Bloggers4Peace February Madness

The Bloggers4Peace monthly challenge is upon me, and it weighs most heavily.

When I saw Kozo’s challenge to create an advertisement for peace I must admit I felt my marrow freeze. Then I closed the window, which was open, encouraging icy tendrils to wander about the house, and snuggled under the blanket to think about options. Kozo has suggested that we construct an advertisement for peace by:

  1. creating a simple advertisement, like a slogan for peace; or
  2. writing a poem or a song that can become the “Imagine” for our generation; or
  3. creating a piece of art/photo that we can post on billboards that will promote peace; or
  4. writing a short story or screenplay for a short film that can be made and broadcast for peace
  5. And having fun

Well, to be honest my dears, I panicked. I am not an advertising person. I do consider myself somewhat creative, especially in the face of project meltdown, but my ideas for promotional material are generally met with derision. And now you want me to expose my inadequacy to the world for the sake of peace?

Well, if that’s the hardest thing I ever have to do, I’ll take it.

So, it’s project initiation, people. What advertising works? I suppose anyone who knows that can make a whole pile of money. I do not have a whole pile of money. Ergo, I have no idea what works. It’s not a promising start to the Peace Advert Campaign, nor for my claim to logical fluency.

Let’s not be downhearted! Dredge your extensive memory banks for adverts you enjoyed, EBL, and seek inspiration!

Let me see…there were those crazy mashed potato robots on the moon, and the dancing Guinness man. And the Coke advert, always the Coke advert. I quite liked Jack Dee walking on girders. Similarly who could forget the bald man in the photo booth or the Secret Lemonade Drinker?  Clearly what works for me is an element of humour and/or a catchy tune (and frequently, alcohol).

Then there are those other adverts where the tune invades your brain like leprosy, until the cells begin to necrotise. I hesitate to refer directly to them in case the infection spreads. Already I hear some of them clamouring in the background, like zombies shuffling towards me to eat my soul. No, I don’t want to advertise Peace that way! You. Shall. Not. Pass.

Images of peace are in danger of presenting a cliché: meditating buddhas and flowers and sunsets. Beautiful, I enjoy them immensely; the world is so effortlessly amazing while we poor humans struggle to produce anything so fine and fail to recognise the beauty in each other. Can I also whisper it though – perhaps a little…boring? For me these images can also reinforce the stereotype of passivity. To quote a leaflet I picked up recently “Pacifism is not peace at any price, but love at all costs.” I’ll add I also find those juxtapositional things irritating too. EBL is easily irritated.

Nevertheless, I strained my brain to think of how to make “love at all costs” appealing. It sounds a bit sacrificial otherwise. Think about telling people what’s in it for them. Well, what is in it for them?

I believe inner peace enables us to do more, to achieve more, to be more. I thought about the feeling of winning. And I thought of how the universe seems to hold its breath as great moments happen, and for a fleeting moment everything becomes balanced and at peace.

I thought of the breath I might take before stepping out of a plane to do a parachute jump (for charitable rather than military objectives, of course!).

I thought of Johnny Wilkinson preparing to kick the winning conversion in the World Cup in 2003.

I thought of a skier about to propel themselves down the slope.

I thought of Blondin crossing Niagara Falls

Like some Old Saint on his old rope-bridge,
Between another world and this,
Dead-calm ‘mid inward vortices,
Where little else but danger is.

I thought: are these images exciting and compelling enough to enable people to consider how inward peace leads to greatness; to learn that fear and rage and violence lead only to more of the same? As the wonderful Oscar Wilde said:

As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.

Perhaps when war and violence are seen as worse than vulgar, as actual blockages to getting what we want, we can move to that consummation devoutly to be wished, Peace.

Other bloggers working to promote peace include:

With all my heart, to all of you, namaste.

Afterlife

It has been a busy couple of evenings so no posting for EBL. Time to catch up, because I have been reading some posts and thinking about what to post and generally going a bit postal (largely due to the extra hours required if I am ever going to get finished with The Project).

Thursday night I was at a School Governors meeting and discovered to my amazement I had served eight years. Honestly, you don’t get that for murder. There is wise advice about not serving too long, and stepping aside to make way for fresh insights. So I am starting to think about a New Life after the end of this school year.

On Friday we were at the village quiz, and Sigoth was telling me about some of the questions he had been writing. We write the quizzes each month, and this time I had to leave Sigoth to it because of workload. Sometimes one of us has to do that, it makes the quizzes a bit more interesting actually. Oh look, EBL, stepping aside again!

The thing Sigoth was telling me about was that because the 1st February is the anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia Disaster, there are a lot of astronauts coming up on the 1st February date page in Wikipedia.

columbia astronautsIt made me think. I didn’t think about the astronauts so much, although generally I am sorry for the loss in that slightly disconnected way in which we recognise tragedies at a distance. What Sigoth noticed was that they all had Wikipedia entries.

I pictured the heroes arriving in Valhalla on the wings of that terrible explosion, and the fuss and confusion and awe of their entrance, followed by a slightly embarrassed silence during which Thor hissed loudly “Who are they again?” and Odin said “I’ll just check them out on Wikipedia…”

I wondered, in the event that there turns out to be an afterlife after all, whether I would finally have time to read the sum of human knowledge as embodied in Wikipedia; and how long it would take, as when I finished I would have to start again in order to pick up the new articles; and if, in fact I would ever finish.

Will the souls clustered in heaven, of whatever flavour they choose, find their Wikipedia entries a comfort, or a source of one-up-man-wiki? Or will they shriek and moan at their editors, pointing shaking, misty fingers at prose riddled with factual inaccuracy and misconstrued meaning? Is Wikipedia in fact setting us up for the Great Demonic Infopocalypse, in which the souls of the dead, maddened by falsehoods, typos and misconceptions, storm and rage the length and breadth of cyberspace in order to re-establish the truth. We will see endless wars of information updates, malicious hacks and outright libel, discussion forums flamed and bleeding, servers brought down under the weight of change and counter-change.

Oh, wait, are we there already?

I was thinking of starting a New Life. Now I’m wondering if I need to plan my New Afterlife instead.

Namaste.

Live Adventurously

Today has been a thoughtful, peaceful kind of day; the kind of day we all need once a week or so to recharge batteries and gird loins to face the tumult of the working week.

Today someone reminded me, standing there in her bandage from where she hurt herself through misadventure:

Live adventurously.

Today I tried something new, adventurously in my old lady, careful way. I finished knitting the baby cardigan for the imminent-new-team-member-by-proxy, and started knitting myself a cable pattern jacket. I have never knitted cable, largely because my mother taught me to knit and she didn’t know how.

“It’s really difficult,” she said to mini-EBL, and so for more than 40 years I have thought it too difficult for the likes of me.

Today I decided the likes of me would give it a whirl. So far, it’s looking pretty good. It’s fiddly and my fingers haven’t yet worked out the acrobatics of balancing three needles at once without spilling all the stitches while my brain still remembers to keep counting. Instead of my usual rushing, untidy, flailing knitting style, a kind of free-form fingered version of Norman Wisdom, I am having to learn to be thoughtful and quiet and peaceful as I work. I think it’s good for me.

Until I get lost and swear and have to unpick it and snap at poor Sigoth. So much for trying to speak more thoughtfully. It seems I can’t be thoughtful in two places at once.

That phrase, “live adventurously,” has a little more to add. It’s from the Advices & Queries of Britain Yearly Meeting (that’s how the body of Quakers in Britain are known, because they meet together once a year). It goes on like this:

Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak. When decisions have to be made, are you ready to join with others in seeking clearness, asking for God’s guidance and offering counsel to one another?

Today I thought quite hard about that. The first bit, the bit that sticks in the brain and can be easily remembered as some kind of mantra to help us try new things, that bit on its own can be a sorry excuse for recklessness and thoughtlessness. We can throw ourselves into wild new adventures without thought for how it will affect other people, or how we put ourselves or them at risk. On its own it’s not enough.

I have mentioned before I’m currently incarnate as a Project Manager. What I do is manage risk. It means I plan, plan some more and finish off by planning. It doesn’t mean not taking risks, it means talking them consciously, knowingly, considerately and in such a way that when everything goes wrong, and the Hellmouth opens, then you know what to do. It sounds dull, and often it is, although it plays to my strength of catastrophising everything around me.

Today I noticed the follow on bit for the first time, really noticed I mean. I’ve heard it many times before, but like a truculent teenager or defiant toddler, I have chosen not to hear it in my heart. I thought I could live adventurously and not worry about consequences. I thought it was a bit foolish, because EBL is by nature a cautious old bird.

The Advice, though, doesn’t suggest that at all. It says “Hey, EBL, when you have a bright idea, check it out with people whose judgement is sound, who know what’s what, who can tell you where their towels are.”

It’s taken me over 30 years to notice, but better late than never.

It’s funny how you think you know something, but then, when you finally look at it properly instead of brushing it aside with a “pfft, I know all about that!”, it turns out to be new and different and better than ever.

Namaste

Three Hundred

My dears, this is my 300th post and I wanted to celebrate my ability to churn out endless drivel with you all. I decided that clearly the best thing to do was to free associate with the number, but of course, I only got as far as that film and then ran into a cul-de-sac. So I am going to write about Leonidas instead, and why he is a banner boy for the peace movement. To be fair, this is also because I realise I have failed to respond to Kozo’s challenge to write about Acts of Kindness this month (I am interpreting a bit liberally here), so if nothing else my 300th post will allow me to meet my commitment and evidence a creative flair for twisting the facts to fit my own agenda.

Specifically I am not going to write just about the film, you understand, although in itself it is a guilty pleasure. Guilty because it is really not very good, and because it promotes a world view that I do not subscribe to. However, I think we miss something important it if we dismiss it altogether. Here, in my circumlocutory way, is why.

As a child I started to learn difficult words like “Spartan” fairly early because I was a prodigious reader. I associated the word in my mind with “spare” (as in “gaunt” or “basic”), because my brain likes to make those kind of links to help it understand.

Later I learned about Leonidas and his army of Three Hundred Spartans, in their bronze armour and red cloaks, and the inspirational story of their courage (the Spartan soldier Dienekes is credited with the response to the news that the enemy archers were so numerous their arrows would block out the sun that then the Spartans would fight in the shade – Herodotus 7.226) and betrayal – the treacherous dog Epialtes who showed the army of Xerxes the way around the mountain to ambush the Greeks.  It’s a great story and all the better for being about real people.

That quote of Dienekes underpins it all, and sounds ridiculously modern and sound-bitey. But the reference is irrefutably Herodotus, reliable or not.

Equally Leonidas was a man for a James Bond quip, almost certainly said with a slow drawl and raised eyebrow. According to Plutarch this time, when invited to surrender his arms by Xerxes, he replied “Come and take them.” You can hear the follow-on “…if you think you’re hard enough.” Who knew Leonidas spoke with a Glaswegian accent?

In short, Spartans admired brevity of word and the term “laconic” derives from their other name – Lacedaemonians. I am sure Twitter would have been more to their tastes than blogging.

The Spartans were unflinching in their dedication to duty and their commitment to military excellence. They understood the psychology of intimidation, and polished their bronze armour until it shone so brightly their opponents were terrified (being more familiar with leather than metal war gear). They had a rigid hierarchy and rigid rules; in a sense they were utterly egalitarian within clearly defined and enforced social strata. When their Three Hundred died at Thermopylae, the Greeks remembered them with a specially dedicated inscription (apart from the many other Greeks who died there, about 4,000 in all – never forget in real life they were not alone by a long way).

“Stranger, report this word, we pray, to the Spartans, that lying
Here in this spot we remain, faithfully keeping their laws.”

Those laws, so beloved by the Spartans, were fierce, and bred fierceness. Spartans were required to put the state above all else, including family. They exposed weak babies on the mountainside to die. They rationed food to teach children to survive by stealing, punishing any who were caught for carelessness. Both boys and girls had to participate in the education programme, but the boys went onto the military lifestyle, through a rigorous and dangerous series of competitions which not all survived. It was a Spartan woman who is credited (Plutarch again) with telling her departing son to return from war either with his shield or on it. Failure was never an option. The rest of the Greek states thought they were insane.

They would not have had much time for Bloggers for Peace or other such wordy tree-huggers. Their culture was founded on the antithesis of what we moderns call kindness.

Would kindness have made them stronger? Might it have allowed them to forge tighter links with the other, quarrelling Greek states and so present a stronger face to the Persians? The Persians were allegedly defeated because of the Spartan stand – not because the Spartans won the battle, but because it gave the rest of the Greeks time and encouragement to make their own more united defence, a bit like Chamberlain was credited with buying time for Britain to re-arm to fight Hitler. (The Persians also lost because of geography – crossing the Hellespont – and the complex logistics of keeping such a vast army fed and watered so far from home, maintaining incredibly extended supply lines over enormous distance. But who’s counting? The Persians were amazing; but we remember the Spartans, in part because they are better documented.)

And yet, and yet, the peace movement can still learn from them. We can learn as much about kindness by its absence, and the consequences of that absence, as we can by its demonstration. A friend of mine, now sadly no longer with us, used to talk about the need to study and understand war if we are to be harbingers of true peace. As a committed Quaker and refugee from Germany in the 1930s, he became an influential Reader in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London. He saw it as his best opportunity to work towards peace in the world.

So, back to that film. Apart from the undeniable enjoyment of watching graphically enhanced chaps running around in leather kilts and being tewwibly tewwibly macho (bless them), what can it teach us as a peaceful people? The inherent cultural norms in the film are not dissimilar to key Spartan values of freedom (as a justification for war) and military prowess as the pinnacle of achievement. Although the cultural practices of the Spartans have been softened in the film to make them acceptable and therefore sympathetic to a modern audience, the messages are recognisable across the millennia. Leonidas remains the hero. He does not flinch from what he sees as his duty. The story we continue to tell our youth is that we admire courage against the odds, in a very specific sense of going to war.

Be not downhearted though! We can redeem this story and make it shine. We can take back the narrative. We can oppose armies and the need for armies with our bodies and minds and hearts.  We can learn to stand firm and throw back a light hearted quip as we continue to deliver our message, no matter how unpopular or risky that may feel. If some of us are not up to the task, and I am often not, then we can hope that there remain at least three hundred who will not relent. We can hope that while they stand firm, unlike the Spartans, they can show the rest of us some kindness in our frailty.

Being asked why the best of men prefer a glorious death to an inglorious life, Leonidas said

“Because they believe the one to be Nature’s gift but the other to be within their own control.”

Let us take control and lead glorious, peaceful lives.

Other bloggers taking control include:

Mindmindful

Walking No Line

and everyone on The List

 

Namaste.

 

B4Peace goes Gutsy

Today my body betrayed me. Like a bad worker blaming her tools, I hold it responsible for my loss of peace and descent into frantic, darting confusion. Let me tell you about it.

Sigoth and I went to Quaker meeting. We hadn’t been for a very long time, but part of our decluttering project is to do, or do not, and not just waste energy talking about it. So off we went. I felt a bit stressed at the thought of giving up so much of my precious time when there are so many busy things to do, and then I thought “Get your priorities straight, old girl!” and calmed down.

The Met Office had promised us snow, but it was sunny, although a bit frosty and icy. Yesterday’s sleety deposits had otherwise disappeared and the sky was blue. We rattled along the road to town and I was thinking about Kozo’s post about the need to surrender ourselves to life instead of fighting all the time. It seemed a good starting point for an hour’s contemplation.

The meeting room where we sat was cold; Quakers believe in layers and being Green (while also turning blue). I had expected this, so was wrapped up like supermarket packaging. The room had seats and a few old benches, and very high windows which let torrents of light in but only allowed you to see the sky and tips of trees. Today even that was obscured by condensation. It’s an old meeting house, from 1793, when the Georgians had inexplicably not heard of central heating.

I waddled in and found a seat and looked around at my fellow sittees. We were in a circle, and there was the obligatory bowl of hyacinths on a low table in the centre. All around me were about 20 people, mostly grey haired, it must be said, while outside a couple of children were being taken noisily for a walk.

We settled in and started to centre down. This kind of quiet reflection is very different from meditation; it’s a collective exercise. In Britain, Quakers hold silent meetings for worship at which anyone moved to do so can speak. We waited together for the meeting to gather and for someone to be so moved.

That was when it happened. Like a woolly mammoth thundering across the frozen, pre-historic tundra, my belly began to roar. There’s always one in every meeting and today it was mine. I snuffled a little and shifted, hoping to coax the beast back to sleep, but it persisted. The mammoth was replaced by humpback whale noises; long yowling, mournful moans, rapidly changing in pitch and intensity. My guts groaned and whinged and shrieked, and everyone definitely didn’t let it bother them in that very definite way of sitting and not moving or tutting at all.

The whale frolicked alone, producing a lengthy and melancholy solo. I thought of Pink Floyd. Then it found a friend. Across the room there was a response and the twin voices joined in ecstatic harmony. My musical score moved to Wagner.

Inwardly I ran through a broad and thorough range of emotion: irritation, embarrassment, a terrible urge to giggle, boredom and frustration at my powerlessness to impose order on the processes in my innards. I had lost my inner peace and gained only a buzzing, blooming internal cacophony which completely distracted me from any meaningful contemplation. I thought of the joke at the original LiveAid concert: “There’s been a complaint about the noise. From a woman in Belgium.”

I wondered briefly about Belgium. Well, you do, and I say that having visited only last summer. I remembered the carillon concert in Bruges and felt better.

Meanwhile the chemical carnival cavorted with abandon, and those around me certainly didn’t hear anything at all. So much so that there was not a single piece of ministry for the entire hour.

My body surrendered completely to the demands of catabolism. My mind, on the other hand, was torn between right-brain incredulity at the sonic range it witnessed and left-brain attempts to solve the “problem”. My dears, it was almost rent asunder. I was exhausted by the end, but fortunately another tradition decreed tea and biscuits, to which in turn the rest of me surrendered utterly and so I was saved.

Other bloggers for peace include:

Namaste.

Lofty Ambition

I had a plan, as I have mentioned before, about how to spend my time rather than old-fogeying in front of the television. On the whole it has gone well this week, and I have been able to dig out my calligraphy books and write the alphabet badly with terrible pens.

I don’t rush things, you know. I was first introduced to the wonders of lettering very many years ago, back in the dawn of time when dinosaurs ruled the earth. They were terrible at calligraphy though; they just couldn’t hold the pen or brush in their stubby little fingers or beaks, and that was why mammals were invented. Opposable thumbs are apparently a Good Idea if you want to do nice writing (although I completely acknowledge that there will be artists out there who can do better with some of their toes than I can with all my fingers).

The great revelation about the writing-pretty happened at a creative workshop event back in 1991. That year I bought paper and pens and inks and did indeed practise the art and craft of writing very slowly, but carefully and mindfully, in wonky celtic script. The concentration required to produce even a wobbly line of text, to make it fit and to invest the care and attention it deserved, was completely absorbing and peaceful. Then I had 4th Offspring and started a Masters.

I always meant to go back to it and do some more. I meant if seriously and faithfully and nobly. It just never happened. Until this week.

The Plan, though, marches on apace and declares that this weekend I am going to work on Da Novel, get out and take some pictures, practise my classical guitar and revise my Anglo-Saxon. The Plan is full throttle, all-out mayhem, if followed slavishly, allowing no time for living, getting groceries, doing laundry or tidying up, and I think I meant only to do two of the four, depending on circumstances. So far, it is almost time to make dinner and I have achieved none of them.

It’s time to regroup. The reason for achieving none of those things is that, as well as the Plan, I also have a Project. Sigoth and I are now embarked on decorating the guest bedroom. We only got a guest bedroom last year when Youngest Offspring went to university. He and his brother still share it when they are home, for example at Christmas. We can only work on it during term times. So last weekend Sigoth and I sat down and devised a Project Plan.

Obviously I am the Project Manager; it’s my real job too, so I brook no argument. With great certification comes great responsibility. I have done a resource calculation, and estimated the time required for tasks. I am even going Agile on this baby and have time-boxed everything. This is because our last project evaluation revealed that the slippage was due to spending longer than planned (or needed, in truth) on some tasks. So we have learned and I have scheduled accordingly, as well as giving the team a pep talk.

As Project Officer, Sigoth is currently clearing out the loft.

Wait a moment, EBL! The loft? Didn’t you say you were decorating the bedroom?

Thanks for paying attention! Allow me to elucidate.

Have you heard that rhyme about the battle and the horse and the nail? You know, “for want of a nail, the shoe was lost” and so on. Go on, you know the one I mean.

Anything we try to do in EBL Towers turns out like that. In order to decorate the room we have to clear it, or at least have space to shift furniture about a bit. In order to make space we have to take out the boxes we put there while we decorated our bedroom before Christmas. That means we have to sort them out and decide what is going into the loft or to the dump. So we need to clear space in the loft for the things we want to store up there. Honestly, the painting bit is the really quick bit at the end.

I have to confess: Sigoth and I are hoarders. We have so much junk which we kept because it might come in handy. Or it used to belong to someone, like my dad, or Sigoth’s grandpa, and we don’t want to part with it. Or the Offspringses might conceivably want it one day. Or the putative grandchildren. Or it ought to be worth something on eBay. Or I’ll need it if I throw it out (this last is occasionally even true). Need I go on?

We kept our textbooks from university in case we had children who would find them useful. We graduated in 1983. One Offspring did indeed study one of my subjects. Unfortunately my textbooks were so out of date they were completely useless. They are still in the loft though. Just in case.

So last year we committed to the creed of William Morris and agreed to keep things only if they were useful or beautiful. It was a mighty change of heart, and we stumble often. But lofty ambition is what makes us human, and so we keep on trying. The text books will soon be gone. I might photograph them before taking them to the dump; it helps ease the pain. Declutter we must and we have set ourselves to learn the rules and by working hard we hope to pass the test.

What we have learned is the new-found delight of letting go. The all-new bedroom we now sleep in has space and light and only beautiful or useful things. The bed is useful, the blanket I knitted is both useful and beautiful. The pictures are pretty. The floor is clear. It takes no more than 10 minutes to clean, instead of over an hour. Every morning I wake up and fall in love with it again.

Letting go. It’s such an important lesson, but as said before, EBL is not fast. She is the tortoise, but the tortoise moves. Each day she moves closer to her goal, even if the route is circuitous and the goal also moves. Her ambition remains unwavering.

Each little success, each item taken to the charity shop or recycled at the dump or given to one who finds it useful and/or beautiful; each of these instances brings us both a little injection of peace. It is easy to learn a lesson that fits what we already think and do; learning to change is the hard part. Sigoth and I continue to learn, every day.

Namaste

A fighting opponent

“A fighting opponent” (8 letters).

I was working on a crossword yesterday before settling down to plan a post as part of Bloggers for peace, and this clue was giving me some trouble. Then I got it (it was the last one to do, that’s how slow I was!). I’m sure cryptic crossword fans will be sighing heavily at how obtuse I am, and those of you not cryptically inclined will be looking blankly at the page and wondering what is EBL on today?

The answer to the clue, in case you want to know, was “pacifist”, ie an opponent of fighting.  Geddit? I know, cryptic crosswords are a bit, er, cryptic…

So that was an interesting piece of synchronicity, or coincidence, and got me nowhere in terms of a blog post. Not unless I wanted to do something on favourite cryptic crossword clues. Such as “What a dog does round trees” (4 letters), or “Bridge is a card game” (7 letters).

So I settled down to watch the wondrous Borgen, as planned, and tried to let go of bloggery.

Wouldn’t you know it though? Not only did those delightful Danes live up to my wildly inflated expectations, and pull off not one, but two, absolutely cracking episodes; not only that, but also the first episode was about the war in Afghanistan.

EBL wears a serious face…

The show encapsulated a dilemma that I face as a pacifist. Once a violent set of actions have commenced, the next conundrum is whether to support further actions to try to reduce and minimise future harm, or whether to withdraw in order to resist collusion with opposing principles and actions. In the Borgen episode, the broadly left-leaning prime minister, who was trying to remove Danish troops from Helmand, had to deal with the fallout of a fresh attack by the Taliban which resulted in the loss of a number of Danish troops.

I am aware at this point that I am about to introduce spoilers for anyone who is planning to watch this episode, but has not yet done so. So if that is you, go watch it first!

In summary, due to public and media responses to the loss of life, she was unable to keep to the plan for a phased and managed troop withdrawal. She had either to withdraw immediately, allow the Taliban to claim a moral and actual victory and face the consequences (difficult but do-able for her), or she could respond by increasing the amount of equipment, resource and troop levels in Helmand (not what she wanted to do at all but an obvious choice for a number of others).

She was put under pressure by Afghani activists who begged her to support their country in promoting democracy. She faced down political opponents who wanted to pursue a more military (and macho) goal. She dealt with her own supporters who wanted to stick to the original plan (political suicide). Then she was faced by the father of one of the dead soldiers, who was himself opposed to the war, but who shared his son’s farewell letter with her. In it his son tried to explain to his anti-war father why he had joined up and served in Afghanistan.

It was a complex, emotional and brilliantly written story. The acting, as always, was superb. God, I love Borgen, even though political dramas generally are absolutely not my thing.

Maybe I won’t tell you what she did in the end. Did she change her approach, or did she stick to her principles and take the consequences? Just watch it already!

Actually what she chose is not important because (a) Borgen is fiction, and (b) the dilemma is always there, regardless of a specific choice at a specific time. What the show did was allow the audience to work out their own solution and agree or not with the way chosen by the character.

This dilemma is familiar to peace activists. It can split groups apart who should be working together. It causes loss of peace in itself, just by existing.

The Friends Ambulance Unit was initially set up in the First World War to provide conscientious objectors with a role in the conflict that did not violate their opposition to fighting, but allowed them to support and help those wounded in it. Again, this was not unilaterally supported by all Friends. Some preferred to go to prison rather than support the war effort in any way. It also operated in the Second World War.

Once we are committed to acts of aggression, it seems inevitable that there are innocent bystanders. In the 1980s I could not bring myself to support the immediate withdrawal of troops from Northern Ireland because I felt the vacuum that would have left would have caused greater harm and violence. It was a difficult decision. I opposed the troops being there in the first place, but given that they were, I felt I had to take that into account.

My dears, EBL is a pragmatist, first and foremost. I manage projects, which means most of my time is spent finding ways around things which don’t go to plan. Life is messy and doesn’t read my critical path, unbelievable though that is. I wash it all up at the end in an evaluation to try and avoid making the same mistakes, but in the heat of project delivery (and it can get heated, and much of that heat may well be generated by yours truly if someone defaults on their commitment, I can tell you! You don’t want to make me angry.) I ignore the why, and focus on the “if … then…” option of sorting it out.

It does not sit easy. Sometimes I feel I have sold my soul, and not just on projects.

I said “No” to sending troops to Afghanistan. They went. I won’t celebrate it, and even though there are examples of good being done, I am not sure I can condone it. While I am not comfortable with asserting that my ethical squeamishness is more important than, say, Malala Yousafzai’s right to an education, nevertheless, in my bones I feel that there is still some moral weight to my viewpoint. If we accept, as I think we must, Malala’s right to an education (and if you don’t, then that is another matter to be discussed elsewhere), then using this agreement as a basis for violent intervention and conflict does not necessarily follow. Trying to link the secondary actions as a necessary outcome of the first (Girls should have education; girls’ education can only be achieved by killing the Taliban; therefore we must kill the Taliban) is both flawed and lazy. There are other ways to ensure the education of girls. Nor am I trying to imply this was the given reason for the war, of course! The given reason was just as muddled.

If we fail to stand firm on this, we contribute to a single-minded, unthinking and inherently dangerous world view that whoever has the biggest gun gets to decide whether girls go to school, or whatever the issue is that is being fought over. There needs to be constant challenge and discussion and reflection on all important ethical issues to ensure that we do not simply fall back lazily on what seems the easiest answer.

And if we should have learned anything by now, it is this: the long-term effects of such “obvious” solutions demonstrate that violent interventions merely result in generations of future conflict even if for a while some girls get to go to school. This is true of the rest of the world as much as Afghanistan. The UK is still trying to deal with the impact of its colonial past. Other examples abound; feel free to <insert your example here>.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it..

My dears, I appreciate your time in reading this rambling and poorly constructed brain dump. I am not agile of word or fleet of keyboard when ruminating seriously. I beg your indulgence.

Other bloggers for peace who are more able and beautiful than I include:

And really, go and watch Borgen!

The light in me salutes the light in you. Namaste.

P.S. “What a dog does round trees” (4 letters). Bark.

P.P.S. “Bridge is a card game” (7 letters). Pontoon.

Getting back on track

EBL may be a grumpy old blogger who refuses to indulge the current cultural meme of “resolutions” and “goodwill” because she thinks she is better than everyone else. Bah humbug! But EBL nevertheless resolves to do things regularly and occasionally she manages to achieve some of them, at least in part.

Such heart-warming thoughts on a mild, damp January morning! I know, you want to thank me, but just can’t quite find the words…

The resolutions thing does get me grumpy though, and yet here I am dedicating time and web space to it. I did make a resolution last January as it happens, and I did keep it. On 31 December 2011 I was unconscious for a while, not through over-indulgence, but undergoing a general anaesthetic to try and restore some movement in my feet. It was a last resort by the consultant who had tried everything else, including hitting my feet with paddles to try and stimulate some healing. He didn’t know why it worked but it often did, although not for me as it turned out. And we claim Western medicine is scientific…take that, Richard Dawkins!

When I woke up, feeling all fuzzy and inexplicably happy (I love anaesthetics, it turns out!), I found I needed a visit to the little girls’ room. A nurse helped me up and warned me it would be painful to try and walk.  I discovered it was painful, but less than it had been before the anaesthetic. At this point she said a stupid thing along the lines of “Gosh, it must have been painful then!” as if I would be undergoing such a procedure for a minor bruise. I told her I was starting salsa class the following week so needed to be more mobile and she looked concerned and said maybe I should wait a bit. I am guessing she wasn’t used to humour, which is odd for an NHS employee who is exposed to so many humorous initiatives from bumbling politicians. Anyway, over the next couple of days I rediscovered the ability to walk from the living room to kitchen without agony. It was a revelation.

Getting giddy with excitement, I decided to try to lose some of the weight I had gained over the previous 4 years. Let me explain.

Middle Age is not kind to the waistline: my dears, I hope you are not too shocked to learn this! In addition, sitting around doing nothing because I couldn’t walk didn’t help, and I had ballooned even more than normal over the years of reduced activity. Sigoth was also suffering Middle Age, although otherwise relatively trim. So we both ate less, and moved more. I managed to start walking from the station to the office (about a 10 minute walk which had previously required a taxi), and lost weight. It was glorious.

I am no longer overweight. This makes me happy because I can move around more easily and I feel much better. I’m not too shabby for 50, which is just as well because that’s how old I am. I still can’t walk overly far, but I can shamble around town slowly on a good day.

Health blogs are boring, aren’t they? Especially the ones where it ends well.

What the foregoing was leading up to was the fact that I also took up a bit of yoga once I was able to stand in bare feet for a few minutes. The stretching is helping rehabilitate my tendons as well so it’s a virtuous circle.

Yoga blogs are terribly boring too, aren’t they? All the chanting and incense and silly posture names, like it’s a club for people better than you. (I believe real yoga people have a sense of humour, but I may be mistaken. It turns out I over-estimated the NHS, after all.)

So the point of that was to say I also try to meditate for a short while after the stretching and bending and generally amusing contortions. Middle-aged women starting yoga are just a bit of a laugh; fortunately most of us know this, and laugh along too. We particularly laugh because you don’t usually get to 50 without seeing the funny side of yourself, and also we know that it’s better to do something than nothing, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch, so we might as well enjoy putting in the effort.

And the point of talking about the meditation was that today I simply felt some joy as I heard the birds beginning to stir outside, and we welcomed the new day together. We don’t share joy enough, so I wanted to pass on some of mine.

You can roll your eyes if you like, I don’t mind, because I know I sound like a mad old hippy. But actually I am, and I wish you joy whether you like it or not. So there.

Namaste.

Peace Testimony

My dears, I need to share something with you.

I don’t feel comfortable with New Year Resolutions. For me there is an implied double standard, a bit like the implied double standard of swearing an oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. What this means, to me, is that the rest of the time I might not do that.  How very dare you!

The other day I wrote a piece about a blog I enjoy reading, so today I am going to tell you about another one, written by Fish of Gold.

There are many great reasons to enjoy the blog: witty stories, great quality writing and provocative articles. FOG also occasionally shares difficult and demanding issues and experiences, and in my opinion this is what contributes to turning the blog into a fully-rounded expression of being human (or piscine, if you will).

Recently FOG wrote about Bloggers for Peace, and it caught my eye in particular because I think peace is a good idea.

If you are interested in reading more about it, then you can click the badge on this blog or follow this link to Bloggers for peace. Just imagine – if just 100 bloggers commit to blogging once a month in 2013 about peace and what it means to them, we will have a great conversation with more than a post a day. All the How-to-do-it is there too.

I am a pacifist. I said I think peace is a good idea, but I don’t think it’s is an easy or simple idea. Crucially I find the some people equate it with passivity, but I am here to tell you that is not the case.  Pacifism is not passive surrender, it is an active obedience. That can mean upholding a difficult and unpopular point of view, and even facing persecution for it. It can (and does) mean that we oppose the use of force no matter what, even, for example, in 1939 against the Nazi threat. We uphold the essential humanity of evil-doers, while detesting and opposing their evil. We demand that they are dealt with another way, even though we might not know what it is, or how it can be done.

Many war-mongers try to validate their actions by claiming they are required in order to bring about peace. I can’t hold with this. To explain why I am now going to quote to you from the original Quaker Peace Testimony, so prepare yourself for some righteous 17th century olde English.

the Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, & again to move unto it; And we do certainly know, & so testify to the World, that the Spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth, wil never move us to fight and war against any man with outward Weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ, nor for the Kingdoms of this World.

The Testimony was addressed to Charles II in 1660 to demonstrate that Quakers, a heavily persecuted religious group, were no threat to the authorities, and had no intentions of rising up violently against the newly restored crown. At the time carrying a sword was as normal as carrying a mobile phone today, and people who chose not to do so were viewed with intense suspicion.

The nub of the argument was that it was inconsistent and unethical to say one day you were for peace and the next that you would kill people who disagreed with you. It identified a double standard. Quakers at that time decided this was not acceptable for them, and have kept to that ever since.

The Quaker Peace Testimony remains central to modern Quaker beliefs and actions. As a Quaker I want to uphold this testimony, although I fail and fail every day, then fail again. And every day I need to brush myself down and try once more.

Namaste

Compassion

My dears, I fear this will not be a cheerful post because EBL is not in a cheerful place. I have spent the weekend thinking sad thoughts and cannot be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on this grey Monday morning. But I can be hopeful.

Last week I was away from work and posting was a step too far after my first attempt. In a way it was because I forsook you all to go out and have fun with colleagues at our Christmas dinner. We went to a new restaurant that has just opened in Leeds and tried their rather expensive cuisine. The results were mixed. If they learn and improve it will be a fantastic place; if not, they will close down soon enough. Nevertheless we had fun in a sedate and civilised way and no one was unable to function back in the office the next morning.

That is not why I am sad. That is why one reason I have joy as well.

Over the last few days I have been reading the usual Christmas appeals in the papers, and learning about things I prefer to avoid during the rest of the year. I read about child soldiers. They are children, but at the same time they are soldiers. Armed and dangerous. Scared. A scared soldier is the most dangerous of all. A scared child needs our love more than any.

On a daily basis it seems, the news reports more and more instances of child abuse scandals, and in a shocking sentence this weekend:

“The alleged presence of household names adds to the intrigue, but in a celeb-obsessed age, there is a danger that, should such names not materialise, Rocks Lane will be seen as “just another” child abuse case.”

I felt quite ill when I read that. Do you usually read about grisly horror in the paper as you munch toast or sip tea, and somehow pass by on the other side of the road? I know I do most of the time, because it is debilitating to take it all in and treat it as seriously as it deserves. That sentence got to me though. We are in a place that says the abuse of children may only be considered sufficiently newsworthy if a celebrity is involved to spice it up.

Really? It’s not about the children, it’s about the perpetrator? Only a sufficiently interesting perp validates the suffering?

I had been thinking that, if nothing else was good about him, Jimmy Saville’s misdeeds had shone a light under a nasty big rock and let us see what people have denied for a long time. Now it seems all he has done is raise the bar for what is reported.

So my week wove into the tapestry of my life. Other things happened, inconsequential to you, but the kind of small mercies that keep me going.

Then our team suffered two bereavements. On Wednesday one person lost a dearly loved grandfather who had been seriously ill for a while and whose loss was tinged with that guilty feeling of relief that he was no longer suffering. Our friend was very upset, of course, and we all shared his pain through our memories of similar experiences.  We had all lost someone close at one time or another.

On Thursday the second person lost a dearly beloved grandchild to a terminal illness. The child had lived long enough to see their 12th birthday but not held out for Christmas. In fact making it to twelve was a miracle in itself. Again there is guilt in feeling relief it is over. This time none of us can understand how our friend must feel. We cannot comprehend losing a child, living as we do in our privileged, comfortable world. We think about the loss of the person, the pain of the family, but also the loss of his potential, his future family, his contribution for years to come.

My dears, I warned you it was not a happy post.

And so on to the end of the week, because time does not wait upon our sorrows. I am sure you are all aware how things turned out. We cannot understand it here in the UK. We cannot.

“This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. “

I am very sad today, and at the same time thankful for the examples of compassion I see around me every day. Compassion is the foundation of a life well-lived. It is our common, shared divinity, if you will. Buddhism speaks of compassion as our Buddha nature; Quakers similarly, a continent and centuries away from the Buddha, spoke and wrote of the Inner Light. If we cannot show compassion to those around us, we have no purpose.

“When others mourn, let your love embrace them.”