Let The Flowers Bloom Part 2: Christina Milarvie Quarrell and John Davis
Part 1 of this post discussed the disabling, violent and controlling effect of patriarchy in male-female relationships. It posed questions concerning what we need to do to call out patriarchy in politics, the media (e.g. Hollywood movies) and in our everyday lives. It indicated that some changes had occurred in Hollywood movies that included strong female leads and that these movies offered a vision of non-patriarchal relationships that are loving, supportive and enabling. This post, Part 2, looks in more detail at what appropriate relationships look like; considers concepts such as: compassion, empathy and forgiveness; and contrasts physical with emotional bravery. This post enables us to argue that positive loving relationships involve respect, trust, compassion for each other’s life-stories, understanding of each other’s feelings, and balancing of ‘self’ with ‘other’.
Christina Milarvie Quarrell is a Poet Photographer Artist born and raised in the Govanhill Gorbals communities. Her work celebrates the values of people before profit. Art is her passion and she utilises community arts as a basis for the creation and gathering of working class culture, poems, stories and songs.
John Davis is a professor of Childhood Inclusion at the University of Edinburgh he researches and writes on a range of issues including childhood, disability, inclusion, social justice and anti-discrimination with the aim of supporting children and families to be at the centre of resolving their own life issues.
What do appropriate, enabling and supportive relationships look like?
Work by researchers in Ireland at the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre (UCFRC – see link here) identifies four types of ‘informal’ support within peer groups, communities or families. These are: concrete (e.g. financial); emotional (a chat and kind ear); advice orientated/empathetic (sharing of experience/perspective) and esteem (support for a person’s idea of themselves and self-confidence).
Everyone has the ability to create wonderful things if they are freed up to discover their own abilities and are supported to recognise how to share power for the better good. We should not have to sacrifice our own aspirations/identities for other people and women should not have to sacrifice their creativity for male acceptance.
Equally we need to avoid punishing all men for the sins of their fathers or simply accepting the status quo – that in some parts of Scotland domestic violence is rife. We should not require women to get angry in order to affirm their rights or to avoid abusive males. Men, especially, need to be proactive in calling out other men’s sexism because research demonstrates that sexism is more prevalent in settings where there is a lack of co-worker or male-female solidarity (see link here)
Loving and enabling relationships are based on interdependence and equality. Where both sides of the relationship focus on supporting the other to develop their chosen identities, succeed in their aspirations and become who they wish to be. In this type of relationship love, does not involve control, jealousy or tantrums. Love (as opposed to control) involves sharing, understanding, nurturing, supporting and caring.
Love involves supporting and enabling your partner and does not necessitate your partner having to give up who they are, it requires both sides of the couple to be self-confident, to know and love their-selves, in order to knowingly love others. Couples will always be able to learn new dances but it is important that the dance steps are built on: mutual understanding, a feel for each other, an ear for life’s rhythms and respect for each-others abilities (see link here). It is important that we find relationships that, as the song says, don’t seek to take away our dignity (The Greatest Love of All George Benson 1977 see link here)
Some people find it difficult to engage in mutually appreciative and loving relationships because they are stuck in the past; have self-loathing for having previously let themselves go through abusive relationships; or have low self-esteem due to having experienced bullying. Self-loathing is no crime because life injures us all – no one escapes injury and, therefore, we will all have moments of self-doubt. The skill is to get away from processes of self-loathing that merely intensifying your own pain and that lead to punishment (of self, of our partners or of others e.g. people from past-relationships). Indeed, social media is awash with troubled soles and abusive people who use the medium to punish others rather than attend to their own inadequacies.
Yet, when stating that we need to move away from punishment, we are not arguing for ‘forgiveness’. ‘Forgiveness’ is a problematic word that is connected with religious ideas of penance and therefore can actually involve processes of punishment. For example, Alice Miller indicates that religious notions of child punishment have (in the past and present) promoted an idea that children need to be beaten e.g. if they are to achieve forgiveness, or, that children should simply turn the other cheek e.g. in the face of adult abuse. Most recently there have been reports of religious orders forcing women to face there convicted abusers within church settings.
Hence, the notion of forgiveness needs to be critically analysed. We are of the view that compassion, rather than forgiveness, enables us to recognise the context of decision-making. Compassion does not always require us to absolve (or forgive) people for their behaviour. We believe it is important for people to be compassionate when crimes are committed, because compassion may enable them to move from positions of anger and ‘stuckness’, into processes that enable them to move on from extreme life circumstances.
Similarly, most men have patriarchal aspects within their-selves and they need to be supported to find a way to give up the past, to change their futures, to liberate their selves (e.g. from their re-offending loops) and to connect with notions of compassion, empathy and understanding (e.g. for whatever core injury lies beneath their repetitive behaviours).
Alan Cummings in his book ‘Not My Fathers Son’ explains the violence he experienced at the hands of his father and that: navigating his father’s moods; recognising emotions; reading facial expressions; and having to deal with someone out of control – acted as a seed for his acting skills. He argues that he confronted his emotions rather than allowing them to crush him and was able to overcome what he had experienced by talking openly about and acknowledging his life-experiences (especially talking with his mother and brother). Cummings talks of ultimately ‘forgiving’ his father but not absolving his father from responsibility for his actions.
Cummings argues that ‘not talking’ is a kind of denial that prevents resolution from happening (see link here). We would argue that resolution, is different from the Christian concept of forgiveness and it should never be assumed that resolution can only be achieved by forgiveness. It is possible for us to understand the context of abuse without accepting the legitimacy of that abuse. We can understand why something happened and put it behind us without absolving others for their need to take responsibility for their own actions.
Similarly, we often ask people to be emotionally brave and talk about their feelings, this is not the same as patriarchal notions of braveness which involve aggression, reducing your opponent to nothing and nil some games where one winner takes all.
Cummings experience helps us to understand that the emotional should be local and patriarchal ideas can be dissipated when: young men express their emotions through music; older men unpack what it was like to lose their jobs in the Thatcher era whilst working on a local community arts project; or, young fathers talk about the pressures of parenting their offspring at a five-a-side football match. (See for example this link here to a Herald article on the rise of parenting by fathers entitled: ‘My Old Man Is Not What I am’, for shifts in ideas about parenting and patriarchy).
Similarly, Lesley Riddoch, in her book Blossom, wrote of the processes of change for men involved in the Drumchapel Men’s Health Group and the emotional bravery of the group:
‘Scottish society has told these guys time and time again you are not worth it. Staying hard, staying tough, remaining impassive in the face of an uncaring world, passing the pain to smaller, weaker, more vulnerable people down the line – that’s the way most men survive a hopeless, disempowered existence. The decision to unravel this macho stance on the vast housing scheme of Drumchapel in the hard years after Thatcher took real courage.’
We need men to be more emotionally brave and less physically brave. Rather than associating courage with men who exhibit physical strength, Brene Brown associates courage with telling your story, expressing your feelings, speaking from your heart and openly emphasising with others (see link here).
We can see that emotional bravery in the I Daniel Blake campaign where different men and women posted videos about their experience of the benefits system with the aim of normalising and de-stigmatising the issue. Angela Haggerty’s video particularly resonated with us and our own experience (see link here). Similarly, Karine Polwart set a lead for us all with her effortless deconstruction of Donal Trump, I Burn But I am Not Consumed:
‘That son of Mary Anne MacLeod is powerful.
So too is The North Sea.
The marbled, metamorphic rock of Lewis is two-thirds the age of Earth – amongst the very oldest found on our planet. It knows about power. It’s seen a lot. And so I wondered: what might that rock of Lewis have to say about the Inauguration – tomorrow in Washington DC – of the 45th President of the United States of America – Mary Anne’s middle son? This is what the rock told me.
The Gulf Stream doesn’t know your name,
nor does the splendid, blazing sun
that alters how the currents run.
The North wind never heard you roar:
You’re fired! You’re fired! …. ….
Oh ma bairn, mo leanaibh
Oh ma bairn, mo leanaibh
Your mother was a wee girl once,
who played upon my rocky shore.
And you, you are broken boy
and you want more and more and more. … …
A balancing is yet to come,
although by then you may be gone
and leave a desert to your sons and daughters.
Still, these waters, they will rise,
the North Sea haar will cover your eyes,
despite your appetite for lies.
your disregard for truth……’
(see Karine’s full lyrics on her web site here)
Karine Polwart’s words and performance taught us how the emotional creativity of music and poetry can set an example for us all of how to sophisticatedly unpick men’s patriarchal insecurities.
What Change Is Required?
Positive relationships involve couples taking pride in who they have become. For folk who are reading this who do not know how to be intimate with a woman, you need to start from the position that equitable relationships are based on pleasure – not pain. Goulter and Minninger argue that positive loving relationships involve respect, trust, compassion for each other’s life-stories, understanding of each other’s feelings and a balance of ‘true to self’ with ‘being right’ for each other.
We would suggest that no relationship can escape the impact of social economic pressures and that often couples are unaware that they have different cultural starting points about what a relationship or family is and should be. These differing expectations can result in conflict rather than enable ‘enlightenment, love, liberation from self and joy of self’ (see reference here). Whether your life-partner is a man, a women or a person other gendered, equitable love enables each partner to separately (yet supportively) achieve their individual identities. As Christina’s poem, What is love? Tells us in her 2005 book ‘Urban Crone’:
Love is a scary place where we take out our hearts
Give them often on a plate to another human being
Sometimes to be devoured as a sweetmeat
Occasionally to be cherished and given back in a circle of trust and respect
Love is a strong union of two people with numerous demons of the past in tow
Fighting hundreds of years of genes and ancestors
Many of whom we know nothing about
Goulter and Minninger argue that the way you can spot whether a person is genuine is if they are interested in getting to know you, show signs of appreciating who you are and ask you questions about your: career goals, educational experience, relationships, values (e.g. concerning drugs/alcohol), past/present marital status, personal life/goals, problems you are trying to find solutions to, social activities, musical preferences, heroes, perspective on politics, and the creative activities that you enjoy e.g. sport/art/music and outdoor life.
Supportive people might also ask how your aspirations have changed at different stages in your life and whether you are happy with the way your life has panned out. Loving people don’t just listen and mirror, they also empathise, see things from your perspective, and are interested in where you see your life going.
Yet, loving people will have the bravery to tell you that they hold contrasting perspectives to you on specific issues and that your choices do not chime with their own. Brene Brown believes that the generosity to listen should come with boundaries where people will openly state what they don’t agree with and yet, generously assume that other people are trying their best and have complex reasons for their behaviour. Loving people embrace each other’s diversity and their empathy enables them to ask open and contrasting questions that help you shape your plans. Their empathy enables them to comment on your life-plans without being controlling, presumptuous or judgmental.
Irvin Yalom (see link here) argued that we should utilise cooperative empathy to improve our relationships and the world around us. He advocated: active listening, development of shared identity, mindful perspective taking (putting a human face on suffering), altruism (self-less concern for others), meditation and creating reminders of connectedness.
Yalom suggests that there are four givens that influence our lives, concern over death; the need to make meaning of the universe; tensions regarding freedom/responsibility (which can be scary when you have to take responsibility for your own life designs, choices and actions); and tensions between our sense of isolation and our need to be part of a bigger whole.
Yalom’s work encourages us to understand each other’s shame, connect our life trajectories and balance our need to be alone with our need to relate to others. Brene Brown argues that contemporary society doesn’t want to talk about shame because it is the swamp land of the soul and you need to journey through the swamp land to achieve enlightenment. She suggests that people who succeed in achieving their goals usually have to overcome a lot of failure and that, therefore, they do not associate failure with shame (see link here) – so it is important that we do not let the shame tactics of Tory politicians prevent us from achieving our goal of a more equitable Scotland.
Brene Brown’s ideas help us to explain why some Scottish people fear independence, as Nelson Mandella said, our deepest fear is our-selves:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world … As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Some Scottish people feel ashamed: to stick their head above the parapet; to forego the nay sayers; and to take a chance on freedom. Brene Brown states that, shame is the gremlin voice that tells you are not good enough.
‘Shame drives two big tapes, ‘never good enough’ and if you can talk it out of that one, ‘who do you think you are?’ The thing to understand about shame is that it is not guilt. Shame is a focus on self. Guilt is focus on behaviour. Shame is I am bad. Guilt is I did something bad… …Guilt; ‘I am sorry I made a mistake’. Shame; ‘I am sorry I am a mistake’. There is a huge difference between shame and guilt….Shame is highly, highly, correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide and eating disorders and here is what you need to know even more, Guilt is inversely correlated with those things.’
Brene Brown tells us that men associate shame with weakness and that often the women in their lives (just as much as the men) hold an expectation that men should be strong. She argues that the solution is for men and women to listen more to each other (using humour, humanity and vulnerability) and avoid secrecy, silence and judgement.
But what happens when shame is not simply about the relationships of everyday people but involves a judgemental and prejudiced unionist establishment Gas-lighting, diminishing and disempowering a nation. The 2014 referendum and subsequent elections removed the veil from our eyes – the establishment had no vision for a United Kingdom of equals. It has no plan for enabling a loving, nurturing relationship between the partner countries of the UK.
Since 2014, the relationship between Scotland and the UK has become: about pain – not love; about EVIL (English votes for English laws) – not equity; about TWTPTS (Too Wee Too Poor TOO Stupit) – not encouragement; and about Brexit (do as we say – we don’t care how you voted) – not about shared perspectives, nor, empathy. Politicians in England have decided how the Brexit negotiations will go and ignored the ideas of the other nations – Nicola Sturgeon has been told not to get above her station by a sexist misogynist Tory administration – that doesn’t include a fair representation of women in the negotiating team.
Yalom believed it was crucial that we did not jump to conclusions about others – nor downplay their perspectives on life’s injuries. Theresa May’s politics only knows one way to be – it is spiteful, vengeful and dismissive – who knows the reason why, if we had proper investigative journalism we might find out. There will be a reason for her nasty way of being – no doubt it will be exposed soon, the press will not go lightly on such a wounded creature.
Yalom’s view, that we need to understand the perspectives of people who are suffering pain, enables us to counter the right-wing Tory Brexit notion that we (shameful Scotland) should suffer Brexit in silence because we are getting what we deserve after daring to stand up to the union in 2014 (but loose the vote).
Brene Brown also argues that we need to avoid feeling shame when we hear other people’s stories and this requires us to be compassionate (exhibit understanding and connectedness) and open. In particular, Brown encourages us as listeners to avoid blame and judgement and invites those experiencing shame to tell their hidden stories and, ‘get out from a culture of shame’. Brown’s work calls for us to move away from deficit thinking – where we simplistically label others because of our own prejudices, judgemental positions or value laden fears – to consider the sources of shame, become aware of the wider social forces that foster division amongst us and recognise the historical context of our thinking. She asks us to reclaim the notion of emotional bravery from a culture of fear, blame and disconnection (see link here).
Brown argues that empathy is the skill set that brings compassion alive and that empathy (with boundaries) is genuine, endless and keeps giving back to us (see link here). Brown defines empathy as interconnectedness: ‘its not feeling for someone but feeling with someone’. It is feeling in a way that says, ‘that person, is not alone’ (see link here).
We have an opportunity to collectively respond to the negativity of unionist politics. Through our collective endeavours, we have an opportunity to provide an antidote to patriarchy, to illnesses of despair and to Tory politics of shame. By standing together and by sharing feelings, emotions and aspirations, we can build an emotionally supportive and empathetic commonweal – an empathetic commonweal that no unionist politician can fathom. That is what we achieved in 2014 – we did not lose, we simply began the long walk to freedom: on the streets, around the schemes and in the tenement blocks. We connected our hopes, our spirit, and our self-confidence – all that the unionists offered was shame, blame and fear.
For those who were shamed into submission and were fearful of taking the first steps to freedom – our message is clear – raise up your heads you are still our kin, our friends and our neighbours. Come tell us your despairs and we will tell you ours and through building trust, mutual respect and empathy we will built a consensus that acts as our collective bridge to freedom (see Wild Geese poem video here).
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Mary Oliver Wild Geese
In the end, we all have a right to find love in ourselves, and yet, to locate our place in the family of things; we all have a right to have our individuality recognised, and yet, to be part of the collective; and we all have the right to offer the hand of friendship to other people, and yet, not be expected to give up who we are.