T H I N K

A recent post by someone on social media has my blood absolutely boiling.

This person, who I had previously considered a well read, intelligent man, posted an image which was titled “Male Privilege”.  The image reported statistics comparing men and women in certain situations; for example, the percentage of men killed in combat compared to women, or the percentage of men killed in industrial accidents, or rates of suicides across the genders.

It was a simple share of a slide which used statistics to counteract the view that men are somehow privileged; presumably a stance that all women take.  I say presume as there was no commentary accompanying the post; no thoughts or disclaimers. There were no declarations or opinions. Just an inflammatory post with some skewed statistics which were heavily drawn from sectors and scenarios that are specifically male oriented.

Let’s look at some of the background for the example of combat deaths.  In April 2015, according to ADF figures, there were 13,707 men and 936 women in various combat and / or security roles such as military police, firefighters, pilots and ground crew.  That’s 14:1 folks.  I’m no mathematician but I’d say the odds of a male being killed in combat are unfortunately much higher than a woman given those numbers.

Or what about one of the other statistics – rates of suicide in men and women.  Sadly much research has gone into these numbers as they are replicated throughout the western world.  One key reason the completion rates are skewed is that despite expressing more suicidal ideation (overall rates of mental health disorders tend to be around 20-40% higher for women than for men), the method of completion is significantly different.  Women who attempt suicide tend to use nonviolent means, such as overdosing. Men often use firearms or hanging, which are more likely to result in death.  Women also tend to demonstrate more help seeking and less risk taking behaviours.

You want statistics?  I’ll give you statistics…..

Here’s one for you:  in 2012, ABS data revealed that of the total victims of partner violence since age 15, 23% were men and 77% were women.

Or another: in 2016, the full time gender pay gap in Australia was 17.3% in favour of men.

Or another: despite improving education enrolments for women, in 2015 the United Nations estimated that 781 million people aged 15 and over are illiterate, with nearly 67% of them women.  This proportion has remained static for over two decades.

My point here is that quoting random statistics without context, particularly when used to support a contentious viewpoint, is useless.  Actually it’s more than useless, it’s inflammatory.  It doesn’t help create a culture where the world’s most complex issues are shared problems.  Random use of statistics to vilify or endorse a deliberately provocative platform sets up an “us versus them” mentality which over-simplifies and divides.

Gender issues are human issues.  The sooner we recognise this, the sooner we can work together to reduce the disparity.

The sooner we create some informed, balanced debate that is not based on “poor me” attitudes from ALL sides, the sooner we will see a kinder, more just world.

If you must quote statistics, do so with some thought behind it.  Use them to stimulate balanced debate and with a greater good intent.  Find statistics that open the hearts and minds of all and enable us to develop and implement solutions not just incite bigotry, division and hatred.

At the very least, look at the statistics you’re quoting with some basic intelligence, a touch of analysis and a dollop of context before using them.

For fuckssakes’, for all our sakes, engage your bloody brain before posting!

 

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Trees

The parallels between what we find in nature and this art form we call “being human” never cease to amaze me.

When I was very young, I heard an analogy that has stayed with me throughout the years.

To paraphrase, it essentially described a perfect relationship as one that mirrors that of trees in a forest.  If a tree grows too close to another, it doesn’t allow the other room to grow.  Trees that lean on one another too heavily often falter as when one falls, the other falls too, lacking the strong base each needed to support themselves independently.

Likewise, trees that grow too far away from each other cannot support each other when the distance between them is too great and, with a relatively simple wind, they topple.  Over time the distance can increase and prove to be insurmountable.  To live loveless, separate lives seems like a form of torture to me.

Consider now a large tree – relatively safe in and of itself with its own strong roots and trunk as a base, providing a stable platform that allows its branches to spread, reaching for the light.  When you add another tree close by, standing side by side with its mate, not quite leaning but close enough to protect and support, it will usually withstand the vagaries of nature much better and will thrive.

I witnessed this first hand last week, deep in the Amazonian rainforest.  Trees that were hundreds of years old stood side by side, trunks firmly planted in the fertile soil, branches gently touching, providing support as the limbs extended up into the sky.  Monkeys and birds cavorted across the canopy as the trees seemed to whisper to each other – “I’ve got your back babe!” The massive trunks were a base that supported complete ecologies and being in their presence, even for a short time, was empowering.

As a student of human nature, it seems to me that the best relationships, the ones that provide me with my inspiration, are the ones where interdependence exerts much more influence than either co-dependence or total independence.

One can observe this in all relationships, both old and new.  I have written before about the beauty to be found in old love; love that has been tested and survived throughout the years.  Recently, I was privileged to witness it first hand as a precious life ended.  How extraordinary to feel the love surrounding us and enveloping us like a bear hug; the love didn’t leave, only the earthly vessel carrying it.

I see it in new love; love that is fresh with all the inherent pleasure that the joy of discovery provides.  The new love that offers so much delight and surprise both to the participants and the loving observers.

Relationships like these will survive best when the base is stable, the branches intertwine and grow together and the canopy allows room for others.

To possess a restless soul is both a blessing and a curse.  The cursed part is the difficulty you find in settling down, being still long enough for the rest of the world to catch up.

But this is a mere trifle when you compare this to the opportunity to experience other cultures, meet new friends in far off lands and recognise the human spirit that exists in all of us.

There comes a point in this being human gig where you stop feeling love and you simply become love.  And like the birds of the forest, the restless soul has the chance to spread the seeds of love wherever and whenever it can.

Best of all, that stable trunk called home will always be there to provide sanctuary and a place to recharge so that you can head back out there next year and share the love all over again!

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Love x Infinity

When I was younger and knew so much more than I did now, I thought that love was far more finite.

I loved my first love, the one I married, with an enthusiasm that can only be found in the young.  There were times I felt it may overpower me.  Sadly, that love was not meant to be for the long haul and the bleak times that followed sometimes made me doubt that love would ever find me again.

Being a parent changes that of course.

The first time you lay eyes on that little one, so dependent on you, that fierceness returns and you know that you would willingly take a bullet for your babies.  Mama or Papa Bear instinct kicks in and, with a depth of realisation that too can overwhelm you, you recognise the unconditional love of a parent.

At least it should be; it isn’t always so which is the ultimate shame.  The weight of expectation gets in the way and some parents, in their desperate need for their children to have more than they did, unwittingly create less love and more misunderstanding.

How sad to see this.  Believe me, dear reader, I say this without criticism or judgement.  In the end, I truly believe most parents try to do the best for their kids.

Perhaps past hurts get in the way.  Perhaps they themselves never fully knew what unconditional love and acceptance felt like.

Perhaps they just don’t like themselves very much?

One may never know what creates scenarios like this.

What I do know is that seeing your children grow into decent human beings, with kind and generous hearts, is to watch the love grow infinitely grander and richer and you come to realise that love is not finite at all.

Love multiplies, not shrinks.  It expands, not contracts.  It enlivens, not reduces.

During a philosophical discussion with one of the gorgeous open-hearted souls I know (one of many I have had recently), we coined the phrase – a life well lived and well loved.

As I prepare to say farewell to another member of my family whose life is coming to an end, I realise that love as a multiplier is the ultimate aim.  The more compassion and tolerance you give, the more it returns to you.  The more you invite kindness and love into your life, the more it will reward you, often in ways you don’t see at first.

It may present itself in a meaningful conversation with a new acquaintance, a night out with the girls with good food and wine, some sparkling conversation with new friends from another country, a chance to make a difference at work, a quiet night on the couch curled up with the dog!

The people who mow down innocents on holiday in Spain – they don’t act out of love.

The President who spews forth on Twitter with vitriol and hate – he doesn’t act out of love.

The moron who mocks someone’s religious freedom by wearing a burka in the Senate – she doesn’t act out of love.

The physio who sings Danny Boy with the elderly lady with dementia – she acts out of love.

The man who hugs his partner when they’ve had a rough day – he acts out of love.

The elderly lady who, at the end of her life is surrounded by her loved ones, including her mate of 65 years – she speaks of love.

In the face of all the negativity, and at the end of one’s life, isn’t that all there is?

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Illumination

Those of you who have read previous posts of mine would be aware of my love of a good sign.  I don’t mean your garden variety sign.  Not a stop sign, or a safety sign nor the visual pollution one sees by the side of any road these days.

No, dear reader, I’m talking about the sign that reassures you that all is right with the world.

Said signs can be as blindingly obvious or subtle as a whisper.  I’m sure you’ve had the experience of thinking of someone and then unexpectedly hearing from them or running into them in an obscure location.

This happened to me a few months ago.  I had been thinking of a wonderful, wise, warrior-woman I worked with many years previously.  I recall our conversation as if it were yesterday; feeling desperately lost and confused, I confessed to this woman (let’s call her C) how I was feeling.  That as all the boundaries I had lived with for the past 20 years came crashing down around me, I now felt such overwhelming grief and loss that I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I remember thrusting my hands out in front of me in a helpless gesture of bewilderment and described feeling as if I was completely laid out for all to see; a shapeless, formless pile of “BLAH”.

C didn’t bat an eyelid; she turned to me and exclaimed:  Isn’t it fabulous!!!

C taught me the value of living a life laid bare, barriers down, terrifyingly open to all that the universe has in store.  C is fierce and heroic and absolutely the person I needed to talk to as I bravely stepped into a new way of being, letting go of that which no longer served me and finally, magnificently becoming.

I was reflecting one morning recently on how far I’d come, how much I was enjoying this person I’d evolved into, the people who helped me along the way and, you guessed it, C popped into my head with a memory of generous gratitude.  As is the way of the universe, who should I run ran into at my local shopping centre but that same lady, despite her now living on the other side of the city.

Serendipitous of course.  But also one of those unique signs that give you confidence that you’re on the right path.

Recent events have reminded me of the universe’s ability to give you a nod and a wink and say, it’s ok, we got this.  Some shifts have convinced me, yet again, that the path is open, wide and welcoming; both on the personal front, on the work front, and within the lives of some of my dear ones.  The old sense of purpose is gathering momentum again and, having had some much needed time out from life and letting go of my self-imposed, limiting boundaries and expectations, I now know that it’s all good.

With evolution can come restlessness; a yearning to see it all happen quickly.  Sometimes, this impatience means an overly active mind or the odd sleepless night.  Just last night I had such a night.  I woke at 4.00am, in the pitch dark, wide awake.  I rolled around in bed for a while to see if I could get comfortable but my bothersome brain kicked in and I slowly started to surrender to my wakefulness.  Giving it one last attempt to return to blissful slumber, I rolled over in bed, almost ready to give up.  It was right at that moment that I opened one eye to see the most glorious star shining in on me through my kitchen window.  It was breathtaking; lighting up the early morning blackness with such luminosity that I shed a tear with the sheer power of it.

Then I laughed out loud.

That gorgeous star sparkled and winked at me as if to say, told you we got this!

 

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(c) Adrian Bell

The perfection virus

Oh perfection shining bright; how I chase you with all my might.

As I seek you far and wide, I quite forget to look inside.

How is it I never see, the brilliantly perfect, imperfect me…..

Clearly I am no Percy Bysshe Shelley.  John Keats can rest easily in his Grecian Urn.  Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson will not be disturbed by my bon mots.

What I will claim is a quick turn of phrase when the inspiration hits.  And hit it did last week as I ruminated on some trials that a few of my dear ones are facing at the moment.  My Leunig-esque verse above is one that tripped lightly into my head a week or so ago and, most likely could have popped straight back out again were it not for the realisation that the perfection virus strikes us all at various times.  Perhaps this little ditty may strike a chord.

That bloody perfection virus can be crippling.

When I was a child, I was forever singing.  I danced around, hairbrush in hand, in front of the mirror trying to hit those notes.  My pitch wasn’t perfect but good god, I had some fun with it.  I hit primary school and the bug didn’t leave.  I even have a book in my collection which was awarded to me as Best Supporting Actress at the local Warana Festival in Year 7 an awfully long time ago.  It is one of my most treasured possessions.

My Oscars speech was well rehearsed and I knew that when the time came, I would deliver it with such depth and gravitas that there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house.

At high school I continued in this vein; writing, performing, ripping off Monty Python skits (the parrot sketch was a favourite) for the school talent quest.

It was around this time that I was struck down in my prime by the perfection virus.

Not content with simply performing for the joy of it, I determined that if I couldn’t do it perfectly, I wouldn’t do it at all.  Even a brief moment in the spotlight as the lead singer of the infamous Budgee Smugglers couldn’t quite restore the careless delight I had found as a child with that hairbrush.  Years of self-doubt, that niggling little voice that said the performance (or you) were not quite good enough, finally smothered the creative spark.

Until I found it again in Italy 2 years ago.

My bella Italia – the land where passion and love and art are bundled together in a jubilant celebration of what it means to live life in all its breathtaking magnitude.  Revisiting the “life renaissance” there provided that inner spark and let me rediscover my creative voice, my inner truth.

Stephen Sondheim wrote:

The art of making art, is putting it together, bit by bit, piece by piece.

The creative life will find you if you let it.  But to allow it to manifest, you have to kill that dreaded perfection virus.

Art isn’t easy.  It is imprecise and messy and confusing and frustrating and delightful and invigorating and absolutely, gobsmackingly terrifying at times.

Much like life really…….

Art is very personal.  What inspires one person may be considered folly by another.  Where we find that connection will be very different for each of us.  If you allow it, you may be delighted to discover a muse and surprised at when they choose to appear for you.

I’ve also discovered that the creative life is very patient and with luck will take you a very long time to master; perhaps even a lifetime.

Purge yourself of that perfection virus and it will find you in whatever shape or form you need.

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The Missing

This last couple of weeks has been interesting and apologies for the lag between posts.  I have been getting to know a new workplace and a new group of people to interact with.  If you’ve been following the adventures of #consultantlife you will have some inkling of how much I thrive on this.

This sense of newness is something I have actively sought for much of my life – the freshness of new faces, the variety of different locations and unknown situations.  That may explain the craving for travel that I have indulged these last few years now that the kidlets are grown.  I have embraced the challenges of change, despite the innate human resistance that rears its head sometimes.

As I turn to face the change, I have learned that having a solid foundation is key to success.  Some of us build these foundations on our experience and learn as we go.  Many of us are lucky to have had a solid foundation in our youth and role models in our families and within our friendship groups on which to base our actions and behaviours.

There is nothing quite like a funeral to bring some of these truths to light.  Last week I sat amongst the congregation in a large Catholic church, praying that the ceiling joists were made of stern stuff, as I attended the final farewell for the father of one of my dear friends. This mate is part of a group of friends I have known for over 30 years and, as one of them said to me, “there is nothing quite like old friendships”.  This rang true for me, blessed as I am with a large tribe of genuinely kind people surrounding me.

These friends have been part of my life for a long time; from our glorious misspent youth, through engagements, marriage, children, relationship trauma, divorce, and now, as we ourselves age, we face the loss of our parents, our earliest role models.

Despite the knowledge that they have hopefully lived a good life and, at the end of their time on planet Earth, have left behind a rich legacy, it’s still a challenge.  The platitudes are valuable but there is no denying that losing a parent is hard.

I miss my Mum.  She was as stubborn as she was kind, as feisty as she was generous, as challenging as she was wise and not a day goes by when I don’t think of her.  Likewise my Dad.  They were made of stern stuff that generation.  They lived through The Great Depression, World War 2, the post-war era, the evolving 60s and 70s, the greedy 80s.  All with limited resources and a frugality that puts most of us to shame.

I miss a few people on a regular basis actually.  I miss those who have gone too soon, something I’m reminded of when I attend a farewell like last week.  I miss some of those friends that I don’t see as often as I’d like.  I miss my #2 daughter who is “adulting” interstate.  I even miss #1 daughter at times and she lives 20 minutes away!

Tonight as I type, I ponder if missing someone is a bad thing? Yearning for someone is a measure of the love you feel for that person isn’t it?  In this era of instant gratification, I wonder if missing someone is something to be savoured.  Perhaps not to the point that it becomes dysfunctional.  But surely that longing to see someone makes the reunion all the sweeter.

Missing someone is one thing.  There are things I miss too.

I miss being able to get up off the floor without groaning.

I miss the days when I could stay up past 10.00pm and not feel like a I needed to take a nana nap at 3.00pm the next day.

I miss being able to go dancing for hours like I did during my uni days, (usually sans alcohol as we couldn’t afford it and besides I didn’t seem to need it to have fun) and not need to take a packet of Nurofen the next day.

At the funeral I saw an elderly man hold his wife’s hand as he walked her up to receive communion and I realised I missed holding hands with someone.  I miss the feeling that tried and true love brings and I may never experience that again.

Please don’t be sad, dear reader.  My intent is not to provoke sympathy.  Indeed, one of Mum’s favourite expressions was “it is what it is”.

I will however confess to a little indulgent missing that evening.

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Lost in Transition

The swings and roundabouts of this art of transition are bothersome.

I have spoken before of the power of the universe to send the right people to you at the right time when you’re on the path.  My friend Kym described it as feeling like you’re an arrow completely on target to hit that bullseye.

What happens when you’re off track?

The synchronicity of life alludes you and no matter how you chase it, it will continue to duck and weave past you until you sit quietly and listen.

Sitting still with your thoughts and feelings is supposed to help.  What is your heart trying to tell you? The concept that your inner voice will speak to you is appealing.

What happens when you do this and the voice stays resolutely and annoyingly quiet!!

I’ve been reading a little about this whole transition thing and, upon reflection, I realise that I have done this many times before in different guises.  The changes that happen when you leave home for the first time; when you fall in love; if you lose that love; that moment when you first gaze into your baby’s eyes;  your first trip overseas, especially solo; when you see your parents getting older before your eyes.

All of these things that make up this life we lead – they all contribute to the evolution and all of us can relate.  Each time it has felt rather overwhelming and for some reason, it feels even more bewildering this time around, compounded as it is by the knowledge that you have simply no fucking idea what you should be doing and there feels like less time to be doing it in.

I am surrounded by people in a similar situation at the moment, a fact which provides a modicum of comfort.  You don’t feel quite so alone when you know there are others in the same boat.

I always say to my kids, if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.  In my heart I know that this is a valid and appropriate response.  It’s worked for me before and I have seen it work for others too.  It’s one thing to say those things to others and a completely different kettle of fish when you have to apply it to yourself!

Yes, I know, tell yourself the same things you would say to a friend in the same situation.  Listen to the advice of others and you might be able to hang your hat on something they say to you. Read something that resonates with you.  Do something that you enjoy doing.

Blah blah blah……….

I know all the theory; I’ve read so many of the books, listened to the meditation tapes, called upon many of my long suffering, emphatically supportive friends, focused on the positive, felt the gratitude, done all the right things.

Change is hard.

It’s lonely too.  Only you can make the changes, only you have the answers.  In the end, you are the one who has to make the decisions and roll with the outcomes for better or worse.

Sometimes, a lot of the time, nothing makes any sense.

So I write.

I write so that I don’t feel so alone in this transition stage of life.

I write these ramblings in the hope that something will resonate with someone and perhaps they will have some advice or thoughts that may help me.

I write because in baring my own soul, I just might inspire someone else and maybe they will share something they have done to help themselves; some bright spark of encouragement that may help the rest of us on this rocky road.

I write because that seems to be the only thing that does make sense to me at this time.

I write so that in the act of writing, I may find some answers myself.

And eventually I feel the fear and do it anyway.

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(c) Adrian Bell