Friend or Foe?

Today, I was walking through the park, and I noticed someone that I immediately tried to avoid. I didn’t know him. He had a baggy jacket, a hoody and looked unkept. From the back, he could have been Jesse from Breaking Bad. This gave me pause for thought – I love Jesse’s character. Could you meet a kinder, soft-hearted guy? I’d seen this man in the park, and written him off as a druggie and someone to avoid, but perhaps I was being unfair.

I began to reflect more on Breaking Bad. I’d only just finished the last series as I was a very late arrival to the T.V. show. Walter White starts off as someone who would be totally accepted by society – a teacher with a nice house, someone you would smile and not to on the street. Yet, it’s Jesse, the hopeless druggiehoodie who the audience finally empathise with.  We follow his path, and despite everything he does wrong, we feel sorry for him.  We know he wants to follow a good path, if only life would let him. Whatever he does, he does with his heart and is genuine throughout.

I suppose what I’m saying is that if we are given the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes, or at least given the opportunity to really get to know a person, perhaps we would realise that they’re not a rapist/ thief/ terrorist/the list goes on, that we presuppose they are.

Prejudice is rampant in our society –we are immediately judged by the clothes they wear, the colour of our skin, where we live, the gender we are, our sexual preferences, the disability we have, where we like to shop. There are segmented groups that try to combat this, to speak up for minorities, for women, for gay rights but actually, what we really need to say is “give everyone a chance.” They could be a moron, they could be cold-hearted but equally, they could be the kindest, most lovely person you could meet. Who knows, they could even be your new best friend.

With the Brexit vote and the American elections, what has become apparent is there are a lot of people who are unhappy with the state of the nation. People like Nigel Farage and Donald Trump have preyed on anger and fear, and scape-goated minorities, be it Mexicans, Muslims, or immigrants in general and that is not OK. We cannot blame groups of people for our problems. Yes, there are some awful people in the world, but I like to think that it is an incredibly tiny minority. Then there are another groups of people in the world, the Jesse’s, who have somehow ended up on the wrong track with the wrong people, but deep down are decent people. Finally, there are the rest, the boring majority, who follow the system and hope that one day, our government will get it right.

So don’t let a few people desperate for power, tell you who to like. Arm yourself with information, get to know everyone. Smile at strangers on the street no matter who they are, and rather than assume everyone is bad, do the opposite. Believe that everyone is a friend you haven’t yet met, and slowly, we can start undoing the harm and hatred that our leaders are causing.   

 

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Fast Food for the Soul

Last month, the QI Elves announced on Twitter that Quidditch had been invented in Edinburgh. JK Rowling quickly corrected this. “Untrue, I’m afraid!” she tweeted, “Quidditch was invented in Manchester”. As Manchester blogs everywhere quickly reported the ‘news’ about the fictional game from the fictional book, I couldn’t help laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. But as the local media also jumped on the band wagon, I found myself questioning why they would even bother reporting such as thing. Clearly, the reason for sharing this vital piece of news was because they felt that this is what readers want.

I’m all for a piece of easy gossip and shock facts, but it feels that the Western world is gorging on these  fast-paced, shallow snippets of news, whilst rejecting the carefully thought-out and presented article, which argues both sides and comes up with an opinion based on the facts. It’s the information equivalent of fast food – easily digested, hardly nutritious and leaves you hungry for more. With the fast-paced world of the internet and social media, it’s important to get the news out first; even if there is no news, even if you don’t have all the facts. It’s all about the number of click throughs you can get to an article, how many people you can get to visit your site by sharing and re-tweeting. It doesn’t matter too much if people think the news is newsworthy, what matters is that it amuses and it’s something that they think will amuse their friends.

It’s no wonder then that someone like Donald Trump has become President. He talks to the people in that same digestible way. Australian comedian Jim Jefferies referred to this at one of his gigs in Nashville.  “Donald Trump, don’t get me wrong, he’s a lot of fun….. But just because someone says something simple that you understand, doesn’t mean they’re a straight talker.” Unfortunately though, this is what people seem to want – simple language that they don’t have to try and decipher. The man may be stupid, but he speaks a language that people think they understand. It doesn’t matter if what he says is based on facts, facts don’t matter anymore. It’s about who can speak in the simplest language, creating the most reactions and engage with the public. Donald Trump achieves this perfectly.

As a nation though, we can’t afford to become this lazy and complacent, and we can’t afford the younger generations to follow suit. The very fact we can reason is a key human trait, why we have made such leaps in scientific development. Will the very technology we have created be responsible for turning us back into simple apes, where we laugh at GIFS, but couldn’t possibly follow a well structured argument?

In a time of political upheaval and lies, where there is huge poverty and inequality and where vast areas of the world are at war, can we afford to ignore the real news?  Ironically, the internet, which should bring countries closer together, seems to be keeping us further apart and is making us more self absorbed.

So next time you’re tempted to pick up your phone and scroll through Facebook or Twitter through pages of mindless video clips, don’t. Instead, choose to read more, to challenge your beliefs, develop arguments and to educate yourself and those around you. Look at the person across from you and engage in conversation, and resist the lure of social media. It’s in those moments when you can really begin to make a difference. That Big Mac might look fabulous, but you know it will just going to leave you with a sick feeling to your stomach.

 

Does Transparency Equal Truth?

I have just finished reading Dave Eggers’ novel, The Circle. It makes for terrifying reading. First published in 2013, it looks at how a company called ‘The Circle’ (which could easily be Facebook or Google), begins to take control of all aspects of life, arguing that everything should be transparent to achieve truth. As an avid user of Facebook, the book scared me; a lot of what was covered was a little too close to home.

It reminded me of an article that I read recently, which stated that due to Google and Facebook algorithms, we are shown more of what we want to see. If we are interested in politics, Facebook will suggest related articles. If you are more interested in style, you are less likely to hear about what is going on in the world of politics but will be directed to an article on how to put together the ultimate work wardrobe. The internet creates a picture of us via our purchases/ the pages we follow/ the things we tweet and feeds us the information we want to see. I’d like to think that I want to be challenged, I want to have the chance to be introduced to snowboarding even though I don’t know the first thing about it. I want to develop new interests and meet people who challenge my views. It’s the news equivalent of fast food and the implications are terrifying.

This all hit home recently on the the recent BREXIT debate. I voted to stay in, my friends all voted to stay in, and most importantly, everything on Facebook  was showing me a community that all agreed. And yet the unthinkable happened. The majority voted out. I was in shock for days/weeks even. How could I not have seen this coming? Surely everyone realised Nigel Farage was a liar. That leaving the EU would not reduce the number of immigrants from Nigeria.  I have to question whether I was simply being shown what I wanted to see. How can this be good for us a society? How can we stand up for what we believe in if no one hears our voice? If no one disagrees with us, how can we challenge them or put our own point across. Equally, if you are narrow minded with your beliefs, how can your eyes be opened to the possibility of embracing everyone despite their race or religion.

How can this be considered the truth?  So make sure you engage. Don’t limit your knowledge of the news to what pops up on Facebook. Do your research before making choices. Engage with people, all kinds of people to hear lots of different opinions and share your own. Needless to say, I shall be limiting my Facebook time from now on.

 

Consumerism – The Answer to all Life’s problems?

Last week I found myself shopping at the local mall. Although it is a place that I loathed before having children, I now venture there on almost a weekly basis because of how convenient it is. Free parking, all on one level, undercover. A dream for a woman carting around a pram and a two year old.

This particular shopping trip, I was on the hunt for photo frames. A while ago, I spotted an article in a lifestyle magazine which suggested using one wall in the hallway to display photographs like an art gallery. What a fantastic idea, I thought.  So here I was after weeks of carefully selecting from my family photos, attempting to find an array of different sized/ different shaped photo frames to display them. In reality, this was surprisingly difficult. Despite all the shops that I visited, all of the photoframes were rather uniform.

Stood in John Lewis, I found myself frozen on the spot, wondering why the hell I was there, why I was surrounded by hundreds of shoppers, all out to buy something new to perfect their houses and therefore their lives. I had to ask myself why I spent so much time shopping? Why I felt it important to create this ‘gallery’ on my wall for all to see?  And then it hit me. My relationship with my parents has felt somewhat strained since my own children came on the scene, and I realised that by carrying out this methodical approach of adding family photos to the wall, I would somehow bridge that gap, thus making everything better. Well let’s be honest, it won’t. Perhaps people will come round to my house and admire the photos of my beautiful children, and smile at the pictures of my parents, wishing they were closer to their own families. The same way everyone’s perfect lives are there for everyone to see on Facebook.

But the only real way I can actually bridge the gap between myself and my parents is to talk to them; to address some of the issues that I have been bottling up inside. (I can’t see this happening anytime soon; I despise confrontations, I’m more of a head-in-the-sand kinda girl).

More and more, I feel I’m losing control, that I am totally missing the true point to life. I’m surrounded by crap I don’t need, I’m constantly buying storage solutions to somehow organise my life. I see all these wise slogans in friends’ houses and on Facebook: “Don’t wait for the perfect moment, take the moment and make it perfect”, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… it’s learning to dance in the rain.” We all know these gems of advice, but is anyone actually living by them? Do we hide behind them, telling ourselves that one day we will be a better parent/son/daughter/neighbour?

Today, I am going to write a list of things I want to change, why wait until New Years Eve? I want to practice on my keyboard more/ read more/ chat to the neighbours instead of darting straight from my car to the safety of my home. I want to listen to more live music/eat different foods/ avoid the TV as much as humanly possible. Maybe I’ll try snowboarding (that one would make my husband happy), invite my mum out for coffee rather than cowering when she rings, and this is the big one…..start speaking to people on the phone rather than texting. These are all minute changes, but they’re huge too. It’s about time I started participating in life, rather than letting life happen around me. And if everyone did this, surely the world would become a little happier, a little less self centred.

I finished my photo wall, and my mum said she thought it was thoughtful I had included my grandparents. So maybe it did bring us a little closer in the end. We still need to have that chat though. Maybe one day…..