Toughness, Forgiveness and Moving On: Its not what you moan about that counts, it’s what changes that counts.

Apologies for the late night nature of this post – it has been rushed out ahead of time because its contents suddenly became very pertinent to todays events.  There will no doubt be a fair few typos missed but forgive me this.

Oh the irony, my last post happened to mention the Scottish habit of clutching defeat from the jaws of victory. Little did I know that this weekend we would be watching the Scotland Rugby team being prevented from making it to the world cup semi-final against Argentina by a last minute penalty given to Australia by South African Referee Craig Joubert.

We immediately had the usual, ’blame the referee’ stuff  from pundits, which completely misses the point. Really good teams win whom-ever is refereeing. I accept that the referee didn’t help his cause by sprinting off the pitch at full time without shaking any player’s hands on either side but we have to, ‘keep the heid’ and not go over the top.

I was reminded of the propensity for the Scottish male to go over the top about sport during the Australia v Scotland match when my son advised me that I needed to calm down and stop shouting at the referee – he helped me to understand that shouting at the referee was just an excuse.

He reminded me that, I constantly tell the young people I coach that blaming the ref  is a very boring excuse for not looking at our own inadequacies. It is also becoming so last year: It’s so, ‘the referendum was fixed’.


Rugby excuses 101 – We can blame the referee all we like – but the fact is we didn’t have the ability to catch the ball at the final line out of the game and put it up our jumper for two minutes and then kick it out at fulltime. The Scotland forwards did not do their job at the crucial stage of the game. They did not do their job at the final line out. They enabled the ref to pick our pockets. Nae excuses – we bottled it!

Following on from my previous 2 posts that considered the toughness that will be required in order to try, try and try again for a free Scotland and the dangers of living in the land of anger and aggression, this post was originally going to consider the relationship between toughness and forgiveness.  Oh, how f’n’, f’n’, f’n’ ironic.

This key message of what follows is drawn from Buddhism it was mostly written before the Australia v Scotland rugby match but it also applies to that match.  The first message  is that: the quicker we forgive ourselves for our inadequacies, the easier it is to move to a positive way of being in the world.

The second message was to be; that such a way of being, living in the land of forgiveness, requires the SNP, Green Party and any other independence minded group to ensure that they take responsibility for their own actions and the actions of their members.

So let us add to that original list of people who need to take responsibility for their own inadequacies.  Yes, let us now add  the irresponsible Scotland Forwards to that list who did not lift the big lad up high enough, nor throw the ball straight enough, nor hold off the Ozzies enough, for us to catch the thing cleanly and put it up our jumpers for 2 minutes.

2 minutes from glory and we couldn’t cope with the pressure.  Aye, we bottled it. Oh, how so 1978 (football), how so 1979 (referendum), and how so 2014 (referendum).  Fair play the 1979 referendum was rigged but we still let them shaft us.

Irvine Welsh’s and Trainspotting sums it up best:

I dinnae Tam, ah jist dinnae. Life’s boring and futile. We start oaf wi high hopes, then we bottle it. We realize that we’re aw gaunnae die, withoot really findin oot the big answers. We develop aw they long-winded ideas which jist interpret the reality ay oor lives in different weys, withoot really extending oor body ay worthwhile knowledge, about the big things, the real things. Basically, we live a short, disappointing life; and then we die. We fill oor lives up wi shite, shite like joabs n relationships, tae delude ourselves intae thinkin that it isnae aw totally pointless.

Moaning about losing at sport or politics is pointless. We bottled it today playing rugby at Twickenham, we bottled it at football against Poland (another last minute f**ck-up) and we bottled it in the #indyref.  There is no point moaning about it because it is gone – nothing can be undone.

Some might seek to calm you down by arguing that sport is not about life and death (a couple of great Scottish Football managers from the past might disagree with you about that). No one can claim that politics is not about life and death.  Whether it be refuges losing their lives by drowning, black kids being shot in the back in America  or disabled people dying after having their benefits withdrawn –  in our everyday lives,  politics matters.

So what is left after the feeling of desolation? We need to utilise the feeling of injustice, the sense of futility and the feeling of loss as a stimulus whether it be in the sporting or political arenas. My last post talked about toughness, death and re-birth.  This post considers toughness, forgiveness and moving on.

We can be tough when sports stars let us down, when politicians do not keep their promises and when we ourselves make mistakes. For example, whether they be the ‘Unionistas’ that cobbled together the vow, the SNP on Land Reform or the Green Party on a second #indyref we should not shirk from talking truth to power.

We need to particularly kick the SNP up the backside when they fall short – we need to hold them to a higher standard than the appalling excuses for human beings that run politics down south.  We know the politicians down south are warped.

Indeed, the reason Pig-gate has stuck to Cameron like a pig-in-shite is that we already knew Cameron was a conman.  The phrase pig-in-a-poke was invented for this moment because with superb irony a pig-in-a-poke is, amongst other things, defined as an object conjured up by confidence tricksters.  Cameron and his mate Osborne – are confidence tricksters.

So we have to hold the SNP to a higher standards than that of confidence tricksters.  The SNP have had some trouble on that front in recent weeks.

However, a particularly satisfying symbol of the changed politics of Scotland post-indyref is that the SNP conference members do have a higher standard than politics down south and they have held their leadership to account for slipping up on a key policy area. The SNP conference just kicked the SNP leadership up the arse on Land Reform.

Why was the SNP memberships’ rejection of the leadership’s proposals on Land Reform at conference (16/10/2015) so important? It was important because if the SNP water down plans for Land Reform they may not get my vote, or other Scots votes, at Holyrood 2016.

Here is hoping something more radical will now be put forward. During the Westminster elections Nicola called for Ed Miliband to be braver on social justice – lots of people on the internet are now calling for her to be braver on Land Reform. It will be a tough one to forgive, if, the SNP government do not deliver radical Land Reform for the people of Scotland.

Its also a tough week for unionist political parties in Scotland when the real opposition comes from the new members of the SNP and their #indyref friends who remain unaligned to political parties.

Alan Bissett wrote it well in a recent Guardian article and Jenny Lindsay spoke of it last year, we can create an alternative that doesn’t involve any of us becoming lickspittles for the SNP.  We can create an alternative that doesn’t involve excuses.  We can create an alternative that embraces ambiguity but also dishes out constructive criticism when the new Scottish establishment (yes that’s the SNP) need a mirror shone on their inability to practice what they preach.

We have to be tough so that we avoid mediocrity. We have to be tough so that we celebrate our autonomy, independence of spirit and ability to be different to the taken for granted everyday politics.

We have to be tough on the SNP leadership, but we have to also be tough on ourselves and that starts with the guys who couldn’t catch the ball at the key moment in the rugby today.  But that does not mean we should not forgive the inadequacies of politicians or rugby players. tells us that there is a toughness to forgiveness too:

‘Forgiveness is a form of realism. It doesn’t deny, minimize, or justify what others have done to us or the pain that we have suffered. It encourages us to look squarely at those old wounds and see them for what they are. And it allows us to see how much energy we have wasted and how much we have damaged ourselves by not forgiving.’

Those of us that have not allied ourselves slavishly to political parties owe it to Scotland to practice both toughness and forgiveness.  So where to start, those big lads who didn’t catch the ball at the last lineout of the match will be sad tonight – so let us forgive them.

Also, we must remember that Scotland has a guilty secret about sport and toughness. There is a lot of domestic violence related to sport, especially the drinking that takes place around certain football events.  It is totally unacceptable when cowardly men take out their frustrations on those close to them – it relates to power and inadequacy and we have a duty to prevent this behaviour.

I am not necessarily asking for a politics of forgiveness for violent men, but if those men forgave the injustices that they use to fuel their anger, their anger would not have fuel.

I’m also not sure about politics of forgiveness – e.g. for a labour or Tory governments that haven’t cared how many they have killed.

But here goes, I forgive Tony Blaire, Jack Straw, Alistair Campbell, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith because they are all tossers. Not sure that is quite how it is supposed to work – but it does feel a wee bit liberating.

Let us try something a bit more meaningful, I would like to offer a hand of friendship to those who voted no in the #indyref. The more diverse friends that join in the movement the better because it will be a movement unchained by conformity and eventually lead to a big majority for independence.

Buddhists tell us forgiveness is an internal process. It can’t be forced, and it doesn’t come easy. It brings with it great feelings of wellness and freedom. But we experience this only when we want to heal and when we are willing to work hard through the healing process.

Toughness, anger and forgiveness are not distinct they are part of the same thing. For example, when in one of my previous blog-post I linked the aggressive aspects of my identity to emotional bullying as a child from my father and physical persecution from my mother – my story had various truths in it.

But, it was still an excuse and it’s easy to forgive my parents their inadequacies because they are only human, but it’s harder to forgive myself for not coming to terms with life’s injuries at an earlier stage in my life.  Had I come to terms with life’s injuries earlier, I would have had a lot less regrets.

The message here for football supporters, rugby supporters, the SNP, rampant Yessers and the people of Scotland is that we need to move beyond our heartfelt injuries and get on with building a better Scotland.

By our positive creative and innovative endeavours we can change this land. This is the lesson that the #indyref supporters must learn if we are to progress and avoid alienating No voters.

The lesson that you have to forgive, you have to own up to your own transgressions and you have to move on. I missed the interviews after the game but I expect that Vern Cottar will not have made any excuses and will have explained to the team in the changing room that they held the final outcome in their own hands at that final line out.

Nicola Sturgeon can be the Vern Cottar of Scottish politics, nae excuses – just honest politics. She needs to develop a tough-mined sustainable and agreed narrative for change.  That narrative for change needs to clearly pave the way for the fearties in this land to feel safe enough to vote Yes.

We will know when her job is done because half of the people who originally voted No will be calling for a new vote in order to vote Yes.   We will also know it because the SNP will have shown the way on Land Reform, Childcare, Education, Water, Fracking, Transport, Investment Plans, etc.

The only way that Scottish rugby and football players can make amends is through their deeds. Similarly, through their deeds, the SNP can help No voters to see a clearer pathway to an Independent Scotland.  But, No voters won’t make the journey to Yes if the road is blocked by trolls and numpties.

Trolls and numpties that include those that aggressively set up a post-referendum Yes v No dichotomy, e.g. those who hounded and continue to hound people like J.K. Rowling on the internet. Trolls and numpties actually injure us all when type-casting their fellow Scots – For J.K. Rowling and people like her are part of the collective, whatever way they voted.

Craig Joubert was a numpty, but let us not also be numpties like him.  let us have no death threats (we are not Chelsea supporters).  Let us have none of the J.K. stuff and let us have no horses heads in hotel beds like the Godfather movies.  Or, taking into account recent events at Westminster, should that be: we will have no pig’s heads?

The people of Scotland have to suck up these defeats and get on with it. We must learn our lessons, take the bitter pill that has been offered and find a way to engage in a positive process of change rather than wallowing in a victim status.

Craig Joubert is a flawed human being but he is a human-being and there is something of the modern frenzy of online comment that seems too ready to overlook the fact that we are all flawed human beings.

May be Joubert will learn a lesson from this perhaps he won’t. But, that doesn’t stop us being wise and learning to move on because the land of anger is a dangerous and self-destructive place to get stuck in.

And, this lesson doesn’t go away. This lesson on humility and forgiveness is something that I personally have continually learned and re-learned during my lifetime: the false dichotomy of good and evil, white and black, pure and impure has no basis in reality, life is never so simple.  Buddhists tell us that, post-structural scholars also tell us that and when they speak we should listen.

We need to challenge the reality of fixed boxes (No and Yes), question the ‘raison d’etre’ of those who promote stark differences and make obvious the malicious motives of people that wish to pick on and stigmatise others – even when the target is a flawed rugby referee.

He/she that is without sin among you, let him/her first cast a stone. Who out there is without sin? We are all sinners.  That’s right, none of us can make claims on purity and we must all be scholars of defeat.

Norman Maclean, the author of, ‘A river Runs through It’ argued that scholarship was about the discovery of truth (or truths). Maclean was also at pains to point out that scholarship did not require a long personal bibliography – we learn from him that it was not how much you write, it is what has changed in the world because you have lived that counts.

Truth is an interesting concept – for example lots of people seem to currently be reading books on mindfulness – a Buddhist concept that suggests that when we put aside our material cravings (which exacerbate our feelings of consumer death and re-birth) we can find a calmer way of being that is more enlightened.

In a previous stage of my life I worked with a close friend who was involved in a Buddhist group and I greatly enjoyed meeting with this group to discuss their ideas concerning how we reach enlightenment. Three key ideas for becoming more enlightened included: behaving better, disciplining our thoughts and liberating our insights.

Do you hear that Yes voters, Scottish football supporters and Scottish rugby supporters? If you want your dreams to come true you need to behave better, discipline your thoughts (not go off on rants blaming other people) and liberate our insights to bring about change for the good of our communities.  So if you are pissed off at recent results get of your moaning arses and do something about it.  E.g. help out in a local community groups, sports clubs or leisure venues.

Two very strong lessons I picked up from the Buddhist group were: you have to find a way out of living in the land of anger (that’s my continual personal journey) and that when trying new things you should focus on the positive reasons for attempting new approaches rather than on negative fears concerning failure (which is very useful when living in the land of fear or procrastination).

As anyone who has read Jack Kerouac’s ‘Dharma Bums’ or the book ‘Surfing the Himalayas’, the ironies within Buddhism can be very funny at the same time as being informative.  The Buddhist web site has a great story about a bag of nails:

Once upon a time there was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. But gradually, the number of daily nails dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the first day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, it won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry’, the wound is still there.”

An apology goes a long way in an everyday sense but when wounds are involved – it would be wiser to think before you react – or you leave holes in places and people. We must think before we react tonight, least we leave nails in the wall and do our nation a disservice.

Instead of wasting negative energy, that pulls us all down, how about using our energies positively to do something to change the lives of people struggling in Scotland. A recent book by Italian professor (and a friend of ours) Mario Diani highlights the strengths of collective and collaborative politics in Glasgow.

This is a unique time and Diani points out the strength of Scottish politics lies in the ability for internet collaboration to be actually backed up by face to face working. Diani argues: using electronic mediums to organise collectively is useful in the short term but does not necessarily sustain processes of change if we do not actively work together on the ground.

My experience is that what sustains change is working together face-to-face to agreed plans, evaluating the plans, reviewing to see if your plans have been carried through, developing new plans and implementing them – whatever the topic.

So all those people like me tonight who are writing on the internet make sure you do something positive in the real world during the week. Amongst other things I will be coaching the under 16s at my local rugby club and I will be reminding them that blaming the referee is pointless – when the only thing that you can really change is your-self.

My hard learned experience, drawn from many years of being involved in change process, is that if you wish to sustain and keep glued together processes of change you need to: ‘judge not least you be judged’, get out of the land of anger, leave the land of denial, escape the land of fear and depart the land of procrastination for the real world – where people are waiting

P.S. for the rugby, football and political trolls out there: while you are exiting the land of anger how about avoiding any more of those paranoid messianic cult like tweets and posts that make you look like you are just waiting with semi-religious glee to jump on the first poor ‘sinner’ who disagrees with you – such behaviour is aggressive, very male, isn’t big and isn’t clever. As Iain Macwhirter pointed out recently on twitter it’s got like you can’t even make a self-effacing joke anymore. Loosen up people – no one is perfect.