Category Archives: Society

No, Fair Systems are Not Fair

Another week in the world of education, and another teenager, Ms Suzy Lee Weiss, has gone through the epiphany after several university rejections that university admissions systems are not fair. Well, no crap Sherlock.

Yes, yes, her writing is satire. Yes, it’s tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating; she’s got so much wit and cleverness that she’ll go far…yada yada yada yawn. That she’s smart enough to write a piece of social commentary and not appear stupid on television isn’t really that amazing. There are many teenagers, all across the world, at many different ages, who are capable of the same things. It’s not a magic Midas touch, it’s simply a matter of temperament. Yes, she’s clever, but she really shouldn’t be afforded some special attention just because she’s pointed out what most people have known for ages:

Fair systems are not really fair.

Actually, I can’t think of a system that is fair. Can you? They may work, certainly, but they may not be completely fair in that they may not work to the convenience of everybody. Usually the majority, but not everybody. There’s an often fundamental flaw in everything, from job application systems to traffic.

So, if I agree the system isn’t fair, what’s the problem with Ms Weiss’ article?

It exposes the deeper modern problem, I think, that generations of youth are raised to expect certain things. We are taught that when we do A, we will get B, when we do B, we get C…and so on. We are trained in nursery to get into junior school, at junior school we are trained to get into high school, and from high school we are trained to get into university and so on. When we complain that this rigid route doesn’t make us happy, we are promptly told that the only way we can be happy, truly happy, is to acquire the money that will enable us to be happy. No matter what we want to be, it is only money that will make it possible. And thus we return to the route.

Yes, it is a question of money.

Look, if people weren’t concerned about money and how they’d be able to feed themselves in the future, there would be less people going to university. There’d be less people working 9-5 hours in office jobs to make enough money to get into the job they actually want to do. We do these things only because the established route tells us that money is necessary to enable us to live adequately enough that we can find happiness. If money (and the prestige associated with it) was no object, the only people going on to higher education and caring about ‘Ivy League’ quality would be the people who found it truly delightful to learn. Which, unfortunately, is not that many teenagers.

Ms Weiss, like many other teenagers across the globe, appears stuck on this route. Her real complaint, although she may not realise it, is not the flawed admissions system but this flawed happiness system. Rejection by universities she felt entitled to attend opened her eyes to the flaws of the system. I think for a moment she realised that she had been lied to by her entire society, in that this search for money doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. This route is not as rigid as it appears; few people who follow it ever actually attain the comfortable monetary status they seek. The instability of college admissions opened Ms Weiss’ eyes to the variables which conflict with this goal. Yes, certainly money gives you time, resources and the opportunity to pursue happiness, more so than poverty or living on the bread line. But the mistake that is too often made is that many people are taught that money and happiness are interchangeable. And when they realise that this route is not so straightforward as one has been told, it leaves people shaken. You begin to question your life so far and you ask: what is the point of all of this? Why do I bother if I’ll never actually reach my goal?

In Weiss’ case, immediately after asking that question, she looked to find a source of blame so that she could move back onto the route. It’s the unfair admissions system stopping me, not anything I’ve done/not done.

What we need to do to stop this from happening is that we need to tell teenagers new things.

  1. Yes, trying is the way to success. But. Sometimes, no matter how much you try, you will not succeed in your goal.
  2. Often, this is because you have the wrong goal. You’re looking for success at the end of the road. Sometimes, ‘success’ is the happiness, the experience, the friends and the life you make as you travel down that road.
  3. Life isn’t fair, and it never will be.
  4. Happiness is a form of wealth. Wealth is not a form of happiness.
  5. Actually, do be yourself. It’s not what universities or employers are looking for, but it’s the way to be happy. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn’t get where they did faking it, they got where they did trying to do what made them happy.

Focusing on the unfairness of one particular stage of life never got anybody anywhere. Ms Weiss’ case will die down soon, and as she is already apparently from a good middle-class background, with a sister working for the Wall Street Journal, she’ll likely graduate and find her desired job soon enough. At some point she’ll likely realise that it makes not so much difference where you went to school but rather, what you got out of it.

Money isn’t necessary for a happy life. Definitely, a hand-to-mouth existence isn’t easy at all – I know that myself; my family is far, far from wealthy – but there’s something wrong with living to make money to enable you to live to make money. That is only living to survive. Supporting a family isn’t easy on low funds either, I understand that. Many people think the idea of seeking out only happiness is ridiculous liberalism, and that’s understandable, because after a certain age and set of experiences that is no longer an option. But I’d like to see a generation, just one, which told its children to live their lives seeking happiness, not ephemeral pleasure or money. Just happiness. Somehow, I don’t think they’d have the same problem. Because they wouldn’t go into it believing that things would be easy. But they’d go into life knowing that as hard as things got, they’d be happy at the same time.

At some point in the past you were born, and at some point in the future you’ll die. Living is not obsessing over trivial matters, but meaningfully making up the difference. And if you disagree with me, the comment section is just below.

Reflections on Change and the Church

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St Paul’s Cathedral is one of those masterpieces of old architecture you come across in certain parts of England and the world, the sort of place you need know nothing about to be in awe of. I was one of two Christians on my school’s Philosophy trip to visit it; the two teachers were strong atheists and the rest of the students were either of the ‘Everyone knows God isn’t real’ hipster-atheist type or agnostics who had not given the idea much thought (until our God and the World module). Yet no matter our personal ideologies, everyone who entered that building went silent.

I’ve often wondered what it was that fell upon people in such places. Is it the idea that millions of others have walked where we walked, or that so much time had been devoted to religious art? Is it God? As a Christian, I don’t know. I do know that the Church is changing. I know that I, personally, have never been very fond of the Church anyway. Perhaps it is my history with African or ethnic churches, but I’ve always been inclined to seek God elsewhere. Today, many do. Apart from school students (my group and some primary school children), the vast majority of the worshippers I observed at the Cathedral’s Eucharist were at least over 50. The other Christian in our group, a girl, didn’t go up for Communion. In her own words, it was ‘embarrassing’ in front of the other students. Times are changing.

No matter your religion/irreligion, what do you think of the Church as a whole?

A few weeks ago, here in England, a same-sex marriage bill passed through the preliminary stages of Government approval. There was uproar from the Church, who felt their position would be weakened by it (I’m not entirely sure how, but that was one of their major complaints). A few days ago, yet another Catholic priest (Scotland, this time) stepped down from his position due to sexual misconduct. Around the same time, the Pope resigned from the Papacy (though obviously for different reasons).

I know some of you are religious, and I know that some of you are not. And that some of you are not sure. But we live in fast-changing times, and even if current change became minimal change would still happen. The world and its culture is constantly evolving, and like it or not the Church has continuously changed along with that evolution. Not that anyone would admit it, but it has. It’s members have changed too. Amongst other things, few people really believe the Bible word for word anymore and in the face of hypocrisies and controversies which have rattled the church, many have or have at least contemplated turning away.

Does this mean the death of God? Of course not. Perhaps it is the slow death of religion (well, decline, as I don’t believe religion will ever ‘die’) though, as people come to the realisation that faith in God or a god or gods is an entirely separate thing from religion. Because of this, religious institutions and believers are changing. Changing their attitudes and their behaviours and their lifestyles. They are not, though, really changing their faiths. Humans are naturally irrational creatures, and regardless of whether or not God exists we will always still believe in something ‘more’ out there. Maybe it’s God, maybe it’s nothing; maybe it’s aliens.

Gunmetal Grey

I’ve been thinking about the Connecticut shootings since I was sat in the middle of an appointment, watching the newest gun-related devastation on a television in the waiting room. I wanted to write, but I could not find the words. I did not know the words. I still do not.

God,” my mum had said. “Look. There’s another school shooting in America. Oh God.”

I looked at the screen and the first thing I saw was the word ‘elementary.’ “That’s primary school over here. Jesus. They’re just kids.”

Kids. They were just children. Too young to know the world and now forever deaf and blind to it.

Words are going around in my head about gun control laws in America and my worry that I will come out of this stupor and forget, but that is better expressed in the extremely powerful words of Emily at The Waiting. For now my words are gone and dried and dead. I read not less than an hour ago a list of the names and ages of the children involved. The number ‘6’ ran down most of the page.

I have not cried in a very long time.

I don’t know what it is like to lose a child of my own. I’ve lost a sibling and I’ve lost a friend but I still don’t know. And I hope that I never have to. Today, tonight, I am trying to think of all the children that lost their lives. But all I keep seeing is a gun. It’s almost funny, because I’ve seen plenty of children. But in all the years of my life, I’ve never seen that gunmetal grey outside of a Hollywood film.

 

Fight or Flight?

Look too closely at the bottom-right corner and that’s your appetite gone.

This isn’t a direct response, but this post is certainly inspired by today’s Daily Prompt. Fight or flight, eh? This entire month has been an exercise in that dance for me and many other writers. Four days left, and we’ve shed blood, sweat and ink in an uphill battle to write 50,000 words by the end of the month.

I’ve quit and returned to my novel three times this month. I keep getting that soul-crushing feeling that whatever I write does not matter to anyone and never will, that I am just another 16-year-old trying to hammer out a mediocre novel. My plot bunny, once long-lost, has returned over the past few days. It doesn’t make it easier to get out the words but it does tell me where they’re going. Exam pressure makes me want to run and give in to the weird side of YouTube and my gaming console. Even new friendships make me want to run away (yes, I am something of an introvert.) But I’ve decided to fight, even though it goes against my instinct to run.

Movember (yes, MOVEMBER) was an international fight-or-flight struggle. I say this because everyone knows what a touchy subject men’s health is. There’s this general consensus that men dislike discussing their health; they’re almost afraid of the subject. This month, thousands of bloggers and people around the world joined forces to bring this problem to the forefront. We’ve joined forces to encourage people to fight instead of run. It wasn’t easy. I’m sure the main campaigners and fundraisers were plagued more than once with the depressing thought of minimal interest, little outcome and overall failure. But they’ve fought anyway. And if you’ve even done the smallest thing to help that effort then you know what a great thing that is.

This month of November has woken me up. It’s kept me in the fight for my dream to be a writer, it’s helped get me involved in encouraging the fight in others. It’s helped people around the world wake up too. Heck, in one way or the other it might have helped you. Because for me and many other people this month’s been the difference between facing our fears and doing what we always do. It’s leaving this:

–and facing life like this:

Well, okay. Maybe we don’t look that good.

Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right

When will we learn?

Of course you’ve heard of the quickly escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas. It’s been on your television, your news reader, in your papers. There was a brief mention on your radio station before you switched to the next one. The world is watching the Middle East once again (because let’s face it, the Western media has all but forgotten the plight of Syria.) Most media stations have expressed the sentiment that Gaza will fall. World leaders are waiting for the bombs to finish falling, waiting to see which group drags themselves out of the rubble so that they can quickly change allegiance or reaffirm support for the group they knew would win.

And in the middle of it the innocents die and are forgotten.

Now, I won’t pretend to be an expert on this. I don’t fully understand the reasons or the predicted outcomes. I am not in the position of either Binyamin Netanyahu or Hamas. I will never be able to see the situation as they do. But I will say that what either side is doing is not working, and that it will never work.

Hamas’ approach is wrong.

Hamas attacking Israeli citizens with rockets will do nothing but cause the deaths of Palestinians in return. They know this. The idea that this whole affair is them testing their allegiance with Egypt’s new Islamist leadership is disgusting, and despicable. Yes, Palestinians have been severely wronged but that is not justification for deaths on both sides. Provoking Israel like this will only cause more Palestinian death, or push Israel to destroy Gaza entirely–the only reason they have not so far is because of the outcry from Western allies. Any more condemnation from the Western media and that may no longer be Israel’s concern.

Israel’s approach is wrong.

To quote this excellent Guardian article, Israel’s reaction is a result of the logic of escalation. They can’t be seen to back down and so they escalate the situation, returning fire and marching on Gaza. Except this time it seems Hamas may not back down and might even (possibly) be supported by the Egyptians. They say offence is the best defence, but Israel’s actions are not only harming its own citizens but forcing itself into a corner. If violence is Israel’s answer, it may as well kill all the Palestinians and do to them the very same thing that the Germans did to the Jews, in an irony which would not go unnoticed by many.

Now if fighting is not the answer, should speech be? Perhaps. I almost grow tired of repeating myself regarding issues of conflict, and suggesting that opposing sides should talk. I guess I’m an undying pacifist. But I say it because it seems the only option which few try. They laugh instead and tell us pacifists that we don’t understand, that we can’t. And yes, I am aware that decades of mistreatment and enmity will not go away magically because of one peace talk. But I am also aware that these talks are possible. Colombia and FARC are making an attempt, even if Colombia’s unwillingness towards a ceasefire are making things difficult. And all are aware that even one day of peace would save more innocent lives than one more day of gunfire.

Carrying the Fire, or…Why Do We Keep Going?

I must begin by apologising for my rude behaviour, that is, not posting on Friday. I have a list of excuses but I’ll only say one: I was tired. I am human. I am sorry. Now enough of the melodrama, and on to Sunday’s post which will be a ramble/reflection: Why do we keep going?

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Multiculturalism Or Integration?

But can the similarity overcome the difference?

We had an interesting debate in my Philosophy class the other day: we were discussing, amongst other curious ideas, whether the British government’s philosophy of multi-culture was a good thing. Our teacher mentioned that a lot of the conflicting feelings over it came from the fact that, back in the 50s and 60s, immigrants to Britain would assimilate into the culture. However, in recent years, that hasn’t been happening because of a push for multi-culture, and now there are people living in Britain who want nothing to do with the British and cling to their own culture, refusing the society they live in.

Do you think this is right? Which do you think is better: multiculturalism or integration?

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