Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Get this empathy monkey off my back.

A couple of weeks ago British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke about Britain's "slow-motion moral collapse" and "Broken Britain".

There are pockets of our society, he said, that are frankly "sick".

"For me it is clear that the root cause of this mindless selfishness is the same thing I have spoken about for years. It is a complete lack of responsibility in our society."

Hitting back, former Prime Minister Tony Blair declared, "The key is to understand that they aren't symptomatic of society at large. Britain as a whole is not in the grip of some general moral decline.

"The truth is that many of these people are from families that are profoundly dysfunctional, operating on completely different terms from the rest of society, either middle class, or poor".

My very weak response to the above is: What? And you let this happen?

And my equally poor response to their bulls**t is printed below.

And what makes it so much more pathetic, is that is it all true. All of it.

Empathy is the capacity to recognize, and to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another.

Empathy is the key cornerstone in genuine human relationships. Empathy is conscious. It means one with empathy feels compassion, while those without do not take into account other people's emotions.

All well and good.

But what if you are saddled with it, let's say you are burdened with chronic empathy as opposed to acute, or the seasonal variety? How do you get this grasping monkey off your back? At times, his grip is so tight it becomes hard to breathe. Your mind races, you need to do something. But what?

You wrestle with the absolute imperative of making some sort of contribution to society, but the monkey has another little trick up his furry sleeve. It is called "consequences".

And it comes in all shapes, sizes and circumstances.

If you witness a grave injustice in your workplace, do you rush out and report it, even though it will probably cost you your job?

If you are living paycheck-to-paycheck in a tight job market, well, that is quite a consequence.

Are you a pragmatic, or a coward if you turn away?

At Ridealist we are frequently approached by organizations from at home (U.K.), here in Hong Kong, and others as far away as Uganda, Kenya, Peru, India.. you name it.

The little monkey jumps on our back and squeezes the empathy nerve with all his might.

You can't sleep, seriously. You spend hours, days, weeks even, trying to come up with a solution.

But faced with the reality of not being in a position to do anything, almost exclusively the result of a lack of funding, the feeling of hopelessness and inadequacy can be quite debilitating.

And then, in the end, defeated and demoralized, you have to say no.

It can really mess up your life. Seriously. The disappointment is tangible.

However, it is often more than that. Disappointment is one thing. But why does this disappointment so often come dressed as shame?

You tried, you failed, there is no shame in that.

If you think that, then you are lucky. Obviously, you don't have a resident empathy monkey.

We could have sold the car. Moved to a cheaper apartment. We could have done any number of things, but we didn't.

Doing that would introduce consequences WE would have to live with and perhaps lessen our overall effectiveness to help others (and ourselves) in other situations in the future.

And diminish our questionable quality of life, of course.

Sound's more like an excuse than a real reason, doesn't it? But we can convince ourselves of it.

But to function, the empathy monkey sufferer needs to take it a step further.

We need to learn and embrace the magic steps required to enjoy the soft release of "compassion fatigue".

Are there any introduction courses you can take in "indifference"?

Sadly and honestly, that is where I am heading right now. And I know it isn't a good place.

But I have a life too. And I don't want to spend it miserable thinking about the things I could have done, the things I should have done. The things I didn't.

I am doing what I can - okay? Ridealist is doing what it can.

What the hell do you want?

Pause, glass of California white. Think.

Is there an alternative?

Yes, I believe there is but it will take a huge leap of faith in the ability of people like Cameron, Blair and their ilk, to see just a little beyond their re-election. Look way beyond, to their legacy.

It is possible they could create a culture where whistleblowers will not be punished by being sentenced to live on a barely sustainable unemployment benefit? Create a culture where workers are not subject to arbitrary abuse by managers? Actually this creates more young thugs than you'd really credit!

Create a culture where Civil Servants are actually civil and believe they truly serve as "employees" of the people? All of the people.

Create a culture where teachers can do their job, get the respect they deserve, and still live long enough put adequate food on the table. And of course not have to worry that their car hasn't been vandalised while they were in class.

Create a culture where parents are held more accountable for the actions of their children.

Instead of broad and sweeping budget cuts in institutions that serve the public, and only line the pockets of bankers, corporations and institutional investment brokers, give fiscally responsible non-profits and community groups the tools to do what we do and let us feed our monkey's appetite.

Perhaps even start a colony of empathy monkeys.

But this would need to be initiated by likes of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. People obviously unburdened by the empathy monkeys.

Our elected leaders.

I am inclined to finish this with a big sigh and say, ah well, I tried, but who really gives a sh*t.


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Thursday, 11 August 2011

You always have a choice


Let me preface this with: The world doesn't owe you anything. And if you think it does, you are in for a crushing disappointment.

You think you can rely on people? Your closest family perhaps - at a stretch. But outside of that, you are on your own. That has always been the way of the world, and it will always be that way. Get used to it.

Sure, there was a blissful period when the unmotivated, the lazy, or the simply criminal could milk social services for monthly cheques that would have your average middle manager in a small company gagging with envy and asking "Why the hell am I putting myself through this?"

But the days of the Politically Correct Liberal Taliban that allowed what should have been a social safety net to become a cast iron cradle are numbered. And they are not coming back.

I won't go into the economics of it here, but it really is over.

So what of your hopeful expectations that you'd be indulged?

That the government would pay you enough to live comfortably while you watch football and soft-porn on your wide-screen and let others contribute to the tax revenues that pay for your utilities and food stamps while you occasionally put in a few weeks work just to look "willing"?

Or perhaps you are one of those who did put in the hard work studying, racking up a crippling student loan, only to find that 100,000 others graduated the same year and are all hunting for the few dozen jobs that someone with your knowledge and talent should have?

Boy, what a disappointment. So what do you do. Get the wide-screen and watch tennis or Discovery Channel until that miracle job comes along?

Protest that there are not enough jobs? Yeah, see how that works out for you.

But it is not your fault is it? You were lied to. You were misled. Factories closed down, shops closed their doors. Blame the banks, blame the government, blame immigration - the subject that no one dares to talk about.

Oh, and don't forget those old fashioned Human Resources managers that don't understand that a hoodie, jeans with the ass hanging down almost to your ankles, and a surly attitude is the New British Young Worker look.

If it was good enough for school, after all, the teachers didn't say nuffink did they?

But of course they couldn't, the Liberal Taliban saw to that.

"Can't even get a F****ing interview, the posh tart wouldn't even let me in the office."

Oh pity.

And now you think you've been left behind. No hope, no future. Just cheap fags and discount booze from Tesco. And the wide-screen. What a life. No life.

Budget cuts closed the local community centre, and the ones that were still open you torched. Didn't really think that one through, eh?

Frustration. Lack of jobs, cuts in social services (can't afford so many channels now on BSkyB).

It is all so bloody awful and unfair.

Well here's a news flash for you. Do you think it is just your generation who've faced these problems?

Skip back just one, to the days when your parents were your age. When I was your age. And we didn't have wide-screens.

We brewed most of own booze because Tesco was a bit more "conservative" in those days. Couldn't afford it anyway.

So what is all this to you? What is the point?

Cut a long story short.

I was you.

One day one of my uncles took me on one side. "Oh, oh, not another f***king lecture."

He was a straight-backed former Royal Marine, joined as a boy - and by all intents had any vestige of a sense of humour kicked the shit out of him. A real straight-backed prat.

For once, he didn't lay into me. Look at the way you are dressed, the foul way you speak, your lack of respect for elders. Oh man, could he go on!

All he did was point out some older boys shoveling shit on a nearby building site.

"Is that the life you want?" he asked?

"Wot's wrong wiv it, they got a job ain't they?"

"Today yes, tomorrow probably not."

"Then they'll get the dole then."

"Not if they're in the nick (prison) which half of them have already been in, and the others are likely to experience before too long?"

Then he hit me. Not physically. Strangely for a big tough f***cker I never did hear of him laying a hand on anyone. Though his words did feel as though he'd whacked me with a piece of 2 X 4 over the head.

"Do you want to end up like your step-father?" Whoa, getting close to home!

I really couldn't answer. No really. Any words were stuck in my throat.

The image filled me with abject horror. What kid wants to grow up like his dad? Well, admittedly, mine was a bit of an extreme example.

"Then sort yourself out."

So to cut this tale short, I did. And I did it by myself. And yes it was hard. And yes there were setbacks. But rather than complaining about my lack of opportunities, I went out and created them.

And no, I did not become my step-father.

And to every one of the more than 800 youngsters who are now enjoying the hospitality of Her Majesty's Prison Service, and the thousands more sitting at home shitting themselves waiting for that knock on the door.

You can to.

Don't bother rehearsing the "excuses" or "reasons" you are going to make in your defense. Because you know it, and they know it, there isn't one. Say sorry, do your time. Go home. And ask yourself: Do you want to go through the same dehumanising experience of being labeled a thug, a loser and a prisoner again?

At some point in your life don't you want a child to look up to you and say, "I love you dad" - rather than, well, what did you last say to your old man?

The system, or however you perceive the system, doesn't own you. It has an impact on you, it influences you, it can throw hurdles in your path. But it is you - and you alone, who make the choices of how that system will shape your life.

For good or bad, it is your choices that count. And trust me, from someone from your street in Birmingham, good is better.


(PS, my uncle is still alive, way into his 80s now, and has a killer sense of humour. He must have learned it over the past 30 years or so.)


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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Any CSR execs out there who'd like to talk to us?

Ridealist is a small registered non-profit in Hong Kong.


We work almost exclusively with equally small, grassroots non-profits and community groups, providing them with video and photographic material they can use to promote their cause.

We do everything on a pro-bono, completely volunteer basis. But we too need to be sustainable.

We are in dire need of a new camera, updated video editing software, and a new mother-board for one of our macs - among other things.

We know who supplies them, but how (and who) do we establish a dialogue with a view to donating equipment / sponsorship?

Suggestions?

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