Thursday, 11 September 2014

Founder’s Thoughts: History Makers

It seems to be uppermost in our consciousness to be reviewing not only our own behaviour and thinking but that of all around us and the whole of mankind’s history. I have been no exception and so I’ve been tracking back through my own family history and this is what I found going back 100 years...

Half of my family came from the Republic of Ireland and the other half from England. Coming from a protestant background on both sides I was curious to know how the Irish contingent coped with the Irish political troubles. There is no question in my mind that English governments of a bygone age were thugs, bullies and greed monsters. Starving a nation for your profits is not something one should be proud of to put on your CV. Many of us hope we will never see such things again, but the reality is that we are still are but this time it’s more the case of other nations right across the globe using aggressive tactics to win power and authority although most are not done via overtly violent means. Capitalism it can be and is being argued by many is just as oppressive as ever - a shame really as it doesn’t need to be to continue and it is showing clear signs that it slowing if not quite stopping it’s less than savoury profit mongering side even in the UK.

Back in Ireland 100 years ago, mixed in with all the very confusing politics and foul violence in contravention of the later Geneva Convention on rules of war from both sides, were many stories of miracles happening. Rather akin to a certain Christmas in the trenches during WWI where everyone stopped fighting to be friends for a day instead. From my family archives when the Black and Tans arrived one day instead of it leading to fighting everyone decided to party instead. Ireland has many such tales. It’s as if people tire of violence so much that they’d rather forget what they were upset about in the first place. Sadly, just as in the trenches of WWI, the fighting resumed all too quickly. Opportunity after opportunity for peace was missed because not enough people wanted it at the same time enough to stop the violence and negotiate for it until much, much later. It was as if fighting and bullying had become the normal daily routine and if you did not join in with that you would automatically become an enemy to all and a target to eradicate.

What this should teach us is to step away when we are angry and cool off to avoid conflict, but our human emotions and passions have a habit of overriding our cognitive reasoning when we need to use it most.

There was a lovely tale of a family who were members of the British aristocracy who instead of robbing the Irish of all their food, repeatedly gave people employment bang in the middle of the potato famine in Catholic Ireland. If one industry failed they’d start a new one while also supporting the basic needs of housing, education, health and food within the community. They installed running water, electricity, started nursery schools and made all feel welcome. Joseph Rowntree along with many industrialists did much the same in the England.


This should teach us that not everyone should be tarred with the same brush just because they belong to one section of society or another. The truth is we all belong to many different classifications of groups simultaneously thereby making it the height of insanity to side with one against another. When we do so, we are in effect starting to side against ourselves instead of accepting who we really are and building on our best behavioural traits.  

My own family eventually moved from the Republic of Ireland, some fled to the USA, others to Canada and Australia and my contingent went to what is now known as Northern Ireland. We befriended Catholics there and got attacked by Protestants for doing so and so my Dad brought us to England, where we also got bullied for being part-Irish. Some of my cousins do still live in both in Eire and in Northern Ireland and what they do is much the same as what all my family do across the globe – our best to avert trouble and help those in need.

I could just as easily have been born black, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and experienced the same sort of family history. I, myself, was very nearly born in Scotland where my Dad did his National Service with the RAF. I could have been born in a developing nation and been subjected to all manner of poverty, tyranny and abuse if it had happened to be a dictatorship bent on terrorising its own people. I count myself lucky despite our troubled history.


After delving into my past it then struck me that you don't have to be of any particularly colour, nationality, gender, religion, state of health or age to be persecuted, oppressed or prejudiced against. You just have to be humane enough or vulnerable enough to not fight back until it's a last resort. You just have to be sufficiently different from the majority that surrounds you. Bizarrely until this century compromise and mutual respect has never been as fashionable as it is now. I think that's a hopeful sign myself as it offers the opportunity to learn better ways from past mistakes, some of which we entered into with the best of intentions to ‘fix’ things, others from less palatable ideals which I hope are now being eradicated from this planet for good.

All relationships should be symbiotic (mutually beneficial) and it is when they are not that troubles escalate. By respecting that others have as much right to learn their way as you do so long as they don’t cause anyone else any harm really where can a problem start? Those quirky differences invariably lead to new inventions and better methods that help us all.

Know yourself first to understand others


My own self awareness has reached a point whereby I am conscious of an intense dislike and wariness of those who display traits I have fought so long and hard against in myself. I’ve learned that it is wrong for others to hold me responsible for the actions of our collective ancestors. I have learned that for us to forgive others we first have to learn to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we have made that have caused pain, hardship and all manner of suffering to others. I have learned that none of us can do that while we are making excuses for our actions, we first have to accept that we all do cause harm (albeit often inadvertently) despite the majority of the time we striving not to. What we do thereafter marks out our true characters. Do we apologise? Do we try to make amends or send someone in to help to salve our consciences? I have fought all my life to avoid trouble and making mistakes that cause harm to others with varying degrees of success, but practice does help us to become more proficient in this objective.

In my 20s I would walk away from people who were distressed if they were not personally known to me and not bother to suggest someone else to seek help from. In my 30s I stopped doing that by engaging with people more in order to signpost options for them to consider trying. That way they themselves became the key factor in designing their own solution simply by choosing which route to take out of their troubles, and in that process they shared their way of learning which has helped me to solve problems of my own. I think signposting options is the minimum people can do but it should be expressed that way and not as authoritarian commands or arrogant advice. We have not lived their lives and therefore cannot be experts in how to solve their problems unless and until we are trained to do so.


In my 40s I began to do more, not least because long standing challenges in my personal life began to find solutions that really worked for me. That I feel is the key to life - the constant balancing act of looking after yourself so that you can support others. By finally resolving my own problems I was able to give more by way of support to others, especially strangers in the most dire of needs. We insure a greater chance of others supporting us should we ever need it by lending a hand to others when we are strong in ourselves. People who have been particularly remarkable to me are those with so little who nonetheless give more than average to others. Without exception they all say “it’s because I am not the worst off, I’ve suffered less than this person or that one.” They include many victim of physical abuse, many a trauma victim, many a disabled person from accident, illness, crime and war. I find that profoundly humbling. They shine forth like a beacon of hope for us all yet live among us largely unnoticed which most of them prefer. Compared to them I am inadequate, my only talent seems to be observe and report things. They tell me that that is vital.

Helping others really does pay dividends when it comes to helping yourself – you’ll never be with zero support. You’ll never be without love, appreciation and friends. That doesn’t always come from those who you help, nor from those you know best, but I think that’s what makes it all the more rewarding. What greater riches could a person really desire beyond being acknowledged and respected as a person of humanity and integrity?

It seems that every century mankind gets in a fluster and lets its heart’s desires get the better of its head and soul. Desires seem to get the better of our needs too. I think our challenge now is not to let that happen again. We know already how to prevent it. We know already what vicious aggressive arguments and actions lead to. It would be boring of us to go that way again... This time we have a greater choice of directions to go in because we are much more aware of ourselves and much more advanced in our technologies and methods, aren’t we?

Get to know the good and bad of you and set about choosing the positive you to win over the angry, annoyed, frustrated, confused, bitter, resentful you. We cannot expect errors by others to be corrected overnight when we do not do the same with regard to our own. It takes time, but don’t avoid it, make a step toward it today. Then teach someone else how you did it. Find a balance between looking after yourself and supporting others that suits where you are now. It’s always a work in progress, as my emotive outbursts on Twitter illustrate, but bit by bit I become calmer and more at peace with myself and the world in general every day.


I close with an exercise I haven’t done in years until very recently which I thought might help lift your spirits in these confusing and challenging times. Something like this (but in your style with your words and images) might be a good place to start to find yourself again in this strange period in our global history. No one else has to see it ever, just you. Remember if we have been the creators of mistakes harmful to our species, our societies, our nations and our planet, we also have the intelligence and know how to find the solutions too. We are all part of the history of this planet. What sort of history makers do we want to be remembered for in 100 years time? I’d like to think that THIS is the century when we get the recipe to living harmoniously with each other and with nature just right.  

Blaming others is no way to begin a healing or a healthy, prosperous future for all. We are all to blame for something; it’s not clever to only remember past hurts and never another’s good points. The good news is that the majority of people have the latter in greater abundance than their cruelties and sad blunders.


Take good care of yourselves and others and always strive to keep things friendly, please.

(PS: Please excuse spelling and grammatical errors; I’m on holiday to recharge my batteries!)

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