Thursday, 25 October 2012

Feel No Evil

Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a fourth wise monkey. His name was Feel No Evil. The youngest of four brothers, he was by far the most compassionate. His heart was touched by witnessing and people confiding in him their life experiences, for unlike his siblings he was blessed with all senses: seeing, hearing, speaking and feeling. People travelled for thousands of miles to tell him their stories. He heard stories close to home and those from far away. Stories of hope, courage, faith and endurance. Stories of hardship, poverty and tragedy. Each night, he would return home and recount these stories. See, Hear and Speak would sit on the floor, the three points of a triangle formed around him. In the centre, Feel narrated and acted every part, feeling every emotion. He laughed and sobbed through the lines; gave contemplative speeches in sign language; he fell to his knees to pray for forgiveness, or danced in joy. He assumed the role of many characters and felt no malevolence towards them. He never judged, he didn't take sides. At the end he summarised the narrator's perspective, justified their attitudes. He saw the good in each of them and identified the moral of their story. He had a gift – he was born a storyteller.
At first, Feel did not realise this. He was a life scholar, content to be learning empathy and sharing this with his brothers. Over time, word spread of his gift, 'Seek him, confide in him. He is compassionate.' the rumour said. Each who told now wanted their story acted out in front of an audience. Feel didn't resist, he saw no harm in this. It wasn't fair to keep these lessons to himself. He reasoned that in passing these stories on, people would learn from one another's experiences.
Night after night Feel performed to growing crowds with his brothers seated around him. He was revered and given the best of everything. His ego grew and he believed it. His storytelling changed; he ridiculed the tellers and became insensitive. One by one, his senses began to desert him. Blinded by his wealth, his eyesight faded. He was blind to people's suffering. His hearing grew weak as he listened only to what he wanted to hear. He was deaf to people's suffering. His speech became judgemental and opinionated. He missed out pages of the script and invented others, possessed by his own self-importance. His voice, once rich, became hoarse, then silent. He could no longer speak of people's suffering. He was unable to put himself in others' shoes. He had felt too much and then not enough as people applauded him. He was numb to people's suffering. His followers left him. His brothers disowned him. He lost everything. Dead inside, Feel was shunned and forgotten.
His disgrace led to See, Hear and Speak spreading their own messages about communicating with evil. They quickly became known as the 'Three Wise Monkeys'. Their carved statues now inhabit homes, but each of their messages has been misinterpreted:
See No Evil: Do not be blind to people's suffering, see it.
Hear No Evil: Do not be deaf to people's stories, hear it.
Speak No Evil: Do not be silent to your voice, speak it.
If the fourth brother had been remembered, his message would be the wisest of them all:
Feel No Evil: Do not be numb to people's images, thoughts, words and experiences, feel it.

The moral of this unknown fable is: Do not lose your empathy. Feel and forgive.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


At Sea
What makes you weep? Sob? Cry? Brings forth a cascade of tears? Or floods? It doesn't seem to take much these days. Books, friends going their separate ways, goodbyes, injustices, endings. An emotional tide, waves calm or crashing. Inside, I ride a private roller-coaster; outside I'm stoic. Behind closed doors, the eyes fill and spill over at the wrongdoings of others. The unfairness and obstinate attitudes. The intolerance that still pervades society. Crying over the circumstances that others accept: this is life. Hard-hearted towards guilt-inducing adverts for charities. Numb to requests for monetary help or those offering a false sense of hope. Emotions are an enigma.
I project a detached persona. Distant, reserved, aloof. Hold the tears back, only the weak cry in public. Bottle everything up, don't exhibit what you feel. Do not openly admit to feelings. A Victorian Britishness. A stiff upper lip, but fragile like bone china. I will not shatter in front of you. Hands cold to the touch, an embarrassed hand shake, “Cold hands, warm heart” they say. Overly sensitive, I never toughened up internally. It's sink or swim. Paddle furiously against the tide or bob like a cork on the surface. Overwhelmed, be dragged down. Sink to the bottom. Sit on the seabed, feel, think. Let the emotions settle and wash over me. What I'm unable to verbalise, I write.
How do you explain to someone that feeling anything is painful? Exhausting? That you live by this sense and therefore take on board how others feel all the time? Internalise, insulate their emotions? You ride their highs, experience their dips, and digest their angst or stress. It's draining. You don't have the space to trust how you truly feel, so you protect, protect, protect.
You suffer. It affects everything, from relationships to working life. A gift, but now you avoid getting to know people face-to-face altogether. Even that doesn't prevent it. Once a connection's been made, you feel their joy, their sadness. Pick up on their emotional states like a satellite dish or radio antenna. When you care, it's worse. How do you separate yourself out from that? How do you allow yourself to feel, and yet stop feeling?
You cry silently, bruise easily, but do not get attached to new places or people. You close yourself off from new experiences. You live quietly. Create a cocoon where you can escape it. You find a way to cope with the emotional onslaught. You become a functional feeler.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Tweet, Tweet

Tweet, cluck, caw, coo, cock-a-doodle-doo! These sounds once attributed to birds, now to Twitter. A chorus of voices, muttering pathetic gems or pearls of wisdom. Mocking. Opinions. Songbirds replaced by human tweeting. Repeating and general twittering. Permission to chirp ad nauseam. A written 'X-Factor', like giving the mike to those who think they can sing, except in this freedom of speech, there is no auditioning. Voices out-of-tune automatically through to the chorus round, no training. No practising scales, warming up the vocal chords, or warbling, just thrust out on an unlit stage and performing.
Letters forming words, forming sentences. Their comments contained in speech bubbles. The voice unheard, words seen. The audience reads an improvised script, adding their own thoughts to it. Repeating opinions. Following the latest news. Obsessed with twittering. The tweets get stronger, if not in actual sound, then in volume. The flock grows more shrilling. Lyrics reduced to abbreviations, unusual punctuation and smiley faces. Language used as a violent form of gesticulating: angry gestures spew from the mouth instead. Some words that are better left unwritten, unread, unsaid.
Vindictive and spiteful like The Twits. A children's book by Roald Dahl which some adults said made them feel physically sick. It was the descriptions of their practical jokes on each other that did it: Mrs Twit's glass eye and Mr Twit's beard where food would be saved for later. Adults were repulsed, kids loved it. A Roald Dahl reader, I was sucked in by his words, his characters, but now I understand how some adults felt: I feel the same way about Twitter. Would I love it if I were younger? If I wasn't quite so principled? I don't doubt it; I'd probably be addicted to it. But social networking came on the scene after my teens and I'd functioned perfectly well without it. Like Mrs Twit, I'm happy to turn a blind eye, but what I can't concede is the pressure to join it. Tweet, re-tweet, twitter, keep up, follow tv, radio or sports personalities, politicians, and trending. Who has the time? Everybody it seems – tweeting is part of the job, essential to everyday life. A web entourage of people, like the glue Mr Twit coats tree limbs with to catch birds for his pie.
The vast majority have fallen for this social trap: this interactive map of new technology. A social platform where everyone from Joe Bloggs to David Cameron is connected. Points of view from the mundane to the offensive. Freedom of speech from behind a safety blanket. Greater debate, we all get to have a say – fantastic! Nobody is oppressed, excluded. Yes, but what about when this freedom is intentionally used to champion an horrific act or slander an emergency service? People verbally abused on cyberspace. Mr or Mrs Twit gets what they want: a response. Attention. Is everyone entitled to their opinion? Of course, but some thoughts need to be self-policed. Kept private. Or conveyed in such a way so as not to cause indignation or distress. Twitter basically says while it may not be wise to speak these words, you can tweet it.
What and how to tweet is a linguistic problem: how do you engage in mistranslation? Where the written word is not black and white? Where there's no body language to accompany it? In a public forum, the words we use are important and should be tweeted carefully. Birds need to be alert – don't get caught by The Twits.

Thursday, 4 October 2012


Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side. That was the joke that was regularly told when I was younger. I don't know why it now springs to mind when I think about job hunting. Perhaps it's because I'm no spring chicken, I'm in my middle years, my prime. Job hunting has got harder. Supposedly it's because I'm past my best, my flesh more tough than tender. I haven't just left school or university. I've done the 9-to-5, the commuting; been chained to a desk and the office stress. I'm battered from my brief working life, I'm fried. In leaving my last job, I took a risk and now I can't seem to cross to the other side.
I know the look you're giving me: playing chicken at your age!? Why? Why? Why? For reasons I won't go in. An impulse, a moment, my state of mind. Like a hen that can no longer lay, I knew I couldn't continue. I'd desperately tried and it wasn't working, the situation was worsening. Perhaps it was all in my head, but I needed fresh air, a change. That was earlier this year and I'm still here: on sabbatical. Unemployed, but not for want of trying. Before you rant, I'm not on the dole or claiming any benefits. My choice, my savings.
Humph, what did I expect? Finding a job was never going to be easy! I knew that, but I hadn't expected to, well, feel so redundant. Used up, wiped out. I wasn't aware my qualifications, my experience would mean so little. That it would be so difficult to even be considered for a new career. Cooped into an area of expertise. Wings clipped and inclined to viciously peck my way out of it. Caged because I don't hold a degree, I didn't choose to raise a family. Where are the opportunities for those of us who are 30+? For those who didn't excel in written exams or go to university? What was the point of college and working part-time? Getting my first full-time office job aged 18? Working my way up, changing jobs, gaining experience. My CV rubbed out if GCSEs are altogether scrapped by 2017. On paper, I won't exist. Defunct.
What exactly does 'graduate' mean? Some employers assume 'graduate' means more equipped for the job. Value a degree in any subject above everything else. Theory does not outweigh the practical. Then there are employers who favour experience, but won't help you acquire it. Pah! And the same goes for modern apprenticeships. Why are these limited to an age group? Why can't I have a new start, train for a different career? Why can't opportunities be created for all of us, from when you first enter work to when you leave it? Where are my answers? Not here.
The Government struts, crows its educational strategies. Congratulates itself on ill-considered policies, preening. Education does need an overhaul, but so does employment. Employers need to assess candidates individually, taking into account qualifications, achievements and experience, instead of writing you off with a cursory glance. Good GCSEs; a GNVQ, which is dismissed, undervalued; no degree; relevant skills, but not in this field – reject! Under or over-qualified - which is it? Confused! Training yourself is not a one-off, a phase or stage. A decision made at school or university. People change... Mature, develop new skills, new interests. From egg, to chick, to hen, to tough older bird. Gaining knowledge and skills is a lifetime apprenticeship.