Who are you?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. Thinking is good but it can become too much to keep in your head so I thought I’d write something down again – I know it’s been a while. Not my usual writing style, more reflective, but I still hope it can make you think and maybe challenge you a little. Who knows? Anyway, here we go…

Perhaps it’s just me that deceives myself into thinking that I know myself well enough to be able to predict what I will do, how I will react or what I will think in any situation. The truth is, I learn things about myself all the time; I don’t have a fully formed philosophy and sometimes it is difficult to be at peace with this, to be at peace with things I’ve done in the past that conflict with who I am now or even who I want to be.

At some point in everyone’s life we realise we’re not the same people as our parents – we don’t share the same opinions, we don’t vote for the same politicians, we don’t have the same philosophies. This is fine, we’re all different people and this is something that should be embraced. I’ve known this for a long while but taking the next step and really taking control of my own life is something that I still struggle with. It is far easier said than done to take a step back from other people’s opinions and become the person that you want to be, to live the life you want to live. I am, by no means, there on this one.

So how does one cope with the internal conflicts of living a life that’s different to what’s expected by friends, family, social constructs and even oneself? Well I wish I knew a quick fix for that one, but the reality is that I don’t have an answer. For me, now, I try my very best to discover myself and to take those steps to realising what’s important to me. This does involve a lot of thinking, which is inconvenient at best but I’m getting there. As for the feelings of regret and apprehension about the past and future, I try to focus on my faith, but this is far easier said than done.

Who am I? I don’t know. But I am doing everything I can to find out.

Smile

Life’s hard. This is something we all have to accept at one stage or another and we have a choice whether to let it get us down or to rise above it and be the commander of our own emotion. We’re not children any more, there’s no-one there telling us everything will be okay and reassuring us that we’re doing well. It’s your job to do that now. So smile. You may not feel like it, you may not feel remotely happy but you can let that emotion own you or you can show it who’s boss. Truthfully, it’s not even just about you. The person next to you on the train, the cashier serving you your sandwich, your co-workers, your family, you friends are much more likely to feel happy if everyone around them is smiling. And the same goes for you; it’s a beautiful loop.

So smile. It can’t hurt.

Change

Change is one of the few certainties we have in this life. It doesn’t matter how good or bad a situation is, we can at least be sure that it will be different in some way in the future. Change happens in all aspects of life, it happens in yourself, in your family, in relationships, in your community, and on a global scale.

The changes that mean something to us as people tend to be also set in motion by people – for example, if you get a new job, it is because you applied for the position with relevant experience and impressed the interviewer. Pretty obvious, right? But, despite how obvious this seems, we all seem to forget this simple truth when it comes to things that we want to see changed. It’s easy to look at a situation and say that it’s wrong; that something needs to be done about it. It’s easy to talk about it to friends in a shocked manner, easy to say “isn’t it horrific, someone needs to do something about this” but this doesn’t mean anything at all without finding a way to be a part of that change.

The thing is, we are so used to seeing things on the news, thinking about how awful they are for a minute or two and then getting on with our day like nothing happened. If we want to see the world changed then we have to do something about it ourselves, because somebody has to or things will stay the same.

Don’t just point out the need for a change. You should be part of that change.

What’s wrong with sport?

Sport is an aspect of society that is nigh-on universally celebrated in one form or another. You find it littered across the back pages of newspapers, on the most expensive television channels and flaunted on the clothing of hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts around the world. We love it and there’s something about it that holds our interest. But is it something that we should be holding in such high esteem or have we got too caught up in something that should never have held the influence in our culture that it does now?

As a British man, being asked the question, “which football team do you support?” is much like the question, “what kind of music do you like?”sports – the person asking the question expects you to have an opinion. In my experience, other men find this topic very comfortable and are happy to launch into into a well thought out discussion or argument about some team or manager or player or transfer or goal etcetera. I have seen this subject dominate the conversations of men for hours but, apart from being extraordinarily unimportant, is there actually anything wrong with their enthusiasm?

On the surface it seems ridiculous that there could be anything wrong with sitting down and enjoying a good game of football but when you look deeper it doesn’t seem as straightforward as one might expect. Firstly, it shouldn’t matter so much to the general public who wins or loses a game. I find it interesting how people can justify identifying themselves with a club without playing for them or working for them. Sure, it used to be the case that football clubs would be made up of local people and so the community spirit was understandable but these days players are often not just from different counties but from different continents. It seems silly to me to be traditional about this; there is nothing Mancunian about Manchester United F.C. any more, that’s just where they happen to play. So when I see people screaming at television screens or crying at stadiums it leaves me wondering if there mightn’t be a healthier outlet for these people’s emotions, perhaps they should give up the pretence and save their feelings for something real.

I just think we have a responsibility as human beings to commit ourselves to the things that are really important in life. If you’re one of the people that finds yourself shouting at the television screen, furious with your team’s performance, then perhaps if you looked a bit deeper you’d find what you were really angry about. Life is very short and can be lived a lot better if we are honest with ourselves, look past our pride and humble ourselves. If something makes you happy or sad, let it be because it’s something that matters, something that means something.

So I think sport should be enjoyed, yes. But as an appreciation of excellence or a way to keep fit. Not as some tribal battle. As adults we should be in control of our own emotions and look up to people worth looking up to.

We can do better.

Hatred

Your parents probably told you that ‘hate’ was a strong word and not to be used lightly – mine did, anyway. At some point or another, most of us forget this and begin to use it casually in conversation; “I really hate that advert” for example. The interesting thing for me is that the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that contains it is almost always that which holds most emphasis by the person that speaks it. It’s a word that holds our respect even when used improperly.

But what ‘hatred’ really means and whether its use can ever be justified takes a little more thinking than a throwaway comment about a cheesy advertising slogan. To me, hatred represents a seemingly irredeemable repugnance and dislike for a person or thing. Now, the dictionary disagrees with me on this, insisting that hatred can be described simply as “intense dislike.” The reason why I stand by my definition over that of the dictionary’s in this instance is that the dictionary is a representation of language as it is used in its current state. This is why pathetic excuses for words like ‘selfie’ find their way into the dictionary; if people consistently use a sound to represent a thing enough that it becomes generally accepted, then it becomes a word. So people have diluted the meaning of the word ‘hate’ over time by expressing their dislike for petty things like television advertising. I stand by my definition because of the respect we still seem to have for the word even when used carelessly in these situations.

Anyway, I’ve managed to digress as I so often do. Can hatred be justified? Short answer: yes. Long answer: sometimes. It’s at this point I realise that the long answer isn’t all that much longer than the short one – so I’ll expand. For hatred to be reasonable I think we can agree that the subject must have a negative impact on you, otherwise there’s nothing to dislike or be repulsed by, and it must be defined by its impact, else it is redeemable. So, in short, you can justifiably hate anything that falls within these highly selective criteria.

To explain, I shall draw up one of my famously extreme examples, in this case the murder of a child. There are things you can hate in this scenario and things I think you shouldn’t. I’ll start with things you can hate – the act of murder being the obvious candidate. A murder is characteristically negative and can only be defined by the extinction of someone’s life, thus fulfilling all of the criteria. Now on to things you shouldn’t hate – firstly, the murder weapon. People say they hate guns, which seems fair when you see what they can do and what they have already done in the world… but this does flout my criteria I’m afraid. Obviously, guns can have a pretty negative impact on people, I won’t dispute that, but I don’t believe that they are defined by this impact; that undoubtedly falls to the act of shooting someone. People will argue that guns weren’t designed for anything else but I think that’s irrelevant. Yes, they can be seen as a symbol for murder but that doesn’t make them murder and I think that distinction is very important.

Lastly, is it acceptable to hate the murderer? That’s an interesting one – some people would say ‘definitely’ and you can understand why. Others would say ‘only if they showed no remorse,’ which seems equally, if not more, sensible. I would say ‘no.’ Let me explain myself. We said that it was justifiable to hate something that was defined by its impact, else it was redeemable. After all, you can do nothing to change the past – you are only who you are in each moment, so showing remorse allows you to be redeemed. If they show no remorse then they can’t be redeemed so you can hate their thoughts at least. But should you hate them as a person? I can see how this is a bit of a grey area and I would still say ‘no.’ This is because I would argue that this person is mentally ill. I would argue that they never chose to be a person who showed a disregard for human life, that they should be rehabilitated, and not persecuted. But this is a question of free will and one that I know many people will disagree with. It is for you to decide what you think about that.

Living in the Moment

The idea of ‘living in the moment’ isn’t an uncommon philosophy in today’s culture. It’s very closely linked to the ‘YOLO’ (You Only Live Once) movement that flooded the Twitter-feeds of millions of users over the past couple of years. People around the world became hooked on the idea that you could justify outrageous decisions with the notion that when life draws to a close you won’t have the opportunity to make that decision again. I don’t dispute that this seems perfectly accurate, you do only get one life on this Earth and when it’s over, there’s nothing you can do to change what’s happened, but it would be short-sighted, I think, to simply follow all your impulses and instincts for this reason.

The simple fact is, you may only live once but that life doesn’t end after each decision you make. There are consequences to your actions and consistently following your raw desires just isn’t healthy. For example, there are countless websites and companies out there who are willing to offer you loans of up to £1000 as an instant bank transfer. There’s a lot that you could do with this money, things you’ve wanted for years that this money could get you and you could just live in the moment and get yourself that new TV/Hi-fi system/massaging chair or whatever you dream of. But the pressure of the debt will catch up with you and you could lose it all in a second.

So whilst YOLO makes for a great slogan, like many catchy acronyms it really holds very little meaning with regard to making life decisions; the truth of the matter is far more complicated – you have a future to be concerned about, not just the next few hours and your decisions should reflect that or you can lose things, and people, that you love.

Live your life, not your hour.

Promises You Can’t Keep

It is a childish fantasy to believe that a person can understand a situation fully enough to guarantee something to someone. This is particularly optimistic in the common form of promising a service to someone regardless of future circumstance. When someone makes the commitment of a promise, they claim to have identified with every possible outcome and are satisfied that they would react uniformly, no matter what happened. This is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

To give a common example, people often reassure one another with the phrase, “I’ll be fine – I promise.” Now, unless the speaker has the ability to see into the future, this promise is entirely unfounded. There are so many external factors affecting someone’s life that they have no control of. Technically, every person you meet could be a psychopathic killer with a deep thirst for blood, and you can’t possibly know that you won’t fall victim to this thirst immediately after exiting the door (there are, of course, many other less extreme example… but they’re just not as fun.)

If you’re not yet convinced by this example then let me give you another: “I won’t tell anyone – I promise” What you are saying with this promise is that if someone put a gun to your head and asked you for this precious information, you would politely decline on the grounds of promise prohibition. I don’t know about you, but for me this is a bit of a burden. If you’re the sort of person that lives and breathes promises then I urge you to change your perspective. It is unfair on your fellow man and also yourself to think that people should be bound to their word or else be some sort of horrible moral-less monster. This is just not how life works.

“I don’t want to know”

In the United Kingdom, and perhaps many other Western countries, there is an unwritten rule that requires people to keep their religion to themselves. My understanding is that the reason for this is so that people find it less difficult and unsettling that other people hold different morals, principles and ideas to them and about them because they are not vocalised. All in all, the system promotes social harmony – reducing conflict.

The truth is, though, that some of the most popular religions and beliefs around the world teach of a divine retribution of some sort – a consequence for the way you have lived your life. When this is a person’s belief it becomes a little more important to share. The message I’m trying to convey here is perhaps best represented in a quote by an atheist magician/illusionist, Penn Jillette. He says:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

You may not want to hear what we have to say but since no-one could prove us wrong, when the consequences are considered it may just be worth your time. We are trying to help.

Love

You’ve only to look through a smattering of the world’s literature to realise that love is a big deal to the human race. It seems as though every film, every novel, every song is infused with a love story to keep observers’ attention; it’s what we want to engage with. It seems fitting that such a complex species should be so obsessed with such a complex feeling. There’s no black and white to love – it can be a source of joy or pain, and often a mixture of the two – it affects anyone, anywhere, any time and it cannot be controlled. Previously straightforward decisions become clouded and overwhelming and strong opinions can be toppled in seconds. Love is not a force to be meddled with. It is so complicated, just finding words to define it is mind-blowing. It is a feeling, an emotion, an obsession, a compulsion, cruel, kind, beautifully simple and yet so hideously problematic. We are far closer to understanding time than we will ever be to understanding love.

Of course, it could just be an evolutionary compulsion adapted to give us the best chance of surviving to produce fertile offspring…

But that doesn’t sound nearly as romantic.

Music and Radio

Music is something nearly everyone can appreciate, whether they understand it or not. You don’t need to know what a chord, or a rhythm is – or even a note – to enjoy the sound, sing along and tap your feet. The enjoyment of music is so universal that people feel perfectly comfortable asking someone what sort of music they like, never expecting the conversation to be shot dead with the words, “I don’t like music.” It seems as though music is something that so many of us can relate to because it seems to be a genuine portrayal of emotion that isn’t difficult to empathise with. Even without vocals, music can sound happy, or sad, or energetic, or angry. So using these melodies in parallel with lyrics of a similar nature makes for an authenticity that brings it to life.

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