No Walls: No courage = No Victory

RE:  Richard  Armitage, British Actor @RCArmitage

Dear Richard,

It is of course your absolute right to choose what to write and what to delete on your timeline and I would always respect your choices and freedom of speech or lack of it, just as I hope others respect mine. I feel compelled however to express my deepest sadness to learn this morning that you have also deleted the very first tweet you sent to Mr Trump with the images of the Berlin wall and the #nowalls tag.

When I ponder on the Annals of History, I always end up with the same reflection: How many awful trends, atrocities and human suffering could have been avoided if only more people had been courageous enough to make their voices heard in the face of evil, greed and pride? I often imagine myself living in those episodes of history and try to honestly gage what I would have done in those situations; what I would do now, if a similar situation arose. This is a mental exercise I do often to pluck up the courage to speak up when I know it matters; when I know it counts. It is scary and it comes at a price, but I am not here to win a popularity contest. Life is too precious, too exquisite to simply settle for that. I guess, I do what I’d call a “John Proctor” drill. God knows this world is becoming an increasingly hostile place and the time may well come again for all of us to make such impossible choices.

I feel we are very much on the onset of such a situation, but as in previous chapters of history, for so many of us our attention is focused on all the wrong things, the trivial things, things of no real consequence to the wellness of humanity and this world in general. So many of us have become complacent and voyeurs in others’ lives whose reality is so much worse than our own and yet, we often dismiss it as not our problem. It is their life it affects after all, not ours.

The whole world is watching, because the whole world is looking for answers, the right answers. In a world where social media has such predominance and worldwide reception, it seems to me it is the optimum platform to make some waves which in turn create bigger waves that ultimately can pulverise some of these issues threatening the very delicate balance upon which our world stands today.

I was so elated when I saw you tweeted that hashtag to Mr Trump. It gave me hope that things can change; that there are those like yourself who act on their sense of responsibility to the wellness of those beyond ourselves, responsibility to stand up and be counted as another voice who is prepared to risk everything for a reality so much bigger than our own, and yet so intrinsic to our own. It blew me away to learn that someone of your popularity and following would have the courage and character to stand up to Mr Trump and speak up. After all, when I do so, I am not really risking all that much, or at least not yet, but for someone like you, there is much more at stake. The ripple that your wave will create is multiplied by the thousands, whilst mine may initially have some impact but soon dies away.

There are so many youngsters and adults even who wait by your side every single day, virtually anyway, to hear what you have to say or not say. So many completely at a loss as to what to make of what they see in the news and in their towns, on their doorstep. So many seeking direction from voices like yours, voices which belong to individuals that are already placed in a strategic spot to be able to change the course of events, to influence through their gifting, their work, their mere presence, the very fabric of history.

Perhaps I am mistaken and the ripples that your tweet to Mr Trump created are not as powerful as I believe them to have been, but I am certain that the effect of you taking that tweet down will be monumental. I fear that it will take the wind out of the sails of those who are inspired by and aspire to emulate the behaviour of the people they see as role models, exemplary, trust-worthy. Not to mention that Mr Trump’s following and anyone who is watching will regard it as a retreat. Another battle won. Let’s go on our merry way to win the whole war.

I do not sit here in judgement. How could I? I know nothing about your circumstances besides what we read in the media and what you put on twitter. You obviously have your reasons for your change of heart. I am no one to judge you one way or the other. As I said at the beginning, it is your absolute right to do as you will. I simply wanted to share my sadness this morning as one of the thousands of people who are inspired by your character, integrity and moral and social conscience, that you have retraced your steps on what I felt in my heart to be a gigantic leap of courage and extraordinary behaviour in this current climate of self-exultation, self-absorption and self-glorification, qualities which Mr Trump is the true champion of.

With my love always,

Mercedes Underwood

 

Seeds planted deep into our DNA were meant to grow into fruitful mighty trees

Screenshot (757)Screenshot (758)Dear Richard,

Your Christmas message on twitter moved me so deeply and struck a vulnerable chord in the fabric of my being. I am a foreigner living in the UK. In the current climate, not a day goes by when I don’t give thanks for the opportunity to live in a country which is not my own, to have been welcomed with open arms and to be able to immerse myself in another culture, learn and hopefully give something back too. My folks are all in Spain and though I do not see them as often as I wish to, this is due to the life I chose and not a set of depleting circumstances forced upon me, beyond my control. To think that things could so easily change and I could be forced out from my own home, family, friends and livelihood here in the UK shakes me up to the core.

I miss my large family back in Spain terribly at times but I am blessed and lucky enough to be able to get on a plane at the drop of a hat and go and see them, just like you do. I cannot even begin to fathom what it must be like to feel such terror and threat of staying in your own home that you feel you have no other choice but to drop everything and everyone and flee for your life into the unknown and sadly sometimes into a worse fate than the alternative.

I was out at a Christmas party on Friday night and there I chatted to a Belgian guy who visited Syria many years ago. He told me about this stunningly beautiful country where people used to enjoy the affluence you speak off. Many lived in villas with swimming pools and enjoyed the luxuries and comfort that so many of us take for granted and feel a sense of entitlement to in the West today. And then he told me about the Evil that hit and tore this country apart, the rapes, the violence, the cruelty, the utter annihilation that has engulfed this nation. These people and anyone fleeing their own countries are no more deserving of this hell on earth than you and I, but they sure deserve our compassion and empathy, our love and support. It could just as easily be us having to face, for whatever reason, displacement from our homes and a total alienation from or being robbed off the life that we have always known and enjoyed. Suggesting closing our doors, borders and hearts to those in need is not progress but regressing into a mentality of the survival of the strongest, where the humane part of us is gobbled up by our animal instincts. It is regressing into a primitive state of ignorance and savagery, of dominance and control, a state of staleness and blind spots where cultures and races can no longer learn from each other and enrich each other’s points of view and gifting, be it intellectual, artistic, or even humanitarian. Closing our borders, hearts and minds is regressing back into chapters in history of oppression, annihilation, fear, dominance, holocaust, suspicion and stagnation, creating the perfect environment for yet more radical and extreme individuals to thrive in and take away the core values so many fought so valiantly and sacrificed so much to give us today.

Richard, you are absolutely right. Who are we to judge who can and cannot have what we enjoy every single day? What sets us apart from others to feel with such pride that we’ve earned a life of freedom, civil rights, choice and affluence? Absolutely nought. What makes us so darn special and sets us apart from those who live in the Kibera Slums of Nairobi or the Favelas of Brazil, those who are persecuted for their faith or discriminated against because of their race or religion? Absolutely nought! It is mere chance that has placed each and every one of us in the place we live in, to be born within a particular race or colour and to be brought up to be guided by a certain creed. To think otherwise is to lead humanity into a dangerous downward spiral of selfishness, self-centeredness, narrow-mindednes, greed and success at the expense of innocent people’s suffering and destruction; the most despicable legacy or lack of anyone could leave behind.

There is, however, a point in which I wholeheartedly disagree with you. Your profession as an actor not only does not automatically discount you from voicing your opinion in these matters, but rather places a heavy responsibility on you to do so. Whether you recognise it or not your celebrity status, your reputation and outstanding work as an artist precedes you and makes you into an exemplary role model to thousands of people out there. You have an exclusive and unique platform to not only vent your opinions but to stand up and be counted as a person who will use their influence and global presence to make a vital difference in the course of events in this turbulent world we live in. God forbid we leave the fate of this planet solely to politicians. It is specially people like you who through artistry but also through the multitudinous following you enjoy in today’s most powerful tool, social media, can actively fight the threat posed by the far right views you refer to and challenge the views and opinions of those who blinded by their own egos and agendas are willing to sell their soul to the highest bidder, even when that means putting at risk the lives of millions of innocent individuals.

My wish for this Christmas and indeed for the year ahead is a wish for more courageous men and women like you in advantageous and strategic places in society to follow their true calling or the fire in their belly, the flame that burns within at the core of their being to come forth and challenge relentlessly radical and extremists views at the hands of those who can do the most damage to democratic multi-culturally, intellectually and artistically rich and vibrant societies. I am a great believer in investing my life in exploring and pursuing without fear those little nudges we all get, the quiet small voice in our head that is telling us to push forward in certain areas, to go beyond what we are good at and into what ignites us, what we are most passionate and uncompromising about. Everything about you, starting with the name you have been given, shouts out leadership, righteousness, courage, sincerity and above all an incandescent and latent social and moral consciousness, an unwavering determination to fight for what is right. Yes, you are an actor, but I see another side of you coming through, striving to make itself heard, burning up in everything you do and say. I see a man with remarkable, exceptional qualities, qualities which are not only required but which are essential to fight the good fight, to fight to the end for the things that truly matter in this precarious world we live in.

 May the force be with you! God knows I am.

With love,

Mercedes

Celebrity Culture is the most inexcusable form of ignorance

In an age where Social Media is King, personal interaction and family values have become the next casualty in a long line of species which have and are becoming extinct. Celebrities have become our God. As long as the distance between them and us is kept, so is their perfection and inability to do wrong in our eyes. We live in a world full of awe, mystery and wonder. We find ourselves right at the centre of it, and yet we are utterly lost, confused as to what is our purpose, the meaning of our endless toil and weariness throughout our brief lifetime in a vast expanse of infinite, glorious space and time. We spend our life desperately looking for answers in all the wrong things; we pursue happiness through all the wrong avenues. Yes, some do make the journey slightly more bearable for a time: alcohol, drugs, money, sex, you name it, but after the hysteria and adrenaline ebb away, after each binge, comes an even bigger fall, a deeper pit we struggle to get out of, as we come once again face to face with the bottom-line realisation that we are flawed and in desperate need of rescuing.

And so having tried all the usual avenues for a quick fix and despite the fact that history has taught us time and time again that all these paths lead nowhere, like dogs we go back to our vomit; we become suckers for punishment, and then we pridefully pat ourselves on the back and remind ourselves and each other that it is our intelligence that sets us apart from the animal kingdom. Something is different today, though. We have gone from an age of Theism, Agnosticism, Atheism, etc. to the worst and most SELF-DESTRUCTIVE alternative: Discarding the logic possibility that a God could have made us into His own image and believing instead the nonsensical illusion that it is us who can make Gods in our own image and be sustained, rescued and healed by them.

And so it began, an Era where we no longer entertain the possibility of a Superior Being, a spiritual reality which has brought about the heavens, the earth and everything that is in it. Instead, we use our superior intellect to come up with the alternative of making Gods of other people, venerating them and putting them on a pedestal. So long as these celebrities remain distant and out of reach, we can sustain the illusion that it is they who define the optimum state of being that any human can aspire to: to be successful, internationally recognised, to look aesthetically pleasing, to have charisma, sex appeal, do good deeds, champion a cause or dip in an out of altruistic pursuit often enough to sustain the lie that their life is more selfless, worthy of recognition or called to a higher purpose than that of the rest of us mere mortals.

Social Media lends itself perfectly as the optimum medium, the ideal environment which  can turn celebrities into our own personal Gods with the mere click of a button. But let’s remind ourselves at this point that those of us who look up to and even adore celebrities are not the only culpable party in this sad and cancerous fallacy. Celebrities for the most part willingly feed and thrive in this lifeline that evolution and technological progress has handed to them. Yes, there are many whose reputation precedes them for their dignity, honesty, hard work, dedication and commitment to their craft, but these values are not present to any lesser degree in a mum who dedicates her life to sacrificially giving of herself to her children, or a husband who sacrificially commits to making his marriage a success. I could give you a thousand examples of “everyday” people, faceless individuals whose lives are full of honour, dedication, hard-work and sacrifice, but the difference being that what they do is done in secret, without expecting anything back, or assuming a self-righteous sense of entitlement to special treatment by the rest of us. These faceless individuals are the true unsung heroes of our time, the real human beings who live with purpose, whose unassuming presence and unapparent progress causes invisible ripples of transformation and goodness which ultimately make our world a better place.

What is the number one criteria which defines a God? Perfection. Our human intellect and life itself give us enough proof that no human being is perfect, but add to the mix the convenient ingredient of creating a virtual reality, a cloud where the only acceptable currency is “make believe and having more than a hundred thousand followers”, and presto you can produce a God out of any celebrity in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, celebrities can keep that God image alive infinitely by intervening in the proceedings every once in a while and feeding their devoted worshippers the next delicious morsel by way of a twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. entry, which will keep them loyal and prevent them from becoming defiant until the next time. How easy it is to help others put us on a pedestal when we create a safe distance where no one has access to who we really are behind closed doors, to who we really are when no one is looking or reading. How easy it is to appear humble, focused, committed and dedicated to a higher cause than our own success and development, when we don’t have to surrender anything, make any personal sacrifices, or give any of our choices and everyday luxuries up in order for that to happen. Simply retweet a link to a charitable cause or endorse someone else’s altruistic work and let the thousands of followers/worshippers reach into their pocket and do the rest for you , raise that much needed profile, reputation and awareness across the earth in a matter of seconds; raise the millions needed to bring action to desperate places and people with the click of a button and get all the credit and further veneration from your loyal subjects.

The longer a celebrity can sustain their mysterious aura, that manufactured image which followers are desperate to trust and believe as real, the more their Godly status will be enhanced and accepted, and how can one do this? By cleverly marketing themselves and surrounding themselves with smart PR companies who know what sells and how to sell it. Study your target market carefully, what your fans crave for and then just feed them exactly that, never letting them see WHO truly lies at the core of that illusion they have created and which you have done nothing to dissipate: a flawed human being in search of answers to deep existential questions just as much as you and I, an imperfect being on an unending quest for love and acceptance as much as the next ordinary person.

This Celebrity Culture however, sustained by the elusiveness and lack of accountability propitiated by social media, is doomed to self-destruct from the onset, for even those celebrities turned into Gods can’t live up to other people’s unattainable expectations, and inevitably they trip and fall along the way, just like the rest of us do. Some can hide it better than others, but nothing truly goes unseen or unheard any more in this electronic world we live in; in this Big Brother existence we lead. Many celebrities create an image of humility, integrity, consistency, goodness and selflessness, of living for others and not themselves but soon enough thousands of shreds of evidence to the contrary circulate globally. They paint themselves in a particular light but a picture here or a quote there betrays their secret and their chimera no longer stands.

And so it finally dawns on us that being a celebrity is not all it is cracked up to be; that so many celebrities have earned the right to look at the rest of us from up high on their lofty pedestals on no other grounds than because we were weak and ignorant enough to put them there.

SIGNS AND WONDERS ARE ALL AROUND US – PART 2

When you are a nervous flyer, you need all the help you can get: moral support, emotional reassurance, the odd reminder of how to breathe properly and even the more effective reminder that whether we fret or not, it is all in God’s hands anyway, so why waste energy worrying about what may or may not happen, right? Easier said than done, though. Phobias can be and often are totally irrational, but for those of us who suffer them, they are as real as the air that we breathe and often cause you to suffer in silence uncontrollably; they are as tangible as feeling your every heartbeat resonate so loud, strong and fast within your chest that your heart no longer feels like a heart, but instead a time-bomb which could explode at any moment; they are as evident as copious amounts of sweat running down the palms of your hands soaking whatever you touch. It certainly doesn’t improve things when you are surrounded by people who lack any kind of empathy or compassion and who put your phobias down as cowardice or a lack of courage, enhancing your already disproportionate sense of doom and gloom.

I always pray hard and often before boarding a plane, not just as I am sitting down in readiness for take off but on the days leading up to my departure. I pray that there is not much turbulence and that we have a safe and enjoyable flight. It is often said that when we pray, God does not answer our prayers so that we get what we asked for, but so that we get what we need to build up our character in order to fulfil our purpose during our journey on this earth. I have found this to be true, time and time again. There are however times when I strongly sense God sending me a life-line or some sort of encouragement to ease the fear of what I am about to embark on, literally.

On this occasion, that lifeline came in the form of Martin Freeman. Only God really knows the life-altering, redemptive and healing effect that The Crucible and Richard Armitage’s rendition of John Proctor had on me; only God really knows the deep and complex reasons why I feel my spirit is so akin to Richard’s; only God really knows the turmoil and heart-break I have gone through in these last few months as I have experienced first hand what it is to be hounded like an animal on social media for simply exercising my right to free speech and to expressing up-front my personal opinions with respect and honesty. Therefore, only God could have known how much was truly riding on this “holiday” and what would be the one and only occurrence which would put my fear of flying at bay; only God could have known how to take away my apprehension and replace it with ironic humour; how to put in front of me a sign that anyone else but me could have missed (indeed no one else but us queuing up to go through security, seemed to recognise Martin Freeman); only He could have been so attuned to me to give me the very timely and opportune reminder that though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for He is with me; his rod and his staff shall comfort me; He will never leave me, nor forsake me.

Think of all the actors in the world I could have bumped into at the airport; the very many days when I could have been at that specific terminal (compared to most I travel often and not just for pleasure but to visit relatives); the many hours in the day when flights take off; the many moments in a minute, minutes in an hour when I could have found myself in that exact queue right next to someone who is so emblematic of the very reasons why I was so desperate and in need of getting away at this point in my life. A miracle would have been to have Richard Armitage himself queuing up right behind me, but bearing in mind I was aware that he was in Vancouver or LA at the time, that turn of events would have been too obvious a choice of a miracle and not have required much faith on my part, would it?

To be continued in Part 3

NOT ALL THOSE WHO WANDER ARE LOST

“Let’s not censor too much, and yes we must speak our minds and the truth; but we must also ‘watch the destination of our words’ and understand the ‘fuel propelling it’. It could be anger, it could be hatred. Sometimes it’s provocation, sarcasm, humor. Sometimes it’s just to be contrary to what everyone else is saying. Just stop and think before you hit ‘send’.”

Extract from Richard Armitage’s blogpost which you can read fully here https://www.cybersmile.org/blog/richard-armitage-hobbit-human-condition-social-media

 Dear Richard,

At the bottom of the piece published yesterday on the Cybersmile Foundation blog we were kindly invited to give feedback. If you mean what you say, which I believe you do, and you are truly up for bringing “debating society” back to schools, I assume you will also be open to and welcome this feedback as a means of extending the conversation that you have started within this online “community”. You are right, it is impossible to know how one’s words will be received when we don’t have the addressee face to face, but it is also true that by the same token, we must not be too harsh in judging the motives of those who speak online against us or the people and things we care for. I always say that none of us are the sum of our tweets, and we MUST take the time to peel off the layers of people’s souls, before passing sentence and assuming it is only ill intent that fuels their “negativity”. There is a fine line between that and advocating censorship so that we protect ourselves from anything that challenges our own views.

Like you, I spend hours, days, editing what I initially write, and as a passionate lover of languages and words, I am fully aware of the repercussions words can have, but in a society where high profile men and women have such platforms, influence and effect on collectives and societies, I refuse to assume that the majority of people who are controversial, critical or in some people’s eyes negative, call it what you will, do it with the sole purpose of being contrary to what everyone else is saying.

“Not all those who wander (from the flock, the herd, the masses) are lost”. How very wise and inspired those words were. Often those who wander, wander because they are able to see what others can’t or won’t; what others conveniently choose to ignore, because it is in their interest to do so, because it is safer to stay in the confined safety of the pen than to venture out, or because conforming to what the majority are saying will get them where they want to go or simply because it is not in their nature to rock the boat as they like to enjoy a trouble free, peaceful life (what an impossible contradiction). Departing from the trodden path takes great courage and it is one of the most costly things a person can do in life. Costly because they will lose everything and people whom they hold most dear in the process, but also a worthy crusade because they will gain the elusive peace and incomparable joy that comes with knowing that you have been true to yourself, to what drives you and what you believe in. It is a tough gamble, but when done for the right reasons, it sure pays dividends to risk it all on that one hunch.

History has taught us, or perhaps not all of us, that when we ignore those who wander; those who are contrary to what the majority are saying, it is often to our own peril and at an unforgiveable cost. The way I look at those who wander, who are often contrary, is not because they are trying to draw attention to themselves, which a few are, but because in being contrary they are raising the alarm, spreading awareness of those symptoms in people, relationships, communities, social tendencies which if ignored, can develop into a full blown condition which often brings the most intense of suffering, humiliation, and devastation.

I consider myself one of those people who is “contrary”, but not because I seek to draw attention to myself, so not who I am, but because the things I speak about matter to me at times more than life itself. I can’t help it. It is the way I’m wired and boy do I feel wired at times? I feel this power, electricity within to say the things I do, because I believe there is a valid discussion to be had about them, because to feel those things in my heart and not bring them to the table would be to deny who I am and the ability to change those things which I can. I have been on twitter and WordPress for years, and to this day I only have a handful of followers because I have raffled a few feathers; I have refused to buckle under pressure and swim down-stream because everything in me was shouting out “Change course, take a step back and look at what is ahead where the majority are heading.” Nevertheless, the few who are kind and brave enough to stick around and read what I have to say, know they are getting someone who will not be tossed by the waves or the direction of the wind. I’d rather fight alone for my convictions than be in the company of thousands who repeatedly change their true colours like Autumn leaves.

I absolutely love and respect your insights and it pains me that such a wonderful human being as yourself has suffered so at the hands of bullies. I love how you have opened up this forum where we can express, discuss and challenge our own opinions but also learn to  accept that when others’ opinions differ from our own, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are to see them as the enemy or someone we need to knock down with our nasty, rude words and witch-hunts until they speak no more.

I applaud you for that. It takes courage to make a stand and try to be a light in all this darkness so many are encountering in social media, and no doubt putting yourself in this spot will cost you, but I think what you will gain will be so much more valuable than what you lose.

Take care my friend and keep up the good work.

Mercedes Underwood X

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