Addie and Richie

“Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay”. Jiddu Krishnamurti

For years, it would have been for the majority of folk to get married, have children (or the other way around), hold down a job and then retire at sixty. Women kept the house (as well as worked in full time jobs on occasions). Men had the jobs outdoors. This tradition still exists on the island and abroad in many cultures. The ‘modern’ family suggests that the burden is shared unless a single parent. I remember my Dad cooking and cleaning on his days off from a physically exhausting job, as well as always being busy in the outdoors . In speaking to folks here, there was never enough time or money not to share the load. I remember my Mum working a full day and then walking the hot road with heavy bags and then having to cook, until my sisters were able to cook (as I was no help in the kitchen except when it came to mashing the potato and I never wanted to be of any culinary assistance anyway).

But there were scenarios where money was spent on pastimes outside of the home to the detriment of the family. There were times when the traditional family became a burden to all who made up the circle. There were no get out clauses with bills to pay, children to feed and society to keep at bay.

We women have had to negotiate hard to establish our place in the world with respect. I applaud the men who supported this and still do. There are good deeds by men, as there are good deeds by women. We must not underestimate the sacrifices made by those when it came to pushing for change. I once knew a lady who said to me, “why do you socialise with men?” She is a die-hard lesbian. The pendulum had swung too far to the other side. Extreme views. I no longer focus on gender. How could I judge this woman though when I hadn’t walked in her shoes? We sit in our perfectly formed bubble and throw stones at those who seem weird, odd, or different because our way of life is perfecto!

Does it make people feel uncomfortable if I suggest that I am a bit of a feminist? The truth is, it makes me feel uncomfortable. These labels suggest a lack of appreciation for all.

I rode a motorbike for a while, I did Kung Fu for a couple of years, I wore my hair short at times, I lifted weights like a guy on occasions, I’ve been known to wear the odd pair of boxer shorts, I had some very naughty conversations with guys on construction sites …..oh and I’m also gay. The other side of the coin of versatility is that I wear dresses (with heels too!), I embrace my femininity at times, I love hugs and fluffy things and stupid soppy movies, I’m not afraid to show my feelings, I wear makeup when I’m abroad (don’t know why I don’t here on the island so much).  What does all this mean? It means that I can do and be whatever I want, as long as I am not hurting anyone. It means that I don’t need to stereotype myself on any given day. It means I don’t have to walk around with a rainbow flag above my head, “gay and proud!” I don’t feel the need to label label label.

As voices, collectively, we can promote a certain stance on things, yet I must remember that whatever subject I am promoting doesn’t have to become my identity, my expression, my journey. I can talk about the prejudices aimed at any particular person / group but if it isn’t my story, I must be careful that I do not inherit the challenged emotions that others feel because this isn’t helping the pendulum, making it an issue collectively when it isn’t an issue collectively. Climate change is a global issue because it affects everyone. Freedom however requires all of us to recognise the freedom of others. Sometimes we can demand ‘freedom’ and in so doing, cage others with our demands. “You will behave like this because this is my comfort zone”.

As children, we are often swamped with adult ideology. The moment we become the knowing, we don’t get to ignore intolerance anymore. It burdens me when I see parents own fears or desires playing out on their children. We can teach them the virtues of kindness, tolerance and love etc. The rest, they will learn along the way.

Family, friends, colleagues, strangers, church members etc will often impress upon us how to live. This world endorses too much competition and conversion. Who endorses it? We do. I was often told how sad and frightening it was to go on holiday by myself. These same people couldn’t even get on a train into London on their own. Because they couldn’t muster up the courage to go on holiday on their own, they spun their web of fear around my enjoyment. I love going away with other people but I also love being on my own, I can do either. Is that ok for those folk living inside their bubble without being called odd?

We give people the opportunity to dictate. It’s not their fault, it’s ours, because we listen to their rhetoric and and have not learnt how to manage what isn’t helpful. 8 Billion people plus so we might try to learn navigation around other people’s demands vs. our own dreams if we are to survive and thrive. I am not suggesting that we don’t have people we love who may have our best interests at heart and in fact at times have much sound wisdom to offer. We can all ‘lovingly’ impede on other people’s dreams.

What I like about discussions are the opposing views, held with respect. I look for people on St Helena who will sit and discuss things with me so that I can listen and learn but I understand the importance of not being carried away by tirades and emotional outpouring. From their side or mine.

There are elements of a small community which can be suffocating, if we allow it to be. Don’t speak about our troubles, don’t air our dirty laundry in public, don’t make mistakes because there will be people to trample us down as a result. “Take a look at her troubles, much more compared to mine”. Don’t try to challenge what has been run of the mill for years. Is that why change comes hard? For those of us Saints returning to the island with our approaches to life, where do we find out place? Or do we just slide back into what we thought and did before to ensure that everyone else is comfortable? What would we think in our conservative mindsets of having something which endorses alternative thinking? How do we embrace the impressions of others which have not moved on since we last met? Is there room for us with our expression? If we can’t express openly without constant criticism, do we leave or just fade away in the corner, preferably with a beer can in our hand? No….. we keep loving and living authentically, whatever that means to us.

When we are stuck in a bubble, we sometimes don’t even know we are there, until something or someone perhaps quite close to us makes us feel the difference. So no matter how we prompt people to open their hearts and minds to tolerance, traditions and labels can be safe houses. Someone asked me just yesterday whether being alone was ok, I could only suggest that the person follow their own path and get comfortable with what they were feeling from the deepest recesses of their soul. Our best lives cannot be taught, they can only be felt honestly.

Tradition and conditioning can be very harmful to those who wish to live a progressive life. The media gifts us information from someone’s head, through someone else’s interpretation and we swallow it. Some of the utter rubbish that I read in well regarded newspapers, I ask myself, “who is finding time to absorb and regurgitate this stuff?”  “Boris was called a clown in Parliament”. Who cares?! How is this newsworthy except perhaps to appreciate the dereliction of politics in England? I despair at some of the articles that I see in papers which I know are going to have an adverse impact on those who don’t know how to receive and re-direct harmful information. The individuals behind such media have a lot to answer for.

In the end – the journey is yours, not hers, his or mine. There is no point blaming tradition or small-mindedness for holding us back from our best life because no matter where we wonder, there will always be someone who is or has relations / friends who fit into this category. Do we not grow? Do we stay in our bubble? Do we stay safe so that others can be comfortable?

When our very struggles become our identity, even when the ‘battle ‘ is fought and won, we keep these identities and peace is never achieved because we have attached ourselves so firmly to what has been and gone. The world will never shift with this kind of mindset. The past is the past, to be learnt from but when we live with the identities we have created, we will be forced to repeat the past, time and again.

We have the choice to stick (with acceptance and no blame at others) or switch.

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