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It’s been a long year

  In the broad view of humanity, it really has been very painful this year. From Syrian refugees, Brexit, North Korea’s advancement in nuclear weaponry, Zika virus, various nightclub attacks and shootings and school shootings, multiple planes being shot down or crashing, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Wilder, Muhammed Ali, Harper Lee, Jo Cox MP, Johan Cryuff, Richard Adams, Leonard Cohen, George Michael and Prince all passing away, failed attempt of a coup in Turkey which has lead to a paranoid leader, police shootings and protests, FA child abuse scandal and Donald Trump somehow getting elected President not to mention a whole host of others. It’s been bleak.

  There have been undeniably good stories to come out of the year, but to me it seems like most of these victories are of very small weight in comparison with the above list with a couple of exceptions (the development of a new 100% effective Ebola vaccine for example). These are all global (or at least national) scale events so for now I’m going to digress to a more personal level.

  I can’t deny that objectively it has been a pretty good year for me and I find myself living in Switzerland, currently holidaying in Amsterdam, managed to get out of my student overdraft and now enjoying my twenties. I have had the pleasure of seeing myself and the people around me grow and learn by getting new jobs, graduating university, passing driving tests and making a living for themselves in a place far away from home. From the outside it must look like I’m living a dream but the truth is not quite as pretty. In recent years I’ve struggled with certain aspects of my own mental health and that has continued into 2016, no doubt to continue into 2017 (not pessimistic, just realistic). I’m reluctant to put a label on it because I haven’t sought professional help yet and I don’t want to self-diagnose. (Whilst I’m on the topic, just getting up and travelling to another country does not magically solve your mental health issues like certain Facebook pictures would have you believe. Just sayin’).

  Normally towards the end of a spiral though comes the existential questions and I’d like to address one in particular. What is the meaning of life? (Just stick with me here).

  I can’t help but think that people ask this question in the hope for an answer where they can say “Oh there it is. I found the meaning of life. I was looking for that.”

  This is a question that is one of the great open ended questions of life, open to philosophical debate all over the world. However, for such an open ended and interpretive question, it leaves out the possibility that meaning in life is something that you yourselves create.

  So when I address this in my own head I like to ask myself have I made someone feel good about themselves today (myself included) and have I also learned something today that I didn’t know yesterday? This brings me a little closer to what you could call my ultimate goal which is tattooed on my right forearm*. If I haven’t done either of those things during a day in my life, I realise that I wasted that day.

  To learn is to become closer to our own human nature. To learn how things work, whether they are political, technological, emotional, physical, scientific or otherwise, gives you power to influence moments and events. This gives you power to help those who may need it. So when I think about the meaning of life, that is no longer an eternal and unanswerable question of our existence. Instead, it’s a simple matter of a little effort everyday.

  In closing, I’d like to come back to my first paragraph and address these issues with one uniform message. In my learning, I’ve grown fond of learning about space and the stars. One of the most spiritual experiences of my life was finding out that we as humans are the remnants of multiple stars that exploded and died, scattering their guts across the expanses of space. All of which are required for life to occur. The atoms in our bodies are traceable to the crucibles of stars, and once we’ve had our time on Earth, our bodies will lose atoms every day that passes after our deaths and those atoms will eventually end up among the stars once again. This is a great circular existence that the universe has granted us. I submit that if every major decision maker in the world realised this and thought about this more often, I’d like to think that they would see that we are capable of so much good if we have the will to act. As for the deaths of all those beloved people and a multitude of others I haven’t got the space to mention, at night you can go outside and look up. They’re there.

*My tattoo that reminds me of my goal says “Be ashamed to die until you have scored a victory for humanity”. A quote attributed to Horace Mann who was the first President of Antioch College. A quote he lived up to by granting places to African American students in 1850’s and being the first college to grant a female professor equal pay and rank. The quote came from his final commencement speech and is now the college motto.

(Photo Credit: <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/&#8221; title=”Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0″>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17088927″>Link</a&gt;)

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In Defence of Millennials

  For the third time in about two months, a certain video has popped up on my social feed. A video called ‘Millennials in the workplace’ in which a man by the name of Simon Sinek talks about how millennials have it easy and are still running round like little entitled snowflakes demanding a trophy for coming last. His speech here is bland, full of misconceptions and is actually quite insulting. So, at the risk of sounding like the offended, self-entitled snowflake he believes me to be, I am writing today in defence of millennials.

  First off, Simon Sinek is a ‘leadership consultant’ which pretty much translates to speech-giver and gets paid certain amounts to give speeches and write books on leadership. In a piece of anecdotal evidence, I personally hate the amount of ‘self-help’ and ’10 ways to change your life for the better’ style books and speeches because there really is no universal plan for success in your life. Each person is different and will need different strategies to make the best of what they have, not to mention a bit of luck. I can’t help but think that these books are just to make money for the author rather than a guide. That’s just me, but I felt that was important to include in this rambling.

  In the video, there is a heavy emphasis on how millennials were constantly told they were special when growing up, as oppose to every other generation who presumably were told they would amount to absolutely nothing when they were children. He says millennials got high grades because their parents went to the teachers and complained. Huh, what? That was an option? I’m not aware of one person in any of the schools I’ve been to having their grades changed by a pushy parent (that’s not to say that I have not experienced parents complaining). If I’m remembering correctly, my parents gave me a lot of stick if I came home with bad grades and told me to study harder. Obviously my experience is not universal, but neither are chain mails that complain about kids these days and that doesn’t seem to stop Sinek from citing them as gospel. Not to mention that in most countries in the world, the law determines that the teacher will assign the grade and it’s final.

  Simon says that this obviously doesn’t prepare us for the real world, which as far as I can tell is pissed off greatest generation language for ‘work place’. That millennials somehow reverted to being frightened children when our parents couldn’t just walk into some office and demand that we get a promotion. Therefore, our entire self-image is shattered. What? Does Sinek believe that not one millennial has ever seen a parent struggle in a career? Does he believe that GCSE and A-Level exams, where you are literally graded on your performance and are constantly reminded that these will affect your entire future, don’t count towards building a self-image? As a man so accustomed to generalisations, does he realise that if even a majority of millennials were given pay rises and promotions and every they demanded, the whole economic system we have would collapse? Sinek tries to back this up by saying that science has proved that this generation has lower self-esteem than previous generations. If you’re thinking, hey, that sounds like a conveniently astute statistic that is vaguely worded and somewhat impossible to measure, then congratulations. You’re me. Not to mention the evidence to the contrary.

 Speaking of evidence of the contrary, Sinek also took aim at participation trophies saying “they get medals for coming in last,” whilst raising his eyebrow. Again, he refers to science by saying that the evidence is clear that this act devalues hard work and embarrasses the people in last place. Funny thing is, the evidence actually suggests that praising and rewarding hard effort helps them see the value of hard work. In fact, even just having trophies for participating can be a fun reminder when you are older of the nice times you and your team had during your club years.

  Sinek also takes shots at social media itself by pointing out that we can get a rush of dopamine from texting, Facebook, Instagram etc. Now that bit is actually true, but he also compares this addictive behaviours like smoking, gambling and drinking whilst somehow forgetting that we can get a hit of dopamine by accomplishing something, getting a hug off a friend or exercising. I’ve kinda simplified what dopamine is and does there but that information won’t be relevant to this post. I’d recommend finding out about it though. Sinek also says “an entire generation that has access to an addictive, numbing chemical through social media and cell phones.” Sure, but we all have access to alcohol and drugs too? Yet somehow we aren’t the first generation of people to become full time alcoholics because some of us, hell even most of us, can consume in moderation?

  Sinek also seems to believe that because we have a lot of instant access to things nowadays because of ‘next day delivery’ and the ‘ability to stream immediately on Netflix’ has left us with a hateful feeling in life because we are not making an instant difference in the world. I’m 100% sure that if you asked a person born after 1990ish if they thought it was easy to make a difference in the world they would say no (unless they’re a philosophy graduate).

  This rebuttal has probably gone on long enough for now and there are a couple of other points to make about this video like the classic and condescending mountain metaphor, the complete omission of any economic stagnation, healthcare costs, education cuts, housing costs, salaries versus inflation or more false information on suicide rates which is easily disprovable. However, I know it’s much harder to make a viral video about those things so I hope Simon Sinek can now enjoy his speaking tour of telling young guns to put their phones down to be happy. Unfortunately, millennial bashing is an actual industry and has been since the Greeks. But sure, keep saying this guy ‘nails everything wrong with millennials’. It’s like giving him his participation award.

An Easter Miracle

  I might seem like a strange choice to be writing something about miracles at Easter time but this time of year seems appropriate for the message I will try and convey in this musing. First things first though, it has been a little while since I’ve posted on here so I shall open this essay by apologising to anyone who has so far read these things with even the vaguest, bored interest for taking so long. It’s been a really busy time for me recently and I have wanted to post about a whole bunch of things happening in the world but haven’t had the time. Now so much has happened that I couldn’t possibly write about just one. Clearly I’d make a terrible journalist. Most of the things happening in the news are generally bad things, or at the very least, making a lot of us uncomfortable. So in a vain attempt to try and make a tiny percentage of the world feel better about themselves (in this case, that’s you), I want to point your attention to a miracle in all our lives. It’s appropriate that this is being written on Easter Sunday huh?

  First, it is important to understand the definition of a miracle. It’s generally accepted that a miracle is defined as an event that has occurred that is generally not explained via natural or scientific laws as the odds of such of an event are more or less 0%.

  There is a miracle that has happened to you already. The fact that you are sat there right now. Not just that any person is sat there, but that you specifically are sat there. That you are specifically you as oppose to being someone (or something else). Your DNA has reproduced itself for billions of years to get you to right where you are at this very moment. The chances that you even exist are so remote that you fall into the category of a miracle.

  The chances of one of your fathers twelve trillion sperm cells just happening to collide with one of your mothers thousands of eggs is incredibly unlikely. And that’s just your parents having you. Not to mention it had to be your grandparents having specifically your parents. Your great grandparents having specifically your grandparents. If you multiply just those odds, you should feel like you won the lottery. Now multiply those odds down every generation of human or humanoid species. You are currently and undeniably at the end of your own perfect, spectacular and unbroken ancestral chain that starts with you and goes all the way to the very first single celled organism over four billion years ago. That. Is. A. Miracle. And we can remind ourselves of this when we tell ourselves that we are a bit fat, that our lives are a bit rubbish or that we could look better.

  This life is the only life we will ever have accompanied by the one body we will ever have. We can be kinder to ourselves, and consequently to others as well because we are all doing it. We are all at times carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. I’m really grateful if anyone is reading this right now and has that sense of profundity, but I of course understand it is much harder when you are just trying to get through your every day. I think it is important however to occasionally return to the present moment. It is truly all we have and it can help, at least it helps me, to remember this every so often. It’s important to realise how we are treating ourselves and others in the present moment. These small moments of introspective understanding can aid all of us in having a happier life. Remember…

You are the miracle. Happy Easter.

Image – Biologos.org

The stories that shape us

  Not for the first time in recent months, I have been given a peculiar look when I’ve revealed my left forearm in a public space and someone I’m with has asked about my somewhat random assortment of tattoos. Most recently was a friend of the children I am currently au pairing for. Once their curiosity has been satisfied however, I have noticed that everybody has realised that it is not a random jumble of references but instead is something deeper and personal. So, to save time, I’m also putting the answer to this question on this page so that if any of you have wondered this before or are perhaps just learning about this then you will know the reasons.

  First, I will quickly identify the references to give some context for you starting with the Tolkien insignia which was my first ever tattoo. Next came the Stark wolf from Game of Thrones (or A Song of Ice and Fire) along with a Batman and Joker crossover. The latest being images of Timon (The Lion King), the Avengers logo and an 8-bit version of Pikachu and Red from the Gameboy game series of Pokemon. I intend to get more.

  Often I have faced this line of enquiry from a new person whom I am not yet on a personal level with and I often respond by stating that all of these are simply stories/movies/games/TV Shows I enjoyed in my life. This is a half truth. The other half is something I have only recently revealed much more openly. It’s not much of a secret that I grew up in what could be called first world poverty, being under the threat of eviction was not an uncommon theme of growing up, often realising that food in the house was sparse for one reason or another and ultimately not having the resources that others had, but enough of the sob story. In fact that is the one thing that was a pure and indomitable part of my childhood and teenage years. Stories. I’m quite sure my parents will testify that I spent a heavy amount of my time growing up in front of a screen of some kind (and a little later, in front of the pages of a book).

  As a result of what one could consider an unprivileged life, I found an escape in these stories. Stories I still know by heart, that I love, that I can still watch, play and read with emotion and enjoyment. But ultimately, these stories that I experienced and fell in love with made their impressions on me as a person. As a result, I have made a tribute to my favourite ones on my arm. My arm isn’t a random collection of geeky things I liked (otherwise I would have no space on my body at all), my arm is a collection of the stories that I took life lessons from and made me who I am today. By coincidence, a favourite quote from one of the authors that is referenced on my arm (J.R.R. Tolkien in this case) has a wonderful quote that sums up this feeling quite fantastically. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going.”

  All of the stories on my arm have made me feel this way and helped shape my trajectory, so if you happen to be a person that likes me for who I am, then these stories are heavily to thank.

Easy political points is humanities loss

  Sometime in 2011, I became really interested in politics and particularly American politics. This was mostly down to people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (closest British versions I suppose would be Ian Hislop and Paul Merton). Over this time I’ve exposed myself to different ideas and nuances about positions and people who run for office whereas before this awakening, I really didn’t care that much. It has been a really eye-opening and somewhat horrifying experience (it would be unfair to think of it as purely a journey of discovery). I am also aware that I do live in my own small bubble of news that gets reinforced to me on a daily basis thanks to social media and the news organisations I follow. I am trying to change.

  But in this short essay I would like to tackle political discourse in the Western world, or more accurately, how many debatable issues are being coupled together.

  In everyday life where ordinary people live, you can ask them their opinion on a certain issue and they will fall on a spectrum of how much they take one side or the other. However, there is a trend that has been happening for a number of years now where these highly charged and deeply complex issues will get grouped together. A recent one that springs to mind in America recently was how, particularly southern states pushed to teach creationism in schools as a counter argument to evolution and the Big Bang as to our existence. The argument from these religious people essentially came down to ‘we believe this at home and we just want you to teach the controversy’. The other side of this argument said ‘you can teach that in the religious classes but not the science classes’.

  This is a debate that is still actually going on, but what has happened is that the people on the ‘teach the controversy’ side have tried to demonize the other side by saying ‘well those elitists on the other side believe in humans coming from monkeys and the world is getting hotter and just want to mooch off the state’. The people on the other side generally say ‘well if you believe in that you probably also think guns should be allowed in schools, that immigration should cease and capital punishment should be enforced’. The absurdity of it!

  Another example, let’s take the issue of abortion. One side is pro-choice, the other is pro-life. One says women’s right to choose, the other says you can’t murder a child as a life choice. If you happen to fall on the pro-life part of the spectrum then it’s likely that those on the other side will say you also don’t believe that women should have equal pay, that campuses shouldn’t enforce sexual assault laws because it might ‘ruin a young man’s life’ and ‘the national minimum wage doesn’t need an increase, you just need to work harder’. If you are on the pro-choice side then the other side are likely to say ‘well you murder babies so why should I listen to anything you have to say?’

  Even a little closer to home, if you voted for Brexit then you’re definitely a racist who no longer wants a Polish family living next door, if you voted remain then you want Britain to be ruled by a totalitarian regime in Brussels.

  The result of this has left a lot of the population of the Western world opening political debates at the pub on a Friday night with “Are you Labour or Conservative?” “Democrat or Republican?” “Left or Right?” “Ice-Cream or Cookies?” It’s incredibly polarising to believe that anyone who votes differently from you must have had their moral code effaced by some outside and misplaced force in their lives. The truth is not only do they think the same about you but you are both also correct. That outside force is the inability to talk about an issue without thinking of your opponent as the enemy. In all likelihood, you and the person you find yourself struggling to not punch because of their views probably fall closer on these spectrum’s of political belief than you might realise. All it takes is a little nuance and a willingness to find common ground. If this trend continues the way it has, then an inability to come together to tackle one issue will become an inability to come together on any issue.

(I should point out several other things here. I haven’t taken a position on any of the above mentioned issues and if you feel I have sided with one over the other that was not my intention. Another thing I should point out is that this is not me advocating nationalism/Alt-right/Nazism as a ‘different point of view’. More of a reach to the moderates who have become falsely labelled as such)

Photo credit Calvin & Hobbs

Compelled to write by Bruce Springsteen

  Since my last blog post had the rip-roaring success of literally tens of views, I felt compelled to write another for my insatiable fan (AKA, my ego). However, I don’t know what exactly I want to write about, even now. Perhaps I will find it along the way. All I know is that I want to say something. I do know who to blame for this feeling though. Bruce Springsteen. 

  I really enjoyed writing my last blog post, despite not being able to shake the feeling that writing something for the internet is the equivalent of shouting into the void. It’s a strangely satisfactory feeling, no doubt induced from the small hit of dopamine that my brain released when I saw that someone had read it. Either way, it felt good and Bruce has inspired me to do it again. 

   Now, many of my friends know I am an avid reader (since moving out to Switzerland in Aug 2016, I have read 19 books) but autobiographies really don’t interest me as much as either factual books or narratives. A good story has a truly profound effect on me (not least because I get the most influential ones tattooed on me). I never really find myself interested in the life stories of celebrities if instead, I can read/listen to/watch or otherwise enjoy the product that caught my attention in the first place. At Christmas, my brothers and mum made the correct call to challenge that notion and send me ‘Born to Run’ as a Christmas present.

  I knew Bruce was from a very blue collar background and that it had influenced his song writing but in reading this book, I’ve realised how incredibly relatable his internal struggles are to me and his ultimate solace was writing music and songs (that part to my knowledge is somewhat unrelatable to me). For a long time I listened to his songs without understanding that all he wanted to do was tell a story. The stories of his childhood, his neighbours, his community and his country, all while rockin’ your ass off for 3 hours in a stadium full of people. His honesty and eloquence about his own home life and problems in ‘Born to Run’ has woken me into realising that perhaps I am who I am today not in spite of the struggles I have faced growing up but because of them. And who I am today, unfortunately for you, is someone who enjoys writing into the void…

 So I guess I just found out the point of this post. I guess it is just a long winded note to say that I will occasionally be posting more blog articles and if you don’t like it then you know who to blame…

Bruce Springsteen.

 

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