All posts filed under “Social

Driving each other crazy

If two cars reach an impasse in Britain, and one flashes its headlights to the other, it means “come on; I cede”. In France, it means “stay there; I’m going to push through”. Imagine the scene where a Brit in France or someone French in the UK gives or sees a flash and interprets it the wrong way, judged against the dominant convention in that place. There’s a crash, and both aggrieved parties leap out of their car, each thinking they’re in the right as they talk at each other, not only in a foreign language but from a completely different context.

Neither is right, neither is wrong; but both think both that they are right and the other is wrong, by sheer force of cultural conditioning. It’s not merely a question of perspectives, but of failing to realise that the lessons and values of your culture have been so subtly but fundamentally and perniciously codified into your worldview that you don’t think to ask if there could even be another perspective. What is this wanker doing? He flashed his lights for me to come on so I drove forward but then so did he and now there’s car on the ground and we’re both shouting at each other.

I think about this often.

‘Safe’

I went to bed last night as Twitter was just starting to twitch with news of something happening around London Bridge, assuming that when I woke it would either have been jumbled mis-reporting or the latest in the capital’s history of terror attacks.

This morning, as we read and listened and reflected, my daughter was playing on some foam climbing blocks when she slightly overreached her balance and toppled slowly off, crying – mostly from surprise – when she hit the floor.

It is a trite point, but, curiously, a legitimate and profound one too, that ‘being safe’ doesn’t – rather, shouldn’t – mean that one must never come to physical or emotional harm; it means an environment wherein you are confident in exploring and playing and expressing yourself, knowing that if you overreach and come to harm, there is kindness, support and comfort.

‘Never coming to harm’ is a dangerous fiction, one that legitimises and excuses authoritarian behaviour and policies that actively damage those for whose lives you are responsible.

➚ Let’s see if the comments vindicate this column’s topic…

My TechRadar column this week is on the inherent uselessness of a public-voted star ratings.

The fault isn’t really with the system, though, but with people. How else can you explain the 4.9/5 rating the first picture the Philae lander sent back from the surface of comet 67P currently has? What kind of towering arsehole looks at that picture – a picture taken 316 million miles away by a probe we launched 10 years ago and which landed on an object travelling at more than 30,000mph – and rates it anything other than five stars?

http://www.techradar.com/1273133

Us vs. Them

There are a couple of words that I keep seeing crop up in the discussions of the Scottish referendum happening on social media that have really started to worry me: ‘them’ (and they) and ‘us’ (and we).

I know these terms have relevancy in a discussion about national identity, but so often when I see them used they seem to presage a kind of ugly, subtle but wildly pervasive xenophobia, a combative sense of circling the wagons and rigidly defining groups of people; us versus them. It’s there from Yes voters and there in No voters. It’s there from Scottish people and from English people. It’s not everywhere, no, but it’s there, and it’s horrible to see.

(I don’t, incidentally, get a vote in the referendum; I’m Scottish but I live and therefore vote in England.)

This post originally appeared on Medium.

There were three of us in this marriage

It takes a certain hubris to give relationship advice, and that’s no less true for me; for sure, my wife and I have to work, sometimes very hard, at our relationship, and despite us both being articulate, empathetic human beings, we can fall into having the same old arguments.

But we’ve been together now for nearly fifteen years (married for nine), and we have come to notice that at our best we have a process, a trick, even, that makes our relationship strong. So fuck it; for what it’s worth, here’s the one bit of advice we’d feel confident enough to offer up.

(It’s not, despite this article’s title, an open relationship, infidelity or threesomes. Sorry.) We talk about ‘The Team’.

We’re not flatmates. We’re not two independent human beings who happen to occupy the same physical space for 10 hours a day. We are The Team. (Of course, another way of saying that is ‘a family’.)

Sometimes, sure, I’ll do things based on what’s best for me. And sometimes my wife will do things based on what’s best for her. But usually those are only for small things — for anything big, anything even moderately important, we do things based on what’s best for The Team.

This isn’t about compromise, about doing ‘what she wants’ or ‘what he wants’. It’s not about subjugating your own wants and ambitions and so building resentment over years. It’s not about only doing dull, grown-up things and never having any fun. It’s just about switching your priorities.

Your marriage, your relationship, is important. For me at least, my family — just my wife and I at the moment — is the most important thing in the world. It deserves respect. It deserves attention. It deserves to be seen as a third person in your marriage. There’s you; there’s your spouse, who you think is every kind of wonderful; and then there’s The Team.

The Team, this third person in your marriage, is its own thing. You need to take care of yourself, your partner and it. It has its own wants and needs. The decisions you jointly make on its behalf might not be things either of you realised you wanted, and yes, sometimes you’ll both decide to do things for The Team that are not easy, or not things you’d choose to do if you were on your own or even dating. But it works.

This isn’t generic ‘make time for your marriage’ advice, nor a platitude about putting others before you. For us, it has become an important and practical tool in keeping us grounded and keeping us pulling in the same direction. Keeping us happy and happily in love.

Do things for The Team. Try it. Put The Team first. Every time you do something selfish, check yourself; I wasn’t working for The Team there. You’re not flatmates. You’re a family. You’re The Team.

(Actually, we have one more piece of advice: buy loads of paper plates. Especially for food prep, they bring a measure of calm and ease rare outside prescribed pharmaceuticals. Recycle them, sure, and buy paper plates from a sustainable source, but buy them.)

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Boys will be boys

“But my son doesn’t like anything pink!”, they say. “But my daughter wants a Barbie for her birthday!”, they say.

They say this if I talk about gender roles. They say this when I suggest that science kits in shops being aimed at boys, and bejewelled vacuum cleaners designed traditionally to appeal to girls, are quietly evil. They say this as a defence, a kind of “I’m not racist, but…”, an attestation that they’re fully-evolved, sensitive and societally valuable members of the species.

They know that men and women should be equal, even if they can’t disentangle ‘equal’ and ‘the same’. If challenged on it, they’d even acknowledge that ‘men’ and ‘woman’ aren’t especially useful phrases here, that gender identity is both much more fluid than society has hitherto acknowledged, and that it’s not something that society should, in fact, bother much about. And still. Still they persist. And they don’t appreciate the power of the tiny.

The reason your son doesn’t want anything pink is because through a hundred phrases, a thousand reactions to his choices, a million barely perceptible cues, he has gotten the impression from you that to want pink things is inappropriate. I’m not blaming you; that’s what society taught you too. You know by now, intellectually, that this lesson was fallacious, yet still you can’t help reacting in the way you were schooled to. (In its own way, that’s worse; being aware of your prejudices is wasted if you don’t fight against them.)

There is nothing wrong with your daughter wanting a Barbie. There is nothing wrong with your son not wanting anything pink. But please recognise that these choices are almost certainly not solely theirs; would you seriously assert that your child’s personality and preferences are fully formed at three, five, ten? I’m 33, and mine aren’t; I don’t expect them to be as I draw my last breath.

We are all children of a society, and we pass its mores on in turn to our children in a billion barely perceptible actions and reactions. The act of imposing gender roles on our children is both infinitely more subtle and wildly more pernicious than you think; this is true for something so fundamental as gender, and it’s true throughout the range of human differences. People, ladies, gentlemen and everything in between; people is what we should be celebrating, despising, criticising and idolising. The only time biological sex – not gender – is important is when you want to have a child.

And by all the gods, in every one of the trillion interactions we all have with him or with her, we should let that child know that it should do anything it can do and be anything it wants to be.

This post originally appeared on Medium.