On being kind to others

Blame isn’t something I want to spend much time thinking about: it’s like anger: it is a negative emotion and, although it has its place, it can also do harm to everybody concerned and mostly it doesn’t resolve problems. Blame is often a knee-jerk reaction to a situation that we find difficult to deal with:  it’s easier to transfer responsibility in someone else’s direction whether they are at fault or not.

As a teenager, I found it easier to blame my parents for things that I thought weren’t perfect in my life. Retrospectively that was very wide of the mark. I was responsible for what I said and thought and did; no-one else was in charge of that aspect of my life. Of course, parents aren’t perfect – why should they be? They are human and fallible – that’s what makes them special. For a short while, I believed my parents dumped all sorts of negative attitudes on me – a low self-image, being an outsider, not being good enough. But that wasn’t true: I was responsible for what was in my own mind. Besides, my parents had parents too and I know they all had a much harder time of it than I did.

The cycle of blame incorporates a mistaken belief that we shouldn’t ever get things wrong. It’s perhaps better to deal with difficulties as they happen calmly and fairly, and not put all the responsibility for life’s occasional negatives onto someone else. I could offer a much longer list of my parents’ brilliant traits than the things I mistakenly blamed them for – love, loyalty, generosity, the desire to enable, to defend; humour, fairness: I could go on. I’d give anything now they are no longer here to tell them what great parents they were. So, thanks to them, I can try to deal with my own problems now by not blaming others. The one single thing we can control in life is our own thoughts and I choose to let negative thoughts go as quickly as possible and try to move forwards.

Of course, it becomes much more difficult not to blame others as the level of negativity increases. We live in a world where bullying happens frequently; it is often even accepted and applauded. It happens in the workplace; it happens in relationships and marriages, between friends and it’s rife on social media. Bullies are not always easy to identify. A boss might disguise bullying as strength, leadership, loyalty to the business or a need to control important outcomes. Internet bullies often don’t reveal their names and  form groups to apply pressure. Sometimes bullying hits the victim between the eyes like a sucker punch; sometimes it’s more like a slow-acting poison – you realise it is happening much later, and the pain eats away for a long time.

I’m sad to say that I bullied a little girl when I was eight years old. She was nine and called Rina. She wanted to be my friend and I hit her and pushed her away because it made me feel less of an outsider if she was even more despised than I thought I was. I did it twice then I realised what a terrible thing I was doing and why I did it. On the estate where I lived, defending yourself was the norm but that was no excuse for cruelty. I’ve been making up for Rina ever since by trying my best to be kind, although that’s no use to her now. I often wonder how she is.

As writers, I suppose we are ‘bullied’ by the odd cutting review. Amidst a throng of kind comments authors receive about our books, a nasty-worded criticism is not important enough to outweigh all the positive support. When I was first published, I prepared myself for a bad review by reading talented and successful writers’ negative comments. Someone thought Gail Honeyman’s number one best seller was so badly written that it wouldn’t pass GCSE English. Someone else remarked that James Joyce’s The Dubliners was complete rubbish. I think that puts the odd negative remark given to more humble writers in perspective perfectly, although I agree with my mother’s wise words when she said ‘If you can’t find something good to say, don’t say anything.’

I read lots of books and some I don’t like: they’re just not for me. I’d never dream of criticising the author: someone else may love the book and what right do I have to want to influence another reader negatively? It’s just easier to put the book down and read a different one. But I do write lots of great reviews. It seems that people who bully or who need to hurt others have real confidence issues of their own and perhaps being nasty offers them a temporary release from their own pain. It’s no excuse but it shows, perhaps, how important it is that kindness reaches everyone.

Shappi Khorsandi, a great wit and comedienne, wrote on Twitter this week about her feelings when she was first trolled. She said her father consoled her by saying that the trolls were probably people who kept their dogs locked up in a shed all day and she should ignore their comments as being worthless, or words to that effect. He’s right, but Shappi’s tweet led me to wonder what sort of people want to bully others, anonymously or not. They are clearly people who are unhappy. Like my actions towards Rina as a child, they hurt others in order to feel better about themselves.

Then sometimes, as a result of overwhelming negativity, tragedy strikes, most recently in the shape of the suicide of Caroline Flack, wounded by so much disapproval from others. Blame has been aimed at social media and unkind critics. But it’s too late now to take back the things that were thoughtlessly said and written. Things have to change: we need to blame and criticise less and be kinder to others. We can control what’s in our minds and it’s important to think good thoughts about other people and not revel in unkindness. The ‘Be Kind’ movement is very timely. It’s important to shift this negative culture of blame and shame, hate and highlighting faults. It’s time to focus on healing, health, happiness and compassion.

I’m a great believer in keeping ourselves healthy and safe in mind, body and spirit. Negativity and meanness create a bad cycle. George Orwell said that people at fifty had the face they deserve and I interpret that as meaning that people who have scowled for fifty years don’t look happy in middle-age. I worked with a woman who took every opportunity to bad-mouth all the people she came into contact with to someone else. I thought it was sad but it may have been no co-incidence when all her teeth rotted. So much bitterness can’t be good for us.

Once during my working day I offered a happy ‘Good morning’ to a colleague and she turned on me, snarling ‘Why are you always so bloody cheerful?’ I told her that I hoped her day would improve. Sometimes kindness doesn’t work, but I felt for my colleague that day as she hurried forward to her office head down, gnashing her teeth. I hoped that someone else would be there to give her support. She was a nice person. Some people’s problems can’t be helped by just a single moment of sweetness.

It’s not easy to keep ourselves positive all the time, but we can help each other. The world brims with opportunities for Schadenfreude, for rejoicing in someone’s plight, for heckling those in the spotlight, for finding fault, envying and baiting others. Blaming and bullying exists on many levels and we must actively try to stop it. Reaching out, smiling, offering a hand of support or a positive affirmation brings its own benefit. We can help people to see themselves in a good light or to walk away from toxicity.

Solidarity with others is an act of kindness. Sunshine warms; ice chills. Let’s all do ourselves and everyone else a favour and be nice. After all, it would seem that the bullies, as much as everyone else, need a gentle reminder that they are all human beings and the world is a better place when we all try to be humane.

The Hu and cry for hu-manity through Mongolian music

I recently went to see The Hu perform in Brighton and I can’t praise them enough. It is a wonderful experience to go and see a live band play and come away not only having enjoyed the music but also having being filled with respect for the performers.

The Hu are a Mongolian rock band who have been playing together since 2016. There are eight musicians in all, and they play a wide range of instruments. The Morin khuur – there are two of them played in the band – is held like a guitar, played with a bow and is fashioned with an ornate handle such as a spearhead or a horse’s head. The tsuur is a kind of flute. There are drums and bass as well. Several members of the band sing in a deep resonant style called Mongolian throat singing, which is an integral part in the ancient pastoral animism that is still practised today.

The band calls their style of music hunnu rock, hu being a Mongolian root word for human. As well as being musically brilliant, they were exceptional live performers. Their rapport with the audience was one of boundless generosity. There was none of the egocentricity in the encore concept of most rock bands, where the band walk offstage and wait for ten minutes while the audience clap and cheer until the band come back, feigning modesty, and play two of their best known songs. The Hu just played and played, as if it was what they enjoyed doing most in the world. And ninety minutes later, they were still playing and as soon as they’d finished, the ‘encore’ thing happened so they came straight back and did another half an hour.

Their music is very powerful and rhythmic, ranging from rocking tunes like Yuve Yuve Yu to songs that are meditative and hypnotic. The audience loved them, although a woman next to me said that she thought it was a pity that she didn’t know what they were singing about. But it’s not difficult to find out. Their YouTube videos contain translations of the songs line by line as they are performed, and it is wonderful to understand the respect for their ancestors through their lyrics and musical heritage. For me, there was no language problem: the band invited us to join in with choruses and we could all emulate phonetically what they were singing. It was a privilege to embrace their culture.

The singer, Jaya, repeatedly thanked the audience in four English words. Another musician, Gala, had no English and the audience as far as I know had none of his language, but we applauded and cheered and he communicated his appreciation by thumping his heart with his fist. It was a perfect example of multicultural communication.

The Hu are currently on tour and I rank them among the best live bands I’ve seen, the criteria being that you leave the gig feeling like you’ve been to a party and danced and been included in a celebration and enjoyed every second. Gogol Bordello, Steel Pulse, Manu Chao, The Dropkick Murphys, The Hu, Motorhead (RIP Lemmy!), Greta Van Fleet – all these bands create the same atmosphere of rejoicing in music and a coming together of humanity. It’s what we need now as much as at any other time, the sense that music is shared together: it’s party time, an experience which connects us all and that we are basically humans, all the same, a one-world community who wish the best for others and for themselves.

The Hu are magnificent. They are on my list of bands I’d travel to watch again and again. They are seriously very good. Do go and watch them if you get the chance. Their music is hypnotic, celebratory and a damn good rocking night out.

 

 

The Winter Blues and Self-Care

Many years ago, I qualified as a Reiki healer and although I practise a lot it tends to be mostly on family and friends. Oh, and on animals, who are often the best recipients. On many occasions a dog or a cat will sidle over for a spot of Reiki and only the two of us know what’s happening.  I’ve had some interesting experiences practising Reiki, but that’s for another blog. This one is about how I seldom practise healing on myself.

My kids often describe me as a ‘milk-shake’; they tell me that I invite everyone to stick their straws into my full glass and watch as they empty the contents. I think many of us are that way: we are used to being in caring professions, givers of love and nourishment and warmth and free dispensers of our time. Often in doing so, we forget about giving time to ourselves.

I am a real offender in terms of self-care, to the extent that I don’t put heating on in the house because I’m on my own; I don’t cook a proper meal because there’s no-one to share it with. I need to do better.

I often wonder, if I were my own parent or my own best friend, what advice would I give myself about self-care? I’d certainly tell myself that I could do a lot better. I’d never neglect anyone I know as much as I neglect myself. And, of course, the long-term consequences of self-neglect are low self-worth and self- esteem. That’s not a road I want to go down, so it’s time to change.

I’ve just had the virus that many people have had to put up with over the winter. It stuck with me throughout January. I dragged myself to a kinesiologist who said I’d had influenza and gave me some ionic silver to take. Step one in self-care. But I need to adopt a regular behaviour pattern, giving myself more consideration than I currently do.

So here are several things I’m including in my package of self-care to beat the winter blues. They are only little things, but it’s a way of telling myself that I have value. I’m not one to splurge on myself but these little things will count.

Firstly, I’m going to light fires in the hearth more often, even if I’m by myself. The cats will benefit too, so I needn’t feel guilty. I’m going to invest in ‘personal warmth’: a heated throw for when I’m at the computer. Who cares that I’ll be wrapped from head to toe with just a nose and two blue hands poking through? And then there is the nightly hot water bottle or, even better, a heated pad foot thing in the bed. Who wants to snuggle between cold sheets with icy feet?

I’m good at nutrition but bad at self-love, so the bowl of plain miso, vegetable, and lentil stew I have for lunch will be nicely flavoured with paprika and accompanied with a hunk of wholemeal bread from now on. It will be workers’ food rather than workhouse food. Someone whose opinions I respect reminded me that ‘Lucullus dines with Lucullus;’ the Roman emperor enjoyed food even when eating alone. I will consider the 80:20 rule more often: 20% of the time, a bit of indulgence is fine, so that’s a glass of red wine for me tonight.

Treats are a very low priority on my list. I have a voice in my head from my past that regularly tells me ‘You don’t need this…’ and ‘You can do without that…’ While there is sense in not overindulging, I need to look for positive treats and that includes taking myself out more. I’d happily treat a friend to a cup of chai latte in town or a nice cooked breakfast in a café, so I can do that for myself. I know dragging myself away from the desk will be difficult, but I’m capable of cajoling myself into the car and out for a coffee break. Indulgent, yes, but I don’t have to freeze my toes off at the computer all day. I’ll work much better and much happier after a creamy cinnamon chai.

And the final treat has health benefits. Going out more into the countryside is a must from now on. I can enjoy walking in the woods whatever the weather, splashing in the mud, crossing boggy fields, hiking up hills and coming home warm and dirty, then leaping in a steaming shower. Nature is out there to be enjoyed. There is a colourful pheasant with a long tail who calls into my garden daily looking for food, much to the delight of my cats. I have called him Phileas and I will go out and feed him each day. And there are places I can go to at night to spot deer and badgers, then come home for a brandy by the fire. Talking delight in small things is part of self-care.

It’s easy at this time of year to become stuck in old habits, not giving ourselves enough care and love. I’m amazed by one of my neighbours who I’ve seen out regularly, running up hills with her Labrador: I know she’ll go home and have a slice of cake and a glass of red wine afterwards. That’s self-care, an inspiration: self-love is what it’s all about. In the absence of parents and family and friends, we have to be our own parent. We have to treat ourselves with the same love and generosity as we would our own children. I’ve been exceedingly bad at it. It’s time to change and I’ll start now, by throwing away the cold green tea I’ve had sitting next to me for the last half hour and making myself a fresh hot cuppa.

 

Jan castle loch