I am dealing with my 12 year old son’s bullies right now. For many weeks, I have not seen him smile and he looked tired all the time. He was being bullied with physical, racist and homophobic (yes, even that age, bullies use all sorts of excuses) abuse in school. Initially I told him to ignore it and deal with it with humour. After he was set upon by the gang of boys last week, I was livid and complained to the school. I also found out that my son hadn’t told me about the attack because he was ashamed. Here is what I have learnt in the last ten days-
- Bullies, like other people, change when they want to. They won’t change because you want them to. Don’t stay with a bully thinking that they will change.
- Bullies cannot be appeased by good humour and manners. This brings out more of their ugliness. Do not associate with bullies- get away from them and leave them to deal with the emptiness of their lives.
- Bullies only listen to fear, so put fear into them by reporting it. Transmit it widely because the only thing the bullies care about is their image and their power. Bullies do not like reciprocal or equal relationships.
- Let children and all vulnerable people know that bullying is never okay and never to sit in silence. Bullies love it when people take it without complaining. Never be ashamed of reporting bullying.
- Build up the broken self esteem of the bullied person with love and support. Find other people who can support the bullied person. Build a fortress of love and teach that person to always respect themselves.
I did couple of things last and this month that I would have never considered doing before. These are small things and perhaps not very significant to anyone else. But for me doing these opened my eyes to the possibility of change in my physical and emotional life.
The first was climbing this hill in Edinburgh. The guidebook said that it would take 20 minutes but it took me over one hour, that too after resting many times. There were people climbing- some women even wore heels! For me, getting up Arthur’s seat (250 metres high) was a major challenge. I was so tired after that that I have taken three weeks to recover. Probably I won’t ever do something like that again but I have done it once. That was so empowering!
The second thing was I cut my own hair. I watched endless videos of hair cutting and steeled myself for how I could end up looking as the result was right there for everyone to see! I realised I had to have this courage and belief in myself- the same as climbing that hill in Edinburgh. Both are different things and yet are very similar in their emotion. Both felt very empowering. Everyone is different- and for everyone, there are new things to try out. Now every month, I have decided to do one new thing.
I was thinking about how I used to like the ‘likes’ on my social media pages. Now, they don’t matter so much. So I began to reflect on why that might be? I know that since starting these pages and sharing my thoughts, I have also began to clarify my feelings and experiences. Consequently I am feeling stronger and happier than I ever was before. Childhood experiences often shape us stealthily and it is much later when we ourselves become parents that we start thinking about these experiences. Thinking back to my childhood, I had a very critical father. Some of my work involves being critical- writing and to choosing employees, etc. But was I transferring my critical habits at work to my home?
Now, being critical has its good points and bad ones. Critical people are able to distinguish between important issues, make choices and reflect on things intelligently. In the fields of arts and literature, being critical helps us to edit and curate our choices. However, taken too far, being critical, can be very dangerous. Especially where personal relations are concerned. If someone is very critical, then they are less likely to have close friends or family. Critical people also have a need to be in control and to have a say in everything. Criticism can become all consuming anger at every one and everything that is not going someone’s way. Having an overtly critical parent can turn to us to wanting love and attention in other ways. Wanting ‘likes’ might be way of saying I need love and attention because I am not getting it in other ways.
I breathed a sigh of relief when my younger son announced the other day that he was not going to go for a school prize that is given to ‘popular’ children- that is popular with teachers. He said that he would be pleased to get it on his own terms (he is a polite and popular boy anyway). He didn’t want to do things like writing poems or ‘thank you’ letters to teachers for no reason, staying on for extra lessons (not because they want to learn but to earn points), smiling all the time, etc. He said he just wanted to be himself and if anyone thought he was good, then it was fine. Here was a boy who used to be anxious to see how many ‘likes’ he was getting in the social media posts. I realised that I had become happier, let go of the past and become less critical, so my son was a result of the change in my parenting.
‘Just do it’ is the phrase used by a well known sports brand but I am using it in a different way. I am using to mean a determination to be happy- to be just happy. I was recently watching a programme about advertising and how advertising creates a gap between yourself, the reality and the image presented (the illusion). We try to buy stuff to try to close this gap. Often we get ourselves into trouble of various sorts, such as financial difficulties or unhealthy mental states. In particular women are more prone to compare themselves to others and make themselves unhappy. So many of the ‘happiness or beauty products’ are aimed at women because it creates a compulsive and everlasting consumer.
I have also been cleaning my house, using the ‘Konmari method‘ which is basically a method of editing your stuff (keeping only stuff that ‘sparks joy’) and keeping them tidily. Out of my dark cupboards, hidden for years, have come out piles of self help books, mountains of clothes, cosmetics, and many things I bought for ‘just in case’ occasions. Looking at them and adding up the costs of buying them, not using them and now having to dispose of them in a responsible way, is costing me more time and money. Why oh why did I buy these things? Perhaps I could have saved some money to pay off the mortgage, perhaps saved some time looking after myself instead of shopping for that perfect thing that would make me happy? Perhaps. Anyway, the feeling was first of disgust at myself and then forgiveness. Perhaps, it was convoluted path I took to get here and some people don’t get here easily. So I have decided not to buy anything more unless it really nourishes my life, not to watch any thing that doesn’t inspire me to do good and not to feel bad about the past. I decided, I am happy as I am- that is it. No more reading about happiness or perfection- I doing it, I am already happy and perfect as I am.
About ten days ago, I went to a funeral of a neighbour. I had designed the ‘Order of service’ booklet which she had left to the last minute. Through doing this, I had learnt about the remarkable life of her husband. I learnt about her life and her children. From knowing nothing about her, apart from greeting her when I met her, I learnt so much about another person. I felt uplifted by this experience.
Unknown to me, she had mentioned to many of other neighbours who had come to give their condolences that I had helped her so much. So couple of days ago, when I needed help to move furniture and sort out some house repairs, I was very grateful to have the help of neighbours. My little act of helping someone had ignited the spirit of help across the block. I regret now that it took a funeral for me to get to know someone and help them but also grateful for the realisation that all it takes for a community spirit to begin is to knock on people’s doors and ask them if they need help. I am now helping another neighbour who is seriously ill. So much of our modern lives are taken up with living just for ourselves or family. Our human family is much bigger. This is our privilege and honour to be part of this human family.
Love is in the air, especially today. But what is love really? A test of love is longevity. There are many who say they are in love- but a few months or years later, it is gone. That is not love. Love stands the test of time and age- if we can love someone’s wrinkles that is true love. True love is about loving someone’s warts and wrinkles. That could be anyone from your granny to your partner. Love is about giving some time to another person.
I have not been to any David Bowie concert but his music has existed alongside my growth as a person. His talents, not just as a ground breaking musician but as someone who is as a holistic as an artist can be (poet, actor, director, producer, writer, dancer, etc), has been so inspiring. Bowie was a well-read and informed artist who drew upon a wealth of influences such as Tibetan Buddhism, German Expressionism, Mime, Japanese culture, history and Jungian psychology. He has often described himself as a ‘magpie’ and he was able to synthesise diverse ideas and use them in his art. Coming from a poor working class family, it must have taken immense courage to proclaim his ideas and intent. As the philosopher Michael Foley says, ‘Appreciating art is not passive but active, not reverential but familiar, not a worthy act of self improvement but an audacious and cunning ruse. To seek out what stimulates and makes use of it- this is the work of art.’ And Bowie was a master at this and so his entire life became a work of art.
From becoming totally immersed in his various personas- Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke, etc- to his campaigning for others- from Tibet to physically disabled children and to his perceptive thoughts on the internet, death, illness, etc. he comes across as a total person. He acknowledged his mistakes without arrogance or defensiveness (watch his interviews on Youtube) and his fears and died a hero. There was no drama about his death unlike his pop personality life. He even made his death into a work of art and then took his bow, humbly and quietly. I never realised how much influence he had on me until last Sunday when it was announced that he had gone. He wasn’t perfect but he was a hero. And most importantly, his life has taught us that we can be heroes too. Here is a video of him tapping out his song ‘Heroes’ using a bottle cap on his shoe, raising money for physically challenged children at the Bridge School concert, 1996.
I am starting this year by finding what values I respect the most and what I don’t. I discovered that I don’t have to agree with anyone nor that they should agree with me. Instead what I love about a person is that they hide themselves by concealing something about themselves or conversely by highlighting something else. I have been disappointed by someone who not only hid the fact that they are Jewish (why would anyone do that?!) but also that they show how perfect they are- posting photos of their first class flight tickets, giving details of their home improvements and that their daughter is doing so well at school or ballet lessons in their New Year round robin letters, etc. all the time hiding that the couple’s marriage is non existent and that their son does not like his parents. I wouldn’t dislike this man if he told me about his problems or disrespect him. But such is the world of today that we present our perfect selves to one and all- nothing less than perfection will do.
However, trying to be perfect is so hard. One has to tell lies, hide facts and keep up the pretence. It is much more simpler to be authentic- no lies, no concealing, and no stress. Being authentic is not hard, being unauthentic is. However, being authentic takes courage because you have to show your weakness and vulnerabilities. But I’d rather be with a courageous person than with someone who does not trust me to appreciate their weakness and failures. This is a complex paradox but worth thinking about- who do you want to be with and who do you want to be?
There is a Buddhist story about a simple man called ‘Never disparaging’ who seeks the good in all but people chase him away, throwing rocks and sticks at him. However, he continues and in the end, becomes the Buddha, an enlightened soul. In the novel ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ by Victor Hugo is Quasimodo, a deformed ugly man with a heart of gold, who is reviled by all yet comes out as the best of all. Quasimodo is also a simple soul but his generosity and bravery make him worthy of praise. Both Never disparaging and Quasimodo are not clever but good. What they teach us is goodness is better than cleverness. Also, they are not good looking on the outside but from the inside, they are good. So they teach us that it is better to be good inside than outside. Nature makes sure that no one is perfect, even the most beautiful person has some physical defect, one side of our body is slightly different from the other. Quasimodo’s hunch signifies the baggage we all carry- whether inside or outside. So we are all Quasimodos in that respect but just like him, we also have that goodness. To recognise that quality in ourselves and others all the time is the most difficult part. And that is the struggle of everyday- to be kind, compassionate and good, not matter what.
A Facebook acquaintance inserted this photo with the title, ‘The 380 upper deck is, well…um, a kind of different, I’d say’ and then he inserted another one which offered views of the scenery he could see from his hotel window, saying, ‘Not so bad view from a window you have to spend four days in.’ And so came more gloating- we had photos of him drinking wine, trying different kinds of foods, etc. He got 28 ‘likes’ for that first post and 37 for the second one. The thing for me was that this was the same guy who worked for an organisation that helps the poor. Not many of his ‘customers’ would have experienced this luxury and again, the organisation that sponsored his visit, would perhaps be uncomfortable with his boasting. I thought that his aspirations and his work were so opposite that perhaps he does not find comfort and happiness in what he does.
For many of us, one’s career can different from one’s calling, leading to a dissatisfaction with our everyday lives. A calling is something we do from our hearts, it is part of our whole lives so that is it not an incongruous part of it but something that is natural. Thomas Carlyle said, ’Blessed be he who has found his work, let him ask no other blessedness’. But success is a bit more difficult to understand. Alain de Botton recently posted a blog about learning from the 80’s pop group, Wham!. One of the lead singers, Andrew Ridgeley, is living a comparatively unknown life with his wife, who is also a former pop star from ‘Bananarama’. de Botton contends that Ridgeley is the ‘winner’ and more successful than his former partner, George Michael, who is in the news all the time (sometimes for the wrong reasons) and wealthier. Success is about more than accumulation of money, travel, homes and carsl- ‘The life of Andrew Ridgeley belongs in the public realm. It’s one of the great moral fables of our time. It’s the story of one man’s redemption – from manic, narcissistic pleasure seeking to maturity.’
I have been thinking of success and what it means to me. For me success is a quiet confidence that we have lived the life we wanted, regardless of what society thinks of it and to have contributed to the world a similar amount of time and resources that it has given us. Success does not shout its status from the roof, it is solid and deep, grounding us with our calling- inside out.