When Does a No Mean Yes?

I have discovered a destructive habit cultivated in marriage that has affected my relationships since.
My ex wife and I disenjoyed a fractious and tense relationship. Never more so than when she wanted money. We split everything, income and bills; we had the same. Our values were different. She would burn through hers within a few days, I didn’t. 
Tired of her wanting more, I began to respond, “No,” almost instinctively. This felt like the only course of action because a softer approach was met with the sort of railroading you would rather be prepared for. This marked the beginning of the game; my ex wife would kick her persuasive efforts into overdrive and it became a case of counting the cost: losing money versus losing the modicum of peace we had.
I laid on the couch one evening. Her aunt had been discarding a couch and a couple of chairs that my ex wife wanted. It meant hiring a van, which would have been around £300 with deposit. I loved our current couch, and knew (as did she) I had about £350 in the bank until payday two weeks later, to cover food and living. 
She raised the idea days before and I had said that I didn’t want to do it, mostly due to the cost of getting it home, but also our couch was comfy. This night, she was more determined. My resistance was met with rage, after shouting, then abuse, she began to hover over me. I’d never felt threatened by her, much less frightened. Yet here I found myself pulling my legs towards my chest with my right arm and covering my head with my left. She dropped and sunk her teeth into my leg. Days later, I was in the bath, and she asked me about the large bruise on my leg. We even laughed about it. It wasn’t particularly painful, at the time or later, and still I felt no fear of her moving forward. 
But that wasn’t the point. The point was that we booked the van the next day, completed the swap and were left with a little over £10 to last a few days as it takes a while for deposits to be refunded. The boundaries were virtually non-existent by now.
And though the methods employed to turn a no into a yes were more severe here, it was a well-worn pattern of behaviour between us. She believes every no is a starting point for a yes. It’s not a bad thing, or a good. It is what it is, and it wasn’t right for me.
I have since realised I was never the right man for her, and that brings me peace of mind. We weren’t right for each other.
This quick-thinking, reactionary manner has devastating consequences with those not used to fighting over everything. With people that take a no at face value and an acceptable expression of self without feeling obligated to challenge it, it represents finality where it isn’t meant. 
This hit home last week when, with my partner, I was in Tesco, and I picked up some chocolate. She wanted some saved for a few days later, and asked. 
My immediate reaction was no:

There wasn’t much… I would have burned through it by then… I could easily buy more later… and all of these immediate, if unhelpful, emotional responses we voice internally, whilst we compose more appropriate replies.
I uttered “no;” she accepted it. I wished I could take back that word but I couldn’t. 
You see, I was expecting the battle, and this was my part: a player in the back and forth until middle ground was found. It’s like the quick no served as a scanning system, to detect threats and buy time. A gap of silence in marriage would have been taken as a fatal hesitation and make no, if tendered, a less credible position. 
Even with trivial matters, the meaning of the quick no transcends context; it stabs at the heart of generosity and consideration, especially when your partner isn’t a player in the game. 
When I think slowly, and do less, I find myself more calm than excited, and better able to express myself according to my values. A gap of silence is a good thing; it extends the courtesy of time and attention to the other. We respect people who have boundaries, and take their time. And we respect ourselves when we behave that way.

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Taking a Step Back

This week has been all about taking a step back in my relationship, cutting out the noise that creates unhappy thoughts and feelings, and looking for something that aligns more with my values. 
It’s easy to forget who we are in this world of constant stimulation. A moment’s peace is harder to come by. Even on a walk by yourself, you can find yourself bombarded with unwanted advertisements – billboards, taxis, even minimalist podcasts – all vying for your attention. 
But attention is a scarce resource. By paying attention to one thing, you cannot, by definition, be paying attention elsewhere. Choosing how to spend it governs much of our wellbeing, which is why it is imperative to monitor how you feel when you are around different people, things and situations. Ask yourself: Why am I here? If you can’t describe a net positive contribution for your soul, maybe you should be some place else. 
A difficult week with my partner follows a couple of difficult ones and we decided to be honest with each other a couple of days ago. It was a painful experience and I’m digesting what was said, and I realised I needed to take a step back. Some of the things that were said made me realise my partner doesn’t really know me at all. Maybe I’ve lost so much of myself in the relationship that I don’t either. I don’t like who I am when I’m around her sometimes, and that matters. Having a poorly face adds frustration into the mix, feeling unable to comfortably express myself so much of the time. Taking the last couple of days to reconnect with myself has left me peaceful, enjoying a slower pace of life. 
This morning I packed and brought home several everyday items that I had left with her, clothing mostly. I found it quite upsetting and put it away immediately, the sight of it heaped in the corner a reminder of what ultimately looks like failure. A healthier way to express it would be the continuation of my journey, and all steps are valuable, even the unhappy ones. When unencumbered with false urgencies and stress, I often reflect on the past this way; it enables me to enjoy happy reminiscences and neutralise events that once caused me pain.  
I don’t know what the way forward will be here. There appears one or two insurmountable obstacles, though time softens the sharpest of words, because when it’s all said and done, no one remembers what you said or did, just how you made them feel. And I don’t feel that bad. 
By taking that step back and spending more of my attentional energy in my world, my space, it’ll give me that peace of mind and freedom necessary to be able to give more to others, which is what I’m doing when I feel most purposeful, and ultimately happiest. 

What Has Happened to the Working Class of Britain?

The working class, once the backbone of Great Britain, has increasingly become the object of ridicule from both the media and great swathes of the population at large. Few would be so socially bankrupt as to outright lambast perceived lifestyles and attitudes of the poorer members of society when referring to them as the working class, which is one of the reasons terms such as ‘chav’ and ‘hoodie’ exist. Pejorative from the outset, they provide a backdrop against which all manner of ill accusations may be made, regarding standards of education and living, the things money is spent on and particularly how it is obtained, and even speculated promiscuity.  

Borrowing from Martin Luther King’s rhetoric, we have to ask ourselves why we have millions cast in the stereotyped roles of Shameless. As King suggested, so to do raises questions of our capitalistic system, but also, which King didn’t suggest, an analysis of the current opportunities available to the working class, and whether or not they are being maximised. 
Pre-Thatcher, British industry provided breadwinner jobs for millions of British men (and less often, women). Over time, as outsourcing of manufacture became first possible and later inevitable, and the government found itself pouring subsidies into British industry to safeguard the jobs. Ultimately, the cost of this became unpalatable to Thatcher, who sought to accelerate the transition towards a greater-proportioned service economy. Over the course of her first five years in power, Thatcher made great strides in her war and millions found themselves unemployed, and, which is perhaps worse, without positions with parity of pay to walk into. A worker earning enough from his specialist manufacturing role to support a mortgage and family will not do the same from the lower-level service jobs available, such as waitressing or retail work. 
Thirty years on, Thatcher is seen by many as the destroyer of communities as far apart as South Wales and County Durham, with all of the mining communities in between, having not only killed work in her time but offered no future, because the work was never replaced. 
In a free market economy, private business owners can provide employment and benefit from it by turning workers into customers. Lower socioeconomic classes are shown more than any other class to spend almost every penny they earn. Hence by employing these workers and having them and their families become customers, businesses can grow, workers get richer as the demand creates more work, and the economy at large expands. The difficulty is it takes a leap of faith on the part of employers to make this a reality. 
In Owen Jones’ ‘Chavs,’ he lambasts the Thatcherite period and highlights the advantages that middle class children enjoy over their working class peers that enable them to excel at school and take the best positions in the workplace. One such advantage is that mothers may be able to afford to stay at home in a middle class family, and can teach their children to read, for example. The same opportunity is afforded to the unemployed, yet this goes without mention. 
Further to this, having taught for over a decade, it is clear to me that children who work hard on their basic skills of literacy and numeracy, coupled with an interest in reading that requires fostering over time, can excel. The vast majority can attend university, graduate with a degree befitting their effort levels and gain employment the same. If the goal is to earn more money, though it is not the only route, graduates earn more on average and so university is a good place to begin a career. For many professions, where respectable pay is granted upon entry, teaching being one, a disadvantaged background need not provide a ceiling to the future. Jobs eliminated thirty years ago, creating deprivation in a community, need not limit the aspirations of its children today. When we see documentaries on terrestrial television suggest communities are akin to Beirut in places, hopelessly cut off, I do not accept this. People wishing to climb rungs on the socioeconomic ladder have the means so to do through their course of education as children. As parents, we have a responsibility to ensure are children are given every opportunity to succeed in that endeavour. That takes time, patience and a great deal of encouragement. 
For fifty years or more, whatabout arguments have avoided the need for introspection. Each party, when accused of taking away opportunities and cutting communities off (government) or being idle and an underclass (benefit claimants, if you read the comments in the Daily Mail, at any rate), responds with a what about you, yes but look at what you are doing response. Perhaps the truth is neither quite does all it can, and when it does, the rising tide will lift all ships, the inequality gap will narrow, bringing greater prosperity to all. 

Why?

Why do we have 1 in 20 unemployed in the UK, vast swathes reliant on meagre benefits to survive and unprecedented inequality, with all the problems that entails?
When you posit the question that way, a considered answer requires an examination of our education system, of why minimum wage is below subsistence level for many, and of why we have a system of governance designed to protect the rich rather than enhance living standards for all.

A Memory of My Father

I haven’t seen my parents in eighteen months, though we exchange weekly messages. Both are well and happy. 

In March 2000, Dad and I attended a radio rally at Drayton Manor Park, and I had a horrible cold. I was out of tissue, and my dad went to the toilets to get some for me. 
I watched as he pulled off sheet after sheet after sheet – it must have been nearly half a roll – to get to the middle where it would definitely be clean and free of germs. 
That episode left a footprint on me as an unconscious signal of love and care, one that’s brought me much comfort down the years.

The Unwanted Transfer of Clutter

Recently, I had friends around, who saw my pile of things to donate/toss, amongst them, several books, a loo block, shoelaces and a blue plastic box. 
My friends pored through the items as if offered some sort of golden ticket. Could they have this; could they have that? Yes, of course! If I can pass anything on that’ll be of value, definitely. Even if I actually wanted it, if it was of more value to someone else, I’d seriously consider parting with it. 
But why did they want it? The plastic box: I know where my friend will keep it. I’m sure it’ll remain unused; a great just in case item; my friend has an extensive Tupperware collection. I know of its unhappy, unused existence, because I stopped using it around four months ago and only just discarded it. Should I have said no? That seems a little judgmental and controlling. Superimposing my values onto my friends is probably a great way to irritate them too. 
The shoelaces attracted my other friend, who’s to put them in his Adidas Superstars, a pair of clean, white laces to replace the clean, white laces. Those replaced would go into another pair, from there another pair, until the twin fogs of disinterest and disbelief had fully descended. 
So, the items went, yet I feel frustration at adding to clutter problems elsewhere, and in so doing, firstly, preventing a charity from making a little money, and secondly, making it from people who may have gotten more value from my discards – the opportunity cost of saying yes was the sacrifice of two meaningful ends. 
What do you do with your discarded items, if people want them, and you feel they will get no value from them?

The Compulsive Desperation for Debt

Recently, a friend complained about her credit card bill. Some of the items weren’t hers and her spending partner isn’t going to pay. What interested me more was why she had a credit card in the first place. She had the money to buy the perfumes in question many times over. 

Curious, I asked. “To keep a good credit rating.” Why? Mid-sixties, she’s a homeowner who doesn’t drive, has money and won’t need to guarantee any loans for others. What does her credit rating matter? 
Years back I had tens of thousands of debt, and a superb credit score. I always made my payments, extendable credit was always an option. Now – I have virtually none. Just a mortgage and the balance of my ultra low interest student loan. And… my credit score is now worse! Just think about that for a second; my situation is better but my score is worse. This is the clearest sign of the debt disease. 
The system needs you to be buying before you can afford it, paying exorbitant interest, to prop itself up. And when you start to feel uncomfortable, then comes the magical solution: one loan to consolidate all your other debts, with more interest to pay on that!  
My friend’s concern about credit scores reveals a compulsive, unthinking desperation for credit to be on tap, even when it’s unnecessary, and bad for us. 
There is no good debt. It obligates us to work jobs we don’t enjoy, missing time with our children, even to stay in bad relationships for fear of drowning alone – I spent five years in this one. 
If debt is a disease, health is found in understanding that we can live happier, freer lives without (an excess of) debt, because, simply put, we can. 

What I’ve Learned the Past Month

When pain becomes more constant, fear of anticipation goes, and everything starts to get better. For the first time in months, I’ve spoke with clarity and eaten sitting up/standing, at times. 

Helping others makes me feel better about myself, and the motivation can last longer than a few moments. It doesn’t have to be tied to a reward. I’ve contributed beyond myself in a way I never have before and my relationships have improved as a result. 
By the same token, if you completely ignore what you want, and spend no time focusing on it, you’ll feel deprived and can’t be the best version of yourself, in the best place to think about others. As is often said, there’s a reason why airlines tell passengers to fit their oxygen mask first before helping others. 
I’ve seen how much my oldest daughter is like me in her developing personality. I see my strengths in her, I see my weaknesses; I’m in the best position to help her to shape those, hopefully to avoid some of the mistakes I was unable to.