The Resistance

Today things feel a little bleak. On a global level, in five days of office Trump the Tyrant has ridden roughshod over the environment, women’s rights, freedom of speech and now refugees, ushering in a new era of legitimised fascism along the way. On a personal level, my spirit is feeling dampened not only by the events in the US, but also by the plummeting temperatures across Europe which signal further devastation for homeless refugees, the crazy levels of air pollution in my old home town of London where many of my friends still live, and the fact I am under too much pressure at work and don’t know how I’m going to juggle it with the masters degree I’m starting next week (next week!!). In short, I feel helpless, and also a little hopeless.

But – as life sometimes has a way of doing to drag us out of our despair – a chance encounter with my local florist this afternoon when I stopped by for tulips for our cleaning lady (whose brother recently passed away) reminded me why it’s so important to have hope. We got chatting about how beautiful the flowers were, and she told me she had quit her office job some years ago for a simpler life. Despite earning less money now, she told me she is far happier. She then asked about me, and, when I told her I was soon to start an MSc in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology and had aspirations to be a freelance wellbeing coach she said “the world needs people like that more than ever now.” I felt a surge of optimism at that, and a renewed sense of purpose. And to remind myself of that I bought this beautiful pink orchid.

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Hope springs eternal

When I got home I was delighted to see that Greenpeace had unfurled a ‘Resist’ banner right outside the White House, and to read that a group of scientists are coming together to march on Washington in protest against Trump’s gagging order against employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Also heartening was the Badlands National Park Twitter account which sent out three messages on Tuesday promoting climate science despite the Trump administration crackdown on agencies communicating on social media. Since then they have been forced to delete the tweets, but an alternative Twitter account has sprung up which already has 575,000 followers.

This growing groundswell of angry defiance in response to people like Trump must spur us all into immediate action, because action is all there is now if we are to stand up to what is so patently wrong – to save ourselves and our planet.

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Making Peace

Yesterday, after two days of proofreading a document created by a colleague, I sent my comments back in an email. I was tired and feeling overworked, and didn’t stop to think how the email would make that person feel – I was just glad to have ticked another task off my long to do list. Today when they responded saying my comments had upset them my initial (tired and overworked) response was to roll my eyes and feel anger bubbling up inside me. But then I stopped, went for a walk outside, took several deep breaths and thought hard about the situation. My email wasn’t rude, per se, but with hindsight it was tactless. The document I’d been critiquing was this person’s baby, so inevitably my seemingly brusque comments were misconstrued as me thinking the entire document was rubbish, which is far from the case.

The incident made me appreciate just how easy it is for small issues in the workplace to turn into much larger ones, simply by virtue of people’s lack of empathy towards one another due to their own personal issues. And, on a much bigger scale than that, how it’s exactly this lack of empathy towards others that leads to hatred – and wars. This issue is particularly pertinent today as the US launches air strikes against IS militants in Iraq, who are currently attempting to murder the Yazidis and Christian minorities whom they have displaced from their homes, in what seems to be verging ever more closely on an act of genocide. What makes these militants – and, for that matter, the Israeli and Hamas fighters in Gaza – think they are better than those they seek to wipe out? Don’t they realise at our core we are all the same: Human beings who are trying to make our way in a conflict-ridden world?

I will never forget the stories I read as a child about the soldiers in the front line during the First World War, who downed their weapons on Christmas Day and came out of the trenches to play games with the opposition; English and German soldiers united in one moment of peace, when just twenty four hours later they would be tearing one another apart.

It makes me sad to think of all the hate in the world, and days like today remind me that I’m not immune to creating animosity myself, even when I don’t mean to. Our moods are not always easy to control, but if we all put a bit more effort into thinking how they affect other people, and appreciating that those people are working through issues of their own, I really think there would be more peace in the world.

Happy Friday everyone – be nice to each other.

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Being Driven Round the Bend

There’s nothing like a bad traffic jam to bring out the worst in people. Today I spent five hours in the car covering a distance that should have taken three and a half hours. There was an accident on the M5 (allegedly, though I saw no evidence of this when I passed the police cordon after spending forty five minutes at a complete standstill), and by the time I pulled off the motorway for a much needed caffeine fix it’s fair to say my mood was considerably damper than it had been when I embarked upon my journey.

Back on the motorway the “accident” cleared and I was on my way, practically tasting the delicious freedom at my disposal. Unfortunately, however, an urgent toilet break at Exeter  that saw me crossing three lanes of traffic without properly completing my mirror, signal, manoeuvre procedure led to a rather offensive dressing down via the medium of sign language from an irate man in the car beside me. And so the journey continued.

After what felt like an age I pulled off the final dual carriageway and began making my way through the country lanes towards my destination. It was at this point that the road in front of me was blocked again; this time with sheep rather than people. This was not, it’s fair to say, to be my day.

Thankfully I did eventually reach my destination, a place I have no intention of leaving for the next thirty six hours until it’s time to drive back up to Heathrow for my flight to Hong Kong on Sunday. Read that and weep abusive driver….

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The Club

She stands in the shadows, eyes narrowed like a cat, watching, waiting. Blood pumps deafeningly in her ears, drowning out the music that is blasting from the speaker beside her. She scans the room, searching the faces of the crowd, looking for him. There. She sees him, standing tall and proud on the dance floor – with her. She quells the surge of emotion that rises up inside her, inhales deeply and steps out of the shadows. She picks her way through the throng of inebriated clubbers towards them. They dance on, oblivious to her presence and drunk on one another’s. Somewhere someone blows a whistle, shrill and loud. As she approaches they start to kiss. His hands reach down and grope her behind. This time the rage explodes like a firework inside her head. She reaches out and pulls them roughly apart. The shock on their faces is satisfying and spurs her on. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she demands, furious now. She grabs him by the arm and starts to pull. He doesn’t resist, he knows his time is up. When they emerge into the cool night air she gestures to the car and he gets in. “Well? Do you have anything you want to say to me?” she asks, keeping her eyes on the road. “Sorry Mum.”

Sticks and stones

Another false start on the finding-mindfulness-on-the-morning-commute front today, when a Daily Mirror-reading (says it all?) suited businessman took umbrage at my claiming a vacant seat he’d deemed to be his and spat the word “Bitch” in my face to vocalise his distaste.

Fortunately my recent mindfulness teachings have, if nothing else, shown me the correct way to respond to such an insult is not to retaliate by shouting “Wanker!” in his face to see how he likes it (as my old self would have found it hard not to do), but rather to take the higher ground, smile serenely and turn away – which, as it turns out, serves to infuriates such people even more.

Now I’m not sexist, but the fact I was not only a woman but a rather unwell one at that (my horrible cough being testament to this fact) would, in most people’s books, be enough to qualify my right to the seat – and that’s without taking into account the fact I was standing right next to the seat in question whereas he was standing beside it. In the world of tube train etiquette surely no one would dispute it was I, therefore, who held the commuter right of way?

Then we have the insult itself. That this man (at least 15 years my senior, I would guess, but nonetheless perfectly able to stand for the duration of his journey) allowed himself to be so riled by a 31 year old plague victim having the audacity to sit in a vacant seat right in front of her is ludicrous enough – but to call me a bitch for doing so? Dog analogies aside (I doubt he’d see the irony of dogs never requiring seats on the tube-if only I’d thought to ask him at the time), the word bitch implies – to my mind at least – some degree of malice. How he could have perceived me as malicious for being equally as keen to sit down on my journey to work as him I simply cannot fathom.

But enough about this sad little man and his misplaced anger – he’s had more airtime than he deserves already. Let him walk around in a rage against the world, because in the end the only person he’s hurting is himself.

John Doe

John Doe woke to the sound of rowing neighbours and the view of his alarm clock’s blinking red light. In two minutes the alarm would sound, a siren call demanding he rise and actively participate in life. He reached out to flick the switch that would silence it before it began, a fleeting flicker of satisfaction rippling across the otherwise flat vista of his personal horizon.

He washed and dressed, then carelessly threw some cat food in the bowl as he exited the kitchen. As he stepped out into the street he paused to look up at the sky. He sighed. It was another grey day after a succession of equally grey predecessors. As he walked towards the train station it began to rain. He had no umbrella.

The train platform was crowded, five deep in sleep-deprived commuters, not one of them wanting to be where they were. John Doe positioned himself just back from where he knew the doors would be. Fat rain drops splashed onto his cheeks. Next to him a fat woman jostled for space for her obscenely large breasts. A man coughed in his face.

The train pulled up and in the ensuing scramble someone stumbled, cried out. But, intent on catching their trains, not one person helped their fallen comrade. She was a businesswoman, early thirties, or so John Doe suspected. As the doors closed inches from her face she pulled her skirt down to cover her modesty and slowly rose to her feet, cursing as the blank expressions of those who had safely boarded the train began to move.

John Doe moved into the space that had been created by the evacuation of the other commuters from the platform. The businesswoman, having recovered herself, stood beside him, a scowl plastered on her otherwise pretty face. A tidal wave of people rose up from the depths of the tunnel at the end of the platform, spilling over the lip of the top step and thronging all around them.

A disembodied voice announced the next train would be five minutes late, and a collective sigh breathed through the impatient crowd. Behind him John Doe heard a woman with a high pitched voice screech into her phone that she was about to miss a meeting.

After five minutes the train had still not arrived, and frustrations were at fever pitch. There were now so many people on the platform that John Doe could feel a pressure against his back as they forged ever forward. A woman – perhaps the businesswoman, though John Doe could no longer be sure – shouted, begged for people to stop pushing. But still they pushed.

As the train finally pulled into the platform there was a blood curdling scream. The commuter mob swayed uncertainly. Another scream, more prolonged this time, followed by a man’s voice: “For Christ’s sake, move back!” Eventually the message filtered through and the swarm retreated, parting ways enough for everyone to see the twisted form of John Doe splayed across the track.

Rather different from the ones in central London…

There’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ kid

I’ve just got back from my first afternoon visiting a Teens and Toddlers project at a nursery. Much as I’m ashamed to admit it I did have preconceptions about what the teenagers would be like. I’d assumed they’d be surly and uncommunicative, and that it would be difficult to engage with them, especially given that the teens on our programme are chosen precisely because they’re deemed to be more ‘at-risk’ (of dropping out of school, having children young etc.) than their peers.

But I’m delighted to say my experience was a total eye-opener and my preconceptions have been shelved. The six boys on the project I visited are all thirteen years old, and whilst they are typical teenagers who don’t always listen, aren’t all that keen on looking you in the eye and occasionally act up, on the whole they’re really lovely kids.

Classroom sessions aside, the real joy for me was seeing the way the boys interacted with their ‘toddlers’ in the nursery. It was a gloriously sunny afternoon which meant the toddlers were racing around outside in the play area. One of the boys had arrived at the nursery fuming about having had a personal possession stolen at school, and the facilitators were initially reticent about allowing him into the nursery to see his toddler, lest he carry his anger through to their session. Once he was out there, however, he was totally unselfconscious and behaved impeccably with his toddler. He even had a number of toddlers gathering around him to play because he was so much fun to be with.

Another boy, who had in the earlier classroom session refused to look any of us in the eye and acted bored, came alive with his toddler and spent ages lying on the ground play-fighting with them. I saw each of the six interacting with their toddlers in such a heart-warming way that it made me see every one of them in an entirely new light. When we returned to the classroom after the session with the toddlers they were alive with enthusiasm and keen to talk about the progress they had made with their toddlers.

At one point in the classroom we discussed what age would be the right age to have children. All the boys unanimously agreed that older than twenty five was ‘past it’ as far as they were concerned, which made me – a childless woman of thirty one with no immediate plans to have children – laugh. It’s been so long since I was their age I’d forgotten how old twenty five seems; like a lifetime away, though of course it’s really not.

Watching the boys – and the toddlers, come to that – today, it really wasn’t obvious that they have turbulent home lives. But I was reliably informed by the facilitator that some of them have an awful lot on their plates given their age. It’s hard enough being a teenager without having a host of problems to deal with in your personal life.

I’ve come away feeling more certain than ever that the work my charity’s doing with vulnerable children and disadvantaged teenagers is vital for the future of this country’s young people. No young person is inherently a ‘bad kid,’ it’s just that some of them need extra help to navigate their way through turbulent periods in their lives and stay on the right track. Shouldn’t every young person in that situation have the right to such help?

Meeting the boys today made me think of the boys I taught in Tanzania in 2007, some of whom were about the same age then as these boys are now. I wonder what became of them and where they are now.