Yesterday I posted on Facebook the following: ‘Without my local library I would not have changed my life in the way I did by accessing a book called ‘Holiday Jobs in Britain’. I would not have met my wife and my daughter would not have been born and I would not have become a canoeing instructor and later a community and youth worker and nor would I have gone to university, the first member of my family to do so. I still vividly remember that desperate and hungry day that turned out to be such a huge fucking deal and changed the course of my life…’
The reason I went to the library was to escape a life of dull predictability, of working a job in a factory, for which I suffered 11 years of ‘education’, for 50 years until I retired. That life prospect was an intolerable living hell that I rejected.
What I did not understand at that time was that life only gets interesting when it is unpredictable and nothing describes my life better than an adventure with the unknown, the unpredictable and the unexpected.
My unexpected reaction to posting that post to Facebook was tears of awed gratitude for a life encountering and exploring the unexpected.
The trick in life is to adjust to life as it’s happening because nothing ever happens the way you think it will. I am pretty sure that everyone has run a conversation or situation in their mind before an event and it is my experience that no event ever follows the script in your head. That can be frustrating and annoying, especially if the result is not favourable to you, but that’s life.
I was for many years a white water canoeist and if there is one thing you learn by hard experience it is to be present to the reality of the river and to adjust in the moment to what the water is doing, which is always beyond your control. You can fight the water, but you’ll never master it by doing that, you have to learn to work with the water and thus master the craft and skill of canoeing. I only came close to drowning once, not by a lack of skill or attention, but simply by being overcome by nature. The thrill of white water canoeing is in putting oneself into the embrace of nature and meeting the challenge of something that has the capacity to kill you. That’s true of any pursuit that involves nature, like mountain climbing, sky diving, surfing, swimming and so on.
People talk about being an optimist or pessimist, are you a glass half empty or a glass half full person? I’ve always hated that, sensing that it was fundamentally flawed. This year, 2020, I unexpectedly discovered the flaw and an insight into my character. The glass is always full. People who see the glass as half empty or half full aren’t seeing the reality, that’s the flaw. If the glass in half full of liquid the other half is full of gas. Call me a pedant if you like, but it’s true anyway and what is true matters more to me than parlour games, which is what the binary question about optimism and pessimism is. Even if you turn the glass upside down, it’s still full and I love tripping over little insights in life like that.
The older I get the more I enjoy the unexpected and, of course, the big one is still to come, the great offence, death, which makes a mockery of all our expectations of life. There’s a lot of stuff about looking after yourself and living longer. But longer than what? No one knows when they’re going to die, so how can anyone say they’re going to live longer? What matters far more is quality of life and that’s where the glass full thing matters. Life is always full of something, but in far too many ways this world makes unnecessary misery and suffering an active goal. The world could end poverty almost overnight because poverty is a political issue, which is why poverty is violence.
The entire point of ‘Conspiracy of Kindness’ is about change in unexpected ways. An act of kindness can change a life forever, there is no lack of the potential for kindness, it is an infinite resource, but there is a lack of will for it. Why is that? I would suggest that it’s learned behaviour. No one is born revelling in being dismal (I am not talking about depression here, that’s another thing entirely and a fundamental rejection of all that is dismal), you have to learn it and reinforce it, that’s why people read the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail is a dismal rag for peddling dismalness and people are hooked on it because there’s a pay off. It strokes the ego of smug self righteousness which, for example, says white people are better than black people. There’s nothing worse than gleeful racists, revelling in the misery they create, who don’t want the glass of life to be full, nor do they want change or anything unexpected. That’s why I went to the library, because I knew I didn’t want that and I embarked on a journey that led all the way to a ‘Conspiracy of Kindness’ and a love of life that surpasses everything this mad world throws at it. People are paid a minimum wage so that they can live a minimum life. That is a crime against life for which there is no excuse. We can do better, but it requires acts of individual and collective will. As Tony Benn said, “I think that progress is being made by two flames that have always been burning in the human heart, the flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope you can build a better world.” There is a deep well of creativity in the human heart, finding it and using it is the most valuable journey anyone can make. No one says it’s easy, but it is worth every effort we expend.
Keith Lindsay-Cameron. 28 December 2020.