Have Courage and Be Kind

My daughter and I have been keeping a journal together.  We both like writing.  Sometimes it is easier to work out and express what you feel through writing than it is by talking.  It’s fun to do it together and I am trying to grasp the moment before her diaries (and internal thoughts?) are off limits.

The journal contains some light-hearted fun lists and questions about life but also leaves space for you to improvise your own topics and ask questions.   This makes it easier for us to tackle potentially embarrassing situations.  In principle this is good but in reality can lead to quite a lot of stress on my part when I have to answer something difficult. In writing. There will be a record of my answer that I can’t later deny or redraft, which is quite intimidating for someone with perfectionist and people-pleasing tendencies.

It’s a challenge.  But then again, I find that most things in life worth doing are, so I am leaning in.

The question currently threatening me from the journal is “What does it feel like to fall in love?”.  I have been sitting with this for a couple of weeks now, feeling a bit overwhelmed if I am honest.  I feel like I need a whole book to explain falling in, and more importantly – STAYING in love.  And the book needs to be written by someone else.   I certainly can’t do it justice in an A5 page.

As a compromise I am going to try and figure it out here and see if my daughter will allow me to publish it.  If not, this may be my first private post.

The clock has been ticking on my overdue Journal Homework and I was beginning to think inspiration would never strike. Until today, when it did, from quite an unexpected source:  Disney’s Cinderella.

Part of my reluctance in writing about falling in love, is feeling a responsibility to balance up the Hollywood ideas of love that dominate our culture.  In my experience, these are at best are misleading and potentially quite damaging.  How many relationships are lost when they stop feeling like the feelings we get watching ‘love’ on the big screen?

However, my daughter is 10.  I need to remember that this is an age where it is nice to believe in magic.  My job, at the moment, is to protect her from the harsh realities of life rather than introduce them to her.

You can see the dilemma.  Do I write a sweet answer for a 10 year old or one that her future teenage/adult self can read?  If I am going to leave a written record of life lessons I need to make it good.  This may be used against me in a future dating debate.

Given my feminist leanings, going as a family to watch a traditional tale of a poor girl who is treated badly by other women and needs a prince to save her so she can live happily ever after was not an obvious choice.  However, it was the Kids AM showing so with 6 of us to pay for it was the only choice.  Economy won over idealism.  It happens.

I approached Cinderella with caution.

I am surprised to find myself reporting that I LOVED IT!  Cinderella was not saved by the prince. She saved herself by following the rule her dying mum left her:  Have courage and be kind.  This is a version of our family rule: Be brave and kind. My tears started falling at that line and continued on and off throughout the film.

Let me confess – I cry very easily.  I always have but since becoming a mum I cry at the drop of a (tiny bobbled) hat.  I especially cry at films involving any kind of child-parent relationship. So parents dying are pretty much a guarantee of a minor life-analysing breakdown for me.  Despite Cinderella losing both of her parents, this was super-emotional even by my emotionally-unhinged standards.  I think it was the mixture of feeling the romance of the film alongside genuine wisdom about love.   The answer to my homework was right there.

The Cinderella Theory of Falling and Staying in Love.

I think falling in love is like going to the ball.  It is magical.  You find yourself in a new world of 2. Everyone else becomes an extra.  They gently move to the side to allow you to spin around together experiencing this new glow from every angle. You are light on your feet.  Your tummy flutters.  You feel beautiful and special and cherished.  The love songs suddenly make sense.   You don’t pay much attention to the world around but when you glance at it, it all seems more beautiful too. Everything is shiny and new.   At the ball, everyone looks their best.  Everything is scrubbed clean and it feels like it will last forever.  Falling in love is wonderful.

But then the clock strikes 12.  There is a time limit on the magic because the magic isn’t real.

Staying in love is leaving the ball and choosing not to give stop loving.  The magic disappears.  The perfect ‘you’ – all the beautiful parts of you that Love noticed and helped to grow – is joined by the other parts. Tired parts. Insecure parts.  Selfish parts.  The glow disappears and the extras come back into focus.  The rest of life is still there – work, other relationships, illness, fear, baggage we’ve carried for a long time.  This happens to both and love is no longer a magical feeling.  Now love is a choice to act as if you feel the magic, even when you don’t.

Love is a decision to put someone else’s needs before your own.  The only glow from long-term love is the sweat of hard labour.

I once showed a boy the well known Bible passage about Love:

“Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

Love never fails.”  

(I Corinthians 13: 4-8)

He replied that this was unrealistic and gave me a Patience Strong card about love instead.  That was a near-miss.

He was right though.  It is too much to live up to but it is also what real love is.  It is being and doing all those things to those we love.  It is actions and decisions.  Actions and decisions that often fly against everything we feel like doing.

So while we will probably fail regularly, this is what I think we should strive to be like to those we love: our partners, children, family, friends.

As Cinderella says, looking towards the future, “We must see the world not as it is but as it could be.

And as the prince reminds her, he is “still an apprentice, learning [his] trade”.  Staying in love is behaving like the magic is there even when it is not, especially when it is not even.  It is also acknowledging that we are apprentices at love, as are those trying to love us.  We must be patient with ourselves and each other.

I hope that my daughter experiences the magical Disney moments of love that take her breath away.  But I hope she does not chase those feelings when they fade, jumping from one magical moment to the next without finding true love.  I hope she has courage to keep going when it is difficult.  I hope she chooses to be kind to whoever she promises to love – her future husband, her children, her siblings, her parents.  For there the real magic is found.

Did the SNP sabotage politics for the UK?

I woke up this morning to the news that the SNP had won Scotland’s Westminster seats by a landslide and I felt proud.

I felt proud that I had been part of this movement.  I felt proud that so many people around me had refused to believe the lies that had surrounded us.  They took a chance and voted for what they believed in.  We were Brave, voting for ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’.  We were Kind, accepting that social justice might cost us something in the short-term but that we could pull together and we could make it work.  We had to make it work.  I love being brave and kind.  I think they are the only 2 things we really need to be.  The whole country was being brave and kind together.  It felt good.

Then I felt sad.  Really, really sad.  Because the 56 seats that the SNP had won for Scotland, our landslide, was irrelevant in the face of the UK as a whole.  Our votes had not led to the left-of-centre, progressive coalition we all hoped for.  Instead, it looked like we were facing another 5 years of right-wing rule and austerity being ramped up a notch.  We were careering headlong into a new dawn quite different from the one we went to bed dreaming of.  Destination: the State as we know it being consigned to history, survival of the richest.

It confused me then that our ‘brave and kind’ were being twisted into naive and destructive.  They said it was our fault that things were heading in the direction they were.  Apparently by trying to steer one way, we had hit some kind of black ice and shot off in the opposite direction.  If only we had just kept driving slowly and quietly to the right we would never have actually got there.

Somehow, the left-wing party, which has stood up against austerity and for many principles of social justice, is responsible for the right-wing Conservatives being in power. I was really confused by this since fewer than 15% of people in Scotland voted for the Conservatives and if anything they are actually probably feeling a bit under-represented today, having only one of 58 seats in Scotland.

Anyway, it was suggested that I might be missing the cultural effect of ‘nationalism’, in which Scotland holding a referendum about independence last year led to a rise in English nationalism.  This, I was assured, led to more Tory and UKIP votes, effectively cancelling ours out (and some). I have been thinking about this a lot today and trying work out of there is any truth in it. While I am not denying this phenomenon completely, I do have a couple of issues with it and I would really like my friends who are not nationalists (in the currently used sense of wanting Scottish independence) to let me know your thoughts on them, particularly if you voted SNP last night.

Firstly, as far as I can see, there was a rise in English nationalism well before the Scottish Referendum. While I see that in the time of the Scottish referendum this might have increased further, I would argue that this resulted from manipulation of the English perception of what was happening in Scotland, by those who wanted a shift to the right in England.

You see, the ‘nationalism’ that grew in Scotland last year had nothing to do with ethnicity or blood lines.  It was a ‘civic’ nationalism, a voluntary attachment to the country, by those of varied descent, in recognition of a shared ideology. In essence, it was the sense that we believed in a socially-just type of government and although we sensed that there were a lot of us, indeed possibly even a majority, we didn’t seem to be being governed in that way.

I am not denying that there will be some traditional nationalists within Scotland, and some with fairly unpleasant ways of displaying that, as there are on all sides. Let’s not get distracted by them though. I am more interested in the additional 75,000+ SNP members since September’s referendum – a new breed of party activists, drawn together by frustration at feeling unrepresented in Westminster and desiring a more progressive style of government. Independence is only an issue because it seems to be the sole means to that end.

Today we have a literal map demonstrating that we weren’t imagining things.  The gap between north and south came into sharp focus in last night’s results. Social Media is full of pictures of political maps showing Scotland almost entirely yellow, while England is mostly blue with small patches of red. I’m not sure I like these maps though because they reflect the flaws in the first past the post system and don’t really represent the true variance in how people voted.

However a little analysis of the data shows that they are actually not entirely unrepresentative.  In Scotland, votes for left-of-centre parties (SNP, Labour and Green) total 75.6% of the total.  Votes for right-of-centre parties (Conservatives and UKIP) contributed 16.5% of the vote. Scotland definitely voted LEFT.  In England, votes for the Conservative and UKIP made up 55.1% of the vote, while votes for Labour and Greens totalled 31.6% of the vote.  The gap isn’t as wide but England definitely voted RIGHT.

This is the point.  It’s not about accents or surnames, whether you can pronounce Milngavie or eat a deep-fried Mars Bar.  It’s about having different ideas of how a country should be run.  Very different ideas. It’s not that one is right and the other wrong necessarily but that one is being silenced while the other always wins.  It doesn’t matter what we vote.  We don’t influence the result.  Every seat but 3 in Scotland belong to a party whose manifesto was clearly left-wing.  We got a right-wing government.

For those blaming our choices for the blue dawn this morning, I want to make this clear, EVEN IF EVERYONE IN SCOTLAND HAD VOTED LABOUR (TWICE) THEY STILL WOULDN’T HAVE WON.  (I also say this as a comfort to those who hesitated and wondered if they should vote tactically or from the heart then nervously crossed SNP.)

This has long been the pattern of politics in Scotland but the referendum was partly responsible for a change.  It woke us up.  People got involved.  Social Media got involved.  The YES side kept telling us that this was what could happen.

Independence had some logic but it also involved a big leap of faith.  Too many ‘facts’ kept changing for us to keep track of what was true.   Also, most of us actually quite liked England and being part of the UK.  We hadn’t fallen out of love.  We had just noticed we weren’t being treated the way we wanted to be.  Then they promised things would be different if we stayed.  We hoped there might be another way to the place we hoped to go.  We voted NO.

But the promises seemed to change and the rhetoric changed subtly then not so subtly from love to what has felt recently, a lot like hate.  So while I don’t really hold with the argument that we caused a rise in English Nationalism, I do actually think that events of recent months have probably fanned the flames of Scottish Nationalism – the civic kind.  We still don’t hate anyone but it has become clear that we are just not heading in the same direction.  The patronising rhetoric, bordering on racism, from the Conservatives, and Labour jumping on the bandwagon, eventually becoming almost indistinguishable from the Tories – where else were left-leaning voters meant to put their cross?

This is why Independence still feels to me like the way ahead.  I cannot see another way.  There has been a political Tsunami sweep through Scotland but by the time it reached London it was a slightly unsettling wave machine that might soon be turned off.  I don’t know where else to turn with the energy I feel for changing politics.

I guess as a committed YES voter since the referendum (although not at the start of that campaign), I might be expected to interpret things that way.  So I genuinely wonder what my friends who don’t support independence feel about things now.

For those who have a right-of-centre ideology, I understand you probably felt better represented in Westminster anyway. But the others – especially those who said NO in September but still chose SNP yesterday (thank you), what do you see as they way ahead?  How do you see your ideology being represented in the UK as whole?

I really hope that the Strong Voice we are sending south speak up boldly and that they are heard.  I have seen first-hand the commitment and enthusiasm of some of these people and if anyone can do it, they can.  But the question is, with politics as it is today, can they?