Communication · Thoughts on...

A Bad Time

When we’re young, we’re thrown together with other children and told to go and play in an effort to gift our long-suffering parents with a blessed hour of peace and quiet. Before we begin to play, we have simple, rudimentary ways of assessing each other:

“What’s your favourite colour?”

“Blue.”

“Me too! Will you be my friend?”

Then we each grab a stick with twigs sticking out the bottom and start studiously brushing the dirt in an attempt to clean our “house,” which is really just the space under a bush where the frost killed off the lower branches, but thankfully we have the imagination required to bridge that minor gap in realities. It doesn’t present too much of a challenge to our world view.

That same imagination is, I think, what helps us form these fast friendships. We make huge leaps of logic from stepping stone to stepping stone of assumption. We decide that since we like blue and are okay, if they like blue they must also be okay. That’s enough. It’s enough to have a shared interest in the colour blue, or in ponies, or in holographic stickers, or pogs (are they still a thing?), or whatever we have our open little hearts set on at that particular moment.

As children, once we’ve established that one binding fact that cements our friendship, we don’t act passive-aggressively forever more if one person claims that Skipper is better than Barbie. We don’t thump each other until we need medical assistance over a difference of opinion on whether Micro Machines are better than Hot Wheels. We don’t refuse to speak to each other ever again because we don’t both want to watch Aladdin. We accept these things as valid and skip over these differences because the important things are still true; we both like the colour blue, and we like each other.

As time wears on, our lives grow more complicated. Our requirements for friendship grow more complex. We start to write people off for small, niggling reasons. That one person who breathes through their mouth. That other person who won’t watch movies with subtitles. Chasms open up where opinions on religion and politics diverge. Instead of the simple acceptance we had as children, we now debate and argue – viciously, ferociously – in an attempt to change other people’s points of view. Race, class, beliefs and values all get dragged into discussions.

Nobody cares about your favourite colour anymore.

It seems like the world is fracturing at the moment. Cracks have appeared as if from nowhere and I can’t tell how deep the damage goes. It seems like the planet is tearing itself apart at the seams, with untidy, fraying stitches just barely holding everything together. What used often to be educated discussion is now aggressive shouting. Disagreements are now total incompatabilities. Apparently there’s a worldwide chronic deficiency of imagination at the moment and people are either unable or unwilling to understand opposing points of view.

Facts have been sacrificed on the altar of audience engagement and squeaky wheels everywhere are getting the grease of media attention, no matter how insufferable the squeak.

The cracks might not worsen. They might stay as they are, never worsening but never healing completely. Or they might at any moment become a break. A split. An insurmountable challenge.

An impassable chasm.

The worst part is that I think a few more seams are going to rip open before this is over. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and I don’t know what to do in the meantime. I definitely don’t have a manual for this. What I do have is a history book, and it’s not exactly reassuring me if I’m honest. If anything it’s making me think we’re about to be in for A Bad Time. A Bad Time with a lot of shouting.

And I hate shouting.

So if anybody wants to hide out and be friends, I’ll be hiding out in my blanket fort with a few micro machines and (since we’re grown ups) some bottles of vodka and gin.

Only people with the password* allowed!

*The password is your favourite colour.

45 thoughts on “A Bad Time

  1. Hiding out with booze is the best idea I’ve heard. I wonder if people have less imagination now because of technology, we don’t have to use our imagination anymore. Maybe we’ve lost that.

  2. I love this post. <3

    my favourite colour is blue too…and I can bring some extra gin (and maybe some fever tree tonic because gin is never that good on its own!)

  3. I am searching for the words to say..but you nailed it. Everything that I have been feeling, you expressed here. The world, is just a mess for overly sensitive people like myself. Or you know.. any human! So much tragedy, hurt, pain, anger and yes – tearing another and the world apart.

    I would love to join you in your fort. Can I bring cookies, my little stuffed dino… perhaps a dog annnnd Jameson? <3

  4. It’s all so true. It’s scary to think that we have no clue where we are headed, but it seems like it’s getting worse and worse as time passes by. Great post!

  5. Orange. And not that neon orange that has become so popular lately, but sort of a burnt orange. It used to be forest green, and I said it was green for years and years, and then last year I realized it isn’t green any more. So now it’s orange. I’m just procrastinating an unpleasant comment: I think we’ve been in a bad time for a while now. I agree, it’s going to get worse, but it’s pretty awful already. The Vegas shooting, the crazy ass hurricanes on both sides of the globe, the coming collapse of the western economy, etc, etc–those have all been queued up for years. What’s going on is inevitable. Nature, human and otherwise, explodes when under too much pressure. Cheery, aren’t I?

    1. Well you’re not wrong Jeff. That’s the unfortunate part. Cheeriness is in short supply when you turn on the news these days… Burnt orange is a good colour.

  6. I object! Not because you’re not right but because my favourite colour keeps changing* and I want to be allowed in the blanket fort too – sounds like a sensible idea, I feel your blanket collection may need to grow by the comments to make a fort big enough.

    *Currently it’s red, purple and blue. I have difficulties deciding…

    1. That’s acceptable! Just shout out whatever your favourite colour is at the time. There’s no judgement here. You can even yell ‘TIGER STRIPES!’ or ‘SUNSET!’ if it takes your fancy and I’ll let you right in!

      We may need a few extra blankets though, for sure….

  7. Really enjoy your writing but I have an area of disagreement (don’t worry it’s an area I can easily skip over since I too still love blue) … the notion that kids are somehow better at finding common ground and blithely disregarding difference, when, in fact, kids can be utterly cruel to other kids, if they do not rate them. Think of that word “weird” that kids use about some poor divil who marches to another beat, even one only slightly off the common sync. Reading this back as I hesitate before posting, I don’t think I am writing as having once been that poor divil, but rather having observed my own kids occasionally summarily dismissing others.

    1. I definitely think this is true but I think the kids I’m thinking of are younger than the kids you’re thinking of. I spent the weekend surrounded by three year olds (for my sins) and they were content to totally overlook huge differences in order to focus on, you know, the important things. Like which truck was a better “vroom vroom!”

      I think once kids are old enough to be really self aware and start to worry about what other people think of them, they can turn very cruel without even realising it. It’s really unfortunate. Sometimes kids put one foot wrong and then they’re screwed for the rest of their time at school, because they can never recover from the “weird” rep you mentioned.

      I think at school I was weird, but also confident enough to pull it off (or at least I never noticed any negativity about it). Now I’m less weird but also less confident. I’m not sure how that happened!

      Anyway. That’s a long comment to say that I agree about older children. I was attempting to write more about the smaller tykes that haven’t reached that point yet.

      1. Fair point. Maybe it is a bit different with younger kids. I am talking from observing my own children, 13,-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. Great kids but can be very harsh at times about kids they totally dismiss as weird. And there’s them wanting to belong. Like us all. Just the human condition I guess

  8. I’ve been staring at this empty comment box for about 5 minutes now. As I was reading I kept thinking things I wanted to say and then by the time I got to the end you had said them all. And better than I could! If that happened when I was a kid I’d have not minded at all. But if it happened when I was a kid you weren’t anything yet so I’d never have known that you just said everything I’ve been trying to put to words. So I think I’ll be grown up about it and thank you for saying what needed to be said and for saying it so eloquently.
    Oh, yes, and at my age my favorite color is whatever color the blood pressure pill is this month. In a more innocent time it was blue. In a feistier time it was plaid.

  9. I’m trying hard to feed that part of me. Modern living is not a friend of creativity. My favourite colour used to change frequently based on whether I wanted that person as a friend. I find myself dogging my heels in now on green and stubbornly refusing to see the beauty of someone else’s favourite colour. But I’m trying…thats something…right?

    1. I think that’s everything.

      Also – “Modern living is not a friend of creativity” – this is so true. It saddens me because I think we would all be better for having a little more creativity in our lives, but either we haven’t the time or we haven’t the energy, or (probably more accurately) we don’t make the time we need. Will have to keep reminding myself!

  10. It’s so tempting to hide and wait for the bad to just go away! Can I come and go- I promise to bring vodka. I like blue too. And pink, purple, yellow, green … in fact, I don’t colour discriminate 🙂 But I do feel that some of us need to be out in the open to counterbalance the bad with the good. You know, spread the Love as far and as wide as we can to make the bad go away for ever.

  11. I’ve never been able to choose a favourite colour, I’m ridiculously indecisive, I used to always say red when I was asked but I don’t know why?
    Can I still come to the fort to ride out the storm? I’ll bring cake! oh and can my sisters come too? one likes black and the other likes green 🙂
    We will all get through this together!!

    1. You can just shout out whatever your favourite colour is at the split second you’re at the door. That’s good enough! Or maybe a theme? Like “SEASIDE!” or “SUNRISE!” or “RAINBOW!” Or do you think that’s cheating?

      Cake is always welcome!

      1. That sounds perfect that way I cover a range of colours and don’t have to overthink it…it is cheating but you know what they say about rules 😉

    1. I love that green. For some reason thinking about that green makes me think of pure elegance which makes me think of that stunning green dress from Atonement and how I need to find one like that so I can swan around dark libraries in style.

      I’ve never tried elderflower liquor so that will be very welcome! 😀

      1. Oh my that dress is gorgeous. Can I have one too and join you in some swanning around in dark libraries? Though to be honest I’d probably have the elegance of a swan out of water…

        M&S sell a really rather lovely elderflower liquor – I’d recommend it!

  12. When we’re young, we’re thrown together with other children and told to go and play in an effort to gift our long-suffering parents with a blessed hour of peace and tranquility. Before we begin to play, we have simple, rudimentary requirements:

    “What’s your favourite colour?”

    “Blue.”

    “Me too! Will you be my friend?”

    Then we each grab a stick with twigs sticking out the bottom and start studiously brushing the dirt in an attempt to clean our “house,” which is really just the space under a bush where the frost killed off the lower branches, but thankfully we have the imagination required to bridge that minor gap in realities. It doesn’t present too much of a challenge to our world view.

    That same imagination is, I think, what helps us form these fast friendships. We make huge leaps of logic from stepping stone to stepping stone of assumption. We decide that since we like blue and are okay, if they like blue they must also be okay. That’s enough. It’s enough to have a shared interest in the colour blue, or in ponies, or in holographic stickers, or pogs (are they still a thing?), or whatever we have our open little hearts set on at that particular moment.

    As children, once we’ve established that one binding fact that cements our friendship, we don’t act passive-aggressively forever more if one person claims that Skipper is better than Barbie. We don’t thump each other until we need medical assistance over a difference of opinion on whether Micro Machines are better than Hot Wheels. We don’t refuse to speak to each other ever again because we don’t both want to watch Aladdin. We accept these things as valid and skip over these differences because the important things are still true; we both like the colour blue, and we like each other.

    As time wears on, our lives grow more complicated. Our requirements for friendship grow more complex. We start to write people off for small, niggling reasons. That one person who breathes through their mouth. That other person who won’t watch movies with subtitles. Chasms open up where opinions on religion and politics diverge. Instead of the simple acceptance we had as children, we now debate and argue – viciously, ferociously – in an attempt to change other people’s points of view. Race, class, beliefs and values all get dragged into discussions.

    Nobody cares about your favourite colour anymore.

    It seems like the world is fracturing at the moment. Cracks have appeared as if from nowhere and I can’t tell how deep the damage goes. It seems like the planet is tearing itself apart at the seams, with untidy, fraying stitches just barely holding everything together. What used often to be educated discussion is now aggressive shouting. Disagreements are now total incompatabilities. Apparently there’s a worldwide chronic deficiency of imagination at the moment and people are either unable or unwilling to understand opposing points of view.

    Facts have been sacrificed on the altar of audience engagement and squeaky wheels everywhere are getting the grease of media attention, no matter how insufferable the squeak.

    The cracks might not worsen. They might stay as they are, never worsening but never healing completely. Or they might at any moment become a break. A split. An insurmountable challenge.

    An impassable chasm.

    The worst part is that I think a few more seams are going to rip open before this is over. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and I don’t know what to do in the meantime. I definitely don’t have a manual for this. What I do have is a history book, and it’s not exactly reassuring me if I’m honest. If anything it’s making me think we’re about to be in for A Bad Time. A Bad Time with a lot of shouting.

    And I hate shouting.

    So if anybody wants to hide out and be friends, I’ll be hiding out in my blanket fort with a few micro machines and (since we’re grown ups) some bottles of vodka and gin.

    Only people with the password* allowed!

    *The password is your favourite colour.

  13. I think the only thing we can do is be aware.
    Be kind, be polite, be decent, share our vegetables, say hello, talk to people and generally, be good, tolerant and fair.
    my favourite colour is black. but I quite like white, blue and green too…

  14. It;’s funny I corresponded recently with Quinn, one of your commenters above, on this notion of small children being more naturally accepting of otherness, and the chasm you talk about that develops later between us and “that one person who breathes through their mouth. That other person who won’t watch movies with subtitles”. As you say, where once was acceptance we now debate and argue. Tricky blighter life!

  15. On the topic of the death of reason, I highly recommend this editorial. I read it during the primaries in 2016. Deeply insightful, deeply upsetting.

    https://medium.com/welcome-to-the-scream-room/im-with-the-banned-8d1b6e0b2932

    To give you a taste, it ENDS with this. And this is a perfectly warranted ending.

    “In the humid dark of the plaza outside the event, a dozen young activists covered in sweat and glitter have got together an impromptu protest. Shell-shocked members of the press stumble out into the street. One journalist from a major mainstream outlet breaks down in tears.

    “It’s just — there’s so much hate,” she says, as a couple of glitterpunks move in to comfort her. “What is happening to this country?”

    What’s happening to this country has happened before, in other nations, in other anxious, violent times when all the old certainties peeled away and maniacs took the wheel. It’s what happens when weaponised insincerity is applied to structured ignorance. Donald Trump is the Gordon Gekko of the attention economy, but even he is no longer in control. This culture war is being run in bad faith by bad actors who are running way off-script, and it’s barely begun, and there are going to be a lot of refugees.”

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