“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Power and Persuasion

Last Wednesday, my husband and I went to visit a marvellous exhibition at the British Library, entitled Propaganda: Power and Persuasion. It was divided into six sections: Origins, Nation, Enemy, War, Health, and Today. The three I found most interesting (and which between them formed the bulk of the exhibition) were Nation, Enemy and War. As the free leaflet explained, "Governments and national institutions are the most prolific and expert users of propaganda as they strive to validate and justify their actions, build support for their aims and influence the behaviour of populations." Most of the exhibits were posters, but these were interspersed with fascinating short videos explaining particular aspects of the propaganda game, by the likes of David Welch, Noam Chomsky and Alastair Campbell.

The tactics used in propaganda are very clever. They are set forth in the leaflet thus:

  • Establish authority. Link a person or idea with existing symbols of power and authority, which people understand and are comfortable with.
  • Exploit existing beliefs. People are much more receptive to messages that build on attitudes and beliefs they already hold dear.
  • Appeal to patriotism. Play up nationalist sentiments and emphasise benefits to the nation.
  • Create fear. In a state of fear your audience is more likely to believe you.
  • Use humour. Making your audience smile or laugh can make powerful people, countries and ideas seem less threatening and even ridiculous.
  • Imply everyone agrees. The desire to fit in is a strong one and many people will go along with the crowd.
  • Disguise the source. Carefully plant stories and facts so that they come from an independent source your audience trusts.
  • Hammer it home. Decide on your message and stick to it. ... Constant repetition will overcome initial scepticism.
  • Make false connections. Start with an uncontested statement and link it with something more controversial.
  • Be selective about the truth. Control how and when information is released. Ensure only stories that support your position are reported.
  • Establish a leadership cult. Encourage the population to think their leader is solely responsible for all successes.
It was quite scary to see how well all governments have learned these lessons. The technique that I found particularly powerful was the combination of an innocuous or innocent picture with powerful words. In the War section of the exhibition, there was a series of Norman Rockwell pictures of wholesome Americans in various settings, combined with text that implored people to buy war bonds. I found this one particularly distasteful:

poster by Norman Rockwell

To link religion and supporting war in this way is just not on in my book. But there is no denying its power to persuade. Going to this exhibition has really opened my eyes to the huge range of propaganda, both in history and today. The power of social media to influence public opinion should not be underestimated. The last bit of the exhibition was a demonstration of how fast particular stories can spread via Twitter and Facebook. It's on until 17th September - highly recommended.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Thief of Time

I am District Secretary of the Midland Unitarian Association, and we had a meeting on Saturday, which was very good, and very rich, but generated a lot of minutes. And my job for today is to type those up, and to disseminate them, and to generate a to-do list from them.

And I've been putting it off. Some of the things I've been doing this morning were quite legitimate - going for a run, checking & dealing with e-mails, but I've spent an inordinate amount of time on Face book, and have even found myself cleaning the kitchen, just to avoid starting those minutes.


But at least when I became aware of what I was doing, it gave me the idea for this blogpost. One of my favourite quotes about time-wasting is "procrastination is the thief of time", so I went onto Google to find out who said / wrote it, and it was Edward Young.

However, on the website I looked it up on, there were a couple of other really splendid quotes about procrastination, one on the side of judgement, one on the side of mercy. The one by Pablo Picasso really frightened me:

"Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone."
Well, gosh, OK. I'll get on with them, I promise. Just as soon as I've finished this blogpost.
The other, by Denis Waitley, who is an American motivational speaker and writer, I found much more forgiving and soothing:
"Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Rich people can't buy more hours. Scientists can't invent new minutes. And you can't save time to spend it on another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you've wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow."
"You still have an entire tomorrow." Isn't that amazing?  And isn't it hopeful? Whatever we have done in the past, each new day is full of new possibilities and new hope. So I give thanks to God, who has given us Time in which to move and live and hope and dream.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Double Standards

As some of you who are Facebook friends will know, I have had a new tattoo - it is a Celtic tree of life and I am made up with it. The reactions of friends and family have been mixed - some think it is beautiful, or cool or other nice things, and some don't like tattoos at all.

Photo: Beautiful Celtic tree of life. Thrilled to bits!

The thing that I am finding interesting (and yes, a bit hurtful) is that the folk who don't like it have absolutely no hesitation in coming right out and saying so. This seems to be quite unapologetic too, and I'm sure they wouldn't make similarly rude remarks if I had changed my hairstyle (for instance). So why is it OK to make blunt and unpleasant comments about this particular aspect of someone's appearance? Is it because they consider tattoos to be "beyond the pale" and therefore fair game? I wonder ...

There was a quote posted on Facebook the other day, which read:

"The tongue has no bones, but is strong enough to break a heart. So be careful with your words."

I know that I am as guilty as the next person (in fact probably more guilty than some) of blurting out hurtful comments, or saying things in a hurtful tone. So maybe I should take being on the receiving end for a change as a bit of a wake-up call from God. I haven't enjoyed people being critical of me, so I need to remember to count to ten (at least!) before opening my mouth.

As my mother used to say to us when we were children: "If you can't think of anything nice to say, don't say anything." Thank you Mum.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Special Events

In the last couple of days, I have experienced two special events, both as a passive receiver of special-ness.

The first was watching, on Friday afternoon, the Djokovic / Del Potro men's semi-final at Wimbledon. I have watched Wimbledon every year since I was small, and cannot remember seeing another such match. Both men played exceptionally well, covering every inch of the court, and becoming involved in some amazingly long, exciting rallies. Even the commentators on the BBC were awestruck by the tennis that was being played. And both men seem to have realised that they were doing something special too. In the paper, yesterday, Djokovic commented: "I've had some epic matches and some long five-setters ... but I know that I have been pushed to the limit today. It was one of the most thrilling matches that I have ever played, especially here in Wimbledon. It was high-quality tennis from the first to the last point." And Del Potro commented "This match is going to be remembered for a few years." Yes, I think it will be.

Part of the pleasure of watching it for me was in having played tennis myself, as a girl, and therefore knowing quite how amazing some of the play was, in contrast to anything I could ever have done. It was a real pleasure to watch their expertise, and to relish the clever play.

And this was part of what I enjoyed about yesterday's event too - my husband and I joined 60+ other Unitarians from the Midlands and South Wales in a visit to the National History Museum in St. Fagan's, near Cardiff. It is a wonderful outdoor museum, which consists of fifty-odd houses and cottages, and a couple of churches (including Pen Rhiw Unitarian Chapel), which have been moved from their original locations all over Wales, and lovingly re-assembled on one site, to preserve Welsh architectural and way-of-life heritage. And it is splendid. We saw inside all sorts of buildings, from the medieval church which has been re-painted inside as it might have been back in the day, with bright instructive scenes from the life and passion of Jesus (see above), through Tudor and Georgian buildings, to a post-war pre-fab. But my favourite was a terrace of five houses, two-up, two-down, which had been refurbished in varying styles from the early 19th century to 1985, and you could walk into each one, noticing the changes - from paintings to photos, from hard wood, to soft furnishings and so on. It was fascinating.

What it had in common with Friday's tennis match was the loving care and expertise which lay behind the experience that I had come along and enjoyed. Both events were a tribute to the hard work and skill of the people involved. And the dedication, and the belief that what they are doing matters. And being aware of this lying behind both events made the pleasure keener.