Should we topple those statues? Maybe it is time.

I have been changing my opinions a lot during the last 30 years.

From the foolish conviction that “my enemies’ enemies are my friends” which made me admire Margaret Thatcher and excusing some vile politicians like Pinochet as “not so bad”, coming from a totalitarian country, I instinctively used to have the opposite opinion to the communist government.

That changed, gradually. Living in England, I listened to other people’s opinions, read various sources, looked at news from other countries. I learnt to use that freedom of being able to do it. It was great. In Prague, I used to listen to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America and BBC World service when it was not scrambled, but now I had more places to get my information. I read assertions and contra assertions, and gradually changed my opinion about a lot of things.

Do you know that silly joke? “Women have cleaner minds, they change them more often”?

Well, maybe my brain is very clean. I think it is a good thing.

I remember in 1995, I visited USA and an American friend showed us Washington DC. There was a road or street named after General Robert E. Lee. I remembered admiring the tolerance of a country that kept memorials of the defeated.

But in the recent years, I changed my mind. I started to think about how it must feel to an African American, a descendant of the slaves. I started thinking how I would feel if I saw memorials to German Nazi generals,men who fought for the country that was responsible for killing tenths of my close relatives in the gas chambers.

There are lots of controversies about statues, Cecil Rhodes, many others…

I am not sure about some. Queen Victoria? Thomas Jefferson? I would probably keep their statues, they did more good than bad. We should not judge previous generations by today’s standards, by today’s standards, Abraham Lincoln would be a racist.

But those Confederate statues were mainly raised much later, in the times when Jim Crowe laws reinforced the terrible racial discrimination still happening in the USA.

And now I read that even General Lee did not want those memorials built.

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/16/us/robert-e-lee-statues-letters-trnd/index.html

It is complicated, maybe keeping the statues and putting explanation about the place of these people in history would make a good compromise? But maybe that would not go far enough.

The white supremacist actions recently terrified me. Somehow, they feel they can get away with it now, under president Trump administration.

It is scary.

My heart goes to all those liberal, thoughtful American friends I have, various colours and sexual orientation. Nice, thoughtful, smart people. They must feel the hurt more, because it is happening in their country.

We Europeans are often rather negative about “The Americans”.

Let’s stop, not generalise, support the good majority of people there. Like they always support us.

 

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Are we re-living the 1930s?

My social media presence seems to be changing. I used to write about sex, writing, and my medical work. Now I am writing more about political issues.

I just spent 45 minutes on the phone to my partner, and I had nothing better to talk about than the xenophobia and racism I see everywhere. We used to talk about love, sex, books we read, stuff like thatNow we talk about how somehow, it feels as if we lived in 1930. And I have been thinking about all that anti-Muslim talk. Recently, whenever I take a taxi, the taxi drivers, most of them of Pakistani origin talk about it. They seem scared, vulnerable.

And I had an idea.

How about if we replaced the word “Muslim” by the word ““Jew”?

Try it. And then think about the choice German people had in the beginning. And how they mainly looked on without doing anything. Are we the same? I am afraid we are.

I am also imagining Putin invading Estonia and Europe and America not doing anything, like we did nothing with Ukraine and Crimea.

Scary, if you ask me!

Maybe I should start writing about sex again. I am editing my book for a re-publish. It might cheer me up.

Enclosing a symbol of Love. Kind of a good ending,  ha?

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Do we need Alien invasion to bring us to our senses? I hope not.

I have just come back from my birth country, Czech Republic. I like going there, Prague is beautiful, and I have many good friends there.

prague

However, I can see the same nationalistic shift there as in other countries. Far right parties- small but growing, people constantly talking about the Islamist threat, the racism towards Roma, or, as most Czechs call them, Gypsies. The generalisations, the fear.

There is an old competition where Czech people vote for the most popular pop and rock musicians. It is called Zlaty Slavik- Gold Nightingale. This year, an obviously fascist group called Ortel got the Silver. I looked at you tube, listened to their songs. It was shocking. The lyrics are clever, just skirting the boundary of legality. Manipulating people’s frustration and fear. The disaffected, unsuccessful people who want change. People who don’t feel part of the society. It seems to be happening everywhere, Brexit, French and American election.

Fear and frustration makes people hateful.

I speak to my generation of Czechs, people who are intelligent and educated, people who should know better, but they seem to be suffering from the same blinkered right wing and xenophobic views. I find it scary.

But then, there is the other side.

I read this obituary of Fidel Castro. No mentioning of the prisons, censorship, oppression. The obituary portraits Fidel Castro as an almost saintly figure. Not true.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/26/fidel-castro-obituary

I grew up in a communist country, and I could never understand the Western enthusiasm for Mao Zedong, or Che Guevara.

For a while after emigration, I made a mistake, assuming that enemies of my enemies are my friends. So, I had my blinkered, slightly right wing period.But then I started to use my brain. Asking questions, distinguishing between opinions and facts.

And here I come to the things I worry about.

If you present opinions as facts, or if you accept other people’s opinion as facts, how can you ever discover the truth?

The binary vision of the world is, in my opinion, dangerous.

The “ Them and Us”.

Will it lead to wars? I hope not.

I came back to the Brexit United Kingdom.  Place where the sentiment about “Make England real again”.

Not so different to “Make America Great Again” of Donald Trump.

I have friends from different ethnic groups. I am a non-believing Jewish Czech living in England.What is my identity? Well, I think I am a person. I truly believe people all around the world have more in common than they think. I am thinking about Rudyard Kipling:  “We are of the same blood you and I”

Which brings me to this, something I found on Facebook:

left-wing-right-wing

Maybe the differences could be reconciled.

Somebody told me about a quote, by Ronald Reagan, then repeated by Bill Clinton;

“Alien Invasion Will Usher in World Peace”Maybe, let’s hope that is not the only solution.

Sounds a bit extreme to me.

More PC.

I had replies about my blog about Political Correctness.

A lot of you, especially the Americans, objected, telling me about PC being often over the top, hypocritical, intolerant, even aggressive.

It is probably all true, often, especially in the USA.

But, but…

It is a bit like feminism. For a long time, I agreed with my now ex (but still very friendly) husband in his criticism of it.

OF COURSE any movement, including PC, has its bigoted fanatics. And the crazier feminists were often arrogant intellectuals, academics, pursuing the cause like Jean Paul Sartre (a man I personally detested) pursued communism.

But I did not see the forest for the trees.

Women living now, we should be really grateful to all those women who pushed the feminist agenda.  It is thanks to them our lives are better and more interesting. And sometimes, we still have far to go.

feminism

I read another quote once, not sure by whom.

An artist sometimes has to go too far so that the society could go far enough.

I come from a communist country, I have a deep suspicion of ideology. I think that is partly why most of my Czech friends, who see PC as an ideology do not like it.

But but but again.

They often use the name of Political correctness as a derogatory term, like some people call someone who is NOT a Fascist with that name.They do not recognise their prejudices and present their opinions as facts.They use terminology which is offensive, and simplistic stereotypes.

Time changes. We change.

What was not considered racist or wrong in the past is now not acceptable.

Abraham Lincoln

 

President Lincoln, that hero of anti-slavery did not believe black people were equal.

Read this:

http://atlantablackstar.com/2015/05/05/not-great-emancipator-10-racists-quotes-abraham-lincoln-said-black-people/3/

Yet, this was more than 160 years ago. I believe that if he lived now, he would think completely differently.

No, I am not saying Abraham Lincoln should be criticised for this. He was a man of his time.

But we should all move with time, as I believe he would.

And if PC is here to remind us about things which are no longer acceptable, it has its good use.

Of course it should not be a way of bigotry and lack of honesty.But let’s not make the mistake I used to make with feminism and not see the forest for the trees. Let’s not make a minority bigoted part of ANY  movement make us think they are the true representatives of the real thing. They are not.

My Goodreads friend Karen, a thoughtful and intelligent woman wrote as a comment to my blog:

“PC is only dangerous when it avoids honesty. One should be able to disagree and have a discussion, even if their view is unpopular. Honest debating with respect has been lost to PC gone overboard. “

Of course, she is right.

But I do not like name tags and generalisations. I am sure Karen doesn’t either. Life is always more complicated. And calling somebody a PC freak, or racist out of laziness rather than have a discussion is simple and wrong. Of course, there is a lot of racists and PC freaks. But I feel even with those, I would say: “What you say seems racist (or PC crazy) and does not show respect to…. this group…, how do you justify what you are saying?”

But honesty is only valid if it is, like Karen says, teamed with respect and consideration.

It depends what do you call “Honesty.” I am sure we all met people who deliberately say nasty things and then say “I am only being honest”.

If a friend asks me “How do you like my dress?” I will not say “You look awful; didn’t you look in the mirror?”

I might THINK SO.  But at most I would say. “It is not really a style I like but if you like it, that is all right.” Anything else would stop being honesty and start being cruelty.

And I would ONLY say something about her awful dress if she asked.

But that is me. I do not like unsolicited advice. Getting or giving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are of the same blood, you and I

Travelling in Germany.

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I am in Cologne. It is a nice city. All that history, from the Roman times.  Must have been even nicer before all those precious old churches were destroyed by the Allied bombing. But, as my German friend Hans said, it was the Germans that started it all. And copies of those churches are here now, to remind us.

It is strange to be here. I have known Hans for 40 years. He was my first love. Did not last long, he was a West German student spending two months in Prague on a work experience. Then he left. But our friendship lasted through all those political changes, our marriages, and our divorces. We are close. I came to visit and meet his new partner, a nice, intelligent, kind, sensitive, very polite, and rather formal woman, who is everything I am not. She is petite, blond, reserved, polite, anxious, quiet. I am dark haired, sporty, loud , bold and direct, and very chatty. Nothing shy or reserved about me.

She must think I am an alien.

But like Angela Merkel, welcoming all those migrant aliens in Germany, Anneliese welcomed me in her home.

She is working, so I spent most of the time with Hans, talking too much in my German full of grammatical errors.

He probably finds me a bit too much, too. But I am also a good listener, despite being so talkative. So Hans told me lots of things, too.

We both feel it is so great we can tell each other anything. We spoke about my Jewish family and what happened to them, his family and his unease about the Nazi past of his father (nothing dramatic or terrible), we speak about the similarities and the differences, history.

There are a lot of similarities, the Czechs and the Germans are neighbours.

How to be German

I bought a book “How to be German”, written by an Englishman. It is very funny. Some things reminded me of the astonishment of my English friends about my habits and life. One example was my double bed. My American lover was rather puzzled by the ridge in the middle. Two mattresses, two duvets.

As the book said “what it lacks in nocturnal romance, it more than makes up for it in practicality, the most prized of German possessions.”

My lover asked me if it was something continental. Now I KNOW it is.

Yes, I am an alien here as I am in England. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that we are all similar. The cultural and other differences are much less important than what we have in common . Hans, despite what happened on New Year’s Eve in Cologne believes that Angela Merkel is right, and that welcoming migrants is a good thing. I believe it, too.

I have now lived in England for almost 30 years , that country which is so different from the rest of Europe, I love an American, I had patients from all different countries and cultures. The most enthusiastic two readers of my book are a black gay man and a young Indian Christian woman, a writer.

I can talk about my murdered grandfather and other relatives with a German man without either of us feeling awkward, and he can talk about the difficulties of being born as a German after the war. I can be close friends with men and women, gay and straight.

We can love our differences and feel close at the same time.

And I dream about the time when we can all do this. The Israeli and Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, Europeans and Americans, men and women.

And I remember Kipling’s:

 “We are of the same blood you and I”

Hans and Anneliese, thank you for reminding me of all that. By your generosity, tolerance, sense of humour and the way you embrace our differences.

Maybe we should all try to be disabled for a day , an hour might be enough

I first thought about this about five years ago when I had a knee operation. I was at home, walking on crutches, and I made myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Then I realised that I cannot bring it anywhere, so I drank it standing and leaning on a kitchen cupboard.

Yes, if I was on crutches all the time, I would most likely have a trolley on wheels, but still. It reminded me how hard life is if you cannot use your arms.

Then I remember when I had a broken arm in plaster, it was my right arm. Even wiping my bottom with the other hand was strange.

I recently had a cataract operation. I also have some macular degeneration, so I thought my worsening vision was due to that.
I lived the past three years as a visually impaired person.
It made me realise how insensitive some people are when asked for help. It is not that to those people are nasty, they just don’t think.
The times when I asked somebody at the airport to read me my gate number, apologising, quoting my poor sight.
“Can’t you read it?” 
I kept my good manners, and instead of saying: “WTF do you think I am asking?” I repeated that I cannot see well.
I recall the impatient people behind me on dark staircases where I could only see the stairs as a path, so walked slowly. I look fit and healthy and wear glasses (well, not any more- hurrah) and the comments about me going too slowly were unexpected and not very nice.
“Sorry, I can’t see” I kept repeating. Everything was hard, shopping, travelling, working. I kept complaining how badly lit places were. Now I can see, the lighting is better than I thought. I can find books in my bookcase (I could not read the spines). I can read paperbacks, not just my kindle with an enlarged font.

Life has changed, I can enjoy exhibitions, theatre, admire gardens.

I was lucky, my visual impairment was only caused by cataracts and the fact that they were surprisingly missed by my local hospital Eye department.
Till my operation, I thought this is only going to get worse. I was lucky, but there are so many people who are slowly getting blind, disabled, deaf, or forgetful.

Life is hard if you are old, frail, or disabled. I am a doctor, and see this all the time. The bravery of some of my patients, struggling with independence despite their disabilities.

Let’s be nice to them, treating them with respect and as equals while offering help, in a nice, non-patronising way.

Maybe we should all have a trial of what it is like to have a disability, like I did.
Try to close your eyes walking around, or pretend you cannot walk without crutches, put ear plugs in and try to hold a conversation- an hour of that would teach you a lot.

But that is most likely a silly idea. Is it?