MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Do you want to believe?

People say fairytales are for children. Because children don’t question, they just believe. But what many don’t admit is that very often fairytales succeed in conquering the terrors of reality by lifting us up and transferring us to a world where everything is possible. At the centre of every fairytale lies a truth that gives the story its power. And sometimes these stories can explain things in a lighter manner, easier to accept or understand, but with an innate element of truth or wisdom that can apply to life and humanity regardless of the time period. After all, peasant girls and Prince Charmings are not confined to a specific time, and neither are talking animals or evil witches. Even though told merely as entertainment, fairytales are actually more than true, “not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten” (G.K. Chesterton).

People believe in fairytales because they want to believe. Because as grown-ups they realize that life is not as peachy as it was made out to be as a child and because things don’t always come as you expect them. Life is like a gamble. You are dealt with a hand of cards, but it is how you play it out that matters. The number of risks we take sometimes even dictate how successful we will be. But nonetheless, if you have faith the fantasy life will come to you. It may even become a reality without searching for it at all. Life indeed can be easier with a little faith.

The magical kingdoms, the princes and the queens, the witches and the beasts portrayed in fairytales belong to a fantasy world that offers an escape to the mundane routine of reality. It allows people to believe that things can get better, can go the way they dream and hope they will. And they can happen in some magical way. As if with the swipe of a magic wand. And as in a miracle, it will result in lots of gain and minimal loss. People need fairytales, simply because they need reassurance, hope and the belief that they will get their happy ending after all.

Similarly, the belief in astrology, numerology and other such occult practices, albeit a form of entertainment, serves to offer reassurances. That there is a power beyond our control. Some sort of destiny that awaits to be fulfilled. Reading the daily horoscope, for instance, satisfies the desire for information and assurance about the future, hoping that it holds something good in store. But it  is also a way to feel connected to the cosmos itself. The belief that nothing is coincidental, that everything happens for a reason – it is all part of people wanting to bring meaning to their lives.

In essence, we are all waiting for a happy ending. That some whisk of a magic wand somewhere will make it all come true. We believe in fairytales because in each we see some version of ourselves, our hopes and aspirations, and because we all need to believe that there is a little glimpse of effortless magic in everything. And that, sometimes, if we’re lucky enough and wish upon the right kind of stars, that fairytale might just become a reality…

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other

Easy for me – Hard for you

In order to facilitate things for ourselves, we usually end up making things more difficult for others. For example, parking in the most obnoxious of places, simply for the sake of being closer to our destination: on the pavements, sidewalks, in front of entrances/exits, around turns, in the middle of the street. Simply anywhere that will best serve our needs. Failing to realize, however, that this ease of ours makes life all the more difficult for the rest.

Selflessness is a rare characteristic in our times. And it seems all people care about is how to best serve themselves, above and beyond others, and even at the expense of others. Fighting like hunters over food, the need to contend with others for commodities has become so embedded in daily routines, that this is how society now learns to behave. Skirmishing over even insignificant matters. Simply for the desire to show superiority over others. The motto that rules the day thus is “live and let die – as long as I’m fine, who cares about others”.

In an evolving world, instead of coming closer together we are drifting further apart. Societies are becoming all the more uncivilised and the rule of the jungle is reapplied. Survival of the fittest. Perhaps that is the reason why reality-shows monitoring each and every minute in the lives of enclosed contestants record such high viewings. People want to see what others do and find every bit of excuse to make fun of, condemn, criticize. Altruism and generosity are terms relatively unbeknown to society. Yet, when it comes to giving money to charities and other fundraisers, everybody is more than willing to show their philanthropist nature. Most, gaining on the side by the publicity and exposure they receive on account of it.

Even in supermarkets, with hundreds of products in line available to all, we witness trolleys crashing into each other, carelessly left here and there, while their owners run back and forth picking up things and moving them around, as if it is a contest to be won. And in the eyes of an independent observer, (for example KD who also told me of this), until all of these people actually pay at the cashier, they haven’t really bought anything; they’re simply shifting things around! And even left abandoned for the supermarket employees to re-arrange. At times it seems like even shopping is becoming a competition. Who will shop more, the more expensive products, the more exquisite wines, the more extraordinary food. Everything is becoming a matter of showcase.

And all that is linked to the ego – the “I” or self of any person. The essence of what builds up or tears down a person’s self-esteem and confidence. Yet, there is a difference to being confident and being overconfident. The first implies feeling self-assured, while the latter insinuates a taste of egotism – selfishness that reveals itself in trying to appear better, smarter and dominant to all others. And thus leads to the belief that “I’d better look out for myself first, because no-one else will do it for me”. It is sad that in the 21st century people still behave in such conceited and egotistical ways, ignoring or simply not caring that in a democratic and contemporary society uniting forces would actually facilitate everyone’s lives and improve everything for the better. If we would all simply help each other and follow those simple principles upon which society was based, life would be much more stress-free indeed.

Inspiration, Expression and Life

Everyone has heard of a writer’s block. I’ve always wondered how and why it occurs. And lately it seems my questions have been answered. Suddenly and for various reasons, ranging from fatigue, to no free time to even the simple “there is nothing to write about”. But thing is, there is always something to write about!

We are constantly bombarded with news – from the civil war in Syria, to the economic crisis in Europe, to the corruption scandals (globally), to the stunts of royalty, to what “celebrities” had for lunch. There is always something to write about, to comment on, to express an opinion about. All you have to do is look out the window, a bit further out your back yard and a world of strange, weird and apparently newsworthy stories will reveal themselves. Sometimes you don’t even have to get out. You just sit in front of a screen and a whole different world opens up to you. Google becomes your best friend, Wikipedia your teacher, and YouTube your tour guide.

It is amazing how much information is available freely, just “out there”. And yet it is remarkable how certain societies try to suppress this. The voice that dares to be different, the voice that expresses a different opinion, the radical-extremist, as it is dubbed, has to be gagged if it does not abide to the status quo. Freedom of expression is among the fundamental pillars of a democratic society and one upon which true pluralism can be created and a society can move forward. Can progress. And can improve. Yet in our times, it appears it is too dangerous to have a different view. It is not only frowned upon but even punished. In the 21st century. Reminiscent of the Holy Inquisition. It is tragic that mankind has evolved so much and yet so little. As if it is revolving around a closed mindset that for some reason refuses to change, to open up. Voltaire had said that “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Yet, today this appears to have transformed into something more similar to “I do not agree with what you have to say and I will lead you to your death for it”. Unfortunately, this is what our times demonstrate. An insatiable need for superiority. A stubbornness beyond measure. And an intolerance without reason.

Everyone wishes to appear cool and open-minded. But when it comes to tolerance, it seems no-one really has it. Tolerance, as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own” in our times rarely appears in its true form. People say they are ok with someone from a different race, religion or culture, but deep down that tiny worm of suspicion, of doubt is biting into them, keeping afloat that very feeling that makes people sceptic and insecure. There are so many things that are wrong in the world that we shouldn’t be adding more. Unity is power, and that is how people should stand. Together. Romantic as it all may seem. It does have a dose of truth in it, don’t you think?

And well, what do you know! Simply by beginning to think about something, a current issue, you can feel your thoughts flow out like a river rushing to find the sea. It is interesting how inspiration can be drawn from the smallest, even insignificant things, to the most dominant issues on the news. And yet, it is even better when it comes straight from you – from your eyes, your views, however different they may be.

Perhaps what is necessary is that we need to spend less time overloading our brain with information (often insignificant) and live a little more. Take a trip to the countryside. To the beach. Go horse-back riding. Go help pick olives. Enjoy the beauties nature has to give and be grateful that you get to enjoy it all. So, thank you for reading me. But I think now is time to act. So, put the mouse aside. Yes that one – the electronic mouse (why would you even have another?). OK, so put it aside and get up. Go. Go outside, go have some fun. Be it sun or rain, I am certain there will always be something extraordinary to do. That will fill you up with inspiration, and will energize you to continue your quest for whatever it is that your heart desires…

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” — Gertrude Stein

Also part of Daily Prompt: Overload Alert

A politician can be an idiot

Since the time of Socrates politicians have not been thought of highly. They are considered dishonest, selfish, arrogant, and immoral. Socrates, himself had said that “I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live”. Charlie Chaplin saw himself as a clown, but even that, according to him, placed him
on a far higher plane than any politician”.

Politicians haven’t gained a bad name for no reason.  History has shown that true politicians were remarkably few.  And those who actually care about their people and work to improve their lives can be counted on one hand. “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar” (H. L. Mencken) and with corruption scandals and embezzlement of public funds being revealed every day, politicians have become perhaps the most hated profession of the modern era. On a daily basis they are insulted by the people who consider them more and more a disgrace, as they no longer see in them their representatives. Politicians are now scorned, despised and slated by the very people who elected them to their posts, for they do not adhere to their mandate, or to any of the electoral promises they ever made, for that matter.

Someone once argued that no politician is an idiot. Because by definition a politician is someone interested in the polis – the city-state and not in his/her own interests, the idiot – the self. It is someone who is involved in influencing public policy and decision-making and puts the good of the people before his own benefits. However, modern definitions of a politician have converted into “a seeker or holder of public office, who is more concerned about winning favour or retaining power than about maintaining principles”. It turns out, after all, that politicians are indeed idiots.

In our contemporary times, politicians appear literally everywhere, at any conference, event, gala, opening, simply to gain exposure and better their image. They either think that this will help them appear as though they are interested in public affairs, or they simply want more than Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame. It actually appears to be both. Politicians, being the idiots they are, only care about heightening their own image and appearing as though they care, whilst at the same time serving their own selfish purpose.

Press conferences and debates are held sometimes even twice a day, while negotiations and discussions are on-going for days, even months with the sole reason of appearing as though action is being taken and something is actually being done by those in power, when in reality it is all about pleasing their own desire for exposure and publicity.

Statements are made continuously by politicians eager to talk, while hundreds of reports on various policies are published. They all do the same. They outline what needs to be done and when. But no-one ever realistically explains how they propose this to be done. And it turns out it is all about wishful thinking. In the EU, for example, months of discussions pass before the budget is approved and decisions are made as to how much money will be spent for various regions, projects and issues. They never, however, take into account the selfish and greedy nature of human beings. And years after the funds have been disbursed but the projects never happened the European Commission begins investigations on misuse of funds and embezzlement. As if it is surprising that idiots would do exactly what they are by definition known for – serving their own interests at the expense of the public good. And all this selfishness will in the end result in the demise of the polis and the common good. And as Paulo Coelho had described in a short story, the only way for the polis/town/state to survive was to let it drown in its own corruption and then build it anew.

Indeed, the problem with the world today is that so much talk is based on idealised situations. As if corruption and selfishness do not exist. Politicians are so versed in how to paint out exactly what they would like things to be. But they provide solutions to problems that are not realistic or at times even feasible. Instead, politicians are characterised by all talk and no action. They all know all too well how to draw attention to themselves, how to speak without actually saying anything, how to make empty promises, that people seem to forget that nothing substantial is ever occurring. And that is also one of the reasons why it is often argued that people who study politics are so repelled by what they learn that they never want to go into politics. Politics is indeed a dirty game. But what everyone seems to forget is that this very “game” concerns the lives of people who depend on those ruling to secure a better living for them – for the people, not the rulers.

Bertrand Russell had said that “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”. Thing is, it is the cocksure idiots that rise up in the world and end up presiding over the unsure.

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Viral – The New York Times is going to feature your blog on its home page, and you’ve been asked to publish a new post — it’ll be the first thing tens of thousands of new readers see. Write it.

The Elegance of Being Eloquent

Many people know how to talk, but few how to speak. It is incredible how much information can be lost by the mere lack of the ability to say it. Indeed, to quote Ben Johnson, “to speak and to speak well, are two things”.

Politicians and diplomats are people who today are required more than ever to speak. To resolve issues peacefully through discussions and negotiations. But everyone knows all too well how many misunderstandings and how much trouble can be caused by inability to express precisely what it is you mean. And even more so, to do it clearly. And above all enunciate. Being able to speak and being able to get your message through are indeed two different things. And the ability to effectively communicate all that is necessary and nothing more; to inspire things to be done; to paint the thoughts in your mind and convey them to the audience; that is true eloquence.

In its purest form, eloquence is about passion. It lies in saying things simply but gracefully; with enthusiasm and belief; with the underlying force of persuasion. It is about being fluent not only in what you say, but in the way you say it. About convincing your audience of the authenticity and spontaneity of your thoughts. And about conveying it in such a way that your audience becomes mesmerized, gripped by your every word, and ravelled by the feelings emitted from them.

With eloquence, talking becomes not only just uttering words. It is about actually saying something. Reaching into people’s minds and imprinting them in there, so that in any random instant those words come to mind. Great orators can do that. In the popular series CSI, they usually break down the trajectory of a flying bullet into a person, depicting in precise radiography-shots how it reaches the organ it afflicts. That is exactly how eloquent speakers can direct their words straight into the brain cortex. With the precision of the most ardent craftsman.

In essence, eloquence is an art. Not everyone can do it. And it requires a mixture of talent and skill. From Mark Anthony’s famous opening line in William Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears“, to JF Kennedy to Winston Churchill to Martin Luther King to Barack Obama, eloquent speakers are an integral part of politics. And those who are mostly remembered are precisely those who knew how to address their audience. Who knew what to say, when to say it, and more importantly, how to say it. Great speakers are reminiscent of Ancient Greek orators who were able to influence and change the emotions of their listeners, not just inform them. In their time, public speaking occurred in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain listeners. Speaking happened for a reason and not simply for the sake of talking. Good orators are filled with passion for what they are saying and are able to transmit to their audience that very feeling. They are able to convince their listeners that they know what they are talking about. Even if they disagree with what the speaker is saying, if expressed well, that won’t matter. The essence is conveying an opinion and persuading people to listen and accept it, no matter how different it may be.

In current times, everyone considers himself to be a speaker. But few actually have what it takes to be characterized as an orator. Today, politicians so often appear making speeches here and there, without actually saying anything. Some cannot even read scripts placed in front of them, while others simply talk as if they are addressing customers in a shop. Politicians more than any other should be able to speak. Unfortunately though, what we so often see today is quite the contrary. They appear improper, crude, uncivilized and even uneducated. Exactly the opposite of what is expected of the representatives of the people. They should be able to address the people’s concerns, and demonstrate that they share the people’s problems. They should appear passionate about solving them and about involving the people in this process. After all they are simply representing popular will, even though many seem to forget that once in power. Instead, what we daily see are politicians disinterested in the problems of the lower straits of society and only serving the interests of the wealthy. Politicians who instead of fighting to improve the lives of their citizens, appear to only be improving their own at the expense of the citizens. And politicians who do not even have the fluency to speak in their own native language, let alone another, in order to communicate.

Eloquence is a dying art. And when – in glimpses – it appears, it is more than welcome. US President Obama is perhaps one of the most eloquent speakers of our time. He knows how to address his audience, how to use examples of their own lives, values and beliefs, in making his argument; how to draw their attention and keep it throughout a 40-minute speech. He knows what to say and what words, similes, metaphors and idioms to use to express it. It is no wonder how many thousands of people gather each time he makes a speech. Obama is an orator. And he can actually convince his listeners that he believes in what he says, that he is trying to do what he proposes, and that he will eventually accomplish all that he promises. He even has the ability to reach into people’s feelings, to touch them, and to inspire them. People often end up in tears, after his speeches. But they are all so passionate, so motivated, so inspired. And that is exactly the objective of eloquence. Of convincing, inspiring, motivating, affecting. With dignity, fervour, and grace.

If it is true that flattery won’t get you anywhere, then eloquence probably will. All you need is the courage to be able to say what you want, the fluency to express your thoughts, and the judgement to know what to say, when to say it, and to whom.

Also part of Daily Prompt: Naked with Black Socks

Also part of Daily Prompt: Elegant

The World is Going Digital

A decade into the 21st century and already the 1990s seem like a lifetime ago. With tape recorders and VHS video tapes being replaced by CDs, Blu-Ray discs and MP3s, the younger “digital” generation seem to be conversing in a language unbeknown to the older ones. Black and White television has been replaced not only by Technicolour, but by LCD, Plasma and LED High Definition TVs and soon even 3D TV. What is more, digital channels are replacing analog ones, and wires are becoming extinct due to the power of Wi-Fi Internet.

Children going to school today are no longer asking for a new set of coloured pencils, or pens, they are demanding new laptops, tablets, and any new technologically advanced gadget that may have emerged into the market. Even learning material is now being placed online with e-textbooks soon becoming the norm in schools that will replace pages and sheets with screens of various sizes. Books have already taken the digital form with e-books surfacing for use on the Kindle and other e-book readers.

This of course does have its benefits in that it reduces the amount of paper and ink, for example, consumed, as well as the weight and bulk of books, while it also makes it more convenient – for instance if you are searching for a journal online, this saves you time from running to the library and searching for it in paper form. Digital forms also allow for greater accessibility, portability and usability, especially as added features such as embedded video, interactive activities and digital annotation tools are becoming more standard. But it also has its disadvantages. This “digitalized” generation might never experience the joy of turning the yellow, crispy pages of an old, priceless book. Or even what “doggy earing” a page means. Or taking notes at the side of a textbook and highlighting important passages. They might even forget what it is like writing with a pencil or pen, as typing has weaved its way so deep into our routines that it appears almost natural to use our fingers to communicate in writing on a digital screen.

In fact, when you have to search something you don’t know about, no one says “go ask so and so”, they say “Google it”. Obviously, the digital vocabulary has even become part of our language. In fact, the “digitalization” of today has entered with such force into our lives, and has brought with it an array of abbreviations. It is questionable, however, how many actually know the meaning of all those terms they so often use: HD, LCD, MP3, DVD, CD, Wi-Fi, WLAN etc.

Nonetheless, digital technology is not confined to the younger generation alone. Even the older ones become acquainted with it, not only because it simplifies their lives, but in order to keep up with the changing tides. Newspapers are read online and now everyone is suddenly a reporter. Citizen journalists have evolved out of the very application of having a camera on your phone – whether it is smart or not. Opinions are now freely expressed, by anyone, anywhere and at anytime, whether they are welcomed or not. Indeed “we live in a digital world that is filled with more information, more things to do, and more ways to communicate with others than ever” (Mike Sievert).  Anyone can have a blog, a Facebook account, a Twitter account, and any other profile on any social network of the numerous available on the World Wide Web.

But how World Wide is this Web? I doubt if the people fighting in Syria over their independence and democratization have the will or even the time to surf the web. Or if the starving people in Africa and other so-called Third World countries are blogging about their situation and their news. The world may be going digital but this fundamentally applies to those having the advanced technology and the capacity to be able to do so. China and the other Asian countries for example are perhaps the leaders in this concept, as Asians so often flaunt the new technology they own – the latest smartphone, tablet, camera, computer etc etc. The digitalization of a society thus also depends not only on its facilities and infrastructure to do so, but also on their economic capacity to fund such a change.

Nevertheless, whether responding to the need to facilitate citizens’ lives, or the desire to realize advanced ambitions, the world is going digital. And whether we agree with it or not, it is a change occurring in an evolving world, and it is one which we must adjust to.

Also part of Daily Prompt: The Next Big Thing

Dum Spiro Spero like animals

Animals are remarkable creatures. They can make you feel good by the simplest and smallest of things. By wagging their tail as they see you. Running up to you with joy. By purring rolled up in your lap. By sleeping beside you when you’re feeling blue. They have an instinct many people lack: the ability to be perceptive. To sense when something is wrong. And to empathize with you. To defend and protect you. They also have an innate characteristic lacking in humans: unconditional love. They will love you and be faithful to you forever. And all they ask in return is for you to love them back, care for them and respect them.

It is amazing how animals can look straight into your eyes and touch your soul. How you can feel that they are almost talking to you in their own way. There are so many studies proving that animals do in fact provide consolation, and for example stroking a cat or dog will relieve stress. How many can deny that a playful puppy jumping around, a kitty meowing and purring, a bunny lying feet stretched out both ways all cute and fluffy, are an instant pick-me-up. And a natural one too!

It is truly a shame though that these beautiful creatures do not often get the treatment they deserve and are entitled to. Dogs are abandoned in the streets by owners who no longer care, cats are run over by reckless drivers, horses are shot the minute a disease is detected. So much of our lives, however, actually depend on animals. The food we eat comes from animals reared and sacrificed for that purpose. Cows and goats provide the milk and cheese from which we obtain essential nutrients, while fish provide the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Some, like sheep, bears and foxes are even sacrificed for their fur, while in some regions seals, dolphins and whales, are killed for their meat as a “delicacy”. Horses carry on their backs people for all sorts of activities – from driving cattle, to riding as a sport, to racing for money.  And the smaller ones, the cats, dogs, bunnies, birds, hamsters etc. provide company and a compassion that cannot be matched by anything else. They become your best friend and even more, a very member of your family.

Animals are not racist – particularly the panda: it is black, white and Asian! They don’t care in which nationality, race, religion or culture you belong. They will love you and be loyal to you nonetheless, as long as you do the same. People could learn a lot from animals. How to live in peace and harmony. Selflessly. How to be loyal to those that care for you. How to care regardless of anything. How to just be there in silence, knowing that simply their presence besides you is enough.

It is not strange that people share more funny pictures of animals than any other. And more importantly most beloved cartoons involve animal characters. Images that stick with you no matter how old you get. Donald is a duck who always wears only a t-shirt, but when he gets out of the shower, wraps the towel around his waist. Mickey is the adorable famous mouse of Disney. Garfield is a fat, lazy cat who loves lasagne. While Coyote is probably the most wronged cartoon character – he never gets to catch the Road Runner, but nevertheless persists and does not give up hope. Animals seem to live by the saying “Dum spiro spero” – as long as I breathe I hope. They hope that they will get their way in the end – the meowing cat for food; the jumping dog for a walk, Coyote for the Road Runner. They are persistent, determined, and honest. Which is definitely more than can be send for many Homo sapiens.

In fact it is true that a person’s character is reflected in the way s/he treats those that can do nothing for them. How they treat animals and how they react to their actions. It is also true that animals can sense who will care for them and who not, who is afraid of them, and who simply ignores their very existence. Animals are much smarter than many think. And to be honest, if people were more like animals, the world would indeed be a better place.

Also part of Daily Prompt: Menagerie

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