Losing Everything

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I watched as a pigeon landed nearby with a piece of bread, far too big to eat. He started to wrestle with it, his beak shaking it about trying to break it into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

All this activity did not go unnoticed. Another pigeon saw the commotion and flew in to investigate. Seeing such a grand feast, he challenged for possession.

The defendant dropped the bread and stood his ground. But the challenger was intent on getting the prize. He moved in, aggressively. A fight ensued, with both pigeons slugging it out, beak to beak. No quarter was asked, and no quarter was given.

The two antagonists kept up the fracas for a short while, making lots of movement and a great deal of loud noise.

But the fight was being observed from on high. At the opportune moment, a seagull swooped in, his great beak aiming at the target. He landed, gulped the bread down, and left, just as quickly as he had appeared; all in one smooth movement.

The antagonists looked on, stunned, and went on their way, hungry.

Watching this drama unfold, I realised that whenever we focus on our disagreements, we lose sight of the bigger picture.

And we risk losing everything.

Stranger Than Fiction

There are some conversations that no script writer could ever dream up.

Caller: Hello. We were informed that you were involved in a car accident that wasn’t your fault.

Me: No.

Caller: Well we were informed you were involved in a car accident. So you were involved in a car accident that wasn’t your fault and you say you didn’t know about. Is that right?

Me: If I was involved in a car accident I think I would have known about it.

Caller hangs up.

Truth really can be stranger than fiction.

Talent? What Talent?

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Watching a talent show, you wonder what the family are thinking when they allow their son, daughter, or whatever, to subject themselves to such public humiliation.

Most of us sing, from time to time; usually for one of two reasons. Either we feel happy, and burst into song, or we want to distract ourselves or others from what is going on around us. Lullabies are a classic example of the latter; a concerned parent tries to distract their child from pain, or send him to sleep, despite the excitement all around. Or a child will sing in a disruptive manner when she doesn’t get the attention she thinks she deserves.

Yet, how many of us really believe that we could make it as the next big pop star? No. We keep our singing to ourselves.

OK. Let’s put this in perspective. There was an advertisement for a famous chocolate bar, many years ago, that showed a new group auditioning with a record producer. During a break for refreshments, the producer says, “Can’t play. Can’t sing. You look awful. (Pause for advertised product.) You’ll go a long way.” Now, that was meant as sarcasm. But it seems that many of the people entering talent competitions, especially the televised versions, think it works. And I often wonder, “Do their families really hate them so much that they would allow them to go through such public humiliation?”

So why does it happen?

1. Hatred. There are several reasons, and overt family hatred is not among them, most of the time. Only the most perverse parent would want to humiliate their child in such a public fashion. Mind you, that doesn’t stop many parents from shouting derogatory comments at their child in public.

2. Don’t Upset Him. One reason is that people don’t want to upset their child, parent, or sibling. So, rather than cause upset in the family, they say nothing, or even encourage the foolish attempt to make it in show business, art, or the chosen talent. Maybe the would-be artist believes he has a great voice, but he also has a bit of a temper. So no one wants to upset him. They forget that he’s going to be upset, anyway, when the discerning public humiliate him.

3. Hatred Disguised as Love. Yet a far more insidious form of hatred is disguised as love. The current trend in parenting says that we should not provide a child with a negative view of himself; always try to find something good to say about his efforts. As commendable as such sentiments may be, do they really help to prepare the child for life? Self esteem is important. But to be valuable it has to be realistic. I once read a comment by a father who said, “If you present a bad report at the office, your boss isn’t going to say, ‘Hey, I like the color paper you chose.'”

Nurturing a positive view of one’s self without good cause is not loving. It is a form of hateful abuse. By nurturing the view that a child can do no wrong, a parent is setting the child up for failure. Children need to learn to be self-critical, not in the negative, self-harming sense, but in the way of having a realistic view of their own abilities and achievements. They need to identify when they got it wrong so that they can have the pleasure of problem solving without recourse to a parent masking the child’s failure. They need to learn to reason on their own work, find the mistakes, and fix them on their own.

The same is true of talent. When a parent, or other significant family member, presents an unrealistically positive view, they are doing their child a huge disservice. Protecting a child from harm includes protection from self-inflicted abuse caused by an unrealistic view of your own abilities. And that can only be achieved by being tactfully truthful.

Children need to learn that the universe does not revolve around them. They need to learn that they can’t be right, all the time. They need to learn that they will make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that their life is over. The safest place to learn this is in the warm, loving environment of a warm, loving family, with parents who care enough to point out the failings in a gentle, loving way. They need parents who help them to identify and correct mistakes, rather than hiding the child from the consequences of their actions.

While it is important to encourage a child’s self esteem, failing to identify their weaknesses is failing to be a good parent. It produces children who greedily assume that the world owes them a living, and that they don’t have to do anything to deserve it.

Would it not be better to give the child a balanced, realistic view of himself. Maybe, then, they can become better parents, when it’s their turn.

Grace Under Pressure

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Gracefully Gliding

An image of peace and tranquility. An image of control and contentment with life. An image of graceful gliding through life.

No one sees the frantic activity going on below the surface; the rapid foot movements that keep swans swimming; the deep concentration as the search for food goes on.

We marvel at how they manage to look so calm and peaceful. We envy such a simple life. Yet, swans have the same basic needs as humans: A place to live, and food to eat.

There is nothing wrong with being busy, frantically pursuing the necessities of life; as long as we keep calm in the process. Maybe if we put more energy into thinking, and use less energy in hyperactivity, people would not be so angry, all the time.

But, then, maybe swans are not as greedy as humans.

The Data Protection Paradox–Are You a Vulnerable Person?

Light Stream

Are you encouraging people to take advantage of vulnerable persons? Maybe, inadvertently, you are. Consider this experience.

The Cold Call

The phone rings and the conversation goes like this:

Me: Hello.

Caller: Is that Mr. J.

Me: Yes. Speaking.

Caller: Hello Mr. J. I’m calling from your mobile phone company. (Who shall remain nameless in order to protect what little reputation they have left!)

Me: What can I do for you?

Caller: Before I continue I must tell you that this call may be recorded for training and quality purposes. (He didn’t mention that it also covers legal aspects, but I knew that.)

Me: That’s fine.

Caller: In order to proceed with the call, Mr. J. please could you confirm your date of birth and your password. (Yeah! Right! Like I’m stupid! At precisely which hour, yesterday do you think I was born?)

Me: No. I don’t give that information out to cold callers.

Caller: But I need that information to confirm your identity.

Me: Why? You called me. You know who I am. I don’t know who you are, so I need to ask you some security questions. Please give me my date of birth and my password.

Caller: No, Mr. J. It doesn’t work like that. I cannot give out that information.

Me: And I have no intention of giving it to you.

Caller: Why not, sir?

Me: Because I don’t know who you are.

Caller: Mr. J. I told you who I am, and I have all your information on the screen in front of me.

Me: So you know who I am, then, and you can answer my security questions.

Caller: But I cannot do that because of data protection. Why will you not give it to me?

Me: Because if (Note: ‘If’.) If you were a criminal that’s exactly what you would say and exactly the sort of information that you would ask me for.

Caller: I find it insulting that you call me a criminal.

Me: I didn’t. I said, if you were a criminal. (So now he’s getting upset with me?)

Caller: Sir, I am not allowed to give out sensitive data. It’s for your protection.

Me: Yes. And I protect myself by not giving my information to cold callers.

Caller: But, sir, I cannot continue the call unless you are prepared to confirm your identity.

(I know. You can’t make this up!)

Me: Then I guess the call is over. Unless . . . I know. I have a solution for you. Why don’t you write me a letter?

(Now, this is where it gets really weird.)

Caller: I’m sorry. I cannot answer that.

Me: Why not?

Caller: (And this is exactly what he said.) If I say that I will write to you, I would be giving out sensitive data.

Analysis

As you can imagine, by this point I’m thinking, why don’t I just hang up, right? And, believe me, this call went on for much longer than it takes to read the above. I even spoke to his manager.

My point is that I’ve had such calls from some big businesses. For example, my bank called to try to sell me loan cover insurance. As it was, I was expecting that call, so I was a bit more flexible. But I still played them at their own game. You see, at the time I lived in a little Welsh village with a fairly difficult name for non-Welsh speakers to pronounce. So I told the guy I would compromise if he was willing to tell me the second line of my address, the village. I know. Cruelty knows no bounds. Fair play to him, he had a go. He managed the first three letters, ‘Pen.’ The rest is almost impossible if you aren’t familiar with Celtic languages. You should hear the computer generated voice version on my maps app. But he did try, so I put him out of his misery and gave him the information that he needed.

However, I’ve had similar calls from HM Revenue and Customs. (I believe they are called the IRS in America. They also get called other names that I don’t use because I’m too polite!) When I was employed in accountancy we would get an average of at least one or two calls every week. And they were usually from the revenue’s debt collectors chasing our clients. Now, let’s be honest and say that, while these people have a very important job to do, some of them have an inordinate sense of their own importance. So they are ripe for the wind up. And, yes, we would take advantage of the Data Protection Acts in just the same way that they would when we called them. (The conversation recorded above will give you an idea.)

The Danger

However, here’s the catch. Let’s say that a criminal were to call a vulnerable person using the details in the phone book. OK. They may have to call a number of people before they got the details right. But, once their hook is in, there’s no escaping. So, this vulnerable person hears words suggesting that their phone is going to be disconnected, or their bank account has been closed, and they are asked for their password, among other details, because this kind person from the bank wants to help them sort it out.

I know. That’s pure fantasy, isn’t it. Well, apparently, some big corporations don’t believe such things could happen. Really. They don’t believe it. They think that by simply name dropping their big corporation‘s name, everyone will trust them. The fact that their firewall is constantly under attack, and that they made the headlines for data breaches is supposed to be immaterial.

Now, ask yourself how many times you have read reports of scammers catching vulnerable people unawares? Why? Maybe it’s because the big corporations misapply the Data Protection Act. And maybe they do that because ordinary people trust them.

Seriously. Ask yourself another question. If your telephone started ringing, right now, and the voice on the other end of the phone was not familiar to you, would you trust that person to be who they say they are? If you do, then you could be perpetuating the abuse of vulnerable people.

The Solution

So, what is the solution?

Well, you could try what I have described above. Do not give out personal information to cold callers, even if they are from a business with which you have regular dealings. If they are genuinely interested in your welfare they will not ask for this information. For example, my bank has a policy that they will never send you a communication requesting your personal data, and certainly never ask you for your full password. In fact, they simply don’t ask unless you call them.

Now, if everyone refused to provide personal information to cold callers, sooner or later the big corporations would have to take notice. Then, we would all be protecting the more vulnerable people.

Another thing that you could do is to complain. I emailed my mobile phone provider to ask if this really is their policy. I included a comment that, if it was, then unless it is changed, they will be losing a customer. The reply was that it is, indeed, their policy, and please could I confirm my date of birth and post code so that they could identify me! (You really cannot make this up!) So I replied saying that the policy is fundamentally flawed and does not protect my data, nor anyone else’s, for that matter.

And, here’s the catch. I copied the email to the company CEO. I am still waiting for the response. It should be interesting.

I’m not one for campaigning. But I wanted to share with you my thoughts on my experience of cold telephone callers and the dangers to vulnerable people. Because the next scam could catch anyone. Even you.

Conscience

Swathes of Glory 2

Working through the emotions

Relocating several times

To leave the past far behind

Only to have reminders

Thrust upon him without ending

By those who will not forget

Jealousy knows no bounds

In the hands of a bitter soul

Yet still

Onward and upward

Over the mountains of disbelief

To rise above the naysayers

Above the angry words

To rise and stay above

The clouds of doom

Wrung from the hands

Of those who show no mercy

To know the peaceful sunshine

Of a clear conscience

Knowing Who Were Are

We were sitting with our granddaughter, watching a film about a young girl who had been taken back to her childhood home in order to help her come to terms with her life. She had become a stereotypical teenager who thought the world owed her a living and her single parent father decided that she needed a time out.

The film developed in the expected way, with the young lady coming to terms with her life. It was a basic, predictable plot. But it was still entertaining.

As the film neared the end, my granddaughter turned to me and asked, “Why is she happy?”

Without hesitation I replied, “Because she knows who she is. Everyone needs to know who they are.”

Maybe I was caught up in the story. Or maybe I was thinking about how so many children are robbed of their childhood by dreadful experiences. Either way, I realised how profound a thought that was.

We all need to know who we are. Yet we rush around trying to please so many other people, and trying to match the image that they set for us, or that we set for ourselves. We are so busy that we forget who we are and where we came from.

If only we could take a few moments out, each day, to remember to be true to ourselves. Maybe, then, we wouldn’t have to worry about being something that we are not.

Maybe, then, integrity would mean something.

Thursday Thought

Happy Coffee

It may look a little lop-sided, but you have to admire the skill of this barista.

What does it take to spread a little happiness as we go along life’s way? Surely we can all do something small to brighten someone’s day.