Comfort_logo28 March 2017

“Why, Daddy?”
I can remember, when I was a parent of young children, how challenging this question could sometimes be. And how easy it was to get irritated, not by the question or the questioner, but by my own inability to answer, to explain some of the bizarre and – frankly – stupid things that grown-ups did. It was easier to use trite phrases like “Just why!” or “You’ll understand when you’re older”, particularly if we were on a crowded bus and there was an audience eager to hear “how I was going to get out of that one.” Particularly if the question had to do with where babies come from or why we weren’t now speaking to Uncle Fred. “I don’t know” didn’t really cut it.
Yet those pure questions are full of the wisdom of innocence, fabulous gifts for our rationale or our conscience to work on, fuel for our decision-making if we choose to use it.
I’m struck how important “Why?” is now. It is so easy to react against people, events, statements and actions, to go into that place in ourselves which is filled with anger and fear, which consumes all of us and stops us from seeing and hearing anything beyond our own hurt. And it’s absolutely natural; we are momentarily all-consumed by the pain when we stub a toe or twist an ankle but then, after the initial shock, we have a choice. We can be angry that this has happened to us or we can ask ourselves why we fell over or bumped into something, why we briefly lost our concentration or dropped our guard. We probably won’t learn much from the first reaction, we may from the second. We can reinforce the anger/fear in us or we can appreciate the learning.
When 9/11 happened and the world was changed forever, I was desperately sad for those who lost their lives and I shared the sense of disbelief and outrage that engulfed the US. After a while I asked myself: as a developed, seemingly civilised society, what had we done, what had the Americans done to make it possible for someone to conceive, justify, plan and execute such a dreadful act? What had we done to be so hated? How had we co-created this cruelty? Why had this happened?
It wasn’t possible, I felt, to simply retreat into the briefly comforting shell of anger, or to occupy the reactive high-ground with our eyes tight shut to the causations. Nor was hitting back going to solve the underlying problem, the fundamental issues that were the cause. We needed to “why?” the situation, to dig deep into what we had perhaps contributed to birthing that searing, messianic anger.
Now we have other situations to ply with that simple but essential question. Why? Why is Syria being destroyed? Where did the lineage of hatred come from that is fuelling that ghastly situation? Can we trace it back to Imperial interference in the Middle East in the 20th Century. Or the shame heaped in Germany after the First World War? Should we go back as far as Ishmael and Issac?
Why did the UK vote to BREXIT? What really lay behind the (actually quite narrow) majority to leave the EU? Can we reliably blame the anxiety over immigration or is there really a deeper disquiet, a distrust of the so-called Westminster Elite? How was it that Farage was able to so thoroughly spook Cameron into calling for a Referendum that clearly he wasn’t prepared for unless it returned the status quo? Why weren’t we doing something about the underlying causes before the Referendum, rather than leaving it to a misinformed electorate to knee-jerk in an ill-prepared plan to undo decades of development and co-operation? Why?
Meanwhile, across the pond, following a telling mirroring of our own, UK pre-occupations, is it enough to dismiss Trump’s win as the result of an electorate fearful for its future, bitter at the dereliction of disappeared opportunity, new and unfamiliar societal changes, and anger at the political establishment that encouraged the disintegration of old, American Dream “certainties” in the face of opportunist globalisation? Can we leave it there?
I think not. We have to go deeper. We have to get beyond the fury – stoked up every day passing the lines of empty, abandoned factories and homes on the way to the corner store. We have to ignore the easily inflated indignation of a media desperate to maintain ratings and readership.
Curiosity – purposeful curiosity which informs, as opposed to idle curiosity which sometimes merely titillates – is one of our most valuable human qualities.
Curiosity can lead to a thirst for knowledge, for understanding. In turn, this can lead to respect and – perhaps – compassion. Maybe compassion is the route to reducing our fear and its companion anger.
So even if we don’t fully understand the causations, the hurt that leads to cruelty, at least we could search for a better and less destructive way of reacting to hatred, perhaps we could learn from those it is so easy to call our enemies, perhaps we could look at and maybe heal our own hurt.
So I’m for curiosity. Particularly if it leads to more wisdom. As Franklin D Roosevelt once said: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” His words are perhaps prescient just now, as the world faces some hard choices ahead.

Be well


Random Acts of Kindness


It feels as though there is a lot of unkindness around at the moment. Trump is being horrid to Hilary (and other women), MEPs are seemingly slogging it out in Brussels, and some of us here in the United (soon to be Isolated) Kingdom have allowed our fears for our uncertain futures to become prejudice against our friends and colleagues from Europe. This makes me sad. So what can I do about it? What positivity can I personally inject into an increasingly toxic and confused situation?

Let’s turn to an expert. When asked what his religion was, His Holiness the Dalai Lama replied: “Kindness”.

So I’m going to try to be kinder and less judgemental. To just allow things to be and not get all puffed up about how “wrong” they are. To accept that even if people are acting really stupidly or with anger, I don’t need to interact with that part of them, but instead seek the bits of them that are loving and compassionate. Perhaps look out as well for the bits of them that are hurting. This isn’t going to be easy! The older I get, the shorter my fuse. But I’ll do my best.

Where to start? Maybe just smile at people. I don’t mean leering, just a quick, friendly image of friendliness. Smiles bring out the best in peoples’ features; even an apparently plain face becomes beautiful when it wears a smile, particularly a loving one. Smiles are not hampered by the inadequacy of language, nor held back by rationality. They just are, pure and simple.

We’ve all noticed, I’m sure, that whilst out walking in the lovely Cotswolds – and elsewhere in Nature – people actually say “Hi!” when you pass them on the bridleway. Occasionally, a conversation might happen. I don’t think this would be the case in Stroud High Street, let alone on the London Tube, despite the encouraging badges. So how about we start a trend?  We say “Hi!” to complete strangers in our respective metropolises, accompanied naturally with a smile. Perhaps beginning with 5 a day – like fruit and veg for our bodies, this could be good for our souls.

Here’s another – seasonal – thought: some years ago, at the Findhorn Foundation leading up to Christmas, a group of us played a game called “Angels and Mortals”. Some 25 people put their names into a hat and then drew a name out randomly, not divulging who they had drawn. They became a secret Angel for that person, finding out about their needs and desires, then answering those needs anonymously. A book someone had wanted would mysteriously turn up on their doorstep, a friend they had lost touch with would suddenly make contact, or an envelope with tickets for a concert would drop onto the mat. It wasn’t about spending lots of money, but it was about spending lots of goodwill.

The great bonus for the Angel was getting to know their Mortal better, as a kind of invisible networking went on, with careful questions asked of their friends and family, discrete digging into their recent past. And, of course, excitement mounted as the Christmas holiday approached; “Who could my Angel be?”, “Has my Mortal guessed yet?” Then, at a festive party, the Angelic host revealed itself to itself, with much hilarity and gratitude, incredulity as to how secret aspirations were uncovered, congratulations on the clever research ruses adopted and the lengths undertaken to conceal Angels’ identities.

Of course, Kindness can be effective in less exciting ways too. Sometimes it’s enough just being with someone regularly, being consistent, listening, watching out for how they are feeling, intuiting perhaps what they may be going through. Not judging, not trying to “fix” things – just being a friendly and undemanding witness.

And while we’re considering Kindness, it would be good to see how we could extend it to include other sentient beings. It doesn’t cost us anything more to be kind to animals; we could perhaps refrain from buying meat that has been reared in cruel conditions, we could encourage our children not to pull the wings off bluebottles, or we could reflect on the last few weeks in the life of a foie gras duck and choose an alternative Yuletide treat.

Finally, I’d welcome examples of random – or premeditated – acts of Kindness, both because it would be good to know that they are happening, and as an inspiration to others to follow suit, to take up the habit.


Be happy!