Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Talk to Me - 1 - How NOT To Communicate

Some of this is going to look obvious or even humorous, but the fact is, it happens. See if I'm not right.....

1. Unabashed criticism.

"You know what your problem is?..........."

Refer to this: http://chovblog.blogspot.ca/2013/04/shoulds-and-prejudices.html

2. Negative comparisons to others.

Whether or not your opinion is asked for, it is usually not a good idea to say:

"That's not normal behaviour" (Define normal?)
"My mother did it differently." (Just DON'T. Seriously. If you don't understand why....gah...)
"Most people........" (Likewise)
"Younger people....."
"More educated people............."
"In my old job....."
"Where we used to live............."

You get the idea. If you cause offence, people switch off. Comparisons are frequently offensive. The object is to get them to listen. So don't turn them off before you made your point.

3. Insults.

See above. It's not even relevant.

4. Old news.

Although you may be repeating yourself, or the problem being addressed has been repeating, deal with the situation in hand. And therefore do NOT say "I've told you before.................." unless the repeat offence is genuinely the crux of the problem. Usually, it isn't.

5. Anger.

.....is not helpful. So don't begin if either party is already angry, and if either of you gets angry during the conversation, pull back. Words spoken in anger cannot be unsaid, and they may not be the truth. Other emotions can be equally distracting. I'm going to go into this in more detail later in the week.

On a related note, shouting tends to turn people off too.

6. Preaching.

This isn't a lecture, it's a discussion. Talk AND listen.

7. Ultimatums.

.....have a purpose in our world, but they should be a last resort when diplomacy has failed hopelessly. Even then they should be phrased in such a way as to not be personal.

"....or else" is not advice. It's a threat.

8. Whining.

Any complaint should include a solution, should be presented to the person with the power to take action, and should present a case that what is happening (that you object to) is bad for all concerned, not just the person complaining. This encourages action.

9. Gossip, rumours, and lies.

Are not appropriate ways to communicate, ever. Withholding the (whole) truth is an appropriate strategy in some situations, but care has to be taken even there. There is such a thing as a "sin" of omission.

10. Folding your arms, looking away, huffing, eye rolling, tutting, etc.

Dismissing a point of view ends communication. Right there.

You don't have to agree with what you are hearing, but hear all of it.



A friend alerted me to an article this morning:


My first response was as follows:

It would be lovely to get paid for writing, but I actually resent people who set out to get paid for it. I doubt I could effectively explain that in a short comment. When I was a teenager, getting ridiculously high marks for English and my career's officer suggested journalism, I was given a tour of the local newspaper and decided there and then that I never wanted anything to do with it. It is only in blogging (for free) that I feel I am writing "right". I don't expect anyone to agree with me.

But then I thought, that's going to get me into trouble, so I may as well be even more controversial:

OR.........writing for money is like sex for money. 

So, now I have very few people not shaking their fists at me, I shall continue.

Writing is like talking, only on paper, or, in most cases these days, on a screen. Some people do get paid for talking, it's true, but at least they have travelling expenses, and probably large bills for their hair, clothes etc, our world being what it is. That doesn't altogether justify it, and let's assume the talker is actually doing it somewhere without all that. Many possibilities there, at a party, at the water-cooler, you choose. Do you pay him for his opinions? No, that would be ridiculous.

There are those who talk for a living such as teachers, priests, and TV newsreaders, but they do a lot more besides. They are not just spouting off their opinions. And then there are authors, who devote months to their art and produce a piece of work that is lasting, memorable, or possibly life-changing.

These days, because we have blogging as a real outlet for writing, we have a lot of free writing in the world. Some of it is quality writing, and some is not, but it's available for free. Where there is good blogging it is stealing thunder from journalism. Newspapers are dying, due to the internet, and online publications are, at least for now, mostly available free. So journalism is not the same as it once was, because things change.

In a way, blogging could be blamed for the lack of opportunities open to journalists, but the situation itself is not new. There have always been buskers and amazing pavement art, graffiti, and so on, but musicians and artists still found regular work. The difference is, buskers and street artists aren't whining about those who get paid gigs. In fact, plenty of artists and musicians use the "free" exposure to start their careers, which is why You Tube and Deviant Art are full of talent. Why is writing different?

Because for years the industry was a cosy environment where really bad writing flourished, and hacks got paid by the word. Journalism, in fact, could be quite a dirty word. Mistakes, rumours, or complete fabrication, intrusive behaviour, and some of the worst grammar in print. There are exceptions to every rule, I'm fully aware of them, and the very best rose to the top, deservedly so. That's how artistic life is. It's a contest. The arts are not like other jobs. 

And here's why. Not all writing is equal and some is a matter of taste. Just like music, just like art. I have explained many times in my blogging life why I don't get involved in the writing community, and frankly, people don't like it. My first post here at Blogger was this one:


If you write something, and get paid for it, good for you. Congratulations. On the other hand, if you write FOR money, don't expect any sympathy from me if you don't get it. The worst writing I see on a regular basis was intended for profit.

Don't bother telling me about bills to pay. If I didn't have bills to pay I'd be writing all day too. OR....I could spend all day dancing, and whine about not getting paid for that. If you've seen me dance, you'll know that nobody is ever going to pay to watch me wiggle. No, I write when I have time, for pleasure, and if one day money comes my way from it, great! But it's not a get-rich-quick scheme, it's a matter of quality, taste, and luck. And that's how it's always been, and how it should be.

If I didn't believe in writing as an art, I wouldn't be supporting my son as a full-time writer, who may never make a penny from it, despite the fact he is actually good at it, and he may just sponge off me forever. So this is not just theoretical. This is my life, I am sincere in my opinion, not just tossing words about, and nothing anyone can say will convince me otherwise.

And, you read this for free. Enjoy.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Talk To Me - Introduction

We are not solitary creatures, at least most of us are not. Humans are defined as social animals, we live in groups, like other apes. Not alone, and not in herds either. It feels like a herd sometimes, but our basic social structure remains the tribe, really, and then the "village". Extended family, extended that is by friends, friends of friends, and then the community around us.

For many reasons we do better in this arrangement, people to talk to and more people to call upon when we need them. People who we have some sort of connection to, by blood, choice, or coincidence. Your own group may be small or quite large, but within it, without a doubt, are people who while being part of your tribe or community, are not like you in ways that really matter. So we don't always agree with these people.

It doesn't make them bad people. Or you for that matter. We can't all agree all the time.

There a bit of an old saying that goes around - why can't we all just get along? I think there are two reasons. One is that we don't always communicate well. I'm passionate about good communication, but it's not always easy. There are several reasons for that, not least that we aren't always fully conscious of our own feelings. Sounds absurd, but it can be easily demonstrated.

The other reason is that we seek different things. AND, sometimes we aren't sure what it is we're seeking. That in itself can make communication difficult, either because things just aren't being spoken (how can I know what it is you want if you don't tell me?) or because we speak, but don't listen.

It manifests in funny ways. It can cause arguments between people who really love each other very much, it can make people stubbornly refuse to listen, it can make people fight in public over silly things.

For someone like me, an amateur but dedicated observer of the human condition, it can be a bit of a head-scratcher. It's no easier for the experts. The psychologists, philosophers, anthropologists, and community leaders all spend some time, or quite a lot of time, trying to analyse why we can't all just get along.

Now there are all sorts of suggested solutions, and obviously LET'S TALK is right up there, but making it happen is quite another matter.

How do you open a dialogue when one or both parties are on the defensive? We see this plenty of times here in social media. People have hot buttons, oh boy do they ever. I've got 17 years of experience of this form of communication and I still make mistakes sometimes in how I express myself, and I know I'm trying really hard. So for those more recently "arrived" as it were, and without a powerful desire to communicate clearly, and/or without the right attitude...well, it goes without saying. Things can blow up fast.

People argue more readily via a screen than when face to face, but there is still plenty of conflict face to face. Far too much. It makes no difference the situation, frankly.

So, sometimes we try to solve these conflicts, we try to make peace, we try to pour oil on troubled waters. How many times have you seen attempts at peacemaking cause even more argument?

The biggest dilemma becomes when to speak and when not. 

Or, to put it another way, when to STFU?

There are those who will tell you "I always speak my mind". I'm not sure if it's true. If you actually did, it's very unlikely you'd do very well in life. Speaking your mind can get you into a lot of problems. Tact and discretion can be life-savers. On the other hand there are few people who never voice their feelings, even if it only happens in times of utter frustration.

Over the years I've often been an adviser to those with communication issues. It began in school. Why did I take it upon myself to do this? What makes me think I'm any better at it than anyone else? Can't answer either of those, it just happened. I've just always done my best when called upon, acknowledging that I may be wrong. Also acknowledging that I may be right and misunderstood or rejected. Such is tribal life.

It is incredibly difficult, and often inadvisable, to offer unsolicited advice. We've all received it, after all, and among the unsolicited advice we've received is advice so very far off the mark that it's frustrating or laughable. So we are aware of that (hopefully) when we decide how to open a dialogue ourselves.

I suggest that although there are many levels of this, the process is always the same. Whether it is between a couple, between an employee and employer or supervisor within the workplace, between colleagues, between neighbours, between parent and child, between siblings, between more distant family members, between friends, between service and customer........ or between entire nations. If there is to be a resolution of conflict the communication must be:


In no particular order, because they all matter. I'm going to spend all week on this topic, because I find it interesting, and I think it's important. Uppermost in my mind the whole time is the problem of not just what to say but what not to say. Even the Bible has something to offer here. Ecclesiastes 3:7 "......a time to keep silence, and a time to speak". (Pity about the next line, but that's the trouble with quotations).

Friday, 26 April 2013


Regarding yesterday's blog, somebody said to me "Yes, I agree, we shouldn't be judgemental". Actually that wasn't what I meant at all.

Without judgement we are amoebas. One of the arguments given against being judgemental is that it's natural to judge. They are missing the point completely, but it is.

The point actually is that "judgemental people" doesn't mean "people who judge". It means people who judge too quickly, possibly unfairly, and then behave, according to that judgement, in a way that can very detrimental to those they judged.

When James was 14 I took him to England for a holiday. We visited family members he hadn't seen since babyhood, looked up ancestral places, and had a jolly good time. One night we were walking through central London, and he was wearing a "hoodie", with the hood up. People were crossing the street to avoid him. Of course he thought this was an absolute hoot, and did his level best to act as dangerous-looking as possible.

Was that judgemental of passers-by? Yes, very. But not foolish. Crime in London is linked to youths in hooded sweatshirts. It's a type of sartorial profiling, if you like. Their behaviour was understandable. It did James no harm.

On another trip to Europe, with Alex & Michael, we experienced two other forms of judgement. These were a little more controversial.

In Paris, we were walking up the steps to the Louvre, and all around us were students greeting tourists and offering to be guides in the museum. The game was that they'd guess your nationality and greet you in the language they assumed was appropriate. If they got it right, it was an opener, a good guess could earn them money, so they tried hard. One of them approached Alex, with a huge hopeful smile, and said "Shalom!".

Michael and I were just about helpless with laughter, and he's never been allowed to forget that. But those of you who've met Alex can understand the assumption.

However, there was a slightly more serious assumption made early one morning in London. He'd gone for a walk before Michael and I were up, and while taking photos of Victoria Station, managed to get the interest of two armed police officers. He avoided actual arrest, by deleting the photos he'd taken, in front of them, by being polite and co-operative, and not least by having grown up in the town where one of them went to police training school and being able to name the nightclubs there. Because convincing anti-terrorist cops that your dark looks and compromised accent are just a quirk, and you really are a local boy on holiday with an interest in architecture, taking photographs just after dawn, is a jolly good idea.

I tell these three anecdotes to illustrate different forms of judgement that some people would get upset about.  We didn't. In each case we understood the situation, and after all, they gave us endless laughs when re-telling them.

If, on the other hand, James had been attacked, Alex had been arrested in London, or spat at in Paris, it would have been different. We'd have had cause to object to the reaction.

It is our reactions that matter. We are allowed to think, and make mistakes in those thoughts, and then sort it out in our heads how to proceed. That's called discernment and it may have a bit of a delay while we decide how to act, or simply to speak. Our words and deeds are what count.

But what about intent?

It matters, obviously, but if it is under control, if there is good, rational decision making going on, there isn't a problem. You don't have to like everyone. Nobody likes everyone. You don't have to trust everyone. In fact to do so would be damn silly. What you do have to do, is behave in a way that causes no harm to people just because you don't like or trust them. And that's an order.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Shoulds and Prejudices

I wish to make the assertion that everyone has prejudices. There are specific prejudices we think we don't have, and it can be tested....


....but there are others we don't even think about at all. It sometimes takes some courage to admit we do harbour prejudices, because the whole idea of having prejudice at all has, generally, become socially unacceptable.

First I want to examine what the word prejudice actually means, as it is sometimes used inaccurately. The dictionary definition is:


  [prej-uh-dis]  Show IPA noun, verb, prej·u·diced, prej·u·dic·ing.
an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.
any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.
unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile natureregarding a racial,religious, or national group.

To put it more simply, it is making a choice based on old feelings. Those feelings can be very real, and sometimes have to be consciously pushed aside.

I freely admit my prejudices, and I know other aware people have too. Once you do that you can work on them. It's not easy, which is why sometimes people don't bother to try to shake them off. It's easier to carry on as you are, or to try to justify it.

There's a more subtle form of it which I believe often gets overlooked. Some of us have taken to calling it "shoulding". This is where unsolicited advice is given.

"You should get a haircut".
"You should get a better job."
"You should lose 10lbs."

Or it can be in the negative form:

"You shouldn't buy lottery tickets."
"You shouldn't watch so much violence on TV."
"You shouldn't wear that."

Sometimes the should is hidden, but the meaning is identical:

"You need to get out more."
"You deserve a treat, splash out!"
"You owe it to yourself to dump him."

The person giving the advice can be quite sincere. They are offering their wisdom as they see it. The problem is, they are not the person being shoulded. They therefore do not have all the facts. But most importantly, they are giving the advice based on their own prejudices. They tend to deny this, if challenged.

So, this is common, normal, everyday, and well-intentioned.

I made a conscious choice, many years ago, to try to avoid this as much as possible. As it is such a natural form of conversation, it's really hard to avoid saying the word "should" and I think we'd drive ourselves mad if we tried to do that. But I try to think about how I offer advice, how it's worded, and try to save the shoulding for serious matters, and then, to prove it's important enough, skip the advice and go straight to an order.

Just trying, and probably failing often enough, has made me more aware of how we so easily fall into the trap of thinking we know what's best for others. Sometimes, when we change our words we change the way we think. At the very least it slows us down, it has a "count to ten" effect, which I really value.

I dare you to try this out, just for 24 hours. It doesn't count if you work in a bus route information office or something, obviously:)

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

We Know Fuck All

I have a little something to get off my chest, so this will be more forceful than usual.

The internet is brimming over with every aspect of reaction from last weeks events in Boston, from the most positive - appreciation of those who helped at the scene, to the most ridiculous - which I won't even dignify with repetition. You've seen it all yourself anyway.

Whenever something like this happens it raises a lot of questions, "why?" being the immediate one, and then "who?". Theories are plentiful. Many people assumed it was Islamic extremists, and when they were told that this was correct, there was a lot of self-congratulation. Because, you know, once we know that, all's well. Because we KNOW they are the biggest problem in the world. No we don't. We know fuck all.

There is an opportunity here to learn. It's the hardest way to learn. It's a lesson nobody wants.

In the 1970s, on the streets of England, there were people collecting money. They were sending it to a group of people in Afghanistan fighting to defend themselves against an unspeakably impossible enemy: their own government and the might of Soviet Russia. Their plight was regularly in the media, and they had much sympathy abroad. So, I gave money to the Mujahideen. Willingly. But not in full knowledge of what was to come. Because folks, only Allah knows the future.

Of course, things changed quickly. Having "won" (amazingly) the cause degenerated into what we now know as the Taliban, and you know the rest.

In hindsight, would I have sent that money? Of course not. But we think we know, we think we understand, we mean well. We didn't understand AT ALL.

Also in the 1970s, by sheer coincidence, money was flowing across the Atlantic to another cause. Through an organization called NORAID money was sent by Americans to fund the IRA in Northern Ireland. Americans meant well, and they thought they understood. To this day they will tell you the money helped families affected by the troubles. None of it went to pay for guns or bombs, they'll say.. But the IRA somehow did find lots of money, including that for bombs on the mainland. It wasn't leprechaun gold.

The simple fact is, that you never know what you are paying for when you send "support". You never know what will happen when you intervene. You can not predict the outcome of interference.

I found this on a comment on one of the news sites last week:

"So now US got a taste of Chechen Islamists. Would you call them "freedom fighters" now?

When Russia was busy eradicating them during the first and second wars in Chechnya the Western world cried wolf about human rights and Middle East monarchies (the same old Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc) funded them. 

Get a clue about Islamic terrorism. You can't "tame" it, whether it's AfPak region, Syria, Chechnya or anywhere else - it will backfire on you.


Same stuff with Al Qaeda:
Hillary Clinton: 'We Created al-Qaeda'

It sounds bitter, and it probably is. The point is, these people think they know what's what. No they don't......

Justin Trudeau, who, I hasten to add, I am no fan of, was criticized for naive responses to the attack at the Marathon, when he said:

".......we have to look at the root causes.”
“Now, we don’t know now if it was terrorism or a single crazy or a domestic issue or a foreign issue,” he said. “But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded. Completely at war with innocents. At war with a society. And our approach has to be, where do those tensions come from?"

This is not, as his critics imply, making excuses for terrorists. It's simply a fact. No matter how deluded, misguided, or outright CRAZY terrorists are, they do it for a reason. In their own heads, they are justified. We will never understand it.

Others see his point: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/04/19/andrew-coyne-justin-trudeaus-terrorism-root-causes-comments-unfortunate-but-not-truly-objectionable/

Stephen Harper insisted that the most important thing to do is condemn it. Yes, that's SO helpful Stephen. We'll condemn something that, well, obviously needs condeming. Yep, that'll do it. That'll solve everything.
Oh please. It's about as useful as shaking your fist at the sky when it rains. Harper thinks he knows the answer to everything. He knows fuck all.

And....those who recognize the pattern here are NOT going "Ner ner ner ner ner".

No. If you think that was my point, you'd be wrong. No. Revenge gets you nowhere, not even in your sickest fantasies. "Ha! See how YOU like it?!" gets you nowhere. Shaking your fist gets you nowhere. Blaming gets you nowhere. Assuming gets you nowhere. And.....in the end, hating gets you nowhere.

Every day far more people are killed by regular crime than by terrorism. Maybe regular crime is terrorism. Maybe terrorism is crime. Who defines these things anyway. Who knows how to fix it all? Think you know? I don't think you do.

Let me give you another thought, in recent decades drug cartel violence in Mexico has killed more people than all the deaths in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. You didn't know that.

There is a famous quote from Spinoza: "Peace is not an absence of war". You don't know who Spinoza is? That's OK, it's just another thing you don't know in a very long list. You don't know much, neither do I, and neither does anyone. That's a) why we keep getting blindsided by the actions of humans behaving badly, and b) why I'm sick to the fucking back teeth of listening to sanctimonious explanations and "knowledge" about world affairs, by people who know fuck all.

The answer? We don't have an answer. We have a lot of gut reactions, and a lot of posturing. We are very good at criticising, absolutely useless at offering alternatives. We are just awesome at suspecting motives, not so good at offering any evidence for them.

If you, reading this, can honestly, realistically do better than the people in charge, then get off your fat arse and go do it. We're all waiting.

There, that's better.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Girls - Short Attention Span Edition

Girls 6 - To Sum Up

So what is a girl?

Well, according to the etymology of the word woman, she's just like a man, only with a womb. And that's exactly how she should be treated.

Don't like that idea? Got a better one?

There's a new book on the market:


When you raise a girl, you are actually raising a human being. Except she just happens to be female. It's a 50-50 chance your child will be female, after all.

My family is living walking proof that you do not need to raise kids differently according to gender, and that they will turn out just fine as a result. My girls are good mothers. They were not harmed in any way by not being treated differently to their brothers.

We have to get past this idea that there is a need for gender-specific upbringing. Yes, I know some people appear to take it to an extreme, with exclusively gender neutral clothing/names/toys, but they do less harm than those who decide "My daughter needs to be a Princess".

I'm so done with the whole Princess thing.

Yes, I've heard the support for it, I have. There is nothing you can say here that will make me say "Oh dear, I was wrong" so don't waste your time. I know some girls like it (even despite their parents hating it!), I know you can do the whole "Princesses are strong, just look at the Super Mario one". I have heard all the exceptions, and they are not relevant. I know I'm seen as a party pooper on a number of these issues. Trust me, after all this time, an entire lifetime, in fact, of believing in gender equality, I've heard it all. It's just more indulgence, is all it is.

Suddenly, the rest of the world has woken up....some of us have been trying to explain it for years. If you raise your kids differently, it will have effects. Some of these are undesired effects.

Also, don't bother telling me that men and women "really are different". I know. I am not clueless about biology. But some - possibly many - of these alleged differences are absolutely not biology, they are 100% cultural.

100 years ago it was still believed that people of non-white races were different, less able, in fact, due to biology

It is vital that girls are raised understanding that they are not lesser than men. That they are not defined by men. That, with the possible exception of lifting/pulling exceptionally heavy things, they can do all the same things men can. And there is technology for the heavy stuff. A person is not lesser for being unable to move a piano, any more than a man is lesser for being able to bear a child. The whole idea of lesser is one that the human race can do without altogether, it certainly doesn't need to apply it to 50% of the population.

But the fact is, the hard truth is that women are just as guilty of proliferating the idea of lesser as men are. Possibly more so. Most of the time it is not intended that way, it is through ignorance. Well, the word is out. Nobody can miss the latest wave of feminism.

ONE more blog

Monday, 15 April 2013

All Is Vanity

In all the discussions I've been involved in lately about women and clothes, I have been repeatedly asked a rather funny question, but I suppose I'm not greatly surprised. In fact, the question proved the point I was trying to make. The question was "So, just how should a woman present herself?"

This is not necessarily coming from those confused about what constitutes "appropriate" clothing, but more from those trying to object to criticisms of their choices, and getting defensive when the question of "what my clothes say about me" comes up.

There are two things going on. Both are lies.

The first thing, as I said, is "I wear whatever I please". Bollocks. Absolute bollocks.

If it were true, women would not be agonizing over what to wear. If one truly dresses to please oneself, all decisions are easy. More of a "green or blue today?" decision.

Even when that is possible (and it isn't always, but I'll come back to that), it is incredibly rare for a woman to ignore outside influences on her choice of clothing. She has been conditioned from birth to worry about what other people think of the way she looks. Even if it has been done in the kindest and best-intentioned ways. Every time you tell a girl "you look pretty in that" she also hears "but not in that". Every time, in fact, you tell her that she is pretty, you are saying "therefore you are better than if you were not pretty". And many, many more messages like that.

There is nothing wrong with beauty. We do not wish to live in an ugly world. Which of these pictures do you prefer?

These are both images from Kenya. Ask yourself, is Kenya ugly or beautiful?

Many things we do every day involve aesthetic choices. We choose the more attractive (to us) of two or more things. Many things can be more or less visually appealing, including food, even the packaging of a food product. It is natural, and even good to seek beauty.

So, no, there is nothing wrong, on a personal basis, with trying to be more beautiful. The question remains, beautiful to whom? When you look in the mirror, are you thinking "yes, I like that on me", or are you thinking "yes, the world will like that on me"? It might be harder to answer than you think.

I hear many intelligent people go on at length about how they dress to please themselves, and they are lying through their teeth. Because if you catch them off-guard, you will hear them say "Oh no, I couldn't wear that". But you like it. "Yes, but I couldn't wear it".

The honesty of it all is too much for most people actually. It requires them to admit their doubts, their self-esteem issues, their deepest fears. There are very, very few people who honestly, truthfully wear what they please.

For most of us it's situational. There are occasions when there are certain expectations, and we follow them almost as a point of etiquette. There are extremes we won't push, because it might cause more offence than is acceptable, or worth it. Decisions, decisions.

As I have got older, my decisions on what to wear so as not to disturb the peace, have changed. But then so has society.When I was young, the expectations were different, so any rebellion I chose was different. This is an ever-changing thing.

What doesn't change is the need to question it all, and the need for questioners. Because if we had never had rebels, we'd still dress like this:

It doesn't matter if you like it or not, you had no choice, and that included a hot day in August. You couldn't slip into a strappy little top, and a pair of capris. Not only did fashion have to change, attitudes did. Attitudes are led by rebels.

Rebels lead, but they get misunderstood. In fact the rebellion is misunderstood. The entire women's movement went off the rails. It began trying to get women the right to go out to work, and has led to women being expected to go out to work.

The whole point of rebellion is to create choice, not just new expectations. This always gets forgotten.

So, between expectations, and sub-conscious aversion, we generally, and at the very least not always, do not wear what we please.

The 2nd lie is that beauty is more about a person's personality and character. That only applies if you are blind. We all appreciate a good-looking thing, be it a human being, a horse, a car or a sunset. So why do we need to try to convince ourselves otherwise?

Of course a person's personality and character is more important. Yes, without question, I would rather be with kind, honest, fun people than "pretty" people any time at all. I do not choose my friends based on how they look, and if I were that shallow, I wouldn't deserve friends at all. And most of us prefer "interesting" over "classical beauty" any day of the week, if we think about it. Artists just love wrinkly old people. Most of us prefer old things to new things, much of the time, when it comes to looks, actually. We lavish praise on "weathered" buildings. Choose "distressed" furniture. Enjoy the "patina" of antique metals, and so on.

Which brings me to something I think is where we all go wrong when we are considering what is attractive.

Beauty is good, perfection is not. Quite apart from the impossibility of defining what is perfect, if it were achievable it would be BORING. We may describe something as perfect, but all we are saying is simply that we like it the way it is. If there was, for example, such a thing as perfect car, we'd all have the same one, and they wouldn't bother making any other type. Tastes vary. Sometimes certain things are more popular than others, in a contest, my guess is that roses would win out over dandelions, but that doesn't mean roses are a perfect flower.

When we seek beauty, we often make the huge mistake of seeking perfection. Perfection isn't beauty. If you paint your house in the nicest colours, with the greatest care, is it perfect? Isn't that a silly question? It's just one house, with just one choice of possible colours, and you can always make a better job of it. So we look at the result, find it pleasing (or change it) and move on.

Why do we not apply the same sensible attitude with people?

Why would a woman drive herself crazy over her appearance, and in the next breath tell you that she believes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder/is only skin deep/doesn't prove anything/is all vanity?

According to Nietzche, vanity is fear of appearing original. I think there's something in that. There's certainly fear involved. Probably more than one fear. Fear of being thought "lesser". Fear of being thought dull, or conversely too colourful.

A long time ago, a friend said to me "We're doomed if we do, and doomed if we don't. If you dress fashionably, please say you're a sheep. If you don't dress fashionably, people say you're a frump. I don't want to be a sheep or a frump." I suggested, naturally, ignoring it all, and wearing what you like, but this was rejected as unrealistic. Dressing ourselves, apparently is a social norm, and much more important than just what we wear, it's all about the message it conveys.

YES. I agree. But I don't agree that it should be difficult. I think we are choosing the wrong messages.

Of course, we can't always assume that the intended message is the one received. That doesn't always even follow if we use words.

But somewhere between a shallow, pathetic, drone-like vanity, and "having no self-respect" is a sensible middle line, that is not uncomfortable, does not get us in debt, sends out the right messages, and is actually a pleasure rather than a stress. When we dress LIKE THAT, we are truly beautiful.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

When You Don't Have An Axe

Tolerance, gratitude, and an awful lot of other ways we hold back the truth, stop us from killing one another on a regular basis. Our entire society and etiquette system is based on saying thank you for gifts we don't like, pretending we don't mind things, putting up with the presence of people we wish would go away, and generally being nice to annoying people to keep the peace, when we'd really rather tell them exactly what we think. And we all know this. We know full well when a person says "it's no trouble", that often it is, but politeness forbids any of us from breaking the rules and being honest.

I've even noticed a second level of make believe, whereby the person being annoyed pretends to be amused instead. Sometimes they are pretending to themselves - they've been taught somewhere that if you laugh instead, the annoyance doesn't get to you. Not sure how long you can keep that up.

What should we do instead?

Ideally, we should not get annoyed in the first place. With practice and serious intent, that can work at least some of the time. Most of us can learn to sometimes, let some of it just wash over us. I have found it gets easier with age, others have found the opposite. But there are times when no matter how hard we try not to, we allow annoying people to mess with our groove. It breaks through. It gets to us. This is especially true if they are doing it deliberately, and/or repetitively, but it can happen even if they are being annoying without realizing it.

I have found two approaches very helpful, together or separately.

1. Feel sorry for them. Ah, they may not deserve sympathy. But consider this: they are not happy. Something is causing them to behave in a way that is negative. It's never a good thing. Happy people do not do these annoying things. So, pity the fool.

2. Analyze them. Why does he do this? Find him an interesting case study. A puzzle to be solved. Figure out what it is that makes him behave in such a way.

One of the things I disapprove of in the normal course of events is revenge. I sometimes make an exception with annoying people. I try to drive them mad. Step 1 is to show an excessive amount of kindness towards them. It is completely fake, obviously, I'd really rather avoid them, and depending on just how annoying they are, I might rather put an axe through their head. But violence solves nothing, and faking sweetness can be almost as much fun.

Then, Step 2, analyze them out loud. Don't give any clues as to why you are doing it, just offer the conclusions of your study. Instead of reacting to their negativity in the way they expect, try showing concern, offering ideas to the root cause of the trouble. And I don't mean in the "subtle as a flying" brick sarcasm that my husband is known for ("What crawled up your arse?"). No. Instead try:

"Traffic was awful this morning, wasn't it?"
"Yes, some warm, dry weather would make such a difference."
"Of course, these solar flares are such a nuisance."

But if you are really at the end of your tether, you might wish to resort to:

"Oh you poor dear, are you constipated? I have some gentle herbal laxatives that might help. Would you like them?"

That should confuse them completely.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Common Sense

This is largely in reply to a comment on an earlier post which referred to how all sorts of people (i.e. including ordinary people) are capable of great philosophical insights.

Absolutely. You don't have to be a Professor of Philosophy to be a philosopher. As I mentioned earlier, I've been philosophizing my entire life, and only just recently started to study Philosophy "properly".

The question is, would it have benefitted me to have begun this study sooner? And, to be fair, is it of any real use now? It's all very well to enjoy it, but is there any real value, either to me or to anyone else?

It would appear that the value of Philosophy as a discipline lies in sharing it. It's a sort of positive infection really, transmitted person to person, causing them to think differently, and then passing it on.

And we do all this all of the time, without opening a book. Plenty of wise people have done it, over the course of human history, who never heard of Philosophy, never read a book, never knew Socrates existed, didn't think they were doing anything more than thinking, speaking, and passing it on. Maybe they had a wise person in their life, maybe they just sat on a riverbank and cogitated.

For me, if I had started studying as a teenager, would I be in a different place now? Would I have been wiser, would my life have taken a different course? Would it have been better, or worse? Would I have loved the study so much that I decided to become a philosopher?

Or would my lack of life experience have prevented me from appreciating it, so that I dismissed or forgot everything I was taught. Would it have had any value at all?

Why is it, in fact, that some young people are able to benefit from an early introduction to formal philosophy, some not, some follow it up, some don't, and some go on to become great philosophers, while others relegate what they learned to useful trivia for pub quizzes.

Could it be that when the student is ready, the teacher appears?

Among the many objections to the study of Philosophy, is the idea that really, all you need is common sense.

I refer you again to the idea I began with here, that any ordinary person can come up with the same idea as a great and wise teacher.

Earlier this week, in a blog on covering women's bodies, I asserted that our judgement of what is common sense is largely due to what we are used to.

Today I finished a wonderful book, by Guy Deutscher, about how language affects our perception. If you are interested in ideas like this I highly recommend it, it's called "Through the Language Glass".

The author, a highly respected linguist and academic, said:

".....ultimately, what common sense finds natural is what it is familiar with"

After a lifetime of formal study he arrived at the same conclusion as I did. I'm sure we're not alone here either. I'm certain that there are yak herders in Mongolia who've decided the same thing.

In fact, I'm suggesting that it's common sense to realize the limitations of common sense. I certainly didn't need to study philosophy to figure that out, because I've been saying it for years.

The other thing that we've all heard, of course, is that common sense isn't quite as common as it ought to be, but if it's just based on cultural norms anyway, I'm not sure how useful it is.

I've seen it abused plenty of times. If I had a penny for everytime I've heard a totally idiotic idea justified as being common sense, I'd be able to afford a philosophy degree.........

(Descartes was wrong)

Challenge Your Dearly Held Beliefs

We are stubborn creatures.

Every day of my life I read or hear something I don't agree with.

That is the most normal thing, it is as it should be, it is all part of our process of discernment.

What we do next makes all the difference.

It's actually easier to defend our own opinions, to fight off attacks on them, to dismiss our critics, and to stand our ground, than it is to examine our position and double check whether it's "right" or not, bearing in mind what's right for one person is not necessarily right for another.

We are stubborn creatures, after all.

And sometimes we are certain. We are certain we are right, and we have considered it carefully, and we really do NOT wish to change our views.

Well, we may just be right:)

There is an idea that one must always keep an open mind. I agree, with the proviso that if it's too open, it can fall out.

Still, the objective for me is to remain aware, to consider, to judge fairly, and to be willing to change my opinion if I find it faulty.

I have had to change my opinion on the value of lecture. I could make the excuse that as I never experienced  a proper lecture when I was younger, I had no point of reference. I have always studied well from books, at my own pace, choosing my own readings, and retaining what I read. So, when people have told me they were taking a class in something or other, my reaction was "why not just read a book?"

OK, I GET IT. There really is a difference. One still needs to read the book, obviously, but when certain points are "presented" (assuming it is done well, obviously) there is an extra something, I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's different, it's better, and it works. And I love it.

Had you said this to me before I started my Coursera courses, I'd have said "I don't need to study that way. I study perfectly well just reading a book."

(We are stubborn creatures.)

And I would have been WRONG.

Apart from the value of lecture, it really helps knowing WHAT to read. Yes, being told to. Being forced, in fact, to read something that otherwise I would not have. And then going WOAH.

If you want to catch up on my studies, read this:


Otherwise we'll leave that just as an example, and move on.

It's OK to be wrong, and to change one's mind. It tends to happen less as we get older, because we have already considered some things many, many times. But it's actually important to keep considering we might be wrong.

I suppose I was already open-minded enough, that I did at least take the leap, rather than continuing to believe all I ever needed was access to books. So, maybe I was halfway there.

But this happens only because I decided (when?) that it was a good idea to question everything. Perhaps I was born that way. It's quite possible.

Somewhere along the way in our personal development we make various decisions to this effect. We decide to be open to new possibilities. Otherwise there is no personal development.

I suppose before that, we decide to decide....where does it begin?

Hopefully our families encourage it. If they don't we get lucky with teachers. Including those at school.

I'm not one to push ideas on others, but at some point we all need that first kick, and we probably need a lot of kicks afterwards. Gentle kicks are best, the whole thing of catching more flies with honey than vinegar. If we kick too hard we are met with defensiveness.

We are stubborn creatures.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Girls 5

I hope you read my blogs yesterday, I hope you've read this whole series. They work best in sequence. This is a big issue, far too much for a few soundbytes.

Yesterday I got a very good comment, and I responded with a bit of a spoiler for today's point, which is about the messages we send. I'm sure you are aware that what we say and what we do are all messages, albeit often quite different to how the words or actions might appear. We say one thing and mean another, and I'm not talking about pragmatics here.

In the example from the comment yesterday, I suggested that depending on how we cover our naked children, the message we send can be quite a disturbing one. This is of course a controversial assertion, as you may say that your intent was not that at all, and I'm sure it wasn't, but intent here is irrelevant.

When you take a small child, and dress her in a bikini, you are saying that she has something to hide. Specifically you are saying that certain parts of her body are singled out as different, and these must be hidden. Ultimately you are saying that these parts are sexual.

This is a child. There is nothing sexual about a child. They have not reached an age where it is relevant. A female child's chest looks the same as a male child's chest, and therefore covering it in a bikini top is a choice based on the future, on something that doesn't exist yet. We'll leave aside whether adult female breasts need to be covered for now, the fact is that a child has none. If you cover her AND her brother in a t-shirt, to keep the sun off, it's a totally different issue. I'm talking about the deliberate choice to cover only specific parts of her chest in a garment that was designed for adults, in a society that just so happens to require adult female breasts to be covered.

Why do it? Well, the argument put forward yesterday was to stop snooping perverts with cameras etc. Obviously this is a matter of some importance. These people are repulsive, and we have a natural desire to protect our children from them. But by dressing them in adult clothing, to cover body parts they don't have, we are sending a message that "yes, you're correct, my  child is sexual".

Told you this would be controversial. Bet you've been enjoying all this series and now you are going "WOAH Melanie, you've gone too far now". Hear me out.

You are saying this loud and clear. In addition you are saying "Now you have to guess what's under the bikini top", and the pervert, in his warped little world of fantasy, goes "SLURP". You have just played right into his hands.

Before I go any further, it appears that I am biased towards the European view, and you'd be right. When I offered, non-judgementally, two views towards the nakedness of children yesterday, it was because both parents intentions are good. No harm is meant by letting children run naked on the beach, and I'm quite certain no harm is meant by dressing little girls in bikinis. It seems the natural thing to do, based on the prevailing culture, fashion, and so on. No harm is meant, the intention is good, because we are USED to this culture. You've heard the media talk about Rape Culture? Well, this is where it begins. Until we stop and think, it will continue.

Obviously the issue is more complex when it comes to covering the lower half of her body. Here, both genders are covered, and for that reason, it really isn't such a big deal. It is still sexualizing children, and we could argue that it's wrong and unnatural, and sends a bad message, but there's a difference here that's crucial, and I'll come back to it.

So is it really such a bad thing sending out a message to the world that "Yes, I acknowledge my daughter is potentially a sexual creature"? Yes, it is, but it's not the worst message. The worst message is the one sent to the child. The worst message is "YOU are a sexual creature".

We discussed a couple of weeks ago that until a certain age, somewhere around puberty at the earliest, girls are not ready for sexuality either physically or mentally. If there is anyone who thinks that a pre-pubescent child has any need for sexuality they may need to seek help. Certainly some of them are curious, which is natural, but that is another matter altogether.

Which brings me to the first problem. How do we answer questions they may have while retaining their innocence? It's a fine balance. Most parents, if they have any sense, answer questions promptly, without showing embarrasment, and keep it very simple. They don't have to be kept away from the realities of creating life, and they certainly should not be lied to. Children raised on a farm tend to have less questions about the mechanics of procreation, I assure you. But there is more to sex than copulation, and what we are really concerned with is sexuality, or their understanding of it.

They should absolutely NOT learn about sexuality from daytime soaps, chat shows, and other TV shows or movies that were not intended for their age group. These send out more wrong messages than I could list if this blog was a full size book.

Possibly the worst influence is music videos. Because this is the same as the bikini issue. Not just how it objectifies women, but in society's complete disregard for how this happens. A child will be dragged away from watching two dogs having sex, but allowed to watch as many Lady Gaga videos as she wants.

Even the lyrics have potential to cause problems. I invite you to read this blog:


I am not blaming Lady Gaga, or you, for this. It's all part of the culture. We're used to it. We don't see the harm. In fact, as modern women we say that we have a right to this, and didn't you just say Melanie, that what we wear is not the problem?

It depends whose mind you are concerned with. You can not affect the male mind one way or the other, that's his domain. He will undress you in his imagination, whether you dress like a prostitute or a Mennonite. You may "advertise" readiness, but for every man who finds readiness appealling, there's another one who find chastity erotic....and you better believe it. No, what you wear isn't the problem when it comes to male attitudes.

What you wear is all about your attitude, how you feel about yourself. It may be deliberately provocative, it may be all about comfort, it may be carefully chosen to hide the parts you think need hiding. But it is governed both by how you think you should present yourself, AND how you feel about yourself. In other words, your attitude affects your choice of clothing, and your choice of clothing affects your attitude. When you are dressing yourself, these are mostly (within your cultural framework) free choices. Your body, your decisions, your clothes. As an adult you know how to deal with a sexual aspect of it. One hopes.

A child doesn't. She is learning, watching. She is picking up clues, becoming encultured. She's getting those messages thick and fast, and it's very confusing. There are people telling her that sex is for grown-ups, and then buying her the same clothes that some women wear to deliberately attract men. They are teaching her about "stanger danger", and then buying her a bra, before she has anything to put in it, that has "Feeling Lucky" written on it. The most confusing and dangerous thing we ever do to anyone is send mixed messages, and it's stupid.  When we do it to children, it's utterly reprehensible.

How do we teach our children the realities of life, to keep them safe from sexual predators, without damaging their innocence? It's not easy, and there are no guarantees. Just when we think we've got it covered, the scheming predators will find a gap. But what we certainly don't want to do is teach our daughters that they are legitimate prey.

Nope, still not finished.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Girls 4B

I thought it was important to keep this anecdote separate. If you have read the previous blog I am quite sure that you have your own ideas about what constitutes too much or too little clothing with regard to women. One reason is that you have grown up in a society that considers full nakedness to be unacceptable in most circumstances. I hope you understand that this is a cultural matter, that it changes over time, and that your attitude is affected by what you are familiar with. If you don't understand that, I would like to illustrate it with my own experience.

When I was a child, growing up in England, children playing on the beach were usually naked. Nobody cared. It was normal. Most importantly the children were unaware that there was even a decision to be made here. The decision in that place, at that time was based on the weather. Solely.

When I had children it was still perfectly normal to let small children run naked on the beach. This was in the 1980s. I have plenty of photos of them. When I had them developed, I was not arrested. These days I might be. But of course, photography is much more private now, with digital cameras.

We came to Canada in 1993 and the first time I took my children to the beach I experienced culture shock. Sian, who was 3, was naked. A number of other children her age were too. Without exception their parents had European accents.

Many small girls were in bikinis. Their parents were not immigrants, or not recent ones, generally.

The children all played happily, innocently.

The parents stared at one another.

The Canadian parents were horrified at these naked children.

The European parents were horrified at the tiny girls in bikinis.


If you understand that, you'll understand why we have a problem with this topic.

Girls 4

In all of the debates about women's rights, about assaults on women, about who is responsible, and what we can do about it, I don't think there is a hotter potato than the question of covering.

It's a curious phenomenon, because at the root of it all is a bizarre confession from men, that they are animals with no control over themselves. They don't phrase it like that. Instead, they blame women for wearing provocative clothing.

In many cultures/religions, women are required to cover certain parts of their bodies. This may be more or less. It may involve hiding their true shape, or their legs, or their hair, or even their entire faces. A current trend in the west is to pretend we don't have nipples. The question is, does this protect women from the unwanted advances of men?

It's hard to get real data, because the same societies that insist on this sort of thing, are not those who release official figures on assaults. But we have an idea, based on our own society in Victorian times. Maids were regularly "ruined" by their employers, despite only their hands and faces being visible.

Are women protected by extremes such as the hijab? Many writers from the inside of these societies say no. This is one example, you can Google plenty more:


From the reading I have done over the decades, I have concluded that assaults on women are actually greater in societies with such dress codes. I can't prove it, I doubt anyone can, but I believe it to be so.

So, we must ask ourselves, at which point is the other extreme? At which point does clothing becomes so skimpy that it justifies assault? I said justifies. Not explains, or makes more likely, but justifies. What do you say?

My guess is that you'll say it is never justified. And yet in our society we do, openly or secretly, frequently say "Well, look what she was wearing....." We will all say that even a naked woman has the right to be left alone, but we still see certain women as underdressed. We each have our own line in the sand as to what is modest, or conservative, or decent, and as to what is provocative.

In discussions on this topic, men frequently say that they find clothing with a little mystery to be the most exciting. Indeed in olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking......and a shapely ankle could drive a man wild. So, covering up may not be any solution at all, it could have the opposite effect.

At the very least, to be dull and biological, the human birth rate ballooned after we started to wear clothes. Now, I assume the reason for the boom in our numbers was more to do with other factors - civilization not only led to clothing, it also led to higher survival rates, but the point is that covering ourselves up didn't do any harm. The natural desires of men were not damaged in any way by clothing.

If we did properly conducted research, not guesses, into male desires and behaviours, in various societies, we might find out once and for all what I strongly suspect, which is that it makes absolutely no difference what women wear. From fig leaves to burqas, men's behaviour is more affected by their own upbringing, beliefs, personality, and mental health, than by anything a woman wears. Passing the buck, putting the responsibility on women, is that good old "blame the victim" mentality.

Does this mean it's "sensible" for women to dress modestly? This is the argument usually put forward. Be reasonable, have some common sense.

The problem here is that there are so many possible definitions of what reasonable is. What seems likes a common sense level of covering to one person, may seem quite absurd to another. Again, upbringing and personality. Some women will tell you they prefer to dress modestly, they feel naked and vulnerable in strappy tops for example. An enormous amount of the comfort levels we each have are to do with what we are used to.

Even within the covered societies there are "levels". You may or may not be familiar with these terms:

I have been told by Muslim women that not only does a woman used to wearing the hijab feel naked without it, but a woman used to a burqa feels naked with just hijab. These feelings are perfectly real, and some women can get over them completely, some partially, and some not at all. To a Muslimah who has worn hijab her whole life, it seems perfectly reasonable, it is her level of common sense.

Personally, I would have no difficulty being naked in public. There is a classic dream where one finds oneself in this situation, and it causes great anguish or shame. This dream is interpreted in many ways. When I have this dream, I'm doing it on purpose, and quite comfortable with it, so I'm not quite sure how that would be interpreted. I assure you it has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with a desire to allure men. I may well use it someday to provoke other strong feelings, to shock, to protest, because it seems to have quite a controversial effect there:


As you can see, views on this sort of thing vary widely, and for many reasons. I don't believe consensus is actually possible, because of individual attitudes.

And here's my reasoning. I do not view my naked body as anything sexual. To ascribe sexual motives to nudity is to project your own views. Naked is just what we are, and we cover it up. On this cold April morning, there's good reason too, since we don't have fur. I wonder, if we DID have fur, would any of this happen? Would we wear clothes? Would we care about nudity? Does the covering of hair suggest that we would, or does it mean something else?

It's interesting that we refer to hairless creatures as "naked" suggesting that we view skin as the forbidden thing, at some levels. It's also interesting that we fooled ourselves for many years that sheer stockings, which were dyed to look exactly the same colour as skin, were considered a garment, a covering, and that women wearing no stockings were considered underdressed.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013


Is it me or is it them? That's the question I often ask myself.

Before anyone says "So stop reading it", I am well aware of that solution, but it's no solution at all. I use Facebook etc, to stay in touch with people in a way that wouldn't happen otherwise. Let's not pretend I'd keep up a running communication by any other means, because I wouldn't and neither would they.

Plus, if you live in a city and work in a busy office, maybe you get your fill of human interraction "live", as it were. I live in the middle of nowhere and work from home, with only Tom and my sheep for company most of the time. Now, conversations with Tom can be deep and fascinating, I'll grant you that. But they can also be sporadic, if he's got his head into something, and they can often be TOO deep. As in weird. No, it doesn't count as social interaction. May blessings pour upon the internet for keeping me in touch with the outside world.

But just like the outside world, just like any social setting, any office, any situation, it has its pros and cons. I liken it to the village well. It really is comparable, more so perhaps than any other analogy. It is where you go regularly. It is where your people also go, family, friends, and...the rest. Some you know better than others. Some you like better than others.

If you avoid the well, and become a hermit in the caves above the village, you miss out on all of it. So, you take the rough with the smooth, and you go get your water. You overhear all sorts of conversations. Some are directed right at you. Some of it is really useful information. Some is just general stuff. Some is repetition. Some is whining. Some is lies. Some is opinions you share, some you vehemently oppose.

And you have choices. You can listen, and say nothing. You can walk away. You can join in. You can argue. There are social conventions about your behaviour, so that is remains a pleasant experience for everyone. Some people break them.

Since we have no village wells, but we do have the social side of the internet, we have developed certain unwritten rules of etiquette just as we have in the real world. But that's not right is it? The social aspect of the internet is part of the real world, and ever more so. We can't pretend it's remote and different, because it isn't. Most of our conversation online refers to what happens offline. It's just a communication medium.
So, the etiquette really isn't going to be that different. Shared ideas about shouting, arguing, swearing, and so on, apply just the same.

What's my point?

Oh nothing profound. That lot was all just a disclaimer really, because I often find myself bitching and whining about what I read. As we all know the correct, logical, sensible thing to do is just move on. I should be able to do that by now. Apparently I can't.

Monday, 8 April 2013

What Do YOU Think Melanie?

What do I think? Who am I, some great opinion-giver? Just because I'm English, I should make a statement on the passing of an ex-PM?

OK, if I must. I think she's dead. Yep. That's what I think. I think she was old, and she died. That's what old people do.

Look, I got into trouble last year when I did, openly and willingly proffer a view about being sad when total strangers - who are old - die. Do I look daft? Think I'm risking that shitstorm again?

If I have any opinion at all, it is that those who are cheering a death, any death, might as well shut up with any future view they have on ethics, because I won't be listening.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Conflict of Interest

I've been asked why I post stuff from my eBay store on Facebook or mention it here, am I trying to use my social circles to sell things?

Well, yes and no.

If I relied on social circles to make money, I'd go broke. You cannot make a living selling stuff to your friends. And I have no desire to annoy my friends by trying to sell them things. And it IS annoying. People do fall out over stuff like this. Mixing business with social is dodgy.

However, sometimes my friends WANT to buy my stuff, WANT to see new stuff, and even if they aren't buying, they are interested, curious. So for those who WANT to see it, I am providing links.

The point of it all though is that if you LOOK at those links, it increases the placement of those items in the mysterious eBay algorithm. So by looking at the page, and not spending any money at all, you are giving me a leg-up in marketing. If you see something you like, and share it it or pin it, even better. I'd do the same for you.

This is a very fuzzy part of business ethics. The whole "networking" thing is a bit of a grey area in that respect. Ulterior motives and all that. So I'm cautious, because I don't want turn into one of "those" people - you know the ones. I had a Tupperware manager like that once. We went to a Tupperware convention, on a chartered bus. The bloody woman talked the bus driver into hosting a party! People must have been terrified of her - quick, hide, or she'll talk us into a Tupperware party. This if course was why she was a manager. Highly successful, but.......no I never want to be like that.

So there's a balance, oh yes, there's that word again! Don't I just love it.

Balance isn't an automatic thing you pluck out of thin air. It has to be arrived at, largely by awareness of the risk of extremes. In other words, it begins with conflict. Conflicts often arise, that's just how life is, in fact if you never notice any, you're not paying attention. Conflict is an inevitable part of awareness. It is how you deal with it that counts.

The same word, conflict, is one we also use when referring to a disagreement with another person, but here the disagreement is going on inside our own conscience. Should I do this or that? I want to do both. As we process it we arrive at balance. I often hear friends talk about balancing career and family, or similar. It is because two important ascepts of their lives conflict, usually with time, but it could be a conflict of other resources, money, perhaps even strength.

When we say we are conflicted about something, we are not dithering. Dithering is negative, like worry. Trying to resolve a conflict is positive, like planning. So there is no shame in admitting to being conflicted. It's a starting point.

If you are never conflicted, then either you are INCREDIBLY lucky, or you are blundering through life, or you are not telling the truth. The latter two are, in my opinion, very unwise, and the first isn't really serving you well anyway.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Me, Giving Technical Advice? BWAHAHAHA!!!

OK, a TOTAL deviation from what usually goes on here, but I have been asked "How do we get images off Facebook?" I said "Same as you get images from anywhere". But this, like the "link doesn't work" comments I sometimes see, suggest that some of you need a wee bit of technical advice.

I am the last person to offer technical advice. I have three levels of technical help available.

For basic stuff like "Help, my keyboard isn't working, did somebody unplug something? Which plug is it?" I call on any of the boys here at home.

For more complex stuff like "How do I make the printer leave a smaller margin round my shipping labels?", I contact #2 son.

For really complex stuff, like when smoke comes out the hard drive, I contact the Holy Oracle, aka #1 son, because if he can't fix it, it cannot be fixed. Because I really never needed to learn technical stuff, having sons to do it for me, I don't know much.

But apparently I know more than some.

Any image on any site on the internet can be TAKEN. There are two ways.

The correct way, is to right click on it, and select "Save image as". You can then download the image to your  computer. If you don't select otherwise it will go to your "Downloads" folder, where you can retrieve it later.

However, sometimes due to the coding, this won't work. Big deal. On your keyboard you have a key that says "Print Screen". This captures whatever you see on your screen, and immediately you press it, your computer has a captured image of the screen. So all you have to do is open "Paint" and click on "Paste" and there it is. You know how to cut & paste words, I'm sure (if you are really that much of a n00b that you don't understand cut & paste, then you need even more help, e-mail me....if you can).

OK, so now "Paint" has it. Click on "select" and draw a box round the part you want. Hit "Crop".

Now click on "Save as" and put the image where you want it...Desktop will do, or you can put it in your "Pictures" folder.

You'll need to name it at the bottom of the window, where it says File Name. Give it a name you'll remember, such as cutecat and immediately under that you'll see Save As Type, choose JPEG. Don't ask why, just do it.

Now you can use it the same as any other image.

If any part of this makes no sense, ask me to elaborate. I am INFINITELY patient with the technically impaired, because I'm one of you.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013


I'm taking a break from my series on feminism, I'm up to my ears in other stuff, and I'll come back to it when I can dedicate more time, because it's important (and I have a lot more to say). Today I want to briefly address a dichotomy I see in popular attitudes.

Attitude #1 goes like this:

Wealth distribution is grossly unfair. Poor people are getting screwed, they always have done, but in this modern world we actually have the ability to stop that happening. Instead the gap between rich and poor is getting wider. This is an injustice that needs to be addressed and we should not ignore it or allow to continue.

Attitude #2 goes like this:

If we think positive, things will improve. We make our own luck by our attitudes, and to succeed all we need to do is have successful thoughts. After all, money isn't everything, and there are many other ways to measure success. But wealth comes to those with the drive, passion, and faith. Go-getters get the gold.

At first sight, these attitudes seem mutually exclusive. #1 blames society, while #2 blames the individual (although it wouldn't admit that, it never talks of blame openly). #1 thinks #2 is out of touch with reality, or worse. Meanwhile #2 thinks #1 is being a negative Nelly.

They argue. There is often a political aspect to it, which is probably obvious, because if you take these attitudes a bit further they do lead to classic left and right stances.

Well, you know me. I don't do extremes.

The fact is, if you get your head out of your arse and leave your agenda over there, you can see that there is truth in both attitudes. It's stupid to have them as opposing sides. We will collectively get nowhere, actually, if we fight over this.

I have a few wise friends who have managed to combine these attitudes. While keenly aware of social injustices they take a pro-active stance, and are optimistic it can be changed. Instead of just complaining about it, they do something about it. I've heard this snappy little idea:

Don't stress it, address it.

I like that.

You can use that in all sorts of situations, a little mantra.

I do not believe that #1 is always negative. It can be realistic with a bit of despair thrown in, but it can also be an attitude one can build on. To start to make change.

I do not believe that #2 is always positive. It can be idealistic, with a bit of chutzpah thrown in, but it can also be an attitude one can build on. To start to make change.

Both agree there is another way.

Perhaps if people with different attitudes start by finding common ground, cut out the stubbornness, and took a peek at the other view, we might make that change a little faster. Apparently we all want it.