TFTD 4 – What people won’t forget

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Day 4 of camp is always the tough one. You might know it as ‘hump day’ that middle day when you are at that halfway point. You’re tired. You’ve been around these people and the end point seems so far away. Everyone might be a little bit grouchy.

And so on this day it felt important to have an extra reminder to have a little bit of grace with one another.

There’s been a cliche that somehow has been stereotyped as the complaint of women only that we complain it’s “not what you said but the way you said it”. Tone is everything. Context is everything.

During camp I had a conversation with a group of the older female campers about how in the past I’ve freaked out on my friends when I thought they were doing something that would be harmful. They said “But Laurie, were you not right? Is it not a good thing you pointed out how X could hurt them?

Maybe I was, Maybe I wasn’t. The point was the way I went about it didn’t sound like I was coming from a place of love, but a place of judgment.

We can have knowledge another person doesn’t but that doesn’t give us the right to make that person feel stupid by the way we impart it. Are we imparting it or imposing it?

All questions I’m constantly having to ask myself as I respond in this world of polarising views and apparently no more truth – it’s all fake news.

But also a reminder that we should take opportunities to impart kindness. To compliment. To encourage. To go the extra mile. To say thank you for the small actions as well as the big ones.

Because I’m guessing that feeling we will leave someone with is one they’ll remember positively.

 

 

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TFTD 3 – Somebody is learning from you…

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On this day, I wanted to emphasise that no matter how old we are, people learn how to be people by watching us. Even when we don’t realise it.

I shared with them how although I’m not a parent, there have been a lot of children in my life. My younger sister and brother may tower over me now, but I was 7 when my sister came along, and 11 when my brother came along. I carried them. I fed them. I changed my brothers nappies and ‘helped’ change my sister’s too. The majority of my closest friends are parents and if you are going to keep being friends with your parenting friends their children come with them as part of the friendship package. Add to that being a youth worker, and there comes a day when you realise even when you aren’t meaning to teach, people learn from your actions.

There have been a few moments when this has become clear that kids have learned from me (for better or worse).

The time when one toddler Kahuna announced that something was ‘totally awesome’ with perfect Brunette Koala inflection on the word totally. (If you have spent 10 minutes with me, you’ll know that ‘totally’ is a word I overuse).

The time when your friend’s kid totally disses you because all they want to do is sit in the corner and finish their book so they can find out what happens.

The time when your friend’s daughter starts ‘leading worship’ and you discover exactly what you look like when you sing at church. Eyes closed, arm in the air, song that your church worship band has probably overused in the last few months belted out.

The time when a teenager goes on a full on rant passionately and with a lot of points as to why X, Y and Z should happen. Because they’ve never heard any of my rants. Ahem.

When one of your siblings pulls a face and all your family turn round and say ‘oh my gosh that’s YOU!’

The time when a teenager turns round to their friend and says “I can’t be mean to you because my Guide leader is here.” I asked later, and apparently my constant ‘this is turning into gossip’ and other things I was saying and doing made them feel that being mean wasn’t allowed. I didn’t really realise the effect of my ‘rules’ or culture setting until that moment. In this case, I realised it probably wasn’t a bad thing.

The truth is, who we spend time with will always have a huge influence on our behaviour – for better or worse. And we would do well to remember that somebody is learning how to be a person by watching us.

TFTD 1: Be kinder than is necessary…

If you’ve been around me in the past year you’ll know that one of my favourite movies is Wonder.¬†I was told about the book by one of my Guides when she became a Ranger telling me that it was one of those books everyone should read.

My goodness, was she right.

One of my favourite characters in the story is Mr Tushman (and sorry Mr Tushman, I’ve been spelling your name incorrectly). His end of year speech to the kids at Beecher Prep Middle School is one of those that has stayed with me. It was what I read out on the first day at surf camp.

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When the campers arrived this year, I gave each of them an empty glass jar and a bunch of glass paint pens and told them to write their name on it, decorate the jar however they liked (if they wanted to at all) and leave them on a table. If you are one the young women who has been through Free Being Me at Guides or was part of the Girls Group at the youth project where I worked you know what’s coming next…

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The next morning after I read out Mr Tushman’s speech, emphasising that last sentence I explained what the jars are for.

You see, one of the most forgotten spiritual gifts is the gift of encouragement. We are told time and time again in the bible to encourage one another. Build one another up. Disciple one another. I actually sat eating breakfast in the Borough High Street Pret the week before camp looking up every verse I could find on my bible app that mentioned the words encourage one another.

I told them it was a jar of kindness of encouragement. I left out my fanciest felt pens (I know Rangers, I know…it was hard to do), some scraps of paper and placed each jar carefully on the stage in a line. And as the week went on leaders and campers a-like began to fill those jars with thanks, encouragement, kindness for each camper. Some of them came up to me commenting how they liked the idea.

At the end of the week the campers made a jar of encouragement for everyone to put a note of thanks and encouragement for our leaders too. Thank you random ‘sells a bit of everything’ shop in North Berwick for your jar provision.

Kindness became the theme. It’s too easy to moan about someone being different. To criticise when you’re not the person doing the job. To get grouchy when you’re tired. To tease and let ‘banter’ become hurtful. To stick with the people you know, invite only them and leave behind the new people that you don’t know yet.

And so at the start of camp, we wanted to set the tone. Be kinder than is necessary.

I have no idea what ended up in those jars. I do know that the day after I shared this thought, one of my leader roomies left a note on my bed to encourage me. Thanks Katy. I’ve kept it for the days where I need a little encouragement again. ūüôā

The one where I don’t give up my oyster card…

So it’s fair to say that’s it’s been a rough couple of weeks for the UK. And I have to say that I’m so thankful to live in a country with decent gun control laws.

“Terrorism” has been something I’ve been aware of all my life. We were dealing with it long before September 11th 2001 before a certain American made it purely to be synonymous with “Islam”. Some of my earliest memories are of the Lockerbie bombing on the news and being evacuated from shopping centres because of IRA bomb threats. My friends who grew up in Northern Ireland have even more memories of what “terrorism” meant. Bombs and checkpoints were just part of daily life there for a long time.

I saw¬†on social media before news officially broke that something had happened in Manchester. My friend posted a warning telling everyone to stay out the city centre because something bad had happened, and wanted to let people know he was safe. Later I found out that I knew two people who were at the Manchester Arena that night, both taking their daughters to their first Ariana Grande concert. My friend, a proud Mancunian, got emotional telling me of being woken up to hear the news knowing that it was totally chance that her nieces weren’t there that night.

And last night I saw the news about London Bridge and Borough Market.

I’ve seen the news headlines in the USA as a certain “president” uses this news as some kind of fuel for his fascist like ideas and hate. Republicans and NRA enthusiasts telling us how if Muslims didn’t live here we wouldn’t have terrorism, or that everyone would be alive if we were armed. Thankfully, we came together as a country after a mentally ill man went into a primary school to massacre a bunch of innocent school children with a gun. We don’t get to go into shops to buy guns here. Otherwise there would likely be far more victims when people go on a rampage of violence like this.

I’ve also seen comments like “London is reeling” or “Britain is bleeding“. I think…No we’re not. Right now as I type, most people are settling down to watch a live concert organised by Ariana Grande in Manchester.

I mean, I can’t speak for everyone who shares this bunch of islands as their home. We’re more than mildly ticked off. You might see a few of us using some cuss words. Apologies, but…some circumstances I think allow for strong language. But this morning, my pals in London were still posting their Sunday brunch pictures on instagram. Everyone carried on as usual, while still thinking of those whose lives were forever changed last night. Sure, those of us who are teachers and youth workers are thinking about the ‘unexpected emergency incident’ element of our risk assessments when planning trips to concerts and city centres a bit more than usual. But as my Mum and I are always saying “one of us could get runover by a bus tomorrow” (she used to say “Don’t say that!” to me but now she replies with something like “well, exactly.“).

In 3 weeks I’ll be boarding a train to London Kings Cross. Just as my Nana did many times in the last years of the war to go visit her family. My Nana was born and bred in London until she married her Scottish husband during the war and moved up here. She told me of how the sirens would go off and the train would have to stop in a tunnel as bombs were dropped on the city. Of patrolling the streets of West London during the Blackout.¬†Of going out to the dancing.

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My Nana (we shared a middle name). She was 84 in this photo I took of her in Christmas 2003. 

And folks, my Nana was a WORRIER. This was the woman who freaked out if I didn’t arrive home from school 5 minutes after the bell went. Who was convinced if I got my ears pierced my lobes would get infected. Who told her eldest daughter (in her 40s at the time) to be careful crossing the road to the corner shop to get the paper and a pint of milk. She died before I got my tattoo, but I’m pretty sure that if she’d known about it, she would be fretting that ink on my skin would most likely lead to me being a future member of a prison chain gang or something.

I don’t know if it’s because part of my family grew up in London, but it always feels like a second home to me. My friends who live there always tell me how everyone is rude and doesn’t speak to each other. I never have that experience when I visit. I’m always catching the eye of someone riding the tube sharing a look about something we see that amuses us. In 2013 me and Miss Sweetroot were having a giggle about some of the station names on the Northern Line, and I caught the suited up Londoner smirking as he overheard our conversation about how “Goodge Street sounds like a place filled with bogies” (when I caught his eye, he of course went back to staring straight ahead, but I know our chat cheered you up¬†dude). When I was there before Christmas, I got stopped several times to be asked about the green Hulk bear I was carrying in a box for my godson. London is so used to ‘security threats’ that most of the time when you hear an announcement about it on the tube, everyone just sighs, grunts and goes back to reading their papers/books/kindles/phones while we wait for the tube train to start moving again. And you bet your ass when things do happen, Londoners band together. That’s why you had cabbies yelling warnings to pedestrians near Borough Market and doctors and nurses running out of hospitals across Westminster Bridge. It’s why we have pictures from the 1940s of people drinking cups of tea sitting on piles of rubble that was once a building they called home. And it’s why not a single Brit is surprised to see a picture of someone running away still carrying their pint of lager without spilling a drop…because London prices people. He paid ¬£6 for that pint, and no ‘terrorist’ was going to keep him from it.

So I’ll go to London. My Mum might worry a little bit, though logic will tell her that I could just as easily go into our city centre and be caught up in something there. I’ll likely be on the tube, riding the escalator singing the “London Underground” song in my head.¬†I will be that annoying Scottish lass who totally ignores the proper London etiquette¬†and smiles at strangers, tries to engage them in conversation and thanks TfL staff. But don’t worry Londoners: I won’t do what really annoys you… I’ll have my oyster card ready BEFORE I get to the ticket barriers. ūüėČ

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In all seriousness…let’s remember that acts of evil, acts of hate, acts of violence have been happening since humans roamed the earth trying to exert their power over other humans. It is heinous. It is awful. And we must raise our children to understand these power dynamics, to recognise¬†their privilege and how they should not¬†use it to continue the oppression of others. We must raise our children to love.

To everyone who has been affected by events led by people trying to divide us and kill the good in this world. I’m thinking of you.

I’m also going to keep calm and carry on.

Because it’s exactly what they don’t want me to do.

Adam Hills is an Aussie, but a lot of us Edinburgers have loved him since he first came to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe a couple of decades ago. I pretty much see his and his wife’s shows every year they are here. What he said on his show, The Last Leg I think really does reflect the sentiment of most Brits I know. (Just a heads up, there is a swear word that rhymes with ‘buck’ in his rant if you are offended by curse words).

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Much love,

The Chatty Brunette Koala who intends to keep using her Transport for London Oyster Card x

Quote of the Week: Good Turns

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Sorry I’ve not blogged all week. I got sick with a yucky cold, and it was also Thinking Day this week. Thinking Day would have been enough, but we also had a last-minute planned celebration for one of the Guides who had achieved the highest honour you can as Guide – The Baden Powell Challenge Award. I’ve also been working out how to navigate a time of enforced change our organisation is putting my Rangers through. It’s been stressful, upsetting but also strangely encouraging. It’s rubbish to see the girls feeling unvalued, ignored and uncared for. On the flip side, I’ve had girls who have left my unit coming back hearing from those still here what’s been going on getting in touch and telling me what Girlguiding, and particularly Rangers has meant to them.

I’ve now been back volunteering with Girlguiding working with young women aging from 10 years to 21 years old for 6 years. I’ve now had the chance to watch these girls grow into adults and what Olave says is true. And what a privilege to see. There are girls that I tore my hair out over wondering if they’d ever see their own value, the change that a smile or a small act of kindness can bring. We persevered. We tried to set an example.¬†And now I know that it really is worth it, because I have watched so many of them grow into kind, compassionate young adults who are willing to stand up for what is right, and show such kindness to people.

One of my role models who lives in the North East of Scotland, she often tells me on facebook that she can tell when girls are Brownies or Guides because of their attitude. She is always sending me words of encouragement and telling me about Girlguiding members she meets in her own community and how it makes her think of me and my fellow leaders. I love that. I really do.

And even though at the start of this week I all I wanted to do was curl up with a hot water bottle and hug a box of kleenex, I’m so glad that instead I was being the paparazzi Guide leader as the girls played pass the parcel and admired the congratulations cake (and consumed it). Because I realised that actually…it does all make a difference.

 

Quote of the Week: You will get hurt, but..

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I love this quote from John Green’s novel The Fault In Our Stars. Because it is so very true. We are always going to get hurt. There is just no escaping it.

Us humans, we aren’t perfect. We get tired. We get grumpy. We second guess and we misunderstand. But there is such a huge difference from being hurt by someone who doesn’t mean to have hurt you, to someone who does it intentionally or just simply doesn’t care enough about you.

In the context of the story here, one person is worrying about causing the pain of loss. Loving people, caring for people comes at a cost. I know that I love hard…and easily. The cost of that is that I physically hurt when I see others in pain. And I get upset when I feel like I’m not trusted. It’s also meant that I’ve always cared about people more than money. Something that has probably cost me a steady income. I’m discovering that the people who hold power don’t like people like me who care more about treating employees well, people like humans of equal value instead of how much money I can make from people or how unquestioningly subordinate I will be.

It’s also why as I’ve gotten older, I don’t make the huge effort to keep reaching out to people in my life who have continually let me down, spoken friendship without really being genuine about it. It’s not that I lock the door to them…it’s that I don’t continually extend my invitation anymore. I spent so much of my early twenties making efforts that got thrown back in my face, or experiencing “FOMO” (except that it wasn’t so much fear but reality – seeing that yes, I was missing out…the joys of watching all your family or all your friends doing something that they invited everyone else to but you).

It hurt.

And I kept letting it happen again and again, until one day I just decided no more. Rather than trying to maintain relationships with people who didn’t really want to have one with me, I focused on the people in my life who did. And I became a lot happier and content as a result.

I recommend following John’s characters wisdom. ūüôā

Quote of the Week: Friends don’t silence or oppress you…

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At the start of Black History Month, it feels only right that I quote from one of the great wise women who walks this earth, writes so eloquently and speaks such wisdom.

I walked through the door after being at the dentist the other day and my Mum saw me and was like “What’s wrong? Was it really bad? Did it hurt?” it wasn’t my mouth that was hurting. I was saddened by things popping up on my phone. A man, a prominent voice in the Scottish evangelical church landscape who believes that women are not of equal value to men. The sadness that I’ve watched two incredible young people go through teenagehood, become passionate for Jesus and be brainwashed by such teaching and become more excluding rather than welcoming. More superior rather than supportive. And another young adult who has been brainwashed by evangelical Christians who believe that Trump is some kind of messenger from God and that by locking our doors to people in need (despite the bible teaching us that we should do the complete opposite) it’s about loving our family, rather than fear and hate of strangers.

I made a decision last week to stop attending church because I realised that church seemed to demand my silence. It seemed to be denying my friends. After my friends (and my Mum I’ve since found out) were appalled at the way three other friends – all male, all “Christian” – spoke down to me about a subject they knew little about and I knew much about, and how they talked about some controversial issues with very strong and hateful language, I realised that I had not been affected by their speech. Why? Because I had become so accustomed to it during the years that I ran a pregnancy crisis centre. Over the last couple of years I have felt lost because I have not understood how this life of mine could be part of some plan God has for me (people in church often talk about ‘the plans God has for us’, usually taking a bible verse from the book of Jeremiah out of context in the process). The last two years have taken me out of a bubble and into the world, opening my eyes and heart to so many different people. These friends have not held me silent, and they’ve not denied my right to grow. They’ve been patient with my ignorance, they’ve helped me learn so much more about experiences I’ve never personally gone¬†through. However, for many of them, when they’ve walked into a church community – they have been silenced and denied. Because of this, they believe God hates them.

I love community. I really miss being part of a community that studies the teaching, prays together, lives collectively, welcomes in strangers, learns to get along despite many differences. Knowing that inclusive church does exist, ¬†I hope that some day soon I’ll find one in my city.

Quote of the Week: The Power of Books and their Readers

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Some terrible things are happening this week. I, and many others around the world, have watched some pretty incredible things being said on social media by two very racist, bigoted men residing in the USA. I won’t name them, because you may know who they are, and I fear that giving them more attention is the opposite of what is needed. But when someone says that a man like John Lewis is “all talk and no action” or that “all Rosa Parks did was refuse to sit at the back of the bus” it’s pretty mind boggling for those of us who…like…read. And know a little history.

The sad thing is these men are using their keyboards on their devices to try and rewrite history with their propaganda. I wonder what books they read as children and adults. Did they read at all?

For sure the people I come across in everyday life who are very narrow minded seem to be into censoring what they and others consume in terms of art. It can’t have the wrong language. It features people who look like them. Who live in the same (or a similar) country as them. It enforces a particular belief system. They consider anything that portrays anything else dangerous.

Ever since going to South Africa, I have become overwhelmed with the frustration of the single stories. I’m fed up that when I walk into a book shop all I find in the picture book section is white blonde/brunette children from traditional families. I know that other stories exist, but you have to go off the beaten track to find them. The same goes for the other sections of bookstores. The majority of the books on my shelves are written by caucasian westerners from English speaking countries. I have a book by an Iraqi woman, a book by a Black South African,¬†books by a Nigerian woman, a book by an Asian-Australian and a couple of books by Scandinavians. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the books that I have, it’s just that they lack diversity and a true reflection of all the stories to be heard in the world. How can I possibly start to understand other cultures unless I either travel and spend time with strangers who are native to that land or read about the stories of their experiences?

And so I’m challenging myself to find and read books written by women and men of varying cultures, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations. I hope that over time our cinemas, libraries, bookshops, museums, theatres, art galleries start to reflect all the stories of the world. All the history.

Because I agree with Nina. From there we learn compassion. We start to gain understanding. And from there we see things said by bigots, bullies and fascists and recognise their propaganda for what it is. And we get angry. We love. And we take action to make this world a better, more peaceful, complex place.

Quote of the Week: The Jar of Happiness

I am a woman who naturally finds the negative. I’m always finding what could be better, critiquing everything and get frustrated when things don’t go as well as they “should”. Add that to my predisposition for anxiety and depression (which I think runs in my family) and you’ve got a recipe for a very critical, grumpy, pessimistic person.

However, these past few months I’ve been following Miss Val’s blog. Valorie Kondos Field is a ballet dancer who for the last 25+ years has been coaching the UCLA Women’s Gymnastics team. She is someone I’ve admired and respected from a distance for a very long time, and I love that she is now using social media to share her thoughts and ¬†wisdom. Last year she shared with British gymnast and UCLA Bruin, Danusia Francis about her revelation just after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and going through treatment, and it really challenged me. She talked about the privilege of ‘getting to’ over ‘having to’. More recently she shared on her blog a conversation about gratitude between herself and two other people at UCLA – and I was challenged even more.

And so…

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…after reading back my annual ‘So long [insert year]‘ post on facebook and being thoroughly depressed by it, and realising it’s been like that every year for a while I decided I needed to have a change in attitude. I saw a facebook meme about keeping notes of all the good things that happen. The prayer request jar from surf camp was lying on my bedroom floor – it had held all the fairy lights I use for the prayer space at surf camp and I’d taken them out to stick up on my bookcases since there was no room for my tree. I decided that I can buy a new jar for surf camp, and this is now going to be my jar of happiness. A place where I keep note of the little (and big) things that happen each day that make me happy or encouraged or help me in some way. Basically anything that I’m thankful for.

Come to think of it, really I should be calling it my ‘Jar of Gratitude‘.

I was using post-it notes but they are a bit annoying as they stick to the side of the jar, so when I was buying inserts for my filofax I went on search for a memo block. I found one, but I realised the loose paper would end up EVERYWHERE in my messy room. A lovely shop associate went to the stock room and searched for someone that would hold the memo block so that wouldn’t happen – and came back with the one pictured next to the jar. Happy days (and yes, that went into my jar. Yay for lovely helpful shop assistants).

Like happiness, gratitude is not a limited resource, and I think we can make a choice to be grateful instead of focusing on what we haven’t received or had happen to us. To be honest, in a year where fascism is rising and being labelled as simply ‘alt- right wing’ I think we’re going to need to put as much goodness and kindness into the world as we can to combat ¬†it!

I hope it’s going to be nice to look back on at the end of the year too.

Quote of the Week: Walking with friends

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It’s fair to say that 2016 wasn’t the best year. In fact there were some very dark times, and I think the fact that I had trudged through 2015 and gone into 2016 with a little hope that what had been rubbish in 2015 would be rectified in 2016 made it slightly difficult to swallow.

But then…friends.

There’s nothing like going through dark times to find out who your true friends are. Friends who love you just as you are, who accept you in your circumstances no matter what they are. Friends who you haven’t seen in a couple of years who will come running round to clean a trashed flat when you post on facebook a cry for help. Friends who have their own stuff going on but accept you as a surf camp leader despite the fact you’ve been lying on the floor of a bathroom for 24 hours and less than prepared for your responsibilities. Friends who are in town for a short period of time and will take you running to their hotel room after work so you can at the very least watch the Great British Bake Off together in your pyjamas while eating homemade brownies before heading home to bed because you have to work the next morning. Friends who will text and what’s app and engage on social media when lack of finance and time off work mean you can’t afford to travel to visit during months and years of separation. Friends who will accept leaving on a road trip to a wedding at 11 p.m. because you need to work a late shift in order to get the weekend off to go in the first place.

They are worth more than ¬†their weight in rubies, diamonds, emeralds (and any other precious expensive jewels). And I’d rather be going through rubbish times knowing they are by my side, than having a comfy life without them.

Because I know that in the times where life is great, all I want to do is share that moment. I remember being in Australia seeing a beautiful sunset and wishing a particular friend was there to witness it. I remember wandering the streets of Paris alone and wishing I had someone to experience it with. I love going to the cinema with a friend so we can discuss the film we’ve just seen after – whether it’s one we love, one we hate, or one that we disagree on!

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And when it’s cold and your face is being stung with hail on the first day of a new year, there’s no better people to do it with than with friends. Even when you’ve spent so much of the day in your pyjamas, you end up literally walking in the dark because January days are short in Scotland!