Time for change…

Image: Pixabay

I was given a clock for Christmas, a clock framed by pictures of my grandchildren. I hung it on the wall, marvelling at how quickly life can change. I, who was a young woman not two minutes ago, or so it seems, have grandchildren.

My eldest granddaughter had made me a card too and written it herself…with a little help from her father. I had to smile at the design the pair of them had chosen, a single red candle with holly leaves and berries… a design I had made from sugarpaste, every year, to decorate the family Christmas cake when the boys were young. Christmas is a time for tradition and memory. My granddaughter has recently changed from being an only child to being a big sister. She is trying to work out relationships and needed to check if her Daddy had been in grandma’s tummy, once upon a time. Her father raised his eyebrows and grinned… we shared a glance that was not only between mother and son but between two adults who are parents and who understand the odd things small children can say. In one sentence, little Hollie had summed up a lifetime of changes.

I have seen so many changes, both natural and unnaturally brusque, over the years. When life creates change, we have little choice but to accept them. We do not always find it easy to create change for ourselves… even n the small things.

I yawn at the computer, finish my coffee and stand at the back door in the freezing night air to wake myself up. It’s only eight o’clock. Way too early for bed.

Or is it, really? Why?

Let’s think about this. I’ve been up since five…there’s no one here now but Ani and me, no requirements at this time of night to do anything, only the choice to work, wallow in a bathtub or put my feet up with a film. Granted, I can’t go to bed too early or I’ll have a desperate dog climbing the walls by morning, but she is asleep for the evening so this is a reasonable time as far as she is concerned. Especially given than ‘early to bed, early to rise’ will kick in if I sleep soon. It would do me good to stop tapping away, and relax for a while. So, what stops me?

Guilt. Years of habit, that’s what. Eight o’clock isn’t bedtime, it is the start of the evening in a busy household when everyone is at work all day. This is the time when cooking and dishes are done, time to sit down and relax with the family.

This no longer applies. My household has gone minimalist, just me and the dog, my official working day starts early and my unofficial working day finishes at whatever time I choose to stop writing. Still, the habit of being awake all evening is a hard one to break.

I’m working on it, taking the odd hour or two out to watch a film or read for a while. Because I can. That was a hard one. I can. Me. Selfishly, indulgently.

I hadn’t actually realised the conditioning, the programming, I had both accepted and imposed upon myself over the years; habits and routines that have inadvertently dominated the decades. It is only when that old saying kicks in that you start to notice; ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’… and it works both ways.

Like a chronic pain that you learn to live with for so long, that it is only when it disappears that you notice it, so it has been since I began to take stock of how hidebound many aspects of my life had become. Many things have changed over the past few years, and those changes highlighted how much of my day was lost to habit. With subtle shifts in responsibility, the ‘I’ that I was is no longer required, redundant. As with many redundancies there was a period of floundering in the unknown as I emerged from under the security blanket of habit, desperately scrabbling to keep hold of at least some of the familiar yet tattered threads.

Routines are not all bad. They allow us to get through the necessary tasks and have time for getting out there and living. There are many routines, however, we are simply unaware of, and because we have done things ‘that way’ for years, we neither notice nor take the opportunities for change.

Now, finally, the I that I am is beginning to unfold. Not because it has to in order to keep pace with the changing circumstances of life, or some outward imposition of change, but because I am choosing, in awareness, to let go of many old and outworn behaviours. And yes, parts of me are kick and scream in protest as I strip back the familiar spars and start the spring cleaning of my days. As with physical spring cleaning, the de-cluttering will hopefully leave me with only those things I need, freeing up the dark cupboards and stuffed drawers. It doesn’t mean changing everything; I am still going to brush my teeth before bed and comb my hair before I go out. It just means being aware of what I am doing and why… and I am finding it to be an ongoing voyage of rediscovery.

We fear change in our secure routines, even when we don’t recognise them as such. They are what we think of as our lives after all, forgetting that these habits are no more than patterns with which we regulate our days. Life may be waiting patiently in the wings for us to give the cue for it to begin a new act, but while we are still immersed in the last, the curtain cannot rise.

Word power

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“It really gets to me,” said my son, checking his phone as I was putting his socks on.

“What does?”

“Words… stuff like this…” He read me a passage from social media. I immediately saw what he meant. It was story about a little girl with a beautiful voice. It was a touching enough tale, without the need of the writer to add pathos. ‘Despite her disabilities’ we were told, she sings like an angel.

I could see my son’s point, but he expounded anyway. Why should having a disability mean that she shouldn’t have a lovely voice? Doubtless the writer was only trying to add an extra dimension to her talent. Without any doubt at all there had been no thought of marginalising any further a young lady already labelled as disabled…a word that means broken, unfit for use, rendered powerless… It was simply a figure of speech with no harm intended or implied. Yet the implication is clear, somewhere in the writer’s mind, there was surprise that a disabled child could sing so well.

What struck me once again was how many preconceptions and prejudices are built into our language. They may not even be our own, just ‘figures of speech’ for which we have few, or no, alternatives; phrases we have learned growing up and have simply accepted as being the norm because that is what everyone around us says, without ever thinking of the underlying implications.

One of the problems lies in how easy it is to hurt or offend a listener. You may know what you mean… they can only know what they see and hear. While we are not responsible for another’s reaction to our words, we are solely responsible for what we say and how.

Disability is something my son and I have become quite sensitive to over the past few years. We don’t jump on every imagined slight or slur, for the simple reason that we too have used those exact same figures of speech ourselves, often still do, without ever realising what effect they have on either our listeners or our outlook. It isn’t just disability though; in any area where there is room for prejudice… race, colour, religion, ideology, sexual orientation, age or gender… we have words and phrases that invisibly separate ‘them’ from ‘us’. Most of the time, their use is unconscious and completely innocent of offense… no more than a habitual pattern of words.

In the 19th century, French psychologist Émile Coué famously introduced the idea of conscious autosuggestion, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”. By repeating the words over and over, the mind adopted an attitude of optimism. Coué posited that real change is effected at the unconscious levels through the imagination, rather than by an effort of conscious will and various methods of suggestion and autosuggestion have made their way into our everyday lives. Henry Ford is also commonly credited with saying, “Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” The power of the imagination over belief has been understood for a very long time. If we are continually repeating words and phrases that bear a negative connotation, instead of moving forward and adopting a more open and universal mindset, are we repeatedly renewing the outmoded prejudices and conditioning that are unconsciously entrenched in our minds?

The ‘PC’ brigade jump on us for calling the person who delivers the mail the postman instead of the postperson and insists upon other such ludicrous and unnecessary shifts in our speech to prevent the slightest possible hint of offense….yet behind the scenes, we are continuing with patterns of speech that convey outdated ideas and a lack of acceptance of our fellow Man (or should that be fellow person?) that belong to earlier generations and attitudes. I have to wonder what beliefs we are reinforcing by our use of phrases of verbal separation.

I am not a huge fan of the lunacy of the more extreme aspects of the PC movement. The freedom to speak what is in our minds and hearts should not be bound and gagged, though I firmly believe that we can best do so without being offensive, provocative or exhibiting prejudice. A little respect and decency goes a long way. We are not going to adopt consciously better patterns of speech overnight, any more than we will start calling our Transparency Enhancement Facilitator* anything other than the window cleaner. What we can do is bring a little awareness and empathy to what we say and the words we choose. We can begin to be aware of what it is that we are really saying, both in words and by implication… and put ourselves in the skin of others and feel what they feel.

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* Do click through to the article…hilarious and tragic, all at once.