Difference, Happiness, The Internet and Yes – #LoveWins

Pat Kane sent a tweet out today which highlighted an article which quoted Richard Rorty.  My long lost fife accent came back suddenly and I uttered the expletive, ‘well fuck me, who’d i’ thought it, Richard Rorty h’s meanin’ fir Scotland’. The mother of my three beautiful children and long suffering wife who had just happened to come into the room asked, ‘who’s Richard Rorty?

I answered, ‘An American guy who kent the importance of analysing difference’. As a young man I always felt different and Rorty’s work helped me to understand that I could utilise this feeling as a way of being. For example, it tells you a lot when you pose the question, ‘Why do I feel different to this person or situation?’ – in doing so, you worry less about any need to fit in and concentrate on understanding the meaningfulness of what you are experiencing.

My previous post celebrated the Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue show at Woodland Creatures on Sunday night.  At the centre of what made that evening work was a celebration of different yet connected cultures. The internet is a wonderful thing when it enables speedy sharing of information and supports people from different backgrounds to build stronger relationships.

Indeed, social media is at its finest when it enables people to connect the on-line world with the real world in meaningful and collaborative ways. We are now able to quickly connect to people across the world, organise collaborations and arrange innovative and creative events.

For example, it enables a band from New Orleans to communicate with a bloke called Andrew in Edinburgh who’s got plenty confidence which enables him to collaborate with them on producing a beautiful night out for the worthy citizens of Edinburgh – the Dunedinnach – who, ‘got fair away with thir sels’.

You can contribute to Andrew’s kick starter here

Such processes require trust building, an aptitude for working through potential differences and an ability to reach agreements without obliterating either party’s identity.  This later ability seems to be lacking in the Greek negotiations at the moment.

The ability to collaborate without ironing out diversity was a central aspect of the referendum campaign and it is no accident that creative people, including a wide range of artists of all kinds, were at the centre of organising exciting referendum events.

During the referendum I helped out on the Aye Marchmont stall at the Meadows in Edinburgh – I worked with lots of wonderful people and every day involved a different collection of individuals coming together to create a welcoming setting from which to engage with the public (whatever their voting intention). If you checked out the social media you will quickly come across the @AyeMarchmont site and see all the wonderful things we got up to.

The group involved people of all ages, school pupils (they were the most mature people on the stand), retired people, people from lots of different countries, people of different race/religions, disabled people, people from LGBT groups and there was also a next door stall called, ‘English people for Yes’. I’m getting on a bit in age and I very much enjoyed the retired people calling me young man all the time.

However, probably the thing I enjoyed most was the energy of the youngest and oldest members of our group.  I drew the conclusion that we have to be more aware of how modern workplaces seem to draw the life and resistance out of those of us who are in the middle aged groups.

Whilst helping out on the stall, I also met a young couple who I have since got to know much better and now collaborate with in Common Weal Edinburgh South.  These guys were full blown activists and along with their pals they organised the now famous Meadows flash mob on the eve of the vote. These young people invited prospective Yes voters from all countries to come with their national flags to highlight the internationalist nature of our campaign.

The flash mob involved speakers, folk music and community signing.  The most impressive speakers were young women. The event brought together people from all over the world and culminated in almost 5000 people marching down to the parliament. The international media latched onto the event and the diverse views of the Aye Marchmont group and the everyday participants were suddenly being sent all over the world.  We had not expected the media attention, we were no more than a grass roots group and we had no inclination or ability to ‘control the message’ in the way political parties do.

This was our strength and also our weakness. Indeed, quite a number of people from the UK main stream media who turned up late to the party were very keen to point this out.  They pointed accusing fingers and asked questions such as: ‘why did you not tell us you were doing this?’, ‘why didn’t you tell us where to come?’ and ’who is in charge of this?’.

These question simply told us that a change had happened in Scotland regarding how we communicate with each other and that our strength was that we no longer required the main stream media to get our message across. Their concept of leadership – clashed with our own which posed the question. ‘How can you celebrate diversity if you put one person in charge?’

Later analysis would show our weakness to be that we failed to communicate with the over 65 voter who is not connected to us through social media and that next time we need to reach out in other ways to that group so that more of them can experience the enjoyment of being part of what Robin McAlpine referred to as the Butterfly Rebellion. The meadows flash mob event was not about the main stream media.

The event was about celebrating who we were and are.  We, us, you and me – we demonstrated we were very diverse.  In this way the referendum was more than a political process, it was about our individual and collective ways of being, it was about happiness in the here and now. In contrast to the helter-skelter of referendum noise, it was about being our-selves – expressed so very appropriately in our language as, ‘gaun yersel!’.

Shortly after the referendum I read a very well written PhD thesis written by Christina McMellon at the University of Edinburgh about happiness and childhood which argued that happiness is a complex thing that is dependent on time (past, present and future) and location (inside and outside) and that people express happiness in terms of being, becoming and being with others.

There was something about the referendum that involved being comfortable in our own-selves and being comfortable with others. The connection of those two things enabled people to experience a happiness that could not be wiped out by the electoral process of voting.  It has also enabled people who chose at the time not to take part in referendum activities to now change their mind to become part of the diverse collective.

Towards the end of the Meadows flash mob, people sang their different national anthems and when the Welsh folk sang (I have an aunt who is Welsh), I didn’t need the hairs going up on the back of my neck to tell me the atmosphere was electric.  I also have no problem with telling you that there were tears of pride, happiness and contentment streaming down my face as the Welsh folk reached their crescendo. Tears of pride for what these young people and our referendum had achieved.  Tears of personal happiness for the fact that Scottish identity was now so clearly associated with diversity and tears of contentment that, whatever the result of the referendum, here in front of me was something we could all hold on to, connect with and keep going.

This happiness contrasts with the death and destruction that we see, in ever greater detail, on our televisions every day.  Our joie de vivre has been echoed by very similar tears of happiness recently in Ireland and in the USA in relation to equal marriage for which the hash tag #LoveWins says it all –  Yes, Love does always Win in the end.

In the referendum Yes voters voted and lost but we loved and celebrated each other’s very way of being.  So, we all won – including those who didn’t vote Yes. Whatever the result we had sent a message out to the world – you can do this process in an inclusive, fun and respectful way – with out waging war.

Emotions were very high that evening of the flash mob and tears still come very quickly when I play the images and sounds over again in my mind, as I write.  The young couple at the heart of the event took a risk that evening.  That risk came off when all those people that came together in a respectful way, without security or ticketing.

Happiness, love, appreciation and togetherness kept everyone safe – which, sadly, is not the case every evening on the poorly lit public space that is the Edinburgh Meadows Similarly, just because #LoveWins in a few legislative settings doesn’t mean that there isn’t more work to be done to eradicate poverty, sexism, ageism, racism, sectarianism, disablism, homophobia, etc.

We are only at the very beginning of an ever continuing process and we need to be vigilant about how we eradicate inequality with practical long term solutions. The internet is a wonderful thing when it brings people together to support each other. But, as we all know, it is has its dangers and we need to be very aware of those when we plan to meet face to face with someone we have connected with on line.

Many years ago, there was a time when the internet was only recently invented – Yes kids, imagine a time with no internet – wow what a thought.  The new technology enabled me to connect with a disability activist and research called Mairian Corker who wrote about disability from, among other things, a deaf, feminist and lesbian perspective. The internet enabled myself and Mairian to quickly overcome the deaf/hearing divide and work collaboratively together carrying out research and joint writing.

Mairian and her partner Janet Hill became close family friends and an extra set of aunties to our children who greatly enjoyed visiting them firstly in Highborough and latterly in Over Stowey. Without the internet I don’t think that relationship could have happened. Indeed, it almost didn’t happen.

Mairian used to tell the story about our first attempted meeting when she was attending a conference in Edinburgh – I had not long been learning sign-language and my first public attempt to communicate with her did not go well. I spotted Mairian in the lobby of the conference venue and went up to her and tried to sign, ‘Hi I am the guy who has been speaking to you by email’ and actually signed very badly, ‘Hi I am going to be the signer’.

Of which she thought, ‘bloody hell it is going to be a long day’ and making her excuses she walked away. I was left with the impression that she wasn’t too keen to meet me in person and it wasn’t until later when it turned out I wasn’t sitting with the signers that she worked out who I was and explained the misunderstanding.

Most of us will have similar tricky stories about tentative meetings with people we have met on line either for work or social purposes. That’s the thing about meeting people in real life now, you feel like you know them but text based communication does not tell you everything their is to know about them, nor does it tell you how and whether they want to be approached in person.

I am lucky to have (in addition to my son) two daughters and a number of younger female colleagues who are very clued up on the meanings of social media interactions and can interpret them relatively quickly for me and advise me what my own responses should be or how my posts, emails or tweets might be interpreted. But, let us be clear, even with these close allies and interpretative resource near at hand, we can never truly control how people interpret our online and off line utterances.

This problem has been referred to as the death of the author – which originally referred to the practice of separating out the writer form the multiple layers of meaning in their text which may come from many sources. Here, we can simplify this idea to state that the speaker or tweeter can’t control how their words, actions or even presence in a setting will be interpreted.

My advice to people concerning this issue is – just be yourself. If people see someone they can connect to, enjoy, trust, or bond with – great. If that doesn’t happen then in our new age of valuing diversity they should respect your expression of difference – that’s what was so exciting about this last year in Scotland.

In the last year different kinds of people have found it possible to be and find happiness together, without the need to become, ‘same’. By analysing that experience we can generate important and productive knowledge, for example, take the case Jordan and Liam who met during the referendum and recently launched the TIE campaign (sign the petition here).  These guys found great meaning in analysing their difference but now collaborate to change education policy in Scotland. Their petition is:

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to make the teaching of LGBTI+ issues and topics statutory in all schools, with the introduction of a diverse and fully inclusive education programme that addresses, acknowledges and highlights such matters relating to the LGBTI+ community in a positive and progressive manner

Final conclusion – in relation to the internet – lets not over egg the positives or the negatives. We need to analyse #glypegate, trolling and online abuse for what they are and call out folk that set out to damage other people through the use of social media. However, we also need to value the integrated, inclusive and collaborative opportunities and benefits that the internet brings  – if we use the internet in more appreciative ways – then yes – #LoveWins