to deal with. Manners and social convention exist to enable us to move through society in an acceptable way. Dealing with situations where people appear to have made a negative judgement can still be a challenge though. I sometimes find it difficult to know if I am being treated maliciously or if I am merely taking offence where none was intended. I guess we would all prefer if our detractors would disregard us rather than seek to subtly attack and make others see us as they do.

I am always grateful when my friends make the effort to spend time with me. Much as I enjoy and value social media, it is good to enjoy positive human contact from time to time. I do not expect to be liked by all but it is comforting to feel liked by some, especially those whose regard I value.

My fluctuating moods have been a particular challenge this year. One of my friends suggested that it is my age, which I find a great comfort as it means that the exasperating volatility will eventually pass. I can easily dismiss any momentary feelings of self pity as unjustified, but the despondency I sometimes feel can be harder to set aside. However much I may espouse Pollyannaish tendencies, I can still suffer some fairly dark moments.

But they are just moments. For most of the time I am generally fine, getting on with the quiet routine of living my life. I have a very good life and I am mindful of my many advantages. If I share a thought or a feeling then that will be what I am experiencing at that time. What happens next may be apposite, but could just as easily be a whole new chapter.

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

So many feels

I had a wobbly couple of hours this morning. My sons cycle into school when the weather is good, but this morning was dull and wet so they were required to catch the bus. My eldest son had an important 9am exam so it mattered that he wasn’t late. He is always late; it drives me mad. I strive so hard to be on time for everything, even if it means a lot of hanging around. Like my husband, my son believes that his time is valuable and not to be wasted. The risks he takes with time baffle me.

I tried hard not to be cross or to show how stressed I was feeling as he gathered his books and equipment together. I mean, it is not me who has to sit the exam. My suggestion that he pack his bag the night before had obviously been ignored. He saw no problem with stepping in the shower ten minutes before he needed to leave the house. I decided that the easiest way to deal with the situation was for me to drive the boys to school. By taking control I could cope.

When I returned home I started to go through the motions of my day but I was on edge. My mood was plummeting and all the old gripes and concerns were bubbling to the surface in my mind. In need of some activity to wind me down I decided to go to the gym as this gives me time to think things through as I cycle and climb and row my way to nowhere on the machines. Mindless activity such as this helps me to process my thoughts and calm my mind; this is as much a benefit to me of gym membership as any improvements in my health or fitness.

It seems to me that a lot of the issues I have with my emotions stem from the fact that I need to feel in control of whatever is important to me. I think I may be a bit anal about this. I have probably created a lot of the problems that I now have to deal with because I couldn’t relinquish the control that I needed to cope with the difficult periods in my life. I had to do things my way, myself, in order to be sure that they would be done the way I wanted.

My husband’s illness last week, from which he is still not fully recovered, showed how lacking in sympathy I can be. I love my husband very much and I would have been happy to have provided him with some relief had any been available. I do struggle though to mop a brow and make the required ‘there, there’ noises. If I can be of practical help then you can count on me to make the effort. The touchy, feely stuff eludes me.

I have a chunk of ice inside that formed when my children were young. I found their early years incredibly hard, but those who offered to help didn’t do things the way I needed them to be done, and I couldn’t relinquish control. Of course, I know that letting them watch TV, not making them eat their vegetables or feeding them sugary puddings wasn’t going to make them bad people, but it went against what I wanted. I struggled on alone, doing things my way, rather than allowing others to treat my kids as they thought was fine rather than as I would.

I really don’t know how I could have done things differently. I see other mums who allowed their kids to be taken care of by family members or friends regularly in order to have a break; a little me time. I just couldn’t do it. In choosing to create these amazing young people I had accepted responsibility for their well being. I couldn’t rely on others to treat them as I would and I couldn’t make myself hand them over. It is not that I ever thought that the children would come to harm, it was my ability to deal with the situation that was the issue.

Somehow this wasn’t such a problem with formal childcare. I could leave the children at nursery and playgroup; the other children somehow diffused the impact. The social benefits gave reason to abdicating my responsibility for them in a way that just handing them over to another adult for my benefit did not.

So now I live with this sort of mental exhaustion that has left me numb and unable to articulate my needs, to seek solace and understanding. When I try to talk about what I am feeling I detect exasperation; I know that I brought this on myself but it is still a problem. Does it being all my own fault preclude me from requesting support?

I know that I have friends who want to help me through this but I am not yet convinced that they can see the issues through my eyes. I need empathy not blame; I judge myself harshly enough. At the moment it feels very much like another problem that I am going to have to deal with on my own, myself.  I hope I can do so.

English: Representation of the Hitchhiker's Gu...

I love the following quote. There are some people who seem to think that all feelings of depression would be solved if the sufferer would just snap out of it, that their life looks fine and they should stop being so self centred. If only it were that straightforward. 
From Douglas Adam’s ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’:
Trillian:’What are you supposed to do with a manically depressed robot?’
Marvin: ‘You think you’ve got problems. What are you supposed to do if you are a manically depressed robot? No, don’t even bother answering. I’m 50,000 times more intelligent than you and even I don’t know the answer.’

Reliving stupid

I go for a lot of long walks on my own. I enjoy being outside, away from people and their associated traffic. The fabulous views of the countryside spreading out before me in this beautiful corner of the world are an added bonus. It is a chance for me to relax, breathe and think my thoughts.

Sometimes these thoughts are replays of times I have spent with other people. I think about the conversation, how I acted, how I said and did things that I now look back on with embarrassment. Why do I remember the times when I made a fool of myself so much more clearly than the times when I fitted seamlessly into a social scene? There must have been good times too, times when my talk was successfully small and unremarkable.

So there I am, walking across a field or along a quiet footpath, remembering something stupid that I said at a gathering years ago. My body language would look very strange to observers. I find myself grimacing, exclaiming, crossing my arms protectively. I wonder how I can handle looking some people in the eye after behaving so idiotically. I wonder if they even remember.

I try to comfort myself, to convince myself that it doesn’t matter. I will be more aware of my behaviour than others, most of whom are unlikely to have given it much thought. If people have a lower opinion of me after our encounter then why should this concern me when I rarely see them? Perhaps my discomfort is one reason that I feel socially awkward. I enjoy watching people, but will look back on most occasions more fondly if I have managed to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself.

I have no idea why I find small talk so troublesome. Once we have greeted and discussed the weather I seem to struggle to keep things bland. I chat about my kids or what I have been doing, see a reaction of surprise or disapproval on another’s face and go into panic mode. The words that fall out of my mouth dig me deeper and deeper into the hole that I am creating. I want to jump in, cover myself up and never reappear.

I am not like this with everyone. There are people out there with whom I can truly relax; old friends or family who know me well and seem to like me as I am. I can talk naturally without fear of seeing them mentally step back from our discussion. If they disagree with what I have said or done then they will articulate their feelings and we move on. My treasured companions can laugh with me, share my tales, show interest in what I am saying. I come away from these all too rare encounters feeling happy and satisfied. I wonder if that is how others feel after most get togethers with friends.

I do not believe that the people I mix with are hugely judgemental; they do not condemn me for thinking differently to them. I guess what makes me uncomfortable is that feeling of being a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. I can only be myself, yet so often that makes me feel uncomfortable in a crowd. This discomfort provides a catalyst for my foolish talk as I struggle to blend in.

It is not good to dwell too much on past misdemeanours. The way I act will be regarded as unimportant to most. If my behaviour, conversation or attitude is disliked then I would hope that those who feel this way towards me would choose not to include me in their future social plans. We can all be so much happier only mixing with those whose company we truly enjoy.

I cannot take back foolish things that I have said or done. In processing the memories I am trying to come to terms with myself and move on. There are still people out there who choose to spend time with me; I need to make more of an effort to allow this to happen. Too much navel gazing will not make me the better person that I wish to become.

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Self improvement

I very much enjoy receiving feedback on my posts and welcome all of  the comments that readers have kindly taken the time to submit. Some of these come from people who do not know me and have found this site by chance. If they are also bloggers then I will try to visit their sites; I now follow several of them and enjoy considering their posts immensely. There is only so much that I can manage to read in a day but I welcome the chance to gain a perspective on their lives and on the thoughts and issues that they discuss.

Other comments come from people who know me outside of the internet. Often these are posted on my Facebook page, where I always include links to the posts that I publish. As these people know me personally, and have often done so for many years, their comments can be more of a challenge to deal with. They are not just basing their reactions on the words that I write but on the person that they know. It takes more courage to share thoughts and feelings with friends than with strangers. If things go badly then I have more to lose.

If I were not happy to receive such feedback then I should not write about personal or controversial topics. That, however, is one of the aspects of blog writing that I enjoy. I like to put down what I am thinking; I find that it helps to clarify in my own mind what are sometimes fairly woolly thoughts. It also helps me to see where I have done my own thinking and where I have simply believed what others have told me. Much of our knowledge is obtained in this way but, when I choose to disseminate an argument, I am taking it as my own. I am well aware that I have valued friends who will strongly disagree with many of my views.

What has been particularly interesting for me has been the general feedback that I have received on the methods that I appear to employ when considering a subject. I have been told that, whilst I claim to encourage reasoned debate, I do not always come across as accepting of others point of view when they disagree with me. I state that I respect the right of others to think differently to me yet display an exasperated manner and speak impatiently of their choices. It would seem that others do not see me in the way that I see myself. When I think about this honestly, I believe that they are right.

I find it easier to clarify my thoughts in writing rather than face to face as I need time to consider what I wish to say. I am not good at debates; my mind is not quick enough and I cannot recall the detail of enough factual knowledge to make it sound as if I know my subject; I do not have a good memory for detail. At school I was better at the subjects which required problems to be worked through rather than a regurgitation of memorized information. I failed miserably at languages as I just could not recall enough words. When faced with a friend who possesses a memory to rival Google I feel bumbling and foolish; I need time to consider new information and to work through my thoughts on this new information as I would a mathematical puzzle.

When I am considering a subject I will try to read around it, but even this can be fraught with difficulty. I cannot help but have preconceptions and it is so easy to read opinion pieces that agree with how I already think. When a writer, well qualified in his subject, creates a cognizant argument with well researched facts, figures and references to back up my point of view it feels so satisfying; it is as if I am being proved right despite others not agreeing with me. Much harder is to read a similar document that is equally well put together but carefully argues that I am wrong in my thinking. This makes uncomfortable reading. I am working hard to make myself seek out these difficult pieces and grant them proper consideration.

In my head I find myself thinking that those who disagree with me cannot be reading and considering the information that has encouraged me to think the way I do, but that is disingenuous and beside the point. This is not about me changing others – I have no right to attempt to do that – it is about improving myself. Effecting change in the way I think is a challenge.

If I wish to become the person that I have claimed to be then it will require effort but I truly do not wish to be closed to new thinking, neither do I wish to be accepting of flawed arguments. Living with ourselves can be difficult enough at times; by promoting myself as this open and reasonable, accepting and respectful individual I have been outed as a hypocrite. Now I need to do something about it.

Please continue to comment on the subjects that I write on. I am going to try to read more of those disagreeable but well argued opinion pieces and to give more consideration to why I have accepted a certain point of view. It will be interesting to see how my own thinking changes, if at all. I doubt that I will be able to debate any more effectively, but I hope that I will grow closer to being the person that I have claimed to be.

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One step at a time

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