The world is full of the well-meaning and increasingly, people are so militant about what’s helpful that they end up as discriminatory, as aggressive, as pernicious as the thing they swore to destroy. Sometimes its hilariously obvious, such as when people present ideas like everyone is equal and deserves love care and support, EXCEPT YOU, YOU FASCIST, AS YOU MADE A JOKE OR ACCIDENTALLY REFERRED TO SOMEONE AS MALE JUST BECAUSE THEY HAD A PENIS, A BEARD AND THE NAME HAROLD. Other times its a little more subtle like in the very words we use. Here are three that I think are particularly wrong-minded but no doubt you’ll know many more. My purpose here is not to mock the intentions of people that want to support others but to get us all to think about the day to day language we use and what lies beneath it.
The Problem with Hope
I have worked with people that have significant challenges. People that have experienced things that would probably make me collapse like bouncy castle under a fat kid. They go through horrors that many of us cant dream of and yet somehow carry on either by relying on the love and support of others or by self-medicating themselves into hospitals, prisons and graves. In all of these places, when the help they so desperately needed long before is finally offered, a key theme emerges: we want to give them hope. What a fine thing, to help people see another option in their lives, to convince them, as Tony Robinson puts to know that their biography is not their destiny. The problem is that word falls woefully short of what actually needs to happen. You see hope implies passivity. It’s an image of shutting your eyes, crossing your fingers and going pleasepleasepleaseplease…. to some nameless deity. The people who climb out of these terrible terrible situations do have something in common and it isn’t hope. No matter how much support they receive, no matter how much councilling, therapy, drugs and rehabilitation they access, the only people that make it through are those that take responsibility. Don’t give them hope, give them tools, give them reasons to push on, but most of all give them the understanding that we don’t achieve new lives by blaming our past and praying that things will change, we achieve new lives by knowing that our futures can only come from the energies of our own psyches.
What the Spiritual Get Wrong About the Spirit
What a useless word spiritual has become! It’s often used by people who want to show a side of themselves that is beyond the everyday but doesn’t want to commit to any sort of dogma or label. I absolutely support this as the idea of having to adhere to rules that may be contrary to personal values is a difficult one to bear. The difficult part is that the word spiritual can mean anything from the occasional session with Headspace to full blown praying to crystals in a kaftan made of hemp. Personally I believe fully in the power of meditation, the psychology of Buddhism, the conscious nature of the universe but I also believe in evidence and I’ve not yet become anywhere near convinced that crystals, homeopathy or numerology are anything but misrepresentations, dogmatic pseudoscience or laughably implausible. Am I, as a so-called spiritually inclined person, to be bracketed with people that believe everyone born in a thirty day period of a year has to have exactly the same personality traits regardless of culture, upbringing or genetics? If you want to use the work spiritual properly then at least know its meaning: it’s simply Latin for breath, its that simple. If you’re someone that goes back to the breath, reflects on the simplicity of simply existing in the moment doing nothing but aspirating, then you are spiritual. If you are someone that believes they can talk to people long-dead then, as Tim Minchin puts it, perhaps you’re lying or mentally ill..
I was once asked in an interview: what is your approach to tolerance? They were laudably trying to elicit from me how I ensure that equality, diversity and inclusion are factored into my thinking. The answer I gave raised a few eyebrows. You see, my approach to tolerance is to be wholly and heartedly against it. I think its a concept that could be the beginnings of the death of a culture that I would recognise or want to live in. Let me explain. I tolerate the fact that people watch Love Island. I tolerate the selfish little scrote that doesn’t let an old lady sit down on public transport. I tolerate the lawyers that profit by exploiting the misfortune of others. I tolerate people that listen to music too loudly in the library. Or sometimes I don’t tolerate those people at all. I don’t tolerate people from other cultures. I don’t tolerate different religious views. I don’t tolerate people with slightly different skin pigmentations. Why should they be tolerated? Shouldn’t they be celebrated, joined, have these random aspects of themselves ignored in favour of the core of their being? Their humanity. The idea that anyone would tolerate people who were slightly different from themselves by birth or upbringing is patronising, filled with hidden hatred and itself not to be tolerated.
The Freedom to Be Free
Just what is it you want to do? We want to be Free! We want to be free to do what we want to do! And we want to get loaded and have a good time! Or so Primal Scream said back in the early nineties. What youthful vigour! What a celebration of the knack of humanity to throw off the chains of their oppressors! What a bunch of misguided jackasses! No, this isn’t the rant of a conformist, middle-aged windbag but a slight correction on what it means to be free. There are three kinds of freedom and they are not all made equally. The first one is “Freedom From…” – the kind whereby we escape whatever it is we think is holding us back then realise we don’t have anywhere to go. think about the major revolutions of the last few hundred years. The people rise up, overthrow their oppressors, a power vacuum forms and the hated government is replaced by something much much worse. The second kind is “Freedom to,,,” this is where there is a clear plan, when you want to be able to do something specific and measurable. Without a clear vision of what you want to do when the freedom is attained, having considered what could go wrong and how you could prevent or mitigate it. These kinds of freedom have something in common: they still tie you in to whatever you were unhappy with in the first place. For every story of revolution or escape there are a thousand stories of people who are stuck with their lot, that cant change anything or that cant offer a suitable alternative. Brexit anyone? The final kind of freedom is true freedom and thats the kind where you accept all thats good and all thats bad in your situation. You change the things you can change, challenge yourself to do better, find gratitude in what you do have and say YES to everything else. All external phenomena are, after all, only ever interpreted by your own projections. I saw a photo the other day that captured this perfectly. In it a little child was ecstatic in celebration as he stood on the third place podium whilst, looking on, the boy in first place, with a face like thunder couldn’t understand why the celebrant thought he was better. That is real freedom.
Think I have it wrong? Let me know. Want to add some words? Comment away!