"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Healing Imperatives for a Fractured World

Ripples of Hope – Healing Imperatives for a Fractured World
‘Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’
Robert Kennedy Speech 7 June 1966 Cape Town
I am a child of the fifties. In those early post war years we had freedom to play outdoors all day with our friends, with minimal adult supervision. We cycled or walked or bussed to school in all weathers, often alone. We had little money and we lived simply. But we were happy. Changes since then to our material "well being" have been immense. But they seem to have come at an extreme cost. Material wealth does not apparently bring us happiness, peace and contentment. 50 years on we now live in a culture where "success" seems to be based on celebrity status and wealth. We buy too much, we own too much, we hoard too much, we throw away too much and we do not recycle enough. The material possessions of others often create envy and greed, and this fuels its own social problems. We have ethnic and racial problems, terror, violence, public disorder, crime waves, the ‘yob culture’ on our streets, binge drinking, metal detectors in schools to combat knife crime and terrorist attacks in our Western European cities. We feel the need for gated roads and secured driveways. Many of these problems were unheard of, even unimaginable, in my own childhood and youth.
And whilst we live in this material splendour, real poverty is rife. 1 billion in the world live on less than the international poverty level of $1 per day. More than 850 million of the world’s 6.55 billion population starve. These statistics are an affront to our humanity. The injustices of the rich/poor divide bring discontent and envy, particularly with the globalisation of information. Poverty brings disease and lack of education, which itself perpetuates that poverty. Lack of resources also increases vulnerability to natural disasters that in the developed nations we are broadly speaking better able to handle. Inadequate and poor quality housing exacerbates the impact of floods, hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. And how many of these are linked to man’s own arrogant interference with the planet?
We have a love affair with our car, our house, and our material possessions. And we all love a bargain. So much so that many of us are unwilling to pay the premium for fairly traded and fairly priced organic or local goods. We love our sanitised, standardised, pre-packaged meat and perfectly blemish free fruit and vegetables. But when we chase the cheapest mass-produced goods we are at the same time casting aside any ethical considerations regarding the production of those goods. We really do not want to think about the possibly sweat-shop conditions of the labourers, the unrealistically low wages that may have been paid, the cruelty inflicted on helpless animals, that our purchasing behaviour may be promoting.
My generation remembers the Cold War, with the Suez crisis of 1956/57 and the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962. We recall the sense of euphoria when the Berlin Wall, symbol of the Cold War since 1961, was dismantled in 1989, marking the end of European communism. We hailed a New Era and a new and peaceful world. How wrong we were!
In his Acceptance Speech following receipt of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize the 14th Dalai Lama remarked: ‘As we enter the final decade of this century I am optimistic that the ancient values that have sustained mankind are today reaffirming themselves to prepare us for a kinder, happier twenty-first century.’ Sadly his prediction looks unpromising as we start the new millennium. We now live in a more perilous world than we could possibly have foreseen as children of the fifties.
Nick Clegg recently observed, with reference to Britain under the Labour Government in November 2006, that: ‘If legislation was a guarantee of greater public safety, this country would be the safest nation on earth.’ It seems that throughout the developed world Governing and regulatory bodies try to combat every ill of society as it arises by what can only be interpreted as knee-jerk legislation.
Small businesses find it difficult to keep up to date with the continual red tape handed out to them. Private investors have to be protected with an overly complex Financial Service Act and Money Laundering regulations for the simplest of transactions. Schools and hospitals struggle to cope with more tests and targets and league tables. In fact life is becoming far too complex and stressful for us all.
Over zealous legislation not only stresses us. It also takes away our individual sense of ethical, spiritual and social responsibility. And we do have personal responsibilities; towards ourselves, towards each other, towards our communities, our nations and ultimately to our living planet earth Gaia. And of course legislation fails to address our underlying behavioural problems, our selfishness and aggression, our greed and our envy, the seemingly prevalent albeit petty dishonesty amongst so many of us, fuelled by attitudes displayed in popular "soaps" on the TV and in films. Even the normally law - abiding citizens amongst us sometimes ignore the rules and regulations. Simple examples are the widely disregarded restrictions on speeding and the use of hand held mobile phones whilst driving. Such behaviour is obviously selfish. It exposes our fellow road users, pedestrians, cyclists, horses, pets, wild life and other vehicles to mortal danger. Why do we do it? Would we change our driving behaviour if we knew that every other user on the roads around us was a cherished friend or relation or even pet? Of course we would! If we always drove with consideration and care and indeed love for every other person sharing the road with us, traffic regulations would not be needed at all!
It seems clear to me that lasting and real solutions to the many and seemingly intractable problems of the 21st century world in which we live will not be found in Government interventions and interference. The world’s many fractures will not be healed in that way. Positive change must come from within our own hearts, through a healing of our own wounds and our own behaviour. To achieve that we have to rediscover our own spirituality, recognise with new eyes the spiritual in all our material experiences, whether at work or at leisure, and feel that spiritual awakening in our own individual consciences.
This is a healing imperative for our world. ‘There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root,’ wrote Henry David Thoreau. We all have to start striking at those roots.
This has been précised from my book in progress "Ripples of Hope – How to Heal our Fractured World," that explores how healing our own behaviour rather than relying on Government interventions is the real key to solving the world’s problems of climate change and violence that threaten our very existence. For more see www.eleanorstoneham.com

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Winchester Writers' Conference 2008

I went to the Winchester Writers' Conference again in June. This has been organised by Barbara Large of the University for many years, and is an extremely motivating and worthwhile experience. Alongside the plenary session on Saturday, (amusingly droll, delivered by Colin Dexter OBE, creator of Inspector Morse), the conference holds workshops and mini-courses over a few days, alongside the opportunity to submit your work to three different agents, publishers, or other writing consultants of choice, for a 15 minute free appraisal. There is also plenty of opportunity to share stories with other budding authors, some of whom each year find a publisher as a result of their visit.

This year I received encouraging feedback for my book in progress, Ripples of Hope, from Annabel Wright, a senior editor at Harper Press, (who had a gorgeous new baby in tow!), Alison Baverstock, author of Marketing Your Book, an Author's Guide, and Zoe King literary agent for the Darley Anderson Literary Agency.

The big problem with the publishing world these days is that is has been swallowed up and changed beyond all traditional recognition by the 21st century celebrity culture, and the so called Me Millennium! Ripples is definitely NOT a self help book in the "How to achieve Material Success and find spiritual happiness" genre! I find though that the commercial potential of a book in progress in the so called Mind/Body/Spirit genre is judged by that very same oxymoron!

Ripples is the antidote to all that. It offers a refreshingly new angle to self-help by applying ancient spiritual wisdom to our daily activities, showing how healing our own behaviour rather than relying on Government intervention is the real key to solving the world's problems of climate change and violence that threaten our very existence!

People in "the trade" tell me that I must show clearly "what is in it for the reader!" Oh dear reader, isnt it sufficient that we will find spiritual peace and leave a planet for our grandchildren to enjoy? Read Ripples to find out How!

Monday, 21 July 2008

mobile phones in cars

I was waiting at the lights for them to turn green. As I waited I watched the drivers coming across in the opposite stream of traffic. Easily 50 percent of them had a mobile phone glued to one ear. This was a built up area – a 20mph zone going into a 30mph stretch. A road with children, dogs, cyclists, elderly people from the nursing home – and all the cars were exceeding 30mph easily. And on the phone!! And it is illegal. But hey, many seem to think that any behaviour is OK if you can get away with it, not be caught. What happened to respect for our laws?

Is any conversation so important that it cannot wait until you can stop safely? If all other road users around us were our own families, loved ones, friends, would we drive so carelessly and negligently? I sincerely hope not, and I do not think we would. Except that I have seen mothers with people carriers full of children presumably not all their own, negotiating roundabouts with one hand holding the phone to the ear. I would have sacked any child minder (or friend) who took such chances with my children.

We should love all human beings. Just about every faith in the world has that at its centre. At the very least we should respect all other beings and their right to share the road safely with us. So come on out there. You all know who you are. Cast out that arrogance, selfishness, self-importance, thoughtlessness, whatever it is that makes you a different person as soon as you get behind that wheel and drive so dangerously.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

social psychology and the mess we are in

For four years I have been pursuing the idea that we need to look at our individual behaviours to sort out the messes of the current world - not just leaning increasingly on ever more rules and regulations brought on by knee jerk reaction from succesive governments. This is the theme of my book in progress Ripples of Hope, based on those 4 years of research. I was therefore thrilled to read Daniel Finkelstein's article in The Times this week. Integration of work on human behaviour into politics, he says, is in its infancy but represents an important intellectual sea-change. But the most important step forward, and I quote from his article: "has come with David Cameron's correct insistence that social change is as likely, or more likely, to come through influencing behaviour as it is through regulation."

How do we influence behaviour? We need to look at our own wounds, of nature and nurture, and to find healing. We need to get back to basic spirituality, to rediscover our souls, to slow down, to restore relationships in family and community, and to bring these principles into the work place as well as our leisure activities. This is the thesis behind my own book.

How long is it going to take for common sense to prevail and for vital changes to be made. Hugh Montefiore, one time Bishop of Birmingham and Chairman of Friends of the Earth, wrote Time to Change - Challenge for an Endangered Planet - more than ten years ago - but this was a culmination of his 30 years interest and concern for environmental matters. The world, and the human race, he said, was under threat because we had broken the fundamental laws of nature and of God.

How right he was - how sad that it takes so long for such messages to get through to an increasingly materialistic and selfish world. At last there is some glimmer of understanding amongst pockets of mankind. How vital it is to keep on pressing home these vital truths! Ripples of Hope is my contribution to that understanding.

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