Thursday, January 21, 2016

Changing Tunes

I was invited to a very moving talk this week.  May I tell you about it?

The two speakers had come to tell us about 'Changing Tunes', a charity which, in its own words, aims to reduce re-offending through music.   And it's been very successful.  Spreading out from its origins in Bristol, it now covers a large part of the country and has attracted many supporters including Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Tim Rice.

To reduce re-offending through music is a remarkable aim . . . but how is it achieved?
They do it, so we were told, through personal contact.

Highly-trained and motivated musicians from 'Changing Tunes', together with volunteers ranging from City lawyers to professional sportsmen, visit UK prisons on a regular basis.
Here they spend time with the prisoners and invite them to participate in making music.

I hope you noticed my choice of the word 'invite'.  In a prison there are no invitations, the pattern of an inmate's life is wholly dictated.  This is the one and only occasion when a prisoner is asked what he would like to contribute . . . by so doing he is, one might say, liberated into the world of music.

It appears that over the past twenty years the prison population of this country has increased by nearly ninety per cent, and is now the highest in Western Europe.  Re-conviction rates are also alarmingly high.   At the same time, those who've benefitted from the visits of 'Changing Tunes', and have had continuing support after their release, have proved dramatically less likely to re-offend.  Some, we were told, have even moved on to establish a career in music.

I recommend that you visit the 'Changing Tunes' website and see for yourself just how they use the universal language of music to convey their message.
You'll marvel, as I did, at the impressive way in which this dedicated charity is reclaiming lost lives.

One of the reasons I attended this talk was because, as a correspondence-course tutor, I've some personal knowledge of working with prisoners.  The American prison system accepts this particular course as being suitable for long-term inmates.  Because of this, I've corresponded on a regular basis with several offenders. For me it's has proved a wholly enriching experience.

I've learned that a prisoner is first and foremost a person, that, like the rest of us, each one is unique, that this person will, in due course, re-enter society, and that any support we can offer supports everyone.

My contribution to the prisoners' lives has been small.  I merely sit at home and write, I don't meet them in person.  But, for all that, I know how much the course can mean in their progress towards rehabilitation.

May I share part of the final letter I received from one of my students.  It was written shortly before his release.  Although he's thinking in terms of his completed course, his words speak for the bigger picture . . . the re-education and rehabilitation of offenders.  Seen in that light, what he writes could easily apply to all those prisoners whose lives have been turned around to such marked benefit by 'Changing Tunes'.

This is what he wrote . . . 

"Many men succumb to the trials of prison life.  Enveloped by the darkness they cast no shadow.  
The pillars of light generated from within the heart of this work allowed me to not only cast a shadow, but to see my reflection.  Knowing that I am made everything possible."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

It's OK . . .

May I share some thoughts with you, thoughts that were triggered by a bus journey the other day?

A man seated himself beside me and took out his mobile phone.
It was impossible not to overhear what he was saying, although I didn't understand it as the language was unknown to me.

But what I did notice was rather surprising . . . it was the constant repetition of the term 'OK'.
Clearly 'OK' was as familiar in his language as it is in English, and clearly it carried the same meaning.

The incident made me wonder.
Has 'OK' become universal?  Out of curiosity, I did some research.

There are many counter-claims for the origin of OK.  Perhaps the Choctaw Indians were right in stating that it came from them.  Or perhaps it originated, as some believe, in West Africa.

There's also the contention that it goes back to the Greek phrase 'ola kala', meaning 'all good'  . . . and who would argue with the Scots who are firmly convinced that it could only stem from 'och aye'?

Wherever it came from, no-one denies its meaning, nor the fact that it's part of the vocabulary of practically every world language.  Things are just as likely to be OK in Israel as they are in Vietnam, Venezuela or Pakistan.

Is there any other term that falls into this category?
I don't think so.  What's more, I find it strangely reassuring that there should be worldwide usage of a term that's wholly positive and affirmative.

We need things to be OK . . . we're happy when things are OK . . . that's how, in our heart of hearts, we know things really are.

The words most bandied by the media at the present time are probably 'terror', 'fear' and 'anxiety'.
If something is considered 'OK' it's unlikely to hit the headlines.

However, terror is divisive, fear is crippling and anxiety is inhibiting.  Unscrupulous leaders know that those governed by these emotions are easy to manipulate.  On the other hand, people who believe that life is basically OK are more grounded and far less susceptible to negative persuasion . . .  OK can release what fear traps.

So, let's think about it.
What would be considered an OK starting point for the New Year?
How about welcoming 2016 with gratitude . . .  gratitude that, below the evident surface turbulence, we all share the inner conviction that out there in the deep water everything is basically OK.

There's a tune you can hum to remind you . . . one particularly relevant for the young at heart!

So, don't let's be seduced by the fear-mongers.
Just remember the globally accepted term, 'OK' . . .   click here . . . and start humming!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A message from Planet Earth?

I wonder, might Planet Earth be trying to tell us something?

Since last October, when the Met. Office decided to launch the 'Name Our Storms' project, the UK has been visited by no less than five turbulent, unruly storms.
In less than three months we've suffered the buffeting of Abigail, Barney, Clodagh, Eva and, most recently, Frank.
Nor is there peace in sight.  Gertrude, it seems, is already gaining strength on the far side of the Atlantic.

Nonetheless, whilst the damage we've experienced in this country has been devastating, it pales in comparison with what's been going on elsewhere.

Did you know that over 750,000 people have been evacuated in the Philippines, forced from their homes on account of violent typhoons and flooding?
Or that a similar number of people have been evacuated in Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay?

I'm sure you've heard that the USA has been blown apart by bush fires in California, typhoons in Texas, tornadoes in Dallas, flooding in Missouri and Illinois, not to mention the severe snowstorms that have been experienced elsewhere.

Nor has the souther hemisphere been exempt, bush fires have ravaged south-eastern Australia, and the Northern Territory has suffered severe flooding.

On top of which, stirred up no doubt by all the excitement elsewhere, Mount Etna, on the coast of Sicily, has just chosen to erupt.

Why the dramatic weather conditions?  We're told about El Nino, but shouldn't we be thinking about our relationship with the planet we inhabit?
Isn't it true that we take Earth for granted?
We exploit it . . . abuse it . . . destroy it . . . and never pause to think that we are, in effect, heedlessly cutting off the branch we're sitting on.

It would seem that human beings crave not only profit, but also speed and a sense of imposed order.  Accordingly, and without taking other important factors into account, we remove the trees from the hilltops to provide grazing, and straighten the rivers.

The outcome?  You've only to look around you.
Without the roots of the trees to absorb the surplus water, the rain flows straight down the hillsides.  Without the facility to meander, the rivers become fast-flowing and can quickly produce serious flooding . . .  something we're witnessing all too graphically at the moment.

Could it be that our beleaguered Earth is using El Nino for a purpose?

Is it trying to point out that we're nothing more than cocky newcomers,  newcomers with the dangerous illusion that we're separate from all other forms of life . . .  that we're the ones in control?

Whereas we couldn't exist without our planet's freely-given bounty  . . .    it hasn't the slightest need of us.

What's more, there's no doubt that, should it wish to do so, it could resort to far more drastic and disturbing measures than it's chosen up to now.

Earth is all-powerful . . . click here for a graphic picture of what I mean.
Before we cut off the branch completely, mightn't it be wise to pause and think?