So, folks, it happened. That which many of us had been fearing came to pass this week and Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States. Initially social media streams were flooded with statements of incredulity and blame, and then progressed to reminders of historical events, leaving many people in a state of unease (and reading some posts, severe distress) about the future. Teenage children of friends and clients have been quick to point out the potentially worst case scenarios of a post Brexit, Trumped up world, probably because they have been studying 20th century history and are closer to the concept of political alliances and their consequences than some of the voters involved in these recent democratic decision making processes. I remember when I was a child growing up in the cold war era how I would be fearful on a near daily basis of a nuclear attack and that was a time when the only news I was subjected to came from the constant drone of radio 4 which my parents left on in the kitchen all day. The young people of today (along with the rest of us) are now constantly bombarded with news and uncensored opinion via social media, countless TV channels and general access to the internet. How on earth do we stay positive during these unsettling times?
I was pondering this question when I was out running this morning. Today, in the South of England we experienced my favourite type of weather. I don’t mind the Summer months but for me a frosty start to a blue sky morning, immersed in the oranges, reds, browns and greens of an Autumn wood bathed in low golden light streaming through the trees is pretty much my idea of heaven. It reminded me of how fortunate I am and this combined with recent events and interactions, prompted me to come up with a personal plan of action to focus on the things that I can control in order to spend less time worrying about that which is out of my hands.
Yesterday I saw Professor Brian Cox speaking passionately and eloquently about the wonders of the universe at the Southampton Guildhall. He used the word “beautiful” many times during the evening, both to describe a photographic experience but also an equation or theory perhaps something that the non scientists amongst us would find surprising. It is very easy in these overly busy times to concentrate our experiences on areas where we already have an accepted sphere of interest and knowledge, either professionally or recreationally and maybe a science lecture might not be an obvious choice of entertainment. However, at the end of a fascinating and uplifting evening (despite and possibly even helped by the opening remarks about how insignificant we are both as a planet and hence individuals in the context of cosmology, and how fragile), I vowed to myself that I would allocate the time to explore these subjects further, read more widely and change my radio station from time to time. There is so much passion and knowledge out there and it is constantly evolving. We need people like Professor Cox to share this stuff with us, particularly in the light of recent political persuasion and public opinion that “experts” (and by that I read people who have dedicated their career to a field of study) and science are of questionable value. (I was appalled to read some of the abuse that Professor Cox received on his social media streams after the Brexit vote when trying to explain the value of the scientific method to people who refused to accept its worth).
So what? I hear you asking. How will exploring more help me to stay positive in the times ahead? I think there are a couple of ways this could help. There is the obvious distraction element that if I am busy concentrating on something new (to me) and exciting then I have less time to dwell on situations outside of my control. It also helps to remind me of how brilliant, creative and tenacious humans can be. While we may be a race intent on self destruction, we are also capable of incredible things. So, I shall continue to be grateful for, encourage by my interest in, and wonder at, the creativity of others by reading, listening to music, attending lectures, going to gigs and wandering around art galleries. This stuff is all great food for the soul and along with the wondrous spectacle of the natural world, makes me glad to be alive.
And while we are talking about exploring, the other coping mechanism that I shall be endeavouring to implement more of was also prompted by an evening out, this time with a couple of friends in a restaurant. When I began to recount a recent positive experience to them involving something that I am quite passionate about, I was met with blank looks, a perceived lack of interest and no interaction. I can’t say that the conversation floundered as I don’t think it even got off the ground. Are we gradually losing the art of conversation (one only had to glance around the theatre at the Brian Cox event during the interval last night to see everyone getting out their mobile phones to check their life rather than turning to the person next to them to ask what they thought of the gig so far)? You may feel having got this far down my rather wordy and self indulgent post that you can’t really blame them, but I fear that social media may be contributing to this sad state of affairs by creating a forum where we shout our opinion at our “friends” (and the world in general) but don’t really engage in discussion. It is evident from recent political events that on both sides of the Atlantic we have some serious social and political divisions to heal, and listening to alternative view points must be the first step to understanding how to move forward. I can’t heal these large scale divisions but I can make more of an effort to engage with and listen to the people I personally interact with, particularly those with alternative points of view to my own.“Sometimes all a person wants is an empathetic ear; all he or she needs is to talk it out. Just offering a listening ear and an understanding heart for his or her suffering can be a big comfort.” ― Roy T. Bennett. If people feel that their views are being valued, listened to and openly discussed would there still be the perceived need for the “protest vote”?
So friends, family, clients and acquaintances beware as I shall be making sure that you feel valued. If you write a blog I shall endeavour to read it, if you have art in an exhibition I shall try my hardest to visit it, if you write a book I shall read it, if you play in a band (or on your own) I will be grinning at you from the front row of your next gig. I can’t change the world folks, but I hope that I can contribute to someone else’s sense of well being by listening to them and appreciating the hard work and passion that they put into their careers, families, hobbies and sports. When I do take the time to try to understand what excites the people I interact with I am always amazed at how interesting people are (even if their passion is Saints Football Club!). People are never boring, some are just a little more challenging to get to know and it is almost always worth the effort trying.
“Nothing ever lasts forever” as pointed out by the fabulous Echo and the Bunnymen (another expedition I had this week and I’ve gotta say Mac still has an amazing set of lungs on him, 20 years down the line) and change can be scary and disorientating as we venture into the unknown. I choose to take the view that for every cloud there must be a silver lining (although sometimes it needs a little polishing) and while 2016 will be remembered by many of us as a year of huge loss both in terms of national identity, and by the death of so many talented and iconic entertainers, musicians and presenters (RIP Leonard Cohen, the latest sad loss to the cultural world) we can strive to make things better. I shall begin by improving my listening skills. I’m all ears…….