Friday, 19 July 2013

Nelson Mandela day - a day late

I started writing this post yesterday but got distracted by the weather and TV and sleep, so it's now a day late, but hopefully relevant just the same...
On Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday, I decided it was time to finally find out about all the amazing things this great man has done throughout his life. At a time when Mandela's health is poor, we are all reminded just how human each and every person is; no one is exempt from the powers of nature, but each of us have health for a certain period of our lives and numbered days to make a difference. It's difficult to find positives in the very negative situation that is Mandela's ill-health. However, it does emphasise the fact that we are all human, no matter who we are or what we do, and someone like Mandela is a fantastic reminder of all that ANY human can do if we only put our minds to something and put ourselves out there. Taking a risk for the slight possibility that we might make a difference to somebody's life, no matter how small and apparently insignificant that difference may be. 
Knowing pretty much nothing about Mandela other than the fact that he was in prison for a while, I decided to start easy first and look at the BBC primary history website. From this I've found that he was in prison for 27 years after fighting through the organisation of rebel groups to overthrow the pro-apartheid government of South Africa (I'll admit I didn't know what that meant, but google tells me apartheid is a policy of segregation/ discrimination on racial grounds). While in prison, Mandela was hailed as a great man and was well respected, even by many prison guards. On release in 1990, he soon became the first black president of South Africa (1994), confirming his title as a hero in the eyes of many. I'm guessing most people know this information already so I'm going to add in some fun facts I found in the side bar: there is a spider named after Mandela; apparently while in prison and after his release Mandela rose early every morning and began exercising at 4:30am (I wish I had his level of motivation); and finally, Mandela's famous brightly coloured shirts are called 'Madiba' shirts, linking back to his nickname. 

It's probably a fair comment that most prestigious people have come out with a few pretty good quotes in their time, and Mandela certainly didn't let down. My favourite of his quotes include: "A winner is a dreamer who never gives up", "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it's opposite", and "it always seems impossible until it's done". While looking at these quotes I began to find it difficult to imagine how any mind can put together words and sentences so beautiful as to encapsulate all that any human can want and feel throughout their lives. I've certainly always found quotes a very humbling thing. However, to continue the train that Mandela is just a normal person, his quotes are interesting because, as I said before, all he is doing is putting the thoughts that are deep within each human heart into words, words which all can understand and hopefully begin to put into practice. And that's a fantastic thing to be able to do. But it also defines Mandela again as no different from all the rest of us; to put together speeches the words used must strike a cord with not only the audience but also the speaker, allowing all listeners to come together and unify in one single thought or emotion, each wanting the same thing. So just because Mandela is the speaker reaching out to his audience doesn't make him any different from the rest of us, of course he might be able to string a sentence together better, or have the bravery to put himself out there, but at his core is the exact same substance that is rooted in all of us. As long as we can all remember that, anything can be possible, just as Mandela has proved.
I'm not saying that all of us will be the next Nelson Mandela, or even could be (we all have our own strengths). But we do all have the skills to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, achieving all we are able and making any small differences possible - be it conducting a charity cake sale, or even just smiling at a stranger in the street. We should never underestimate our ability to make a difference and Mandela is a perfect example of that (even if his difference was on a much larger scale than the majority of us will achieve). And actually what has taken me a whole post to try and write about can be summed up in a couple of simple lines from the great man himself: "There is no passion to be found in playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living".

Friday, 5 July 2013


If I ever have children, I am determined that they will watch every good Disney movie that I saw and loved in my childhood, and which still make me so happy even when I'm in the worst possible mood. Chatting to a friend about this the other day, she mentioned that, in her opinion, Disney gives a false message of hope to children which just isn't realistic in today's society. We should give children a warning when they watch the films that this is not reality and never will be. Well, if that's true then we live in a worse world than I thought. (There's a strong possibility this post could get preachy, I'm sorry if it does but I'll try hold back :) )
To enforce the idea in children that the fantasy worlds they escape to are not real would be a harsh and cruel thing to do. Especially since these are the ideas we cling to throughout much of life, that there might just be the slightest possibility that things will be okay in the end. A life where "Hakuna matata" really does mean no worries for the rest of your days; where "all it takes is faith and trust" to achieve anything you want; where "if you dream about something more than once it's sure to come true". I'm a real believer in the idea that happiness is a choice you make every morning, you can let tiredness or sadness overcome you, or you can realise that what you are feeling is just that, a feeling. It doesn't need to become real or control your day. So to take away from children the idea that dreams do come true if you hold on to them and that you can be happy in the end, no matter what, for me would be one of the biggest mistakes that could ever be made.

This also got me thinking about John Lennon's song 'Imagine'. I'm still not entirely sure why, but maybe it was something to do with the line "you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one". I'm totally aware that I sound like a deluded teenager who hasn't enough experience of life to know the true hardships that challenge happiness. And that's absolutely true. But I also know that, living in the Western world, I have so much to be thankful for, almost no right to be unhappy, and even less right to teach children that they can never be happy either. I'll always remember when I was about 13 I started waiting for sadness or some kind of depressed feeling to hit me, just because in the majority of contemporary literature and music there are so many people telling you how sad you should be, and very few saying you can be happy. But that unhappy feeling never came, and I have to remind myself to be thankful for that every day. I heard once that "if the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough" and, although a lot of the time you do have to remind yourself to be thankful and happy with what you have, once you realise how lucky you are it's amazing how much every moment can come alive with, for want of a better word, 'niceness'. I think I read somewhere that feeling is called your 'bliss' but don't quote me on that one.
It's actually quite funny how seriously some people take life when you actually stop to watch them and if I ever become like that I hope someone slaps me in the face. There will always be more important things than which friend or colleague was rude today, which family member is being grumpy, or which shop assistant was less than helpful.  Obviously I can't speak for other people, but personally I started to enjoy life so much more when I heard Don Miguel Ruiz on Oprah's 'Super Soul Sunday' talking about not taking things personally. The judgements of all others come from their point of view and have absolutely nothing to do with you. Anything anybody else says about you is their own assumption and to take these things personally can in fact be considered selfish as this presumes that everything is about you. Seriously everybody should go watch that video on YouTube, these people are so wise I don't even understand. 
I'm now preaching way too much so I'm going to stop writing and leave you with some wise words from people who know a lot more about this stuff than I do: John Lennon (the little story in the picture above) and Lenka singing 'The Show'. Have a happy day !!

The Hunger Games

"May the odds be EVER in your favour"
While I'm writing this post I'm overly conscious of the fact that I'm about 5 years late in discovering 'The Hunger Games'. I'd avoided the series for so long, but last Thursday I finally gave in and borrowed all three books from a friend. One week and 1408 pages later, I can't believe I held back so long.
I mean obviously 'The Hunger Games' is stereotypical teen fiction; not all that well written, kind of cheesy awkward love triangle and flagging towards the end. But the thing that made THG good for me was the plot. It's been so, so long since I've read books that I literally couldn't put down. Everything I was supposed to do in the last week has been put to one side (and still isn't done), leaving me with hours to just sit and read. When I had to rip myself away from the pages to go to school, it was all I could think about and I had to make a conscious effort to not keep raising the books with all my friends since they've mostly become bored with the whole thing by now, years after they first read the books. 
I'm not sure how long the books will stay with me as something that actually affected me, they were more just a guilty pleasure to enjoy at the end of a busy day of forcing myself through triple psychology. But there's definitely something to be said for contemporary books with relatively unique story lines since it seems almost impossible to come up with something that hasn't been done before, considering the innumerable amount of books that have already been written across the world over thousands of years. If I had to compare it to another book though, I would say the basic idea is a little like '1984', what with the repressive government and murder of those who oppose that authority.
The gorgeous Josh Hutcherson as Peeta

Also, Peeta. Just. Peeta. It used to be a good thing if I fell in love with the male lead of a book, but really this is happening so often now it's becoming a little ridiculous. And there are so many boys to fall in love with in THG, do I even need to mention Gale and Finnick's names?? Peeta is one of the sweetest characters ever; I had to keep reminding myself he wasn't real and now I might just have to spend the rest of my life looking for a blonde haired, blue eyed man who isn't just strong, he's 'bakery strong'. I have a feeling I might be waiting a while. I'm going to have to move on now otherwise I'll just get upset at Peeta's non-existence again. God I'm such a teenager it's embarrassing...
I also loved that Katniss was actually a strong woman. I think I probably took more notice of this because we're studying feminism in English class at the moment, but having read mostly classic novels lately it was so nice to actually have a girl who could stand up for herself, rather than a girl who just faints all the time (Lucie Manette I'm looking at you).
So now I just need to catch up with the first movie and it's pretty likely I'll go see the rest of the series in the cinema with my friends. Although, I did just find out they've decided to split the last film in to 2 movies. Again. In my opinion, just because the 'Harry Potter' films did that, not every franchise that comes after needs to follow suit. It's just become annoying, and to be honest a little pretentious since the HP films were so big and kept going for decades rather than a few years, meaning they had to stay around for longer just to say goodbye, in a way. 
Actually, while I'm comparing, THG definitely lends itself to comparisons with Harry Potter and Twilight, except it's far, far better than Twilight and not quite as good as Harry Potter, maybe just because it wasn't as good towards the end and the plot line wasn't quite as intricately formed, although it would be difficult to match HP's complexity to be fair. But the nice thing about THG was that, like Potter, the reader is given some kind of moral message if you make the effort to pay attention to the plot and not just the romance aspect. This is probably why the book reminded me of 1984 because it really is a warning against what humanity could become in the future if we don't check ourselves, making sure we care for others instead of becoming manipulative in order to further our own progress only. 
So, although the slightly gory plot of 'The Hunger Games' may be off-putting at first, and it was definitely a contributing factor in why I put off reading the books for so long, it's probably this that could make the books anywhere close to profound (although to be honest that's probably going a bit far). But the series can make you think if you really want it to and I guess that's true of any book: you can make what you want of it. I would recommend "The Hunger Games' to anyone whether they want a book to read as an escape from reality, a book that they quite literally cannot put down, or a book that makes them want to think about life. I'm only quite sad I didn't give in and read the books earlier. 9/10