A vector of peace

We hear the word vector now in the context of disease. A vector for the virus. Today, I found myself thinking of peace and progress, and questioning what I am choosing to spread.

The questions were sparked by a thought as I was out running. In the bright sunshine at my local park, I was trying hard to maintain adequate social distancing – a minimum of 2 metres, and aiming for more like 4 metres given I was running and breathing more heavily. Most people were very consciously distancing themselves, though a handful of people were walking in groups on the broad paths that usually can be shared whilst maintaining minimum distancing.

As I ran through thick un-mowed grass to avoid one of these groups, I mentally remarked that wearing a denim skirt and flip flops mean you probably weren’t really exercising.

But then I examined the thought. How judgemental it was. How it exposed the very sense of entitlement that has been frustrating me when noticed in others. What right did I have to decide what constitutes exercise? Or indeed, to swallow while the idea that physical exercise was legitimate and simply being in sunshine and nature somehow less so? I’m a huge proponent of mental health, and readily acknowledge my own physical exercise is primarily a mental health preserve as a physical one.

Of course, I had not acted yet upon this thought. I cast no dirty looks and posted no moans about “some people” on Facebook. But I had judged. And in doing so, I was at risk of becoming another vector, not of disease, but of judgement, ill will, and self-importance.

I say all of this not condemning myself. If you’ve had these feelings and thoughts, I do not condemn you, either, and would urge gentle acceptance and acknowledgement for both of us. We cannot control what thoughts occur in our brains, so the flicker of a thought is not in itself the issue. I feel frustrated and angry at a lot that is happening right now, from people endangering others by not following social distancing, to wider forces at play that are prioritising self-interested individualism over collective cooperation, and those are fair to feel. Judging myself harshly is yet another judgement.

No, instead I am now moving beyond that thought to ask myself, how can I be a vector of peace?

I feel outrage right now, which does not feel very peaceful. I do not feel peaceful when looking at white men armed to the teeth protesting against public health measures designed to protect the most vulnerable from a painful and lonely death. I do not feel peaceful watching world leaders gambling with people’s lives, purporting to protect notions like “economy” or “industry” with decisions that endanger people or take away their rights to protect themselves against the virus. I do not feel peaceful sniggering to myself as a see a meme about Karens. I do not feel peaceful as I mutter under my breath when the neighbours yet again have people not from their household visiting and laughing in the garden.

I also do not feel like a vector of peace when I see a black man killed in the street because, in the best case scenario, someone made a mistake and poor judgement and got carried away trying to be a vigilante. To be a vector of peace means to be promoting peace and goodness in the world, not shrugging at the injustices we see.

There is something radical in being a vector of peace. It is active, not passive. Forceful, but not coercive. Powerful but not overpowering. Peace, but not appeasement.

So I know what it isn’t, but what does being a vector of peace look like?

To help me work through this and bring more peace into my life, my actions, and the world, I’ve started using this acronym:

P Protect. Protect people who are in danger, who are vulnerable, at risk, dis-privileged, and/or otherwise unable to stand up for themselves.

E Empower. Work to provide a voice for the disenfranchised rather than speaking for them wherever possible. Take actions in the areas you can control.

A Act. Take simple, concrete steps to do something.  Sign a petition, write a letter to your MP, donate, volunteer, fundraise, vote.

C Calm / Care. Remain calm and take care of yourself. If you’re not calm, it’s easy to let anger or even hate influence action. Self care is important in peacemaking, so taking a moment to understand – without being driven by and without judging – emotions at play can help maintain peace as the goal.

Educate. Keep informed, check sources, look at the issues from all angles. Particularly understand the root causes behind the other side’s actions; understanding their unmet needs can help find sustainable solutions for the future. Note: understanding does not mean endorsing or accepting.

P E A C E

I’m learning to apply these principles in my own life with my family and friends, and on a wider scale in helping others and the world of politics. It is on a variety of scales that we can be vectors of peace.

What ways are you working for peace in this time of upheaval and stress?

When a straw breaks the camel’s back

I wonder if you’ve noticed this – you’re busy, stressed, and then you start to get a good head of steam around some minor irritation. You may become pretty angry about it too. Does this ever happen to you?

I had this last week. After a string of minor illnesses that meant my 1-year-old had to stay home from nursery – and my husband and I had to miss a lot of work to look after him (like, we’ve each missed at least a day of work every week for the past four weeks) – my youngest son woke up on Monday with a slightly pink and gummy eye. It was too mild to tell if it was conjunctivitis but, expecting nothing less at this stage, we sheepishly dropped him off at the nursery and spent time at or respective offices on Monday frantically calling the GP for an appointment, then the out of hours hub once we couldn’t get anything through our GP (because OF COURSE we couldn’t get an appointment).

So Monday evening saw me rushing home, then rushing with toddler to an out-of-hours GP a couple miles away, then racing to the late-night chemist before they closed so we could get the ointment that would allow him back into nursery the following day.

But I then became really annoyed at the nursery’s policy not to administer any kinds of medicine, even if the child has a prescription, the parents complete all the forms, and the child is no longer contagious.

Could a friend or family member come to the nursery to administer the eye ointment twice a day they asked?

No, we replied, if we had that kind of support we wouldn’t be so reliant on expensive childcare. (It didn’t help that the nursery had just told me they would be raising the rates to the tune of £80 more a month.)

I was told it was to do with the insurance, but I know other childcare providers can provide this service, so I emailed the management to understand more.

Well, that did not go well.

I got a very defensive email in response that it was their choice and their right (underlining from them) to have this policy and if i didn’t like it I could take my son and leave.

This whole exchange got me thinking – what exactly was going on? What was really bothering me?

Because I’ve had this before – feeling overwhelmed, getting worked up with some provider of some service or other, communicating with them just the right side of professional, and then getting a heated response that left me oscillating between anger (how dare they!) and guilt (I caused this response by being unreasonable/ angry/ difficult…).

It is often the fallout from these kinds of interactions at these overwhelming times in my life that breaks the camel’s back. Continue reading “When a straw breaks the camel’s back”

Wallowing, Swallowing, Allowing

I had an interesting conversation recently about the movie Inside Out (side note: one of the unintended side effects of parenthood is most of my film viewing is family films; thank god for Pixar…)

The person I was talking to hated the message the film gives to kids. “It doesn’t tell children they can choose how they feel,” she said. “And I just couldn’t stand the way Sadness was always moping.”

Inside Out.jpg

Conversely, I had liked the message the film may have been imparting to my kids; namely, that we all have a range of emotions and we can share these, rather than trying to pretend they aren’t there, can’t lighten the burden.

As an adult, this is something I continue to deal with – how to respond to negative emotions. Do you wallow in the negative emotion? Or swallow it, suppressing it until you no longer feel it? Or can you allow the emotion to exist without taking over?

Continue reading “Wallowing, Swallowing, Allowing”

I’ll take what I can get

I recently had the opportunity to put into practice some reframing.

That’s code for I was having a nightmare commute and it’s a good thing my 4G is patchy on the train or some poor soul at TFL’s complaints line would have been getting an earful.

It all started well but went pear-shaped on the track between West Ham and Canning Town. After spending 25 minutes getting exactly one stop closer to work, all Jubilee line trains were held in platforms while a mysterious “non-communicating train” at North Greenwich was – extremely slowly – being put back into the service.

It was a Monday, and the one day a week when my husband does the school and nursery run so I can get a full, normal day of work in. So I thought to myself, not only am I likely late for my first meeting of the week (and it’s a day of back-to-back meetings, so little room to manoeuvre here…), but I’ll have to make up the time elsewhere in my week when time is already tight. I’ve worked out my working/commuting/childcare schedules like an air traffic controller, so running 40 minutes late is not ideal.

I started to feel the exasperation and frustration rise, exacerbated by the sheer helplessness.

But I am pleased to say I was able to nip it in the bud. How, you might ask? Continue reading “I’ll take what I can get”

The objective of anger

It’s been a rainy Sunday and lazy by my standards. Sure, I’ve baked some cupcakes and we had a family disco at my son’s request. But it’s been a lot of sitting around, the boys playing somewhat on their own while I worked on my website copy and wrote in my journal.

And despite being able to be kind and loving and patient towards my son, I’ve had a few instances of losing my patience with him, too. We’re cooped up in the lounge together, and he insists on jumping from one piece of furniture to another, or pushing his baby brother using his face and head, or jumping and kicking, or basically doing the very thing I’ve just asked him not to do.

When this happens, I feel angry, then guilty. Then he does it again and I’m angry again. It’s been a vicious cycle.  Continue reading “The objective of anger”

Rethinking my relationship with my anger

 

I’ve been reading Russell Kolts’ brilliant book The Compassionate Mind Approach to Managing Your Anger, and I have just had a big perspective shift.

One of the attributes of the Compassionate Mind approach is non-judgement, which includes not classifying emotions as either good or bad. They just are. Continue reading “Rethinking my relationship with my anger”

Self-coaching exercise: Examining your emotional response to a trigger

This exercise can be hugely revealing when you find yourself responding emotionally to a trigger, but are left not sure where to go next. Or if your emotional response is powerful and leads you to act in ways you don’t like, be it angry, sad, or anxious. Continue reading “Self-coaching exercise: Examining your emotional response to a trigger”