Judgement and Division

Right now the politics in the UK has created a huge divide between the nation. I imagine it’s similar in the US, and in other countries throughout the world where the left is clashing with the right. It’s probably not helped by social media, where everyone is shouting their opinion and condemning anyone who doesn’t agree with it. When Hilary Clinton called all the Trump voters “deplorables” towards the end of her campaign, and when the lefties here in the UK are calling everyone on the right “Nazis”, we have reached an either/or situation. We all know that things are not so cut and drawn, that because someone disagrees with you means that they are pure evil. No, we must be more mature about how we react to those who disagree with us, and instead of trying to destroy them, listen to them.

It’s an exercise in learning how to judge correctly. It’s learning the difference between judging someone’s actions rather than judging someone’s person. If we can’t differentiate the two, we will never have proper discourse, and we will never find a peaceable place where real change and transformation can happen. We’ll simply be shouting at each other all the time, labelling each other in neat little erroneous boxes that simply support our misguided arguments. We’ll never be able to bridge that division in order to do what needs to be done. When it comes to politics and parliament, we see this example clearly. If it’s all about party politics, nothing is achieved and it’s simply a shouting match. When we are able to talk to each other and really make an effort to hear and understand each other, then we are working for the best interests of all, which is why (hopefully) one got into politics in the first place. But egos and power struggles keep getting in the way, and we can see the real mess that this creates first hand.

So, who are we to judge? Well, as humans we need to judge situations in order to respond correctly. However, we now live in a culture where reaction, rather than responding, is the norm. Reacting to something isn’t thoughtful, it isn’t mindful. It can have all sorts of associations such as past hurt and trauma rising to the surface that has nothing to do with the present situation. When we respond, we first have to listen. We have to put aside our ego for a moment, in order to truly hear the other side. We can then influence the pattern that we wish to create on our lives with more intention, weaving in that which is beneficial, rather than that which is destructive or which has no bearing on the present.

Each side in a difference of opinion thinks that they hold the truth. But what we are really holding are perspectives, a slice of the pie and not the whole thing itself. We are not omniscient; we can’t really know all the facts. We can research and learn all that we can about a situation in order to respond with awareness, sure. But we have to allow that margin of unknowing, the fact that we do see things from our own perspective, coloured by our past, our society, our intellect, our privilege and more. And in some situations, we have to allow our emotion to help us bridge the gap between what is right and what is right for us.

What do I mean by this? I mean that we cannot simply judge a situation based on the facts. Because, for starters, we will never have all the facts. We will have the facts that are presented at the time, and as we all know, new facts are discovered all the time. So we have to rely on empathy, on our gut instinct sometimes in order to judge a situation correctly. But this is tricky business, because we’ve been taught that our rational minds are all that matter. What really matters is the truth of a situation, and we can only know a portion of that truth. When we open our hearts to others in empathy, we will then see another slice of that pie, another slice of the truth and then our perspective shifts. We cannot do that without trying in some way to relate to the other person, instead of de-humanising them.

In the last few weeks, I’ve discovered that Twitter is the perfect litmus test for this experiment. When someone whom you’ve enjoyed, perhaps on a television show or in a certain community suddenly spouts political rhetoric that you utterly disagree with, what do you do? Do you instantly unfollow them? Disregard them based on that one opinion? Do you judge them as a person based on their political preference? How does this judgement of them affect the situation as a whole?

One thing I’ve learned is that when we judge others, we don’t define them. When we judge others, we define ourselves.

Dealing with Bullying

1902780_825582470792076_380046463_nBullying in any shape or form, whether in person or online, is a very difficult thing to deal with. I’ve had my fair share of it, with trolling on my social media sites and the occasional personal attack/character defamation (mostly from people whom I’ve never even met). This has again happened to me very recently, and thankfully it’s only the second personal attack that I’m aware of using myself as the subject.  It’s a slog to get through it all, and can make you despair at the human race entirely, but I’ve come up with some ways to deal with bullying, which may help you if you ever find yourself in such a situation. If you are in physical danger, please contact the authorities at once. Here are 10 ways you can work through this situation, should you find yourself being bullied in any shape or form.

  1. Don’t take it personally. Though you may be the subject, actually, it’s not about you at all. It’s about them, and their own insecurities, fears and suffering. When you can see that, you can also develop compassion for them. They are not faceless entities, even though they may have piled on you as such. These are real, living human beings, who are someone’s son, daughter, lover, mother, father, brother, sister. They have their own difficulties, their own lives, their own past experiences and suffering. They have some very large misperceptions about you, and that’s all. You are not the cause, but the subject of their misperception and subsequent projections and personal suffering.
  2. Don’t lash out emotionally. Disengage. Hurting someone who has hurt you only prolongs and increases the suffering in the world. Define your boundaries, so that you do not hopefully have to undergo something like this from the person again. If this means blocking someone on social media or email, or avoiding them in public, then do so. If the circles you work or live in don’t allow for a full disengagement, then do what you can to not allow their misperception into your physical space or your mind.
  3. Talk to and find a support network, whether that is your family and/or friends. Don’t encourage people to take sides, and turn it into a “flame war”. Simply find support from them, allow them to remind you of who you are in their eyes, what they mean to you and the difference that you make in their lives. We can often forget this when we are going through bullying, and can easily get sunk into a pit of suffering and wondering, “why me”. Allow these people who are a real part of your life to rekindle your sense of self, and your life’s meaning for them. Then find out what your life’s meaning is for yourself.
  4. Work with gratitude. After you have disengaged and hopefully have found some support, take a moment to remember all the good things in your life. These will usually far outweigh the bad things that are currently happening, which can seem overwhelming at the time (thanks Kris for this one). Take some time to yourself, make a cup of tea, and sit down in a comfortable, cosy room, taking time to remember everything that you can be grateful for: a loving family, good friends, a roof over your head, your snuggly cat, the beautiful sunshine, the nourishing rain, your heroes and heroines, the delicious cup of tea. You can even make a collage with photos of all these things and hang it in a prominent area of your home, to provide you with a visual reminder each and every day.
  5. Talk to respected people in your community. Chances are they’ve gone through something similar. If you poke your head above the parapet, expect to be shot at. So, they may have some good advice to give you on getting through, as they’ve been through it themselves. You don’t even need to give them the full details, just ask for their advice on bullying in general, and how to overcome the horrible feelings that it invokes.
  6. Have compassion for yourself, as well as for everyone involved. Acknowledge your feelings, your sadness, your anger, your despair. Don’t try to push them aside, for they will most likely come back in some shape or form that is totally inappropriate. Sit with your feelings, allow them to move through you, and then you can let them go. Water needs to flow in order to not become stagnant. So too does energy, in my opinion, and energy needs to flow. Emotions are a form of energy, and so let them flow, in a safe and responsible way. Be emotionally responsible for your own feelings, and know what belongs to you, and what does not. When you can let go of what does not belong to you, you are well on the way to your own personal sovereignty.
  7. Everything is impermanent. This is pretty much the first and foremost Buddhist teaching. What you are currently going through may seem like hell, but in a few days, weeks or months, where will this all be? If it helps, remember past difficult times, and how you survived those (without engaging in the suffering from these past experiences – look at it like a scientist would look at data, and make a conclusion based on that). Look to your family tree, and find out how your ancestors struggled, and made it through. Again, your friends may help in this regard as well. Next year, where will all this be? Where will this episode be? Most likely far, far away, remembered as an experience from which you learned how to become more resilient and compassionate.
  8. You are not better than them. Often, the advice given to you can be “you’re so much better than them”. While you may not cause suffering the way that they do, you are not better than anyone else on this planet. As soon as you think this, you have elevated yourself above someone else, which means that you have de-humanised them or turned them into a faceless “other”. We are all in this together. Do not let ego interfere in the process. Remember who you are, without any ego inflation tactics, which are only temporary, and which in the long-run can lead to very poor behaviour on your part.
  9. Integration. This is at the heart of all the Druid teachings for me. Remembering that we are all part of an ecosystem, and that everyone has a role to play. This correlates to the point above. Everyone has something to contribute, and from everyone a lesson can be learned to help us become better in ourselves. Not better than any other person, but better in ourselves so that can positively contribute and make this a truly flourishing, functional ecosystem.
  10. Endurance. Treat it like an athlete treats endurance training. See it as good practice for holding on to your principles. See it as an excellent workout for the mind and the soul. But remember to take breathers when you choose not to engage or think about it. Do not think ‘this is ill fortune’, but ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune’. (Thanks to Katie, and her Stoic studies for this one!)

I hope that this helps, if ever you find yourself in such a situation. If you do, remember that many people have experiences this, and that you are not alone. Get outside, look at the birds flying overhead, the bees in the garden, and notice nature all around you. You are never alone. You are part of something truly beautiful, so do try to focus on that. And have a big, virtual hug from me.

Policing or Punishing Lush?

LushYou may have heard of the backlash that Lush are currently suffering due to their most recent campaign, which highlights the invasion of privacy from a police squad set up by the government to spy on British activists. On Friday I read an article in the Guardian of how many on social media are taking to giving the company a one-star rating as a result. Lush are being heavily accused of being “anti-police”, which is absolutely ridiculous to anyone who actually reads the campaign article.  LUSH UK are not anti-police. They are simply defending basic human rights. (Read the essay, “Exposing the Spy Who Loved Me“.)

The media took the anti-police spin and ran away with it. The Home Secretary accused Lush of the same, and condemned them. Obviously, no one had read the literature. 30,000 one-star reviews suddenly appeared on Lush’s Facebook account overnight, by people both opposed to Lush and its campaigns, and also those who were previously Lush customers.

This whole episode greatly saddens me, that mob behaviour can act so rapidly, destructively and without thought even in today’s society. Former supporters of Lush who have rated them so poorly and slammed them in social media apparently do not realise that by doing so, they are only supporting those who would silence people and companies like Lush for speaking out. It would be far better to write a thoughtful letter to the company if you disagreed with a policy or a campaign, in order to enable a) dialogue and discussion, and b) a response direct from the company itself.

This form of behaviour on social media is, in my opinion, simply another form of bullying. It’s a different kind of bullying from the norm: it’s more a punishment for someone we may like or dislike, for acting in a certain way.  This punishment behaviour is becoming rampant in our society, and I think we really need to look at the reasons why.

When someone acts in a way that we disagree with, we can often wish to stop this behaviour as quickly as possible. I’m seeing a growing trend towards punishing those who don’t act in line with what we desire, lashing out on the easily accessible and rather faceless mass that is social media. One can do so without much repercussion, dialogue or thought. I worry that this behaviour will seep out into face to face interactions as well, where if someone is acting in a way that we disagree with, we will shut them down rather than engage respectfully and honourably with them. We need to be able to see the broader perspective in everything, and to allow someone else’s point of view into the discussion in order for it to not be denigrated into a mere life of solipsism.

But why is there this desire to punish someone who we think is acting out of line, or contrary to our desires? Who made us judge and jury of the world? What elevated power was bestowed upon us that we feel we have every right to punish those who do not agree with us, or whose opinion differs from our own? This is a question which I have pondered these last few days, and to which I’m still forming an answer. I am as guilty as others are of this behaviour in the past, and it’s been a real eye-opener into how to not continue down this path of destruction. When we feel hurt, we lash out and hurt back, creating a never-ending cycle of suffering. We have to break this cycle, somehow, but lately it seems that the odds can be overwhelmingly stacked against us, especially with the ease of social media’s rating system, pressure and bombardment with hashtags, the anonymity of those lashing out and a host of other factors.

It’s my personal opinion that what Lush do in all their campaigns is to be applauded. They are hard-working human and animal rights activists, as well as selling lovely products (some of which I find are far too expensive for a large majority of people, I must admit. Lush are not perfect, but then again, no one is). The fact that the Home Secretary spoke out against this campaign and jumped on that media-spin bandwagon so clearly seems to demonstrate to me the fear behind the exposure of the government’s creation and support of this squad that has invaded people’s privacy, destroyed lives and gone against some basic Human Rights. Lush has a very valid stake in speaking out against this, as many within the organisation are animal rights, women’s rights and human rights activists.  The fact that the government are encouraging this false perception makes me think that they are under pressure from their fox-hunting friends, to say the least.

I would very much like to see a world where intentional and thoughtful behaviour becomes the norm, rather than reactive and often damaging, crossing the line into bullying behaviour is actually quite acceptable. It’s far too easy to lash out, and cause a lot of damage to someone, especially on social media. People who have never shopped at Lush have bought into a false media spin, and severely reduced their ratings on social media. Surely this is an abuse of the system, for rating a company should be done by those who actually engage with and have used the company? Social media can be a wonderful tool, but it also has horrendous oversights that seriously need to be addressed.

Let’s not become judge, jury and executioner of those whom we disagree with. Let’s not seek to destroy someone for having a differing opinion. Instead, let’s engage in dialogue so that we can better understand each other. We don’t have to agree with each other, but we can at least step beyond our own limited perspective and allow for discussion, which may lead to understanding, to develop. Without dialogue, there can never be understanding, and without understanding, there can never be compassion. Let’s not see compassion fall by the wayside, in real life and in social media.

Remembering your story

I’ve just had a lovely two week vacation, not only from work but also from my computer. It’s essential, in my opinion, to detach one’s self from the constant noise and hub of media and communication, for however long a period, whether it’s a day or two weeks, a month or altogether. I’ve known people who have given up Facebook altogether, and been much happier for it. I can honestly say that I didn’t miss it at all on my two week vacation (no social media, no emails or online communication), and I actually dreaded going back on there today to check for messages. I know that I will be spending a lot less time on there from now on, as the pull and tug of getting into other people’s stories just isn’t all that appealing anymore. Heck, if I could give it up completely I would, but that would be marketing suicide for a mostly self-promoted, self-employed author.

Having two weeks to myself, spending time with myself and my family, has enabled me to see more clearly the stories that really matter to me. While most of social media is filled with noise, things that don’t really matter (alongside really great cat videos), it also has its benefits, such as putting us in touch with high school friends, keeping us up to date on our nephews’ first day at school, and so on. I do Facebook and Twitter, because I like to keep in touch with my family and friends that I physically can’t see, being 3,000 miles away across the Atlantic, as well as feeling obligated for business reasons. But the amount of noise on there is staggering.

We can get so lost in other people’s stories, in the noise that social media produces. Stories that are inconsequential to ours. Stories that have no relevance at all to our daily lives. Stories that have no meaning full stop. We fill our mind with them, drowning out the sound of our story, of our own life, or vainly trying to compare ours to this fictional recreation that social media has produced, which is entirely inaccurate to say the least. I am not my Facebook profile or pages, not by a long shot. Neither are my friends or family. It is a narrow window into one’s life, should one be honest about it, but only provides a miniscule view of the reality that is the whole.

My story is important, if only to myself. But I have to listen to it, in order to be able to change the story, should I so choose. While there are many external factors that help to decide how this story ends, there are also a lot that are completely within my control, if I am able to hear them. I feel an even deeper connection with myself than I had before, because I stopped filling my brain every morning with pictures of what other people had for breakfast, who’s pissed off for whatever reason, etc. I stopped the constant influx of other people’s stories. I feel more me.

I don’t have a smartphone that enable me to check emails and social media wherever I am. I have a mobile phone that lives in my car should I break down. I do all my emails and social media early in the morning, to get it out of the way so that I can get on with my work and my day. I honestly can’t imagine constantly checking on a smartphone for emails and Facebook; that thought is just too horrific for someone as unsocially mediated as myself. What little time I did spend on there, I now realised was for the most part a waste of time. And I haven’t got time to waste. There are weeds to be pulled in the garden, walks to be taken, words to be written, cats to be played with, friends to visit, life to live.

Don’t be lured into the dulling effects of social media. Don’t be pulled into other people’s stories so that your own is neglected. Stay in touch, but don’t be a slave to social media or online communication. Your life is yours to live, so truly live it, don’t let it pass you by in a blur of emails or status updates. And above all, remember and rediscover your story.

 

“Friending”

Facebook is a strange beast.

I love the way that it keeps me up to date with my family in Canada, and the way that is has reunited me with old friends.

What I can’t stand are the silly mind games that occur on this social media site.

Take for example the “friending” and “unfriending” buttons. The word, friend, for me has quite serious connotations. I don’t make friends haphazardly. I’m not a social butterfly. The word, friend, is now a verb. People friend me. It’s no longer befriending, just friending.

For me, this trivialises friendship. If I am going to be someone’s friend, I am going to be there for that person. I don’t make offers of friendship, in “real life” or on social media sites lightly. It’s not on a whim. I can’t function like that. My biggest problem, however, is I think that everyone thinks the same.

I have no idea when people “unfriend” me. I don’t keep track of how many friends I have, and I don’t notice when people drop off. I am extremely naïve in that regard. I’ve had people unfriend, and then refriend me months later – I just assumed that they deleted their account and opened a new one. Then they unfriend me again, and I only find out when I try to tag them in a photo or something and can’t. There hasn’t been any exchange between us sometimes, or if there has been it’s been positive, but suddenly I have been unfriended for whatever reason.

Why the silly, schoolground games? And if it is a game, shouldn’t everyone know that they’re playing? If someone is trying to hurt me using Facebook, it fails utterly as I’m totally oblivious – or I only find out months after the event. I have no idea most of the time when I’m involved in any kind of game – I just assume that people are, on the whole, nice. Especially those whom I befriend. I’m going to continue thinking this way. Life’s too short to do otherwise.

I wonder if, when Facebook was created, the concept of friending and unfriending was thought through to its finality. The friend button could be used to bring people together. It could also be used as a weapon to hurt someone. Like a vicious, little child lashing out. People can get hurt, even from a child…

If someone I know and like posts things that annoy me, I simply stop receiving notifications from them. I won’t unfriend them, as they may not be like that in person. I have decided to be friends with them for a reason. Now, if someone did something utterly atrocious, that’s another matter. But I just don’t use the “unfriend” button as a weapon. There’s got to be dialogue involved before making that sort of decision.

Am I alone in this regard? I hope not – I hope that there are other souls out there, who feel the same way. Sensitive souls, who take the friend button seriously.

Facebook is a strange beast.

 

 

Love Thyself

Love Thyself

Today I have the day to myself – no one else, just me in the house with my cat. For me, it is pure bliss. After the sometimes chaotic nature of the holiday season spent in constant company, whether that is with beloved family or friends, a little downtime is a blessing.  I love these moments, when I am free to do as I choose, when the house is quiet and no one needs anything.  I can write or listen to music, meditate without extraneous noise, or simply just sit in the conservatory with a cup of tea and enjoy the silence and the season. After busy times, I crave solitude.

In today’s society, however, I am seeing more and more evidence that people do not want to spend time with themselves.  There are constant distractions everywhere, the worst culprit being mobile phones.  Not only are they being used to call or text people constantly, but now people can tweet, check their facebook or email and never spend a moment without their “friends”.  I remember about six months ago going to my local pub and sitting at the bar, chatting to the bar staff. Other locals were around me sharing conversation, but once the bartender had disappeared they all lowered their heads and were on their phones, thumbs hammering away.  I have gone out to dinner on numerous occasions where I see other couples sitting across from each other not talking to each other but on their phones. It makes me so sad that people do not want to be together physically when they are given the precious opportunity. What I find perhaps even more distressing is the fact that people don’t know how to be alone either.

In a supermarket queue, no one can just stand there anymore and wait in line, either simply being and standing, or making eye contact with others, offering a smile, perhaps some comment on the weather.  I respect it when people don’t want to talk to strangers – I can feel annoyed when people want my attention and I don’t want to give it to them at that particular moment. It can feel intrusive.  Men who expect you to flirt back, for instance. But I digress – surrounded by real people in the supermarket queue, people would rather look to a tiny screen that acknowledge those around them, or perhaps even succumb to their own thoughts for the barest instant.

I know that I am assuming much here – I can’t know what really goes on in other people’s heads.  But I think it is a fair assumption to make.  Being alone is scary for a lot of people, especially if they’re not used to it. What worries me is that a whole generation of human beings is living without the blessing of time spent by and with themselves. They will never experience that exquisite silence when the gadgets are turned off. They will never know their own thoughts, being constantly distracted by the thoughts of others. They might never truly know themselves.

Time spent alone is precious time to look within, to check on our self and see if everything is okay.  Not enough time is spent doing this, in my opinion.  Giving this gift of attention to our selves, we can see where we are simply reacting to events, instead of acting with intention.  It gives us a chance to be compassionate with our selves, and thereby allowing us to be more compassionate with others.  We check in on others all the time with social media – what I suggest is that we check in with ourselves as well.

Mindfulness and meditation are two great ways to check in with the self, to see how you are doing at this particular moment in time.  Breathing in, being aware of the breath, you can do this anywhere – even in the supermarket queue.  Simply saying “breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing in, breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out” in your mind as you breathe gives you a moment in time that is all your own.  I like to do this regularly, and also to see where I am holding tension in my body.  Often I will find that my right shoulder is raised, and I can make a conscious effort to relax my muscles, giving them a rest as well as my mind.  I am unconsciously tensing, perhaps protectively with my dominant arm against some unperceived threat. When I am aware of this, I see that there is no threat, and can relax and enjoy the moment better.

In meditation, simply stopping is a brilliant way to get back in touch with your self.  Sitting on a cushion, perhaps some incense burning as an offering, simply spend time with your self and your thoughts.  See the thoughts in your mind as they arise, but do not attach to them – let them go. See and discover how crazily the mind works, how hurried and fast thoughts arise. Just as quickly as they come, let them go, and slowly, with time and with effort, with a little discipline, the thoughts will begin to settle like mud in a pond, eventually allowing clear insight into the depths. It doesn’t happen all at once, and takes dedication, but it is so worth it.

Spend some time with yourself today, even if it only for two minutes. Breathe, stand outside after work and smell the night air.  Take a candlelit bath and really feel the water surround you, relaxing your body and noticing where there may be tension.  Sit at your meal and savour each and every bite, really paying attention to what it is that you are putting in your mouth.  Lying down to sleep, do a full body sweep with your mind to feel areas of tension, relaxing the muscles one by one.

And for the love of your self, turn your phone off. x