The journey from dependency to independence

The journey from dependency to independence

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” Benjamin Franklin

I wonder if you have ever spent a few days in hospital?  I have been in hospital for 7-10 days a few times in my life and have always been interested in how difficult it was to plan the simplest things when I came home.  What has always struck me is how, even after a very short time of dependency, one immediately loses the ability to think, problem-solve, plan and make decisions.   It can feel quite a relief not to have to think about small daily decisions such as what and when to eat, what to wear, what to do, how to spend or save one’s money, etc.  But lack of practice incapacitates us.  And just imagine how much more so if one has been in prison, in mental hospital, or the services for extended periods, where one’s life is organised by others.  How hard to adjust to making those daily decisions again.  How important to re-engage one’s executive brain and develop once more the ability to be independent of others and manage one’s own life.

It is not surprising that many ex-service people end up on our streets, homeless.  Nor that many mental hospitals and prisons become a revolving door where people exit but all-too-often return.  People do need help to plan their lives, their health, their work, their finance and their relationships.  It doesn’t happen automatically, particularly when you haven’t had to use that part of the brain for a period of time.   I believe the importance of planning skills is underestimated.   Without planning people have no route to success.

This applies in so many areas of life.  I was talking recently to a friend who works in a food bank.  The food banks were set up as an emergency resource but those running them are finding that some people can become habitual users of the service.  So some food banks now offer help with learning to budget and  take control of the small details of expenditure, so as to prevent the building up of dependency.

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Letting go of my history – or is it just clutter?

As many of you know, we are selling our Hampshire house looking to move to Kew for the next stage of our lives. [See https://search.savills.com/list/property-for-sale/england/hampshire#/r/detail/gbwnrswns170335]   So, as the snow falls outside, I am gradually working my way through a fairly massive job of decluttering.  Between us, having come together at the ages of 60 and 67 respectively, we have a good 40-50 years of adult hoarding, family photos and memorabilia, and life history hidden away in our offices, filing cabinets, sheds and attics.  I am usually reasonably good at clapping my hands and getting on with a transition but this process of letting go has been more challenging than I had imagined.

When I sold Positiveworks to Jackie and Chris of Sixth Sense Consulting in 2016 I naively assumed that it would be both easy and liberating to go to the filing cabinets and dispose of the 25 years of papers, presentations and articles that I had filed away in various cupboards and filing cabinets.  And especially the accounts and VAT books (sorry Jeremy!).  Of course – as those of you who have done this before me will probably know – it’s not quite as simple as that!  When I finally started looking through the papers, slides and the various brochures that took me from 1992 to 2016 I found I was far more emotionally attached to things I had created and to the memories of clients, presentations, and geographical places I had visited on this wonderful Positiveworks’ journey than I had thought I would be.

And so, gradually, I have made myself shred this, chuck that, bit by bit. It does clear the mind somewhat.   I am now on my third stage of going through the files, each time more capable of being a little more stringent than the time before.  “Will I really ever need this again?”  I ask myself.  I know I won’t but I am also sort of aware that in later life, when I am perhaps in my 80s and more vulnerable, I might need the confidence boost of looking back at the books, articles and programmes I produced and feeling a little more pleased with myself than I might if I only have a rather elderly face to look at in the mirror every day!

I know that David is experiencing the same hesitancy, the same rerun of old memories in his head, the patients he has seen, the research papers he has written and the good work he has done.  Ultimately, it’s about identity.

But there’s no way there will be space for all these old boxes and papers when we move to a three-bedroom terraced house in Kew!

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What’s normal in the world of mental health labels?

How do we distinguish between the normal emotional upheavals of life and something that can be defined as a “mental health” problem?   I recently heard the jockey Sir Tony McCoy speaking on the radio of his difficulty in adjusting to retirement after horse racing.  The headline of the report was that large numbers of people facing retirement are suffering from mental health issues.   I know that many of my friends and clients have found it difficult to adjust, as McCoy has, to retirement.  They miss the structure, purpose, social life and status of work.  However, this is generally a fairly natural period of  bereavement when there will be an inevitable cycle of loss.  And what I am questioning is the ease with which people seem to be given labels of mental illness these days.  Could it not be that they might be experiencing the fairly typical emotions of just being human and going through a difficult patch?

Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted that mental health issues are being spoken of in a more transparent way.  I remember a close family member who had recovered from a nervous breakdown saying that she wished people had been able to see her illness in the way they can see a broken arm.  Luckily we are now gaining more understanding, although a cure for psychological problems is still quite hard to find.

But at the same time, I worry about the burgeoning number of mental health labels that are given as diagnoses of emotional problems.   The number of disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the diagnostic tool published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), increases year by year. In the United States, the DSM serves as a universal authority for psychiatric diagnoses but according to recent surveys some 46.5% of Americans will have a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetimes, based on this manual.  Really?

Let’s look at these labels – grief can be packaged as ‘Adjustment Disorder’,  a child’s temper tantrum as ‘Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder’, shyness can be defined as a mental health illness, where it was a totally natural, if uncomfortable, experience when I was a child.  Three to five people in every 100 are estimated to be diagnosed with ‘personality disorders’ in the UK, with one to three in every 100 living with ‘schizophrenia’.   Are these diagnoses accurately differentiating real mental illness, which can be life-threatening, from a transitional period of emotional disturbance?  Is it that people are now expecting to feel ok all the time?  Is there some new intolerance to feeling miserable, uncertain, sad, uncomfortable that leads people to seek a fix that in previous times they might just have to have accepted as a phase of life?  A pill for every ill rather than accepting emotional distress?  Have we always been mentally sick or are the labels increasingly embracing what would previously have been perceived as normal?

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Are the no-platformers in danger of taking over other freedoms?

My goodness what a muddle we seem to be getting into around men and women and what is offensive and what is not.  When I heard that Manchester Art Gallery had removed the pre-Raphaelite painting Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse in case, in the current climate, modern audiences might find it offensive,  I exclaimed, like Victor Meldrew, “I don’t believe it!!”  I gather I wasn’t alone and, thankfully, the painting has been put back.  See https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jan/31/manchester-art-gallery-removes-waterhouse-naked-nymphs-painting-prompt-conversation

But where are we at, on this centenary of the Suffrage movement?  Are we getting distracted up misguided alleyways that potentially do a disservice to the intentions of the suffragettes?  Actions like removal of a historical painting diminishes the aim of equality with men.  Paintings depict our history, male and female, good and evil.  The wonders of humanity and its bestialities.  We can’t just wipe it out, however distasteful some people might find it today.

Personally I worry that acts like taking down the painting in the Manchester Art Gallery does little for women’s rights and freedoms.  In fact, to remove a painting feels like a worrying step towards some puritanical purge.  After all it is dictatorships that ban culture, paintings, music, dance and – often – remove women’s rights.   Are we now to remove all paintings that depict nude figures?  What about so many mythological paintings – masterpieces depicting rape and kidnap? Do we wipe the myths from our history books?  What about Botticelli, Titian, Picasso, to mention just a few?  What will be left in our art galleries?  Bare walls probably because the thought police can find offence in almost everything if they think hard enough.

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#MeToo: Let’s not make this a battle of the sexes

“A fair trial is one in which the rules of evidence are honoured, the accused has competent counsel, and the judge enforces the proper courtroom procedures – a trial in which every assumption can be challenged”. Harry Browne

I have been hesitating to throw my tuppence-halfpenny-worth into the arena on the #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein conversation. I still hesitate but I do feel drawn to write about the subject because I am concerned that the #MeToo and social media movement is in danger of demonising men without giving them a proper legal process to establish who is guilty and who is innocent.

I also don’t like the fact that women seem to be adopting the role of victims, when they are also capable of creating their own victims, as we have seen with recent rape charges where women misled the courts through false accusations.

The events at the Presidents’ Club dinner have raised these issues again and I guess I would like to bring a little perspective, as I see it, into the conversation.

Let me start by making it clear that I am in no way condoning rapists nor those who harass or abuse their position through force or by blackmailing female – or male – employees with bribes regarding their career or financial position in return for sexual gratification. This is wrong.  People who abuse, whether they are Catholic priests, Harvey Weinstein or gymnast doctor Larry Nassar need to be penalized.

But trial by digital media is like rule by a lynch mob. Without a due process we can’t tell where innocence or guilt lie. In the meantime men’s careers and reputations are being trashed by accusations made by one or more women. There seems to be no due process of law or investigation to identify those who have truly behaved abusively and those who have just made a crass approach where they needed to be told firmly to stop.

Reaching a verdict of “beyond reasonable doubt” when it is one person’s statement against the other’s is hard enough even when there is a court case. But here no judge or jury are involved, just accusation. In the world of Twitter people are condemned before they have had a chance to open their mouth.

What I am saying is not intended to diminish any person’s experience. Simply to ensure that both accused and victim are adequately protected, as is the practice of democracy and the law in the UK.

There is certainly a broader problem of macho-dominated cultures to be addressed, both here in the UK and worldwide. Men have ruled and governed countries, religious establishments, businesses and their women, for far too long. They have been given messages by philosophers and religious leaders that men are here to command, women to obey. Women still have to opt out of the words ‘to obey’ in marriage services so we are talking recent history – and let’s accept that some women liked this. Also let’s acknowledge that much of this has already changed and is changing but sadly one can’t alter millennia of beliefs, perceptions and behaviours in the space of sixty years or so.

This latest set of scandals provides a wake-up call for both men and women to adjust their behaviours to one another further. We need to ensure that men, young and old, move out of any sense of entitlement of their right to touch a woman’s (or a man’s) body without overt permission or encouragement. At the same time women need to be absolutely clear about their boundaries, what they find acceptable or unacceptable, and speak up immediately to stop abusive actions and also misunderstanding. But communication between men and women is subtle and easily open to misunderstandings. The dance of relationship is a tricky one. Both in romantic and workplace situations things can be taken the wrong way. I don’t envy young people who fancy one another in today’s world – one wrong move and your reputation is ruined.

With the Presidents Club, it seems to me that merely attending a male-only charitable event that raises considerable money for good charities is not in itself an evil or disrespectful thing to do. Women have women-only events and hen parties, some with rowdy behaviour and male stripagrams. Are we saying the male stripagrammer is being abused, in the same way we are saying the female hostesses at the Presidents Club party were? A male undertaking to strip is being paid and knows what he is in for. The female hostesses were also being paid and, although some behaviour got out of hand, some of those hostesses had apparently been to such events before and nonetheless signed up again. They are not slaves, they are adult and have every right not to accept the job and, if they do, to bat off any wandering hand if they don’t like it.

Whether the Presidents’ Club dinner should have been held at all with these themes is dubious.  And this isn’t to excuse the behaviours of such men but to put them in perspective. Again, I am not talking about victims of rapists or abusers where force is used, nor where someone is underage. There is a significant difference between a rapist and a man who gets drunk and aroused and touches someone inappropriately. Something women, when drunk, have been known to do too. Let’s not tar all men with the same brush. Some men behave badly, many don’t.

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Dry January Madness

What bright spark thought up the idea of dry January? To go off booze at the most miserable grey month of the year?  It’s madness.  Perhaps it was the same person that came up with Movember – the idea that men should grow weird moustaches in order to raise money for charity?  Surely we could raise money without this spectacle?  But how can we survive dismal, chilly January without the odd gin and tonic or glass of wine?  What worse time of the year to decide to keep off the odd tipple or two?

So far I have managed 18 days without alcohol – probably the first time for some forty years (other than pregnancies and hospitalisations) that I have not had a glass of wine with my dinner.  Some people say they feel marvellous without alcohol – fitter, happier, sleeping like a baby – and that they take off weight miraculously quickly.  Not me!  I can’t claim to feel happier nor fitter, nor am I sleeping better.  Worse still, despite jumping around to an aerobic video every day I haven’t taken off a single ounce of weight … so what’s the point I ask myself?

On top of this every Sunday magazine covers the topic of post-Christmas detox – we can’t even eat the chocolates everyone gave us for Christmas.  So all we can eat is quinoa and brown rice … oh how dull do we have to be in such a dull month?  Apparently we should be going vegan.  Ouch.  I wish I could feel as virtuous as others seem to feel about all this.

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Being grateful for the change around you

I drove up the King’s Road the other day and noticed the hundreds of tiny boutiques and independent shops that line the road.  It made me reflect on the changes that I have seen in the high street and beyond over my lifetime.

I was struck by the amazing creativity that has happened in this country and the extraordinary choice of products and services we now have.  Thinking back to the High Street of my 1950s youth, there was a dullness in the displays, the products, and few of the services, personal or professional, that are now on offer were available then.

This was emphasized again when David and I went into Winchester last Saturday to take his granddaughter, Bo, to the panto – Peter Pan.  On every street corner there was a band or a choir, stalls selling home-made food and crafts.  The colour, care and creativity of these community groups and individuals was startling.  And, of course, the pantomime was fantastic – up-to-date with its Brexit jokes but timeless in the “oh yes we do” and “it’s behind you” that sent the small children wild with delight.

I remember my mother doing some AmDram with her Women’s Institute group, and there were cakes and jams but now countless small towns have Literary Festivals, Poetry Festivals, Music Festivals, Open Mic poetry evenings.   Every village has it book groups, meditation groups, yoga, mindfulness and therapeutic workshops.  The choice is staggering when you add to that the U3A and other local courses and education.  And choirs and rock groups.  Wow, aren’t we lucky?

I used to set my workshop groups an icebreaker to draw something that made them go wow.  Some things are changeless – a sunset or sunrise, a child, the moon, a tree, nature, birds.  Others change all the time and many that make me go “wow” today were not around in my parents’ day.   SatNav, how cool is that to have someone tell you in good time which way to go in complicated cities and one-way systems?  He occasionally has a mad moment and sends me somewhere ridiculous but most of the time he gets it right.  Even in the remotest winding country lane in deepest Wales, Scotland, Eastern Europe and almost anywhere on the globe you no longer have to prop a map dangerously on your knee and try to fathom out where you are.  And he will even read me my text messages.

My mobile phone amazes me daily with what it can do and what it can tell me – and I can bet you that even then I probably only use 5% of its facilities!  The apps that my 6-year old granddaughter uses to learn, to write computer programming script and improve her maths are so useful, and creatively programmed to be entertaining as well as educational.  There are emails and skype to keep us in touch with family. friends and work colleagues who may be far away (or sitting next to you!).  And the internet, mainly a source for good though, like human society in general, also a source of evil.  It can bring together communities in compassion and altruism but also in terrorism or paedophilia.  But that’s humans for you.

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Tipping and Turning Points

After my last blog piece about working for Alistair Horne I had several interesting emails from people who wrote to me about the influence of an encouraging boss.  These people had shifted some internal and external blocks for the individuals working for them, pushed them to do more than they might have done without their influence, sometimes helped them change direction entirely.  It made me reflect further on turning points – those moments where something shifts or you may take a completely new direction.  Some of these happen unexpectedly and others happen because you make them happen.  Perhaps, as you read this, you might remember those people or events that have changed your own life.

I am experiencing a turning point now – selling my flat near Gloucester Road.  It’s been a fabulous place to be, for work and for leisure – close to the tube, the park, my grandchildren, the museums, the Albert Hall and all of London.  Room in which to see clients when I was working and just about large enough to entertain a few friends or family from time to time.

It’s a wrench, letting it go.  I have had a place in London since 1968 so this will be the first time I have not had some kind of pad here since then – some 50 years!  I started off in flats in Rosary Gardens, Observatory Gardens, Harrington Gardens (lots of Gardens though no actual garden to be enjoyed in any of those!).  There were sometimes four of us sharing, sometimes five.  We were strangers to one another – finding flatshares through ads in The Times or Evening Standard.  The flats in Rosary and Observatory Gardens were in the basement and there would be slugs crawling up the walls and condensation crawling down.  But we had fun.  I remember Harrington Gardens cost me £22 per month rental – but then I was only earning around £800 a year in 1968!

And now I have broken out in shingles.  Blast!  Funny how the body reminds you of the pain you are in (sometimes rather painfully, as now!).  Of course I should know all about it, having written Emotional Healing for Dummies with David.  I knew that it hurt to let go of this flat and yet I was too busy to stop and feel that sadness – and selling it is anyway an essential part of David and I finding a nice house in Kew.  And sometimes we have to let go of one thing in order to allow in another.

As I walk these familiar streets before moving out, I remember the ‘60s, High Street Kensington and Biba, the platform boots and short skirts.  The air of optimism.  It feels different today – but then of course none of us knew, in 1968, how ghastly the 1970s would be with power cuts, having a meal or bath by candlelight, the three-day week.  So none of us know what is around the corner now.  It looks gloomy but who knows?  The ‘70s doom was followed by the ‘80s high.  Life often surprises us.

Reflecting more on turning points, my first one was when I was around four years old and my parents returned to the UK, having lived in Portugal for many years.  My father’s family, the Bucknalls, had a long history in the cork and shipping trade in Portugal but he was advised, in 1954, that plastics would transform the cork business and he would be better advised to return to England and find a new direction.  Both my parents loved their life near Lisbon.  My sister, brother and I had also been very happy growing up in the sunshine and warmth of Portugal and its people.  So it was a sad moment for all, I think.

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Lessons from an exceptional boss: Sir Alistair Horne, CBE, Litt D. 9 November 1925-25 May 2017

The historian Alistair Horne died on 25 May this year and would have been 92 today, 9 November.  I worked for him for some six years as a researcher on The Official Biography of Harold Macmillan.  I suspect we all have a teacher or boss to whom we feel grateful .  For me this is Alistair.  I learnt so much from watching him write and feel now that I would like to capture some memories of my time working for him.

I remember that it took me six years to move him from his old portable Olivetti typewriter to a word processor.  As a long-established writer and journalist, he tapped away surprisingly fast with two fingers but eventually he did see the benefit of being able to erase errors and edit paragraphs without the necessity of Tippex or multiple attempts at retyping specific pages to fit into his manuscript.

It was probably the only thing I was able to teach Alistair.  When I started working for him in 1983 the ad in The Times was for a researcher for an “established author”.  Established, he was.  A historian with many books to his name including the classics A Savage War of Peace, on the Algerian War, The Price of Glory, Verdun 1916, and The Siege of Paris.  At the time I met him, he was busy recording the life of Harold Macmillan.

I had just begun to feel ready to take on a job that was more demanding than the freelance picture research I had been carrying out for Penguin and Macmillan.  My younger son had recently started nursery and I had more time on my hands.

On reading the advertisement for Research Assistant, I wasn’t sure whether I was sufficiently qualified for the job.  I discovered later that Alistair had received some forty applications, many of which mentioned degrees, which I did not.

I had worked for Macmillan publishers for many years, first as a PA to an editor, Caro Hobhouse, and  it turned out to be Caro who was editing Alistair’s biography.  In my time in the editorial and picture research departments,  I had come across Harold Macmillan as he would come into the office about once a week and walk around talking to the staff, senior editors and Board members.

So when, many years later, in 1983, I called the number in The Times and discovered that it was Alistair Horne writing the biography of Harold Macmillan it felt a little like destiny.  At the interview the coincidences continued.  I discovered that I was to take over the role of a previous Research Assistant, Serena Booker, who had been tragically murdered in Thailand aged only 27.  Serena was the youngest daughter of my prep-school headmaster, John Booker and his wife Peggy,  and sister of Private Eye and Daily Telegraph journalist, Christopher Booker.  I remembered Serena running around my school, a much-cherished little girl with blonde hair and a lively nature.  These were sad shoes to step into.

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Respect is a two-way deal

I fear this may turn into a bit of a rant … but if you’re sitting comfortably then I’ll begin and we shall see.  Equally, you can always switch off but I hope you will hang on in here and see if it makes you think about how policies are being formulated today and perhaps question what feels fair.  The issues I discuss revolve around some of the news stories that have been reported in the media recently and that have made me question how minority interests can alter the way all of us are being treated, whether we like it or not.

For example, I read in the paper yesterday that Britain’s Foreign Office has said that the term “pregnant woman” should not be used in a UN treaty because it “excludes” transgender people.  Well I am sorry, I have every compassion with transgender people and hope that their needs are met and supported.  However, no-one has asked me (or, I suspect, many other women) how we wish to be described in any UN Treaty.  As a mother I choose to describe myself as a woman, as a ‘she’ or a ‘her’.  I don’t mind if others call themselves ‘ze’ or ‘it’, or any other pronoun, just so long as they understand that it is respectful of my wishes to call me a she.  As a pregnant woman I would have wished to have been described as such and not as some kind of neutral person.  A pregnant transgender can choose for themselves what they prefer but not impose this on me.  Just let me also choose.  Surely the aim of inclusion is just that.  By raising the identity of one group one does not have to wipe out the identity of another.

This news comes on top of the Office for National Statistics stating that they may no longer list whether we are a man or a woman in the next census.  Apparently ‘other’ is not acceptable to lobby groups as a third option and so we may all be lumped into the same box as just ‘people’.   I find this somewhat offensive.  Mind you, I don’t mind being offended as I believe it is good to have one’s thoughts challenged.  Nor do I mind being outvoted but both need to be based on the premise that someone has asked my opinion.  But they haven’t.  How many people have the ONS actually asked about whether this is acceptable?

I cannot see how the government, NHS or educational establishments can plan for the future if they do not know which type of people they are planning for.  How do they ensure that there are adequate ante-natal and maternity services in the future if they don’t know how many women, or indeed transgenders, may end up needing them?  How can they ensure that there are adequate services to cover prostate cancer if they don’t know how many men might require them?  How do boys’ or girls’ schools plan places if they are not given detailed and reliable statistics in the Census about how many boys or girls are being born?   Of course transgender requirements also need to be taken into account in a more inclusive way but men and women should not be lost in the process.  It’s taken centuries for women to be counted at all so I am loathe to become invisible again.

We need to promote diversity and respect for every person living in this country, whether this relates to gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, but it seems to me that those who profess to be most liberal and who demand respect for themselves are in danger of neglecting to grant respect to others.  If I am willing to call you ‘ze’, please allow me to be called ‘she’.

The discussion reminds me of a friend who, at the peak of the New Age movement in the 1990s, observed that there existed a “New Age Gestapo” – eg those who thought themselves so enlightened that they treated others as lower beings if they didn’t ‘get’ what the supposedly-enlightened ones were talking about.  “Oh, you’re not on the journey yet” or “ you haven’t reached that stage of enlightenment yet” they would say patronisingly.  Much the same is beginning to happen with the supposedly liberal diversity initiatives today – anyone who doesn’t immediately conform to the chosen viewpoint (chosen by a small but forceful group, I believe) is called a bigot.  And that approach is far from liberal.  It is fascist.

This was the sort of language that was used in a BBC radio play I heard about the subject, in which a mother at a school professed some concern that a boy who decided he was a girl could immediately have access to the girls’ toilets and changing rooms.  It seemed to me to be a perfectly legitimate concern but the woman in the play was judged as prejudiced and ignorant.  I didn’t hear any attempt to understand or allay her concerns.  Instead everyone who agreed with the transgender agenda, as it was expressed, was “right” and anyone who didn’t was “wrong” and should be put back in their box and over-ruled.  This is not inclusive nor respectful.  This is not integration and it is not an example of a desire to understand others.  The issues raised by the transgender movement are perfectly legitimate.  But just because some people believe themselves to be non-binary should not result in silencing those who wish to describe themselves as binary.

Unless all people can express themselves and be accepted in the way they prefer (though obviously not if it is inciting hatred or violence to others) then it is not reflective of true diversity.   What happens to those who would rather be called a pregnant woman, or told that their baby is a boy or girl rather than a person?  They are treated as if they are unenlightened, as if they are definitely not on message and therefore in some way antediluvian, rather than just someone with the perfect right to voice a different opinion.

But different opinions are not tolerated these days it seems.  These reports, along with the coverage of no-platforming, where certain lecturers are silenced at university, and where students demand ‘safe spaces’ or warnings before they read violent passages of war or rape, make me wonder what has happened to reasoned debate.  I read today that Cambridge University will provide students with trigger warnings about articles that may contain right-wing politics (why not also left-wing communism?), paedophiles or eating disorders.  This seems an anomaly as this so-called “snowflake” generation have been exposed to more violent and sadistic movies and video games than we ever were (I read today that horror movies are the fastest growing film genre) and yet apparently can’t be exposed to certain books or plays, including Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, in case it upsets them.

How can this elite group of intelligent young people attending university possibly learn about the history of humanity if they want to whitewash the reality of the cruelty and violence that human beings have and continue to carry out?  If they aren’t willing to learn from the events of the past how will they be able to identify trends that might threaten humanity in the future?  And why are the Vice-Chancellors pandering to these demands when university should surely be, as Universities Minister Jo Johnson stated this week, about freedom of expression and opening the under-graduate mind to new ideas?

Minorities need to be heard and respected but my point is that this does not mean everyone else has to conform to their demands.  I suspect that the majority of students understand that they need to read the nasty bits of history or literature but it is the minority lobbying for no-platforming, no-offence and gender-neutrality who seem to get their voices heard.  These lobby groups are influencing government and university bodies before the rest of us have had a chance to comment.  Everyone else just has to shut up, as do, it seems, those women who would rather be recorded as a “pregnant woman” or listed as a woman in the census.  On the one hand we are being told that gender is not binary but the argument around this is decidedly binary – you’re on our message or you’re not.

It strikes me that to move away from these binary arguments, which only cause judgement and alienation, both  young and old would benefit from practising formal debating skills.  Here they would be given the task of arguing for the opposite opinion to that which they have previously attached themselves.  This could enable people to realize that there are many perspectives and that there is often some good reason in the arguments of the other side that they might have closed their mind to previously.  This could result in closer understanding of common ground and a truer integration of diversity.  As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty:

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion…

(which leads me to think, on another topical and divisive subject, that this would be an excellent exercise for Brexiteers and Remainers alike!)

So, in summary, all I am asking is that if you wish me to understand your perspective and respect your right to hold it, then please do the same with mine and don’t demand that everyone is treated the way you wish to be treated, when they individually may wish to be treated differently.

 

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