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Keep On Keeping On ! A Survival Message to CD

Thursday 23rd December 2016, 12:12

100,000 public sector jobs to go by April . That’s a lot of anxious families and a lot of wobbling public services. How can we survive this dread without buckling under?

 A well known person’s recent blog preached reform as the way forward but it wasn’t reform of the banks or tax systems – it was you-know-what (yes, it’s the public sector and dependency culture. Hohum) . And he noted that the anger of students could lead to suicides as rebels found they were left with no real hope of an alternative. Great humanism there, then.

Resistance is futile, then ? On the contrary, resistance to oppression is the only way we keep our spirit and humanity intact, and we have to stand together rather than suffer alone. But we also need to take care of ourselves if we are going to keep the resistance going.

Everyone has their own ways of keeping strong and cheerful in the face of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” . Forgive me for sharing mine but we need to offer each other gifts (and I don’t mean products at Xmas).

 My first really useful guide was Dorothy Rowe, whose books on depression assert that it’s a prison we create for ourselves (unless we’re talking clinical depression) , a way of keeping ourselves protected from a world outside which seems too challenging and which makes demands we can’t face , a way of keeping others at a distance (although we crave their support  we confuse them by our mixed message “Help me, Stay away”) . So if we wallow in ourselves, the only person who can open the prison door is ourselves – as Bob Marley sang, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery’. Cheers Bob

And how do we do that ? For many, an ideology or analysis of the way the world works is the way to keep perspective and keep on keeping on. For some, these ideologies don’t help at all – they only represent another trap, a formula of ideals which fail us because of the gap between our ideals and daily reality. And another way of judging ourselves as worthless compared to the ideal


This is where I stumbled on “The Situation Is Hopeless But Not Serious” , written by a psychiatrist Paul Watzlawick to goad us into laughing at our own little ways of making ourselves miserable. When I just looked him up on the net he’s died. Oh. Still, worth a read while we’re all breathing..

Then last year I saw Paul McGee doing his one-man stand-up therapist gig, explaining his S.U.M.O principles, which suggest that after allowing ourselves a little wallow in our misery (“hippo time”), we begin to Shut Up and Move On (SUMO !) . He suggests seven questions we can ask ourselves (together they add up to what others call Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but then others are proper smart-arses).

Here we go:


  1. Ask yourself – “On a scale of 1-10, where 10 equals DEATH, how serious is this problem ?”  Straightaway, a bit of perspective to challenge  self-pity. Go on then, give it a 9 you miserable sod  (I mean me, not you. )
  2.  Now ask yourself – “On a scale from 1-10, how serious will it look in 6 months time ?”   This works well for most situations but if you’re losing your job then the situation might actually be worse in six months when poverty increases. Better ask question three
  3. Ask yourself: “Is my current response appropriate and effective ?”  Which I like because it’s two questions – the first asks me if I might just be going over-the-top by wailing or bashing things around. And the second reminds me that there might be a better way to respond which will be more in accord with how serious the situation really is, and which might actually make a DIFFERENCE
  4. By now I’m willing to start to think a bit more positively, so “How can I influence or improve the situation?” is a question I can now tolerate without screaming “Leave me alone”. And it’s a good nudge towards beginning to consider my options rather than sit in the prison cell and wallow
  5. “What can I learn from this ?” By now I’m starting to look down on myself from above, like a proper little Buddhist, and perspective is starting to kick in. And maybe I find honesty about the situation and what it can teach me about myself and the outside world.
  6. “What will I do differently next time ?” Blimey, now I’m starting to think I might have some power to make new moves. Find a piece of paper...
  7. And finally, “What can I find that’s positive in this situation ?” Now if someone had asked me that as question one, I’d have probably throttled them and had to ask myself Question Three. And believe me, I remember being cajoled into “counting my blessings” when I was cheesed-off as a kid and it really is red rag to a tiny bull. But by asking it when I’ve started to move on a bit, it becomes a wholly liberating question which encourages a completely new perspective. So losing a job could actually be the only way I was ever going to be free of its frustrations and compromises and hassles ; over to Morrissey – “I wanted a job, and then I found a job, and Heaven knows I’m miserable now” . Over to Roy Harris : “Oh I just can’t wait to collect my cards, I just can’t wait to go. I can’t get along with the people here, and the work it bores me so”.  But what if it’s a job you love (like mine ?) Even then, there is something positive – the shared bonds we make in the revival of political action after years of torpor and dismalism ! A new opportunity to revive, fired-up and ready to reach out.

Paul Barnes



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