Saturday, 3 December 2016

Thought Picnic: We must restore faith in our humanity

A calling unplanned
Sometimes, a holiday means not needing to get to bed early and in locations where there is much safety and security, it could mean staying out until the very early hours of the morning.
Normally, I would get a taxi-cab back from the town centre to my hotel which is just about 1km away, but between laziness and tiredness, the ride is a respite from a night of excessive wakefulness.
This time, with the wind blowing with the gusts of an easy gale, I started my walk back to my hotel, when I heard someone coughing and spitting. He was on the ground, whether having fallen or seeking a cosy respite, the setting did not look right.
Reached and helped
I walked round to him and asked if he was OK, he said he wasn’t. So, I reached out my hand to help him up, which he took and it became apparent that he was quite unsteady on his feet. I cannot say why this was the case and in his vulnerable state, it was no time to be judgemental.
Then I asked where he needed to get to and whether he would be able to make it there. His hotel was just a few hundred metres away, and I knew he would not successfully walk that distance which would have involved crossing two roads. I offered to hold him in a side embrace to get him to his hotel, and he obliged.
He might have been physically worse for wear, but his mental faculties were fully engaged, he was thankful for my help, very appreciative of my concern and he asked for my name as we walked to his hotel. I had decided I was going to deliver him to his hotel reception before turning back.
A dearth of kindness?
The conversation that ensued suggested he never expected even the basest forms of human kindness as I tried to assure him that there are many helpful people out there. We got to his hotel, had to go down the stairs for the reception, all the while I held onto him.
I delivered him to reception, ensured he was aware of where he had to go, at which point, he became profusely thankful, hugged me tight, he was prayerfully gracious and then he went to his room.
On reflection, I wondered if he had had an epileptic episode leading to his fall and the unsteadiness that did not seem to be from alcohol or substance abuse, then it would not have mattered, either way, I would have offered to help.
Let us do and expect to done to
Then again, the thought that people in vulnerable situations rarely have expectations of assistance until they somewhat pick themselves up off the ground bothered me greatly. We surely cannot all have lost faith in humanity not to expect another fellow human being to be of help to those in any kind of distress.
Our little conversation seemed to suggest this was not the first time nobody came to his aid that my help was almost as shocking as it was surprisingly unexpected at a strange hour from a complete stranger.
I did nothing close to the highly commendable humanity of the Good Samaritan, but if a heart beats in our chest cavity, there is nothing to prevent us reaching out to help, just because we are human first and to help reinforce the bonds of our common humanity.
My hope is he is well and maybe, I helped an angel too. Every little stretching out of the hand is a little more done to restore faith in our humanity.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Thought Picnic: Broken trusts and broken relationships

As I reflect
The need to cultivate relationships is undeniable, especially those that pertain to family and friends. Estrangement is a difficult place to be, but the causes of such are rarely in the immediate present, a whole series of events culminate in whatever is left of that relationship when reviewed in the present.
The older I have grown, the more I have analysed situations and developments in my many relationships to understand better why the relationships remain strong or begin to fade into insignificance.
There are positives in my upbringing, many that I have written about and invariably, there are negatives too. I write about them first because it offers a form of catharsis and then in the expectation that readers might be aware of the issues we rarely discuss but end up living through in unresolved conflict and pain. The hope is that for those who still have levers they can pull, there is some opportunity for change for the better.
Trusting confidences
Earlier today, I reflected on the fact that I never really trust my parents with my confidences, I was for a while an only child because my siblings came along and whilst I could be talkative, I was always a closed book of sorts.
There is so much of my life that my parents are completely oblivious about, we probably will not talk enough to get to the point of my issues.
They are at an age where their entitlements and their demands are paramount if we are not being emotionally blackmailed, we are threatened with being disowned, some of us are amused at this febrile abuse of authority that they once wielded untrammelled.
Trusting safety
It goes without saying that being unable to trust them with my confidences has meant that have also not been trusted with my safety. 
In many ways, they were protective and they offered a haven from many situations, but the most critical one involved my childhood sexual abuse. People my parents trusted took advantage and took sexual favours, it is unlikely that they are aware of how serious this was.
Trusting vulnerabilities
The ultimate area of trust my parents were never granted was they were never trusted with my vulnerabilities. Probably, because they never understood what I was going through or did not have the presence of mind or inclination to determine whether there were problems.
From illness, through bad behaviour and depression in my teens then unto my battle with cancer in 2009 along with other health concerns, I realise there was no foundation on which to affect a better parent-child relationship. In finding others to trust with confidences, safety, and vulnerabilities, the thinnest umbilical cord remains and that itself is under unbearable strain.
Trust is a mutually beneficial standard for developing relationships and yet, generation after generation we repeat the mistakes of the past with very few lessons learnt.
Maybe, just maybe
My blog now offers a place to reflect on my victories and afflictions, going as far back as my vivid memories will carry me, along with the recognition of a life-changing condition diagnosed over 14 years ago, for which we hope that trust with allow people talk more about their lives, their challenges, their hopes and their fears without the threat of ostracism or the threat of facing stigmatisation.
Happy World AIDS Day!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Thought Picnic: Don't mistake a troubled child for a bad one

Not a conversation
By happenstance, I was recently privy to a conversation and that is in the broadest terms between an uncle (Julius) and his nephew (Fabier) on the nephew’s birthday. There was probably a case of me eavesdropping, but it provided the opportunity for some reflection.
The first part of the conversation which we agreed in the end, was not a conversation covered the general issues of the vociferous against the tongue-tied. Julius in what looked like a conversation asked seemingly leading questions and Fabier in cantankerous mode answered in striking monosyllables in either the negative or affirmative.
A stifled freedom to talk
Now, I have experienced that with my niece times before where my labour of attempting to get her to string a 5-word sentence together at the minimum was literally ineffective. The fact is, these nieces and nephews are neither that shy or tongue-tied, we just have not developed the setting for a free-flowing interaction and communication that comes with the freedom of our younger relations to express themselves without fear or inhibition.
I find the need to work on this relationship building activity the more because there are critical elements of the childhood development experience that we might miss which could have lasting consequences on the life and outlook of the child.
I say this because, the questions veered into areas of Fabier’s school, how he was enjoying classes if he was making friends and whether he was settling in fine, all which Fabier suggested in his monosyllabic answers was alright.
Fabier is a bad boy
Fabier passed his phone back to his mother (Mary), and there Mary regaled to Julius her brother how Fabier was really not fitting in at school, his personal hygiene levels had declined to the point of concern and excoriation, the report gave Julius the leverage to demand a change in attitude from Fabier or else Fabier would lose the promised presents and possibly some goodwill of his uncle.
The long and short of the second exchange where Fabier literally said nothing and Julius said everything was Fabier had been, a really bad boy.
The telling off of Fabier would have been pleasing to Mary, but I do not think in my heart of hearts that it helped Fabier one bit.
I was Fabier again
That second conversation between Julius and Fabier was a replay of a similar conversation I had with many elderly relations of mine 40 years ago when I was sent to a secondary boarding school half a country away from my parents in the hope of my parents that I would be toughened up and will learn more of our culture, language, and traditions.
My first term was hellish, I was consistently bed-wetting, I took no baths seeing that we had to fetch water from a forbidden grotto in the forest just before dawn, my night was disturbed by apparitions and ghosts that had me reciting Psalm 23 hundreds of times in the night. My life was a nightmare and it was a nightmare to my fellow schoolmates.
I know that of all the real help I needed, I got nothing, there were mental, psychological and emotional issues at play that received no professional help, I was supposed to be like others, stoic, responsible, able and applied to the duty to which I was called, to excel at school.
Not one solution worked
The solutions proffered included animist rituals, spiritualist entreaties, amulets, and shamanist cuts into which concoctions of varying potency were applied, none of which addressed a fundamental issue.
A child who had suffered emotional trauma some months before who had already for the first time spend 5 months away from the structured environment of home where again the matter of child sexual abuse by the servants never got addressed, was now flung to the winds for fend for himself and you expect him to perform to expectation?
A child does not bed wet just as an act of rebellious vandalism, there are fundamental psychological issues at play, using shame, disgrace, deprivation of comforts or corporal punishment, as weapons of dissuasion might appear to work in the immediate term, but it also internalises unresolved issues.
Can we try something else?
In most cases, what a child needs is understanding leading to encouragement to express themselves freely of their fears and their hopes, not the full weight of adult imposition exacting punishment and price to force them to do our bidding.
Children are in and of themselves free and independent moral agents, they are no mules. They are can be positively moulded with affirmation and approbation over criticism, comparison and condemnation.
Whilst in the face of the labours of parenthood, parents might not seem to have time to attend to the emotional needs of a child, those are probably the most critical needs of a child above anything else and it rarely gets addressed.
In the quest to make our children fear and respect us, we have lots an essential channel of communication that sometime in the adulthood of that child would be an unrelenting indictment of the kind of parenthood they endured.
Some parents wonder why their children are estranged and a lot of it points to the things they considered insignificant, in mistaking a troubled child for a bad one.
Are you the playful adult?
It goes without saying that a child needs at least one playful adult in their relationships, one whom they can trust, in whom they can confide, with whom they can find the freedom to be themselves and know that they are not only being listened to, they are being understood, encouraged, given advice and helped along in the most difficult times.
40 years ago, I was not a bad boy, I was a troubled child who needed more help than anyone was able or ready to appreciate or understand, and today too, Fabier is NOT a bad boy, yet, he has been cast as a recalcitrant and irresponsible boy, we as uncles, aunts, parents and guardians repeating the mistakes of generations past where the child was only to be seen but never heard.
Stop the generational abuse
I cried rivers of tears for Fabier as that ‘conversation’ developed, he was not going to get the present promised him if he did not change and his mother was going to report the progress on his conduct for further action to be taken.
Let’s stop the generational abuse pretending to child rearing and upbringing already and humble ourselves to stoop to the eye level of the child, offer a hug, offer comfort, offer assurance, offer to understand, and offer a listening ear, the time for standing over and talking down to the 'miscreant' is over.
We had tough parents, it does not excuse us being tougher obdurate parents, guardians, uncles, aunts or older relations too.
Give the child the chance to glow and blossom, this will only come with giving them full personhood and respect for their individuality, views, and circumstances.
Postscript: I asked the permission of Julius to write this blog, we had a discussion on this matter and he agreed that there were valid issues to discuss.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Opinion: Education still remains the safeguard of democracy

The worst form of government
Observing things in our world today and how democracy has yielded interesting dividends and results, you begin to wonder whether choice and consequence are properly informed deliberations of the people who exercise the privilege to choose who presides over their affairs.
Winston S. Churchill did say, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” This would suggest there is no better means of choosing a government except through democracy.
The safeguard of democracy
Yet, a quote I came upon this morning through the post of a tweet which had the picture of a London Underground notice board with an inscription encapsulated in one thought what I have been trying to say for months.
Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt was a contemporary of Winston S. Churchill and in the quotes above they seemed to grasp both the inadequacies and the consequences of democratic choice.
The absence of immediate feedback
Unfortunately, when a voter enters the privacy and sanctity of the ballot box to place a tick or a cross against the name of a person, a party or a plebiscite option, there is no immediate feedback as to the consequence of that choice. The kind of feedback you will get from sticking your finger in a live electric socket would by terms be the necessary democratic component for those who have not bothered to safeguard their democratic choice through education.
The knowledge that sticking one’s finger in a live electric socket would cause an electric shock leading to possible death through electrocution can be one gained from personal experience, the experience of others or facts about what electricity can do. That becomes the applied wisdom that prevents us doing harm to ourselves and what compels us to inform others of the impending harm to others who might not be aware of the dangers of playing with electricity.
The new anti-intellectualism
Yet, in the recent rancorous #Brexit debate of 2016, we had the then Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, of all people say that, “I think people in this country, have had enough of experts.” In a nutshell, Mr. Gove had defined the strain of anti-intellectualism that feeds the populist mantra of politicians who were once confined to the fringes who have now taken the spoils of democracy and won at the polls.
With some of the recent democratic results, it is amazing how many have eschewed education, logic, truth and facts in making their choices. We have adopted the better of the worst form of government and made choices that appear to have not been done wisely, or where we have fully convinced ourselves that we are wise, it does not appear to be wisdom based on fact, truth or evidence.
The rhetoric has won us over and like someone hypnotised or mesmerised, we have confidently and collectively stuck our fingers in a live electric socket, the consequence of which would be lasting.
The dangers we face
We must, in the end, respect the majority decision of the electorate, but we must not ignore that in some cases where life and livelihood depend on these choices, the wisdom of fools in the setting of a rampaging mob on the move, has won the day.
It goes without saying that democracy is the worst form of government and it will get no better with anti-intellectualism, misinformation, propaganda, rhetoric and outright lies captivation our ability to reason with the reasonable and exercise all the virtues of reasonableness in the voting booth.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Thought Picnic: Challenging disabling traditions

Cutting loose
Tradition is a disabler, that makes deference remove the need for reference, and projects the need for respect over the necessity for retrospect.
The truth is lost in the sophistry of saving face such that the irritable elements of our culture entrenches entitlement without demanding responsibility.
Yet, there is no school of tradition or a college of culture, we are supposed to glean all the intricacies of norms, mores and comportment by osmosis, from observation or just the fact that we have forebears that held beliefs that we never were educated to imbibe, but must conform to.
Taboos exist that have no basis in fact, science or truth, apart from a list of don’ts, musts and commands. No matter how well-educated we are, we are never to challenge or question these age-old mysteries or we risk the wrath of some vague, superstitious and terrible outcome, the dread of which keeps us in line.
Excusing things
Caught between these conflicting demands of subservience and independence, we are rarely near where we can emancipate ourselves from the mental slavery and bondage of practising the worst of these subcultures over the beneficial parts.
From where the elder caught lying is given the bye and excuse that they can never lie to where certain reprehensible deeds are never discussed where the discussion in these times would definitely lead to a better resolution of issues.
We are constantly emotionally blackmailed by those who repeatedly find ways to enfeeble bold expression with required gratitude for what essentially is both their duty and responsibility. An aversion to these debilitating subcultures sets you up for being an outcast.
Self-preservation is key
The question then becomes; would we always subsume education and enlightenment to keep the cultural peace and barely get along under the false pretence that all is well?
It is without any doubt that many of these unresolved conflicts in relationships that tax the soul to the point of occasioning mental illness are the sources of stress, hypertension and worse.
Disengagement is a self-preservation ploy, little understood, but critical to personal wellbeing. The way we rationalise our actions and reactions are selfish modes of keeping ahead of the maelstrom of encumbering and damaging societal requirements.