New Endings

Today I am tired: dog-tired. Lately I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and the outcome is not pretty – bad skin, concentration span of a gnat (not intimately knowing their cognitive capabilities, I acknowledge this may be unfair to gnats) and the general feeling that I am clinging to my raft on the fast-flowing river of life by the tips of my fingers, with only moments to spare before I fall off and am pulled beneath the murky depths (that last bit was the hungover melodrama speaking, best to ignore it).

But today four things happened that snapped me out of the downward-spiralling torrrent of my own selfish emotions:

  1. I read the news from Calais, where fire is ravaging through the Jungle camp as I type this, and, at the very same time, unaccompanied minors are being sent back there to wait until they can be processed.
  2. I heard a piece of  news from England, which nearly made my heart burst with happiness and joy.
  3. I received my fourth book through the Facebook book exchange I signed up to a couple of weeks ago, which has gone some way towards restoring my faith in humanity.
  4. I watched this video by Prince Ea, which made me realise that those of us who are lucky enough to live in relative freedom are the masters of our own destiny. We can make as many excuses as we like for why we don’t put ourselves out there, but in the end all that will come of our procrastination is regret.

Too often we let our minds wander, thinking of all the paths we could go down but failing to take even the first step along one of them. Fear is a paralysing force, and a toxic one. So many of us stay in the trap our fearful minds have set for us, instead of facing our fear head on and saying, you know what? I’m not falling for this. Not again.

Collectively, as Sapiens (I urge you to read that, by the way, it will change your perspective on everything), we’re not doing that great a job of things: segregating ourselves by our countries of origin and religious beliefs, killing our planet, killing one another. But individually we can still make a difference. For all our faults, we humans have such capacity for kindness, for love, for hope. Even in the Jungle, where those awful fires are burning and people’s future is so uncertain, people are dancing. I’m sure those very people could teach the rest of us a lot about what it means to be happy, and how little we really need to find happiness, and peace in our hearts.

As Prince Ea says in his video, you cannot go back and make a new beginning. But you can start now, and make a brand new ending. It’s not too late to change ourselves, or to change the world. All it takes is courage: to feel our fear and do it anyway. I don’t know about you, but I plan to do exactly that.



Life Lessons

As Mary Scmich once wrote (and Baz Luhhrman subsequently recorded), in life one must accept certain inalienable truths. One of those truths, in my own meandering experience, is that people are apt to let you down. Rarely will they act a certain way or say a certain thing because it is the kindest response; because it would make you feel better. No, humans are inherently selfish creatures so, more often than not, they will say what makes them feel better, even if that same thing will make you feel worse.

The key to coping with this is learning to accept without internalising; don’t allow the words and actions of others to hurt you; to affect your belief system about yourself and your place in the world. Easier said than done if, like me, you are a sensitive soul who does take things to heart. Even the smallest off the cuff comment meant as a joke can cut deep to the core of you, and make you question yourself. But don’t.

When others react badly it is often a sign of their own insecurity. If they are rude, or they ignore you altogether, so what? It says more about them than it does about you. You are the bigger person. You have love and compassion in abundance and you know who you are, warts and all. Never allow someone else to call those facts into question. You are you. You are unique. And the only thoughts, words and deeds you have any power over in this life are your own. The rest is out of your control.


Friends Like These

Last Friday, UK-based social media news feeds were awash with post-election bitterness. Profanities, accusations and rudeness abounded between those who were – according to their profile descriptions if not evidenced elsewhere that day – ‘friends’ with one another. Characterised by a desire to shove opinions down each other’s throats whilst savagely and wantonly disregarding the pesky facts of emotional sensitivity and human decency, this was a war of attrition using words as weapons. And by God was it unpleasant.

To quote a friend who has herself been subject to recent politically-charged vitriol:

“Friendship does not spout vile names. It involves two parties making equal effort. It involves honesty delivered with tact and kindness. It involves laughing, a lot. It involves knowing when to step in and when to step back. It involves communication, balanced and regular. Anything that feels one-sided and wrong, probably is.”

Friendship isn’t always easy. As individuals (the clue is in the name), we will rarely find people with whom we always agree. But that’s okay, because being challenged in our views is the best way we can grow – so long as those who are challenging us do so in a way that is considered, measured and, above all else, respectful. Without mutual respect, friendship cannot exist. In its place is a barren wasteland of forced opinions, deaf ears and closed hearts. This world is full enough of hatred as it is. If we turn on those closest to us, what hope is there for a better future?

Another feature of friendship that is paramount to its survival is honesty. So many people let the behaviour of so-called ‘friends’ go unchecked, despite it impacting negatively upon them, because it’s easier to put up and shut up than it is to rock the boat by being honest. But if you can’t be honest with the person in question, can you truly call your relationship a friendship?

Finally, and most importantly of all, friendship cannot flourish without kindness. When we are going through our own struggles, it is easy to forget that others have theirs too. We cannot change the way others behave towards us during challenging times, but we can try to understand and forgive negative words and behaviour, and stop ourselves from getting drawn into a vortex of negativity.

We are, all of us, only human, and our time on earth is short. Friendship is one of the greatest gifts we have, so instead of squandering it we would do well to work on nurturing it.


It’s a hard knock life

I was walking to work this morning, entirely lost in my own myriad thoughts, when I passed a man whose appearance caught my attention. He was older than me by at least ten years, red-eyed, unshaven and carrying some bedding. It was obvious he had been sleeping rough.

When I got into work I had a meeting about developing case studies for my charity, during which I heard some harrowing stories about young people who, prior to taking part in our programme, had been bullied, thrown out of home, started dealing drugs and carrying knives..the list goes on.

Back at my desk I received an email about dementia sufferers, which said that loneliness (of sufferers and their carers) is one of the most painful and yet most under reported effects of the disease.

Why am I telling you these depressing stories? Because they’re real, and they’re all around us. Every single day people of all ages are suffering. These are extreme cases, granted, and on a lesser scale we all have our problems to work through. Which is precisely why we should treat one another with love and compassion rather than harsh judgment and criticism. I think the picture below sums this up perfectly.

How to cope in the age of commuter rage

When I left London to go travelling in 2007 I was at the end of my tether with the rudeness of people on my daily commute. I genuinely feared one day I’d snap and scream in someone’s face, and it was the day I finally felt that fear about to become a reality that I knew I had to get away for my sanity’s sake.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this city dearly but it never ceases to amaze me how normally civilised people can become ruthless savages the second they step onto the northern line in morning rush hour. Though I’ve never seen a fight I have heard tales of suited businessmen coming to blows over perceived acts of rudeness, and the sighs and grimaces of people who refuse to move down the carriage to let you on when there is patently room because they’d frankly rather have the space to read is an experience I’m certain we’ve all shared at one time or another.

Similarly, there are the people who push and shove and rant and rave when there clearly is no space, and their getting on the train will most likely mean at least one person suffocating to death in their sweaty armpit. But why should they care? They’ve got to get to work, because being so much as five minutes late would obviously be completely unacceptable.

I have seen occasional acts of kindness on the tube-indeed once a man who was well over six feet tall fainted on top of me on the Piccadilly line on a particularly hot day and I myself became a Good Samaritan, shouting for water and asking people to step back and give him air-but on the whole the daily commute is an ‘each to their own’ affair that is to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Take yesterday’s tube journey home as an example. Me and another girl were standing equidistant from a seat when the occupant stood up to disembark at the next station. I felt her body go rigid, and my own do the same in response. This was all out war, and there could be only one victor. But just as I braced myself for the pushing, the shoving and the glaring that would ensue when I beat her to the seat (as I surely would) I stopped and asked myself why it was so important to me to win the seat. After all, I was only going a few stops. If she wanted it so badly-as her reddening cheeks proclaimed she did-couldn’t I just let her have it? And so I did. And I got more satisfaction from that gesture than I ever would have in winning the seat.

So what’s the moral of my story? Perhaps that every now and then it’s good to take a step back from the madness of the morning or evening commute and make a conscious effort to be nice to a fellow commuter instead of automatically scowling at them. Give it a try-you might just like it.