I have a very distinct memory of being absolutely beside myself as child. My mum, being concerned with my emotional outburst (and probably not knowing what else to do) asked me to write down what she could do to give me a happy life. I stopped crying and began to put pen to paper, my eyes slowly becoming alight with imagination. I still remember how she held that shoddy piece of lined paper in her hands and said, quietly bemused ‘Is that it?’. In my grand and bold quest for happiness I had requested (wait for it) a vegetable patch and a dog.
It’s funny how, as children, we don’t really set the bar very high for what will make us happy. Inevitably there will always be the girl who sulks because daddy won’t buy her the latest polly pocket set (or if she’s anything like me she will have asked for a Roboraptor and roller-skates), or the little boy who is crying is heart out for the latest power rangers figure (or whatever it is these days!). But on the whole, I remember being a very happy and joyful child, and not for any material reason. I have so so many bright and warm memories of that time in my life, and these memories aren’t of achievements, possessions, or status. But they’re of people.
I remember playing ‘mushrooms’ with my sister where we would get out of the bath and put towels over our bodies in front of the fire and pretend to be mushrooms (turns out it’s a great game). I remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders and holding me upside down, and tickling me until my stomach hurt from laughing. I even remember eating spaghetti with just my mouth because my friend dared me to (yep, childhood me had no shame). I have so many memories of always singing, dancing and having fun (except when lamenting for my vegetable patch and dog of course).
And yet – in comparison to my life now, the world might say I had very little cause to be so happy. I mean – I had no first class honours degree for a start (which is an immediate pathway to happiness and success, right? Spoiler alert: it’s not). I had no flashy gadgets, not even one of those fancy colourful leapfrog devices that came before the tablets took over. But what I did have, and what I think most children have, was a heart that recognised the intrinsic happiness and joy that comes from spending time with other people, letting your hair down and just having fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we don’t do this now. Many of you reading this will be thinking hey- I’m a student – I AM the party – I live for other people! And hey, that’s great. I’m not doubting you. But I also know that for many of us, it’s so easy to see our social lives as an ‘add on’ to the ‘real’ important stuff of life. You know, the stuff that ‘really matters’. I know for me when I’m planning my week, I often have to stop and ask myself, ‘Ok Liz, you have no social events going on this week, what are you going to do about it?’. Because in reality, I’m often a fool to the lie that fulfilment and life is primarily about doing and succeeding. But what if it’s not?
I once read a story of a man who asked his son, ‘When you’re older, and you’re looking back on your life, what would you rather have around you – your medals, achievements, and awards, or people who you love?’. While this is an extreme example, it does make you think. So often we prize money, possessions, status and job prospects at the expense of forming deep relationships and community with others – or at the expense of doing something we truly love. I challenge you to look back at the simple joys of childhood, and think ahead to how fleeting the pleasures and rewards of wealth and status will be, and ask yourself – is it worth it?
“When I was five years old, my father always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” John Lennon.
In an age of social media, and constant connectedness- we’re sadly becoming more and more disconnected from the wisdom and insight of the older generation. It’s no secret that life is a lot different compared to what it used to be. But what was it really like – and what can we learn?
The first man I had the pleasure of meeting, Jeff, having grown up amidst the German bombings in London, gives us a brilliant insight into how life has changed since the 1940s.
“It’s all changed now. People – you always see them walking around looking at their phones or sipping on plastic bottles of water. When I was a kid, we used to go on a cycle ride, about 20 to 30 miles long and we never took a drink. If we were thirsty we’d stop and knock on someone’s door and ask for a drink”.
His wife explained ‘People are in such a hurry to do things now. In the past, people would choose to be stay at home mums. Or you’d walk everywhere and know your neighbours really well. When everyone travels in cars, you don’t get the chance to see people. You’ll say hi if you see them, but it isn’t the same‘.
I ask them whether they think things are better now, or whether they preferred them back then.
Jeff promptly replies, ‘Oh if I had a time machine I would go back. Even though back in those days, when I was growing up in London, we had no water, no electricity, no flushing toilet’.
‘You wouldn’t go back’ his wife says in astonishment.
‘I would’ Jeff insists.
It seems that material wealth, safety or even health holds no match to the prospect of going back the good old days for Jeff. I’m intrigued to find out why.
‘Where I lived, it was like paradise. We had so much freedom back then. There were no cars and as kids we could play on the streets. If I took you back to my village I could show you a wall which we drew chalk on to play cricket. And I’d take you to a plantation with so many trees. We used to battle with each other with branches. And if you got hit you’d have to lie down and you’d wait 20 seconds and then carry on battling! We were out making dens and playing on railroads. If you saw kids doing that now you’d think they were bad kids, but we weren’t, we were just having fun.
And you know I learnt to swim in the river trent! My dad was a great dad he would always get involved and wouldn’t shy away from fun. With him I built a diving board and every day before school – I was so keen to swim – that I would dive off this diving board and swim in the river trent! Baring in mind I was only a kid – I was 9 years old. Kids were more free back then’.
It’s a romantic idea hearing all of Jeff’s stories, and I can’t help thinking all children’s childhoods should involve battles with branches on plantation fields. But is it possible now?
‘These days parents are with their kids all the time. It’s sad that schools put red tape around everything for fear of being sued. I know my granddaughters’ sports day got cancelled recently because it was pouring down with rain. So they rescheduled and the next week it was a beautiful scorching hot day. And the headmaster cancelled again because he was afraid of someone getting sunstroke. It wasn’t like that with us – we’d play football in all sorts of weather. Our referee used to wear a huge camouflage waterproof cape. Now the children would be told to go inside for fear of the parents complaining that their kids got wet’.
‘But my grandkids – they do the same things that we did. I think in part it’s due to the influence that we had on their parents. My kids were out climbing trees, but I know others who wouldn’t allow their kids to climb because they were afraid of them falling. Funnily enough those are the same kids who owe tens of thousands of pounds of debt and struggle with money. My kids don’t. I wonder if it’s because their parents wouldn’t let them climb trees’.
If there’s any thread to pick out from my conversation with Jeff, it’s the sense of freedom of the past that stands out most profoundly. In a society where we’re constantly bombarded with information that tells us we ought to bubble wrap ourselves with precaution, comfort and convenience- Jeff’s stories challenge us to wrestle with the more meaningful aspects of life – of pursuing adventure, having a free spirit and investing and journeying with others in meaningful ways.
It seems we’re not the first generation to have been seeking a ‘yolo’ culture then! While for people like Jeff, this may have been expressed through running through railroads and swimming in the river trent, for us – perhaps the desire for adventure and freedom is revealed through our generation’s notable desire for travel, and for going out and partying. It does make me think though – perhaps if we gave the children of today a little more freedom, a little more adventure – they might be a lot happier, fulfilled and less likely to go off the rails at the slightest taste of freedom and independence.
I was on the train travelling back to Loughborough yesterday evening. I had to take a few unexpected changes due to delays, but I was grateful in the end that it resulted in some very chance and interesting meetings with others. The first person I met was a graduate student who studied in Manchester. We were sat at one of those table seats opposite each other. We all know how awkward it can get as you both negotiate trying to avoid eye contact so I decided I would speak to him.
“Excuse me what book are you reading?”
“Oh you like reading too?”
What started off as a discussion of books, soon turned into a discussion of all sorts of topics including politics, race, and religion. I could pick out all sorts of interesting sound-bytes from our conversation, but instead I want to expand on one issue in particular.
We had been discussing each other’s courses, when the topic turned to the question of morality, and how masses of ‘normal’ people can get involved in mass killings such as genocides. This was a topic I had written an essay about, and become aware of the many situational pressures that would push seemingly ‘normal’ people to rationalise and even moralise such evil behaviour.
“It’s usually the case that, because of the situation, people are put into situations where they cannot, or feel that they cannot escape. Then they’ll experience cognitive dissonance, an inconsistency, between their beliefs, and the behaviour they are carrying out. In this situation, people usually do one of two things, they either change their behaviour, or more likely, they’ll change their beliefs. For example they’ll dehumanise the victims and see them as sub-human in order to make their actions seem moral”.
“Yeah that’s so true, because no one wants to see themselves as the bad guy”.
I reasoned that it was quite a rare, and bold thing to do, to say to yourself “no – this is right, and this is wrong”. And to hold that as personally true, regardless of the situations. In fact, it represents functioning and thinking at a level of morality that the majority of the population usually don’t reach. This is according to research by Kohlberg (1958), who showed that for most of us, morality is judged on the bass of social approval, and the influence of authority, and not internal moral principles.
My new found friend agreed and started to tell me about his admiration of the actions of Nelson Mandela, a political activist and leader who showed just this type of moral thinking. His behaviour was strongly motivated by an internal moral principle of peace and justice, so much so that he was willing to face imprisonment for his opposition protests of minority white rule in South Africa. Even on his release and on achieving the role of presidency, he sought to reconcile and work with those who had imprisoned him. He even had dinner with those who had tried to have him killed in order to help bring about this healing peace-making process.
I agreed in amazement that this was a man with real conviction and courage.
Like Mandela, I have come to believe that Corbyn is a man of great moral conviction, courage, and personal integrity. Once returning back into my university halls, I was prompted by our conversation to follow some of the debates and look up the manifestos (rather than founding my political opinion on bits and pieces from my Facebook feed – which I admit is easy to do but perhaps not the most responsible way). I watched many different interviews with both Corbyn, and May, representing the Labour and Conservative parties respectively. I was impressed by Corbyn’s answers, and his confidence – even pride in defending and explaining his manifesto and plans. And, furthermore, the moral basis on which his manifesto was built. But I was also impressed by something else.
It may be no surprise to many of you reading, but it has been known and publicised that many of Theresa May’s promises and ‘priorities’ clash against her voting history and apparent convictions. One key example of this can be seen in her speech at Birmingham in July 2016, in which she stated that high-earning global companies, such as Amazon and Google, have a duty to pay their taxes. And yet – just months before, she had voted against implementing proposals intended to reduce tax avoidance and evasion. Jeremy Corbyn, however, appears to have great integrity, and has been quoted as such by many colleagues and acquaintances.
He has a track record of standing by the same socialist principles and convictions, even when the pressure to change his opinion gets tough. This can be demonstrated not least through his involvement in many campaigns over the years. He has served on the National Executive of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (which also resulted in being arrested in 1984 for protesting outside South Africa House), chaired the ‘Stop War’ coalition in protest of the Iraq War, and campaigned regularly against the conflict in Gaza. By his actions he has been shown to consistently promote the values of justice, peace, equality, and solidarity. Further to this, he appears to do this unashamedly, and without pride. It is noted for example that Corbyn usually has the lowest expenses of any MP.
The integrity of Corbyn really hit home for me when I heard his response in a Question Time episode by the BBC. Supporters of the Conservative party questioned him about his apparent reluctance to use nuclear weapons as defence. In response he replied, ‘look I don’t want to be responsible for the deaths of millions of people, and neither do you’. And it’s true – that even since being a school boy in 1966, Corbyn has been all for campaigning against nuclear disarmament. Rather than finding this act of determination and defiance worrying however, as others might, it filled me with trust and admiration. For it’s clear to me that, like a real leader should be, Jeremy is leading out of a strong sense of moral conviction. For his political behaviour evidently is not just a matter of politics, but of true, personal deep conviction.
A man of courage, integrity, and convicted on the grounds of equality, peace, and justice. That’s the kind of person I trust to lead me, and to shape the future of this country.
Who will you trust?
So I was out with my nana today for some lunch and catch-up time before heading back to university. Throughout the day several events sparked a definite trend of thoughts in my head and I thought I would share them with you here.
While eating the best salmon sandwiches known to man (thank you very much Barton Grange) we were talking about my relatives. We were talking about how my Auntie worked in a hospital in Hong Kong while they were building the new airport, and how she used to work privately as a carer for a very rich family. In fact she used to get picked up by this family (in an expensive and different car each day) to have dinner at a large dinner table with just her and this couple! We were also chatting about how my uncle Paul is getting on in Hong Kong where he works as a builder. Apparently he signs ‘ACDC’ somewhere on every building project that he does because he has loved them ever since his youth (A proper die hard fan). He has even been known to rock up to projects with ACDC blaring out the van and have one customer comment “Now that’s a proper builder”. Ha!
On the way out of the cafe, my nana got chatting to a lovely woman with a trolley filled with a new saucepan and a large bunch of pink tulips. They were chatting about how builders and workmen had tried to knock this lady off with overpriced jobs etc. It turns out this chatty, enthusiastic lady was 90 years old! “I keep telling people because I can hardly believe it myself” she exclaimed in her charming (slightly German) accent. As she spoke my gaze focused upon the delicate slender shape of her face and the smooth line of her nose. She had beautiful icy blue eyes that lit up with emotion. “… and I’m still driving” she added. Dainty silver jewels sparkled in her ears, and a soft cream woolen hat was placed on her head so as to hide but a few wisps of wavy hair. I couldn’t help thinking how beautiful (or more beautiful I should say) she must have been in her youth.
After looking around the displays and all sorts of niceties, nana took us both to her house where granddad was waiting. My granddad is not too well. He has a progressive illness which means that very slowly, his body is deteriorating and will continue to do so. It’s hard to watch and at the moment he can’t walk and has to be hoisted by my nana from chair to chair to bed to bath etc. He has always been a busy man with many interests though, and it is encouraging to see that he is making the most of his time making art and enjoying his gadgets and technology. He asked me how college was going. “University,” I said, “yeah it’s going well, I’m really enjoying it, I love it” I said. He smiled. “Ah that’s good, yes you’ve got to enjoy these things, while you’re young… because one day, you’ll be like me, and you can’t then”.
All these things got me thinking… Firstly, finding out about my relatives past and what they get up to! Like writing ACDC into concrete slabs haha! It just made me really see them as more than just their age. It sparked something in me, it helped me to relate to them. Then meeting that wonderful gentle woman with the beautiful blue eyes, complaining about how builders had tried to rip her off because of her age… It made me really start to appreciate that yes, one day, that could be me. That really, youth, with a whole life ahead of you, is useless. Even this woman, who I can imagine as being such a stunning young woman, was now only left with a small echo of her former beauty. And then seeing my granddad, and hearing him say those words, “because one day, you’ll be like me, and you can’t then” really pulled at my heartstrings. It really started to bring things together and prompted me to think differently. To see people not just as they appear, but to contemplate each person’s inner beauty and unique qualities that pervade throughout one’s whole lifespan.
The reality is that as humans we all follow similar journeys through this life. We all grow, reach our prime, we decline… and in every stage, looking back, we would say that we are no less ourselves in either stage. The essence of who we are is continuous throughout our life. This got me thinking… how wonderful would it be if people around us started to see each other for the unique beauty, the God-given lasting qualities that make you “you” from childhood right through to adulthood. If we looked past the age barriers and saw that we really are all in this together… and that we really could learn a lot from each other too.