Where are the Safe Spaces for academics?

Where are the Safe Spaces for academics?

Universities used to be places where information and ideas were shared, in order to expand a student’s knowledge.  By sharing new facts and ideas it was intended that a student broaden their perspective, understand that many people in many different parts of the world and at many different periods of history, think and have thought differently to them.  The aim to be that they sharpened their own beliefs, questioned those opinions passed on to them by parents and early-years teachers, and developed cogent and coherent views that they could express articulately.

These days, students seem to want to shape the world to their own views, even though they are generally too young to have experienced much, read as much as their lecturers, travelled as much as those older than themselves.  They even want to force others, including the lecturers employed to expand their knowledge, to adhere to their own views, and are unwilling to listen to other perspectives.

In this process, academics, writers, politicians and others are losing their livelihoods and their reputations.  Usually at the behest of a small minority.   But a small minority who shout the loudest.  As Jonathan Haidt of the Heterodox Academy points out, small minorities are often better organised than the disorganised and disunited majority who disagree with them.

So, we, the majority who believe in free speech, need to get a little more organised and cohesive, in order to put a stop to experts and academics losing their jobs for saying something with which the students don’t agree.  We need, as Jonathan Haidt recommends, to speak up louder and not be bullied into going along with ideas just because we can’t be bothered to stand up to them.

Surely, we do not want to live in a totalitarian system where those with alternative viewpoints are cancelled or lose their jobs?  In other countries those people are slung into gulags and prisons.  We have just seen the Nobel Peace Prize going to two investigative journalists, Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa, who are being awarded for following the route of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  Yet these young student bullies are doing the opposite.  In the name of ‘diversity and inclusivity’ they are silencing those who disagree with them, which is the precise opposite of the meaning of diversity or inclusivity.  They ought to look in a mirror more honestly from time to time and see exactly how hypocritical they are being.

The trouble is that they are using the language of the playground, doing all the things our teachers told us not to do – eg call people names, tell tales, push people out of friendship groups, shame friends and others into silence for fear of being the ‘outsider’.  How come our educational establishments are being so weak to let this happen?  How come the NHS and others are going along with these minorities who claim to feel ‘unsafe’, when such groups seem to be doing all they can to make others feel unsafe.

How would you feel as a lecturer or academic in a university now?  Terrified, I imagine, of having your words taken out of context, or even gestures used to illustrate a point (see The Chair on Netflix).  But we can’t let this happen.  Academics have stirred us up for centuries, been the ones to provoke thought, creativity, ideas, innovation, analysis.  We must not allow them to be silenced, and those in charge of the universities must speak up, as Sussex University’s Vice-Chancellor, Adam Tickell has done in defence of freedom of speech and of Professor Kathleen Stock, the latest victim of accusations of transphobia.

As Professor Stephen Pinker points out in his new book Rationality, our medical and scientific advances have come about through challenge, through peer review.  The justice of the legal system has come about through adversarial processes.  Leaders in business are developed through 360-degree feedback.  But the students accusing Stock and others are not interested in such systems.  “We are not up for debate” they say, calling for the sacking of lecturers who do not follow their precise way of thinking, using the antithesis of rigorous debate with phrases like “transphobic shit”, “I hope you die alone”.  And these people will be running our country in a few years’ time, which is not an edifying thought.

Of course, young students have new ideas and we must listen to them.  But equally they must listen too.  How will they ever learn anything as they journey through life if, at such a young age, they are closed to opposite opinions?  Learning comes through endeavour, challenge, and often failure.  It comes from being open to different perspectives, being willing to adapt one’s view or approach through taking many viewpoints into account and then shaping who you want to be, the action you want to take.

The Stoics suggest that we should all see life as though we are in a boxing match.  We should expect and welcome the daily punches and falls, recognising that these provide us with an opportunity to stop, learn, adjust our approach.  This is life and it is normal to experience problems, people who irritate us, be presented with things we don’t want to do but have to do.  We should not tremble or see these events as threats, and certainly not become ‘offended’ or feel ‘unsafe’ when someone articulates a view we don’t like or are unfamiliar with.

We all need to be resilient in the face of life.  Other people need us to be resilient too, as resilient people will look for solutions to problems.  We cannot become resilient unless we are robust enough to receive feedback, analysis, and critical thinking thereby honing ourselves to be able to articulate a viewpoint and provide the evidence to back it up. 

The world has become the amazing place it is through the very diversity of thought and approach that has been experienced through the centuries. And we continue to learn daily, what is helpful and what is not.  We are a far more tolerant society in every way than the world in which I grew up in the 1950s.  Dictators, such as Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, who insist on just one authoritarian view, demonstrate no tolerance.  If we were run by such leaders now, we would be living in a very different world, a world where academics, journalists, writers and artists are silenced, imprisoned, and potentially assassinated.

We cannot let it happen that students are given the power to sack their lecturers for holding a view with which they disagree, have misinterpreted, or misunderstood.  We cannot let publishers silence writers.  We, the majority who believe in the freedom of speech, must get ourselves more organised and speak up in the name of balance and debate.

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Call me by my name: Woman

Why is the language that describes the adult female of our species being cancelled?  Even the medical magazine The Lancet had a heading recently reading “Historically, the anatomy and physiology of ‘bodies with vaginas’ have been neglected”.  ‘Bodies with vaginas’?  Don’t they mean women?  It’s women who have been neglected in medical research, and more.  After all, trans men and women are a very recent phenomenon.  The science didn’t exist in the past so there is no historical neglect there.  It is women they are talking about, so why can’t they use the correct word?

In an interview this weekend, Sir Keir Starmer said that it is “not right” to say only women have a cervix, amid the row surrounding the Labour MP Rosie Duffield questioning whether ‘individuals with a cervix’ could include trans men.  I am told by a doctor that a trans man, born a woman, will have a cervix if they have not had surgery, but that is because they have a woman’s body but are identifying as a man, therefore in biological fact are female.  Trans women, born a man, do not have a cervix, as the cervix is part of a womb, which they do not have as they are male.  Even if they have had surgery, the skin tissue grafted from the scrotum and other areas is biologically male. 

In all these scenarios, science dictates that humans are born male or female – males with XY chromosomes and females with XX chromosomes, and only a tiny proportion with XXY.  But these facts, and they are facts, are continually denied.  I was pleased to note that the Health Secretary Sajid Javid and others have attacked Starmer for a “total denial of scientific fact”.

How, in an era of science and technology, can so many people deny biological facts?  And where is the logic to say that should I support the use of the word woman, mother, breastfeeder rather than ‘chestfeeder’, that makes me transphobe?  I have nothing against trans men or women or anyone else but why should the integration of this group involve such an intrusion on the language that is used to describe women?

It seems to me that politicians are getting their proverbial knickers in a twist on the whole subject, as a Green Party spokesperson was recorded as saying that being a woman is “an attitude”.  And Jo Swinson, of the LibDems, when asked if humans are born either male or female, apparently replied “not from what I’ve read”.

It is all thoroughly disheartening and makes me feel both disenfranchised and unsupported.  In my view, of course it matters that men identifying as women should not be eligible to compete in all sports against biological women.  It’s totally unfair, as men are stronger.  Of course, I can understand that women who have been raped should be able to choose to be examined by a biologically female clinician.  Of course, I can understand that you don’t necessarily want someone in a female prison, or a girls’ changing room, or a woman’s domestic abuse refuge centre, who has a penis.  There is both a visceral but also a practical sense that this is risky.  Why should the sensitivities of trans groups, including trans sex offenders, trump female safety? 

And why are schools and other institutions altering their changing and toilet facilities to be mixed sex before there has been a proper debate about this?  The Equality Act 2010 permits services to be provided for one sex only.  The act is clear that it is lawful in certain circumstances to exclude members of the opposite sex, even if they hold a gender recognition certificate.  So why are these changes happening so quickly, and at a time when school children, girls in particular, are reporting a huge rise in sexual harassment experiences at or around schools?  Women and girls deserve safe spaces.

Of course, you can have a male body and feel like a woman psychologically, and vice versa.  And I empathise with those who feel they are in the wrong body or wish to identify and be treated as a specific sex but at the same time there is a need to accept the reality of the situation.  The biological facts.  I might have had plastic surgery to try to look like Marilyn Munroe, or breast enhancement, but I never would look like her, nor be her, nor would my breasts be biologically the same material as if they were naturally large.  And I don’t mean this frivolously.  I am suggesting that we tend to be happier in ourselves when we accept who we are and whether a trans man or woman has or hasn’t had surgery, they are nonetheless different biologically.  And why can’t that be ok?

We need to be honest and realistic for everyone’s sake, and especially in order to gather accurate data on sexual biology and illness.  Otherwise we cannot plan the health, education, employment and other infrastructure services we all need for the future.

The advances in science are fantastic.  We are able to keep people alive way beyond previous years, heal cancers, vaccine against sickness, and provide those who wish to transition from male to female or female to male with the wherewithal to do so.  And yet in all those situations there can also be ethical conundrums and they have to be worked out quietly and compassionately to ensure that everyone involved is on board.

It doesn’t help us all get along – and I presume that is what everyone wants – for this group to be cancelling our language and our identity as women.  Politicians like Starmer are colluding in the conspiracy to pretend that neither the cancelling of the language used to describe women, nor the invasion of our safe spaces, matters.  Nicola Sturgeon apparently said that women’s concerns on this issue are ‘not valid’.  But men are also writing on this subject, uncomfortable with the fact that they may have married a woman, or have a daughter, and wish to be able to refer to them in the correct terms.

If we are to get along better, then this will require devising some way that makes both trans men and women and biological men and women feel ok.  Because at the moment I am feeling offended and abused by the suggestion that calling myself a woman is in some way a ‘dog whistle’ (whatever that is, exactly).  And I am not that happy to be referred to as cis-woman either, as many people are utterly confused by that term too, including me!  I am a woman.

Women are not a series of orifices or physical attributes.  We are not ‘menstruators’, or ‘birthing people’, or ‘bodies with vaginas, cervixes’ or what you will.  We are women and we matter.  We are half the human population and have been treated pretty abysmally throughout history but have finally reached a reasonably equitable position in the West (cast your eye to Afghanistan and much of the rest of the world and you will see there is still a long way to go), so I wish to maintain this position for women in the future, particularly for my granddaughters.  But along comes another misogynistic group who seem to want to cancel us, put us back in the kitchen, relegate us to being a series of orifices rather than women.  It won’t do.

But who, among the political apologists, is going to stand up for women’s rights here, for our safe spaces, for our privacy, for our language?  It isn’t any of the politicians mentioned so far in this article.  It isn’t the NHS, who are issuing guidelines to midwives and others to remove the language previously associated with females, mothers, maternity units.  It isn’t the academics, as the universities are colluding with the non-facts propagated in this debate.  It isn’t the schools, as very young children are being given all kinds of lessons with very dubious biological details – in fact, a 9-year-old girl attending such a class earlier this year, came home thoroughly upset and confused, and asked her father whether she was a girl or a boy.  How on earth will they teach biology if a teacher can’t refer to a female or her ovaries, womb, cervix without somehow pretending that these are also the features of a trans women or men?

Joanne Cherry, QC, described this trend as deeply sinister.  I agree with her.  This is a form of aggression and an undermining of girls’ and women’s rights.   Time to find a way through this without the heated aggression of the Twitterati.  Please, please, can we have an adult debate on the subject to protect the safety, privacy needs, and identity status of girls and women?  And asking for such a debate does not mean that I am a transphobe. 

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What an amazing job they did

Wow!  Is anyone else feeling pride in the achievements of Team GB?  I am not particularly into sport or athletics, nor even into being a spectator, but I was blown away by the number of medals we achieved and by watching the determination and skill of our young athletes.

Reading the press, one might be forgiven for imagining that all our young in this country are snowflakes – but no way.  These young people have come through hell and highwater to be in Tokyo, to perform and to win.

I hope one of the media channels does a documentary covering the life stories of some of these people.  I know that many have come through difficulties, have had to crowdfund their way through the competitions, have had broken bones, and gone through many set-backs in the course of their lives.  What a wonderful example of determination, discipline, motivation and skill. 

I would really like to know more about their journeys from childhood sports days to local then national competitions and on to the Olympics.  There’s a lesson for us all in this, in our various walks of life, I feel.

And it takes support – from parents, teachers, coaches, grandparents.  And sacrifice.  No-one can do this alone.

And the modesty and sheer joy of the winners was poignant to watch.  No bragging, just amazement and British understatement. A delight in having won, as if it happened ‘to’ them, rather than that they won through extraordinary effort.  From that amazing young girl on her BMX, and daring skateboarders, to equestrian riders of such precision and grace, at one with their horse, to swimmers, runners, cyclists, gymnasts, sailors and more, I am just so impressed.

This is going to be a short piece but it seems so important to take a moment to feel some pride in our achievements.  We don’t do it often in this country but watching the Olympics has made me feel that if these people are any kind of reflection of the young people in this country then we shall be in safer hands than I had imagined. There is more grit here than is spoken of on most days. Yet one knows that this grit exists also in our entrepreneurs and those who have been through so many different and difficult challenges over the last eighteen months of Covid.

I hope there is some general celebration of the efforts of our Olympic team, a moment of national pride in coming fourth in the league table against fierce competition.  Congratulations to them all, the winners, of course, but also to all those who were beaten at the post.  To have got to Tokyo at all is a huge achievement in itself.  Well done!

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Why are we so keen to denigrate ourselves?

Who would have known that the numbers of Covid-19 cases in our country are as high as they are because we test far more than other countries?  I didn’t, until my son happened to mention it to me.  Try to look up those statistics and there are very few journalists who have bothered to cover the subject.  Hence, we have this dreadful opinion of ourselves, without putting the statistics in context. 

It seems that we test 3,322,548 per million population where France only tested 1,485,720 and Italy only 1,222,052 per million of population, with Germany only testing 776,198, as of July 14, 2021.  The WHO stated at the beginning of the pandemic that countries should test, test, test.  We were a little slow in starting but now, of course, the criticism is that we are testing too much.  The app pings but it seems that provided you test yourself daily and have a negative result then, you do not have to isolate, so testing is key to keeping the population safe.

Similarly, we do have a high incidence of Covid-19 (partly for the reason that we test more) but actually Cyprus and Gibraltar have more incidences than we do and the Netherlands and Spain are not far behind.  And, according to www.statista.com France has actually been the worst affected country in Europe during this pandemic outbreak, with 5,770,021 confirmed cases.

Our death rate per 100,000 is actually less than Italy’s (UK 191 per 100,000, Italy 211 per 100,000 as of 20 June 2021 quoted by John Hopkins University).  But who would know it?  I have never heard these figures quoted regularly, if at all, on the news programmes I listen to.  Perhaps I listen to the wrong stations?!

The trouble with this lazy reporting, and the lack of will to put numbers into context, is that it leaves our population, and particularly our population of young people, believing that this country is dross and that does neither them nor the country any good.  Sure, we have not got great leaders at the moment but that’s no reason to propagate negative narratives about us as a people.  It serves no purpose other than to demoralise, and a demoralised population tends to give up or, worse, follow some charismatic leader who promises to get us out of the problem.  We don’t have one at the moment but with the culture of identity politics and cancellation, we need to beware if someone emerges to make such promises.  From such beginnings totalitarianism can result.

A young teenager, Alex Wilkie, on Radio 4 last week asked that people do not refer to her generation as “the lost generation” as a result of the Covid-19 impact on their education.  Labels such as these do nothing to inspire such teenagers to fight for improvement, to innovate and create new enterprises, to work hard because they believe there are still opportunities to succeed, despite the pandemic.  To believe in themselves.  For self-belief is crucial to success in any field.

The pandemic has been a shock to the young, I believe.  Their lives had, even if they didn’t know it, been relatively unchallenging compared to some other generations and other geographical regions.  This is their major challenge and it could result in them feeling ‘poor me’ or victimised.   But, as the stoics would say, ‘no tree becomes deep-rooted and sturdy unless strong winds blow against it’.  This pandemic is the equivalent of a strong wind for our younger population and the concept is that within those storms their roots grow stronger and a tree with firm roots is less likely to blow away.  This type of challenge and change can be good for developing resilience in the long term.  So let’s not catastrophise the situation.  Just look around the world to see many others who are suffering more, with no welfare state, no democracy, no fresh water flowing from a tap, and be grateful.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be referred to as a ‘disadvantaged child’ or ‘disadvantaged family’.  Those kind of labels can limit expectations.  They hardly help to make a child or family feel good about themselves.  Those who berate this country for a lack of social mobility are simply reinforcing such inequalities when they stick labels on that can impact a child’s self-image.

Then the media all rounded on the UK as racist after the appalling racist tweets posted after the Euro 2020 penalties.  These were dreadful but a few ghastly people exist in any population of this globe and a minority of people does not make up a whole population.  It turned out from a Guardian report that only 44 of the 585,000 tweets received in the first day or so were racist, and Reuters also reported that the majority, possibly 70%, of racist tweets were generated from outside this country, possibly from a Russian bot.  This was mentioned on the radio after a few days but not before we had all had the chance to feel thoroughly ashamed of ourselves, in believing we were all slung into the same racist barrel as a few of the more unsavoury people who live in our country.

Of course, none of this means we should be complacent.  Of course, we need to do whatever we can to protect people in the pandemic.  Of course, more needs to be done for social mobility and to ensure that racism in whatever form is stamped out and that we come together as a more united population.

And this is my point.  To emphasize our weaknesses, potentially without facts being checked, does not help us get out of the mess we are in after Covid.  To emphasize our divisions, as seems to be the trend at the moment, does not help us all to pull together to feel that this country, and the people within it, are worth fighting for, building businesses for, creating wealth for, creating opportunities.

I have travelled extensively in my career and also for leisure.  We have so much to be grateful for in this country.  I know that racism exists in every country in one form or another and one can experience it as a white person in a majority black country.  I know that xenophobia, poverty, inequality also exist in other countries.  It doesn’t make it right but let’s get things in perspective.  There is no need to believe we are the best of the best but let’s not rush to assume, either, that we are the worst of the worst.

Of course we have to review, analyse and adapt new approaches but when people are endlessly criticised and told they are no good and that everything around them is hopeless, then why would they bother?  We must give our young people, and in fact our middle-aged people too, for their lives can be very tough, hope.  Without hope nothing is achieved.

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Tonight I miss abroad…

On this summer night I listen to the songs of Brazil, Portugal, France and Italy and I miss abroad.  The scents, the tastes, the scenes, the cultures, the difference.  That is what matters.  When we travel elsewhere, we learn something about life, about humanity.  And mostly we learn that we are so similar.  We love, we hate, we feel jealousy and empathy, and try to do the best we can.  It’s the human condition.

It’s exciting, sometimes, to feel an outsider.  Working in Nigeria, the Middle East, or Hong Kong,  I had so much to learn about how others respond to information.  How they communicate and bond, or not.

I had an apartment in Nice for many years and I would sit on the balcony in the evenings and look at the moon and recognise that we all look at the same sky, stars and moon.  We are all in awe of these simple aspects of nature, wherever we are.  I would watch the planes come into Nice airport, or traverse the skies over France, and think of the people able to travel across miles of the earth to see family, visit friends, or do business, and I always felt that, despite the potential environmental threat, it was a positive and exotic experience to travel.  It brings us together. The view of a plane in the night sky from earth makes it look romantic.  Of course, the reality of being sat in one of these cigar-shaped machines is actually pretty mundane.  Until you get there…

And then you arrive.  In Dubai, or Egypt, in Nashville or Sydney.  And the different temperature hits you.  Dubai is like being in a fan oven.   Phoenix, Arizona too.  The excitement of landing in a strange place, getting a taxi across town, seeing the different sights, talking to the taxi-driver about their experiences, talking to anyone one meets in business or as a tourist.  Discovering.  Discovering those differences of life, how they live in comparison to how we live.  No one way is ‘right’.

Tonight, stuck in London, I miss it all.  Lisbon, Beirut, Havana, Kerala, Moscow, Luxor, Zimbabwe, and more.  The gentle Portugual of my birth, where my sister and I had planned a sentimental journey this year back to the places we remembered as children.  I hope we can make that next year.

Remembering running training courses in the Middle East and Africa, knowing and respecting the fact that I must conform to their norms.  And loving the differences, noticing them, and hoping I was doing ok to be myself and yet shaping myself enough to their ways. 

And my dear friend Sima, who sadly died last year, used to say that I was a different Helen when I lived in Nice.  A free spirit, someone new to the Helen she knew in London.  I don’t know who that was exactly, and I wonder if you can connect with that feeling of being someone slightly different, slightly more free, able to let go of the old British ways, of the expectations of class or family, and try out different ways of being when you are abroad?  I know my father was at his most relaxed, my mother always said, when he was abroad.  My brother and sister have both lived away for more years than I have and I know that the three of us, maybe because of our early years in Portugal, thrive on being somewhere different.

Yet, speaking for myself, I also love England.  The countryside and what this country offers.  Maybe it’s because we are an island nation that we yearn for other spaces and places.  But it pains me when so much of what we read and listen to is constantly seeking to criticise everything we do in this country.  Which is not, after all, so bad.  I know I would prefer to be supervised by our police officers, however flawed, than most others in the world, that I am happy with our inevitably flawed democracy rather than any kind of dictatorship.  After all, only 32% or so of the French bothered to turn up at their first local elections.  For a political nation celebrating democracy, that is weird, if not dangerous.

But Macron and Merkel are determined to play their political games and stop us Brits from travelling, despite the fact that it deeply hurts those in their own countries who depend on tourism.  I read today that the reason that our rates of Covid look so high is that we test far more – as much as 10 times as much – as Germany, and more than France or other European nations.  So, of course it looks as if we are doing badly.  And we count the Covid deaths of all those who die ‘with Covid’ rather than ‘of Covid’, so they could have been hit by a bus or died of a cancer they already had, but would still be recorded as a Covid death.  Statistics have to be studied hard and in detail, as Tim Harford explains frequently, if they are to be understood accurately.

But tonight, I miss the different sounds and the words of a strange language in my ear, the scents of a different country and its people, the way people dress, the fruits sold in the markets, the blossom on their trees and plants.  So please, dear leaders, stop making politics the reason why we are stopped from travelling.  Science ok, politics, no. People have close family abroad that they haven’t seen for months.  And family is what matters in life.  When you are in need, it is family who count.  So, Boris, Angela and Emmanuel, recognise that the rate of vaccination in the UK is exceptionally high, get your act together, all of you, to get life back to normal and persuade your people to get vaccinated so the world is a safer place again, and we can mingle and learn from one another.  I so hope we can do this again soon.

In the meantime, thank heaven, I can dream.   Do you?

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Is anyone squeaky clean enough to be placed on a statue?

Have you ever made a mistake?  Done something crass or embarrassing that makes you want to curl up in a ball now?  Said or done something hurtful?  Supported or donated to some cause that you now realize was not what it seemed to be?

Most of us have.  And surely this is the way we all learn – by making mistakes.  Watch a baby learn to walk and it makes mistakes over and over again until it gets it right.  A plane is constantly correcting itself as it ploughs its way through the clouds.  We need to continually review and correct ourselves as we plough our way through life, surely, don’t we?

But in today’s judgmental world none of us are allowed to make mistakes, so how can we possibly learn?  None of us are allowed to have said anything crass or potentially offensive to a soul all the days of our life or we shall be cancelled or pilloried, and even lose our livelihood at the behest of some anonymous Twitter mob.  In fact, the fickle finger of social media will point in our direction until we are fully shamed and humiliated and prostrating ourselves on the floor in penance, even if we were only a kid and knew no better.

My generation would surely never be able to serve in parliament, get published, or support the arts if people understood those awful rhymes we used to chant in the playground, not knowing any better.  We would be sent to the equivalent of the Russian gulag for writing books that were shaped by the perspectives and cultural views of the day.

Because, surely, we do learn, generation by generation, to treat one another more humanely and equally and we do this learning through reviewing our behaviour and vowing not to do the same thing again.  After all, we don’t put people on the rack these days or guillotine them in the village square.  We do have legal acts to support equality and fair treatment.

But the tendency today of sending people to the equivalent of the naughty step, even if they were very young when they made their error, and without any legal process, means that people may be so nervous about speaking up that they stay silent; so nervous that they may get something wrong that they don’t try something new; or so nervous about doing something they feel is right that they take no action, for fear of standing up to the crowd.

I wanted, in the 1960s, to be a member of the Communist Party. My parents were horrified.  At that time I was too young but it seemed a utopian movement that could bring equality to all.  It was only later, through events, discovery and learning, that I realized that it was certainly not all it was cracked up to be, that there was cruelty, torture, repression, dictatorship and a very real lack of equality.  I learnt this over time.  I didn’t know it at an earlier age.

Why we live in such a puritanical time I really don’t understand.  We have had witch-hunts before in history, certainly, and recently too, in dictatorships.  We see it today in China and Russia, where journalists who contradict the government are imprisoned.  Perhaps here it is because we have more time than our forefathers to look around us and point fingers at others.  It makes us feel so good to believe that we are on the side of the angels and aha, you over there, you have said something nasty or done something wrong, or your great-great-grandfather did, and so you will suffer.

If you look at the corporate sponsors of the arts and of charities, it is inevitable that at some stage that organisation will have made a bad call, supported a client who turned out to be a fraud or worse.  So, should we now stop accepting any corporate sponsorships in case way back in their records we might find that they put money into tobacco, DDT, petrol or some other investment that we now know was not good for humankind (and yet had seemed so at the time)?

It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it?  It’s challenging enough to put yourself forward for high office, whether in government or organisations, these days.  Every single thing you do has to be squeaky clean even if those who are asking the questions may not be so squeaky clean or knowledgeable themselves.  The armchair judges spit their vitriol down Twitter or whatever and have some extraordinarily high bar that we are all supposed to reach, even if they are not quite so judgmental about themselves.

Politicians have been lambasted for smoking pot at university but more-or-less everyone smokes pot at uni and then gives it up when they go into the world of work.  We have all broken someone’s heart or misbehaved at some stage and regretted it later but, at the same time, known that really it wouldn’t have worked out if we had stayed in the situation.  We must be allowed to make mistakes. 

Time, surely, to accept that everyone will have done something they may be ashamed of when they think about it at some later stage of their lives and that this is the natural way of the human condition.  Trial and error.  Obviously if we break the law then the law will judge us and we shall pay the correct penance and should then be allowed to clean the slate, on the assumption that we have learnt our lesson.  But if we break the law again, we shall be punished again.

I am not convinced that being forced to grovel by an anonymous group of Twitter followers who shelter their own life record behind an anonymous username is at all healthy.  It can just build up resentment and could well lead to people trying either to be perfect (impossible as no such person exists) or to lie and blag.  It could certainly result in a society where people are frightened to speak up or do anything that might be regarded in a negative light by all those invisible judges who could send them to the equivalent of the Gulag and deprive them of income and reputation.

We don’t want to live in a world like that here in the UK do we?  Can’t we accept that youth is for living, for trying new things and getting them wrong, and also that we never fully grow up to be some perfect mature adult who gets everything right (something children often imagine happens when we become grownup) because in fact we make mistakes, learn and adjust our behaviour every day of our lives until the day we die.  And when we stop trying new things, stop making mistakes, we stop learning and become stale.  And if we reach that point we have very little to contribute.

When Gandhi and Churchill are toppled and defaced, despite freeing millions, what human will ever be perfect or squeaky clean enough to satisfy the current arbiters of who should hold office, play sport, give to charity, support the arts, or be placed on a statue?  I can’t think of one. 

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What happened to Stoicism?

Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason

Much has been written about therapy recently in the light of Prince Harry’s pronouncements about the Royal Family, his childhood and the ‘total neglect’ he received.  He has talked of feeling ‘completely helpless’.  This has made me wonder what kind of therapy he has been receiving over the last few years if he still uses phrases such as ‘total neglect’ when anyone can see that this is, to most of us, an exaggerated description of his life.  Was he fed, clothed, did he have a home, toys, parents, siblings, grandparents, nannies?  Yes.  To me the phrase total neglect is better applied to, say, the Romanian orphans.

I am surprised that no therapist has challenged his use of words such as ‘total’ or ‘completely’ because the aim of therapy is generally to provide a client with insight into how they are upsetting themselves, alongside potentially identifying how others may or may not have upset them.  When clients use words such as ‘never, always, everyone, nothing, no-one’, these are recognised as generalisations and are challenged…”was there one time when someone gave you attention?  Can you think of one person who supported you?” etc so that distortions and over-generalisations are picked out, challenged and placed into a more contextualised reality.

I am not saying that one cannot have an unhappy childhood if one is a Prince growing up in a Palace.  Of course one can.  And it seems he did, much of it due to the terrible tragedy of losing his mother so young, so suddenly and traumatically.  Therapy can’t take away a sad event.  It can only help the client find ways of managing life despite whatever events have occurred in their lives.  And that is what good therapy does.

There seems to be a general tendency for people to focus on narratives that ramp up the negative rather than balancing negative experiences with more positive ones.  Listening to reports, one would imagine we are living in the most terrible times ever – and that is outside Covid.  That there has never been a worse time for minority groups such as BAME or LGBTQ, although if you look through history we are living in the least persecuted era that has ever existed, with equality and diversity laws to protect rights and a far greater awareness of acceptance and tolerance than existed in previous generations. 

In order to be content, it really does help to check out the language one is using, to step back and analyse whether the narratives one is expressing are accurate.  The brain gets into default modes and loops of habitual thinking and so if one feeds it all the negative aspects of one’s life, or life in general, that is what it will seek out.  But it may not be the truth.  It is an interpretation of the truth, one person’s perception of truth, as seen through the potentially distorted lens through which that person is observing themselves, their life, others, and the world.

Many people create rules that they feel others should abide by – as to the kind of parenting they ‘should, ought or must’ receive, or ‘should have’ received.  As to the kind of way family, friends, colleagues or bosses ‘should’ treat them.  But it helps to check whether these rules, demands or expectations are reasonable, fair, and logical.  Whether the person is giving as much as they are expecting to receive.  Whether they are accepting that, just as they are fallible, so are others, and they deserve compassion and forgiveness. 

I hear more of judgement than I hear of forgiveness these days, whether in Prince Harry’s conversations, or in the demands of students, say, in universities who say they don’t feel safe listening to a lecture, or reading a book, so rather than choosing not to read the book or attend the lecture, the university cancels the speaker or author, often at a real financial and reputational cost.  This surely does not help those young people develop the resilience they will need to manage this world.  It seems absurd that such groups say they support diversity and yet when exposed to diverse opinions suddenly demand that others are silenced.  What an upside down world it is.

I have had therapy myself and found it extremely helpful but it seems to me that there is some kind of therapy out there at the moment that is doing the opposite to what I believe therapy is about.  It seems to be undermining people’s resilience rather than reinforcing it.  It appears that people have the distorted belief these days that the world should be the way they want it to be or otherwise they become a victim.  This is not the kind of therapy I have been exposed to, nor the CBT/REBT approaches I was trained in.

In my view good therapy helps you to understand the events of your life but then to consider what may have been impacting the people who hurt you, what era and generation they grew up within, what the norms were in those times, how you could have responded differently and then to find ways to build resilience to manage life more effectively in the future. 

There should never be an expectation that life will always be the way you want it to be, or that other people should act the way you want them to.  Because they won’t.  Life will be tough and full of challenges.  Tragedies will happen. Other people will have different opinions to your own.  And so we need to help people build the stoicism to manage these ups and downs.  To recognise any distorted perceptions and realise that ‘your truth’ is not necessarily another person’s truth.  This doesn’t mean you don’t feel or acknowledge emotions.  It means you feel them and then check out that they aren’t blinding you to reason or fact, nor disempowering you.

There is a gap between an event and our response to that event. It is the response that shapes our ability to cope or not.  A useful phrase can be “I would rather x didn’t happen but I can manage it if it does” or “I would prefer y not to do that but I can manage it if they do”.

Prince Harry has had some very tough moments in his life.  As have many other people.  He came through grief and difficult patches, served in Afghanistan, and created the Invictus Games, for which he is much admired and respected.  He has had the support of his family, even if it has not been given in precisely the way he would have preferred.  He also has the affection of many people in the UK and beyond.  Contextualising situations helps us all to recognise what has gone well, alongside what has gone badly, so that we feel strong and capable of managing life.

As Jean-Claude Chalmet wrote in The Times, 22.5.21, “good therapy is never about blaming others.  It’s about developing understanding, compassion and a sense of self and responsibility, as well as understanding the consequences of our actions.  It’s a maturing process that helps us to become the best version of ourselves.  Therapy should help us to become more compassionate…hurt isn’t a way to deal with hurt, understanding is.”

In my view vengeance and blame divide us. Developing resilience, understanding, compassion and forgiveness, plus recognising that everyone is fallible, bonds us all within the human condition.

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Human Rights require Human Responsibilities

In the last year I have been horrified by the amount of litter that has been left in the street and in beautiful parks such as Kew Gardens, near us.  Nappies, bottles, masks, picnic debris, all just left on the grass with seemingly no effort to clear it up. No thought for others.  It has made me think again, as I have thought for some time, that we would benefit from bringing in an Act of Human Responsibilities.  For with rights must surely come responsibilities.  Yet I don’t hear this message either from government or from teachers here in the UK.  Perhaps you do?

I heard about the concept of Human Responsibilities on the radio a few weeks ago when an Asian doctor was talking about the difference in how the West has managed lockdowns (or not) and how it was enforced in Asia.  He pointed out that the demand for personal freedom and liberty could impinge on the greater good of the community and that the West were backward in their thinking about this.  He said that those in Asia accepted the need for the greater good more readily than we do.  I am sure he is right.

Speaking personally, I am certainly not ready to accept the degree of authoritarian rule that we have witnessed in lockdowns in the Far East where the army were out on the street with guns to ensure compliance.  However, I do question whether there couldn’t be a happy balance between our perhaps sometimes selfish insistence on individual freedoms and actually being forced to comply with a gun at our head.  This with a view to maintaining reasonable individual freedom at the same time as taking action that is considerate to others.  Am I expecting too much?

Covid-19 has been a test of how authoritarian a democratic government can become in an emergency such as a pandemic.  Inevitably a population tends to accept curfews and limitations on their freedom in wartime but this was a war against an invisible enemy and although most people abided by the rules, some kicked at the traces and continued to party.  So how does one influence those who behave in this way without bringing in the military?  In an era of climate change, of cancellations, and of sexual harassment in schools, this is particularly pertinent.  There are standards of individual behaviour that can have a truly negative outcome for others.

It struck me that the Asian doctor had an important point in questioning whether the gift of an Act of Human Rights should not always be accompanied by a Declaration of the Duties and Responsibilities by those who benefit from those Rights.  And I wondered why, as he mentioned, this suggestion had not been acted upon before.

So, I did some research and found that the State of Victoria, New South Wales, Australia in 2006 and the South African Government in 2008, had, indeed, applied a Bill of Human Responsibilities, where, in South Africa, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, had launched the Bill of Responsibilities Campaign on 23 March 2011.  And the latter, in particular, makes excellent reading.

In the light of cancel culture and of bullying and harassment in schools, the following clauses stood out to me as helpful messages for young people in particular, in that it is basically saying:

If I have the right to human dignity then I have the responsibility to treat others with reverence, respect and dignity, be kind, compassionate… speak courteously.

If I have the right to life then I have the responsibility not to endanger the lives of others by carrying dangerous weapons, acting recklessly or disobeying our rules and laws.  I have a responsibility to live a healthy life, by exercising, eating correctly… not abusing alcohol or taking drugs…

If I have a right to freedom and security then I have the responsibility not to hurt, bully or intimidate others…

If I have the right to freedom of religion, belief and opinion then I have the responsibility to allow others to choose and practice the religion of their choice and to hold their own beliefs and opinions, without fear or prejudice.  To respect the beliefs and opinions of others and their right to express these, even when we may strongly disagree with these beliefs and opinions ourselves…

If I have the right to equality then I have the responsibility to treat every person equally and fairly and not discriminate unfairly against anyone on the basis of race, gender, religion, national, ethnic or social origin, disability, culture, language, status or appearance.  It continues here to say that “as a diverse nation … equality does not mean uniformity or that we are all the same …but calls on all of us to build a common sense of belonging and national pride, celebrating the very diversity which makes us who we are…calling on us to extend our friendship and warmth to all nations and all the peoples of the world in our endeavour to build a better world.”

There is more but I found these snippets inspiring and wondered why we didn’t focus more on values, ethics and behaviours in our education system, for these are both human rights and human responsibilities and can benefit a whole society.  It just takes a little more thought and action. I know that this discussion does take place in leadership training in organisations.

For, surely, what we are talking here is about building character.  This concept seems to have been lost, somewhat, in education while the league tables of academic achievement took precedence to behaviour.  But one can be very clever and not be wise.  Indeed, one can be very clever and actually be evil, so the teaching of values through debate and discussion are truly worthwhile subjects for school children.  This is particularly relevant, now, when we know that black children still feel discriminated against, and when some boys in schools seem to be treating girls in a thoroughly bullying and disrespectful way.

To continue this theme, I wondered also whether the concept of the Four Agreements, as identified by Miguel Ruiz, would not also be worth considering:

  1. Be impeccable with your word (a good one for politicians, perhaps?) What we say determines the person we are, how others see us and how we see ourselves.
  2. Don’t take anything personally (a good one for those who too easily take offence, perhaps?)  Ruiz suggests that those who are easily offended believe they are at the centre of everything. 
  3. Don’t make assumptions (a good one for those who think in binary terms, perhaps?) Gain truth, facts and clarity, as without these misunderstandings are inevitable.
  4. Always do your best (a good one for us all, perhaps?) 

Being reminded of ‘wise action’ encourages us to behave better.  The anonymity of social media, the introduction of human rights, together with the liberalisation of social norms (since I was a child) can lead us on a downward slope of “me me me” and would it not be good now to have a Bill of Responsibilities to encourage a little more “us us us”?  It might even help clear up the litter problem.

“Discuss,” as Professor Richard Dawkins (now cancelled) would say…

https://www.gov.za/about-government/government-programmes/bill-responsibilities#

The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz

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How has debate become so toxic?

I find it extraordinary that in a country where education, and higher education, reaches a larger proportion of the population than it did in my childhood, the tenor of debate and conversation has become so debased and divisive.  Instead of raising the quality of discussion, we have ended up with people picking up a headline or soundbite from news, newspaper or social media and acting as if they know everything about it, when in fact it turns out that people have seldom read the whole article, let alone the report, book, or listened to the debate to which they are referring.

This happens often and, most recently, in relation to the report on race by Dr Tony Sewell and his team.  Commentators are comparing him to Ku Klux Klan, to Nazis and to slave owners.   As the report is written almost entirely by people of colour, if white commentators were to say this we would, most certainly, be called racist.  But these commentators are not all white and Trevor Phillips, writing in Monday’s Times, regrets that more white voices have not joined the fray.  Well, here I go and people may say I have no right to comment but I believe, perhaps mistakenly, that I live in a country where free speech is valued.  Also I have lived in the UK since 1954 and in London since 1968 so I have seen a lot of changes with my own eyes.

The furore began even before the full report was published.  The viciousness of the pushback has been vitriolic and, in my view, abhorrent.  Especially as even those who have been interviewed on the radio have admitted that they have only read ‘parts’ of it and, as others have articulated, that the report is far more nuanced than critical comments would suggest.  As the report itself argues “too much of public debate is ill-informed or uninformed”*.  That doesn’t stop people blasting off their emotional opinions.

What I genuinely don’t understand is why people of all ethnic backgrounds can’t give credit where credit is due?  Sure, there is much more to be done on racism and, contrary to what one hears, the report states this several times over [e.g. ”Outright racism still exists in the UK.”*].  However, the problem is that people seem to assume that if one praises the steps that have been taken, then one is at the same time suggesting no more needs to be done.  This is illogical.  It isn’t what the report says.  But it is a tendency that the statistician Hans Rosling in his book Factfulness termed the ‘negativity instinct’**.

Rosling related that when he quoted statistics demonstrating that progress in some field had been achieved, his audience would assume that he was saying that everything was fine, when he was saying no such thing.  The principle he asserted, which I totally agree with, is that if people wrongly believe that nothing is improving, they may conclude that nothing will work and lose confidence in the project.  If this is the case, they can lose hope in progress and give up the effort, which helps no one.  Hope is essential.  Measuring progress not only gives us hope but can also identify next steps.

The voices criticising the report seem not to want to acknowledge that progress has been made.  Perhaps they hold vested interests in the status quo of the racism debate?  Perhaps they are the more radical BLM supporters who actually want to end capitalism, dismantle the police and other institutions?  But, as the report states, this kind of “over-pessimistic narrative” could be in danger of “alienating the decent centre ground, a centre ground which is occupied by people of all races and ethnicities”*.

I don’t know.  All I know is that the UK is a very different place to the country I grew up in during the 1950s and we need to acknowledge that progress AND, at the same time, identify what we can all do to improve things further for all those who live in this country.  “Bias, bigotry and unfairness based on race may be receding but they still have the power to deny opportunity … if we are to build trust in institutions and organisations, we must be willing to investigate evidence of racism and be prepared, as a society, to root it out.”*  For this to happen we all need to work together, in collaboration and cooperation, not division.  It benefits us all.

Since the 1960s we have seen the Equal Opportunities Act, we have diversity policies in organisations, we have interpreters in the NHS, legal and social systems to help those who cannot speak English.  Children in schools now celebrate Eid, Diwali, Ramadan and other ceremonies, not just Christian ones.  In fact, there is such sensitivity around this that the nativity play itself has been in danger of being cancelled.  A friend of mine was the only black Jamaican girl in her class at school in 1964.  If anything, those statistics have reversed in certain areas. 

Is there more to be done?  Of course.  But for those of us who have seen these changes, please can we recognise progress where it has been made?  No business would survive if it never gave honest feedback about what needs to be improved.  Equally, it is essential to give feedback about what has been done well.  Identifying best practice enables an organisation to support behaviours and actions that build successful models of progress.

I am a woman, so I represent roughly 50% of the population yet we are still also being discriminated against but I would never deny the progress that has been made in my lifetime to the position of women.  Is there more to be done?  Of course.  But women are far less ‘institutionally’ discriminated against than they were when I was young but there is still work to be done, especially, it seems from recent reports, among the young and their peer groups.  And in this there are responsibilities on all sides to adapt and work towards a better world.

So, on race, I can see that the way history is taught needs to be balanced, but not skewed.  I don’t personally understand how it is helpful for young black children to have all the history of slavery kicked up in their faces now?  How does it make them feel about themselves?  How does it help them to feel a part of our now very diverse community in the UK, many of whom have also suffered terribly?  It seems to me that having this brutal history revived could well undermine their confidence rather than help them to feel they have as equal and empowered a voice as others in their classes or universities.

Why not point out to them also all the many role models who have made it into senior positions in our society rather than rub their noses into what isn’t going well, or what happened 200 years ago?  We have, if I can use the acronym one more time before, hopefully, it is ditched, BAME mayors, MPs, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Cabinet ministers, celebrities, lawyers, barristers, musicians, television presenters, senior doctors and consultants, senior managers and leaders within both the public and private sector, specialists on that bastion of Britishness, the Antiques Roadshow.  Don’t let’s forget this progress.  Don’t let’s dismiss it.  It means something

If we are all silenced, cancelled or whatever you like to call it, because should we dare to speak up we are subjected to rape threats, murder threats, ludicrous associations with evil people, accusations of sins we may not personally have committed, then all debate is over and we are in a dictatorship of the unelected, just because they shout louder and say the most extraordinarily insulting things.

I don’t believe this helps the cause of those who have come to our country and wish to live here with the open and equal opportunities that we continue to attempt to create.  I believe it helps us all if we acknowledge the progress that has been taken and then agree between us, in a creative and consensual way, the steps that need to be taken to gain further improvements.

Racism is, or has been, a human response to difference.  It happens everywhere and it swings both ways.  Most agree that there is less discrimination than there was, and many enjoy rich relationships with people from different backgrounds.  There has to be a will for change and integration from all parties.  If people are criticised by their own community when they attempt to integrate, for example in joining the police force, then this has to be openly discussed in order to find alternative approaches.

I don’t believe any marriage would survive if both parties kept pointing fingers at the wrongs that had been done between them in the past.  There are many and complex details behind the headlines and soundbites and we need to understand them in order to find better solutions to what holds people back, whatever their background.  We need to recognise people for their character and contribution rather than the colour of their skin.

Let’s build on progress, not enflame a war of division.

*quotes from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, The Report, April 2021

**Factfulness, Hans Rosling, Sceptre, 2018

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Released from lockdown – how does that feel?

We’re about to be let loose.  Or just a little anyway, step by hopeful step.  It seems extraordinary that we have been under near house arrest for a year now, unable to see family and friends, to work, mix and do the normal human and sociable things we do.  It is going to take a bit of getting used to, I suspect.

Several people I know have said they will find it frightening to go out and about again, to travel by tube or bus, let alone by plane.  They can’t imagine being inside in a room with other people for a dinner, party or festivity.  That feels a bit sad to me and I was happy to hear Sir Richard Sykes, Chair of the Royal Institution, on the radio this morning encouraging us not to be ‘cripplingly cautious’ but to embrace the fact that in the UK we have had a fantastic vaccination programme and, in addition to that, he suggests that many more people will actually have, asymptomatically, had Covid-19 than are statistically recorded, so will have some kind of immunity.

But of course we have to be watchful and I think many of us have become near hermits, unused to making the social effort to entertain others.  I look back on the sort of dinner parties I used to host in the 1980s and 90s and wonder how on earth I did it.  The thought of cooking for others again is both exciting but a tad daunting!

I have been reminding myself of how we do, eventually, persuade ourselves to come out of dangerous situations and accept that all of life has an element of risk. And, it seems, we shall have to adapt to accepting that coronavirus may well be a continued risk for us all going forward.

For me, in my lifetime, I can remember the IRA bombs of the 1970s and how I would occasionally leave a tube train at the next station if I heard an Irish voice in the carriage.  Nonetheless I remember taking my darling niece up to see Father Christmas at Selfridges because we all agreed that we should not be forced to limit our lives out of fear.  Both she and I treasure that memory.

The same, of course, happened after 9/11, and 7/7 – different voices but the same impact.  I would leave the train.  And be nervous, in the 80s, of hijack, then in the Noughties I would fear people putting bombs in shoes or bottles.  More recently we have had the Islamic knife attacks.  We have had SARS and Ebola scares. All these events make people nervous for a while and then gradually life returns to normal.

When I fell down the stairs one morning at South Kensington station (stupidly carrying my laptop case so that the strap dangled and caught in my shoe) it took me quite a while to feel safe on stairs.  Even now I am far more careful to hold onto the handrail.  But I certainly do go downstairs as I couldn’t live a normal life without having ‘faced my fear and done it anyway’, as the book by Susan Jeffers advocates.

But what happens is that gradually we do start to venture out again and with each adventure, when we return safe, we build our resilience and sense of comfort. 

As Sir Richard Sykes said this morning, children need to get back to education, students to universities, people back to work.  The young need to frolic and pair-bond, the elderly need to see their children and grandchildren, and, eventually we hope, hug and be hugged.

So grasp the nettle and let us all work together to bring back some kind of normality.  We need to get back to work, or poverty will rise worldwide exponentially.  We need to create, have ideas, start new businesses or put our all into whatever business or enterprise we are involved in.  We shall soon need to embrace teamworking and being back in an office – people can’t possibly be as efficient if they are permanently working from home, nor can junior staff or apprentices learn a thing about work unless they watch those who are experienced carrying out their tasks.

But I hope there will remain more flexibility of choice at work, with some homeworking enabled within some time spent with colleagues and clients. 

I think we would all fester if we stayed at home forever, not mixing with others on a face-to-face basis, listening to their views and perspectives, enjoying a good debate or conversation over a glass of wine or cup of tea.  It’s what life is made of.  And for entrepreneurs in particular.  Take the Industrial Revolution, without sharing their ideas in coffee shops and clubs, the inventors may not have had the stimulation to advance our lives in the way they did. 

And what does staying isolated do to our immune systems in the long run?  Surely we need to mix with others to build up immunity to the everyday bugs, small children particularly?

We shall have to remind ourselves to put our glad rags on, finally get our hair cut, coloured, styled, and wear something smart.  We might rather enjoy it in the end but it will probably feel a little weird at first.  I can’t remember the last time I wore high heels and I shall no doubt wobble around on them to start with but at 5’2 I am usually very happy to have that little ‘lift’.

The process of which I write is known, in psychological terms, as ‘exposure theory’, eg the more we do something we are nervous of the more we adapt to the situation, proving to ourselves that we can survive despite discomfort.  Gradually, through repetition, we become at ease with the challenge.  People apply this theory, one might just call it common sense, to a fear of spiders, or flying, to giving presentations, or to social anxiety, so we can apply it to coming out of Covid-19 lockdown too.

I wonder how you are feeling, yourself?  Excited or a little nervous?  What is the first thing you would really love to do?  Is there one thing that will remind you that the world is returning to some kind of new normal?

Of course we can’t be certain that the journey out of lockdown will not be without its setbacks. We shall have to keep alert to ripples or waves of Covid return. But, if as many people as possible get vaccinated in the UK then we could be set fair for life returning to normal. But this is back to a future where coronavirus is likely to be one of the additional risks we have to face in our daily lives, like flu, cancer, or car accidents.

Personally, as the vaccination programme progresses, I think every government in the world could well be saying to its population “your country needs you” to come out of isolation, wear a mask, don’t breathe unnecessarily on others, but come out, work hard, create, spend money, go to the pub, go to the theatre, stay in hotels, eat out at restaurants, buy new clothes and get our economy, and life, going again. What we do in our own country ripples out to the whole world. 

So live, love and be merry. Step by hopeful step.

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