Saturday 16 January 2016

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

Don’t be a dick”. Those were the simple words with which Laurie Penny, contributing editor for New Statesman, ended a recent article for the weekly magazine. As New Year resolutions go, hers is as good as they come and one I would easily follow. If only I believed in New Year’s resolutions. The subject she and other writers had explored was the Ten Commandments and how to either re-write some of them or invent new ones for our fast-developing 21st century.

“Don’t be a dick”. Easier said than done. We grow up and in the process acquire ways of thinking that very often conflict with other people’s points of view. Rather than trying to reach a compromise, we try to beat them, to win them over. We put our side of the argument over theirs. We mock them, we deride them, we call them names. En bref, we behave like “dicks”. Even, when truth is on our side, when we can present evidence and this evidence is real, palpable, physical, we still behave like “dicks”.

Could 2016 be the year when we do less of this and we behave more humanely? I know it is difficult to keep a straight face when a Donald Trump-supporting voter lets rip into Muslims, Mexicans and black people. But we need to understand that, just like in Britain the likes of Nigel Farage and his merry band of immigrant-bashers won’t go away any time soon, in the States it is not Donald Trump who is the problem but the system that supports him. You can be a “dick” all you want towards his supporters and yet, the only outcome will be an enhancement of their sense of disenfranchisement.

Based on my personal experience, I can vouch for clear communication, respect, talking and a willingness to compromise as fundamental conflict-solving tools. Most of the time, of course. For a dialogue to take place you need two or more people. And one or more of those people willing to listen to you. But we should also be willing to listen.

Live life to the full, without fear

We do not have all the answers. Part of what makes us human is that eternal search for the meaning of our lives. Not just from a philosophical point of view, but also from an emotional, spiritual and mental one. 2016 has already kicked off with a fear-inducing mood. Some of it is real. Indonesia, as I write, Paris last week, Istanbul in Turkey a few days ago. Some of it, however, has been manufactured: more armed coppers on the streets of Britain (how will they stop an act of terror?), Denmark telling refugees to hand over their valuables in order to pay for their accommodation, a German town banning male migrants from its public indoor swimming pool. The message is clear: be afraid, be very afraid, they don’t look like you, they don’t sound like you and they don’t behave like you.

Sadly, every time this happens we lose another little bit of our humanity. Men do not grope because they are born in a particular country or belong to a specific culture. They do it because we still live in a patriarchy-ruled world. In most countries. That means developed and Third World nations and in between. Robbers are not gender-, or nationality-, or culture-specific. They are robbers, criminals. See them as such. Try them as such.

Since the beginning of the year I have gone out on more bike journeys around London, details of which will be included in future posts. Every time I go out it never ceases to amaze me how open and carefree people are in this mind-boggling (on a bike, it is) but gorgeous city. I see very little fear on people’s faces. I have seen resignation, doubt, uncertainty but not  a lot of fear. That has made me even more resolute in my decision to choose life over fear. Yes, I know that the worst can happen to me just like it could happen to anyone else in another country, or city or town. But, I cannot allow politicians, such as Donald Trump, or David Cameron, or Nigel Farage, to manipulate me, to make me believe that we live in the worst of worlds. And whilst I will politely disagree with their supporters and will try to engage them in conversation and will attempt – with every single fibre of my body – to reach a compromise, I will carry on believing that we live in the best possible of worlds. In fact, it could become even better if we follow Laurie Penny’s advice: “don’t be a dick”.

When I was still in college (high school for US readers), a friend of mine played me Space Oddity on his battered stereo. I didn’t think much of it at the time, to be honest. It was only when I was in uni and visiting another friend that I got hooked on Bowie on the spot. My mate used to live right next to the Japanese embassy in Havana and in those days people used to place a metallic coat hanger strategically outside their houses to try to get a signal from foreign (mainly American) channels via embassies (they had their own prerogatives, don't ask). It was the only alternative we, Cubans, had to the all-powerful, Fidel-run media. The images on the telly were fuzzy at best, but on clear days (and nights) the reception was decent enough to get a good image. MTV and MLB became our new “addictions”. One evening the video of Life on Mars came on and… well, the rest is history. Starman, Heroes, you name it, I sang them.

The death of one trail-blazer like David Bowie, is an accident. But when you lose such a versatile actor like Alan Rickman, then the whole thing could be thought of as carelessness. As it happens, on Christmas Day just gone, we all watched Love Actually,. This is a film that still manages to make me feel sick without any actual vomit coming out of my mouth. Even for someone with a sugar tooth like me, this sucrose-coated film is too much to take. Yet, the standout scene for me is between Rowan Atkinson and Alan Rickman in the jewellery section. This moment encapsulates everything I learnt when doing improvisational theatre: the constant status-swap (Rickman in control at first, Atkinson reacting and then both actors reversing the roles), the timing, the shortness of the scene (just under three minutes). It is pure magic and it is how I want to remember the man who has made me watch Die Hard more times than I care to admit. Rest in peace Bowie and Rickman, you will both be missed.

© 2016

Photo taken by the blog author

Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Wednesday 20th January at 6pm (GMT)


  1. I don't have to agree with anyone, but I try hard to - get in their shoes - it gives a glimpse of what might be behind something I don't agree with. It helps me to stay calm when I don't want to be. It helps me to not be a dick.
    I love different cultures, people and their traditions and beliefs, life would be so unspeakable boring and empty without embraced "otherness".

  2. Don't be a dick is a wonderful resolution. For everyone, for all time.
    As is listening. Really listening, not just waiting for a chance to restate our own prejudices.
    Welcome back - another thought provoking post.

  3. Welcome back to the blogosphere! I hope you enjoyed a wonderful break. And I reeeeeeally hope the world doesn't judge all Americans by the likes of people like Donald Trump. He is an embarrassment, and it's even more appalling that so many people seem to think he'd make a good president. If he's elected, God help us all. Because he IS a Dick, no matter what his given name is.

  4. De nuevo por este mundo con tus dilemas y temas de novedad.
    Hoy te saludo y te digo que el viaje a Israel hace dos años que lo realicé, siempre voy atrasada con mis viajes en las publicaciones.
    Un abrazo.

  5. Indeed, it is the system that supports the likes of Donald Trump that is at fault. Don't get me started on that man. You made so many good points in your post today. Including the losses of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. So very very sad. They will indeed be missed.

  6. A system that supports that moron needs it's dick chopped off lol a little snip snip. True you have to have two people at least willing for a conversation to happen.

  7. While I have yet to see anyone actually change an opinion after a spirited discussion with someone else, I applaud your willingness to engage those with differing outlooks. It is the isolationist, xenophobes raising up their drawbridges who create this ugly climate that's currently threatening us.

  8. Hey Cubano--welcome back. I so agree with you re the fear mongering--it is a bit insane, I think, even with the incidents. I live in upstate New York and have been listening to someone target shooting in the distance on my different walks today. (I think they may be practicing against terrorists.) it feels insane to me.

    So sad re Bowie and Rickman. Thanks. k.

  9. ha, in Fidel-run Cuba, you still couldn't escaped from western culture. :)
    yes, i think to go about normally doing our stuff is the best response to the fear mongers. another thought provoking post, Cubano.

  10. Most thoughtful. Bowie was a body blow. Carry on dear deart

  11. Fear is the one thing Donald Trump and his ilk have to offer. You can talk people into just about anything if you scare them enough. Compromise is for wimps. It's nothing new, of course, but it seems to have gotten so much worse. Or maybe those rose-colored glasses of mine are working overtime.

  12. Oh Cubano, Love Actually isn't just sugary, it's hilarious! But i agree, the jewelry store scene is a standout. I think David Bowie touched anyone who appreciates artists.

  13. Great philosofic post !I think we should listen others !and those who we really really dont like...make sure they will never enter a political place(make their meanings come true)Ohh yes Bowie..what a sad sad loss to the world...Ieven still cant belive he is gone..I miss his China girl..that song means alot to me,,and Heros!wish you a great sunday!!Greetings from Norway♥

  14. Choose life over fear and Don't be a dick - two very good mantras to live life by.

  15. Hi ACIL - we certainly need to live, we don't need to be crushed by thoughts of 'what if', and learning 'to live without being dick' makes absolute sense. Some people are just too precious, with bullying undertones ...

    Such a sad week with Bowie going - but what a way to go out, and then Rickman ... think what he would have done with Bowie's farewell - too surreal to think about - just so sad they've gone. We do live in a wonderful country, which opens its doors to many and leads the way in so many things ... we need more leaders, thinkers and people who care ... let's follow on and do our best - cheers Hilary

  16. a difficult topic to grasp.

    David Bowie was a special individual.

  17. Ah -- I still love you, Cuban. Everything you've written here -- both passionately and carefully, judiciously. And I, too, couldn't abide the movie "Love, Actually" and was always amazed how popular it was, even among those people who ordinarily are far more critical. I did love Bowie and Alan Rickman, though, and am so sad that they're gone.

    As for listening, it's something I'm trying hard to cultivate as I've spent much of my life not doing such a good job of it.

  18. Excellent post. Though i agree with you about fearm ongeringthough I think cultures do have different attitudes to women and the men brought up in those cultures find it very difficult to escape their cultural upbringing. I'm not saying that there are cultures where men are brought up to grope women but that the position of women in some cultures is one of disempowerment

  19. You are one of the best writers I know and always have your finger on the pulse of society. It's always so interesting reading your posts.

    Donald Trump, hmmmm, as an American I am appalled at his tactics and in my heart I just can't believe he will go far so I pay him little attention. He is so outrageous it is hard to believe he has legitimate supporters but who knows. I don't think his supporters are so much disenfranchised as just extreme in their views and fervent in standing up for change. We definitely need change in America from the usually terribly corrupt old school politicians; which are everywhere down to the county and school commissions all the way up the chain but I don't know if people like Donald Trump are the answer. He's a bit radical and I'd like a moderator-albeit a non-politician type, leading us.

  20. Wonderful clip. I'd seen it before but no objection to watching again (I did). Atkinson must be one of the world's best mimes and Rickman had me with him all the way.

  21. I love you my brother, just wanted to say that and I hope 2016 is a good year for you. I certainly need it as 2015 was brutal on my soul.

  22. I couldn't agree more on the system(s) that produce the likes of Donald Trump. On a different note when I heard of david Bowie's death I realized that a lot of his music had been the background of my high school and college years. The news of his death made me nostalgic of these days.

  23. Oh how this wonderful post resonated within me...absolutely...what we need so desperately (as a species) is to learn to discuss and be tolerant...rather than attempting to force others to accept our own views at any (often highly expensive in terms of life) cost.
    As you so rightly say, a terrorist or criminal is precisely matters not one jot which culture they hail from...brutality can NEVER be right.

    Thank you so much for sharing that wonderfully nostalgic clip!
    The loss of both David Bowie and Alan Rickman in so short a space of time was made me consider my own mortality - especially in the wake of my own experiences at the end of last year.
    The conclusion?
    Live each day to the full...and refuse to fall victim to fear!

  24. I enjoyed your reminiscing about Bowie as well.



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