Is there–should there–be a statute of limitations for past mistakes?

Is there–should there–be a statute of limitations for past mistakes?

Does it make sense to judge past behavior using present norms?

I’m not thinking about murder or theft. I think these are crimes that have always been considered illegal and–more importantly–immoral. While there may be mitigating circumstances for judges and courts to consider, e.g. hunger or self-defense, the basic societal norm doesn’t change. However, what I would like to talk about today is different. It is behaviors, acts that are clearly considered inappropriate, illegal even, from our current, contemporary point of view, things that may have been looked at very differently “way back” when they happened.

The #MeToo movement has put the spotlight on a great many such behaviors by men over the past eighteen months. And I think it is important that we highlight such behavior and speak out against sexual assault, rape, but also behavior that may not necessarily be illegal, but inappropriate, e.g. touching someone without their explicit consent, to not accept a no for a no etc. Racism, how we treat the LGBTQ-community, women’s rights etc. are other areas of how our views on humanity have evolved, for the better.

The people’s tribunal is in session…

Every now and then a celebrity or politician is making headlines for things they did a long time ago. Sometimes we learn when that was, sometimes, it’s more obscure. Let me say this again, just to make it clear because the topic is so sensitive, this isn’t about illegal behavior then and now, but inappropriate behavior. Is it fair to judge someone for something they did in the past when societal norms were different? I would like to use examples, but the trouble with specific people is that it clouds the bigger picture, as you dive into specific circumstances. So I won’t.

A long while ago, I wrote a post about the many statues that commemorate the American Civil War and the controversy they cause today. My point then was that we must see those statues in the light of the historical context during which they were erected. And treat them accordingly. Use them to teach today’s population about history so that we may avoid making the same mistakes again. I think we should apply the same approach to our more personal, human mistakes as well.

…and there is no way to appeal

If a politician made a racist remark thirty years ago may not necessarily disqualify them from holding office today. What was the context of their behavior then? What has their track record shown since? And how did their society, the place where they lived at the time view that which we now consider racist? Or homophobic? Please understand, I’m not trying to condone the act per se, but I also believe in human fallacy and in our ability to learn, to forgive and second chances.

In our days, we are so very quick to judge, so very quick to draw far-reaching conclusions. Social media and commenting here and there make people’s tribunals so easy to reach a damning verdict, a verdict to which there is no appeal. And let’s face it, if we look within ourselves, haven’t we all done things we are less proud of? Things we might not even remember? This is all part of the human equation. As such, everyone deserves that forgiveness, the caution before judgment, not just those we like or those who are on our side of an argument. Who has the right to cast that first stone?

What is your take? Should past actions be viewed through current lenses or through the lens of what society looked like back then, which–once again–is no endorsement of the past? Comments are welcome. Let’s talk.

Hans M Hirschi

Let’s talk about aging without the clichés and preconceptions

Let’s talk about aging without the clichés and preconceptions

Can we have a serious discussion about aging without reducing it to stupid expressions and hollow statements?

Aging. It happens to all of us, yet living in a society (Sweden) where youth is everything, growing older sometimes makes you feel at odds with how you see yourself, compared to how others see you. Aging is a thing, whether we accept it, or not. And it’s something we must deal with, one way or another. To grow older is neither good nor bad, it simply is, as inevitable as the earth spinning around the sun in the vastness of space. So why this post? I think a lot about aging, and no, I’m not “obsessed”, I think about a lot of things, twist them and turn them, look at them from various angles. I’ve also written about aging in more than one of my novels (e.g. Last Winter’s Snow, Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm or Jonathan’s Promise.)

Aging is more than “Seventy is the new Fifty”, “You’re only as old as you feel” or “Age is just a number”

The author at the age of eight.

The author at the age of eight.

No to all of the above. 🙂 With all due respect, but I can’t wait for the day when we finally dispense with repeating these stupid statements as if they were some Buddhist mantras. Society changes, norms change and people today act differently than they did ten, twenty, fifty years ago. Oddly, this only ever becomes a thing for the older generations. I’ve yet to year 3 is the new 7, even though there may be as much truth to that. But people obviously aren’t as obsessed with just how much more kids today know compared to what I did some forty-five years ago. And no, one isn’t as old as one feels, because there is always another side to that, how one is viewed by others. In this post, I would like to focus on aging from a couple of different angles. At this point, if you believe that I’m “obsessed” with age or if you think that I’m suffering from a mid-life crisis, then this might not be for you. Neither is true, but I acknowledge willingly that I have no desire to debate with a closed mind…

Speaking of a mid-life crisis. I did have a life crisis, but that was a long time ago. I was actually approaching my thirtieth birthday, and I recall feeling frustrated by that fact, no longer being in my twenties. After many months of feeling sorry for myself, I finally got to the point where I accepted the “inevitable” and enjoyed a great birthday and moved on.

Age is only a problem if you’re afraid to die

Author Hans Hirschi in Lower Manhattan and Battery Park, January 2019.

Author Hans Hirschi in Lower Manhattan, January 2019. Photo: Alina Oswald

This is one of my core beliefs. I think most people are afraid of the inevitable, death. And while we can’t change that outcome, we can at least pretend that it’s not happening yet. Strangely (I’ve just read another article about that), we seem to do little to stop us from aging prematurely and many of us let our general health lapse with crap diets, too much alcohol and sugar, and not enough exercise. And we’ve spent the past x-thousand years of human society to build elaborate religious systems (the extent of which is really mind-boggling if you think about it) creating fantasies around eternal lives and/or reincarnation. Simply because we cannot accept that life ends when we exhale our last breath. Now picture all the oppression, all the genocides, all the atrocities, the persecution and the hatred that follows in the footsteps of religion and you quickly realize that age and death are probably the biggest “thing” in human culture. So yes, we DO need to talk about it…

I never really counted how much time I spend contemplating aging or my death. I spend little time on the latter, as I can’t know when or how I’ll die. What I can think about is how I live my life, the kind of life I want to live. I also have very specific ideas on how I want my body to be disposed of after my death, something my husband and I discuss at times, to make sure we both understand each other’s final wishes. But ever since I realized that religion truly was “opium for the masses”, I’ve not had any issues with my own mortality. Therefore, aging is not an issue for me. Sure, I’d like to live to be very old (I’m a curious person), but only if I have my physical and mental health to allow me for a meaningful life. That view might change of course, as my aging puts new limitations on what I can do (physically) as the years progress. I no longer jump over fences as I used to and I do wake up every so often with my sciatica reminding me that I no longer have the spine of a teen.

There’s this weird dissonance between mind and body

I'd love to have that body back... Alas. I'd lose much of what I honestly value higher: experience, wisdom, knowledge

I’d love to have that body back… Alas. I’d lose much of what I honestly value higher: experience, wisdom, knowledge

Sometimes I look in the mirror and I see my brother, or my dad, not me. This is weird and only lasts a fraction of a second before I recognize that the aging face staring back at me in surprise is, in fact, my own. Sometimes my behavior doesn’t reflect my exterior appearance. Just yesterday, we were on a walk and I was strutting along the path we were on, holding hands with my son (he’ll be six next month.) Some of the people we met were looking at me as if something was seriously wrong with me: “why does this old guy strut like a child?” I still love roller coasters, and the way I dress hasn’t changed much since I was twenty-five. I still prefer jeans and t-shirts/polos. But most importantly, I still ‘feel’ as if I were twenty-five. I don’t feel that I’m more than twice that age, and it goes without saying that this dissonance is growing bigger for every year.

At the same time, I can also readily admit that other parts of my mind do age. I am less tolerant of anti-social behavior (stupid expression, I know, but it’s the best I’ve got) such as feet on chairs, loud music on public transport, people walking on the wrong side of the street, etc. than when I was in my teens and twenties. I just wish everyone could behave properly. LOL I know, this does make me sound ancient…

What I don’t like about aging…

There are several aspects to growing older I don’t like:

  • my physical limitations grow, my body decays
  • the perception others have on what I can do, cannot do
  • society’s views on my age cohort

The most annoying feature of growing older is, of course, my physical decay. When you get an x-ray done and the doctors tell you that your spine is “normal” for someone your age, waking up with back pains every day, my sciatica, how stiff I am compared to how I think I should be, how easily I seem to put on weight these days etc. Those are really annoying things. Oddly, I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been, working out regularly, with a diet healthier than ever before. Unfortunately, the sins of the first forty-nine years cannot be undone completely, and they are a constant reminder of not making them again. It’s also not very nice to see how my hair is getting grayer and grayer, or that my skin is beginning to sag. Then again, compared to others my age (or much younger), I can’t complain. Looking after yourself does wonders!

But much worse than my physical aging is how I am perceived by others. Finding a job at my age? Forget about it. I’m either over-qualified (HR code for “too old” and “too expensive”) or I don’t even hear back. It’s catch twenty-two: apply for a job you’re overqualified for but that you really should land and they’ll be right to claim you’re overqualified, apply for a job that might actually challenge you, and find one every year or so…and get no response. Sadly, for every year, this gets worse. I live in one of the worst societies when it comes to ageism. Here, things start to quickly go downhill as soon as you turn forty. At fifty plus, I might as well give up.

What I like about aging…

Horsing around with my son is still loads of fun.

Horsing around with my son is still loads of fun. Despite the gray hairs… Photo: Alina Oswald

This is really the fun part. I love all the things I know, the experience I have, the countless things I’ve learned and the wisdom of knowing that I still don’t know shit. I’m also happy that I still remember what it was like to be young and to be dismissed because of that. I also remember vividly that I held very strong views of “I know everything!” when I was younger. Not sure when that changed, but I thought that I knew it all and that I was pretty much invincible until I was at least twenty-five.

It’s quite relaxing to acknowledge that I don’t know it all. Which is different from being right. I like being right at any age. LOL And as I grow older, it’s easier to admit when I’m wrong. There’s less ‘shame’, less sense of losing face associated with that. I am more relaxed about a great many things, simply because I’m not in the same hurry, I feel more patient (even though I still like to get things done quickly.)

Just the other day, a friend and I were talking about the eighties, the advent of PCs at work, fax machines and how slow work life was back then. You sent a letter and then you had to wait, two days, sometimes longer, for a reply. Bank contracts had to be typed up and mailed. No email, no fax stuff, no electronic signatures. It was a slower time, and the pace of life was different. Mind you, not better, not worse, but different. I find it a valuable experience to have in our world today. Just this weekend, I once again realized how fast our world is changing when our son failed to realize what live TV is. We hardly ever watch it, and when he had to go to the bathroom, he asked us to pause the program, in all seriousness. No can do. How do you teach such basic concepts such as time, when kids no longer have to be in front of their TV at a given time, every day, to watch their kids’ show? The way I had to at six pm every Saturday? They turn to Netflix or YouTube any time, pause, resume at their leisure. Not better, not worse, but vastly different.

When you forget…kids are there to remind us

Let’s face it: we all forget stuff. I do, too. I’m lucky though to have a child to remind me of things, from playing to just simply remembering the various stages of childhood. And I am in awe of today’s kids. They know so much, so very early in life. They learn so much. My son dives into learning with gusto. He’s strong-willed and very independent, in many ways the opposite of me, and I’d like to believe that I may take some credit for that. Where my parents were over-protective, I keep him on a much longer “leash”.

Photographing author Hans M. Hirschi in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017.I love being out and about with my son because of his viewpoint, his perspective. He sees things so very differently. Sometimes funny, often wrong, but still, it reminds me of my own youth. But more importantly, the constant reminder that different perspectives complement each other. When I was a child or teen, my point of view didn’t matter. It was only the views of the older that mattered.

Today, the opposite seems to be the case. I wish we could see more balance. It pains me that we e.g. seem to forget the lessons of the great wars of the previous century. Let the older generations remind us of that, but maybe we need to let the younger generations tell the story? So that they capture the minds and hearts of the generations that need to heed the lessons?

What are your experiences? Thoughts? Let’s hear it… I for one will continue to ponder this for the rest of my life, as I learn new things, and maybe even unlearn some dear old habits that aren’t really helpful… Have a wonderful week.

Hans M Hirschi
author

Gender identity: biology, sociology, predestination or choice?

Gender identity: biology, sociology, predestination or choice?

In politics and psychology, the war to explain sex and gender is hotter than ever. Why?

A few weeks ago I listened to a segment on our public broadcasting radio. They were interviewing a psychology professor who was vehemently defending biology as the defining factor to distinguish gender, men from women, male from female. Leading up to our election a couple of weeks ago, our conservative parties were ranting against “gender politics” and “norm critical” education in schools. Which made me remember my own studies of psychology and the lessons we’d been taught there, how our teachers painstakingly tried to explain the differences between biology, sociology and how we don’t really know how they interact with each other, what ultimately is the defining factor, except one. More about that later.

DNA, chromosomes, and hormones

I have yet to hear anyone argue that a newborn boy and a newborn girl are the same. They’re not. Obviously. Chromosomes decide what sex a child will have, even though Mother Nature has been known to surprise us with various varieties, children we consider intersex, kids with various chromosomal defects, for lack of a better word. We also know that the male hormone “testosterone” and the female hormone “estrogen” impact on how male or female a body appears. Boys with little testosterone will have less body hair and softer features, to exemplify.

So far so good. We also know that hormones will affect our mood, potentially even our personality. However, we also know that all of the above isn’t a given. It’s not a law of nature, like gravity, with no exception. In fact, that is where “nurture” comes in and starts to change things. There are plenty of experiments with how children are affected who are “raised” as the opposite from their birth sex, and there are – of course – our gender fluid and trans friends, not to mention intersexual people. Nature vs nurture. Who is more important?

Front cover of my new children’s book The Dragon Princess, which released September 20, 2018. Get your copy today!

Nature vs nurture. Why is it so important to some?

Seeing how people fight and argue in this debate you’d think it actually matters as if the future of humanity were at stake. But does it? And why? Looking at research and what little I know about nature vs nurture, my take is this: so what? Whether our gender is predetermined by DNA is really not important, because plenty of people live perfectly happy in bodies where their DNA and chromosomes do not match their gender. The opposite is–unfortunately–also true: people who are miserable in their bodies even though the chromosomes perfectly match how their bodies appear.

It’s probably not a big surprise that I believe in choice, that I believe that nurture is much more important than nature. Sure, nature provides us with different preconditions, but that’s it. It merely determines our position at the starting line of life. How well we manage to go through the parkour of life, that’s an entirely different question, where I believe nurture plays a role, and–most importantly–personal choices. These personal choices will, of course, be influenced by both natural predisposition and how we were nurtured.

In a perfect world, that would be it. People would be allowed to determine their own gender expression, whether it’s trans, gender fluid or even genderless/agender. Unfortunately, society complicates things, for a great many reasons.

Conservatives vs progressive

In politics, you’ll find resistance against “free” individual gender expression on the conservative side (on the famous GAL-TAN scale, which is different from the classic left-right scale, as many socialist countries also discriminate against gender expression) while progressive voices usually are much more open-minded.

In our western society where “liberalism” is the lodestar (sorry, couldn’t help it, and no, I’m not behind the infamous op-ed) people’s individual choices are at the center of the economy, and most conservatives want us to make our own choices. Yet oddly this is different. Boys are blue and girls are pink. As mentioned above, our conservative parties in the election fought a fierce battle in the recent election against gender politics, against a preschool where kids are given a choice and taught that it is okay for boys to play with dolls and for girls to play with tools.

Somewhere, there is this idealized picture that we have a pre-defined role closely associated with our sex, our gender and the expression thereof. If you dream of a society where women are the care-takers, child raisers, cooks, and homemakers, it may seem comfortable to find your explanations in biology. You can tell the frustrated women that they don’t really have a choice: “don’t blame me for inequality, blame Mother Nature. I’m sure she knows what she’s doing!” Take it a step further and replace Mother Nature with a deity and you have the perfect storm. And gender politics is evil, as it fights–like Don Quixote–against that which is predestined.

Choice, however, makes things much more complex. Suddenly, you have individuals who live in a soup of biological factors, social factors, and personal choices to be made. And gender politics are a tool to help them find themselves. Some boys will be more “masculine” in their gender expression, some will realize that they are really girls and will want their bodies to match that. The very same is true for girls. At the end of the day, we all find ourselves on a spectrum, from one-hundred percent masculinity to one-hundred percent femininity, where the vast majority is somewhere between the poles.

Nature is at the core of my coming fantasy series. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today. Coming November 15, 2018.

What are you, my friend?

Part of the conundrum is the value society attributes to the two poles. Like a battery, masculine is “+” and feminine is “-“, male attributes are desirable, feminine ones are not. That is the sad truth at the core of it all. Our entire world is seen through those lenses. A woman crying in a public hearing is weak, hysterical, a man doing the same is passionate, in touch with his emotions.

I’m a man, but I’m also gay, and thus very much associated with all the negative associations attributed to women. In Turkey, for instance, the word “gay” is exclusively used for bottoms (or receiving men), whereas a top is not. It’s the “female” role that defines who’s gay. A large part of my coming out process (which is a life-long thing btw) was focused on my gender identity/expression, to come to peace with that which makes me a man and that which might not. I have loads of traits which society might consider female and I have spent years trying to figure out whether I should “blame” nature or nurture for them. You know what? I don’t care why. It doesn’t make any difference to how I feel. It shouldn’t matter to anyone. The important thing is how we feel if it’s due to chromosomes, hormones or socialization is irrelevant, or it should be.

But what makes a difference is how I am perceived by others, how my choices are reflected in society. When people or groups keep insisting that my choices are wrong, even though they are just right for me, that’s hurtful. Do I care? At my age, I can barely care enough to lift a middle finger, but I understand that it is a HUGE issue for our young, our impressionable members of society. Our teens who define themselves not based on who they are, but based on their relationships with others. They are at the epicenter of the struggle. It is them we need to support.

On my mind…

I often write about stuff on my mind, big, small, important, inconsequential. And I love to debate. Grant you, it would be easier and more welcome to do so over a cup of coffee/tea, sitting in comfy chairs, but that will have to be another day. For now, feel free to comment and add your two cents, or three. What is your experience? Do you agree with the above or do you have a different view?

Here’s the thing. If only we keep talking, across the great divide of diverging views, we can bring them closer to each other. Yelling, screaming and tweeting will not. So feel free to add your comments. Have a wonderful week.

Hans

Social media fatigue is totally a thing, but what else can an author do?

Social media fatigue is totally a thing, but what else can an author do?

Social media is still ‘da shit’, but I’m so over it…

I just listened to a podcast, a show I listen to regularly (and have appeared on, myself), and the guest talked about Instagram and social media, and how posting Instagram images with his significant other garners him a ton of extra likes. I can sympathize. I recognize myself in that. And I wanted to talk to you all about it. I’m an author. My passion is storytelling and as a writer, I tend to primarily use my words to pen them down. The whole process of selling, marketing and self-promotion does not come easily to me. I just don’t like to talk about myself. I don’t like to see myself on pictures, yet I realize that in order to succeed, I must.

When a new book of mine hits the bookstores, I love to see it featured in magazines, I like to see it reviewed, and I certainly don’t mind seeing it reach the #1 or #2 spots on charts around the world. There’s no author who honestly doesn’t appreciate their books being a success. What I don’t understand is that it takes me to make them successful. What’s wrong with the characters in my stories? Their relationships, the trials they face, the storyline? Why does my smile have to be the deal breaker for buyers, readers? And to go back to the first paragraph and that podcast, it’s not just the artist themselves, it’s their family, too. We are expected to also include our children, our partners, our pets and our homes, our vacation spots and dinner recipes when we post on Facebook etc. I really struggle with that. And I’ll get back to that topic in a minute.

Why I quit Twitter

I quit Twitter this summer, retiring for the second time (after 2010) from the platform. I no longer saw the value of it. It’s become a megaphone to yell out our messages, but no one’s there to listen. Your ranking on Twitter is determined by how well you follow back, but we all know that after a 1,000 follower threshold you’re done. You can’t really follow your stream anymore. It simply becomes unworkable. I had about 8K followers and followed about half that number myself. I never even looked at my stream, and I can only assume the same was true for most of my followers. Most posts are generated by bots who dish out ready-made stories, aka “valuable content” on our behalf, on a regular basis. Where’s the “social” in bots spewing out automated content into the vastness of the Interwebs? Huh? I quit, and I save time and money, but most importantly, I don’t think I’ve sold fewer books because of it.

My schizophrenic relationship with Facebook

I have almost two-thousand “friends” on Facebook. Needless to say that most are not my friends, not even acquaintances, because I don’t know most of them. When I, reluctantly, joined Facebook to help organize my husband’s 30th birthday party (long story), I quickly garnered my first thirty friends. I was excited. They seemed to be waiting for me. Those evil algorithms had me on the hook. Almost a decade later I have unliked all pages (and keep unliking things I liked, such as “classical music” also turned pages by Facebook since then) and I have left most groups, as Facebook turns all of those things into advertising hooks. The sad part is how stupid those algorithms really work. Just because I like a post or a page doesn’t mean I like the “phenomenon”, but to advertisers, it certainly seems that way, and they can push their adverts much more precisely. Those fools! Profit does Facebook, but not the advertiser, not unless their approach truly is “spray and pray!”

When strangers send me a friend request I usually accept, unless it obviously is a fake account or someone who’s only interested in me for a visa or my money. How am I to know who reads my books or not. It’s not as if they send you a message explaining why they’re friending me. I once asked a guy from the Philippines why he friended me and he said: “Facebook suggested it” #facepalm Is that what it’s come to? A stupid algorithm telling us who we would be friends with?

No choice really!

When you have as many people on your list as I do (and I’m far from the 5K limit), and you follow all of them, your stream becomes unmanageable, worthless. So I automatically unfollow people I don’t know. But even then, there’s no guarantee that I actually see stuff from my ‘real’ friends, or from people I know. Because Facebook’s almighty algorithms deem your friendship dead if you haven’t liked or interacted with someone for a while. Little do they know about personal human relationships… My best friends and I can go months, years even without talking, only to resume where we left off the last time. Facebook was supposed to make it easier to stay in touch, but with the constant assault of worthless snippets of lolcats, recipes, memes and what not, our brains just can’t deal and we actually think less about people we’re not constantly in touch with then we used to before social media, simply because there’s a multitude of people constantly occupying our minds. People we don’t really care about, people we do not even consider to be friends. Why thank you, Zuckie!

Unfortunately, I don’t really have a choice. Sure, I can delete my Facebook account and lose touch with everyone close (and not so close), but I’d also lose touch with my only true marketing channel. Although, I wonder, how many of those 1,800+ people I have on my friends list on Facebook actually see my posts? 100? 200? Do the right people see them? I can’t tell.

Where to draw the line?

I’ve written about marketing on numerous occasions before on this blog. On how sex sells to social media trends over the years. I’ve always been wary of posting stuff to Facebook (while I still had a page there) that was personal. I know of authors who work closely with their partners, heck I know of partners whose names are unknown, they’re simply known as “xyz’s hubby” or “xyz’s boyfriend” which is quite sad really, at least IMHO. They play a persona, and I know for a fact that their real lives are quite different from what they show online. Different personalities, different relationship dynamics etc. But they know that their audience is voyeuristic and that they expect to peep into their lives, their kitchen and, yes, their bedroom.

I’ve always kept my family out of my work, as much as I could. I know people are interested, and I’ve resisted. Am I simply an old fool? Old school? A fossil who doesn’t get social media? But how social is it to pimp out my son to an audience when he has no say over the process? My husband has been very adamant that he has no interest in being pimped out to my readers, and he gets quite upset when complete strangers send him friend requests. The stalking really gets to him. I can’t blame him. I wouldn’t be too thrilled if his employees suddenly began to send me friend requests.

What can we do? What’s the solution?

Photographing author Hans M. Hirschi in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017.Which brings me back to the podcast and the Instagram posts of a couple garnering more likes than the ones of a single person… Times are certainly changing. The question I’m facing is to what degree I’m willing to sacrifice my own privacy, my personal space, and integrity and go with the flow, to get those likes, catch those followers, make those book sales.

Feel free to comment. What is your take on social media in late August of 2018? Where are we heading? What’s the next big thing? I like to interact with my readers, I actually do, beats the heck out of simply being monitored in silence on Facebook. LOL, you can find me there as Hans M Hirschi if you’re so inclined, or here on Instagram, where I primarily look at pretty pictures of nature.

Hans

#Migration is threatening the very fabric of our societies. It shouldn’t. #humanrights #refugees #politics

#Migration is threatening the very fabric of our societies. It shouldn’t. #humanrights #refugees #politics

Migration is a symptom, not the root cause. We should focus on that instead

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” From “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

I often think of these two lines from the famous poem, engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty in the harbor of New York City. The statue represents, to me, everything that is good about humanity, and Ms. Lazarus perfectly captured the essence of the welcome to New York, Ellis Island and the promise of America, the promise of the Land of the Free, the Land of the Brave, the American Dream.

Why do people migrate?

Nothing symbolizes the promise of America like the Statue of Liberty, as she stands proudly in the harbor of New York. Yet never before has this promise been as threatened as it is now.

I’ve asked myself that question more often than not in these past weeks, months and years, ever since we Europeans saw the biggest refugee crisis since probably World War II at our shores, as the Syrian War escalated and millions left the country, fleeing to Europe. These days, we reap the crops from the seeds that were sown in 2015: every election, in every European country, is all about migration.

In the U.S., where–for now–the Statue of Liberty still shines her lamp at night, a man got elected into the White House on the back of a promise to end migration, the very core of America’s success, to build a formidable, “beautiful” wall along America’s southern borders. And we’ve seen the pictures and reports from the Texan border, where parents are separated from their children. Children which are kept in cages, kids as young as two to four years of age.

This makes me wonder. Migration? Why on earth would we migrate? I don’t have all the answers, of course, but humanity has always been migrating. If we hadn’t, we’d still be living on the edge of rainforest and savannah in Africa, and who knows, maybe Earth had been a more peaceful place.

But migration seems to be part of human DNA, this insatiable curiosity for discovery, learning new things, exploring new realms. It’s led to humanity populating every last corner of our planet, including places I personally wouldn’t want to live in, including the Arctics, the desserts of South Africa, the Amazon jungle or Australia’s red center. But for the people who migrated there from Africa eons ago, it’s home.

Most humans aren’t migrating voluntarily…

But curiosity isn’t the only reason why we migrate, or else farming wouldn’t have become a trade. We’d all still be hunters and gatherers. And we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place. When our ancestors reached the shores of Alaska, Australia, the Pacific Islands, the Andes, the Amazon basin, Scandinavia etc. they settled down. They developed distinct cultures based on what the land provided, and from those early ancestors, beautiful cultures evolved: Inkas, Mayas, Inuit, Sami, Aboriginal, Samoan etc. Too many to count them all.

So we do we see migration today? Shouldn’t it all be bliss then? Well, apart from those among us who have that migratory gene, some of us humans are forced to migrate for two other reasons: 1) threats to our lives and 2) inability to survive on the land/provide for ourselves. While the distinction may seem semantic, or intellectual, from a legal point of view, it is an important one: the former entitles you to the status of a refugee under United Nation conventions, the latter does not.

In the (filthy) rich west, we seem to have forgotten what it is like not to have that daily meal on the table, we seem to have forgotten what it means to risk life for speaking our minds, praying to the wrong gods, looking suspicious or loving the wrong person. We seem to have forgotten what it is like to be persecuted, hunted, just for who we are. But it’s all coming back to us now.

Empathy is the key to understanding migration

To understand migration, we need to understand the root causes. I may never know why Mr. Trump’s granddaddy left Bavaria for a life in America. Maybe he harbored thoughts that may have become a threat to his life or maybe he merely wished for a better life for himself and his family in America. He wouldn’t be the only one, because let’s not forget: all Americans today, par first nation members, are immigrants, and the vast majority came to America, not because of persecution, but to seek a better life, i.e. 2) above, that which is not protected by those important UN laws.

When you see central American refugees at the Mexico-US border today, they are there for the same two reasons. They didn’t leave because they wanted to, but because they saw no other reason, either because they were persecuted for being a minority or because they couldn’t provide for their families. So they pack their meager belongings and head north to the promised land, just as every white person in America once did. Now think about it: “how would you react if you were in the same situation?” In the case of my American friends, why did your ancestors leave your home countries?

Fight the root cause instead

Sadly, rather than fighting the causes that make people leave their countries, we fight the refugees. The U.S. treatment of children at its borders is inhumane, but I guess it’s easier than tackling the corrupt regimes in Central America. And the EU does nothing to stop the war in Syria, which is the main reason why people flee the country. Admittedly, the situation there is very complex and Europe has little leverage over a war fought between essentially Russia and the U.S., but maybe it was time we presented Trump with the bill for what the refugees cost us next time he reminds us of our debts to NATO?

The other big wave of immigration is from Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa. Both regions suffer greatly from corrupt regimes, and both are –at their roots–due to Western imperialism. Be it French or English colonies, it’s not surprising that many people in those regions look to Europe, France, and the UK for delivery from governments unwilling to provide for its people. Just today I was reached by the news that ethnic cleansing is rampant in Kamerun, a country historically linked to both the UK and France, with a French and an English speaking part. They’re now at each other’s throats. But the EU does nothing.

Why it’s easier to fix North Korea than say Iran

Fixing the root cause of migration isn’t easy. I’m not naïve. It’s also the reason why Trump chooses to meet with Kim and not Ayatollah Khamenei, even though a meeting with the latter would be more promising. Iran is, for all intents and purposes an open country, a country with rule of law, a democracy even, to a degree. North Korea isn’t. Kim is a ruler in the image of the best in Europe: Charlemagne, Louis XIV, or Henry XVIII. He need never ask his people for permission to do anything. Khamenei was brought to power thanks to a revolution by the people, to end the oppression of a ruler who was held in power by, at least partially, the U.S. The fact that many Persians abhor the U.S. is found right there. Iran is a proud country, with a history dating back thousands of years and having faced the west again and again ever since Alexander the Great. Lots of reasons not to trust us. But as swiftly as Khamenei and his ayatollahs came to power, as swiftly they could be removed again if they lost the support of the Iranian people. A sign of the openness perhaps, but not all Iranians dislike their government…

Whereas in North Korea, the situation is different. The people hardly have any information, the country is completely isolated, and the memories of American troops moving through the country north toward the Chinese border in 1952 are still alive among the elder. They genuinely fear America, from first-hand contacts (and decades of propaganda since.) But if that one propaganda channel suddenly changes its tune? If the leader suddenly smiles with Trump and shakes hands? Needless to say, reality is complex, in both cases, but there are reasons why people act the way they do.

To build trust in North Korea takes one person: Kim Jong-Un. In Iran, Trump would have to convince an entire people. That takes time. In Guatemala for instance, it would take years of working to strengthen the economy, fight corruption on every level of government, empower first nation initiatives etc. to stem the flow of refugees from that country. Makes for lousy tweets, boring Instagram updates, few likes on Facebook. Hence of little interest to the new generation of politicians like Trump, Orban, Söder, Farage, Kazcynsky et al.

Nobody wants migration unless want to themselves, or have to…

This is my personal story of “migration”. Luckily it was only a nightmare, but I promise you, waking from it was a great relief. Free for you to read and contemplate.

I am an immigrant myself. I left my birth country of Switzerland for primarily political reasons. I moved to Sweden because it was more open to people like myself, more open to the idea of Europe. I got to stay not because they sympathized with me, but because I met a Swede. Humans like me have always been around, we’ve never really seen borders as anything but hurdles to overcome. But for most of us, my family and relatives included, migration is not on the menu. We are close to our homeland, our own town or village. We rarely travel beyond county lines, and even when we take that charter vacation once a year we come home, applaud a safe landing and exclaim “borta bra, hemma bäst!” (Swedish proverb: good to be gone, better to come home)

Unless war comes, or a famine, and we suddenly find ourselves fleeing for our lives. Not primarily for our own sakes, but that of our partners, our parents, and our children. So think about it, what would you do? Would you flee if you hoped to be able to provide for your family elsewhere? I would. As an author, I am privileged to host a healthy dose of imagination in my brain. It once ran amok after the Russian invasion of the Crimea and the (still) looming threat of further aggression in the West. My story “Nightmare” is the result. You can read it for free, right here, or read it along with several other short stories here.

Why are we arguing over this?

The arrival of large groups of people, numbers likely to grow exponentially once our oceans rise significantly due to global warming, is–no doubt–a threat to Western societies, our way of life, our wealth, beyond the threat from home-grown extremists. Suddenly, we must make tough choices of paying for that extra opera performance or paying for beds for refugees. A new playground for our kids or a classroom for the new arrivals. Some politicians, always looking for short-term optimization of media coverage and thus an uptick in approval rates or votes will do whatever it takes to vilify migrants. Us against them is an easy sell, certainly easier than justifying investing in Africa or Central America, closing borders seem so much more effective and media savvy than behind the doors pressure on an African dictator or two. We built the EU to stop that, to tear down borders, allow for free migration of our people, only we forgot that Europe is no island. We’re not alone. And many members bring a dark past along, former colonies eying our riches, people seeing opportunities for themselves and their families. We really cannot blame them for that. We would do the same. Many of us have already done that, or have ancestors who did, ten, one hundred, one thousand years ago. The best way to stop migration is to remove the need for it. If people can safely and peacefully provide for their families in their own countries, 99.99% won’t want to leave. The handful that still comes will continue to enrich all our cultures.

Finally…

As always, if you like my blog or my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

#Depression, loneliness are stepping stones on the way to suicide #mentalhealth #LGBT

#Depression, loneliness are stepping stones on the way to suicide #mentalhealth #LGBT

Depression is a very common affliction, and we all can suffer from it during our lifetime

I’ve had better days, and nights. When you’re contacted by friends, as you’re brushing your teeth, getting ready for bed, alerted to a publicly posted suicide note from a close friend, your entire being goes into crisis mode, and for the next four hours, I spoke to suicide hotlines, the police, family, friends, and acquaintances, scrambling my tired synapsis trying to find clues as to where said friend might be, what he might do, how. This isn’t the first time I’m in this situation. About four years ago, shortly after we had visited a close friend in Los Angeles with our newborn son, barbecued in his yard and spent a great day, we had a conversation on the phone where said friend announced that he was done with life. He suffered from depression and had attempted suicide in the past. I knew that. I also knew he medicated and thought he was fine. Panicking, nine time zones away, I contacted a local suicide prevention program and asked them to reach out. That night, I lost a friend. He never forgave me for making that call. A call that could’ve saved his life, had it been serious.

No choice really

I lost a friend. That is fine. Because he is fine. Healthy, he met a guy, got married and moved to San Francisco. But he never forgave me for making that call because suicide is illegal in California and failing can get you in jail… All is well, which is really all I could ask for. Depression is a vicious disease. Anyone can get it, and we all are depressed from time to time. The difference between suffering from Depression and “just” being depressed is significant. We all have our lows every now and then, but when you’re clinically depressed, the effects are deeper and they last.

Picture depression like a black hole in the ground. You call in, you realize it’s not very deep and you climb out again. Sure, you may have scraped your knees, bloodied your hands, and you’re dirty, needing to wash your clothes, but all in all, you’re none worse for the wear. For someone with clinical depression, when they fall into that same hole, they can’t get out. They are unable to feel the ground underneath their feet, and they feel as if they keep falling, i.e. things are getting worse. There seems to be no way out of it, no end (no positive end anyway), and they can’t grab a hold of the walls and climb out. Everything is slippery and wet, they can’t get a foothold anywhere. They just tumble and for every step they DO take, they fall right back in.

Therapy, medication help

This is where therapy and medication come in handy. They provide a steppingstone, a foothold. They “dry” the walls of the hole, enabling the patient to climb out of it, to see normalcy again. Because that’s what this is mostly about: outlook. I, like most people, have been depressed. Not clinically, but you know, down, really down. And you know what? It’s easy to let yourself fall, once you fall. You escalate any and all disagreement, you choose to view anything negatively, even though you probably might view it as something positive if your mind frame were different. Depression, like most mental afflictions, is about our thought process, how we interpret the signals around, and we have a choice. When depressed, that choice seems mute, impossible.

Stigma

For someone who’s healthy and “normal” (as in occurring in relatively frequent numbers, not better!), it seems that making the choice of interpretation should be easy. Duh! But for someone with a bout of depression, it’s not. I get that. I’m an author, I’m surrounded by a lot of artists, and we are prone to mental afflictions. Always have been. There are good reasons for that. As authors and artists in general, we need to be able to reach the depths of human emotion in order to transform those emotions into paintings, music, sculptures, and books. Therefore, we are in great sync with our emotions. You’d be surprised by the number of artists with mental afflictions, or rather, meeting someone who claims to be “healthy”. It makes you wonder if they’re merely faking it.

And faking it, they might. Simply because there is still so much stigma associated with mental health, or the lack thereof. Even though nobody’s ashamed of admitting to hay fever, asthma or having a cold.

The downward spiral of depression

People with depression are often jovial to the outside world, they put on a brave and happy face. My friend, the one who ‘ruined’ my sleep the other night, is never seen with a serious face on any photograph. He’s got a bubbly, happy personality, and he often expresses his gratitude for all the chances he’s been given in life. As a good friend, I know it’s just a facade, a Potemkin one at that, hiding the truth of an existence most of us wouldn’t dream of in a nightmare. A difficult life.

The challenge for many people with depression is their inability to get help. The need to keeping up appearances (for whatever reason) is so strong, the willingness to acknowledge the problem so strong that they let themselves sink deeper and deeper to the point where they see no way out but to give up completely, and bow out of life. I don’t mind people ending their life, in principle. When you’re old and terminally ill, why not. We do it with our beloved pets. Better for them, better for us.

What about those around you?

But to take your life when you’re young? Physically healthy? There’s really no reason to (and I refuse to make any religious arguments here, because “Harry Potter”, who cares what he has to say on the subject) except that the patient feels as if they’re this great big burden on people. They can’t, they refuse to see the other side of the medal: family, friends.

I was telling my son about my friend and how sick he was and that he was all alone in this big city. Sascha, with the wisdom of a five-year-old, responded: “but how can he be lonely with so many people?” That is exactly the point, isn’t it? Not just as a problem with our society in general where New York feels lonelier than a tiny island with 1,400 inhabitants like ours or that someone in a depression isn’t even capable of seeing their own friends and family as present anymore if they’re not physically in the room. It’s so easy to be lonely. It’s so easy to choose not to dial a number. So simple not to. To just watch this star die, or that one. To get sucked deeper into the abyss that is depression. Not to reach out. Not to cry because one is strong really, while inside the shards of ones broken existence are cutting fresh, bleeding wounds.

It’s easy to believe that the world would be a better place without me. The pain within getting stronger, the loneliness outside palpable, physical. The decision easy. The deed as well. You write that note and you leave…

But you’re not alone…

The reactions to that note were amazing, at least from my vantage point. So many people reached out. It surprised me that one human being could be cared for by so many. So many who would miss him. No, we no longer live in a village where you see people every day, where you meet them on the way to the bathroom even. Our modern world works differently, less physical, more online. For better or worse. Calls were made, the police were alerted. Friends who had only known ‘of’ each other began to communicate. We worried, we shared, we searched. Friends spoke to family, for the first time, ever.

Finally, he was found. Alive and well. He’s now in the care of professionals. I’m glad and I felt great relief. And as my tensions released, I realized how stiff my body was, how everything hurt, headaches and just how exhausted and tired I was. Not just from lack of sleep, but from the tension, the nightmares (author here, remember? Great imagination) and the fear. When it all came tumbling down, I took a sleeping pill and went to bed. Next morning, I’m still tired, my body still aches, but at least my mind is at peace.

I speak not for myself…

I’m not the only one who cried tears of relief yesterday. A mother, a father, siblings and relatives cried, too. So did friends on every continent: Australia, America, Asia, Africa & Europe. I know that some will read this who are aware of the situation and the names of the parties involved. It is not my intention to reveal them. What I hope this post will achieve is to serve as a beacon, to others who feel they are on the verge of slipping into that hole. Don’t let yourself fall. Fight! Talk to someone. The sooner the better. You would be astonished at the great compassion humans can exhibit, if you only ask.

Call a suicide hotline. I won’t list any because every continent, every country, and every city have them, in some shape or form. Just google. Make that call. Ask for help, because even if you feel that you have nothing left to contribute, your family, your friends do, and they would miss you terribly.

If you’re young, and LGBT…

I heard your “but my family…” the second I typed the word. Yes, I know. And I understand you perfectly. You’re young, very young, still at home, and you have no friends (yet) to talk to and your mom and dad hate you for what you are, they mourn that which you can never be, they threaten you to become something you know you aren’t. I understand. Been there! It is pride month in the world, and in some countries, we feel as if we’ve accomplished it all, yet there are still so many families out there where children keep the lock to their closets close to their hearts, where society shuns you. In the words of the Trevor project: “It gets better!” Call them, talk to an understanding youth organization. Reach out, get help. You are NOT alone. Our family is big, and we are strong, and even stronger together. I will never turn away an LGBT youth in need, but I cannot be everywhere. Make that call, you are not alone. That is my solemn promise. It’s worth it.

Finally…

To my friends with depression and other mental afflictions: know that I love you and that I am grateful for your contribution to my life. I support you in your quest to feel better, to become stronger, for your strength to fight the demons.

As always, if you like my blog or my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi