Called “Ordinary World”, and it almost perfectly expresses what I’m feeling and thinking at the moment. See the (slightly wrong actually) lyrics. On the one hand, I’m writing poetry like this:
Now the knife valley has
split and I am pushed in,
arching back at happiness
and gutted like a murderer,
I cannot hold the breakfast
lunch and tea of it,
so it slops out.
It is skewed and very wrong.
But there is your car,
dirty silver and
in the wrong place
to vacuum the smile from me
until I am dull
and you do not show
my fate matters
like it did.
On the other hand? The aftermath of the Philippines’ typhoon. My split with my wife is such a little sorrow by comparison.
A lot of life’s pain, and the healing from it, comes from a sense of perspective. It’s going to take me a while, but seeing the news makes me realise I’m so very lucky compared to some, and I honour that luck.
If you’re thinking, “Yes! Quite right! THEIR ideology is so immensely damaging!” then I fear you might not like the rest of this article. I’m going to be rather more fundamental than that.
1 — Ideology is Similar to Theology
Whether or not there’s a God involved, ideology is a set of assumptions and beliefs about the way things are and should be.
A right-wing ideology might insist that market forces are required to show what we value, as demonstrated by the amount we’re willing to pay for something. Many who follow that ideology may look down on, or fear, those who have no money, either because they are “lazy”, or because they are subversive — “Why would anyone choose to be poor! Why would they fight against money?! They’ll destroy society!”
A left-wing ideology might insist The State has a duty to protect and look after its citizens, and that success is (or should be) possible for all, limited only by the generosity of The State. They fear the rich because many of them are powerful, and “self-interested”, and because they have “taken away money from everyone else” (somehow), no doubt deliberately because to have money is an indication that you are a vile person.
To me it is axiomatic that neither of these, nor pretty much any other ideology, is very sensible because it is a caricature of what’s really going on.
When we face a problem, we need to ask, “What is true?” then gather information, and make a decision based not on what we want to be true, but the information we have gathered.
To do otherwise is to set the ideology above reason. In that case we would be asked to accept the ideology by faith and required to submit to its overall wisdom (if we are to remain a part of the group), and implicitly asked to understand that sometimes the facts will appear to suggest the ideology is wrong, but the TRUE BELIEVER will not doubt! They will keep believing!
This does not help us understand what is really happening in a given situation.
2 — Ideology Creates Division
"Are you a Socialist?" It doesn’t really matter what you say, they result is that you are either in the Socialist box or outside of it. And the person asking the question will view you accordingly (depending on how they themselves view Socialism). Almost no one is a perfect Socialist or anti-Socialist, in fact it’s probably impossible that anyone can be either since there will be a multitude of definitions about what Socialism actually is, but still we hear the question.
The aim is probably to get a general idea of the person’s views, but it does more than that, it harks back to the only question that used to matter many hundreds of years ago, “Are you in my tribe or are you an INVADER!” This is not helpful for an informed conversation in the twenty-first century.
3 — Ideology Prevents Growth
Once you have somewhat successfully defined what an ideology believes, it’s really rather hard to change those beliefs when new information becomes available.
Let’s assume we formed a group to fight coal powered electricity plants: we have organised demonstrations; written flyers; delivered them door-to-door, faced great wrath from some home-owners in the process, and we have arranged meetings in public halls to explain the danger of burning coal. We are a well-functioning group, doing good for mankind, we believe.
Then someone out there finds a way to burn coal cleanly (this is not too far from the truth actually) — suddenly, the whole premise for our group is under threat. Some people in the group think NO form of coal can ever be good and they question the science behind it, finding (they say) reasons to disbelieve it (“It’s a conspiracy!”). Others in the group see the benefits of using clean coal power stations over dirty ones. Others say none of that matters because coal is still not a sustainable energy source.
Suddenly there are arguments and divisions in the ranks of a once unified group. Chaos reigns. And this is exactly the sort of thing that has happened in religious groups down the centuries. Growth of thought is stifled, and in its place there is conflict and anger and a sense of betrayal by “people I thought I could trust”. All because a new fact has become available.
A Test of Our Own Ideologies
So, what about this? Have a read and see what you think:
Is this a right-wing attack on the rights of all to reach their full potential? Or is it proof that poor people are poor because they are genetically stupid and do not deserve the advantages of those with better genes?
Well, if we ignore ideologies, it’s neither.
This article re-presents something which science has known for decades, if not hundreds of years: people are influenced both by their nature (their genes) and by how they are nurtured (their environment and opportunities).
It’s true that over the years the needle has swung between the two to some extent, but both are true, and they have been demonstrated by studies on identical twins who have been separated at birth. Not that any parent with two or more children needs to know that, because they will already be aware that both genetics and parenting have a significant influence on their children’s personality and behaviour.
So what I am proposing? Let’s use this case as an example again.
Let’s first establish whether the science is accurately reported (and indeed that it has been validated by other scientists, at least in some way). Let’s assume we’ve done that, and it is, then we can ask what that means for education.
Perhaps those on the left have to accept that some people have a genetically determined brain structure that is not going to help them learn (at least academically speaking). GASP! HERESY! No! Everyone is equal and all can succeed!
And perhaps those on the right will have to accept that predisposition is not determinism — if people are given encouragement, and resources, and someone who believes in them then they will do much better than if they do not have those things. GASP! HERESY! No! Government should not intervene; only the best should rise to the top!
See what happens? And, while we fight, our children are not educated any better.
So, my assertion is that we need to move beyond tribal bonding over ideology into a more measured assessment of what is true in a given setting. And then to test whatever we discover.
And I’d suggest, if I’m wrong, it will be because I’m blind to my own ideologies…
UPDATE: And of course, there’s this rather obvious demonstration of the damage ideology can do: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-24483014
Sometimes alcohol isn’t involved AT ALL when I do this sort of thing. Amazing.
The English language does have a new word, however, so that’s a bonus.
Hello. I have a new website:
All kinds of stuff about me, for all kinds of people who’ve asked me for this info over the years.
(slight change of direction c.f. recent posts. found this on my ancient, expiring Hubpages account and thought it might help someone. it got me a score of 71, which sounds like it was reasonably useful…)
Why Can Public Speaking Scare Us?
Why should we be afraid of talking to group of people?
Can you talk to one person without being nervous? What about three people? Say the four of you are chatting away; are you able to join in? How about ten people? What if those ten are sitting down and you’re standing up in front of them? What about larger groups? You’re at the front and there are three hundred people looking at you, waiting for you to start your talk. Or a stadium full of people, studying your every movement, every sound, every pore?
Most people get a bit scared at some point on this scale, the questions are (i) why? and (ii) what can we do about it?
From Where Comes the Fear?
So at what point did you feel fear? A surprising number of us have some fear even when talking to just one person! But as soon as the number of people increases, and their attention on us becomes more direct, almost all of us feel some nerves.
One reason might be that we think they’re waiting for us to ‘perform’. They’re waiting for something special, and it’s our job to give it to them. If we fail, will think we’ll look stupid, or laughable, or pathetic, or any number of other words that make us feel fear and rejection.
So What’s Really Happening?
It’s important to really think what’s happening here. We are afraid of becoming less in people’s eyes than we were just before we began our talk.
But the question is not ”why do we feel like that?”, or “how can we avoid the fear?”, because that focuses on the fears, which is, in fact, the source of the problem:
We go into the room thinking about ourselves and our fears
The question real question we should be asking ourselves is, “How can we make sure we give something to those people — something they value?” As soon as we do that, our whole attitude changes.
We’re not doing a talk to avoid humiliation (or whatever you fear will happen during/after your talk), we’re doing a talk to give to other people. Doing a talk is a gift from you to them. And everyone likes gifts, so you’ll be fine.
Who’s Receiving the Gift?
Who are your audience? Do you know them all individually? If so, go through the stuff you’re considering sharing with them and imagine whether it’s something that they’ll find useful - even if they don’t know it yet.
If you don’t (or can’t possibly) know everyone in the audience, ask yourself what ‘kind’ of people will be out there? Are they opera-attending, PhD-wielding, rich people? (Don’t worry, you still have stuff they need to hear.) Or maybe they’re more into country music and horses, or inner-city hip-hop and edgy fashion, or maybe they have harsh life stories and little money? Or maybe… well, you get the idea.
Either way, you’ll have some idea who they are, and you can tailor your message - your gift - accordingly. Think who they are, think to what they’ll respond, and imagine what kind of information gift they might like from you.
Creating the Gift
Once you see a talk as a sort of gift to people, it becomes a lot clearer what your job really is. You need to do the following things:
Wrapping the Gift
So, you’ve got your topic, developed your ideas, made sure they’re short and sweet. Great! But there’s still one more thing. You need to present it as nicely as possible.
All gifts should look good. I’m not saying the way a talk looks gives it value (it’s the content that gives it value) but making a talk look and sound good signals that you have taken care over your gift. What does that mean for a presentation?
But remember, you’re not doing this to make them like you, you’re doing it to give them something meaningful, valuable and well-presented, because you value your audience. You’re going to give them something you know they want or need. You can’t go wrong.
I’m talking at the 2012 Aberystwyth Book Festival on Monday.
Details are here:
It’ll be brilliant. And you can support local authors and publishers.
Tell the world.
A copy of my book “Hordesmen’s Master” has been requested by the annual Aberystwyth Book Festival as a prize for a competition they are running!
I don’t know whether to laugh or cheer :) Either way, I’m happy.
I’ll be doing a talk at the Festival, and will be selling books.
Hope to see you there, December 10th, venue to be confirmed, but somewhere in Aberystwyth Arts Centre or Library I would imagine.
I’ve been getting a *lot* of good comments about “Hordesmen’s Master” from test readers, copyeditors and other writers :) I was really concerned about this book, so I have been making some careful changes over the last few weeks — it seems they’ve been effective.
The print manuscript is almost finalised and should go off to the printers this week! I’ll let you all know when it’s available on grŵpgwyn.com and Amazon :)
Those of you who have bought an eBook version can get a FREE updated copy once the print version is finalised; just email me c/o grŵpgwyn.
Every now and then (more often than I would like) real life takes over and makes it impossible for me to write — at least I can’t write anything that’s good enough to end up in a book.
I’m just coming out of one of those times.
I’ve been doing two full-time jobs for the last couple of months, and as time went by the amount of work has become more and more intense until last week I was doing crazy hours.
Often when I’m working hard I actually find it relaxing at the end of the day to write a short piece about something, just to do something creative. But recently I’ve got the end of the day and simply collapsed, until it was time to get up in the morning and do it all again.
Hopefully, I can get back to writing “A False Sense of Comfort" now (see my the link for the blog about that book’s development), and I’ve got another secret project that’s tangentially related that I’ve recently started up.
Still, I guess we need real life to make itself known like this — if we only lived in our own constructed worlds all the time (okay, we do exactly that, all the time) then we wouldn’t have anything to write about. We write about life, so we need to live it.