Severed Limbs & Mangled Faces: Culpability & Compassion

Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill' 1913-14 by Sir Jacob Epstein 1880-1959What does Epstein’s Rock Drill – a sculpture from the First World War – tell us about today’s problems?

Could compassion be the answer?

It may sound airy fairy – preachy – perhaps even simplistic to suggest that global issues could be solved by more understanding and kindness.

But it’s an honest question. And one that I don’t think comes with an easy answer.

The 21st century’s problems are wide-ranging. Yet, whilst varied – from uncaring NHS staff, to environmental injustices (see EJOLT for list), to gay intolerance to the global poverty that kills 18 million people every year – they seem characterised by  a  lack of compassion.

On visiting “The Great War in Portraits” exhibition at the National Portrait gallery at the weekend- visitors were exposed to visual representation of the depths of barbarism humanity can plunge to in order to kill one another. Such depths were described as a signal in a change of human nature; a loss of compassion.

Perhaps the two most striking exhibits for me were:

1) The Rock Drill, a bronze  sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein, originally created in 1913, to echo man’s increasing interest in machines and power. But in 1916, it was remodelled. Limbs were severed and the sculpture altered, thought to reflect Epstein‘s altered perception about the future of humanity – mutilated by loss and destruction. 

2) The second, of which I can’t find a picture, was the before-and-after drawings of patients undergoing re-constructive facial surgery, following extensive war injuries.

So did the “Great War” and wars since kill more than just bodies? Do we need to go looking for compassion once again?

To emphasise – I certainly don’t want to be moralistic about all this.

After all, I know that I’m more culpable in this loss of compassion compared to the vast majority of the world’s population.

To quote from Thomas Pogge (ref below):

Many more people – some 360 million – have died from hunger and remediable diseases in peacetime in the 20 years since the end of the Cold War, than perished from wars, civil wars and government repression over the entire twentieth century. And poverty continues unabated, as the official statistics confirm…[and so on]“

I know this. And as one of the richest people on earth if I gave away more of my income, I could help this. Yet I only give so much. An embarrassingly small fraction considering my culpability in not solving the problem.

So from this I take, that compassion may well be the solution.

But compassion doesn’t seem too easy.

1. Thomas Pogge – “Politics as Usual – What lies behind the pro-poor rhetoric

Sustainability: the story of kindness?

ceiling of la sagrada familiaFor me, sustainability is about compassion.

I went to Barcelona this weekend for the first time. I saw Gaudi and Picasso and was completely and utterly blown away. Brain fuzz.

Each artist’s strength lay in the radically new perspective they brought to their work.  Although they saw the same things as everyone else, they explored their focus from previously untold angles. La Sagrada Familia embodies this radical approach – de-constructing and rebuilding the idea of a catholic cathedral so profoundly different to that found across the rest of Europe.

And so my thoughts (as always) returned to sustainability.

The story of kindness, of compassion, is one which – although I’m sure is familiar to many others – for me, has only recently connected to sustainability.  I want to use this story to give a new perspective on working towards a greener, fairer world, and indeed, how we communicate about that ambition.

I think we care about creating a sustainable world because we care about one another.

Of course, “sustainability” embodies a whole host of concepts, from carbon permits to biodiversity offsetting to closed loop recycling. Money, reputation and politics make an inevitable appearance also.

But at the heart of the matter lies kindness; caring for one another – for our families, our children, our society. For our grandchildren and great-grandchildren as yet unborn, and for everyone who we share this moment of existence with.

So compassion can be seen as the driver.

Moreover, it’s also the facilitator. No one can create sustainable change alone – we need to collaborate. And this process requires us working to understand and be understanding with a whole host of people, many coming from perspectives and vested interests we may find challenging.

Only compassion can make this happen.

I don’t think these are just airy fairy words. Check out the great work from Common Cause on intrinsic values, the Dalai Lama’s words on environmentalism, Tom Shadyac’s documentary “I am”, or the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities.

Sustainability both demonstrates and requires compassion. What’s more, perhaps compassion provides a greater setting for the tale of environmentalism than offsets and permits?

Gaudi orchestrated such beauty through connecting the ideas of  creativity, nature and morality. We need to explore every avenue we can in creating a world that works for us all. Why not start with kindness?

False Economies: things which don’t save time.

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A list of time-saving measures which don’t work, learned from experience:

  • Loading the washing machine while brushing your teeth.
  • Unloading the washing machine while brushing your teeth.
  • Going to the loo while still wearing your rucksack.
  • Taking off your leggings and socks in one go.
  • Picking bits of fluff off the floor instead of hoovering.
  • Walking on the road instead of the pavement pulling luggage.
  • Crossing busy roads one lane at a time.
  • Drinking, texting or putting on your coat while walking.
  • Stuffing receipts into your purse willy nilly – only to block your purse, and break your zip.
  • Moving too quickly on the self-scan checkout machines.
  • Being pushy in queues. The karma will haunt you.

End conclusions?

  • Multi-tasking is a #fail.
  • There are no-shortcuts in life. We can only do less. :)

The Small Suitcase

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I often think of luggage – and wonder how far it’s been?

This inaninmate object is something I’ve been passed on by my in-laws. Apart from my husband – it’s one of the most useful items I’ve ever possessed; and certainly one I’ve spent the most time with.

Carrying my identify from Heathrow to Who Knows Where, I feel reassured every time I clap eyes on it at baggage reclaim.

Inanimate but calling me, I frequently push past small children to grab this from the moving belt.
Quickly before it goes, taking my toothbrush and make up, vest and necklace with it.

It carries my stuff, to make me whole and at home in another world.

Yet, it’s travelled journeys I will never know!

It lived a life before I wrote my name on “return to this address” label.
It’s been in planes and luggage carts, transfer trains and luggage holds that I will never see.
And it will live past me.

Even after its last plane ride, trusty, grubby synthetic fibres will outlast me in the darkness, buried in a landfill.

Funny, that.

Lessons on “travelling for work”

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Over the past two years, I’ve been one of those people who’s “travelled for work”. Here’s what I’ve learned, through my own experience and from others’:

When flying:

  • Choose vegan meal options.
  • If time zones mean that you’re offered an extra meal than you’d normally eat in a day – skip it.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Don’t eat too much before getting on the plane.

When staying at hotels:

  • Never pay for “breakfast included” – it’s too expensive and too crowded – go to a local café instead.
  • Use the hotel gym rather than the mini bar.
  • Make friends with the room service people.
  • Always take your own shampoo/conditioner.

When staying in foreign cities:

  • Try to become well acquainted with the public transport system instead of using taxis (conquering this makes you much more flexible).
  • Learn hello, please and thank you in the local language.
  • Don’t expect to be able to always go for city walks. There are often no pavements.

What I haven’t learned.:

  • What to do when you see a homeless man sitting in the middle of a pedestrianisedshopping street, crying.
Link

Skyscape from the Indian Ocean

Skyscape from the Indian Ocean

Skyscape, Indian Ocean

A view of the sky at sunset, from a pole and line fishing vessel, anchored in the middle of a Maldivian atoll.

August 2013.

A blank cheque = Government failure on climate change

The conservatives “blank cheque” for dealing with the floods does not represent benevolent leadership.

It represents the unnecessary cost to tax payers, arising from bad planning and a fundamental failure from both the current and previous governments, to acknowledge the consequences of climate change.

What future costs will the Conservatives’ determined avoidance of the realities of climate change incur?