Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Scots Wha Hae

Stop me from generalising but, meet the average Scot, and you'll marvel at the sheer dourness that encircles them as they bewail their misery and misfortune.

Even when nothing that bad has actually happened, there's normally an arsenal of enemies awaiting character assassination, or an assortment of seemingly miserable anecdotes, to regail onlookers with over a pint or two on a Friday evening

People like to say this attitude is based on a Calvinist understanding of life that sees pleasure as sin - one that certainly resonated with my parents who approved of anything they deemed 'character-building' - but I think it's equally to do with the pleasure of watching others squirm from behind their rose tinted spectacles, as we methodically destroy their naive world views.

The funny thing is, dourness is something we Scots actively enjoy. Yankee style positivity and platitudes simply don't work in our neck of the woods. Black humour is considered the thinking man's opiate and - even when things are working out famously, with your job say, or your fiance - it just wouldn't be the done thing to applaud success or happiness, at least, not without puncturing it with the odd jibe.

I grew up with that approach to life, and it's one I both understand and appreciate. More than anything, curiously, I enjoy the looks of bewilderment passed at us by passing foreigners who simply don't get why, for the love of God, we are not more positive about life. For many Scots, moaning is a kind of humourous code, a bit of mindless banter.

But if we're not careful, it gets too wrapped up in the way we view the world, blinding us to the good things and making us focus exclusively on the bad.

As such, I've resolved to try and free myself from the desire to moan, mostly because it breeds apathy instead of action in the face of difficult situations that it would be a good deal better just to move on from and forget instead of dwelling, Bannockburn style, on the injuries of the past.

After spending far too much time resenting an array of people in my address book I am going to take the advice of Selim, the prisoner condemned to life in a light-less dungeon in Tahar Ben Jelloun's magnificently dark, yet inspriing, novel 'This Blinding Absence of Light', in which he says:

'I had no enemies. I was not giving into my worst instincts any more. I understood how draining it was to spend my time chopping into pieces all those who had done me harm. I had decided not to bother and that is how I got rid of them, which amounted to killing them without dirtying my hands or stewing forever in the desire to repay them with the same misery they had inflicted on me.

I had to move beyond the idea of revenge once and for all , become impervious to (it)...because revenge smelled strongly of death and did not solve any problems. Search as I might, I found noone to detest. This meant I had returned to a state of mind I loved above all others: I was a free man'

Moving On...

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death. Anais Nin

Before I left York for Brussels my flatmate offered me a piece of advice: never go back.

She was right. In the year since I moved back to Brussels I've been totally unable to recreate the sense of exploration and excitement that kept me motivated here first time round.

Despite the champagne and the shopping I've been unhappy, resentful, and running to stand still, forcing myself to go through the motions of appearing interested in Commission communications on budgetary policy, asking myself the unanswerable question: should I stay or should I go?

Well, now I have my answer. And whether I jumped, or was pushed, or it was a combination of both, doesn't reduce the relief I feel that - for better or for worse - it is time to move forwards and get the hell outta here!

Sure, everyone is scared of change. But I had a revelation of sorts last week: two years off thirty, I'm damned if all those dreams I put in one corner of my mind and shut off for some uncertain 'later' will never come to fruition.

If there are things I feel need to be seen and done, aspects of me, my life, my attitudes, that need changed, then now is the time to see them, do them, change them.


What I liked about Herman Hesse's Siddharta is the idea that life is a series of cycles.

You can either live one sole cycle, doing what you were essentially 'born to do' because of your family background of situation or, having explored all the possibilities, and fallen into all the pitfalls, of one way of living, learn from those and move on.

Well I'm fed up of making the same old mistakes over and over and over again. I know I was wrong about a lot of things but, seriously, basta.

It's time I started learning from my mistakes, not just to save myself the pain of repeating them ad nauseum but because I think it's our moral duty to others in general to be the best people we can be.

So I am going to take a break, finish that thesis - well, if possible - and get my head in the right place so that when I next make a decision about the future its based on far, far more than simple fear of moving forwards.