2016 Grateful 27

Brexit. Bremain. The votes were cast. The public spoke and yet the furor continues. The recriminations. The blame. The castigations. I don’t hold a UK passport so I find myself strangely removed from it all. Yes, I had hoped for a remain vote. No matter how bad the EU is, working to fix it is more the answer than worrying away at a thread that could eventually see it unravel. IMHO. Someone somewhere once said that “many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.”  I’m not as politically aware as I could be and would have made more of an effort to update myself had I had to vote. For me it was enough to see who was supporting Brexit.

Still, an innate curiosity has me still reading the articles and the comments that form the post-referendum deluge. And two in particular struck a note – a shorter comment on democracy from a Facebook thread that was not sourced. It got me wondering about democracy and margins and majorities:

Two thoughts about the Brexit vote:
Firstly: No one thought it could happen. why didn’t anyone think it could happen? Because the analysis listened to the experts who listened only to themselves. Welcome to the echo-chamber. Never hear anything beyond what is already being said. Maybe even only listening to confirmation-bias. Serious questions needs to be asked as to polling, and as to analysis. Everyone is “shocked” because no one bothered to ask anyone outside of London what they think.
Secondly: Democracy. Ah, what a wonderful system. The people has spoken. Either you support democracy, or you do not. If you are a “stay” voter, and feel disgruntled by it, take heart: democracy won! The people have spoken. But this brings in another question: is a rural country bumpkin’s opinion on the matter as valid as someone with an honours in PPE? Democracy: the notion that one person’s ignorance carries as much weight as another person’s knowledge. Welcome to the great failure of democracy. Wonderful when your guy wins, quite sucky when he loses, huh?

And a longer comment that I lifted from Facebook – it had previously been lifted from a comment thread Again, no source…

“If Boris Johnson looked downbeat yesterday, that is because he realises that he has lost.
Perhaps many Brexiters do not realise it yet, but they have actually lost, and it is all down to one man: David Cameron.
With one fell swoop yesterday at 9:15 am, Cameron effectively annulled the referendum result, and simultaneously destroyed the political careers of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and leading Brexiters who cost him so much anguish, not to mention his premiership.
Throughout the campaign, Cameron had repeatedly said that a vote for leave would lead to triggering Article 50 straight away. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the image was clear: he would be giving that notice under Article 50 the morning after a vote to leave. Whether that was scaremongering or not is a bit moot now but, in the midst of the sentimental nautical references of his speech yesterday, he quietly abandoned that position and handed the responsibility over to his successor.
And as the day wore on, the enormity of that step started to sink in: the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legistlation to be torn up and rewritten … the list grew and grew.
The referendum result is not binding. It is advisory. Parliament is not bound to commit itself in that same direction.
The Conservative party election that Cameron triggered will now have one question looming over it: will you, if elected as party leader, trigger the notice under Article 50?
Who will want to have the responsibility of all those ramifications and consequences on his/her head and shoulders?
Boris Johnson knew this yesterday, when he emerged subdued from his home and was even more subdued at the press conference. He has been out-maneouvered and check-mated.
If he runs for leadership of the party, and then fails to follow through on triggering Article 50, then he is finished. If he does not run and effectively abandons the field, then he is finished. If he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will all be over – Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession … broken trade agreements. Then he is also finished. Boris Johnson knows all of this. When he acts like the dumb blond it is just that: an act.
The Brexit leaders now have a result that they cannot use. For them, leadership of the Tory party has become a poison chalice.
When Boris Johnson said there was no need to trigger Article 50 straight away, what he really meant to say was “never”. When Michael Gove went on and on about “informal negotiations” … why? why not the formal ones straight away? … he also meant not triggering the formal departure. They both know what a formal demarche would mean: an irreversible step that neither of them is prepared to take.
All that remains is for someone to have the guts to stand up and say that Brexit is unachievable in reality without an enormous amount of pain and destruction, that cannot be borne. And David Cameron has put the onus of making that statement on the heads of the people who led the Brexit campaign”

What happened, happened. But all is not lost. In a week that has caused many to stop and think a little harder than usual, I’m grateful for the reminder: Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. And that I can attribute to Einstein 🙂






2014 Grateful 29

I had lunch yesterday with  a Hare Krishna friend of mine and was once again enthralled by the sense of peace he radiates. Whatever I might or might not think of the doctrine of Krishna Consciousness, I thoroughly enjoy our conversations and always end up leaving with more than I came with. He gives me food for thought – a sort of spiritual take-way.

The old conundrum of the existing of God and evil came up. He told me this story, which he rightly thought was incorrectly attributed to Albert Einstein, but even without Einstein, it’s still an interesting one.

Does evil exist? The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, “Yes, he did!” “God created everything? The professor asked.

“Yes sir”, the student replied.

The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil”. The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.

Another student raised his hand and said, “Can I ask you a question professor?”

“Of course”, replied the professor.

The student stood up and asked, “Professor, does cold exist?”

“What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?” The students snickered at the young man’s question.

The young man replied, “In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.”

The student continued, “Professor, does darkness exist?”

The professor responded, “Of course it does.”

The student replied, “Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton’s prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn’t this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present.”

Finally the young man asked the professor, “Sir, does evil exist?”

Now uncertain, the professor responded, “Of course as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.”

To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”

The professor sat down.

There are numerous variations on the same theme. All no doubt fictional. But who cares. Am sure that many of you could dissect this particular one from a scientific standpoint. Yet no matter what religion you are, or whether your God is the Universe itself, or doesn’t exist at all, it could simply be that evil is the absence of good.
hkWhat strikes me most about my HK friend is that he doesn’t feel the need to convert or convince. He simply states his beliefs and owns them. I can’t help but think how much better the world might be were everyone so calm and peaceful in putting their point of view across. And unlike others I know with equally firm convictions, he doesn’t argue or feel the need to justify and defend his faith. It simply is what it is.
Today, as I unpack to repack, I’m grateful that I made the time to see him. I’m grateful for his unconditional friendship and for the different perspectives he offers. For our wealth is found not in our bank balances, but in the friendships we have that challenge our thinking and keep us engaged.

Happy or sad to say goodbye?

As this year draws to a close, many of us will reflect on how good or bad it was. We will no doubt measure its success in terms of work, career, family, and bank balances. Did we get that promotion? Did we sign that new deal? Did our sons and daughters graduate, marry, have kids? Did we manage to save, buy that flat, start that pension? Did we reduce our golf handicap or play the best tennis ever? Did we make the team? Did we write that book, learn to tango, or clear out the attic. For others, the win might be in having survived another year, beaten a disease, recovered from an accident or serious illness. And for more, it might be simply in having had enough to eat and somewhere to sleep.

How we measure success is very individual. How we count our lucky stars depends on our definition of luck. How we determine whether we glad or sorry to see the back of 2012 will very much depend on how we perceive success, how we rate happiness, and how we measure our own achievements.

It’s certainly been a turbulent year in terms of politics, in terms of the struggle for national identity, in terms of global peace. For every story we have of misfortune, someone out there can trump it. For every tale we have of success, someone out there has done better. Everything is relative.

The flip side of the coin

In a year that saw the Queen celebrate her Jubilee and cement the world’s relationship with the British monarchy, the Encyclopaedia Britannica discontinued its print edition – a signal perhaps of the waning power of the marsprinting press. In a year that saw Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3, a North Korean Earth observation satellite, explode shortly after launch, Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory mission’s rover, successfully landed on Mars. In a year that saw Lonesome George, the last known individual of the Pinta Island Tortoise subspecies, die at a Galapagos National Park, thus making the subspecies extinct, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier without any machine assistance during a record space dive from a helium-filled balloon from 24 miles (39 km) over Roswell, New Mexico, USA.

Cause and effect

Our world is changing beyond recognition. Social media is transforming how we communicate. We are dealing in large part with an unknown. We can’t measure the power or the reach of the Internet – of social media. Cyberbullying is becoming a serious threat in our schools. The NRA bumper sticker that reads ‘guns don’t kill people; people kill people’ says something. In the aftermath of the series of terrorist attacks directed against US, German and British diplomatic missions worldwide, opinions in the USA were divided over whether the attacks were in reaction to a Youtube trailer for the film Innocence of Muslims. It’s becoming more and more difficult to reason the cause and effect of what’s happening every day. Our newspapers are full of disaster; our journalists report on atrocities; our TV stations are bent on screening the worst of what’s available to see.

When doing good goes viral

There is hope, though. Millions of people worldwide are doing good deeds every minute of every day. They’re just not reported. Okay – so a few make the headlines – thanks to social media. Take the case of New York City cop, Larry DePrimo, who bought a pair of boots and socks for a homeless guy on his beat. giraffeHe couldn’t have known that a tourist would snap his act of generosity last month and post it on Facebook. It went viral. Earlier this year, in September, Winnipeg transit bus driver Kristian Doubledee stopped his bus, took off his shoes, and handed them to a homeless man whom he had seen walking barefoot. A passenger blogged it and it, too, went viral. In Scotland, Armstrong Baillie has been doing good deeds for the last six months dressed as a character he calls the Good Giraffe. The unemployed 32-year-old funds his good deeds by busking and has captured the hearts and minds of the reading Scottish public.

Recalibrating priorities

Einstein is on record as having said: Strive not to be a success but rather to be of value. What a concept. Imagine if that was what we all focused on, how we all measured success: how much value we have added to the world. A case in point is the Christmas classic – Scrooge. As he discovers the joy of good deeds, he gets on a ‘helper’s high’ and his spirit is reborn.  Stephen G. Post, PhD, a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, published the results of a study earlier this year that shows how altruism can be the antidote to stress. Imagine how much time and money we could save on medical bills were we to do just one good deed a day in 2013.  Who cares whether it goes viral…

First published in the Budapest Times 7/12/2012