Saturday, January 20, 2007


Saturday Cuppa: Barley Cup

Two examples of prejudice under my social microscope this week.
The Earth Mothers and The Indian…

The Indian

There can’t be a British newspaper (or probably an Indian one!) that won’t be publishing something about the reality TV programme Celebrity Big Brother today, and last night’s eviction of resident bully Jade Goody. I hope today’s blog might give a different perspective to the ritual crucifixion which is inevitable today…

For those who put their time to better use and have NO IDEA what I’m talking about, a bunch of so-called celebrities (most of them aren’t celebrities!) are put together into a smallish house (studio) for about a month, with no escape. They’ve got about 38 cameras (some are probably hidden, I don’t know) on them 24/7.

Imagine how hard it is being with those you love, day in day out, and the challenges that arise in the privacy of your own home.

In the BB house, these people are with strangers and some rather over inflated egos (like Leo Sayer’s), in a very manufactured situation. They have no contact with the outside world. Their choice is to get along and co-operate to make the experience more enjoyable, or to compete to be winner of the BB House (that is, the one not to be evicted by public vote), and for some that will mean doing whatever they can to ‘get noticed’.

During the past week, Jade Goody, a former Big Brother inmate (in the non celebrity version of Big Brother) from four years ago, was brought into the house along with her young 19 year old boyfriend and her astonishingly dysfunctional, one armed, lesbian mother (keep reading!). Jade was hated the first time she appeared in Big Brother…hated for her ignorance, and her looks. She’s not the brightest kid on the block; rather volatile and prides herself on honesty. Good for her, honesty is great. But there are ways of being honest though, that don’t involve cutting someone else’s head off.

I’ve been in relationships which have brought out the absolute worst in me, and more often than not it wasn’t because of anything the other person did, as such, but their passiveness. I know I probably wouldn’t show my best side if I was stuck in the BB house. But to deny that exists in me is pointless. All of us are capable of murderous thoughts, and equally, all of us are capable of great good. Most people never go to either extreme, but play around the middle somewhere. But at any given point we can CHOOSE our actions and reactions.

In the Big Brother House is Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty…a very attractive, intelligent and respected woman. She speaks eight languages! That she speaks our language better than Jade can probably give you an idea of the direction it went. Before Jade’s mother Jackiey was evicted, she kept calling Shilpa ‘Princess’…partly because she couldn’t say her name.

Shilpa (two syllables, how hard is that? Even my cat can say it!) It also was the start of them recognising they were from different lifestyles.

To cut a long story short, they clashed. Some will say it was ‘just’ bullying (as if bullying is acceptable?!), others say it was racism (I’ll spare you all the derogatory comments from Jade and her followers Jo and Danielle), and others still will say Jade is just a bit thick. Her aggressiveness, though, defies description.

I have three Indian friends and they’re all just lovely. But I don’t look at them and think ‘they’re Indian’. I see them as I do all my friends - as gorgeous woman who are funny, bright, smart, interesting, creative, caring, spiritually aware…

One of these friends is on holiday in the Maldives this week…completely oblivious to the outrage in the media towards one of her forbears’ country’s most well known actresses, she emailed to say how she was being treated like a princess! I laughed so much, as the Indian Bollywood actress in CBB was initially being called Princess.

I grew up in Australia where the Aboriginals were treated worse than UK farmers treat their dogs. In the town of Warwick, Queensland, which we lived near, my memory of Aboriginals is of them asleep in the gutter having spent their government allowance on alcohol. They had no way of integrating from living nomadic lifestyles in The Outback, to being with ‘white’ man and ‘his’ society. If they were given houses to live in, they’d chop up furniture to make a fire! It was US who’d got it wrong, not them. Instead of accepting them, we tried to make Aboriginals like us.

The Big Brother house offers us insights into ourselves and into the future. At some point, humanity, in order to survive, will have to ‘really’ work together, and not just talk about it. We will HAVE to share resources, food, transport, and transcend differences.

Life on this planet, as we know it, is going to change dramatically. And the odds are good that it is going to get a hell of a lot worse before we reach paradise.

Terrorism, as well as the devastation from the accelerating effects of global warming, is going to affect everyone’s lives. Money, class or status won’t make anyone immune. Most people nave NO idea at the impact the next 10 – 50 years are going to have on humanity.

We have to learn to get along. To dissolve our difference, develop trust, respect and care. Never mind the Big Brother house and thinking ‘we’re above such behaviour’. It represents a wake up call to everyone. It provides examples of our deepest shadow selves which need to come up and be healed.

What struck me, more than anything, is that NO ONE in that Big Brother house at any time stood up to Jade, Jo and Danielle in their bullying of Shilpa. Jermaine would kindly take Shilpa to another room and remind her that she was above that sort of behaviour, but no one actually said to Jade, ‘enough is enough’. I’m stunned by that. Equally disturbing is the beautiful Cleo’s two faced-ness, and Jo and Danielle not even thinking for themselves...just following the nastiness of the leader of their pack.

I’ve wanted to protect my children from bullying all their lives so they can grow up with a strong sense of self, rather than have it eroded by someone else’s damaged sense of who they are. It concerns me greatly that if adults aren’t prepared to say they don’t tolerate bullying, what chance do we have of the nation’s children being truly protected from schoolyard nasties? Why is bullying so easily dismissed?

I remember in my early 20s being in a nightclub dancing away when a bloke started hitting a woman. I begged my boyfriend to stop him but he looked at me like I was an idiot. No way was he getting involved. I was shocked. There are times in life where you must mind your own business, and there are times when, no matter the cost or consequences, you MUST step in.

Yesterday, we went over to South Shields in the North East to join my in-laws for the scattering of my mother in law’s ashes. Afterwards, Paul’s sister in law handed him a letter she’d found, which was written in January 1954. It was addressed to his mother from Paul’s first school teacher when he was five years old.

It reads, “Dear Mrs Robinson, A happy new year to you all and I hope you’ll all be happy in your new home, work and school. I was so sorry to not have a word with you at the end of term ~ I expect by now you are away. I wished to say how very much we enjoyed having Paul, and how sorry we are to lose him. Paul is a lovely boy. Always the same no matter if he was first out of a game or last. He is intelligent and full of initiative. His very first morning at school, he found a block on the floor. He picked it up, went to the shelf and found the right box and put it away. I saw this myself. Not a word before or after expecting praise. He was like that in all things. Paul was so happy in school. He took everything in his stride. He has a keen sense of humour. We hope that Paul will do well and be happy in his new school. The children too will be sorry he is not coming back. Miss Humphrey joins with me in kindest regards to you all. Sincerely, Edith Stagg.”

I include this letter because it bought a tear to my eye for two reasons. One reason being that Paul IS like that...still, all these years later. He does put things away in the right place (Virgo sun!) and his humour was what attracted me to him in the first place. He has a very even temperament...he’s the calm in my ‘life’s storm’!

I was saddened though, because for all these lovely things written above, Paul went on to spend a childhood in school being bullied. He moved elsewhere and was considered ‘different’. Different accent. And very ‘soft’ emotionally, as far as boys go.

If someone like Paul can be bullied so on-goingly, what chance do kiddies with other differences have? Why are our schools not teaching about embracing differences? And why are parents continuing to imprint their own prejudices on kids? Please don’t email and tell me it doesn’t happen, because it does. Everywhere. Maybe not in your family, or with your children. But it is widespread.

Back in the BB House, Jermaine Jackson, (former member of the Jackson Five, pat of singer Michael Jackson’s family)…prays five times a day. He’s the one person in the house who is truly keeping it all together (so far) and managing to rise above the incredible pettiness, nastiness and, some would say, racism.

Eventually Jade ended up becoming something of a celebrity, and a millionaire, from her first visit to the Big Brother house. The damage she has brought upon herself through her vitriolic and nasty comments could see her losing not only her fortune, but her celebrity crown. A charity she is involved in has dropped her like a hotcake; The Perfume Shop is no longer stocking her perfume (the highest selling perfume in the country)...and it will go on. But the public shame, humiliation and social outcasting will be the highest price she pays.

But what does it mean for all of us?

The last I heard there were something like 30 000 complaints to Ofcom about Jade’s behaviour (considered racist), and it being shown on TV. People wanted to direct their anger somewhere, if not at Jade, then at Endemol, the production company, or at Channel Four. But that is less than 1% of the viewers of that show. Less than 1 in 100 people feel bothered enough by it to get off their ar** and speak up about it. To me, that is almost more jaw dropping than Jade’s behaviour.

From a spiritual perspective, everything we see is an illusion, created out of our own mind/projections. To pretend that Britain is not a racist country is to deny what actually really goes on in the streets. We hear comments all the time which are derogatory about Pakistanis, Indians, etc.. I do agree that ethnic people are far more integrated here than, say, the Australian Aboriginals were when I was a child. But they’re not embraced. It’s too easy to point the finger at people like Jade and use them to act as a dumping ground for our unexpressed feelings.

When the Extraordinary Breastfeeding documentary was made, I viewed it the day before it went to air. There was one short scene where I was being agitated with Eliza. I was shocked that they were going to show that side of me and I felt embarrassed. In reality, all I was doing was creating a boundary and letting Eliza know that what she was doing was unacceptable. I wasn’t yelling, screeching, ripping her arms out of her sockets or anything like that…but it still felt uncomfortable.

For Jade to look back on the images of herself yelling repulsive, offensive and completely undignified shouts of hatred, and to know this footage has been played around the world, will have deep psychological consequences for her…more so than actually being in the BB house.

So what has Jade shown us about ourselves? OK, we might not be racist, we might not be bullies...but we ALL have aspects to ourselves we’d rather the world did not see. What is called for now is compassion and understanding and genuine self-reflection. How has your week been? If you’d been followed by cameras 24/7 this week, would you feel proud of your every waking moment? I doubt many of us would. We’d have moments we’d truly like to ‘edit’. I know I’ve behaved in ways this week which I’d rather the world not know about. There are things I would do differently if I’d been acting more consciously.

And we need to remember our own shadows when the media frenzy shows NO concern for Jade’s psychological well-being. They’ll forget she is human. And most will forget that her dysfunctional mother provided the role modelling that helped shape her as a human being. If we want to see the end of racism, bullying etc, we have to model a different way of being to our own children.

We’ve lived in this little village of Glassonby in Cumbria for eight years and we’re still considered ‘outsiders’. Still considered too different to be local. Prejudice is rife in the UK. Let’s not pretend otherwise. It serves no purpose to turn a blind eye. And sadly, even if we don't watch tv shows like this, the energy surrounding it this week is very much in the national consciousness...meaning it is bringing up issues for all of us to heal.

The earth mothers

Had my own bit of pre-judging going on this week. Last Sunday the Observer newspaper had a feature (mentioned in last week’s blog) on female tribes of Britain.

I’ve been so badly burnt by the media that I only agreed to it on the condition that I’d see the quotes before they went to press to ensure accuracy, and also that I could ‘ok’ the photo of me that was used. Nothing worse than knowing hundreds and thousands of crap photos of yourself have been printed ~ and even worse when another publication drags them up and reprints).

The editor of Observer Woman, Nicola Jeal, guaranteed me in writing that I could choose the photo. I was sent two photos. Well, despite this guarantee, and despite some beautiful photos being taken where everyone in the group looked fantastic, they used a really horrible photo and didn't keep their promise!! My friend Nikki, who also was horrified by the photo of herself, and I spent a very few miserable days feeling deliberately set up to make ‘earth mothers’ look like idiots. Nikki also fel,t despite all the things she’d said in the interview, the only comments used were those which were negative, when actually all she was doing was painting a broad picture of being a full-time mum parenting consciously.

The in-depth interviews we provided, on the basis that the whole thrust of the article was to debunk the myths of earth mothers, turned out to be about one paragraph from each woman of completely out of context quotes, or things which just didn’t make sense without the following sentences being included.

I specifically asked that I not be quoted as an extraordinary breastfeeder or even mention how long I’d breastfed for, as earth mothers aren’t just full term breastfeeders. No surprise that the enlarged caption below the photo said something like ‘I breastfed for seven years.’

Doesn’t anyone in mainstream media have integrity? Is it that hard to honour a promise? I’ve not heard back from the editor. She’s not had the decency to phone me and explain why she deliberately chose to make us look bad. Ok, Shazzie looked great, but everyone else in the photo was looking everywhere but the camera, most of us in a very unflattering light.

On the day of the photo shoot, we all saw for ourselves the really beautiful photos where everyone looked great. You’ve got to ask yourself why one of those was not chosen. What was the motive behind using a horrible photo? To illustrate a prejudice against stay at home mums perhaps? A picture paints a thousand words, and it’s hard to think of another explanation. Every other tribe was portrayed beautifully, especially the Yummy Mummies and Supermums.

My upset, though, went way beyond it being a really horrible photo of myself (and others). It was about betrayal, and I spent a few days mentally going through every incident where I’ve gone into a media situation honestly, openly and trustingly. But don’t forget, I’ve also worked as a journalist. But not once did I EVER manipulate someone for a story. And each time I interviewed someone I asked them if they wanted to see the piece before it went to print. My work was based on transparency. I would never choose a photo that didn’t show someone in their best light.

Not only did I feel betrayed, but I also feel I betrayed my friends. Daisy, the journalist, asked me to recommend some ‘earth mothers’ for the piece. I really feel *I* let them down because the final result isn’t what it said on the tin. We were all cheated. And so were the readers.

As someone who believes we create our own reality, I have to wonder why I created yet another situation where I was let down, and allowed a situation where I was trashed by the media.

I now feel I have no choice but to stop giving media interviews (unless it is live tv or radio where they can’t misrepresent you or edit your words). As I pointed out to the journalist to whom I gave the interview, I don’t ‘need’ to do this. I’m essentially a private person and have no need for fame or being ‘out there’. I do interviews in the hope that I might help to educate people into a more natural way of parenting, or offer information they won’t get from mainstream parenting sources.

Every person has a story to tell, even those people considered the most boring. A good journalist finds the story and acts as the story teller, conveying the message, sometimes in a way the person themselves may not be able to. A good journalist doesn’t ever lie, manipulate or betray. I’ve never felt so embarrassed to be part of a profession as I do today.

So what’s the lesson this week with The Earth Mothers and The Indian?

Here’s a story: There once was an Enlightened Master travelling through India. He came to a village and noticed there were no children playing. “Where are all the children?” the Master asked.

“Master, there is a huge serpent in the woods who comes at night and eats the children,” replied one of the villagers. “Please help us!” he begged.

The Master went into the woods and called the serpent out. The serpent slid out of his hiding place (because we’re all subject to an Enlightened Master).

“Serpent, it is wrong of you to eat the children of this village. You must NEVER eat the children again,” the Master ordered him. The serpent was ashamed and replied, “Yes, Master.”

The Enlightened Master continued his travels, and ten years later he came to the same village and saw children of all ages. But in one corner he noticed a group of children involved in some intense activity. The Master approached and in the centre of the circle, found the serpent.

He was wounded and nearly dead from torture. The Master chased the children away and said to the serpent “My friend, why have you let this happen to you?”

The serpent replied, “But Master, you said I was not to eat the children.”
The Master answered, “Oh foolish serpent, I told you not to bite. I didn’t tell you not to hiss!”

It’s important to be clear in our boundaries and not end up being victim or persecutor. Sometimes we need to hiss.


Harmonious Living said...

Doesn’t anyone in mainstream media have integrity? ....
NO. I dont feel they do, and those that do or might, dont keep their job for long.
When we ran an organic smallholding some years back - my experience of local paper was the same.
Woman asked for interview, and during the interview she asked how we dealt with pests (being organic with no chemicals)
I told her, and she said, 'what about slugs' - owh I pick many of them off the plants after dark, going out with a torch.
She asked what I did with them, and I said I just relocated them on the other side of the stream.

This resulted in a local media article entitled. Locals who Save the slugs, blah blah!!!
Hmm yep ruth ego mind was most put out and pic was not of the best either.

Thanks for your blog article, it was well written. You raise some excellent points. I have never seen it the programme but have heard about it.
I did speak with one syster who pointed out that it was a powerful indication of the shadow side of us all etc... so maybe its good to watch just to seee? dunno.. I dont feel drawn! lol

Has anyone watched the Ray mears wild food gathering and the syster gungho about organic gardening, both on BBC 2 running current weekly episodes...
Joyous new moon to all -

Joanne B said...

Hi Veronika,

I thought the Observer article was quite good and the photo was o.k. It wasn't worse than some of the other photos,but I thought you all came across in a good light.
Great blog again (although I never watch Big Brother) and keep up the good work,- I'm available for T.V / photos shoots if you don't want to do anymore,

Mary said...

I had to laugh when I came over to your blog today, because I also wrote about BB on my blog (not a usual thing!).For me the topic was prompted by a nasty incident at my son's school this week. He's 6 but this is his first year in school (year 2) because I had been homeschooling. Never sure that school was the right decision, I felt even worse when he was kicked in the face and knocked down this week. He suffered a small bruise on his face, and a grazed & bruised knee, not bad really, (what about emotional??).

The school seems to have played the incident down, and the perpetrator was given 10 minutes off his 'golden time'-- extra free/play time in class.

You certainly wrote a bit more eloquently about Jade Goody than I did,but I do feel compassion for her, in her tirade I could see the pain in her face, a pain that she has no doubt, experienced many times previously in her life. But we all have lessons to learn, and clearly her decision to re-enter the BB house will teach her many, especially that every action has a consequence.

barrydh said...

Ah the media. Oh joy.

I'm not going to comment on BB - I haven't watched it so don't feel in a position to add anything.

However The Observer experience...

I only saw the online version - no piccys - loked it up yesterday after I read the blog. The piece on you I thought was pretty typical of a bite-size interview.
Nothing dreadful, pretty shallow. But you sound interesting, intelligent and positive.

The 7year thing. Well you know what? I reckon maybe a few people wil read that and go 'right, nutter, won't pay any attention to her', and another few will not even take it in because they're not interested in earth mums anyway - but then another section might well say to themselves ' bloody hell, if she can breastfeed for 7 years I can do it for ...6 months/1 year/18 months/2 years etc...'

It's fantastic that mainstream papers are even talking about this. It's getting the info out there and that's great. So although you may feel aggrieved by the typical UK media slant that The Observer took with you, I sense that your 'truth' will only end up having a hugely positive impact as ever.

So, I say well done - and have the courage to continue being who you are. Because you help others to have the courage to transform.