Openness, and why it’s not easy

“Sometimes he was such a construction of his own carefully constructed censorships and restraints he didn’t know whether there was any longer a creature named Bern Cameron (Invader, C.J. Cherryh, Daw Books, 1995, p.330)

When I read this sentence I was so struck by its eloquence that I thought it was worth writing about. The book itself, by the way, is a good read but nothing amazing, so I don’t think I need to provide any background to it. The statement stands on its own two feet.

Fact is, we all construct how we present ourselves to the world. It’s necessary, though some might work harder at it than others. Despite the encouragement by some to “let it all hang out” or “tell it like it is”, the reality is we choose carefully what we reveal and what we don’t. And we need to.

I have noticed that blue collar workers tend to be more upfront than white collar workers. Not quite sure why, but it might have something to do with them not having to climb a corporate ladder. They tend to tell it like it is, sometimes to their detriment. I had a plasterer who did the work for our renovation a few years ago, and although he was a pleasant enough fellow, he had no problem poking fun at some of the work I had done myself. Not a good thing to do to a customer, and I haven’t exactly enthused about him to others as a result. And I have heard similar stories from some of my friends, of tradies belittling them.

Now of course it’s not all bad. As a matter of fact I find it mostly refreshing being around such people, and I have the good fortune of having a number of them as friends. Perhaps in white collar circles we are so used to having to work with different persons or groups that we learn to smooth over our personal opinions, in order to make the deal or complete the task or keep the client. It may also be true that the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the more likely you are to hide your opinions and real self more and more. There are more and more people you have to keep happy and working with you, not against you.

But let’s just think of the cost for a minute. I don’t think white collar workers are the same at home as they are at work, but I do think that ingrained behaviours spill out into other parts of our life. Hence even outside of work, those used to hiding their feelings and opinions on the job may well find that they still do so to some extent at home or with friends.

I’m in a moderately corporate kind of job, and certainly have to keep my clients happy, so I suppose I’m pretty used to masking my feelings and softening my opinions in order to do my job well, keep my clients and build my business. That’s perhaps why, recently, I was quite impacted by a guest speaker at one of our conferences, a guy by the name of Peter Sharp.

Peter’s mission in life is to encourage people to trust enough to connect with one another. He does this by staging a number of provocative events in public, videoing them and then putting them up on YouTube. 

There’s no doubt his antics are popular, as evidenced by how many of his videos have gone viral. His most recent one was staging sit-ins in public places where people were encouraged to simply sit and stare into a complete stranger’s eyes for one minute. The video is quite moving, though the  sceptic in me is a little bugged by it, as it is a highly polished piece of work with that background music that is supposed to make you all touchy feeley. I instinctively react against things that are trying to pull my heart strings, and his videos do feel like a lot of others that I have seen. With one important exception – I get what he’s trying to do, and I like it.

In line with my comments about white collar workers hiding their true selves at work, my favourite video clip from Peter is one where he, dressed in a business suit in a busy business district, wanders into a public fountain and starts to dance to music, ripping off his tie and jacket and just freely dancing though sopping wet. It’s completely staged of course, but that’s okay. Others (most of them actors but not all) jump into the fountain and dance along with him.

What he is doing is stepping outside the confines that we put ourselves in, that most of us get suffocated by. And that’s the way of the world. I don’t think the answer is in throwing those protective measures away, but that doesn’t mean we have to be dictated by them all the time.

There’s a reason why we don’t dance on a train (another of his videos). We’re going somewhere, for a start, and we may tired or preoccupied. There’s a reason why we don’t look everyone in the eye, because we don’t want or need to connect meaningfully with everyone. (And if we did dance in the train every day it would become meaningless after a while anyway).

But to step out from behind our masks and our fear, just often enough to remind ourselves how human everyone is, to allow ourselves to touch others and be touched by them, is surely a wonderful thing. Surely it fills us up, even if we have to go back to some kind of routine and even if we do have to maintain some degree of separateness from others. Just maybe we allow ourselves to feel a little more, to trust a little more, to be a little more vulnerable. Vulnerability can actually be a very beautiful and disarming thing.

Of course, our self censorship doesn’t just apply to our job. Some of us censor ourselves mercilessly because we are terrified that the real self will be repugnant to others – we censor ourselves because we just want to be liked. In the process we make ourselves, sadly, beholden to the opinions of others, and we become again trapped inside a facade.

I was a much more outspoken and demonstrative person in my youth. I was also socially extremely clumsy and shudder now as I remember some of the insensitive and totally inappropriate things I occasionally did. ( I’ve forgiven myself for the things I simply did not know how to do, but I do still cringe a little!)

Maybe that’s why over the years I have become more reserved, because “When in doubt, take the safe option”. But inside I am anything but reserved! The challenge is how to stay in touch with who you are in the midst of managing how you relate and work with others. A healthy self image is obviously a huge boon, but those of us who are still working on that have to do their best to still stay true, at least on the inside, with the real us.

And of course all this vulnerability with others can also give others a chance to stab us in the back (or in the front). So…. we need to know when to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and when not to. But let’s at least allow ourselves to ask that question “Can I reach out, can I open myself up, can I make myself vulnerable, even just for a little while?” No doubt we will learn over time when this is a good idea and when it isn’t, but let’s be prepared to learn. I think our lives and the lives of others will be enriched as well.

And maybe every now and then, just like Peter Sharp danced in the fountain, we will let our hair down, experience freedom, and refresh our own souls.

A day at the cricket

The sounds and sensations of a one day test

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We got there at 2pm, Linda and I along with two of our sons and one with his Canadian girlfriend Kristina. She’d never been to a cricket match, and that was one of the main reasons we had gone today.

We settled in for the game, which was scheduled to run for several hours and finish somewhere around 10:30pm. It was a balmy 22 degrees, yet we knew the Australian sun would still pack a punch. Seeing that we would be in full sun until dusk, we did what everyone with any sense did – covered up, hats on and sunscreen fully applied. Though we coped with its unrelenting rays, we were grateful when the first edge of shade finally found us 5 hours later.

What a crowd! Not a large one by MCG standards, a mere 33,000 in a stadium built to hold 100,000, but there were enough to make noise and have some fun. And they did. The first ball of the game drew cheers and claps though it was nothing remarkable, and neither was the game itself as it unfolded throughout the day. It was a match between Australia and Pakistan and ticked along with no outstanding features, except that Pakistan, unexpectedly, and to the great delight of Pakistan fans, eventually overcame a lacklustre Australia to win for the first time this year.  But what the game lacked (though it was enjoyable as a kind of background) the crowd made up for.

I don’t know if we were in the rowdiest part of the crowd. There seemed to be noise and colour everywhere, but if we weren’t the noisiest we must have come close. Yobbos all around us (an Aussie term for louts and larrikins) were good naturedly egging everyone with a beer in their hands, to scull it down. “Scull, scull, scull, scull scull…..” they shouted with increasing intensity, followed by uproarious cheers when the target of their chant did just that. And, like elsewhere in the stadium, there were inflated beach balls bouncing up and down the rows, being hit back up into the air by whoever it landed on, the only rule being to make sure it didn’t bounce unintentionally onto the field. That meant sudden death for the beach ball – it would be confiscated and not seen again.

Security and the police were in highly visible numbers, at least in our area. It surprised me, because cricket, in our experience (admittedly we don’t go that often) is not an angry sport – the crowd are often cheery rather than angry. Maybe it’s because it’s summer rather than winter (that’s when our football season is on, and the crowds can definitely be ugly). Maybe it’s because it’s not a contact sport. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason, cricket crowds in our experience haven’t been malicious. Anyway, either through a misguided sense of zeal, or perhaps out of previous experience, they began to pounce on anyone who did indeed scull their drink at the encouragement of the crowd. “Booooo”, we all responded. “Unfair”, we shouted at them as they dragged the offending spectator away. There was no danger as far as we could see. Let them have their fun.

And then there were the costumes. Different people had dressed up as famous personalities. One particular cricket commentator, very popular but now passed away, was represented by a crowd of guys dressed like him and with his colour hair. There were a bunch of guys in red dresses and wigs, there the Tele Tubbies characters, there was Superman and Spider-Man, there was the Mario Brothers. There were also plenty of people wearing their watermelon helmets (watermelons scooped out and the shell cut and shaped in all sorts of ways, and then plonked on your head as a hat, some of them very clever indeed, but all surely a bit stinky).

And of course there were the colours. Green and gold, Australia’s sporting colours, painted on faces, displayed on hats and tops. And the purple and white, the team colours of Pakistan, just as proudly worn, and banners and flags draped and waved, waved and draped.

There were regular attempts at a Mexican wave, and one succeeded in going around and around the stadium for many as three times before it petered out. Our section, loud as ever, regularly tried to resurrect it, but it failed to catch on again much to their own vocal indignation. And there was of course the great Aussie anthem that is shouted out at most Aussie sporting matches:

“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi,oi,oi!

Aussie, Aussie , Aussie, oi,oi,oi!

Aussie, oi! Aussie, oi!

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi,oi,oi!”. 

It never ceases to amaze me how certain individuals, clearly not wallflowers, would stand to their feet, again and again as the day progressed, bellowing out, with ever increasing hoarseness, that beloved anthem, and no matter how times they did it, the crowd would unfailingly respond with an equally enthusiastic “oi, oi, oi!”.

And of course there were the roars from the crowd when a four was hit or someone was bowled out, and in the inevitable lulls in the game music would be cranked up, rock classics that everyone would instantly recognise and sing along to. Up would jump all the costumed ones, and some who were just keen, to dance and prance around in the hope of catching the eye of the TV cameras and be displayed on the big screens. Linda and I never jumped up, but we sang along and swayed from side to side laughing with the dagginess of it all.

Though it was all pretty boisterous it was never too rankling. Sure there was the odd shout out that was crass or just plain wrong, but overall, a good natured presence prevailed. I suppose if we had had loud people right behind us it would have been too much. But thankfully we were just near enough and just far enough away to enjoy it all without being overwhelmed by any of it.

So with the force of sun upon us and the noise, the colour and the boisterousness all around us, the day happily unfurled and finally passed with us heading home, tired but elated, at about 10:15. Even the walk back to the car was rewarding. A peaceful and contented crowd, walking through elegant parkland made eerily beautiful with its night lighting, and the magical evening atmosphere, a kind of glow that settles on everything, that is a Melbourne summers evening. 

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Desiderata 11

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Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 11th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”

In a world that worships youth and vitality, it’s very common to see those of us who are older try to hold on to what is young. Being in my late 50’s, I can certainly relate. On this topic, Desiderata has some gentle, but necessary, advice for us.

I know myself I have tried to minimise the effects of aging. Some people say I look young for my age, and I certainly try to stay fit. I go to the gym regularly (have done since my late 30’s). I’ve always been slim, but since my mid forties have had to actively watch what I eat in order to keep weight from packing on. My hair has slowly been thinning for 15 years now and I’ve been able to get away with a ‘semi’ comb-over that didn’t look like a comb-over, but in recent times that’s exactly what it’s looked like and has had to go. I now keep my hair pretty short and it looks fine – it’s just a different look.

I’ll confess I have struggled a bit against aging (those of you who read my blog have noted my occasional comment on this). I don’t want to accept that there are some things I can’t do anymore – I’m a little bit in denial (but only a little, because at least I know I am). I’m very good at not giving up on something, which on the one hand is commendable, but on the other hand is not good if you are putting off the inevitable. And there is nothing so inevitable as aging.

This is where Desiderata comes in – the author gently exhorts us to “take kindly the counsel of the years”, and surrender gracefully. Lovingly put. It’s unwise to resist the inevitable, and even though we shouldn’t just ‘give up’, there is a certain dignity in recognising one’s limitations.

It need not be an abrupt, heart wrenching capitulation.We shouldn’t package ourselves up for the nursing home just yet, but at the same time we shouldn’t try to be a young person all over again. Even though I fully intend to do as much as I can, both physically and mentally, I should still take stock of climbing ladders for example (I’ve read that people over 50 are less able to balance properly and ladders need to be approached with caution). That’s just wisdom.

Part of our problem is not just accepting the limitations of our bodies. I think we have a myth, propogated by society, that youth is where life is at its best. I don’t think that’s true. We’ve all heard stories beginning with “if I could be young again I would…”, but almost always they add in “if I knew what I know now”. Well, there’s the thing – a young person doesn’t know what you know now, and they can’t. That’s the beauty and the fragility of their world. In your world now, the beauty is in your wisdom, is (hopefully) in the rounding out of your character, perhaps also the size of your bank balance, and the fragility for you is unfortunately your body.

We face a different world when we are older, but in some ways it is a better world. My wife and I now have the time and the resources to go on trips overseas. With the benefit of wisdom and our lived experiences, we make decisions about things more easily and confidently than we did as younger people. 

In my line of work I come across a lot of clients who are retired or about to retire. It’s not uncommon, once they’ve retired, for many of them to say “I don’t know how I ever found time to work, I’m so busy doing things!” They’re involved in charities, or helping with grandkids, or going on holidays, or enjoying golf, or gardening, or reading, or visiting friends and family.

Of course, not everyone is in that category. I’ve also known people who didn’t want to retire because they dreaded knowing what to do with themselves once they stopped work. The person whose business I bought several years ago sold it in order to retire, but in handing the business over he went through extreme anxiety, and only a year later he bought another small business just to keep himself busy. One of my clients was forced to retire a few years ago because the business was relocating interstate, and at the age of 72 he reluctantly accepted his redundancy package. Whenever I visit him he looks at a loss to know what to do with himself, and he tries to find all sorts of ways to keep me there for a longer chat, because he’s lonely.

So, old age has its faults and obvious downsides but isn’t automatically a terrible thing. It’s just different. But in our youth filled western environment, we hear all about Botox, face lifts, hair transplants (for balding men) and a smorgasbord of potential beauty enhancers, designed at least in part to stave off the effects of aging. We might look younger (emphasis on the word “might”) but our bodies are still older on the inside.

I don’t really want to go out to night clubs anymore, or have all night rages. I do wish I could still play footy, but not massively. I don’t really want to go through the hassle of finding a life partner again (though I know of course some of you at my age are doing just that). I don’t really want to go through having babies and small children again (though I look forward eagerly to having grand kids). I do wish I had the energy of a younger person, but in reality I don’t need that level of energy anymore, because I don’t have to face raising kids or working extra long hours to impress the boss or get ahead. If necessary, I can take my time to get things done.

It’s simply a different world, a different phase of life for people who are more than half way through their life. But it really is a “surrendering gracefully the things of youth”. I think we do actually need to surrender them. Lets not be too eager to do that before our time, but when that time comes, most of us make a conscious decision to let go.

I don’t want to try and be something that I am not (that theme again, which runs right through Desiderata). If there is something you or I want to do, I think the best approach is to say “Do I really want to do this? Am I being foolish in trying to do something that my age simply will not let me do?” If the answer is yes and then no, then I say go for it.

It’s not up to someone else to tell you to act your age – they can of course, but you have to be the one to decide if there is wisdom there or not. Unfortunately, unless they know you really well, they’re more likely to categorise you and try to limit your decisions by their notions of what an older person can do.

There are men in their 80’s still pushing weights at the gym, there are women of the same age still working in charities, there are people of both sexes writing, painting, giving, sharing. Older age can be full of so much activity, enjoyment, and fulfilment. What more could you ask? Let the young people enjoy their youth – and let yourself enjoy the life that comes with your advancing years.

Interestingly, we are seeing more movies and shows these days featuring old people in lead roles, where they are not trying to be anything other than old. And I think (and ladies you can tell me if I’m wrong) there has been an upsurge in fashion for older women. Perhaps our culture is finally allowing older people to carry themselves with dignity, and be comfortable with who they are.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Aaahhh coffee…

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Flicking through my WordPress reader I saw a recent daily prompt, ‘aromatic’, and immediately thought of coffee. That tells you where my heart (and my tastebuds) lies.

Latte, cappuccino, espresso, ristretto, machiatto, flat white, affogato, short black, long black… these are only the most commonly known forms. Can’t say I like all of them. Capuccinos have too much foam for my liking, and although I respect black coffee I usually need some milk in mine.

Have to hang my head in shame and admit that I drink a lot of instant coffee. Although instant coffee is wwaaayyy less enjoyable than barista made coffee, it does have a lot less caffeine in it, and the best brands aren’t terrible (I hear some of you spluttering with indignation). Seeing that I drink quite a few cups a day, I’d be bouncing off the walls if they were all proper coffees. I even go Decaf late in the afternoon (half of you have just stopped reading right there) so that I don’t suffer from too much stimulant racing through my already somewhat energised body (I can be restless all on my own without the aid of extra caffeine thank you very much!)

Then there’s the different beans and blends. The two main contenders are Arabica and Robusta, Arabica being by far the more popular of the two. There’s a bucket-load of different blends. Experts tell us it’s better for coffee to have a blend of beans from different locations because one variety might bring more “mouthfeel”, another more flavour, and another might bring more aroma. The more variety, the greater the complexity of the coffee (within reason). Makes sense, but some purists disagree. I don’t know enough to have an opinion.

And of course there’s weasel poo coffee. Coffee that’s been ingested by weasels, and you guessed it, pooped out the other end. It’s supposed to be the best tasting coffee in the world, something to do with how their digestive enzymes have altered the chemical structure of the bean. It also has to do with the fact that the particular weasels in question only pick the best coffee beans to eat. Very discerning weasels.

If you’re like me, the burning question would be “How the hell did they first find out that weasel poo coffee tasted so good?” According to one site I read, in Vietnam (the source of weasel coffee), during the 1800’s farmers who grew coffee beans were not allowed to enjoy their own crop, but had give all it all to the French colonists. The only way they could imbibe was to pick up the weasel poop, which was apparently a block of coffee beans stuck together . That’s desperation for you, and testimony to the irresistible pull of coffee. See http://www.huongmaicafe.com/blogs/vietnam-weasel-coffee/ if you’re suitably tantalised by the story to know more.

Although there are countless blends of coffee available, to me the smell always seems much the same. True, some can be more bitter, some more pungent, but that unmistakeable smell of coffee speaks comfort and warmth to me.

Coffee smells intimate. I picture my hand enfolding a mug loosely, or a finger casually looped through its handle. I see myself sitting at a table in a cafe, usually a wooden one (the table not the café!), leaning over my mug, chatting with (hopefully) disarming intensity to a friend, colleague, relative, wife, while the sounds of the cafe create a background conducive to cosy intimacy.

I see myself on the couch at home reading a book, reaching over to have a sip from the mug that’s sitting on the aptly named coffee table, and once I’ve grabbed it I’ll place the mug between my legs (if it’s not too hot) rather than have to lean over to pick it up again less than a minute later. Minimum effort.

I see myself late at night sometimes sitting at our kitchen table alone, reflecting on the day, my cup of Joe keeping me company as my mind sifts through whatever’s on my mind, comes up with nothing (usually!) and then I finally head off to bed.

I think of busy streets, cafes stacked on top of one another, the aromas taking turns to assail my nostrils as I trudge past, part of me wanting to turn aside and order a take away flat white. But I usually resist, because, well, you can have too much of a good thing you know.

See, although I do drink a lot of coffee, I don’t drink barista made coffee every day, and not just because of the caffeine. I have this curious notion that if I made lattes and flat whites at home and at work, they would cease to be special, they would become mundane. I would rather savour the moment every time I buy one and treat myself to its milky foamy flavoursome richness.

I also believe the same about eating – that you can have too much of a good thing. If I snack all the time, (I have been known to do this) food tends to lose its taste, and becomes merely a product that most of the time I don’t need or really enjoy. But if I regulate my intake (and occasionally fast, for health rather than religious reasons) then taste gets more subtly enhanced, and food becomes so delightful it’s right up there again with the other sins of the flesh.

Have you noticed that coffee doesn’t always taste as good as it smells? A bit like hot chips – don’t they always smell great? Of course, it depends on how well the coffee’s been made, but also on what state my taste buds are in at the time (I think). Sometimes it will taste like liquid heaven, other times it tastes like coloured water, and of course it’s sometimes somewhere in between.

I’m blessed to be in a city that’s right up there in terms of its coffee – Melbourne. Great café’s and some truly gorgeous lanes and districts full of them (fantastic atmosphere). I’ve had great coffee in other countries, and I’ve had terrible coffee overseas as well. I’m sure there are some places in the world where the coffee is even better than Melbourne, but I haven’t found it yet.

What a wonderful thing to look forward to…

The outrage culture

o-yelling17-facebookSource of photo: https://emperorstillwearsnoclothes.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/

I was listening to someone on the radio yesterday who used the phrase “outrage culture”, referring to a typical knee jerk response common today about real or perceived injustices. I felt there was a lot of truth to their comment, and want to dig into it a bit more.

How often have you read or heard the word “outrage” in connection to something? It’s so common that the word has somewhat lost its meaning, and to be honest, almost has the opposite effect on me now. I end up thinking somewhat cynically “So what are we supposed to be outraged about now?”

Like any word that comes easily to mind, maybe there are a whole range of other words that would be as, or more, suitable. In my opinion, when people lazily pick the word ‘outraged’ they inadvertently lock themselves into the feeling that comes with the word, whether it’s justified or not. So, to me the choice of words is very important from an emotional rather than a semantic point of view.

Let me give an example. In another life I was a counsellor in a drug rehabilitation program. It was back in the days where serious qualifications for such roles were not of paramount importance (these days I wouldn’t get past the first interview). Nevertheless that’s where I was for a few years, and I remember dealing with one client who used to say “that’s shocking” about just about everything he heard or that was happening around him. I remember chatting with him about this, and wondered aloud with him if there were a range of other words he could use, because surely everything is not shocking. Just maybe if he used less emotive words, he might end up feeling less aggrieved about things than he was. 

Because you see, the words we use shape our perspective.

I am not getting any younger and neither is my wife. But I have noticed that she increasingly exclaims “Oh I’m just getting old” whenever something comes up that she has forgotten or can’t relate to. I’ve said to her a few times “Yes we are getting old, but don’t talk yourself into an early grave!”. I must admit I am in a bit of denial about the whole age thing, but if I refer to myself often enough as ‘getting old’ I’ll start to think that way, and I honestly don’t see any benefit in that. My body tells me often enough how old I am – I don’t need to underscore it!

Words have power. They shape not only what others hear, but also what we think as we say them. There are probably lots of words that we misuse or misapply, but this post is about outrage, so let’s come back to that.

People are outraged about everything or so it seems. Outraged at increasing taxes, outraged that someone is getting a raw deal, outraged that they are getting a raw deal, outraged that laws stop them from doing something, outraged that laws allow some people to get away with certain things. Maybe outrage is an emotion people prefer to feel rather than powerlessness. Maybe outrage comes easily because our disposition is already an angry one, and an event or circumstance allows us to boil over in outrage about something that is actually unrelated to our discontent.

It certainly feels good to be outraged. I’d rather feel outraged than powerless. But it’s pretty hard to maintain the rage, because it takes a toll on our body. So if I get outraged about this for a minute, then outraged about that for a minute, then outraged about something else for a minute, maybe I’m letting off steam rather than really have a rock solid conviction about anything.

Of course if you are genuinely outraged about something you have every right to use the word, but seeing it’s been trashed so ruthlessly, perhaps another means of expression is needed.

So what other words could we use? And what other words would allow a range of expression, rather than full-on outrage? (I know this next bit is a little condescending, especially for those of you with terrific vocabularies, but please bear with me – I’m simply trying to make a point). Here are a few similes to anger and outrage, grouped loosely in varying levels of intensity, though I’m sure you could think of many more:

Mild: Concerned, disappointed, worried, apprehensive, upset, annoyed, dissatisfied, disturbed, pained, piqued, put out…

Strong: incensed, angry, offended, indignant, aggrieved, affronted, resentful, vexed…

Intense: shocked, furious, seething, riled…

So, let’s try it on for size: I am concerned, worried, apprehensive and disturbed by Trump’s recent win. Some of you may feel stronger emotions than that, on either side of the political fence. Are there other words you can use other than ‘outraged’ that focuses and sharpens how you really feel?

I am disturbed, furious, vexed, affronted and riled by the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers. (Yes I am actually outraged too, but for the reasons already stated I don’t see much point in saying that).

I would like to think that most of us are really not as outraged as we think we are, or not about so many things. Or perhaps we haven’t looked closely enough at a situation to really know the facts, and have gone off half cocked because it feels good to do so. If we allow the facts (rather than Facebook memes) to filter through we may just be not so outraged, even if we are still concerned.

One final thing, and I say it carefully. I’m all for standing up for rights, particularly the rights of others. But sometimes we are trying to be so empowered that everything becomes an issue, when perhaps we should be a little more grateful and a little less determined to have our way. You can see why I want to be careful here. I don’t want oppression in any form to thrive, and we need to stand against it. But in our individualistic society we might end up seeing everything through a distorted lens of self and rights and see injustice and oppression where there is none.

Life is full of things that are fair and unfair, good and bad, reasonable and unreasonable, tragic and heroic. Let’s think twice before jumping on the bandwagon, beating our chests with righteous indignation, and have a closer look first at the facts. Then if it deserves our concern, let’s give it the right amount of attention and energy, and save ourselves, and others, the ignominy of being wrong or guilty of a beat up, or of diluting the meaning of a word that should still be used,  if perhaps more sparingly than it is.

So why do you speak out?

I read an interesting (though awkwardly written) article recently, called “What are the implications of believing it’s impossible to alter other people’s beliefs?” I can’t remember how I stumbled across it – it may have been from one of your blogs, so if it is, thanks for pointing me in its direction!

Its premise is fascinating. According to the article there are two different groups of people when it comes to speaking about their beliefs. One group believes that others attitudes are unlikely to change, and are prepared to share their views simply as an opportunity to stand up for what they believe. The other group believes that attitudes can change, and have that as their motivation when they speak out. Interestingly, according to the article, those who don’t believe views can be changed are more likely to speak out than than those who do.

I have definitely been part of the latter group, those who speak out to change attitudes. As a result, most of my forays into public comment have been firstly an attempt to understand others points of view, agree where I can, and then present my view as carefully as possible, in the hope that reason might lead to discussion and better understanding. Facebook is the place where I have probably done this more than anywhere else, usually in response to someone’s post (and yes, I know its hardly a forum for reasonable discussion). I don’t think it applies to my blogs – they are more an attempt to share than speak out.

I have to say I have been spectacularly unsuccessful in getting anyone to change their mind. Those that do respond either agree with me already, or reply in narrow minded, judgmental ways, often insulting me rather than showing any interest in what I have said. I get the impression they didn’t even think about what I’d said at all.

This recently occurred when I responded to a Facebook post of a friend of mine. It was to do with Trump’s win (of course, what else are people talking about at the moment?) and there was no shortage of opinions. It’s irrelevant what I actually said, but someone I didn’t know gave me a caustic reply, showing (once again) they hadn’t read my comments properly or digested what I was trying to say.

I thought to myself, “I can let this go through to the keeper, or I can try a different approach”. So, I wrote a response, not caring if the person agreed with me or not. I took my time, worded it carefully, and then posted it.

I was happy with what I said. It was snappy, to the point, and way bolder than anything I remember writing before. It felt good, and I’m glad I did it.

To my surprise, the person replied with a more conciliatory tone, although they still managed to misunderstand me and certainly didn’t change their view. But because they were a bit softer around the edges, I decided to respond again, this time with my old approach, seeking common ground.

It took just about as much time to shape the second response as it did the first one, and an hour after I posted it, I decided to go back and read it again (I don’t know if you ever do this, but I do it all the time!). I found that what I had written was clunky, long winded and verbose. It said what I wanted to say, but not the way I wanted to say it.

The other person never replied again, and that was fine. But I mused for quite a while about the disparity between the two posts. Why was one well constructed and the other one such hard work to read? Of course, it could have been that I just wasn’t in the zone when I wrote the second piece, but I think it was more my attempt to reason with them that made it so drab. It was full of qualifiers and balancing comments to show them I was trying to understand their point of view. It was heavy going.

If that’s the real reason, then I have some thinking to do. With my first reply it felt good to just state my case. I wasn’t unreasonable, nor was I inflammatory. I made sure my comments did not smack of any personal attack. I attacked their argument instead, though it was definitely a sharp and spirited response. I didn’t care whether they agreed, and I didn’t expect them to.

So – what’s your motivation for speaking out? What do you think about all this and what has been your experience? I for one intend to apply this new approach to Facebook at least, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Desiderata 10

desiderata-10

Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 10th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.

“Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass”.

I wouldn’t blame people for being cynical about love. With a divorce rate of 50%, our society is used to the fickleness of love. Violence in the home, marital unfaithfulness, boredom with each other, falling out of love… The only people who perhaps aren’t so cynical about love might be younger people who haven’t been in love long enough to be seriously let down by it. Maybe love really is a ‘secondhand emotion’, as Tina Turner contemptuously described it.

But that cynicism may also be because people don’t understand love. It’s a complex human condition.

There are actually different kinds of love. Think about it. We say we love a person and we love ice-cream. We love our dad or mum, and we love our boyfriend or girlfriend. Our brother or sister might annoy us half to death, but when push comes to shove most of us still love them. Surely these are all different kinds of love. 

There has been no shortage of writers seeking to define love, and many have written about its different dimensions, so I’m not breaking new ground here in making that suggestion. But let’s talk for a moment about what is probably the main culprit of our cynicism – and that is ‘romantic love’.

Romantic love is fickle. When people ‘fall’ in love (interesting phrase by the way, sounds like you can ‘fall’ out of it just as easily), it’s usually an intense emotional experience. It’s wonderful. It’s joyous. It makes the sky look bluer, the grass look greener, the day feel brighter. The reason is, the best I can make out, is that we are overjoyed that the object of our affection loves us back (and of course if they don’t, then there’s the intensity of unrequited love). But believe it or not, romantic love is actually quite selfish. “You make me feel great, and I want to be around you forever”.

There’s nothing wrong with that as long as we recognise it for what it is. And, if we handle it with care, and don’t expect it to do the heavy lifting, it will most likely hang around and pop back up again at the most unexpected moments.

Because there’s the rub. Romantic love cannot last on its own. At first its passion will be intense, but will eventually subside to more normal and less emotionally taxing levels. It actually has to, as our bodies can’t physically cope with sustained emotional intensity. Any relationship that lasts will need more than romantic love. It’s a delicate flower that will lose its petals in a storm. It’s not cut out for the rough stuff.

Desiderata states that love is ‘as perennial as the grass’. If the author is referring here to romantic love by itself, you can tell by my description so far that I would have a hard time agreeing with him.

But perhaps he is referring to a ‘combination’ of loves, as it were. There is a more solid form of love, what some people have called “indifferent love”. Indifferent love is, I think, best described as “caring for someone”. That sounds pretty lame I know, but I don’t know how else to put it. You do something for  someone, not because you are motivated by racing emotion, but by a more “objective” decision based on compassion or mercy.

What causes a stranger to walk into a burning house in order to try and rescue someone they don’t even know? This is so common an occurrence that firefighters strenuously try to stop it, because people routinely die from misjudging the danger and plunging headlong in. When the media reports that a family is in dire straits, it’s not uncommon for people to dig deep and give of their own money to a family they have never met. On a more personal level, I hope you have experienced sudden acts of kindness from someone you barely know when you were between a rock and a hard place. And parents often go without to send their kids to school, or to pay for that operation or make a specific opportunity possible.

That kind of love does abound everywhere. And what about that love you might feel for your pesky sibling, or that grumpy grandad? Such people can be a real pain in the neck, but their sudden misfortune or worse still, death, often brings out surprisingly strong feelings of loss or concern. C.S. Lewis described this as affection, something you might feel for someone who has been a part of your world, like it or not, who you might argue with tooth and nail, but suddenly miss deeply if they moved on.

Love is a complex thing indeed, much, much more complex than the feeble attempt I am making to describe it here.

In the presence of indifferent love, affection, and other kinds of loving gestures, romantic love can survive. Like a weed that you think you dug out but springs up again, romantic love can take a holiday (sometimes a long one) and then pop up again when you least expect it. Although it is fickle, romantic love planted and watered in good soil can indeed endure, and perhaps over the long term it may even fit that description of being perennial. It may well disappear without a trace when the going gets tough, but just maybe it will keep coming back.

Desiderata speaks of  love “in the face of all aridity and disenchantment”. There is real pain out there in the world, and there are plenty of instances where love has disappeared and cruelty, genuine indifference, or  hatred has taken its place. This is not some cheesy slogan that love fixes all. It doesn’t. But it exists – it is all around us, and perhaps if we take the time to remind ourselves and look again, it might just save us from the cancer of ingrained, bitter cynicism.

Let’s be realistic by all means – but let’s not let that realism cause us to lose the joy of possibilities and surprises in a world that is often cruel and heartless.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.