Five years ago, I pissed plenty of people off by screaming repeatedly about the injustices that were about to be served on my community by the Labour government at the time. We wanted people to know the charges being raised against us and so we shouted. We tried to make people hear that we were accused, purely by dint of wanting to be at home with our children, of being abusers in the making, people with something to hide, people who had reason to be anti-establishment and hidden.
There was no telling the people who didn’t want to hear that our arguments were reasons. Like I say, I lost a lot of friends. People who thought that the government must have a point, that lack of evidence surely only meant deeply hidden instances as yet undiscovered. Our rage perhaps called a few people to our side but in the end what saved us was lack of time and a change of government. Five years on there are people suffering still harder at the hands of unjustified governmental decisions and I wonder now if some of the people who thought we were raving non-conformists think differently about our fury at the government wanting to weigh and measure us for our legitimate, lawful choices.
One thing that time did change in me was how I go about hoping to change minds; I lost belief in the bulldozer technique as that time ended, most profoundly when a woman of great intelligence told me that despite the entirely evidence free campaign both government and the NSPCC waged, she still supported both for doing so, because they ‘must know something’ and ‘do good work’. I concluded that on some levels, our frantic blasting of information had turned people off.
And so, these days I pick and choose how I support causes. I support ones I believe in, or which are already being supported by educated people I know and trust. I try to look into a charity – at least a little – before I put my weight behind them. And when I do shout about a cause or an outrage, I hope I do it mindfully of the fact that not everyone can listen or hear all of the time. I have some regrets about filling Facebook with my fears and woes back then because what I understand better now is that while some people don’t want to hear, others are consumed by woes of their own and need a peaceful place, a happy place, a safe place. Just as I needed to shut babies out of my online life for a year or two, so others need to have places that don’t confront them with fear and grief and pain. We never know what is going on in the life of someone else, a a straw can be very small and still break a camel’s back.
And sometimes I choose to sit on the fence. Sometimes I choose to be a-political. Sometimes I choose not to read and not to get involved.
It’s not because I don’t care.
It’s not because I’m not interested.
It’s not because I don’t support nor even because I don’t want to offend.
It’s for one very simple reason.
I don’t know and I don’t have time to find out.
There are a million and one things to be angry about in this world, a million things to want to change or wish to see the end of. And most of them are complex. Most of them are not black and white.
And I don’t want to be an idiot. I don’t want to share misinformation, or propaganda or accidentally be the person who doesn’t look into something carefully and shares the hate image by accident.
I want to get it right and just now, with a living to earn, a lifetime of grief to keep compressed, 5 children to raise and promises I have made to the people and causes I trust, I simply don’t have time.
I don’t want to be a pc activist again. I don’t want to sit behind a screen and roll out tragedy porn or frustrated blog posts that horrify people so they are turned off a campaign and stop hearing. I want to be mindful. Sometimes that means, when time is short and energy is low, not being actively involved. Sometimes it means protecting myself from things that would render me incapable. Sometimes it means using the limited spare money I have to make small changes I can be sure of, like £10 to change a persons sight or £12 a month to support a child in a Niger village.
Right now, that’s the best I can do.
Life isn’t always perfect. I wish I had more time to inform myself of everything I would love to fully understand. I wish I had always been perfectly able to empathise without offending people. If I had known that having a big family would strip me of the brain power and time for 20+ years to really actively set about being a force for good; perhaps I would have made different choices. But I didn’t. I was young when I started and self absorbed for some of it and growing up for a lot of it. I wish it were easier to strip life back to basics, live a life of abstinence and give it all away. Would it make much difference? Probably not. Would it honestly be the right thing to throw myself behind boycotts and anti-establishment campaigns when I can’t be sure I know all the facts. Maybe. But only maybe. And not with a confidence that would make my voice true.
But right now I do have a mission. It’s to bring up these five children to be kind, honest, tolerant, emotionally intelligent and people who will set about to change the world of some people in some way, for the better.
When I’ve done that, I’ll use my time for other things.
Right now that is good enough for me, because I know I can do it well.
If I don’t know – and if 10.30pm, when everyone is finally asleep and I’ve sat down, is too late to usefully to try to work it out – it is my right and choice to be silent. When I know better, when I am in a place that I can be sure I know better, I will do better.
But one thing I won’t do – will not do – is use words to hurt and wound. One thing I have learned is you can cause pain and damage with an ill-thought out comment. To do that unintentionally is bad enough, to do it through ignorance or self righteous belief that everyone should think like you is not particularly helpful. To wound intentionally is unforgivable.
So I will stick to my creed: to work on being better, in my own time, as I can, when I can. And to offer such time and money as I can to make small changes and hope they matter.
Whether or not that is good enough for anyone else is irrelevant.