Hate and Prejudice

The ‘C’ Word

I’ve been slacking on the ‘C’ Word posts recently, either by not writing them at all or by writing them but speaking about the ‘C’ Word in them, going against the entire point of the series. Let’s hope today’s post will be a return to form.

I was scrolling through my Youtube feed tonight when I stumbled across a video titled ‘Do you hate the US? 100 Russians‘. It is by a channel called 1420, a ‘street journalism’ channel based in Russia. I found it recently as I was searching Youtube to try and find content that gives an honest reflection of Russian civilians’ opinions on what is going on in the war in Ukraine. The videos are centred around asking random people on the street a question, which is usually used as the video’s description. It seems that the channel has existed for quite a while, so it hasn’t been created in response to the war in Ukraine, but the current situation makes it an extremely interesting format to be engaged in making.

I don’t know the ins and outs of Russian law, but I do know that any form of journalistic endeavours there put the perpetrator at great risk of being on the wrong side of the government. There was a recent video of a woman holding up a sign with writing on it, which translated as ‘Two Words’. As soon as she unfurled the sign in front of the camera, she was detained by police officers. Quite incredibly, another woman then started to berate the cameraman asking if he is willing to interview people who agree with the war too, to which he responds that he is. She is then also detained by police. They must have assumed she was also pushing rhetoric that was considered ‘anti-government’, or just didn’t care what her opinions were but saw speaking into a camera in public as enough of a crime in and of itself. You can watch it here. It is almost comical until you remember that these are real and ordinary people being detained for stating their opinions peacefully in the street; in this particular example, they weren’t even expressing opinions, they were just daring to express anything. The reality is bleak and, unfortunately, though we kid ourselves that our society in the United Kingdom is very different, one which we are sliding closer towards with some of the reforms in protesting laws that are being pushed through here too. I do hope it could never get to this stage of ludicrous, though.

I have incredible respect for the people who run the 1420 channel, as they continue to record and upload this style of video despite the risks. I’m unsure if they feel at risk, and don’t know what their personal opinions or political leanings are, but that, if anything, should show what a great channel it is.

The ‘Do you hate the US’ video is quite long and I haven’t made it past about 2 minutes due to me not liking to dwell on war news for too long, but luckily, most people definitively say no. Or they at least say that they don’t hate the US population, but do not like their political system. I felt a huge rush of relief as I watched it. I have met a few Russian people in my life and I have always found them to be very open-minded and intelligent individuals, so I wasn’t necessarily surprised by their answers. It still felt good to prove to myself that there wasn’t a majority of people in Russia willing to state on camera that they hate another continent of people and hope their government would hurry up and nuke them; that is the sort of irrational thing you can start to think in such charged times and which, on a large scale, can lead to tensions rising to an unpalatable level. Russia has a rich history of culture, with many famous plays, operas and novels being written there. Their people are strong-willed and intelligent. I can’t claim to be an expert on this, but I was made aware of it through a rather random connection with the US.

I went through a period of only reading novels by the American authors Charles Bukowski and John Fante. I particularly enjoyed the protagonist in Fante’s series of semi-autobiographical novels called The Bandini Quartet. The main character’s name is Arturo Bandini and the series of novels follow him from childhood to old age, as he finds his way in the world as an aspiring, then (somewhat) successful author. He always has an arrogance in his own abilities and regularly goes on tyrannical rants to himself about how good a writer he is, whilst also comically idolizing people around him, such as an editor of a magazine who paid for a few of his stories. His absurd style has greatly influenced my writing in these blog posts, and I haven’t laughed as much at any other novel I’ve read. Dreams from Bunker Hill and Ask The Dust are both incredible books in the series and continue to be 2 of my favourite novels to this day.

Bukowski famously said that ‘Fante was my God’. He randomly discovered Fante’s work whilst trawling through a library shelf one day. You can see the influence on his work if you read a novel by Fante, then a novel by Bukowski. The auto-biographical form and dark, over-indulgent humour are evident in both, although Bukowski took the latter to an extreme that Fante did not. Seeing as I had found Fante through Bukowski, I started looking into other writers that Bukowski was influenced by, which was when I heard the name, Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian novelist. I started looking into other influential Russian writers and found there to be a long list of names, including people like Mikhail Bulgakov. It forced me to recognise a side of Russian history that I had been totally unaware of, one of free-thinking, innovative writing which was recognised across the globe. It made me address some bias that I obviously had towards Russia, and it challenged my perception of the country. I had never realised this about Russian history.

This is why I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched the video of Russian citizens recognising that feeling ‘hate’ for an entire population is ludicrous and that any ill feelings should be put towards whatever system is governing that population. US culture has dominated the world in my lifetime, and I wasn’t sure if Russians may feel a lot of hatred towards them. The video showed that they didn’t. I’d be interested to see what result you’d get if you asked the opposite question to 100 Americans. Hopefully, it would produce similar results.

Hate is a powerful emotion. If hate is successfully conjured up in a population against another population, then that is an extremely worrying situation to be in. If you have ever dealt with a truly hateful person, you’ll see that they are vacuous individuals who are extremely unpleasant to be around. That’s not to say that hate is never an appropriate emotion to feel, and it has its uses in the world. Powerful emotions force us to act in the face of extreme situations, helping us survive. The problem is that powerful emotions cut off the reasonable and analytical parts of our brains, and result in us engaging in extreme acts with little ability to evaluate them. Tactics such as identity politics are used to force us to feel powerful emotions towards a situation and/or population, which then allow for extreme acts to take place. I read a book on the Rwandan Genocide a few years ago, and that was an example of where drumming up hatred led to acts so horrific they seem to be a thing of dystopian fiction. One day people were neighbours, the next they were enemies.

Ukraine is currently being invaded, and the Russian government are engaged in all sorts of propaganda games with their population, the same way that our governments in the west are engaging in an information war by influencing us that what Russia is doing is evil and that what we are doing is successfully fighting back against it, in an ‘appropriate’ fashion. The difference between the West and Russia is that the west have enough journalistic volition to critique and challenge what their governments do. My worry with Russia is that the government’s total control of the media results in the population believing and supporting whatever schemes their government is engaged in. the 1420 Youtube channel offers a fly on the wall style look into what the citizens of Russia really think, and reassures us that they are very much the same as us. Some likely buy into extreme opinions on both sides, but most of those interviewed seem like reasonable individuals, with balanced opinions in spite of what their government tells them. It almost sounds patronising for me to say that, and I really don’t mean it to be, but we are lucky enough to have the technology now which prevents these types of smoke screens from being effective. Russia’s government can say they are engaged in a special operation to liberate Ukraine from extremists, but when they see videos online of Ukraine cities that have been raised to the ground by Russian shelling, they likely start to question whether their government’s ‘special operation’ is really benefitting ordinary Ukrainians. It allows people to draw their own conclusions about a situation and hampers their leader’s ability to influence their population. This also hampers their ability to drum up hate in their population for another people, as videos of their suffering humanises them, and helps Russians see that they are similar to each other. Normal people’s lives are being ruined by their armies in Ukraine; there are videos of the damage all over the internet.

Although I can honestly say there are very few things in the world I actually ‘hate’, I have used the word many times in my life in the colloquial sense. For example, for about a decade, any time I saw fennel on a menu or it came in a conversation I was involved in, I would emphatically state that I hated fennel. This was usually followed by a rant that I don’t understand why anyone would feel anything other than hate towards it, that people who don’t hate it clearly had something wrong with their brains, and that any emotion other than hate expressed towards it was inadequate. I recently found a recipe for pasta bake that used a bit of fresh fennel and reluctantly decided to try it, and now realise that if you balance it well in a meal, it can actually be very delicious. The conclusion that I drew from this is that being closed-minded to anything, even something fairly trivial, may prevent you from experiencing whatever is potentially positive about that thing. It will at least prevent you from understanding what someone else’s positive experience is from that thing. If I shut down any conversation about fennel with a rant about how much I hate fennel, I’m unlikely to be susceptible to changing my opinion or hearing out others on why they don’t hate it. My good friend Dan told me that eating fresh fennel soon after it has been picked is something he has treasured since childhood. I was in utter disbelief about this when he told me, but it has made me curious to try it. I’ve also had a very nice tea that uses fennel root to sweeten it. Look how far I have come… This leads me to my final point, another one about strong emotions and how it is easy to be swept into them.

In the past, I’ve been guilty of disagreeing with people on subjects that I know very little about and, in fact, don’t feel passionate about in any way, shape or form. I’ve spoken about this before I’m sure, but it really is worth emphasizing again. There is something about engaging in a ‘disagreement’ (which innevitably moves into an argument once the disagreement gets out of hand) that I used to find irresistible. The topic could be almost anything and I would come in with the opposite opinion of the person speaking, starting off as ‘devil’s advocate’, but soon assuming the position as a gatekeeper for an opinion I don’t hold, over a topic I don’t understand.

I remember a particular example where a colleague brought up flat earthers, and I quickly dismissed him and said that people who believed it were stupid. He then asked me how I knew it wasn’t flat, and if I had personally proved it to be round. We then engaged in an argument that lasted far too long, went far too meta and was never going to produce any winners. Alcohol played its part too of course, but the whole thing got extremely heated and, frankly, embarrassing. I remember that as a pivotal moment for me – the moment I realised that I don’t actually need to engage in these types of ‘disagreements’ and that they never resulted in me being any happier. I don’t mind a discussion now, but I try and approach them with more of an inquisitive attitude, as opposed to obsessively trying to be ‘right’ or to see everything as a competition where I need to be the winner. I stop myself from getting to the stage where I am blinded by strong emotions, which prevent me from learning anything or thinking critically.

It made me realise that all of the people that I knew and respected most were people who tried to stay calm, looked to engage with others over differing opinions and allowed their prejudices to be challenged. The people who were always desperate to be right, desperate to be seen to be the most intelligent and ready to engage in any argument were not the ones I idolised at all, yet they were all traits I easily identified in myself when I evaluated my past behaviour. It is my interest in evaluating these types of human behaviour that led me to the 1420 channel, and that inspired me to write this post.

Passion as a Life Choice

I recently read a fantastic article written by fellow blogger Dr Eric Perry titled ‘How to Find Meaning in Your Life’. Not only was it beautifully written, but the content had a profound effect on me, and linked well with a topic I was already planning on writing about – passion.

“So, what is your passion?” It is common to be asked something like this at a party or other social gathering where you don’t know many people. The question takes various forms, sometimes substituting the topic of ‘passion’ for the softer topic of ‘interests’ for example, but both are alluding to a similar thing. Someone is asking you what you enjoy in life, what excites you. When we are asked about our interests it feels less daunting, and we may feel less intimidated to answer. This is in my experience at least. Interests are just things you do to pass the time. The word ‘passion’ seems to evoke something else in a lot of us. I know that it used to intimidate me, and I would struggle to answer. “I’m not sure, I don’t really think about it,” I’d reply, cringing inside my mind and wishing I had a scripted answer for these questions that I could reel off from memory. But that wouldn’t be true passion for something, that would be a social tactic.

I have been pondering over the subject of passion and trying to think about why I’ve always found it such a difficult topic. Since my early 20’s I have found myself completely in awe of people I meet who clearly display what they are passionate about. You can see when someone is truly passionate about a topic; they can’t help but become emotive when discussing it and find ways to bring it up which are genuinely engaging and interesting. The topic is interwoven into their psyche, and how it changes the way that they analyse the world around them because of it. They seem to draw links to their passion where others may not see it, feel positive when they are given the chance to discuss it and dedicate large amounts of time to the benefit of it. A passion usually takes a lot of time, dedication and patience to develop. When I see traits like these in a person now, I feel a deep respect for them. That wasn’t always the case though, unfortunately.

When I was in school, it was easy to view people who cared about things and took time to perfect them in a negative light. The concept of a ‘nerd’ is well documented in the media that we consume. The importance of being ‘cool’ or otherwise is played up a lot in films and dramas with school-based scenes. ‘Nerd’ is a strange term which has derogatory meaning in a lot of uses of it, and it is not easily applicable to a person based only on specific rules or traits. Some kids in your class managed to be seen as ‘cool’ but openly try at their coursework and get on with teachers. Others may suffer socially for trying to work well in class though, and they may be seen to be less ‘cool’ for displaying these types of traits. Children’s biases often don’t make a lot of sense, but neither do many biases that adults have. Do we carry those biases out into the world unknowingly, never really finding impetus to challenge them? The workplace is essentially a playground for adults after all, filled with different cliques and the same chit chat and rumour fodder as school. The behaviours likely become more advanced as we mature. I am making many assumptions of course, such that being ‘cool’ is even a priority of an individual. But many of us are too immature and inexperienced in school to recognise differing motivations and priorities in life.

As I went into university and beyond, that is where I first remember the question of passion coming up in my life. You would be asked to introduce yourself regularly in new classes, attend mixers and meet many people through friends and friends of friends. Part of the introduction to official events would sometimes be to talk about something that interests you. I would sit, digging through my mind to find an interest that I could say enough about, without feeling self-conscious about it. “I play guitar, that is sort of interesting. Although I’ve stopped playing it so much since moving to uni. I like reading non-fiction, but I never remember the content of the books and I feel like I don’t know enough about the topic.” I would dig out my interests, then single-handedly find a reason that they were not interesting to anyone. It is this that made me think on the topic of self-consciousness.

In the first ‘C’ word article I wrote titled ‘Know Yourself’, I spoke a bit about my self-consciousness in terms of my friendship group and how I wondered why people liked me. This manifested itself in me believing it was because I always drank way too much and was seen as ‘fun’. It became a resentment of mine though and I felt that I couldn’t give it up, despite hating it about myself. The question about my passion threw out similar insecurities that I wasn’t fully aware of at the time. To be passionate, you had to be confident in my eyes. You needed to know more than everyone else about that subject and have no fear in discussing it. It required you to be open-minded and intelligent about your passion, always ready to learn more and challenge yourself for the betterment of it. They were all traits that I still felt were a bit ‘nerdy’, or would require me to commit myself to a subject to an extent that I wasn’t sure I could. Trying, in my stupid immature brain, wasn’t a cool thing to do. Despite feeling a large amount of respect for people I knew who were, for example, very good at playing the piano, I didn’t link that back to the concept of ‘trying’. “They are naturally good at playing piano,” I would tell myself, as if their ability was innate and everyone else needn’t bother; trying was something that you had to do if you were bad, but trying to be less bad.

I don’t know why I thought that way looking back, especially as I had practiced the guitar for years before I got to a high level of proficiency (I am not displaying a lot of modesty here, but I was pretty good (I think)). I didn’t think enough on the subject to draw that link at the time. It was easier to judge people who tried at things, and respect people who were already good at things. That leads to the next area I’ve thought on – judgement. The other thing about passion is that you must be prepared to be judged for your passion, and I was never prepared to deal with that judgement.

I feel I could write another article on judgement. It is such an interesting subject to me and it seems relevant here in my experience. In school and for a while in university, I feel like I was a very judgemental person. Reflecting now, I know that I was that way because of my own insecurities. It was easier to judge others and reassure myself that I was doing something better or more useful than them. What is more difficult to do, is to learn about their choices, contemplate why they enjoy doing something differently to you, or have different interests to you, and review your own life to see if you could learn something from them. That takes time, effort and dedication, like having a passion. It takes far more effort to be a person who searches the world with an open mind, learning about other people’s lives and finding things that may improve your own life. Being the type of person who is self-conscious and judgemental is unlikely to lead you to find a passion in life and is also unlikely to bring you any sustainable meaning or happiness. So, I want to conclude this article by discussing two of my biggest passions.

My main passion in life are people. Even though I have wrestled with a lot of self-consciousness over the years, I have learnt to really enjoy having friends around me that I love and meeting new people. It is so easy to invest your energy and time in people as you get so much feedback from them. You can help your friends deal with challenges in their life, be their soundboard when they are sad or angry, and watch them grow into themselves as they get older and learn. Not only can you help them, but you can also greatly influence their lives for the better. What is a better thing in life than investing in people around you that you love, supporting them and helping them flourish?

I also have a passion for writing. For my undergraduate degree I studied English Language. At the time I thought I only liked the subject as I seemed to do well at it without putting in much effort. I realise now that the reason I excelled in it was because I always loved writing. The process of sitting down and having a lot of thoughts on a topic but needing to find a way to express them effectively using language genuinely excited me. When I read a book that I loved, I would get excited at the way that the sentences were structured. Often I would read a paragraph repeatedly, writing down my favourite sentences from it in the notes app on my phone and reading them again and again when I was idling on a train or waiting for a friend. I used to have a list of interesting words on my phone, and I would challenge my mum on the definition of them. She always got it right, so I looked further for more complex words, but she still almost always had an inkling that was correct. The process excites me now more than ever, and the blog is giving me confidence to speak about this passion.

My challenge to you is to think about what your passion is and ask others what theirs is. If they don’t know, talk to them and help them find it out. Where they have a passion, find out about it and give them the opportunity to discuss it. See what you can learn about it. People are vehicles of experience and knowledge; better to be open minded to that experience and learn something from it. Being judgemental of it will offer no benefit to anyone, especially yourself. Indulge in their passion like you indulge in your own. You’ll feel more fulfilled for doing so.

Know Yourself

I am sitting writing this at 2:00am on Monday December 20th. My sleeping pattern is a bit unusual these days as I frequently feel tired (or just generally bad) throughout the day, so I spend a lot of time resting at unorthodox hours.

I’ve received so many amazing comments on the blog so far and I feel so much gratitude for everyone who is taking the time to read it. “A problem shared is a problem halved,” I said to my friend Finch on Saturday; admittedly, I was talking about him coming over at the same time as our other friend Benedict who was also planning on visiting me. But the saying is very applicable to the blog and knowing that people are finding themselves invested in the journey makes me feel so supported and happy.

It is going to come with some growing pains, and I am still establishing exactly what I want to do with the blog overall. The posts so far have been very cancer heavy, which is to be expected. It is my life right now, and it takes a lot of my time and energy to stay on top of the battle. But cancer isn’t my life, and I like to think there is more that I can write about that is worth the interest of you, my dear readers. All these thoughts have led me to contemplate a lot of things about myself, and the unusual hours I find myself awake and active gives me plenty of time to do just that. So, I am challenging myself to write a single article a week where I am not allowed to use the ‘C’ word or discuss the ‘C’ word. This is my first attempt at doing so, and this paragraph is the only place that you will find the naughty word mentioned.

I’ve always found myself to be a person that spends a lot of time reflecting on the past. A ‘worrier’ is probably the not-so-technical term. It is something about myself that I have always found very frustrating, as historically it has led to me obsessively criticising myself and how I’ve behaved in the past, with no beneficial light to shed on the situation. When people use phrases like ‘know yourself’, it can feel like quite a vapid thing to say. In my experience though, it is extremely important to spend time trying to know yourself and what drives you in life, as it constantly seems to change and at a pace that can be hard to keep up with.

I am only realising this recently, and it is making me appreciate the time I spend reflecting on the past more. It allows me to discover things about myself and better identify some of my drivers, whilst trying to learn things from past situations. If you can learn something from what you perceive to be a bad situation, it makes that negative mean something to you. That gives it a value that it may not have otherwise had, and it should help change the way you cope with a similar situation in the future. I can think of a particular example from my experience that I hope demonstrates my point well.

When I was a teenager, I used to have a bad habit of binge drinking. Of course, this isn’t an unusual or undocumented part of British culture. I always knew that I didn’t like it about myself though. I would frequently drink to the point that I would completely blackout, I’d spend a lot of money that I didn’t have and then I’d feel sick and anxious for days afterwards. Despite this, I continued doing it for years, from about 16 until I was probably around 25, although it was less frequent as I got a full-time job after university. I guess it’s called being a ‘weekender’ really, and I’m sure many people genuinely enjoy this lifestyle in a way that I didn’t. For me, I always felt like I did it because I just did. What else was there to do on the weekend? How else would I remain relevant in my friendship group? It was this final point that bothered me the more I reflected on it.

Over time, I realised that getting absolutely blind drunk had become my main character attribute in my mind. I think now that it was a deep insecurity of mine manifesting itself from when I was young. I’m the guy that is always willing to get ridiculously drunk and make an idiot of himself, what else do I have to offer a group of people? Wasn’t that the only reason I had friends? I always felt a bit confused why people liked me when I was younger, and I’d regularly think people were talking about me or plotting against me for some reason. Every time I agreed to go on a night out at short notice or was one of the last people to go to bed, it felt like a tick in my social book. But I had a real personal interest in fitness by the time I was in my 20s and my favourite time of day was the morning, both aren’t compatible with a lifestyle revolving around heavy drinking. I was also getting much more anxious during hangovers after university, and the whole thing was starting to feel like a form of self-abuse.

Eventually I challenged myself to have more confidence in what my company offered people. If I lost friends because I left the pub after having 2 pints, then I decided that they weren’t the type of friends I wanted anyway. For a while I had to adopt various strategies for managing the problem. I would only drink shandy if I was drinking beer, or I’d suggest going for coffee instead of a pub when someone asked me if I wanted to meet up. The most effective strategy for me though, was finally committing myself to running. I always enjoyed running, but it would take a backseat in my priorities because I didn’t want to miss social events. I saw the 2 things as mutually exclusive because when I went out, I had to drink a lot and make sure I was keeping up my role in the group, the drunken buffoon.

By starting to enter marathons and ultra-marathons, I was starting to commit myself to a lifestyle that was the antithesis of the one I was trying to move on from. It gave me a motive to change that negative behaviour which had far more meaning and which communicated with the values and behaviours I wanted to see in myself. When I finished my first marathon in 2019, I knew I was really changing myself for the better. I had done it; I’d committed to training for something and made it all the way to the end. That same year, me and my brother Greg completed our first 100km ultra race together in the Peak District. I needed more.

In 2020 Greg and I were due to attempt our first 100-mile ultra-marathon – the GB Ultra Scotland. The event was cancelled days before it was due to take place. We had our accommodation booked and had trained ruthlessly all year. Instead of letting our fitness go to waste, we travelled up with our parents in support of us and set out to do the first 100km of the route; we decided it was too dangerous to attempt a 100-mile race unaided, around a course that we had never set foot on. It was an extremely challenging day. It took us 13 hours, 29 minutes and 44 seconds, and we climbed a total of 9754 ft (the equivalent of climbing Snowdon just under 3 times).

I was surprised at how much more confident I was feeling in myself. I’d have the occasional night where I’d get a bit carried away, but they were few and far between, and I didn’t feel like I was doing it for the same negative reasons that I had historically. I was just having fun and didn’t feel like stopping early that night. For the first time in my life, I felt that I understood my relationship with alcohol and wasn’t so reliant on it. It made my connections with my friends better, and they felt more genuine to me. It did also alienate me from other friends, but that was part of the challenge to myself. The point of all this is that by spending some time getting to know myself better, I made a change in my life that has made me so much happier. Try to learn something about yourself and see what challenges you can overcome. It pays dividends when it works.