Thursday, 23 August 2012

Lies...

Lies, half truths and biting our tongue are the acceptable false fa├žade we are maintaining today. The truth has become a prickly and uncomfortable tool, wielded seemingly only by those who thrive on controversy and confrontation, even though that in itself is a lie. The problem is that the truth has become so actively associated with criticism and condescension that it is regarded as toxic and therefore should be avoided at all costs.

The pretext to this article comes off the back of a conversation I had with a friend of mine. She asked if I thought she had any issues. After assuring her that everyone has issues, that no one is perfect and we all have a chip on our shoulder, she still pressed for an answer from me. She was asking me as a friend. She knows I will be honest with whatever I say or do. She knows I don’t act maliciously unless someone has genuinely hurt or upset me. So I told her that she was aggressive and, at times, highly strung. She kicked off in epic fashion, having a go at me with caps lock on and exclamation marks sent in abundance. Her rhetoric went from belittling to borderline homicidal and I sat there taking a torrent of abuse for answering a question she asked. She clearly had forgotten that fact because she only stopped her despicable diatribe after the fourth time of me typing “YOU ASKED!” The irony of her being aggressive and highly strung towards me wasn’t lost of me but it seemed to have passed her by like a gentle breeze. Even though there were now pages of evidence to substantiate my claims, she took it as an unjustified attack on her. Why? Because like Aaron Sorkin wrote and Jack Nicholson spoke, she “can’t handle the truth!” Very few people can.

We lie all the time. People ask if you are alright and even though you feel like you are dying inside, you say “Yeah I’m fine.” Why? Because no one wants to be labelled a whiner or needy. No one wants to be known as an attention seeker. Or maybe you do it for the same reason as me, namely you don’t believe for one second the person asking actually wants to hear it or could actually help. I rarely speak about my problems to anyone, usually because they can’t solve it and talking about it will only serve to wind me up even more.

We all deceive. If you have the temerity to disagree with someone, they don’t ask for the validity of your opinion but set about trying to convert you to their idea, usually in some kind of manipulative or coercive manner. I have a natural mistrust of people, cultivated by years of experience in seeing humans letting me down spectacularly, not little stuff, major things that really mattered. I expressed this opinion to someone that I did not trust them nor most people in this world (a few select people have my trust). This person shared the opinion that this was sad, that somehow my health, mentally and physically, would suffer and that I should just change my mind. When I explained that I had over 30 years of experience in this field and could give her an encyclopaedic break down of why I have that opinion of the human race, she managed to boil down my opinion and then ridicule it with the simple statement “That’s just silly.”  It isn’t silly, it is perfectly rational and reasoned but knowing that the truth was far too uncomfortable for the bubble-esque reality she has created, I just discontinued the conversation and wondered why I was stupid enough to think people can accept such a reality.

If I am accused of something, I apologise, even though I have done nothing wrong. I’m not alone in this deceitful act of peace keeping. Plenty of others do it. Why? Usually the stubborn mule of a man in front of me won’t back down and the side parties just want an end to the fight. It doesn’t matter what is right or wrong, what is true or false. What matters is that everyone else can get on with their lives and if that means one person lying and taking the hit, that’s what needs to be done. It is the wisdom of Dumbledore where we “have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy.” We choose convenience over veracity almost every time. We have said by our actions that it is better to be acceptable than right. We, the generation that should be the most informed, most educated and most progressed, are in reality no more sophisticated that starlings, swarming around in packs, not daring to break away in case some predator leaps on our moment of genuine independence.

So we lie. It is the tongue of cowards, the vocabulary of those who wish to be seen to get along. It is socially stunted lexis of the human race and it will exist forever because while the truth is sacred, everyone else assumes it is scolding too. We were fed lies as children (“Santa is real” / “You face will stick that way” / etc) and they are now the staple diet of everyday lives (“No, you’re bum doesn’t look big” / “I’m fine” / etc). The reality is that lying is just the easier way to live and that is the saddest truth of them all.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

London 2012 - A Memorable Olympics

London 2012. I remember when we won the right to host the Olympic Games as I wandered down from my room, having enjoyed a long lie in. It was electric and the nation rejoiced. Sadly the 7/7 bombings happened a short while later, taking the wind out of our sails and we instantly went into our cynical shells. We all prepared for the worst and with every error highlighted along the way, trepidation was the lingering key word as the Games approached. We were wrong to doubt Lord Coe and his team, who stubbornly refused to let any negativity dampen their enthusiasm and for this they should be commended. Now that the Olympics are done, I think there are things we should look back on and be proud of.
  • The merit of volunteering
I have many rules. Rule no.1: Never volunteer. I cannot think of a more stupid idea because once you volunteer, you are lumbered with a task and the obligation to deliver on it with very little reward. The volunteers at London 2012 defied such a notion. All of them came away from the experience bouncing with energy and enthralled to have said "I was part of it". Their selflessness also shone through those around them. The Games were a better place for them and it just proves that it is better to do something you believe in than something you are paid for. The patriot is always preferable to the conscript.
  • The Armed Forces continue to be the pride of the nation
Yet again, our troops did the job no one else could do and they did it well. There was no trouble at the Games and their presence made the city feel safe but never militarised. If anything, we should show our gratitude by finally making the Military Covenant a law and have it apply to all the Armed Forces.
  • True class
Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir were in the middle of an interview with the BBC. They were buzzing, coming off the track having secured gold, silver and bronze medals respectively in the 200m. This was their moment to shine and gloat and why not? They had earned it. Yet in a moment of true class that still sends a tingle down my spine, these three men went silent and paid their respect as the Kenyan anthem played. David Rudisha was receiving his gold medal for a world record breaking run in the 800m. Rudisha probably doesn't get the plaudits he deserves, partly because he does the slightly less glamorous event and he is also a very humble, quiet man. Still, what he did in that Olympic Final was breathtaking and the Jamaican trio knew it. To see them respect that achievement and Rudisha so highly and to show their respect in such a dignified and powerful manner was a masterclass in how a sportsman should act.
  • One medal can make a difference
Team GB's cyclists and their team should be lavished with praise. They promised medals and they delivered. Along with rowing, they have become the powerhouses of the British Olympic Team. Yet it was only 1992 that Chris Boardman ploughed a lonely furrow to an Olympic Gold Medal. One medal made the sport more appealing to a younger generation and 20 years later, our nation is awash with cycling legends such as Hoy, Wiggins, Pendleton and Cavendish. A lesson that every legend stands on the shoulders of a giant.
  • Sport needs a story and characters
The BBC can hail their coverage as a triumph because it drew us all into the Games by not just showing the events but finding the stories within them. Katherine Grainger was a great example of this. I knew her story but I imagine plenty didn't. The world class rower who just couldn't seem to secure that Olympic Gold Medal. The fact that she was Team GB meant we willed her to win but when we all knew what she had been through, we weren't just in the stands shouting for her. We were in the damn boat ready to row for her and the joy was all the greater for being part of the story. Bolt's charisma, Lochte vs Phelps, Ainslie's anger, I could go on but it was things like that which kept us emotionally involved now and what will make us come back for more.
  • Smaller sports need a voice
The Olympics features football, basketball and tennis, something which I oppose. The Olympics should be the pinnacle of any sport that is played in it. However, the BBC, for two weeks, gave a multitude of "smaller" sports a voice and how we would like to hear them again, long before Rio 2016 rolls around. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the archery, rowing, cycling, BMX, volleyball, handball, amateur boxing and badminton. If a premium event was on the TV, I would probably watch it. The BBC has the luxury of consistent funding and should take the risk on these sports to give them a voice. Let's be honest, it would be relatively cheap to buy the coverage of them now and if they do grow, let the commercial broadcasters have them and move on to the next growing sport.

There are plenty more things to take from the Games but one thing we should take is the great feeling we had when we pulled together as one nation. We're not perfect but we are British and if London 2012 taught us anything, it is the truth that we should be proud to be British.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Death of Free Speech

Dearly beloved,

We are gathered here today to celebrate the life and mourn the passing of free speech.

It was a treasured ideal, one that set us apart from despotism. Now, we have decided that this right should be downgraded to merely a privilege, namely having the freedom of speech provided you agree with the majority, or at least the perceivable majority. Time has taught us that the majority is typically quite quiet, getting on with their everyday lives and usually settle for how the world is rather than how it can be. This free speech idea has been wielded as a weapon by protest groups, Unions, the media, politicians et al. Now it has found unpleasant allies that has invalidated the genuine "human right" status it enjoyed because it is becoming increasingly exclusive.

Free speech started to fall ill when it became acceptable to use hatred, polarising rhetoric and sensationalistic terminology to corner those whose opinions are deemed as unacceptable. In USA, the head of a fast food company called Chick-Fil-A stated that he supported traditional marriage. It is his opinion and one that he is entitled to. He did not promote hatred or harm towards anyone in the gay community, he merely said he agreed with an idea that has existed for thousands of years. The Ancient Greeks were very tolerant of homosexuality but they never had gay marriage. Yet, because the CEO of this company had the temerity to share his opinion (one that he was asked about, not one he just blurted out), protests broke out, social networks started to send waves of aggression. Politicians jumped on the bandwagons to curry favour with voters. Suddenly Chick-Fil-A was labelled as anti-gay, even though it never refused to serve customers based on sexuality or advocate hateful behaviour towards anyone in the gay community. In fact, nothing in the company's conduct could be construed as trying to diminish the life quality of any person, bar clogging arteries and expanding waistlines, a fate that happens to the straight and gay of this world equally. Free speech is the right to say what is on your mind.

Free speech then took a turn for the worse when it was used to promote criminal and hateful activities. Before it was quite a tough task to share words that were specifically designed to harm and harass but now the internet has given a platform such evil. Free speech typically finds its loudest voice on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as was manifested in the Arab Spring, as nation after nation in the Middle East embraced democratic rights. Sadly, we trample over the blood that was spilled and the lives that were lost when we use this right to torment an Olympic athlete for not delivering a medal, using words to take an insidious cheap shot when nations have used them to plead for freedom.

Free speech breathes and lives on uplifting words, informed & informative dialogue, funny statements and reasoned rhetoric. Free speech suffocates and dies under hateful words, divisive & destructive dialogue, cruel statements and polemic rhetoric. We are increasingly choosing the latter. Free speech is not beyond resurrection but I fear that we are more interested in personal agendas and being socially acceptable than supporting righteous agenda that formed an acceptable society.

Freedom comes at a cost but it offers such a great reward. So I am pleading with the world, let's not trade it in for "getting our way" because it is a trade down. It is giving away our most precious right for a cheap victory. That is wrong and I hope the day never comes when I am not free to say that.