I’ve avoided making any comments at all on the forthcoming EU referendum. I’ve done it deliberately.

There’s been no rational debate. Just mud slinging, name-calling and fear-mongering.

From both sides.

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A major problem with the debating process

It’s been like listening to a group of kids in a school playground where the loudest voice is king.

So if you say anything on social media you get people telling you you’re wrong.

Seriously!?! I’m wrong for holding an opinion?

Surely that’s the whole point of debate (and, you could argue, democracy).

People are allowed to hold a different opinion. (And I’ll let you into a little secret – an opinion is all it is. It’s all based on arbitrary figures, dependent on a person’s methods, beliefs and influences. So it’s, at best, just a decent guess.)

Something else I’ve noticed clearly is that people don’t listen to understand.

They listen to respond.

So there’s never any point where they consider the other side’s view.

They just think of a bigger / scarier / more outrageous fact to throw at their opponent.

It’s sad. It’s divisive and it’s not acceptable any longer.

We need to stop people preying on fear.

Where are all the intelligent arguments for the positives of staying or leaving the European Union?

It’s been very difficult to find any commentator who has been rational and forensic about the forthcoming vote.

It will have a huge impact on the future of our country, perhaps for generations.

If you can’t see your way to a sensible, non-hysterical debate try thinking of your children.

Imagine them in the room as you start frothing at the mouth.

Hopefully that should help you maintain a modicum of common sense.

We should all be free to vote however our opinion tells us to.

That’s the power of democracy.

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The basis of a free democracy

Respect each other. Even if you disagree with each other.

Our ancestors fought wars for the right to vote and for the right to freedom.

We, currently, show no respect for their sacrifice.

We have turned into a country unable to have a rational debate. We’re in danger of creating a schism in our society we never fully recover from.

Don’t listen to the loudest voices.

Listen to the quietest ones.

Because they’re confident in their beliefs so they don’t need to shout about it.

If you only ever listen to the loudest voices you’ll live their life.

If you listen to the quiet ones you’re free to choose the path you want.

I almost signed off by saying may the best campaign win. But, sadly, I think that would mean no one would win.

Each of us can make a difference to the debate.

We can behave reasonably.

Remember to respect each other.

And remember there are no absolutes.

It’s all just a big mess of grey.

Cast your vote how you want to.

And remember when it’s all over, just because someone didn’t vote the same way you did, that doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. They just have different views to you.

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An outstanding story of selflessness and believing that you should stand up for what is right. It’s something we can all learn from and be inspired by.

In 1996 the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

It was a strange choice of location, as Ann Arbor is a multicultural place, where extremists like the KKK are generally not supported or welcomed.

Much like any KKK rally, there was a large police presence. And a huge number of people gathered to demonstrate that far-right views were not welcome.

It started like any KKK rally with the police (in riot gear armed with tear gas) keeping the small number of Klansmen separate from the protesters. There was a fence separating the opposing sides too.

Then one of the protesters noticed a man wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt in amongst them. The Confederate flag is often seen as symbolic of far-right views and has unsavoury connotations. The man also had an ‘SS’ tattoo on his forearm.

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The KKK ‘undercover’ man is spotted

A shout went up from the crowd “Kill the Nazi”. The man started to run. He was knocked to the ground. The mob surrounded him and started hitting, kicking and beating him with their placard sticks.

And the pack mentality took over. When part of a group, people often behave in a manner they never would if they were on their own. Things looked bleak for the middle-aged white supremist.

Until a teenage girl, who happened to be black, decided to make a stand. So she did the only thing she could think of to save the man. She threw herself on top of the man to protect him from the blows.

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Keshia protects the KKK man

The photographer who captured the images, Mark Brunner, could not believe what he was seeing. He said: “She put herself at physical risk to protect someone who, in my opinion, would not have done the same for her.”

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Selflessness in action

The teenager who performed this amazing act of bravery and selflessness was Keshia Thomas. She herself had experienced violence and had always wished there had been someone there to help her – to make it stop. She said: “Violence is violence – nobody deserves to be hurt, especially not for an idea.”

She never heard from the man whose life she saved. But she did have an amazing moment a few months later. She was sitting in a coffee shop when a young man approached her and said: “thanks”. When she asked what he was thanking her for he told her that the man was his dad.

That meant so much to Keshia. She realised that she’d not only helped the father, but she’d potentially stopped the son from following down a path of violence. Now, 20 years later, she tends not to think about the incident. She prefers to look forward.

In her own words: “I don’t want to think that this is the best I could ever be. In life you are always striving to do better.”

You can read more about her story on the BBC site.

At a time when the world is changing faster than ever before we should all try to be more tolerant. To be more understanding of other people’s views.

In short, we should all try to be more like Keshia.

 

 

All images © Mark Brunner

The government seems to be unsure of how to educate children nowadays. They seem to think that constantly putting children under pressure is a good way for them to start life.

Everybody is a genius

We should all aim to inspire, whenever we can

Don’t get me wrong, learning to cope with pressure is an important part of any person’s development. But having children learn about things that are completely unnecessary is counterproductive. It harms confidence and can lead to children thinking they’re “not smart”. Everyone is smart – they might just be better at things that don’t involve knowing what a fronted adverbial is.

Yoda Star Wars Education Fronted Adverbials

Yoda channels the force of fronted adverbials

My own daughter is now at secondary school and I’m seeing for myself the sometimes disjointed approach to learning. And it’s tough as a parent to not react to some of the crazy decisions that are made. Don’t get me wrong – there are a huge number of teachers who do a great job. But the government’s ‘test everything to death’ approach surely doesn’t help? I spotted a clarion call against this sort of madness on The Writer website (which is always worth a visit). They looked at the requirements of the SATs that kids sit. And the English test looks like a) a nightmare and b) a bit of a waste of time.

They quite rightly point out that many, many writers (OK, almost all of us) don’t know every granular detail of grammar. They also point out that spelling and grammar are important – they’re the basic fundamentals of how we communicate when we’re writing. But being a good writer is more than knowing the rules. It’s connecting with your audience. Giving them something they’ll be interested in. Writing it in a way that appeals to them. And it’s fun. It really is. (Or it bloody well should be.)

So here’s The Writer’s article, reproduced in full. If you have a child taking SATs you really want to read this. Then give your kid a hug and let them read it too.

 

A letter to primary school children in England

Dear kids,

We’ve heard all about the spelling and grammar test you have to do as part of your SATs. We think it sounds pretty tough.

Not just the test itself, but all the months you’ve spent learning about things like fronted adverbials and expanded noun phrases and subordinating conjunctions. We’re willing to bet you wish you’d spent a bit less time doing that, and more time making up funny poems, or writing your own adventure stories.

Well, there’s something we wanted to tell you.

We asked our team of 15 professional writers whether they knew what a fronted adverbial was. How many do you think said ‘yes’?

One. And that’s because she has a daughter in primary school, just like you.

The rest of us didn’t have a clue. Remember, we all earn our living from writing, and helping other people to write better. And we’ve all managed to get this far without the words ‘fronted adverbial’ ever entering our minds.

We did try, honest. We looked up ‘fronted adverbials’ online, and spent a good few minutes frowning and scratching our heads. We couldn’t really understand it, and then we decided not to worry about it anyway, because fronted adverbials make sentences sound a bit weird, like they were written by Yoda from the Star Wars films, and we went off to make a cup of tea instead.

All this isn’t to say spelling and grammar aren’t important

They are. Our writers all know where to put apostrophes, and what semicolons are for.

And we understand how grammar choices can affect how writing comes across to the reader. Like how passive sentences can be unclear or – worse – make it seem like you’re trying to hide something.

But we don’t know what every single little grammar thing is called. And we don’t need to.

Trust us. We’ve helped thousands of grown-ups all over the world get better at writing. And we’re going to tell you the same thing we tell them: it’s okay to sound like yourself when you write.

You don’t need to use long, complicated words to sound important. You don’t need to use fronted adverbials or expanded noun phrases to be a good writer (we think you’ll be a better writer if you don’t). And it doesn’t matter if you wouldn’t recognise a subordinating conjunction if it clonked you over the head.

If you find those things hard, it doesn’t mean you’re no good at writing.

What makes someone a good writer?

You’re a good writer if you sound like a human being, not a robot. (Unless, of course, you’re writing a story about robots.)

You’re a good writer if you’re kind to your reader: if you don’t write long, boring sentences, or bang on for pages without getting to the point.

You’re a good writer if you have something interesting to say, and you’re not afraid to say it.

You’re a good writer if you make your reader change their mind about something. Or look at something differently. Or do something they might not have done otherwise.

You’re a good writer if you can make your reader feel happy. Or sad. Or indignant. Or motivated. Or reassured.

You’re a good writer if you can keep your reader interested, even if you’re writing about something really boring, like gas pipes, or tax.

You’re a good writer if you can take something really, really complicated, and explain it so simply that your granny could understand it.

And, most importantly, you’ll be a good writer if you enjoy writing, have fun with words and even break the odd rule now and again.

Don’t worry about the test. Really.

Love,

The Writer

 

And to all those who think it’s disgraceful that people don’t know every detail of grammar, I point you in the direction of the genius that was Dr Seuss:

Dr Seuss Cat In The Hat Truer Than True Youer Than You

He was pretty successful and had an astonishing connection with his readers. He made up words, constructed sentences with fun in mind and blew a giant raspberry at dull writing. Long live creativity and writing that sets out to entertain and engage. And, as for teaching primary school children about minute intricacies of grammar, well I’m not at all in favour of it.

Father Ted Down With This Sort of Thing Craggy Island Protest

Careful now

 

Where to start with John Lennon?

A god to many. An innovator. A philosopher. A rascal. An astounding songwriter. A witty man. A pacifist. A dreamer. A leader. I could go on.

He did so many amazing things before one of life’s obsessive, unstable, out-of-control brigade came along and ended his life.

I recently came across this quote from him. It’s such a great way to look at the world.

John Lennon's fantastic approach to life

John Lennon’s fantastic approach to life

It reminded me of a Great George Bernard Shaw quote:

“Some men see things as they are, and say why?

I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

I love the laser-like single-mindedness of John Lennon’s quote. I love that he stuck to his beliefs and rebuffed his teacher who told him to think the same way as everyone else. We need people who see things differently. We need dreamers and people who see the good in everything. We need more people like John Lennon.

Try it today.

The first problem that comes along, just roll with it. Don’t let it upset you or throw you off your stride. Just step up, deal with it and move on. You might even want to try whistling as you go, just to show others that it’s always possible to remain happy.

It’s just a state of mind. You can be happy too if you think that way.