Archive for June, 2004

Freedom to choose?

“I always want to know the things one shouldn’t do.”
“So as to do them?”
“So as to choose.”

Henry James wrote that in his novel ‘Portrait of a Lady’, and it sprang to mind today when I was pondering over a recent piece of news. These days it seems that there are more things one isn’t meant to do than you can shake a stick at.

A school has won a court battle to prevent a Muslim girl from wearing a jilbab (full length gown), apparently on the grounds that it’s a health and safety issue. Does that make sense to you? Well it certainly doesn’t to me. When I was at school I had to wear a uniform, but generally it seemed as though the teachers had a mental checklist when it came to skirts:
– Is it the right colour?
– Is it long enough to maintain a modicum of modesty?
– Is the person wearing it actually in school and willing to learn?
If the answers to all of the above were yes, then there wasn’t a problem. I occasionally wore long skirts, some of which were ankle length, none of which were seen to present a health and safety issue. So what’s the deal with this case? Is it a matter of discrimination? Some would argue that wearing the jilbab isn’t a requirement of her faith, but merely her personal choice due to her deepening interest in her religion.

Excuse me, but what’s wrong with choosing to wear a respectable item of clothing? Surely that’s better than some of the outfits that schoolgirls wear these days that make them look like jail bait? At the end of the day, to my mind, it doesn’t have anything to do with religion – it’s about suppression of the right to choose.

Yes, the girl in question seems a tad litigious. Yes, she probably ought to have prioritised her education rather than removing herself from school to contest the decision. However, was she wrong to question the school when they said no to her choice of outfit? No. As a nation we pride ourselves on strength of character, but how can we expect that to continue if those in power stifle every effort at self-expression? If this case is anything to go by then is it possible that what they really want is a nation of sheep, blindly obeying every edict?

Is there a moral to this tale? Don’t feel pressured into accepting things with which you’re not comfortable, feel free instead to question what’s put before you. Don’t, on the other hand, cut off your nose to spite your face by blowing things up out of proportion and leaving yourself with nowhere to go. Giving in gracefully isn’t a weakness, it’s common sense. Quiet protest followed by the semblance of conformity will often get you further than outright mutiny.

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Being able, and willing, to take new ideas and concepts on board is admirable, but what happens when people take it too far?

These days there are courses and seminars galore that swear blind that they can help people to change their lives. Positive thinking, utilising of assets… common sense really. People continue to sign up for these things, hoping that it will help them to make a difference. Why do people do this? Have we become so brainwashed by modern media that we’re becoming incapable of independent thought? Are we really so awash in a morass of apathy and confusion that we don’t know what we want anymore? Have we really lost the ability to find our own way? It’s certainly starting to look that way.

Ok, so a seminar that encourages people to find happiness and to discover their true self isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the trouble starts when people don’t get the results they want. If someone you know has undergone a profound change after attending a course or seminar, it doesn’t mean that you will. Everyone is different, everyone is unique. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the same formula will work for everyone, or you may well end up disappointed.

I can’t imagine going to one of these things, but then I consider myself able to work out what needs changing, or left alone, all by myself. I neither want nor require someone to tell me what my assets are – and at the end of the day, isn’t it better to figure it out for yourself? I’m not condemning those who do gain from such things, but I do advise caution. Don’t get your hopes up, at the end of the day we’re the ones who can help ourselves. Organisations may say that they’re just opening the door for you, but you should be the only one holding a key.

So what are my words of wisdom? Don’t expect too much, and don’t believe implicitly in what they tell you. If your life-changing course doesn’t work, don’t immediately leap into another one. Take a few steps back, take a look at yourself and see if you can be the one to change your life.

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What happened to the idea of having a vocation? Something that you did for a living not just because you needed to pay the bills, but because you enjoyed it? It’s become a somewhat antiquated idea these days, which is actually a real shame.

How many times have you heard someone say ‘I hate my job’ – in fact, how many times have you said it yourself? I read an article a couple of months ago about employment in the UK, and the statistics were shocking. I can’t quote it exactly, having thrown it away in disgust, but something like 70% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs and looking for new ones on their employers time – and 10% of people actually start looking for a new job the day that they start with a new employer.

It’s quite tragic really.

We all work to live: we work because we have bills to pay, we work because we need to eat, and we work because we need to keep ourselves in the lifestyles to which we’ve become accustomed.

Although living to work is an outdated concept, is there anything really wrong with it? Personally I don’t see why we can’t have jobs that we can look forward to. Having recently started working for myself, in my chosen field, I relish waking up in the morning knowing that I’m going to have a pleasant day doing something that I enjoy, and getting paid for it to boot. I’m still quite young, but already I’ve decided that I don’t want to spend the next twenty or thirty years stuck working for other people and dreading going to work. I know others, older than myself, who dislike their jobs, who get that sinking feeling when they wake up in the morning – but these are intelligent people, can it really be that difficult to figure out what you want to do in order to be happy?

I think it’s fear. People are afraid of being out of work, they’re afraid of not having any money. They’re worried that they won’t make enough money to pay their rent – so why not take a cheaper apartment and get a job that makes you smile? We don’t all have to love what we do, but we shouldn’t hate it, and we certainly shouldn’t allow it to make us miserable.

What point am I trying to get across? If you’re unhappy, do something about it. Don’t plod along and put up with all the grief and then turn around in twenty years and complain. If you truly hate your job then quit, find something you like doing, and adapt your life to cope with the adjusted income. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to succeed in your preferred field and money won’t be an issue – but even if you have to watch the pennies, isn’t it more important to start and end your day with a smile?

Happiness doesn’t have a price.

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