people are falling off the planet

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Walk any city in the evening and you will see people in shop doorways settling for the night. Huddling, or lying prostrate. Walk any side street or back alley and the stench of stale urine will rise to greet your nostrils.

Travel early in those cities and you will see, wrapped in sleeping bag cocoons or under piles of cardboard, those not yet risen. Some you will see with large bags or shopping trolleys to transport their worldly belongings. The lucky ones may have been left a coffee by a passer by or by a charitable agency.

Walk any city during the day and you will see an array of cardboard notices outlining each individual’s plight; some held, some lying by cap or cloth on the pavement. Or you will encounter those seeking some loose change or perhaps a spare cigarette.

This seems to me to be getting worse. More people with less. More living at the edge of humanity.

Yet, for the most part, we walk by. Perhaps increasing our pace or looking away to avoid eye contact. Maybe it’s shame? Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s security? Or maybe we simply can’t face what is happening around us?

What has gone wrong?

 

 

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willy-nilly aspersions

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It’s a universal custom. One that needs no explanation. It transcends language. Whatever the location. Whatever the quality of establishment. We simply know what to do.

And yet, there is always a card explaining.

Hang them up and use them again. On the floor and they will be replaced.

The card not only informs us of the required positioning for laundering, but helpfully reminds us of our green credentials by complying. We have done our bit for the planet, we are energy efficient and we can feel good.

Towels.

You probably knew that though, before I said it. Up to reuse, down to be replaced.

What if emotions were like this too?

When we’ve done with an emotion, we could hang it up to be used again. Emotions tidied away on the rail. Folded neatly and shelved for the next time they are demanded. Hung with care on the hook. Drying, ready to be doused in human interaction once more, as needed.

If we didn’t want them again, or needed replacements, we could discard them on the floor, willy-nilly. Cast them asunder as we go about our business. Drop them where we stand. Pile them up, like a well formed trip hazard. Toss them recklessly, in heaps of soggy emotions of various size and shape.

Oh hang on. We already do.

 

which doll makes you feel better?


I visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis yesterday.

It’s sited on the spot Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in April 1968 – the Lorraine Motel. Moving scenes.

Following the struggle of the Afican American through three centuries of slavery, abuse and segregation is a sobering insight into the darker side of human beings.

Maybe it reflects my own experience and knowing, but I found it more troubling to read of the twentieth century travesties than the seventeenth, where the importing of slave labour from Africa – somehow seems unreal; from a time gone by. The abuse in the street and the segregation however, in education, on buses, in everyday life… shaming stuff.

I learned much. Two things struck me in particular. I will cover the second tomorrow.

The first however was that in the 1950s a long legal battle came to a head, relating to segregation in schools. The legal team had contacted a group of psychologists who had researched the psychology of segregation. Their test was simple – it was called the doll test. They simply gave children, aged 3-7, four identical dolls. Identical, except for their colour. They asked them a number of simple questions to establish which doll they preferred. Overwhelmingly the children, whether white or black themselves , preferred the white doll.

The evidence was used to show how self esteem, a sense of inferiority and self confidence were affected by society, environment and prejudice.

The Supreme Court cited the work implicitly in the following passage: “To separate African-American children from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”

Really? No s***?

Something we should hold on to perhaps? The notion that some form of judgement made arbitrarily might impact the self esteem of those judged and give them a sense of inferiority.

where does the unseen go?

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Are yawns passed on from person to person?

Do yawns travel the globe; as people of all nations, all creeds, succumb to the inevitable copying of the yawn they have just observed?

Are yawns like a Mexican wave? A chain reaction? Passing across humanity like an unheard scream?

How many are there? How many are travelling from person to person at any one moment? How many open mouths and deep breaths are currently occurring, right now?

And, what happens if a yawn is unseen? Does the yawn die?

Do yawns only continue to exist in this world because several people seeing a single yawn will replicate it, twin it? Maybe twinned yawns compensate for dying yawns? Maybe this is how the yawn species survives? Clever.

 

when the mocha is identical, but not the same…

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This facade was familiar, if a little unsettling. The colonial look unexpected, but befitting the environment of the town and surrounding shops. On entering though, the internals were reassuringly recognisable, for that particular coffee shop brand.

Feeling safe and on solid ground, I approached the young man behind the counter. “I’d like a tall salted caramel mocha please.” I said.

He politely and cheerily replied “Sure sir, I just need to let you know we’ve run out of the usual syrup, so we’ll put in another one. But it’s identical.” He punched some buttons on his display, already in slick, automated drink delivery mode.

“No it’s not.” I said.
“Not identical.”

He paused, holding a cup, looking a little taken aback – possibly not used to a challenge, or to my English humour? He looked a little less certain, but meekly offered, “It normally has toffee nut syrup in, but we can put hazelnut in instead. It tastes just as good.”

“But not identical?” I offered

“No.” he conceded, before asking me my name, to write on the cup which would soon contain my ‘similar’ salted caramel mocha.

The other day I ordered a chilli (chile?) mocha. Medium, this time. The girl taking my order asked, “Hot or cold?”

“That’s sophisticated.” I grinned.

She looked puzzled.

“…to offer different varieties of chillies?” I said.

She laughed. “I meant do you want a hot drink or a cold one? … That’s good though.” she muttered, grinning widely.

Pedantic? Maybe?

I like to think I engaged this young man and woman in some banter. Something to add a little spice to the daily grind of latte, cappuccino, chai tea…

A little variation, a little change, a new reflection, a new awareness, a smile. All good ingredients for drinking in life.

the contradictions of light

sunrise over Niagara Falls

We are fascinated by light.

Our world is governed by it. Sunrise, sunset. Morning, night. Seeing, not seeing. Awake, asleep. Healthy, poorly. Life and death. Light controls our biological rhythms. As living creatures we are inextricably linked to light.

We are drawn to light, like moths almost. Who hasn’t paused to watch the sun rise or set? Who hasn’t marvelled at the richness of colour in that morning or night sky? Glistening dew and its water droplets reflecting sunlight. Sunlight dancing through a wooded canopy. A flash of lightening startling the dark sky.

We use light in idiom too, reflecting the importance of light to us. Idioms like: Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. A guiding light. In the light of… Out like a light. Shed light on. The light dawned. The glint in your eye. Even enlightenment, or seeing the light, to describe finding a connection to something greater.

And we try to replicate light in our manufactured world. Fluorescent light, incandescent light, light emitting diodes, laser lights etc.  We use them to create brightly lit advertising displays, televisions, laptops, mobiles, rooms, houses…

I took this picture of sunrise over Niagara Falls this morning. Somehow, the man-made advertising light on the hotel seemed to destroy the majesty of the sun.

It served as a reminder of our fascination, alongside our abject inability to come close to the wonder of the natural world.

 

boundaryless lessons from rural Canada?

How do you know you’re not cutting your neighbour’s grass?

Travelling through rural Canada I notice properties don’t have boundaries. At least not visible ones. There are no walls, fences or even shrubs to mark the limits of one property, or to mark out the boundary with another.

Maybe it’s to do with space? When you have the large amounts of land they do here, maybe the space itself removes a need for boundary? Maybe the land is forgiving, so the people become so too?

In life, we tend to create boundaries for safety; to keep out potential intruders into our personal space. Silence is one of our best employed boundaries; keeping others out. Or, we create boundaries of belonging; tribes and groups that provide safety against threat from other tribes.

Maybe it’s the very marking out of where you stop and I begin, that creates the boundary between us? Be it between groups or individuals.

Yet in relationships of all sorts, we mark out our territory, then check with the other person whether it is safe to proceed. An office door – a polite knock. A first date – holding hands. A bag on the neighbouring train seat – permission to sit down.

I wonder how it would be for us to give each other all the space these Canadian home owners do? And if we did, whether our relationships would also become boundaryless?  A land where there is space. Space to be different, space to be free, space for autonomy, space to have purpose, space for compassion and humanity? Space for each other?