Saturday, January 21, 2012

New Year Expectations

‘Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.’

The latter was not written by W. B. Yeats (as is commonly quoted), but can be found in the book of Hebrews (13.2). It seems a good New Year resolution for us all to adopt, for wouldn’t the world be a greater place? However, a less sanguine approach will be taken by many, with the realisation that we have yet to resolve the financial difficulties that have recently beset us. A line genuinely by Yeats, from his poem Easter 1916, is more appropriate to the straitened times we continue to face: ‘All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.’

I suggest that the beauty in this case could come with the growing need to increasingly draw on our own resources for food and entertainment, as money and jobs become scarcer. Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a remarkably healthy activity, with fresh air and exercise providing physical and mental well-being, combined with fresh food and a reduced grocery bill. Home-grown entertainment provides another mental boost, such as the company of friends around a table of home-cooked food, digging out those old board games, or re-discovering a good book that has languished untouched on a shelf for years. In the year of Charles Dickens’ 200th anniversary, perhaps re-reading one of his would be a good place to start for mental nourishment (for the New Year, what better than Great Expectations?).

You may have other New Year resolutions such as losing weight, exercising more, stopping smoking, drinking less alcohol, reducing cholesterol, and so on; all good worthy aims. However, why not add to those one or two other issues that you would like to see society confront as a whole? New Year should not be just about tackling personal issues. If society was made a better and healthier place, so too would be our own lives by default.

For example, just consider some of the problems society is currently facing. Eleven million people alive today will live to see their 100th birthday (almost 18% of the population), meaning that the pension crisis is only in its infancy. The concomitant reduction in the social care budget for elderly care only compounds the difficulties our elderly are already facing. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a global shortage of midwives (including in the UK), costing a million lives per year in infant and maternal deaths; whilst our own under-age pregnancy rate continues to rise, as does the rate of sexually transmitted disease amongst teenage girls. Of course, alcohol remains part of the problem; additionally causing injuries, relationship breakdowns and loss of working time.

Elsewhere, a lack of donor organs for transplantation sees precious (often young) lives needlessly lost; whilst the medico-legal world struggles with the issues of voluntary euthanasia and the use of organs harvested as a result. In Britain alone, tens of thousands of children wait for families to adopt them, as their formative years disappear, often amidst peripatetic lives of one foster home after another. Meanwhile, the bedrock of our caring society, the National Health Service, is under very real threat, as is our traditional approach to General Practice as the centre of that service. And if that is not sufficient, the very core values that often drive individuals within caring professions are being demonised and extruded from the workplace; I speak of those values deeply rooted in a person’s faith, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism or any other where the fundamental teaching and beliefs, when appropriately harnessed, can be a powerful aid to all in our society.

New Year is about resolutions, change and fresh starts. Exercise more and stop smoking by all means (in fact, please do). However, what about making 2012 the year when you resolve to make a small contribution to at least one of the many other challenges facing our worldwide society? After all, major successes all start with small steps.

A happy, healthy and thoughtful New Year to you all.

(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday, 29th December 2012.)

Monday, January 09, 2012

Power of Positive Thinking

‘I am very well, thank you. If I was any better, I wouldn’t be able to cope.’

There cannot be many doctors who have been greeted by such an enthusiastic response when enquiring of a patient’s state of health. However, it was a delight to hear, and said much for the frame of mind of the patient. I imagine he generally has an optimistic outlook on life, requiring some considerable misfortune before his solid sense of well-being is shaken.

There is no doubt that psychologically having a glass that is half-full rather than half-empty is beneficial on the way our bodies cope with the stresses of life. Numerous accounts have demonstrated over time how some individuals have survived extremely unpleasant situations, which would prove to be the ultimate test of courage for most people. Terry Waite’s experience of being a hostage in Iran in the 1980s is an example that figures prominently in my own memory; and there have been many other similar stories since. One can add to that many wartime heroes, as well as those who have been tested to their physical limits by personal accidents (think of the Chilean coal miners, for example).

Positive thinking has the power to drive you to health (boosts immunity), happiness (banishes depression and anxiety) and success (motivates and empowers); whatever the odds against you may be. It has the ability to change your life for the better. It is a mental attitude that expects nothing but good to come of any situation, however difficult or dire the experience may be. It is almost a case of ‘believe in it, and it will happen’.

For example, how often does someone greet you by complaining about the weather? Last week, I had several people gloomily comment about how cold it has become. No surprises there; after all it is winter. However, looking on the bright side, the temperature was still in double figures in early December and it was sunny; a considerable improvement on the same time last year when we were struggling with ice and snow. I would say that is a good reason to be glad and rejoice.

Even ill-health and impending death can be fought with courage and a positive outlook. I have previously commented on an old friend who, weeks before he died, replied to my enquiry as to how he was by saying ‘I’m alive; it’s all that matters’. Last week I had the need to attend two funerals; one of a young cousin, and the second of a well-known local farmer. Both men showed courage in the face of adversity. At a time when he could not walk unaided, the farmer refused to give in to his increasing frailty by insisting that his grandson hoist him on a fork-lift so that he could change a light bulb in a barn. My cousin fortified himself for his death by stating that he was ‘looking forward to seeing Heaven’. Both men were dignified and positive in their response to an otherwise very negative situation in life.

A few weeks ago I had great pleasure in presenting an award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting to a member of the Duck Egg Theatre Company. The successful actress confesses on her Twitter site that she is ‘over-enthusiastic’. On the contrary, young lady; it is your enthusiasm that has helped to make you what you are; a rising star. What we need is a bit more enthusiasm from everyone, not less of it.

(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday 15th December 2011)

The Power of Love

Looking through my writing archives for the month of March, I came across the following article, initially published in my weekly column for...