A difficult conversation.

A difficult conversation.

I had a difficult conversation with my neighbour this morning. Each day I, and my neighbours, take our constitutionals with our dogs around the lanes of our valley. It is rare not to meet someone and usually the walk ends with a handful of folk and a reasonably sized pack of dogs doing the circuit. My immediate neighbour, and his two terriers, are my most frequent companion and my reliable source of local news. He has been very ill over the last few years and had become significantly disabled. However, fortunately he discovered the idea of a mobility scooter and his life has been transformed.

On his own he is able to walk, perhaps, 20 yards on a flat surface and over the past years he had to give up many of the activities he enjoyed. Now, with his scooter he walks the dogs daily again, visits friends, post letters, and the many other activities which allow him to have an independent life. But I have to confess that, at one level, it was his mobility scooter which made the conversation difficult this morning.

On his scooter there is a little dial. This dial can be turned from pointing at an icon of a tortoise through to a picture of a running hare. I think this dial is probably stuck solid through lack of use as he never switches it from the dashing hare. I believe he hates the idea that he might hold people up or slow down their walk. Unfortunately, this means our walks take the form of me jogging and running trying to keep up while he zips along with ease. To a passer-by I am sure it looks as if he is being chased by an elderly, wheezing asthmatic, but safely evading their clutches.

I have asked him the speed that the ‘hare’ setting represents as a hint that perhaps this was a little too fast (As prior hints by wheezing, stumbling and falling behind were obviously too subtle). It seems at this setting we can manage a steady pace between 5 and 6 miles per hour. This is the pace that marks the change from jogging to running and it seems that this is good estimate of our progress. So our conversation was difficult: my replies obscured by wheezy breathing; his replies lost on the wind as he flew on.

However, this was not the main reason the conversation was difficult. The real difficulty came with the content of his news. He, and his wife, have been keen Rotarians all their adult life and done an enormous amount of charitable works. He sadly informed me that his, and possibly the other, branch of Rotary in our area might have to close down. We are unusual in our small town that we have two branches of this charity. It relates back to the great schism a decade or two ago. Arguments about the membership of women, and difficulties relating to important players personalities, split the Rotary into two groups.

Both groups were successful for a while but in the last years their membership has risen in age and fallen in numbers. Insufficient people attend to justify two groups continuing and if they merge back it is possible that there may not be enough interested people to even keep one branch functioning. As we talked about this it became clear that this type of charitable work is often maintained by older people. Younger people don’t seem to have the interest or enthusiasm to take part in this type of charitable activity. As members die there are not new recruits waiting in the wings to take their place.

This would not be a terrible situation were it simply reflecting a change in practice and new styles of charitable works were being brought forward by a younger population. This is not happening, we seem to be losing the interest in charity. Although charitable donations have increased, the number of people giving is less and fewer people report active involvement in any form of charity. I fear that some of this may be an unintended adverse effect from the larger welfare state we now enjoy. We pay our taxes and expect the state in return to look after us in our periods of misfortune. Ideas of self reliance and prudence for the future are less fashionable now.

Charity is a virtue, possibly the greatest virtue. But often now charity is seen a a poor or bad thing, something to be avoided. Public opinion often complains if charities provide a service rather than the state. The poor and the misfortunate will always be with us and we will always need to be able to do what we can to help our fellow men and women when they fall on hard times. The state will never cover every eventuality and nor should it.

If we don’t get the opportunity to undertake charitable actions we miss out on one of the most important aspects of being human. To knowingly and deliberately help, or forgo something, to help our fellow is what marks us as human. It is also, in most psychological research, the most potent source of our happiness. Material things can only give brief and transitory pleasure, while helping others does bring lasting happiness. It is in our nature. This may help explain the paradox that while the material wealth of the population has risen year on year unfortunately our happiness has not. Indeed, as we have become materially wealthier more of use are falling prey to depression and sadness.

It was difficult to hear about the possible loss of these local social groups. It sounded like a further sign that we are continuing on a path which distances us from our neighbours and making us less involved particularly when times are hard. No amount of money, no amount of taxation, can have the same effect of a helping hand from a friendly neighbour and we should be wary of seeing comfort as a substitute for happiness.

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He is probably just around the corner

 

Eli i bob dolur yw amynedd

I came across this Welsh idiom this week while reading. ‘Eli i bob dolur yw amynedd roughly translates as Patience is the balm for all tribulations. Certainly, through most of my life I have found this to be largely true; with time and patience most, if not all,  problems and trials are able to be endured or overcome. The trick is to have the patience to deal with them. This is possibly the benefit of growing old.

When I was a young man I had a tendency to tackle all problems head on. I saw life as a series of challenges that I needed to face and overcome. In the main, this gung-ho approach served me fairly well for the more mundane problems in life. However, looking back I can also see that when I made bad decisions these were often made rashly. I will admit that caution and hesitancy may have lost me some opportunities but these are outweighed by the times caution and patience have let me do the right thing in times of major dilemmas.

The major religions tend to view patience as one of the main virtues in life, indeed, it is listed as one of the seven Virtues. In Christianity it is viewed as a gift from the Holy Spirit, Judaism likewise sees patience as one of the greatest personal traits people can display, in Islam patience (sabr) is one of the greatest virtues and necessary to become closer to God, and Bhuddism and Hinduism also extol patience as one of the essential virtues. The stoics also noted the importance of patience when dealing with life’s trials.

Unfortunately we not born patient. We are born impulsive, hungry, needy and rash. We need to learn to be patient which only comes by experience. As we meet problems we learn that initial quick fixes are often temporary and longer term strategies are often better. We learn that, even if we can not effect a change then life will do it for us. We learn, with experience the trust of the old Persian saying “This too shall pass“. With patience you are able to endure and wait until change, which you are impotent to effect, takes place. This kind of patience needs strength. It is often easier to rail against the fates and try to do something, anything, just in the hope that it will make a change. This pattern rarely works any more than chance and does have a high likelihood of changing the situation for the worse.

As a society we are less patient. We dislike waiting and “want it now“, we are less tolerant of others and often expect them to attend to our needs.  We want fast foods, quick fixes, instant delivery and instant gratification. This is a more childlike way of living and not a sign of growing maturity. Impatience my even, in part, contribute to our growing obesity crisis. As John Komlos from the University of Munich said in 2004 :-

“People have tried to look at a lot of reasons why Americans are getting so overweight. But nobody has thought about the idea of connecting it to impatience. .. .. If you are willing to forgo present satisfaction for future benefits, you are patient. If, however, you want your satisfaction right now, then you are going to have that extra dessert and that extra ice cream and you are not going to be able to forgo the pleasures of today.”

The Type A personality structure has, as one of its facets, impatience and it has long been known that there are a number of health disadvantages associated with the Type A personality cluster.

In relationships patience is the keystone. There will always be times when partners disappoint or annoy us. Loving someone is learning to understand these differences and living with them. Impatience will throw away a relationship early if it has not fulfilled immature demands which will lead for frequent, shorter relationships which will, by necessity, be less satisfying. Patience allows us to learn about each other; to decide if change is needed and, if so, who is best to change. Patience allows a relationship to grow and become deeper and stronger. New friends are excellent but nothing compares to old friends who have stuck with you, been patient of your foibles, and are our real social capital.

We can always be certain that we will face adversity. How we face adversity may be the thing which determines what kind of person we are. Leo Tolstoy recognized that when in battle “The strongest of all warriors is these two : Time and Patience”.  Patience is the greatest skill we have in our armoury. It is now waiting but how we act while we wait , how we manage to keep our composure and avoid rash and imprudent action. Even when all hope seems gone, patience and the knowledge that ‘this too shall pass’ may help us endure. Let’s hear it for patience another old-fashioned virtue that needs reclaimed.  Proclaim patience, it is the key to our success.

‘Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go’

William Feather

 

 

Just hope no-one describes you as “loyal”

Just hope no-one describes you as “loyal”

I have become aware that I hope no-one describes me as loyal. This would not be a good sign. Although many people file the word “loyal” away in their memory beside the virtues (alongside courageous, true, steadfast and reliable), nine times out of ten when the word ‘loyal’ is used it really means stupid, hoodwinked or shortsighted.

Think about it. Remember the last story about a politicians “loyal wife” ? She may have been virtuous but she was being so described as she was standing beside a man who had betrayed her and her trust. Who are the “loyal subjects” ? They are but the cannon fodder who are marshalled by kings or emperors to lay down their own lives so that the ruler may become richer yet. And what about “loyalty cards” ? These are the tricks used by companies to keep us using them when we could get better deals or services elsewhere. And “loyal fans” ?  Those are the ones following the teams that continually loses.

Therefore I am quite certain that if I am unfortunate enough to find myself described as “loyal” then something has gone badly wrong. Either someone has cheated on me, deceived me, or has made me put my interests below theirs. It is possible to share a vision and, when doing so, it is wise to stick with it (and those sharing the vision) through difficult times.  Love doesn’t require constant revalidation and love survives through the thin, lean times  as well as the easy days. But when the word loyal is wheeled out you can be certain that we are no longer in some, temporary blip and that love may have long gone.

“Loyal” – listen out for the word and, unless you are a dog,  be ready to change you plans if you hear the word applied to you !