I have always found it easier to shrug off injustices, slights and even actual harms, if they happen to me, rather than to others. I realised long ago that this is down to having been raised a girl in the 70’s and 80’s and having been raised in a wishy-washy yet all-pervading religiocity.
My nature forces me to fight back against the misogyny, hypocrisy and bigotry of both of those things. Having parents who never questioned their own upbringings and who definitely never questioned the prevailing wisdom of children being seen but not heard, of enforcing rigid gender roles and accepting the shame others try to foist onto those who do not comply, all made me utterly determined to raise my kid in the opposite way.
I found out a couple of days ago that when The Kid has to travel to London for work she plays a game called ‘Say Hello’ during which she purposely smiles and says hello to everyone who catches her eye.
Anyone who has visited a major city for any length of time will know that most people who live and work in them barely make eye contact with others, let alone speak to them.
It fills my motherly heart with pure joy to know that she does that. She discombobulates people by being happy and greeting them warmly. I’m sure some people are grateful to be acknowledged, just as I’m sure some people are annoyed that they have to spend some of their brain-time trying to work out who she is and where they know her from.
Yes, I am more glad for the annoyed people than the grateful ones, but then I’m not as nice a person as she is.
I cannot recommend this game as a thing to do instead of hitting people really hard in the face, that’s because it wouldn’t work for me, but it is good to know that there are alternatives out there.
I have been thinking a lot about Shoichi Yokoi recently. Yokoi was one of the last Japanese ‘Holdouts’ – soldiers who either refused to surrender after the war or who were unaware it had ended. He was found and returned to Japan in 1972, almost 28 years after the war had ended, having spent the last 8 years alone (his remaining comrades had died in a flood in 1964) but, and this is the bit I spend most time thinking about, he had known since 1952 that the war was over.
There are obviously huge cultural influences upon why he and his fellow soldiers did not come out of hiding when they found out the war was over, I don’t know enough about Japanese military life to speculate about those, but I wonder a lot about what a person would discover about themselves if they spent such a huge amount of time away from the world.
Yokoi’s life, alone, hungry and afraid for those 28 years cannot have been as restful as a fully catered silent retreat (yes, I’ve been researching them too…) but there must have been respites from the horrors during which calm and introspection could happen.
How many of us would decide to stay away?
Apparently Yokoi was unimpressed with Japan’s rapid rise in capitalist and consumer culture when he returned and he revisited his former island home many times. I have considered that instead of hitting people really hard in the face I could turn my back on the world for 28 years. I have told The Kid that I am pinning my hopes for humanity on all the people who are younger than 35. That seems like a big responsibilty to place on their shoulders, but the older people currently running the world are f**king it up, so why not let them have a go?
Unfortunately my toxic upbringing has also left me with the ridiculous idea that if I suffer enough in my own mind then I can somehow ease the suffering of others. If I worry myself into sleeplessness the fact of that will somehow make it’s way to the people being discriminated against, being denied healthcare, being bombed and murdered, and they will feel better knowing it.
What utter bullshit…but it does mean I cannot turn my back.
So yet again I fight against the poison I was served up as fact. Instead of feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders I have decided to actually do something. I have decided to give money. Regular, reliable amounts of money, to those people who do have the skills and mental bandwidth to fight the injustices and wrongs going on right now.
And I will do the small, everyday acts of living that will be insignificant to most, but that might mean something startling to someone. I will refuse to walk past bigotry and cruelty when I see them. I will be kind whenever I get the opportunity.
I might even smile and say hello while I do it.