Wednesday, 25 November 2015

"The ways of truth and love have always won". Gandhi

" We need a systematic approach to foster humanistic values, of oneness and harmony. If we start doing it now, there is hope that this century will be different from the previous one. It is in everybody's interest. So let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments." Dalai Lama

It's been hard this last few weeks to have the words to describe the myriad of emotions that have affected me. In some ways I envy those who purport to have certainty in what should be done to respond to the terrorism we see affecting so much of our world. And of course it had an impact on me because as a European, terror came very close to home.

I have no easy answers to share, no wise idioms to make it all ok. I understand some the complexity of the factors that have brought us to where we are now; I know that we in the UK have played our own role in that, like so many others in the West. I know too that some powerful global companies, not least the arms traders will always benefit from war. 

I see the hypocrisy of our relationships in the Middle East. We have all played our part in creating the monster of the so-called IS. And it's monstrous behaviour is hard to believe. This film from channel 4 news shockingly shows its behaviour within Syria towards children And we wonder why there is a tide of humanity washing across Europe? 

But still I'm reminded of how compassion and care for others can transform the human experience. How even where people have witnessed the unimaginable, the impact of  nurture, safety and the love of strangers can bring life back into eyes and an inner flourishing that was previously unimaginable. I hope that is already happening for the refugees who arrived in Scotland last week.

Sadly last week we also witnessed those who welcomed the Syrian refugees to our country this week, themselves attacked by disgusting racism. The shameful anti-Muslim behaviour we have seen here in Scotland and more widely is to be deplored and we should all challenge it wherever we see it. What has led us to this?

Our focus on individuality in recent times has impacted on empathy and compassion but what I do know is we can change that again. We can learn to be more compassionate, to show more empathy, to understand that through care and connection we can all thrive given the right conditions. We can learn that what helps a community flourish is not self-interest but it's investing in what helps everyone thrive. And for those of you who fear we are too far gone to be different let's remember that even where it seems evil behaviours have triumphed, there will always be the signs of goodness too.

Out of the devastation of the Second World War, the welfare state emerged. It took only 10 days after Hiroshima was flattened by the A bomb for flowers to grow. Cumbria in a different way seemed forever changed after the foot and mouth disease a few years ago,but the lack of sheep grazing meant the flowers bloomed again and the ospreys returned. We are programmed to flower, to bloom in the right conditions. We can flourish as a community if we create the right conditions. But a flourishing community or country is not one that turns against others, it's one that shows love and compassion to others, especially when they are vulnerable. The best way to challenge the profoundly immoral is to demonstrate  moral courage.

I started this blog owning my sense of powerlessness and  distress given the recent events. But I also know that change can only start with ourselves. One person at a time we can change how we are in the world. So ultimately we hold the difference -each and everyone of us-not powerless after all.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Sanitising aging and loneliness?

I noticed some social media activity around the John Lewis advert on Friday and thought, "I'm not getting sucked into watching it"...muttering about cynical manipulations. But I gave in, after all it was a distraction from work.
I watched it without knowledge of the content so was more prepare for cuteness than the grief it evoked in me. The story is about an isolated elderly on the moon.
Now in my defence I had been viral and although, after a day in bed I was a little better, robust I was not. But the strangely the image of the social isolation the film told of didn't create an empathy for the story teller, it distressed me. At one level it awakened my own feelings of upset, guilt and helplessness from when my own Mum was still living alone. No matter what we did and other support we organised it wasn't enough to assuage the loneliness and fear that Alzheimer's had worsened drastically.
The advert of course didn't intend that; it is aimed at cleverly ensuring we know the message of Christmas is about love and giving and of course safe in the assumption that the aspiring middle classes would go nowhere else other than John Lewis to purchase those very things. Oh yes and just in case we want to do some good and you look very carefully, you can give to Age UK as well. Christmas all tied up in a pink bow, even loneliness and aging sanitised by a donation through PayPal. But for me at least it was a step too far. It's slick marketing has unwittingly exposed a searing truth of where our society is failing. We seek happiness through things rather than through connection. Social  isolation and inequalities in our society too are ever more visible each year and consequently harder to ignore. Let's remember its Lidl not Waitrose of the John Lewis Partnership who were the first supermarket chain to pay the living wage to all.
This year, like many of you, I have collected for and donated to foodbanks (whose frequent users are the working poor), donated to a school uniform bank and plan to do something for Christmas too. Consequently for me its a paradox to see the need across our communities and think its fine to increase the consumerism that is the fuel for the unchecked capitalism that leads to such inequality and need.
As we feed the beast that a secular Christmas has become perhaps we can also step back and see what we can do ourselves to make a difference. Maybe it's to get to know our neighbours, or support the lonely ( young and old) this coming winter, or  donate to a charity that's making a difference, or even volunteer with an organisation like Contact theElderly and which will enrich your life too. Whatever it is we can all do something and be the change we want to see in the world.
So back to that advert, I did donate to Age UK happily as I know their services really helped my Mum for a time. But next year I suggest that John Lewis ( and other retailers guilty of the same and less community orientated) learns from this and donates its money for the advert to a charity and pays all its people the living wage.
But you'll have to excuse me as I'm off now to take an older woman to tea, my monthly volunteering with Contact the Elderly. I phoned her earlier and she said what a lovely surprise it was to be going out on a lonely Sunday afternoon. Her delight made my day. Now that's the gift that keeps on giving.