Thursday, 7 August 2014

World War I - How we remember

It would be impossible to miss the fact that, this year, it is one hundred years since the outbreak of World War I. It's on the news, there are special editions of much loved programmes, and even favourite tourist attractions are plastering themselves in memorabilia.

Although there are no longer any veterans from that conflict still alive, there are a great many of our population who suffered from the aftermath of it. Some have had to grow up with a father or uncle who had been scared or affected by 'shell shock' or the mustard gas. There are many more who were deprived of parents or grandparents, and even great-grandparents, because of the untimely deaths of so many young men, many of whom were forced into the trenches under conscription. The affects of all war ripples down the generations.

World War I was considered to be 'the war to end all wars' and perhaps that is why it has often been referred to as 'The Great War', although that title makes me cringe. The naivety behind both of those titles, designed in such hope, must have made the outbreak of World War II feel all the more painful.

I feel like I'm stating the obvious here, but I want to make it very clear how much I understand the importance of remembering such a life changing and social ordering event. One hundred years is not really that long ago, if we remove our own life-spans from the timescale. It is right for us to recognise it and remember the fallen. Just as much, it is also important to remind ourselves of what was learned from such a war. The problem I have is the overwhelming amount of reference to it, that I'm becoming concerned that such a catastrophic event is being glorified and even turned into a celebration. No war, no matter how long ago or who was considered to be the victor, should ever be celebrated.

I've noticed that there are many recitals of poetry and letters written to loved ones by those on the front-line. Many of us recognise the ironic scepticism and human fear behind much of those writings. It is, undoubtedly, important for us all to be reminded of the human fear and suffering, and, ultimately, that war consists of innocent people fighting on behalf of politicians. Sadly, there are young people that will only catch on to the 'bravery' aspect. They will see war as the strength and might of men standing shoulder to shoulder, as in the picture here.

It was right that there be a commemorative service at Westminster Abbey and in four years time it will be right to demonstrate a celebratory feel to match that of such a horrific war coming to an end, but our media need to be very careful of how their behaviour in-between could turn young opinions to a state of 'glory in conflict' even if unintentionally. It is interesting that, even up until recent times I was never aware of what caused the outbreak of World War I. It was always very clear to me, even as a child, the cause of World War II. It makes me wonder, to what extent, our own country regretted the allegiance that dragged us into such horror. As much as nations should unite against any kind of impending invasion or political atrocities and tyranny, there are ways and means to all peace-making and I wonder if there was something else on the table which, having been rejected, would have been a better option. I can't help being suspicious of things which appear to have been kept silent, especially under such historic circumstances.

I've been told, although I don't know how true this is, that these references to World War I are going to continue along this route for a full four years until we reach the centenary of the end of the war in 1918. I truly hope not. We need to stop now and return to everyday thoughts, news reports and programmes, until we are called on to mark the other end of that war in 2018.

If anyone wants to demonstrate to any youngster that war is NOT glory, let me take you back to the earlier picture. If we home in on one soldier .......

War is heartbreak, no matter which part you play, no matter how close or distant, it is heartbreak.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Emotions of Loving Kindness

Emotions are the oddity of creaturely life! Emotions are the 'unseen' that paints our behaviours and our lives. Emotions can be beautiful, they can display the love, compassion and true connection for others and our world, the part of us we call 'the heart'. At the other extreme, the display of hatred and anger when understanding is hampered and the only emotion which comes forward is fear, which blocks all other feelings. In the middle is a vast array of other colours and shades that form our character, temporarily or permanently.

Emotions are working on us all the time, 24 hours a day. The emotions that we pay most attention to are the ones that have intensity. The most recent, in my case, and as an example, was that of fear, not the aggressive kind, but the one that puts butterflies in your tummy. We refer to such times as 'nerves', and yes I was nervous. When I'm nervous, I pace, which actually amounts to good exercise too ....... who knows how many calories I burn off!!! (laugh!) Luckily, most of those around me found it amusing and in doing so, helped me keep my sanity. I love making people laugh and, part of my brain kept switching to 'fool' mode and, for brief seconds, switched me back to normality. Others were sympathetic which demonstrated I was being 'held' and that was good too, as 'playing the fool' is sometimes inappropriate. It didn't calm me down, nothing was gonna do that, but it did demonstrate understanding.

What is important here is how our reactions to the behaviours of others can make all the difference!

When we identify emotional extremes in others, our reactions to those extremes demonstrate our connectedness. We show others what we desire for them. Our reactions are 'key' to the marks we place on relationship. When you place this trail of thought onto the 'bigger picture' we all have the power to send people along a particular thread on the web of life. Again, using my recent experience as an example, because I was treated so lovingly during my nervous experience, I was enabled to recognise my own nerves and laugh at them, and even accept them as part of what was happening, as it was a big occasion. In turn, this meant that as the event I was nervous about took place, it was for me to find my own centre and experience it to the best of my ability. In other words, those around me had given me permission to be myself and allow the outcome to be in my hands. The thread I would have been sent down is the one which held the positive outcome. Had I experienced adverse reactions to my nervousness, my nervousness may have increased and so, not only the event, but the reactions of others would have added to how I was feeling, possibly leading me to lose sight of what I had to do and then the experience itself, had it gone badly, would then have coloured my self-esteem, even inviting levels of blame. The thread I would have been sent down is the one which held the negative outcome. In both cases, I'm moulded, effecting how I respond the next time I feel nervous.

Fundamentally, we are rarely aware of our reactions, we 'do' by instant reactionary impulses and don't 'think it out'. Because these things happen so naturally, we display, without intention, 'who we are'. Isn't it a natural human need to be seen as loving and caring and be liked and loved? Yet, we can affirm or dispel these positive thoughts towards us, by others, in a split second.

Most important to all of this is how we are all part of the web of life, not just our own part, but we are interweaved with everyone around us. We are so connected and yet 21st century life seems so individualistic, disconnected. Our aims are, so often, purely to do with our own wants and needs that it becomes far too easy to forget to check ourselves for how we respond to one another. If we could all remember just how amazing life is and that we are so much part of each other's lives, even to the most fleeting of interactions, the guy on the bus, the woman in front of you in the queue at the supermarket, the salesman, the taxi driver, the doctor, etc, etc, etc,. We leave marks on everyone we meet. How amazing is that?!!!

And so:
Speak slowly and hear the words coming from your mouth.
Speak slowly that you have enough time to recognise the impact of what you say.
Speak slowly that you are sure your words will have the effect you wish for 'the other'
Speak slowly that you are sure your words will colour you in loving kindness by 'the other'
Speak slowly and precisely.
In the words of Max Ehrmann "Speak your truth quietly, and clearly"

May we meet each other on the web of life at the point of 'loving kindness'.