Who is your hero?

I am reading one of the most profound and inspiring books I have ever read. The true story of an amazing man. We all need a hero, someone whose story fills us with utter hope.

My hero, who I have only just discovered is Witold Pilecki. The amazing tale of his life which involved offering himself as a volunteer to be imprisoned in Auschwitz is simply spellbinding.

Wittold defines himself as a hero because, as far as he is able, he does not succumb to the hellish brutality he witnesses around him. He encourages those around him to keep their humanity. He is altogether brave and fearless.

However the most important facet of Wittold’s life is his desire to speak about the atrocities he witrnessed in the death camp. When so many minimised or turned a blind eye, Wittold continued to make reports of the atrocities taking placxe.

This has so much to teach us all. Being hopeful is not just a fluffy feeling; it also entails figthing for what is right and speaking up against what is wrong.

So who are your heroes/heroines? And what have they taught you? I want to emulate Wittold’s unswerving commitment to speak up, even when it would appear the world has its fingers in its ears.

References

Fairweather, J., 2019. The Volunteer. London: Penguin Random House UK

Hope of Justice

I have given much thought over the past months, to what justice means, particularly in regard to male violence against women. There is a wonderful organisation called The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) here in the UK and its aim is:

Holding the state to account for violence against women and girls.

I want to share an excellent blog written by Olenka Hodge on the CWJ site, entitled: ‘The Myth of The ‘Decent’ Domestic Violence Abuser’ I write this because violence against women is unacceptable and coercive control is unacceptable.

On the 23rd January 2020, my mum called me to tell me that, after an emotionally draining three-week court case, my ex-boyfriend John Sukhdeo had been found unanimously guilty on two counts of coercive and controlling behaviour.

The offence of coercive and controlling behaviour is defined as: 

“An act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten a victim.”

“Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.” 

I attended his sentencing and I will always be struck by the judge’s remarks that, despite the level of violence used against me demonstrably meeting the threshold for a custodial sentence, she did not believe it was appropriate due to a number of mitigating factors. One of these mitigating factors included ‘previous good character and exemplary conduct’, which was supported by character references that focused on his community activism and outstanding professional conduct. 

In the aftermath, I frequently thought about the controversial sentencing of Brock Turner in the United States, who was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment by Judge Aaron Persky for three charges of felony sexual assault. In reaching his sentencing decision, Judge Persky drew upon Turner’s previous good character, stellar swimming performance and prestigious education. I wondered why in cases of violence against women that the accomplishments and characters of perpetrators carried so much weight and overshadowed the violent nature of the crimes committed. 

Domestic abuse permeates all sectors of society. There is no race, ethnicity, class or age group within which it does not lurk. If we accept this, we must also accept that some perpetrators will be talented, respected, and even admired. We must be cautious about using their achievements and standing in society as a way to mitigate and diminish the violence and trauma they have inflicted. 

I was shocked by the tone-deaf documentary on Oscar Pistorius, which struck me as a sinister attempt to award further prestige to an abuser and a murderer. Mr Pistorius’ previous sporting achievements continue to be used to overshadow the callous murder of Reeva Steenkamp. To cast or infer her brutal murder as simply another ‘trial’ of Pistorius’ life is to suggest that his culpability in her murder is in a realm of doubt. It is not. He is a murderer and that should always be at the forefront of our minds. 

In all criminal cases, defendants are able to provide character references to assist in determining sentences. My perpetrator had an abundance of character references that highlighted his community awards and excellent teaching ability. These references were used as a positive mitigating factor. I do not blame or begrudge his colleagues for writing such glowing statements; I know they were written based only on what they had observed of him and I’m sure they sincerely believed every word they wrote. 

In cases of domestic abuse and sexual violence we must question whether it is appropriate for colleagues – particularly those who hold ‘positions of trust’ – to ever write character references in the wake of a conviction. We need look no further than the recent revelation that a number of MPs wrote references for Charlie Elphicke, the former MP for Dover. In these references, MPs condemned his actions whilst in the next breath, asked for leniency based on his years of public service. This encapsulates the duality in court proceedings between the perceived good character versus proven criminal behaviour of a perpetrator. 

I question why, during my own court case, my abuser’s colleagues felt it necessary to write references that highlighted the achievements of a man who, during the sentencing the judge remarked, had assaulted me and acted in an erratic manner threatening to crash a car with me in it. I can only assume that they believed his professionalism outweighed the harm, he caused me despite being found guilty. Or maybe they believed because he was so ‘nice’ at work that despite his conviction they were obliged to illustrate how ‘good’ he was in other aspects of his life and how out of character, his violent behaviour towards me was. 

Throughout our relationship, he told me time and time again that no one would believe me. Perpetrators who hold ‘positions of trust’ are able to move through the world undetected as violent offenders. None wants to believe that a police officer, a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a social worker or even a Member of Parliament is capable of such crimes. But they are. And we know they are. Perceived respectability does not stop domestic abuse from occurring. Perpetrators weaponise their social standing to their advantage and use it to convince their victims, all too successfully, that no one will believe them. 

Highlighting good behaviour during sentencing does not lessen the violence inflicted on the victim – it makes it worse. The fact that my abuser was a great employee and an active part of his community, yet behind closed doors could humiliate, terrorise and harm me, speaks to a sociopathic level of deceit and manipulation. It should not be praised and represents the deeper, more acute danger posed by these types of abusers. 

Despite being found guilty, my abuser continues to works at a local North London primary school. Where do justice and accountability reside when even post–conviction society helps maintain the respectability of perpetrators? In the year that compulsory relationships education (RSE) is being rolled out to teach children about healthy relationships it is, to say the least, ironic, but I remain unsurprised. Many perpetrators enjoy the luxury of their convictions being perceived as an aberration of their character; a terrible mistake that does not reflect who they truly are. 

“I question why, during my own court case, my abuser’s colleagues felt it necessary to write references that highlighted the achievements of a man who, during the sentencing the judge remarked, had assaulted me and acted in an erratic manner threatening to crash a car with me in it”

I will be the first to admit that my perpetrator has many achievements he should be proud of, but it simply does not diminish the abuse he inflicted on me. His accomplishments should never have been used as a mitigating factor during his sentencing. What message does that send to survivors? We all know domestic abuse is a hidden crime, often occurring behind closed doors. So what possible value does an outsider’s perspective hold in cases of domestic abuse? It is inconsequential in crimes of this nature. The abuse I suffered was not an aberration of my abuser’s character –the violence and cruelty I suffered was an integral part of his character and should have been given the same (if not more) weight during the sentencing due to deep and painful impact it has had on my life. 

It suits us all to believe domestic violence abusers are the very worst of society and far-removed from our everyday social circles. However, the reality is that we often know these people, love these people and, many abusers are talented, well-liked and respected members of our community. We have a responsibility to hold abusers accountable for their actions. To do this, we must accept that, despite holding someone in high esteem their accomplishments can never outweigh allegations of abuse. We have a duty to recognise how damaging and harmful this behaviour is, regardless of who commits the crime.

There are no ‘respectable’ or ‘esteemed’ domestic violence abusers. Their accolades should always be secondary when we discuss violence against women and girls. In the UK, each week 3 women are killed, often by men no one would have ever suspected. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are multifaceted: often charming, respectable and still callous and cruel. They use their positive attributes as a weapon to silence their victims and trick those around them into believing such allegations are implausible. We must not allow respectability or ‘good character’ during sentencing to be used against survivors. It is of the utmost importance we broaden our perception of who commits these crimes so that more survivors feel they are able to come forward to ensure that, when they do, they are believed and their experience is not diminished. 

References

https://www.centreforwomensjustice.org.uk/new-blog-1/2020/12/14/the-myth-of-the-decent-domestic-violence-abuser (accessed 29/12/2020)

Loving oneself

As the year draws to a close, I am sure many of us are engaging in some reflection over the past year. It has undoubtedly been one of the most tumultuous years ever for us all and many lessons have been learned, tears shed and goodbyes felt. And the New Year is about to greet us, with fresh possibilities and hopes. A new adventure of hope is about to begin.

I am not the biggest fan of New Year Resolutions, because they tend to dwindle away quite quickly in my experience. However I am a fan of starting new ventures, such as this blog. However one change I am going to make next year is to learn more about loving myself. As I work with others, I think it is especially important to model self-care and self-respect.

What does this look like? Here are some suggestions

Set time aside to do things you enjoy; talking to friends, walking by the sea, reading. This is relaxing and helps to recharge the batteries.

Create margins of space. By this I mean don’t get into a situation where one simply charges from one thing to another. Life becomes a tick box exercise and the enjoyment is squeezed out.

Be honest with yourself. Ask am I happy? Is this where I belong? If the answer is no that is perfectly fine. Maybe, just maybe it is time to move somewhere different or change jobs.

Leave toxic relationships behind. We change as we go through life. Some friendships run their course and that is absolutely healthy adult behaviour. It is okay to disengage from those who don’t fit with us. Sometimes relationships grow stale and sometimes it is time to let go. That paves the way for people to come in who fit where we are today.

Don’t compare. Life isn’t a competition. So what if you have 3000 friends on Facebook and I have 10. It really doesn’t matter. We should be happy for one another. And on that front, let’s be sensitive. If we are blessed in areas others are not, then let’s be aware that may be a stark reminder of a gaping space in someone’s life. Obviously we can share our happiness and lives, but in a kind way. And if we detect jealousy, then this is often a result of pain, or inbsecurity.

And let go of the past. I admit to struggling with this. Let’s embrace today rather than yearn for yesterday, because it is gone.

Today’s recipe of hope is to do an end of year inventory. Take stock and if you aren’t caring for yourself, resolve to rectify this. Celebrate you today X

Compassion

Yesterday’s post was about sacrifice in 2020 and today I wanted to focus on compassion. Because compassion and sacrifice are close friends and walk hand in hand with hope.

What does compassion mean? According to Mr Google:

The meaning of compassion is to recognize the suffering of others and then take action to help. Compassion embodies a tangible expression of love for those who are suffering. I really like this definition. I love the action aspect of it. And I would redefine 2020 for me as the year of compassion. Even today I read of someone taking a meal to a homeless person. This year more than ever, our eyes seem to have been opened to this life no0t being about what we can get, but rather what we can give. And that is such a precious thing.

The story of the Good Samaritan which is a very famous bible story in Luke 10:25-37 goes like this:

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

I love the teachings of Jesus because they are so practical. What I notice about this passage is Jesus saying don’t walk by and for me this translates into do not go to church every Sunday and ignore the homeless person who sits near the entrance of the church. Maybe get them a sandwich and ask if they are okay and miss church for a week. Compassion is putting others before oneself.

Other examples of compassion are manifold. Our wonderful Sir Captain Tom Moore who has raised millions for the NHS. Our heroes and heroines who quietly volunteer at foodbanks, homeless shelters, raise money for charities across the land. And this is in the UK. I am sure there are countless stories of compassion you followers can share and please do.

And a very interesting quote on compassion with which I will leave you is

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” (Albert Einstein)

Today’s recipe of hope is to check your compassion level and put the action of compassion for others into practice. Widen your circle, step out beyond the immediate circle and move beyond this.

References

(accessed 28/12/2020)

The hallmark of the year

(also posted on Hope 2018)

I have been thinking a great deal about the past year which has been turbulent, to say the least. There are two words which for me encapsulate 2020; sacrifice and kindness.

There have been many acts of sacrifice over the year. One of the most striking acts of selflessness is the many staff who have laid down their lives for people they work for; nurses, care staff, doctors and key workers on the front line.

The BBC highlighted a tear jerking moment recently:

BBC Breakfast presenter’s teams at Covid care home choir – BBC News

Locally to where I live, there is a a new project recently set up called Community Kindness. That is very close to my heart.

So as 2020 draws to a close, I feel that much has been done by humans or humans. There have been many losses as so many have departed the planet, but there have also been great gains and for me it is learning that the real meaning of our lives is how we relate to others. Selfishness and greed haven’t been in people’s vocabulary as much this year and that is good to see.

Today’s recipe of hope is to celebrate someone who has been kind to you this year. Let them know how they have impacted your life; I am sure they will appreciate this X

Acknowledgements

BBC news online (accessed 27/12/2020)

Being in tier 4

I live in an area of the UK that has been put into the strictest lockdown and so I thought I would write about this today.

The stringent measures are in my view necessary as the virus has a new strain that seems to be pushing infections up. But this blog is about hope and so that is not my focus.

From the pandemic has come a really strong community spirit. People not throwing their excess Christmas food bought for large numbers away. People offering to help others with their dinner, donating turkey to the local foodbank. This thoughtfulness is in my opinion not so much about the individual, but rather a collective consciousness; humanity rather than looking to one’s own interests.

I am reading a beautiful book at the moment and was struck by this quote from Thomas a Kempis:

Whoever loves much does much. Whoever does a thing well does much. And he does well who serves the common community before his own interests.

I think society is shifting towards a common interest; not necessarily defeating a virus, but simply and understanding that we are all in this together and that if I have surplus food it might help you because you are my brother. Materialism is metamorphosing into redistribution. People are looking at the long-term view in regard to our beautiful planet and how to honour our resources rather than take them for granted.

Today’s recipe of hope if your Christmas plans have been smashed is to redefine them. Can you give surplus food to a foodbank or an organisation supporting the homeless? Be creative and please share what you decide to do.

References

Fairweather, J. (2019). The Volunteer. London: Penguin Random House UK.

RIP Lewis

I am writing this as a tribute to an amazing young man who has left the earth whilst very young. He touched me and I know loads of other people with his humour and charming personality.

I am sharing this publicly as there is a Facebook page about Lewis and a memorial bench will be set up for him. Because of respect about Covid rules I am unable to attend the memorial tomorrow in Rochester so am writing this as my contribution.

I met Lewis in 2018 at a church in Margate. My memories are of someone who had a passion for life and a cheeky sense of humour. We once laughed our heads off about a place called Dargate which we said we would one day visit and have a milkshake there. Lewis commented that Dargate sounded like a funny take on Margate.

Lewis had his struggles, but he never complained. He battled on. And he taught me lots. Lots about walking on through the wind and rain though dreams be tossed and broken. So Lewis I remember you and I walk on with hope in my heart, knowing you have found your heavenly home.

Looking forward to when we meet again and I will have that milkshake in your memory.

RIP Lewis X

Acknowledgements

YouTube (accessed 20/12/2020)

Let’s change the environment by wearing rubbish

I have become fascinated by thinking about rubbish, because there is so much waste and yet also so much concern about our planet being consumed by landfills and what goes in them. So what can we do? I think we can commit ourselves to doing things differently, like this wonderful article shows us:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/c77jz3mdmezt/recycling

If we each play our part, the planet will be helped to continue to thrive and flourish. This isn’t just up to governments, individuals can do this too. I thought you might be interested to see the project I manage.

https://www.allchurches.co.uk/news/putting-the-unity-in-community/

These are just two examples of what can be done. Let’s not just chuck things away without really thinking whether they could be recycled. Pause; charity shops are now collecting again and organisations such as The Salvation Army help numerous people with free items. Maybe someone in your circle may not have as much as you and could be blessed by that item of clothing that has hung in your wardrobe unworn for several months.

Today’s recipe of hope is a challenge; find one item that you do not need and do something useful with it. Be creative and please let us know what you decide to do.

May we all help save our planet together X

Acknowledgements

BBC news online (accessed 19/12/2020)

AllchurchesTrust

The currency of kindness

One thing this year has taught me most is the importance of human kindness. I think the pandemic has been a leveller; most of us have suffered greatly this year in one form or another. People in my immediate circle have had tragedy, I have just had a bereavement which has really upset me. This year for me is memorable in that it is etched with an indelible hallmark of pain and grief.

And yet in the midst of all this, a new star shines. There is a dawning of hope; beyond looking out for oneself; beyond greed, beyond materialism for its own sake. There is a light that shines called community kindness, where those who are blessed consider the poor. There is redistribution of things that are no use to others. And I have seen a great deal of this over recent months.

Staring stark poverty in the face changes one. I have changed over the past few months. I examine myself and ask a lot of questions; am I selfish? Am I greedy? What is my attitude to poverty? What difference can I make? I think in these days it is imperative to do some soul searching.

Yesterday someone posted on a lovely FB site called secret Santa, about people being a listening ear for others. Immediately many people have offered their ears. This is one example. The Secret Santa site is filled with examples of people buying gufts for others.

It is my view that being on Universal Credit is not enough to live on. People need help from voluntary agencies and community projects. They need celebrities like Marcus Rashford to challenge the status quo.

Kindness doesn’t cost anything. But it really does have the most enormous impact. I have had a particularly challenging year and the kindness of others has been felt in a way that I have never experienced. I fractured my wrist a little while ago and someone sent me a card saying ‘Thinking of You’. This was so touching.

I thank all of you readers and followers. I am on my mission to write 365 posts before the end of the year. I may not have posted daily, as I had hoped, but it would be nice to have enough posts for the year.

Today’s hope recipe is to carefully consider the question how kind am I? Do some soul searching and maybe make some changes. And do one kind act today for another human. It might just be words. But words have power and can change a life X

References

Facebook: Secret Santa closed group

Hope lies in us

Child poverty in the UK is significant. There are currently 4.3 million children living in poverty in our nation. So what can we do?

I started the journey of hope thinking about myself and almost a year later I am led to feel and carry hope for others. Because when there is darkness, there is also light. And when there is poverty there is also abundance. The Message tells us:

The community where I live (Thanet), has Kent’s highest rates of child poverty – with more than half of Newington’s under 18s living below the breadline. … The data for 2017/18, compiled by Loughborough University on behalf of coalition End Child Poverty, says 35% of children on the isle live below the poverty…14 Oct 2020

This is all rather bleak. However as I said earlier, there is an antidote which is hope. Running up to Christmas I want to celebrate the hope that is transformative. So today let’s celebrate.

There is a lovely professional gentleman who regularly supplies baby milk. Another woman who sent clothes to someone she had never met. A lady in her 70’s who offers her time and petrol to collect and deliver items donated to our community project. Two friends who gathered numerous items of clothing and drove miles to deliver it. Others who offer their time to telephone people who are feeling lonely and isolated. and countless kind people who have donated toys and beautiful items for children who otherwise probably wouldn’t have anything.

This adds up. This builds up. This is a hope tapestry, rebuilding a community smashed by a pandemic. This is beautiful.

Today’s recipe of hope is to think about child poverty and please do something about it. Even one tiny action has a ripple effect and if all of us act then things will change and our children will have a brighter future. Let’s be the hope carriers for them X

References

message.org.uk (accessed 16/12/22020)

child poverty thanet Google search (accessed 16/12/2020)

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