Archive for February, 2004

Britons, as a nation, are an odd lot. We moan constantly about the weather – and not just as individuals, even large corporations (such as rail companies) will have the odd (or not so odd) whinge about, or place the blame on, the weather. When it rains all the time we complain that it’s too wet, yet when we get three or more days of sunshine together there are people that start to worry about drought. Apparently the summer we’ve just had was ‘too hot’ and ‘too dry’ and the winter was ‘too warm’.

Anyone stop to think that perhaps we’re just ‘too fussy’?

Gardeners across the country have written in to magazines or phoned up radio stations to complain that this plant or that plant has continued flowering too long, started flowering too early, or just not flowered at all. Ok, I’m no exception, the plants in my garden constantly surprise me with regards to their behaviour – but at the end of the day I’m just grateful they’re flowering at all! If they flower early they might throw your planting scheme out of whack, but at least you still get to enjoy their beauty. Flowering too early may well put them at risk of frost damage, but nature (on the whole) knows what it’s doing, and the simple fact of the matter is that natural selection will ensure that only the best plants remain in your garden. Climates are changing, we’ve resigned ourselves to that, and gardeners are trying to adapt their gardens to those changes. More ‘Mediterranean’ planting schemes are being suggested in order to make the most of the changing weather patterns – but if the plants in your garden already are trying to adapt then why not leave them to it, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Next time you listen to the weather in the morning and are told that it’s too hot/too cold don’t complain, adjust your outfit accordingly and go out and enjoy it. If it’s cold enough to make an Inuit pause in their steps then throw on your thermals and walk outside happy in the knowledge that at least you’re not having to worry about sunscreen. When the summer gets too hot or humid, sit out in a park or garden and relish the fact that you’re getting a tan without having to pay for a flight to somewhere exotic.

Take life as it comes, and don’t waste time complaining about it – just think how much worse it could be.

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These days you can’t move for people returning to education, taking courses or simply walking along a path of self-improvement. Working days are getting longer, jobs are becoming more demanding and we rush around to such an extent that you have to wonder how people do it.

Evening courses, correspondence courses, weekend or weeklong seminars and one-off lectures – the choice is endless. It seems as though, as humans, we have an in-built urge to better ourselves – but does giving in to that urge have a detrimental effect on our lives?

Regardless of the method of study we choose we have to sacrifice some of our free time, whether it be an evening (or two) a week, or a few hours a day. How does that affect the way we schedule our time, and how we prioritise things? Despite all the best intentions, if you have to give up time to study, then other things will start to suffer. It might be something as trivial as missing your favourite television program, or having to tape it and then not having the time to actually watch it. It could be sacrificing your afternoon or evening of leisure, or giving up your Friday nights out. In quite a few cases, though, it seems as though people dedicate time to their studies, but end up having no time to stay in touch with friends.

It’s a horrible thing to face, you have a spare hour to yourself and you have a list of things to do that’s as long as your arm. Do you sort out your laundry and food for the day, take care of the banking and correspondence that you’ve been putting off for too long, or try and get hold of a friend and see if they’re free for a chat? Sadly the latter gets chosen far too infrequently. People try to prioritise, putting their studies quite high on the list, and when it comes to staying in touch with friends people have a tendency to be great procrastinators. ‘I’ll call so-and-so tomorrow instead’ – tomorrow turns into the day after that, which turns into the following week, and before you know it you haven’t spoken to someone for a month or more! When you do shamefacedly get in touch and apologise the response will often be ‘I’ve been meaning to ring you too, but I’ve just been so busy…’

Are we rescheduling our lives away?

We pile so much onto ourselves that a collapse seems inevitable. We work, care for our families and partners, try to better ourselves – and amidst all that we still have to worry about mundane things such as the laundry, the bills, housework and much more. Are we simply trying to do too much? We keep piling more and more onto our plates, but are loath to complain because that would imply that we’re unable to cope. What we need to realise is that there’s no shame in admitting that things are getting to be too much, that we might need a hand to keep on top of things, or that we might simply need a break. Friends are understanding, rather than rescheduling them time after time, simply tell them that you’re having trouble finding enough hours in the day, but make sure that you set a definite date to catch up. If you live with family then ask them if they can take on more of your household responsibilities until you’ve caught up with yourself – but make sure that you don’t take advantage and remain ‘busy’ just to get out of doing the laundry! Most importantly, however busy you are you should try to make time, even ten minutes, each day to remind yourself how well you’re doing, and how proud your friends and family are that you are doing what you do.

When the tide of education washes over you, ensure people know that you’re waving, not drowning.

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Some people believe that in order to live their lives blame free they should stick to the rede of ‘harm none’ – but is it really possible to do that and still look out for ourselves? If we spend all our time worrying about whether an action we take is going to impact negatively on another, are we sacrificing our own self interest? Why should we make martyrs of ourselves in order to spare another person’s blushes? The answer is that we shouldn’t. The Darwinian principle of Natural Selection is well known, and it’s also dead accurate. Emphasis on the word ‘dead’. Those who can’t compete in life are pushed to the side and slowly phased out – if we spend all our time looking out for others, it’s just possible that we won’t see the oncoming truck and WHAM – no more us.

At what point does ‘harm none’ become impossible to adhere to?

In an ideal world perhaps we’d be able to do what we like with no fear of the consequences. In this world we have to wonder if what we do today is going to come back and bite us on the backside in six months time. Perhaps in an ideal society we’d be able to look out for people without thinking about it, perhaps kind deeds and words would become the norm and not just a fairy tale. Trouble is, we’re not in an ideal society by any stretch of the imagination.

If we try to conduct our lives whilst causing as little harm or stress to others as possible, then we end up causing more anxiety to ourselves. That can’t be right. Although it’s generally frowned upon to ‘look out for No. 1’ perhaps that’s just how it ought to be. In the wild animals work together for the good of their herd or pack, and that works even though the odd individual might suffer as a result. Humans are social animals too, and although we can work together admirably to achieve a goal, people will still suffer.

The truth is that, a handful of twisted individuals aside, most people wouldn’t dream of doing something that they know will cause another person to suffer – not when it counts, anyway. Yes, we push each other to the side, and competitiveness might lead to someone getting indirectly hurt along the way – but isn’t that the whole point of the race for survival?

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It’s a world where wars are fought over differences in belief, and wearing the wrong designer label can get you ostracised in the playground. Where speaking with a certain accent can cause people’s noses to turn up, and the wrong make of car can lose you a business deal.

With all our quirks and idiosyncrasies, can we ever really get along with others?

He likes espresso, you prefer a milky tea. He thinks that your CD collection is awful, yet he expects you to listen to his at ear-drum-shattering volume. He loves that you love football, but can’t stand your choice of team.

What draws us to another person, is it the similarities or the differences? Have you ever been introduced to a person and been mildly surprised, or even shocked, at their choice of partner? You’re not the only one, and perhaps that answers the first question. If we examine our lives closely we find that we thrive on differences, and that we actively seek out those who disagree with us, or just cause us to roll our eyes in disgust.

We love our friends, but that doesn’t mean that we all come from the same mould. Differences in opinion keep conversation, and relationships, from stagnating. Ever started arguing the merits of something with a friend and then wondered where the last four hours have gone? Conversely, ever been on a date with someone who agrees with your every word and then spent the duration of the evening glancing at your watch and wondering at what point you can decently excuse yourself and go home?

Differences give us the impetus to go on – if they weren’t there then we’d slowly go insane. Yet differences can still cause trouble – why do differences make individuals closer, but cause great rifts between nations?

If I could answer that question then I’d be up for the Pulitzer Peace Prize. As I’m just a humble columnist I’ll leave that to someone else. Any volunteers?

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